Tag Archives: Penny Reid

Kissing Tolstoy by Penny Reid

Kissing Tolstoy was awful and silly. I loathed its puerile story and nonsensical plotting, so, Penny Reid: YOU WIN! I am giving up on anything your name is on except MAYBE a Winston Brothers book, and even then it had better not cost me any money. Again and again her books with younger leads have problematic elements, and while it is classified as a “new adult” romance, only one character in Kissing Tolstoy is actually a recent grown up. The heroine, Anna, is a university student and the hero is her professor. I’ll let Amazon do some of the heavy lifting:

What do you do when you discover that your super-hot blind date from months ago is now your super-hot Russian Lit professor?

You overthink everything and pray for a swift end to your misery, of course!

So does the reader.

Goodness, even the blurb for this book let me down. So here I go:

There’s a young woman who accidentally texts and then meets the wrong guy at a bar. He’s a really hot biker dude, so she freaks out because she thinks she’s not in his league. She goes back to school to take a Russian Literature course that has been, thus far, very hard to register for because the professor is just that attractive. He’s also the sexy motorcyclist from the bar. As a bonus he’s an actual Russian who specializes in the woman’s favourite author and hails from an extremely wealthy family. I can’t remember if he’s displaced royalty, but that’s the only dream-hero-fantasy-romance-guy box he doesn’t tick.

The young woman and the professor spar in class and have the hots for each other. She tries to quit the class owing to said hots, he prevents it  — showing a true lack of narrative sense — and they get together just as the book ends and sets the scene for the next installment.

With being her teacher, there are ethical implications that must be addressed in some way and aren’t. Logically, she should quit the class and therefore no longer be his student. She doesn’t even need the credit for her major, but she stays in the class. It blows up and, the next thing you know, they are Fighting for Their Love when there are simple, straightforward answers to all of their problems. It was really annoying.

A sample of the writing:

“She smells like wildflowers and quiet libraries, redolent of peace and exuberance.” I looked to my sister and found her expression sober.
“Dad wouldn’t like that.”
“No. I don’t imagine he and Anna would get along at all.” I smirked at the thought. She was far too independent, of both mind and spirit.

I tried to find a gif of Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot saying, “Nobody talks like that!”, but was unsuccessful.

I’ve created a summary of Penny Reid’s books. If you decide to take a chance, I strongly advise that you use it to make a selection. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list



Penny Reid Reading List

Knitting in the City Series:
Neanderthal Seeks Human – I ADORE the heroine, I’ve re-read it a few times, recommend
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling, also re-read, love her
Love Hacked – differently strangely compelling, the heroine is a pip
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it, Winston sister, recommend
Ninja at First Sight – Cute-ish
Happily Ever Ninja – NOPE!
Dating-ish: A Humanoid Romance – Meh
Marriage of Inconvenience – mostly pretty good

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – decent
Beard in Mind – very good, recommend
Dr. Strangebeard – I appear to have read it. I don’t remember it at all.
Beard Necessities– not yet published

Dear Professor Series:
Kissing Tolstoy – Loathed it

Elements of Chemistry – Very frustrating, young adult romance
The Hooker and the Hermit – Loathed it, made me stabby

Links to my reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

The Winston Brothers: Beard in Mind by Penny Reid

Buying all of Penny Reid‘s Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City books means that I have ridden the roller coaster of her uneven stories. The writing is always fine, and often much better than that, but she hits more rough patches than smooth and doesn’t always manage her plot complications well. Those issues are dealt with, mostly, in Beard in Mind and along the way, the reader gets to see couples from previous books, including Quinn and (my favourite) Janie.

One of Reid’s best efforts, Beard in Mind is a strong entry to the Winston Brothers series with its tortured heroine and the world’s most affable hero. Beau Winston is a sincere charmer. Helpful, well-intentioned, and self-possessed, he does not know what to make of the extraordinarily prickly new mechanic in the family auto repair shop. Shelly Sullivan, sister of Neanderthal Seeks Human’s Quinn, is irascible and difficult. Her habit of cutting people off at the knees perplexes and fascinates Beau. Shelly gets under his skin and her obstreperousness doesn’t stop him from falling for her as he comes to understand the reasons behind it and respect the person she is.

