romance reviews

Truth or Beard – A Book Review

Last year, someone recommended a book to me and it became one of those books that changed everything for me. I was struggling with my mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read anything, I couldn’t knit, I wasn’t interested in anything airing on TV. I just had no focus. Then a friend said she had just the book for me, something that would draw my attention and keep me reading. She was right.

Book cover: Truth or Beard, by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard – Penny Reid – Winston Brothers Book 1

Goodreads rating: 3.61 stars / 7,235 ratings / 1,300 reviews | Kobo | Barnes & Noble

My overall rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Truth or Beard, by Penny Reid, became the book of the summer for me. Not only was it a great story in itself, but it opened me up to an entire literary universe. In the time since I read this first book in the series, I’ve read all of the books in the Green Valley Chronicles, plus the seven books in the Knitting in the City series that pre-date the Winston Brothers.

What’s it all about?
Jessica James is a small-town math teacher who struggles with her place in the world while aching to search for something more, something new, something far away. She loves her family, loves her friends, loves her job, but has always wondered if she was destined for something more.

Duane Winston is someone else who knows about love. His family comes above all, but he’s always known that he loves Jess James. Except even as a kid, he had a difficult time expressing his feelings. He’s gruff and serious and every time he talks to Jess he comes off sounding like the world’s biggest jerk.

After a big of a mixup involving Duane’s identical twin and some mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a position that she never imagined she’d be in – how does she move forward with her dreams while also being crazy in love with her worst enemy?

What did I love?
Reid uses words and feelings to build a family and a world that feels exciting and exotic but also familiar and comforting. The story concept is well-worn but it’s written in a way that feels like a fresh take. The plot moves fast, the dialogue is crisp and funny, and everything takes place in a town that feels like home. I’ve never been to Tennessee but after reading this book I imagine that this is a place where community is important and people take care of each other.

The main characters are two people that I would enjoy spending time with. They feel like real people, like Reid has taken people that she knows and just put them to paper. They have hopes and dreams and flaws, and they strive for something more out of their lives. They’re unfinished with room to grow. They’re relatable.

The secondary characters… I wish my family were the Winston family. Love and devotion shines through the pages, even when they’re picking on each other or bullying each other or fighting with each other. Again, they read like real people and not an idealized version of what a large family could be. They’re not perfect, but they’re perfect for each other.

What did I not love?
The story heavily relies on the reader having already dived into The Beauty and the Mustache from Reid’s Knitting in the City series. This was the first Penny Reid novel that I ever read – I didn’t go back to read Knitting in the City until later – so there were a lot of references, inside jokes, etc. that made absolutely no sense to me because I was missing key pieces of backstory. I love serialized storytelling and I love being immersed in a world. With that said, part of worldbuilding is understanding that the first book of a new series is going to require some exposition and a fresh outlook. This was supposed to be the 1st book of the Winston Brothers series, not the 8th book of the KitC series.

Now, with that said, if that’s the only thing that I disliked about this book, well that’s still a great book.

Q & A
In a book club that I run, I have a series of questions that I share with every read to get people thinking about the book that they just read. I figured this was a great place to continue that tradition.

1. How would you rate this book overall, on a scale from 1 (very bad) to 5 (outstanding)?

Easy 5. Outstanding book, great start to the series, something that I have already re-read several times and will likely read again in the future. This book is comfort food.

2. How would you rate this book on the steamy scale, from 1 (virginally pure) to 5 (dripping with steam)?

This is a 3 on the steam scale. There’s some heat, some nudity, some sexual tension and the characters do have a physical relationship. But this isn’t a book about two people having sex, it’s a book about two people falling in love.

3. Have you read this book before or was this your first pass? If you’ve read the book before, did this read-through change your opinion of the book?

As I said early, this is not my first pass at this book. I think I’ve actually read it three times now. I’m just as enamoured with it today as I was last year when I picked it up for the first time

4. For people who have read the previous book in the series, did this story change your view on any of the characters? Did you see anyone in a different light?

The second read-through did help me to see the Winston family slightly differently, largely because by that point I had read Beauty and the Mustache and I had gone through the family’s pain at grieving their mother. That family bond came through much stronger after having experienced that loss with them.

5. If there was one thing that you could change about this book, what would it be?

Like I said earlier, I would probably add some additional exposition to help new readers understand what had happened in previous books that may have been carried over to this one. Or, if not that, I would have changed the way those events are referenced so they’re not as dependent on knowing the backstory. Examples would be Ashley and Drew’s relationship, the events after Bethany Winston’s funeral, the reasons for the tension between Jethro and Billy, the relationship between Ashley and Jackson (Jess’s brother). Now that I’ve gone back and read KitC, these things all make complete sense. But on my first go I found myself really lost and I was reading ahead without really understanding how these events impacted the current situation.

6. How did you feel about the pacing of the story? Did things move too quickly, not quickly enough, or just right?

I would have liked for Jess and Duane to get on the same relationship page a little sooner, but that wasn’t so much a fault of the writing as much as me just liking the couple and wanting them to get out of their own way. Stop thinking and start feeling, ya dopes!

Final Thoughts
This book is great, the characters are great, the series is great, Penny Reid is great. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in chick lit or rom-coms. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!!

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