Penny Reid’s “Beard Science” is as sweet as Southern Sweet Tea and as smart and clever as a Vandy graduate. By Bunsen’s Blue Flame Burner Cletus Byron Winston has bewitched my heart, made me clutch my pearls, and I will happily get up to all manner of shenanigans and tomfoolery with him! Penny Reid’s “Beard Science” is not merely fantastic it is a humdinger in it’s Rom-ing and Com-ing. Thus far all of the Winston Brother books have been excellent but “Beard Science” is far and away super Nova Brilliant! Cletus and the Heroine, Jennifer, are surprisingly perfect in everyway. And that’s exactly it! Jennifer surprises Cletus. Because just as much as Cletus has dismissed Jennifer in all of these years by underestimating her (as does most, if not all, of the town) she people watches and knows exactly who and what Cletus is and is capable of. In fact, she may know as much as, if not more than, his family – the extent of his machinations. Jennifer is easily dismissible. She is the “Banana Cake Queen” she is never seen without full make-up, including false eyelashes, a modest dress, heels, and pearls. She lives by her Mama’s rules to be the quintessential Southern Belle: Smile pretty and be elegant listen to your mama when in doubt, overdress and mind your manners. Basically, Jenn’s a joke. Her mama has her dressed in an “over the top” Stereotypical Southern Miss “costume” and is has made her into a marketing brand even though Jennifer is terrified of being the center of attention. Not to mention Jennifer works 80 hour weeks as unpaid slave labor at the family bakery. Her father thinks Jennifer doesn’t have a brain in her head and tells her so daily. Jennifer is not only the town joke she’s an oddity. Cletus is also an oddity and sometimes considered a simpleton but only by the town’s unintelligent folk. Jennifer by sheer serendipity catches Cletus, on video, in the act of capering, and is in the position to blackmail him. But what Jennifer wants, to Cletus, is absolutely ridiculous, she wants a husband and baby. It takes Cletus a little while to realize that what Jennifer really wants is an escape from her parents – she wants Freedom. Cletus has no intention of being Jennifer’s husband and he is rather shocked when Jennifer makes no bones about the fact that she absolutely does not want him as a husband. But he will help “train” her on how to be more appealing to men – less caricature, more backbone. Other than Cletus and Jennifer the other highlights of “Beard Science” are all of the Winston’s and their significant others (and potential future pairings) are in attendance. A new cast member is a cross over from Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City series, Shelly Sullivan, the new mechanic at the Winston Brothers garage. As always Jackson James is a prominent pest and a general thorn in the Winston’s side (mainly just Cletus’). Also the Wraiths Motorcycle Club is wreaking havoc. But Goodness Gracious DO NOT get me started on the infamous Winston Brother series’ double entendres because they are prolific and plentiful in “Beard Science” and they are so outrageous they could drive a preacher to drink. This book truly had me in Hog Heaven!