So often in romances, the hero is exasperating and the love of the heroine is traditionally redemptive. It’s nice to see the trope switched here. Shelly, however, doesn’t require of fixing/redeeming. She has OCD and what she needs is someone who sees her as whole, has expectations of her, and understands that sometimes she is at war with her own mind. Beau, while going through his own issues, is the right man for her. Each is responsible for managing their challenges or “fixing their own refrigerator” as it is described in this story. You root for Shelly to find what she needs and to be given/take the opportunity to participate fully in life and relationships.

I would recommend Beard in Mind not just because it’s Reid’s strongest book in a while, but because it contains a sublimely romantic moment. Given the genre and the number of books I read, you’d think these would occur more often, but they simply don’t and this one was the equal of the very short list of those I keep in my head and can track on the fingers of one hand.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.


The Winston Brothers: Beard Science by Penny Reid

A friend and I have a running joke about Penny Reid that she is on probation with us, though we clearly keep reading her contemporary romances and seem to take turns actually paying for them. Reid was on secret probation, then double secret probation, then an unprecedented triple secret probation, before peeling back to regular probation and now she’s on “wait and see”status. That’s all a long walk to say that Reid’s work has been uneven, but can be very enjoyable when the elements in her books come together. The Winston Brothers series has two strong books, Beauty and the Mustache and Grin and Beard It, this decent one, and one outright disappointment in Truth or Beard.

TL:DR opening paragraph: Penny Reid can be very good, but she has just as many misses as hits.

From Amazon: Jennifer Sylvester wants one thing, and that one thing is NOT to be Tennessee’s reigning Banana Cake Queen. Ever the perpetual good girl and obedient daughter, Jennifer is buckling under the weight of her social media celebrity, her mother’s ambitions, and her father’s puritanical mandates…Cletus Winston is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery covered in conundrum sauce, and now he’s in a pickle. Despite being convinced of his own omniscience, extortion by the exalted Banana Cake Queen of Green Valley has taken him completely by surprise

The Winston men, Cletus, Beau, Billy, Jethro, Roscoe, and Duane, live in small town Tennessee and are the source of much of the hi-jinks that locally ensue. Their father was a hell-raiser, their mother a saint, and now that both have gone to their reward (jail for him, Heaven for her), the Winstons are moving on with settling down and finding love. Cletus is the family eccentric, an image he cultivates to hide both his intelligence and his sundry machinations. Unfortunately for him, Jennifer Sylvester is a people watcher who not only has Cletus’s number, but is willing to use it.

Living her life under her mother’s thumb and as a monument to what I believe is called “performative femininity”, Jennifer wants to improve her situation but isn’t necessarily seeking a complete emancipation. Looking to hone her dating skills and carve a measure of independence, she blackmails offers Cletus a marriage of convenience silence about her knowledge of his skullduggery in exchange for dating advice. He accepts, they fall in love, she frees herself, he smartens up. The End.

Neither a hit, nor really a miss, Beard Science was okay. I read it months ago and I while I’m pretty sure I liked it just fine, I have not revisited it at all, nor am I expecting to.  From what I can remember, I’m not sure I approved of Cletus’ shenanigans thwarting the local criminal element as they smacked of vigilantism. The fact that he has good intentions or knows best is no defense. There are other, better Penny Reid books out there and they are listed below.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.


So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Talia Hibbert – contemporary romances set in England
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Lucy Parker – great romance, great fun
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.
Sally Thorne – Only two books, but the linked one is a CLASSIC!

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.


  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

Continue reading

The Winston Brothers Series: Grin and Beard It by Penny Reid

One of my romance compatriots and I have agreed that with this second entry into her Winston Brother contemporary romance series, Penny Reid has been moved back from triple secret probation to double secret probation, maybe even single overt probation.  Baby steps.

A family of seven children, the Winstons live in rural Tennessee. The lone sister, Ashley found a partner in a novel I like best for the siblings so far, Beauty and the Mustache, and her brother Duane has had his time at bat with Truth or Beard which was a disappointment. In this entry, older son Jethro works as a forest ranger in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and finds his partner when she gets lost on the back roads looking for her cabin. Jethro, as do his brothers, has a beard. Along with unfortunate names, it’s one of through lines of the series. Six lumbersexuals looking for love and, I have decided, all versions of this gentleman:


This must be what heaven looks like.

