More than just a pretty hairy face
The Winston brothers, all six of them, are well-known figures around their small hometown of Green Valley, Tennessee. Partly this is due to each brother’s luxurious beard growth, but it’s also because the Winstons each have exceptional talents that capture the attention of the local denizens. Cletus, brother number three and star of Penny Reid’s romantic comedy Beard Science, has earned the town’s wary respect as the ‘fixer’ of the family. A razor sharp mind combined with an attention span that captures everything means Cletus has dirt on just about everyone in town, and he’s not afraid to use his powers to instill his brand of justice. So it comes as a surprise when the master blackmailer learns he’s the target of extortion—and from Green Valley’s own Banana Cake Queen no less. Jennifer Sylvester has spent her entire life under the thumb of her overbearing parents, who have taken her baking talents to the bank—without cutting Jenn in on the rewards. Sick of dying her hair blond and wearing yellow all the time, she needs help learning how to catch a husband and escape the familial chokehold. Tricking Cletus into showing her the ropes soon proves more effective than she imagined—and leads to some hot action in the bakery. Opening her eyes to her real worth means gaining a life beyond Green Valley, but it may mean sacrificing a great deal more than she’s ready to.
Reid’s series has a lot of the tropes that romance readers could roll their eyes at—what is it with renegade motorcycle gangs showing up in seemingly every rural-set romance these days?—but I’d be lying if I said I did not enjoy Beard Science immensely. The Winston brothers (and the sole Winston sister) are excellent company, and Cletus has a psyche that one can’t help but dig into. He seems a bit on the autism spectrum, which poses some difficulties in how he communicates with Jenn at first, but Reid also hints at a history that might also explain how his sometimes vengeful worldview came about. Jenn’s parents are drawn a bit broadly as an especially awful family, but Jenn’s blossoming after living such a sheltered life is plausible. Reid alternates the narration between Cletus and Jenn, and the insight into both their characters makes for that happiest of Happy Ever Afters to the romance reader: a couple that has grown enough together that is easy to envision them happy regardless of what life may bring.
Beard Science is the third in the Winston Brothers series, and while it can be read as a standalone, I found myself wishing for a better understanding of what had passed in the family in the earlier books (Truth or Beard, Grin and Beard It). A few loose threads are left hanging for the remaining Winston brothers to address in future installments. Here’s hoping that this self-published author is picked up by a mainstream publishing house, as her stories are getting a lot of love on Goodreads and great word of mouth.