Jennifer’s mother informs her that she needs to go see the Sheriff and get a testimonial regarding the cupcakes that were taken to the sheriff’s department. Sheriff James raved about them to Mrs. Donner-Sylvester just that morning at the Piggly-Wiggly. While Jennifer is at the station there is a lot of activity because there have evidence which will get the President of the local motorcycle club arrested. Jennifer notices that Cletus Winston is in the office tinkering with some machine in the back as all of the commotion of the deputies leaving is going on. Once all of the deputies have left, Jennifer is able to video the Sheriff’s testimonial. Later when Jennifer learns that the big arrest couldn’t be made because the evidence was missing she frantically she reviews the video on her phone and sees that Cletus is the reason the evidence is missing. Jenn is told by her mother that she has been in talks with a talent agent that will make her a spokes person with Chiquita banana, possibly she’ll make some cooking show appearances, and then an eventual cooking show of her own. This news causes Jenn to collapse and end up in the hospital. It is the last straw and she decides to take her video evidence to the most powerful man in east Tennessee, Cletus, to get his help. Late at night Jenn sneaks out of her parents’ house and goes to the Winston house to speak to Cletus, she tells him about her video and catching him in the act of stealing police evidence. There is a brief glimpse of Cletus’ rage which is gone almost before it is seen but he insists on seeing the video. Jennifer shows him what she captured on her phone and he asks if she’s saved it on any other devices, which she tells him that she has. During this exchange, as irritated and angry as Cletus is, Jennifer is perplexing him because she is showing that she knows his true nature though they’ve never spoken. She has a fierceness about her he never suspected but she is still uncertain and timid. She is causing him to amend his rule about disbelieving in people having hidden depths. Jennifer Sylvester is not feeble, she is astute. Cletus asks Jennifer what she wants from him and she tells him that she wants a husband and babies. Cletus then rearranges his thoughts again and decides that Jennifer Sylvester is not Fierce she’s a Fruitcake – nuttier than a one in fact. He informs her that he has no desire to marry her. She tells him that she doesn’t want to marry him – she would never marry him. She needs to get out from under her parents’ rule and to do that she needs to find a husband – someone suitable – gentle, with a good heart, reliable and kind who will be good to her and their child. She knows she sounds crazy, she knows that she’s the town joke but she needs to try and because of that video he’s going to help her. He agrees and schedules meetings every 2 weeks and assigns homework to her. He discovers that she develops a debilitating inability to speak or act in an ultra-awkward fashion when faced with a man who her father has deemed acceptable such as Cletus’ brother Billy or in the past his sister’s boyfriend Drew. So he arranges a fake date for her with Billy so that Jenn can get used to speaking to men. But Cletus starts to exhibit bouts of possessiveness that he doesn’t realize it. Jenn feels an affection for Cletus but chalks it up to gratitude for helping her in her endeavor. She finds herself at the Winston homestead several times when all of the Winstons and their significant others are about and her fear of being in a group of people lessens. She visits Cletus at his garage and interacts with Beau and finds that she feels an affection for Beau and Billy as well. Because of Cletus, Jenn is making changes in her appearance and behavior and her parents aren’t giving her too difficult a time about it because they believe she is involved with Billy, who because of his career prospects is suitable. However, the more time that Jennifer spends with Cletus the more she realizes she is falling for him. But she knows that the only reason he is being attentive to her is because she is blackmailing her. Cletus finds himself becoming jealous of the men who are showing Jennifer attention and possessive of her and it angers him. He finds himself having impure thoughts and imaginings about Jenn while he’s awake and asleep, which confounds and terrifies him. He knows that they don’t suit but it is becoming difficult to deny his feelings. One evening Cletus completely loses his composure with Jenn and kisses her within an inch of her life but he passes it off as a Kissing Lesson. Jenn is extremely hurt and gives Cletus all of the evidence against him and informs him she no longer needs his help. It’s then that Cletus realizes the depth of his feelings for Jenn – unfortunately she now hates his guts. His plan is to woo her but an altercation with the Wraiths involving Jenn disrupts the order of his plans but happily they are ahead of his schedule now. An unfortunate run in with Jenn’s father becomes an incident that may be irreparable for Jenn and Cletus. Though Jenn is still firmly entrenched in the lives and hearts of the rest of the Winston family Cletus is most decidedly shut out. And he hopelessly lost, vulnerable, and desperate for her. Jennifer realizes she must use her newly grown and strengthened backbone to create a life separate from Cletus Winston.
There are so many subplots that are going on in this book and groundwork which is laid for future books in the Winston Brother series. There is also a sliver of a glimpse into a past with one of the future couples. Also, if you are a Billy Winston fan, he really lets his “broodiness” shields down in this book – he is a down right peach. Penny Reid has a way with double entendres and euphemisms that is terribly clever, delightful, and incredibly comical. “Beard Science” is like all of the Winston Brother books witty, intelligent, and romantic but it has an extra dose of Oomph that pushes it into the 6 Lightning Bolt realm. I laughed, was saddened, melancholy, amused, frustrated, breathless, and purely genuinely gleefully delighted.
I’m giving “Beard Science” a rare 6 Lightning Bolts and a Gale Warning.
This novel was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.