Sienna Diaz, all hail a POC heroine!, is a zaftig and very successful comedian and actor. Refusing to conform to Hollywood beauty standards and thriving professionally, she is delighted to meet Jethro and more so when she realises that he doesn’t know who she is. Jethro is aware a movie is shooting nearby and becomes tasked with handling any filming challenges brought on by the local wildlife. He also ends up driving Sienna to and from the set and they grow closer in the process.

Reid does an excellent job portraying how well Sienna and Jethro simply fit and are comfortable together. He was wild in his youth and not just in a reckless way. The choices he made in his younger years had negative repercussions for himself and his family which is something he is still trying to atone for. As a result, Jethro holds himself to a very high personal standard, including a vow to keep it in his pants until he is, at the very least, engaged. He and Sienna manage to enjoy themselves in other ways.

Inevitably, Sienna’s public life intrudes on the relationship, complicating it and bringing unwelcome attention to Jethro. As these challenges are resolved, the reader can also see how the next couple of books will line up. I’m looking forward to Cletus’s book the most as he is the odd one in a family of non-conformists and that sets the bar pretty high. I didn’t pay for Grin and Beard It, I read it on loan, but I do wish I had my own copy, and will likely buy one when it goes on sale. Penny Reid is back from the brink of being given up on and I truly enjoyed this entry in the Winston Brothers series.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author orAuthor Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.


Knitting in the City Series: Ninja at First Sight and Happily Ever Ninja by Penny Reid

My reaction to Happily Ever Ninja is why Penny Reid continues to be on double-secret probation with me, a situation that started with The Hooker and the Hermit, deepened with Elements of Chemistry and was cemented by Truth or Beard. I wasn’t going to buy Happily Ever Ninja. I WASN’T. No matter what joo-joo a couple of earlier books in the Knitting in the City series possessed or how much I liked Beauty and the Mustache. Penny Reid’s status as an autobuy was over. Then I read Ninja at First Sight and it intrigued me. I followed with a sample of Happily Ever Ninja and enjoyed the set up. Giving in, I bought the full length novel. Boy, was I disappointed. The strong beginning devolved into a Truly Silly and Pseudo Serious Adventure acting as a metaphor for marriage. Thinking again, I’m placing Reid on triple secret probation. I don’t really know what that means, but I won’t be paying for any more of her books.

Happily Ever Ninja

From Amazon: There are three things you need to know about Fiona Archer… I would tell you what they are, but then I’d have to kill you.  But I can tell you that Fiona’s husband—the always irrepressible and often cantankerous Greg Archer—is desperately in love with his wife. He aches for her when they are apart, and is insatiable when they are together. Yet as the years pass, Greg has begun to suspect that Fiona is a ninja. A ninja mom. A ninja wife. A ninja friend. After fourteen years of marriage, Greg is trying not to panic. Because Fiona’s talent for blending in is starting to resemble fading away.  However, when unexpected events mean Fiona must take center stage to keep her family safe, her response stuns everyone—Greg most of all. It seems like Greg’s wish has come true.

Greg and Fiona have spent the entirety of their marriage, and most of their relationship before that, living far apart. Years of long distance life have taken their toll and on Greg’s latest, brief visit home he realises Fiona is slipping away from him. When his professional life takes a Very Dramatic turn, she works to set everything to rights.

Fiona was consistently, wonderfully competent which was her blessing and curse. While a riot, Greg was dismissively autocratic when dealing with her. Not in a rude or high-handed way, he was just won’t listen to her. She is more capable than him, he really should clue in and when he continues not to it is very frustrating. I know that was the point, but it was overplayed. The two end up on a whirlwind adventure and how Fiona makes it through without slapping him is beyond me, even if I understood why there were together.


