Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
We hold these truths to be self-evident when reading a Penny Reid romance, especially one centered in Green Valley, Tennessee, and even more especially when its focus is Cletus Winston that:
- There will be times when you absolutely want to strangle Cletus or hug him or laugh at him or cheer him on. In Reid’s newest book, Engagement and Espionage, you will find this breadth of emotion as it relates to Cletus Winston. And quite frankly, it’s glorious. It’s the reason that you read Penny Reid’s brand of romance because she offers a depth of character in the ways she crafts her heroes and heroines. They are almost three-dimensional in nature, and they feel like real people in your life. In turn, this allows you to connect to their brand of zaniness, especially as it relates to Cletus Winston.
- You will admire his lady love, Jennifer Sylvester (Jenn for short). One of the reasons that Jenn Sylvester exists is to humanize Cletus Winston AND to make him a better, less vengeful person. Yes, he is still wanting revenge, but when it entails Jenn, it is always as a protection and retaliation on her behalf. In other books, honestly, Cletus is the proffer of petty. Yet, in this book, Cletus’s want for revenge is worthy. Beyond that, through Jenn’s character, we are treated to a woman who is burgeoning on the actualization of her self. In Beard Science, Cletus awakens her self-evaulation. In E&E, we find her embracing her needs and making changes to give more of her time and energy to Cletus and herself. In fact, this book explores her journey in setting personal boundaries as protection for herself and her relationship with Cletus.
- The Winston clan will play a huge part. This is definitely the case with E&E. They act as you expect: support, ire-maker, and back-up. However, Cletus being Cletus, we know he won’t be laying his head on the shoulder of his brothers and sister, so there is more witty banter between them all. Isn’t this what we love about a Reid romance? As such, there is a LOT to love about Engagement and Espionage.
- And there is more of Green Valley. The favorites are here, but they are joined by a few mentions of some of our favorite SmartyPants Romance characters and a few characters we have yet to meet. Given this is Jenn and Cletus, yes, there is more of her deliciously villainous father (the character you love to hate) and her mother who looks as though she might redeem herself. Maybe.
But what is new here? What is the ultimate “engagement” of this book? There’s a mystery. Now, when Penny Reid announced this series, I have to be honest, given we’re dealing with Cletus, I thought for sure it would be “keystone cops-esque”. And boy did she surprise me. There is always a little bit of zany humor with Cletus Winston, but that humor is quiet in E&E. For me, the romantic suspense of this story carries it. Yes, romance resides in E&E, but it feels secondary to the overall story, and even though, you want the romantic stuff in this book, you actually want the story more. This illustrates Reid’s prowess as a storyteller. She isn’t simply a romance writer; no, she’s a storyteller for any genre. That’s exciting because it shows her breadth of experience, and you know as a reader that whatever she offers you, you’ll love it because her storytelling is simply delicious.
And lastly, be ready, folks. Even though Cletus and Jenn burned up the sheets in Beard Science, like that book, this is a slow, slow burn. This is where you find Reid’s mastery as a writer. She takes her time in ramping up their chemistry. By the time these two finally find some “alone” time, we, the reader, are all like Cletus, starving for their coupling and then satiated by the end. Little by little, Reid carefully crafts their physical experience in a way that feels explosive when it finally happens, and you can’t help but love that Reid doesn’t make her romance about that. She invites us into their relationship so that we feel emotionally invested in them. This is what I love the most about Penny Reid’s brand of romance.
The truth of Penny Reid’s Engagement and Espionage is that it is a journey. As the first page turns, you invest yourself deeper and deeper in Cletus and Jenn’s story. Reid makes them believable to us because their general experience is our own: we want that person in our life to know their worth in our own. We may fumble with finding the balance of showing that worth, but at the basest of levels, we love them beyond any measure. And that is the ultimate truth of Penny Reid’s newest book, and it will engage you and entertain you and keep you reading to the final page.
In love and romance,