It’s hard to be objective when your heart’s involved, and Penny Reid definitely got my heart involved with her Winston Brothers series (not to mention my feet, which occasionally danced me across my bedroom floor when she wrote something so wonderful that I just had to get up and wriggle with all the feels). But I’m going to try for objectivity.
Billy Winston is on The World’s Most Deserved Vacation. He’s recently undergone surgery to save his abusive father, who needs to be kept alive to turn witness on the Iron Wraiths, the biker gang that has, in many ways, defined the Winston family and their home town of Green Valley, TN for two decades. Sent to Italy to recuperate at the home of one of his brothers, he’s content to lie in a stupor. His six siblings have other plans: it’s time for Billy Winston to eat, drink, be merry, and finally make love to and wife up the love of his life, Scarlet St. Claire/Claire McClure, who happens to be the daughter of the leader of the Iron Wraiths (for this review, I’m calling her Scarlet because that’s how she thinks of herself), and who is also at the house in Italy. Soon the place is packed with family, and they enlist Michelangelo’s David, Venetian gondoliers, and their Tennessee ingenuity to get Billy and Scarlet together.
I classify romances into two plot categories: Love & Other Stuff and Love Only. In the former, the main characters have plotlines that feed into but are distinct from their love story. For example, in Reid’s Beard Science, the heroine falls in love and tries to break away from her family and gain control of her career. In the Love Only category, the plot is mostly the main characters just being with each other, and the issues that dog them are all directly related to their relationship. That is Beard Necessities, and it’s consequently a bit of a blur. When I think what happened in this book? I think ‘Billy and Scarlet dry-humped at a picnic’, ‘Billy and Scarlet went to the museum, got locked in a room, and talked it out’, ‘Billy and Scarlet fooled around by the pool’. This worked for me; one of the things I love about romance is its one-track mind (about love, not just sex), but this book is at the extreme end of the Love Only category.
Scarlet and Billy exemplify the saying ‘it takes two to tango’. As Scarlet puts it: “Every time we were alone, we would either fight or kiss” – and they were alone a lot in the seventeen years they’ve known each other, even when she was married to her now-dead husband. They committed emotional adultery together, and trod the line physically, which are consequences of a lot of other painful choices they both made. “Scarlet”, Billy says, “is addicted to her guilt and shame” and he’s vitriolically “pissed” with her about it. But Reid divides culpability for it all evenly between her characters, and so it’s impossible to pick a side in Billy and Scarlet’s fights. Scarlet is even-keeled as a heroine (perhaps it’s the therapy she’s just started) and ultimately offers mercy to her “Billy Goat Gruff”. Billy is sincere, loyal, and has a dirty mind, which, frankly, is my personal Triple Crown.
Penny Reid does not short change readers on the HEA, but I had one quibble. Shortly before the end, Scarlet makes a big decision that I was disappointed about, because after she’d just been saying how unhappy she was that her father had “inspired” Billy into actions that meant “his soul was wounded”, she then goes and does something that will also stay with her forever, and has some sketchy consequences. If she hadn’t, admittedly, there would have been a loose end from Dr. Strange Beard that would have been unrealistic to leave open, but I’d have voted for a lack of realism in exchange for Scarlet’s eternal, unmarred peace.
The main reason this book just missed an A grade and DIK status is that I can’t shake the feeling that most of my enjoyment came from the fact that I’d had a running start on this love story, having read other Winston Brothers books. The presence of all the siblings isn’t intrusive – they want Billy and Scarlet to be alone as much as the reader does – but they’re there, and their storylines with Billy and Scarlet get closure. Only people who’ve read the prior books are truly going to see those moments for their significance, and also know what it means when Billy tells Scarlet that “I promise, if you’ll have me, I’ll sing with you whenever or wherever you want. But only with you, Scarlet. I only want to sing with you.” As a result, Beard Necessities is less of a standalone and more of a ‘leaning-heavily-on’.
I have a feeling I will reread this book multiple times, grow to love it more, and realize I have so much more to say about it. For now, I’ll say this: reading Beard Necessities by itself is like eating ice cream with no toppings. You won’t regret it, but it would be infinitely more delicious if you add on all the chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts, and cherries that are the other books in the Winston Brothers series.
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