I’ve always loved Penny Reid’s books. Since Neanderthal Seeks Human, I’ve been hooked to them. It was one of the first romances wherein it was a total escape, but I could also see myself in the characters. Jane was a revelation for me. She constantly drops weird facts. She’s taller than fuck. She’s often overwhelmed by the need to conform to polite society because she’s simply not wired to look at the world as everyone else does. In short, she’s a lot like me. Also, she’s married to a grumpy asshole who’s obsessed with security. (I’m not mentioning any names, but usbandhay inemay might be an asshole who is obsessed with security and is at this very moment looking at the Honda Odyssey because I told him what was in Penny’s latest book and he proceeded to Google it and determine that we should have one yesterday.)
However, none of her books made me go “oh no, Cat. Step back, deep breath, this might trigger you,” until Beard in Mind. As soon as I read the premise–mechanic meets mechanic and she has severe, painful OCD and anxiety–I worried. You see, I have crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder. I fixate on death. Pretty much all the time if I don’t take many, active steps to try to avoid it. I’m in a constant state of low-level panic all the time. It causes me to have some really weird quirks. I pull out the ends of my eyebrows because that’s one of my calming devices that my brain tells me to do. I bite and lick the corners of my lips until they bleed. I constantly envision my own death. Not because I want to die. I don’t fucking want to die, but because I’m always in the thoughts of death. They’re my habitat.
I worried that she wouldn’t get it. Generally, people who don’t have OCD, just don’t fucking get it. Not even a little bit. I’ve read so many books in which one or more of the characters supposedly has OCD, and what they really have is what neurotypical people think is OCD. They assume that everyone with OCD washes their hands a whole lot and doesn’t step on cracks. While that may be true for some, it’s certainly not true for everyone. I mean, I not only have OCD, but also ADHD, so to be honest, I don’t give a fox’s rot about door locks. I’m honestly lucky I lock anything. I forget all the things if I don’t have seven alarms, two planners, and the aforementioned usbandhay telling me I have something I am supposed to be doing.
I shouldn’t have worried. After all, I know that Penny Reid is a spectacular researcher. Even if you don’t know her bio (that was her previous occupation) you can see it in her writing. She’s penned everything from bitcoin to rugby and done a bang-on job of it. She got it. Got us. That’s pretty huge.
Beard in Mind [affiliate link] is the fourth book in her Winston Brothers series, and it picks up in the middle of book three. In it, Beau Winston meets the lovely Shelly Sullivan. You’ll remember Shelly from the Knitting in the City series as Jane’s husband Quinn’s sister.
She’s got a tough road to hoe, and decides to take some time alone in Tennessee to work through her issues not only with her OCD, but how that OCD made her manipulate those around her. Beau Winston is as sweet and jovial as he is in the other books, but you get to see past the smiling face and devil may care attitude to the man beneath the beard. He’s more complex than it would seem on the surface, and Reid does a great job at opening his character by putting him in positions that would force anyone’s true self into the light.
Their romance is by no means a straight line, and Reid manages to find the perfect balance between action, romance, suspense, and growth. And the other characters are pumped into the story so effortlessly, it’s as though they’re set perfectly as cogs in the engine, moving the arc of the series evermore towards whatever endpoint she envisions for these characters.
What strikes me most about Beard in Mind is Reid’s capacity for a poetic prose that somehow succeeds in placing a deeper emphasis on the emotionality of the romance without becoming mired in false sentimentality.
But her flaws, her resilience in the face of her struggles, her strength of character and honor, that’s what made her who she was.
If you speak that aloud, you can hear the orator’s voice–it’s beautiful in its sparse elegance. It makes the story a joy to read, not just a pleasant way to pass the time as so many other bits of fiction tend to be.
Beard in Mind is an intensely satisfying romance that unites a multiplicity of emotions and turmoil without losing the ecstasy that lies at its core.
Five Stars–trust me, there are five. I counted them dozens of times to make sure. (I can make bad OCD jokes as I have OCD)
There are all kinds of desserts in Reid’s novels, so of course, I made one. A seasonally appropriate breakfast dessert. (It’s a thing. Ask anyone who’s been to an iHOP.)
Easy Apple Dumplings With Salted Caramel Sauce
What Goes In?
- 8 medium apples, peeled and cored
- 1 package Pillsbury cinnamon rolls -- room temperature, divided
- flour for dusting
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (if you have a whole foods, they have a vegan option)
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp butter (or earth balance)
- either 1 egg and 3 tbsp water, mixed, or
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup and 3 tbsp water, mixed
- preheat oven to 375F
- dust counter with flour
- dust cinnamon roll with flour
- roll each roll out until 1/8" thick roll
- wrap around each apple, pushing excess in core
- place each on a sprayed cookie sheet, gathered side down
- bake for 25 minutes
- combine all ingredients in saucepan on medium high
- cook until warm caramel color
- pour over apples