Desert Isle Keeper
Beard in Mind
WARNING: This book contains a main character with severe OCD who self-harms. If you find this subject matter triggering – even though the author handles it with tact – then this might not be a comfortable read for you. Proceed with caution.
Everyone loves those Winston boys. And who can blame them? They’re funny, sexy, charming, charismatic and good at soothing the most severe of tempers. In Beard in Mind, a heart-gladdening, serio-comic fourth volume chronicling the lives and loves of these seven southern-born siblings, kindly Beau gets a shot at romance with a prickly new girl who’s come to the garage to replace his twin brother Duane.
Beau Winston is the kind of guy who hangs out with little old ladies and helps out with repairs at his best friend’s strip club for free. He’s also the kind of man who mistakes Shelly Sullivan for the stripper that said best friend has sent to him as a thank-you for doing him a big favor. Beau and Shelly proceed to get on like oil and water, and even though Beau finds her devastatingly attractive, Shelly is cold and off-putting to everyone from crude bikers to kind firemen to tiny, cute children. He soon wants the insolent Shelly out of the garage; unfortunately, with his twin brother, Duane, preparing to set off on a voyage around the world with his new girlfriend, the garage needs another mechanic, and Shelly’s the best at what she does. His brother Cletus refuses to fire her and Beau makes do – and soon comes to appreciate and resent Shelly’s moxie in equal doses.
It turns out there’s a very serious reason for Shelly’s attitude – she has a severe case of OCD that, among other severe symptoms, causes her to cut herself. Her fear of touching others has placed a wall between her, her family back in Chicago and anyone who’s tried to befriend her since. Beau’s attraction isn’t as one-sided as it seems, but Shelly has no plans to stay in Tennessee once her treatment is complete and a secret past to return to once she feels comfortable. Beau, meanwhile, is in a one-sided relationship with Darlene Simmons, with whom he’s conducting a long-distance romance while she goes to med school. And if that isn’t enough, he’s trying to wage peace with the town’s motorcycle club, who want revenge because their founder is in prison thanks to his ne’er-do-well father. Can Shelly and Beau find a way to be together even with the weight of their troubles?
Beard In Mind isn’t quite the book you think it’s going to be when you pick it up. While it starts out as a light comedy, it quickly becomes a beautiful romance, a dramatic character study and a motorcycle gang related action drama. The narrative evolves into something both deep and rich, accessible and easy to leap into. Reid has a marvelous way with words. She also knows her cars and vehicles and her pastries and her salty-mouthed birds. The end result is an adventure and a feast for the mind and a lovely romance that provokes and intrigues.
Reid’s characters are complex, funny individuals – sometimes they’re wonderful, but sometimes their personalities grate. Beau can be sweet, but he can also be a bit childish. Shelly can be condescending and icy in degrees that are confusing until we’re made aware of the difficulties under which she’s operating. She’s a purveyor of wit (“If I wanted commentary on my ass I’d go to a proctologist” after she fends off unwanted comments from a biker is my favorite line), but the book’s swing toward drama doesn’t allow for much of that. When Shelly is fearlessly staring down an angry motorcycle gang member and saving Beau from harm, she’s amazing. Reid takes Shelly’s OCD seriously, and it’s nice to have a heroine who has a psychotherapist, who has OCD and isn’t demonized for it, and who strongly reject’s her hero’s initial reaction, which is filled with frantic pity.
Beau, too, is a wonderful hero. Kind, strong, tender, a tad frantic, and brilliant with both a car and with the womenfolk, when Beau’s hanging out with his brothers and friends, he’s amazing. His reaction to Shelly’s OCD is both realistic and tender
Together they evolve strongly into a lovely couple. There’s steamy physical attraction, soul-shaking tenderness and fierce loyalty. It’s a treat to watch the two of them get together.
There’s only one big flaw with the book, and that is that there’s a lot of drama going on at once, which can leave the reader feeling emotionally exhausted. Perhaps there are too many plot twists, and perhaps the Darlene mini-plot could’ve been sliced out without much fuss.
But that’s a minor problem in the grand scheme of things. As Ms. Reid says in her author’s note, every single person on the planet deserves love. Here’s to Beau and Shelly – two imperfect but memorable characters worthy of the same, from readers and from one another.