Ninja at First Sight

I liked this prequel to Greg and Fiona’s novel and wish it had been longer, although some gaps from it were filled in during the full length book. Having recently read a bunch of new adult romances, this story of two university students filled that bill nicely. Fiona has chosen to go to college far away from her parents. It’s her only hope for independence from their pressure and ongoing concern as a result of a serious health crisis she suffered as  a teenager. Incredibly shy and a bit awkward, she is dragged around her residence by a well-intentioned roomie and meets Greg. He’s older, British, and attached. He also knows a good thing when he sees it and is gone on Fiona from day one. Their courtship was sweet and involving. I blame it for getting me to overlook my Penny Reid book-buying embargo and buy Fiona and Greg’s full length story.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

The Winston Brothers Series: Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard is the first book in the Winston Brothers contemporary romance series, but the Winston sister already had her turn in a book I liked better, Beauty and the Mustache.

Jessica: If I said the sky was blue you would say it was purple.
Duane: Sometimes the sky is purple. Right now it’s indigo, almost black. You can’t just make a unilateral statement that the sky is blue.

Ah, that’s the stuff. Banter gives me life. Penny Reid writes great banter, friendships, and familial relationships; unfortunately, in Truth or Beard, the romantic relationship didn’t really work. It got off to great and steamy start, but fizzled under the weight of comeheregoaway. Penny Reid writes great heroines and the men are so smitten, so I did want to like this book. I wanted to like it so much. This hero has a beard. Do you have any idea how much I love beards? Plus, every hero in this series has one. Heaven, I tell you. HEAVEN. Or it would be, if the narrative had held up.

The six  bearded Winston brothers, and their beardless sister have just lost their mother. Duane and Beau, the twins, run an automotive shop with Cletus, the unfortunately named, zen one. Duane has long had a hankering for the sheriff’s daughter, Jessica. She, in turn, has always had a crush on Beau. When Jessica moves back to her parents home in rural Tennessee to teach at the local high school and save money on rent in anticipation of setting out on a life of travel, Duane makes his long-awaited move and the two of them start to date, then take turns deciding the relationship can’t work. By the time they reached a consensus, I didn’t care any more. I even went off and read something else for a while when I lost interest in the story.

This makes the second Penny Reid book in a row I haven’t really liked and had too much vacillation on the part of the leads. The price will have to be right for me to read any more of her novels.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Elements of Chemistry by Penny Reid

I’ve read enough Penny Reid now that I can tell you what I like about her books. She’s very funny and she uses first person narration incredibly effectively. Often one’s inner life can be so different from one’s public persona and that juxtaposition, when done well, greatly adds to the characterization. That said, Elements of Chemistry also got this response from me, spoken out loud and with a great deal volume:

 She needs to be punched in the head.

But more on that later.

Kaitlyn Parker is the daughter of a very successful and famous family. Martin Sandeke is the son of a manipulative bastard of a billionaire. As Elements of Chemistry fits into the “New Adult” romance genre, Katy and Martin meet when they were paired up as chemistry lab partners at an Ivy League university. Katy tries to be invisible, Martin insists on seeing her. When Katy overhears people scheming (yes, scheming) against Martin, she peeks out of her cloak of invisibility to warn him. Martin is somewhat suspicious, but mostly grateful to her for this chance to make his move, so he finagles spending Spring Break with Katy, her friend, and the members of the college rowing team – of which he is, of course, the captain – at his family’s Caribbean estate.

Elements of Chemistry started well. Martin was very interested in Katy and not willing to let the opportunity to get closer to her pass. He pursues while Katy dances between her own distrust of the hot guy who wants her and the fact that she also desperately wants him, too. There is a lot of comeheregoaway in this book, a hitherto unprecedented amount of it. A level of comeheregoaway that means that the last two-thirds of the book consist of Big Misundertandings and me wondering at what point this lovely university student became Too Stupid to Live. Sadly, it was the last comeheregoaway in anticipation of the novel’s denouement that left me wishing physical violence upon Katy.

I continue in my failure to understand the timelines in so many of these books, or, to be more accurate, how many authors don’t understand that they need to successfully portray the emotional connection between the leads to justify the compressed timeline. Contradicting myself, all Martin and Katy seemed to have was an emotional connection, but it was constantly fraught and angst-filled. An hour or two of connected bliss (emotional and betimes physical) and their relationship would derail.  I appreciated that Martin adored Katy and was willing to work through her insecurities, but, comeheregoaway, jeezy chreezy, comeheregoaway, big dramatic moment, comeheregoaway, falling in love, comeheregoaway, and starting a relationship, comeheregoaway, is not supposed to be this difficult. Walk away, dude. Just walk away.

