Desert Isle Keeper
Penny Reid’s Beard Science is awkwardly and wonderfully odd, and no carefully selected combination of adjectives can adequately communicate the mind-bending deliciousness of this thoroughly enjoyable book. The author’s creativity beats to its own drum, and she’s successfully written something different – an original story with an incomparable cast of characters that stands out in the vast sea of normal. This is no small feat considering the volume of novels flooding the market every day and when one remembers that romance endings are essentially scripted before an author ever writes a word. Beard Science should be on every Best Romance of 2016 list, and Ms. Reid should be a case study examined at the Romance Writers of America convention. I wish I could add wild and exaggerated hand gestures to my review, because I need a visual way to sufficiently convey and punctuate my feelings, and I refuse the lure of the emoji.
Cletus Byron Winston – how I love the subtle perfection of Cletus Winston – is the third eldest of six bearded brothers and the mastermind and heart of the loving and kooky Winston family. The fact that there are six of them, and their facial hair make them prominent figures in the small rural Tennessee town of Green Valley, but they’re infamous for their individual antics, criminal father and revered librarian mother, who recently passed away. Cletus is a mechanic and owns a local garage with two of his brothers, but he’s far more than just a small town business owner and one of seven siblings. (There’s a sister in the middle of all the brothers.)
He is a social genius who seems to be an awkward bystander uttering seemingly random and strange pronouncements. He’s a master manipulator and an expert in the psychological game of life, bending people to his will without their ever realizing it. He’s quietly in the background of everything, but his schemes are not based on self-interest or seeking personal gain. Most of what Cletus does is done with the intent to protect and support the people he loves, and he’s the Robin Hood of the Winstons – stealing good deeds from the stingy-hearted and gifting them to those he cares about. You’d never guess from his stoicism and quiet manner, but Cletus loves fiercely and passionately. He also practices yoga, makes spectacular homemade sausage, audits a high school Calculus class and is an amazing banjo player who can be found every Friday night at the community center taking part in the town’s weekly jam session.
Banana Cake Queen Jennifer Sylvester – famously known throughout the state for her award winning banana cake – has known of and observed Cletus her entire life and is the only person – except for his brothers – who detects his ability to stealthily influence others. She’s a spectator of life and a people watcher who lives on the sidelines behind her public image. She’s under the thumb of her controlling and conservative parents who insist she play the role of Queen continually, making it her job and her identity. She’s never dated and desperately wants to have a family of her own, but she has no idea how to interact with men. She decides Cletus is the perfect tutor because he obviously understands the human psyche, and she wants him to show her how to attract and catch a husband. When she discovers an opportunity to blackmail him, she seizes it and secures his agreement to teach her, thus committing her first act of rebellion in a meticulously scripted life.
Cletus has never noticed Jennifer beyond his customary internal cataloging of everyone he meets, but he takes note of her now when she surprises him. And no one EVER surprises him. She’s an unexpected puzzle, and he agrees to help her out of a desire to study and not because he truly feels threatened by her blackmail attempt. Neither imagines Cletus might be the man she will want or that he might need to be that man, because Cletus simply never imagines that they will suit. Their dance of courtship begins as the teacher and the observer and transitions into a charming union of two people moving to a rhythm of their own making. There’s great fun throughout and no end to the surprising bursts of comedy and sigh-worthy acts of love between both lovers and family.
Cletus and Jennifer’s story might sound like it follows a tried and true romance formula and – on the surface – it does. Beard Science is epically different because of the nuisances throughout and the subtle departures from everything that is ordinary and expected in a romance; it’s frighteningly bizarre. Laughs will erupt without warning, and you’ll pause dumbfounded. Reader internal dialogue might go something like this:
Did I just read that?
Yes – yes, I did.
Did they just say/do that?
Yes – yes, they did.
I need to read that again, savor it and commit it to memory and enjoy it again another day.
Don’t worry about reading the previous two books in the Winston Brothers series if you have not already – they’re stand-alone reads – but you’ll likely want to immediately after you finish Beard Science. I did, and they’re amazing too and give you an insightful introduction to Cletus. There’s no possible way to explain the inexplicable, and I’ve waxed poetic enough. Read Beard Science and send Penny Reid a thank you for allowing us into her magical and odd world of the Winstons.