Monday, June 5, 2023

Fairest of Heart (Texas Ever After #1) by Karen Witemeyer

Fairest of Heart (Texas Ever After #1)
By Karen Witemeyer
Published by Bethany House

Synopsis (provided by the publisher):
Beauty has been nothing but a curse to Penelope Snow. When she becomes a personal maid for a famous actress whose troupe is leaving Chicago to tour the West, she hides her figure beneath shapeless dresses and keeps her head down. But she still manages to attract the wrong attention, leaving her prospects in tatters--and her jealous mistress plotting her demise.
After his brother lost his life over a woman, Texas ranger Titus Kingsley has learned to expect the worst from women and is rarely disappointed. So when a young woman found in suspicious circumstances takes up residence with the seven old drovers living at his grandfather's ranch, Titus is determined to keep a close eye on her.
With a promotion hanging in the balance, Titus is assigned to investigate a robbery case tied to Penelope's acting troupe. The evidence points to her guilt, but Titus's heart divines a different truth--one that might just get Penelope killed.
An enchanting Western take on the classic Snow White fairy tale, Fairest of Heart will sweep you away from once upon a time to happily ever after.

My Review: 
I love fairy tale retellings, and even though I’m not a Snow White fan in general, I had no doubt Karen Witemeyer would write a story I adored—and I was right. The characters are fantastic, the plot is interesting, and the writing kept me grinning. 
In some versions of Snow White, the main character seems pretty bland and passive, but I loved Penelope. She’s just GOOD. She’s cheerful and just keeps working hard, hoping for the best. I think it can be easy to dismiss characters like her as being simple or unrealistic, but I really liked her. She reminds me of me ten-year-old daughter—just a sweetheart who keeps going and tries to stay positive. So, I really liked Penelope even if I myself might be a little more like Jeb (more about him in a minute…) 
As for Titus....oh, boy! He's a terrific leading man. His backstory was interesting and made his determination to do his duty toward Penelope but not get involved realistic--and that made it all the more fun to see him falling for her and his growth along the way. 
Now, the "dwarves." In most versions of Snow White I've seen or read, they're not really that interesting. In this book, they are a HOOT. I loved them. They kept me laughing. They're all wonderful, although I'm a little partial to Jeb, the "Grumpy" character. (If I believed in reincarnation, I’d believe I’d been a grumpy old man in another life or be aiming to be one in a future life, because I just relate to them so well! Haha!) 
The plot was really interesting! There's a little bit of mystery and danger (totally fitting for the wild Texas setting!) Seeing some scene's from the POV of Narcissa (the evil queen) and what made her tick was neat; she's not a good person but seeing what made her tick and getting a glimpse of why she did the things she did added some depth to her character. 
I liked the scriptures and messages of faith throughout the story as well. I really enjoyed seeing how Titus and Penelope relied on their faith, thought about their feelings toward God, etc. Their reflection and growth on their journey was totally believable and resonated with me because of how I try to rely on my faith in God in my own life. 
From the opening page to the last, I found this book to be engrossing, entertaining, and just terrific! 5 stars--and one of my picks for the best of 2023!

I read an ARC provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Along a Breton Shore by Arlem Hawks

Along a Breton Shore
By Arlem Hawks
Published by Shadow Mountain
Publication Date: 6/6/23

Synopsis (from the publisher):
A soldier and a young woman, on opposite sides of the revolution, must run for their lives across a war-torn France in this gripping novel of friendship, love, and survival.
France, 1794

Maxence Étienne, a soldier for the République, believes fiercely in the revolution that is bringing liberty to France. But even though the monarchy has fallen and Maxence is part of a great cause, he is still searching for a place to belong.
Armelle Bernard is a young woman from Breton whose father was sentenced to death for hiding counterrevolutionaries. She decides to confront the priest who betrayed her father, and as the conflict escalates, she herself is ordered to be executed—an order to be carried out by Maxence.
Maxence has seen his share of violence and bloodshed, but he also carries a tragic secret and can’t bring himself to carry out his assignment. In allowing Armelle to escape, he is forced to combat a fellow soldier, who dies in the struggle.
Though Armelle and Maxence are strangers and on opposite sides of the revolution, they find themselves united as fugitives of the new republic. Now they must find a way to trust each other as they search for a path to peace, and to freedom.

About the Author:
ARLEM HAWKS began making up stories before she could write. Living all over the western United States and traveling around the world gave her a love of cultures and people and the stories they have to tell. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications, with an emphasis in print journalism, and she lives in Utah with her husband and four children.

Advance Praise:
“Hawks continues to brilliantly mine the political turmoil in France during its bloody revolutionary years. When soldier Maxence Étienne refuses to shoot Armelle Bernard for throwing a bucket at a comrade, Armelle decides it is only fair that she, in turn, try to save Maxence’s life. With some help from her family and friends, Armelle organizes Maxence’s escape from prison, where he has been flung for refusing to follow orders. However, Armelle has another reason for helping break Maxence out of jail; she's hoping that he can provide her with information that could be the key Armelle needs to locate her fugitive father. Hawks creates compelling story lines that not only vividly bring this dramatic era to life but also allow readers to experience it intimately through individual characters and their search for love, happiness, and security amidst radical political change.”
My Review:
Arlem Hawks is a talented writer and I've greatly enjoyed the other books I've read by her, so I opted to read this one even though the French Revolution is definitely not one of my favorite time periods to read about. I liked the contrasts between Armelle and Maxence, both in regards to their personalities and their beliefs. So many of their interactions made me laugh, even in the midst of such a dark setting. The book was a bit slow at times, but overall, this was a highly enjoyable book.
4 stars.
I read an ARC provided by the author. All opinions are my own. .