Elements of Chemistry was maddening and Penny Reid’s foray into co-writing,The Hooker and the Hermit, put me in the mood for a stabbing. Her Knitting in the City series is where I will be spending my time with her catalogue from now on. I particularly enjoyed Beauty and the Mustache.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Knitting in the City Series: Friends Without Benefits and Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise by Penny Reid

These are books two and six from Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City series:

  1. Neanderthal Seeks Human
  2. Friends Without Benefits – see below
  3. Neanderthal Marries Human (novella)
  4. Love Hacked
  5. Beauty and the Mustache
  6. Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise (novella) – also below
  7. Happily Ever Ninja
  8. Dating-ish: A Humanoid Romance
  9. A Marriage of Inconvenience

Friends Without Benefits

I enjoy the unrequited love trope, especially as the romance genre always allows for the besotted character’s vindication, but having said that, Friends Without Benefits was just okay and not as good as the others in the Knitting in the City series, although I did welcome the visits with other characters from the novels. As with the other books, there was a subplot that took a turn into high drama even though Reid is so good with the relationships it was unnecessary.

Elizabeth is a doctor completing her residency and is winding up her pediatric rotation. She is paged to a consultation for a Cystic Fibrosis study and finds herself face-to-face with a man she is has known her whole life, but hasn’t seen for 11 years. Nico Moretti is the son of her mother’s best friend, the uncle to the sick child, and both the former bane of Elizabeth’s existence and the boy she summarily dumped right after losing her virginity to him.

Nico has made a life for himself as model and then successful stand-up comedian called The Face (an odd juxtaposition to be sure). He has a TV show in New York, but is visiting Chicago to help care for his niece. He takes one look at Elizabeth and realises this is his chance to win the woman he has always loved. Capitalizing on the CF study and his fame, he makes sure his niece gets the best possible care and that Elizabeth never leaves him again.

While Friends Without Benefits had Reid’s usual wry humour and smolder, it never really clicked for me. Despite strong chemistry, I just wasn’t invested in Elizabeth and Nico.

Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise

Some readers must have complained about the lack of [insert funky  bass line here] in the novels as this addition to the series consists of follow-up chapters on the couples including some bedroom time and an extended excerpt from the upcoming book Happily Ever Ninja.

Neanderthal Seeks Human’s Janie and Quinn are on their honeymoon doing what honeymooners do. There is no new information, just Janie acting in her usual charming offbeat way and Quinn appreciating both her intellect and the way she looks in a bikini.

Love Hacked’s Alex and Sandra have been married for a year and are blissfully in love. For their anniversary, Alex arranges a special adventure for Sandra. This chapter had no smolder and benefited from it.

Nico and Elizabeth’s follow up to Friends Without Benefits addresses their wedding and its aftermath. As the books are told from the women’s perspectives – with the hero’s perspective in a final chapter – this episode was indirectly covered in both Neanderthal Marries Human and Friends Without Benefits.

The end of Beauty and the Mustache (which I really liked) had protagonists Ashley and Drew agreeing to be together in Tennessee, but she was still living in Chicago. Here, she waits in her empty apartment for Drew to come and pick her up for the drive to her new home. While impatiently waiting, she revisits the letters he wrote to her during their time apart. Drew arrives, they get busy, the end.

Ninja at First Sight excerpt from Happily Ever Ninja

Part of the delight of the Knitting in the City series is the group of female friends the stories are built around. Only one of them was married at the outset, Fiona, and she has been with her husband Greg for over a decade. This sneak peek takes the reader back to when they met at university. Fiona was a competitive gymnast who lost several of her teen years to fighting a brain tumor. Greg takes one look and is very interested, but he is also older and more worldly than she. Smitten, Fiona crushes on Greg and he on her while they both keep their distance. After a drunken confession and a sobering night’s sleep, they start to talk, and then kiss, and then the damn excerpt ends and leaves the reader hanging. I don’t normally like the married couple falling in love all over again stories, but I strongly suspect Happily Ever Ninja will make it onto my reading list when it is released.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.