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Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

I have never read a J.R. Ward book until now so I really don't have anything to contribute to the debate about this particular book. Tell me though, if you've been a longtime fan, how does this book measure up? Do you recommend Ward's books to me? If so, which ones?

Format: Hardcover (A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of an honest review. )
Publisher: Berkley NAL
Release Date: July 28, 2015

For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.

For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.

As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.

The Bourbon Kings needs a theme song, ASAP!

Easterly estate is thrown into chaos and turmoil when Jonathan Tulane Baldwine returns home. As the prodigal son of the Bradford family, much is expected of him yet his past is determined to bring him down. Everyone wants a piece of him including his ruthless wife, his bitter older brother, his unscrupulous father and the broken hearted gardener who had the bad sense to fall in love with him two years ago.

Lizzie King knows that the staff should never mix with the wealthy and powerful Bradfords. Their title of the kings of the bourbon capital of the world isn’t just a title; it’s a way of life. The deep line of division between the classes on Easterly estate should have prevented her from falling for Tulane but didn’t. Now, two years after their bitter breakup, Tulane is coming home and Lizzie just might be swept up in the storm his arrival is sure to bring.

I have never read a J.R. Ward book before and perhaps I should have started with her earlier books because The Bourbon Kings was a bit overwhelming to me. It isn’t a bad book, in fact it’s a very well written book because it’s very clear that the author has intimate knowledge of life in the south and took the time to research what she didn’t know.

The Bourbon Kings isn’t really a romance novel. Tulane and Lizzie are not the focus of this book. It is more about the dynamics of this rich and powerful family and how each of the siblings has had to lie, cheat, steal and manipulate in order to survive their cruel, ruthless and dangerous father. While I expected more of a romance, I’m not going to deny that I was absolutely fascinated with this family and the drama that surrounded them. Tulane, Edward, Maxwell and their sister Gin have so many emotional, mental and physical scars that have come from growing up at Easterly that I’m surprised they didn’t self destruct though Edward and Gin seem to be on their way to doing just that.

These characters are a train wreck but I was so absorbed in Tulane’s fight to get himself up from the emotional gutter he was in at the beginning of the book, that it wasn’t until the last page that I realized that The Bourbon Kings is a family story. It’s an addictive story of a family who’s patriarch seems hell bent on destroying everything they have, it’s a story about how the current generation of Bourbon Kings has to not only fix themselves but their family as well. I loved how gritty and real J.R. Ward got with this family and their demons. It isn’t an easy life for any of them and from the glimpses of Edward and Gin’s lives I gather that Tulane may have been the “lucky” one. There’s a lot of background on each character that is only hinted at, which of course piqued my interest. I do love characters who start off as barely living and fight to find their happiness.

However, if you’re expecting a red hot romance you’re out of luck. Tulane and Lizzie’s romance is more like the soft, muted music that plays in the background of a bigger, more dramatic story. When the focus is on these two, it’s fraught with complications and misunderstandings. Why, the love scenes are all fade to black which was pretty disappointing since the chemistry between Tulane and Lizzie sometimes got pretty hot. So that was a letdown. And there were times I just didn’t understand this family, or any of the families in the story. The “why” of putting up with so much from relatives and such. I suppose you have to be from the South to fully understand the dynamics of a family like the Bradfords. I know I struggled to understand the ties that bound and sometimes choked the characters. It certainly was interesting to see such a powerful family self destruct.

The Bourbon Kings brings to mind a lot of popular family centered dramas like the television series’ Dynasty, Dallas and Falcon Crest but in this story, the struggle to survive your own family is all too real. That’s the part I connected with the most and that’s what kept me reading throughout the night. Ward did a fantastic job of building the backgrounds, history and conflicts in The Bourbon Kings but the romance suffered for it. I see this book as more of a family saga than a romance. I believe readers could use an introductory character chart or list so that the multitude of characters won’t confuse them.

Overall, my first J.R. Ward experience was pleasant. It wasn’t what I was expecting and there were certain things about The Bourbon Kings that were disappointing, most notably the lack of focus on the romance since this is being classified as a romance novel. But, I will say that main the plot and the execution of said plot is done masterfully well and impressed the heck out of me.

Final Verdict: This family has my attention. It may not be a romance in the biggest sense of the word but I consider myself invested in this series. I hope I'm able to see it all play out in future books.

About J.R. Ward
J.R. Ward is the number one New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series of vampire books.

She is a winner of the prestigious Romance Writers of America RITA award for Best Paranormal Romance and is a multiple RITA nominee.

A graduate of Smith College, she was a double major in History and Art History with a medieval concentration in both and she still longs at times for a return to those days sitting in dark lecture halls, looking at slides of old triptychs and reliquaries. Prior to becoming a full time writer, she was a corporate attorney, serving for many years as the Chief of Staff of one of Harvard Medical Schools premier teaching sites.

Her idea of absolute heaven is a day filled with nothing but her computer, her dog and her coffee pot and the Brothers, of course

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