The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward
Book One of The Bourbon Kings series
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley
***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***
Summary (from Goodreads):
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood delivers the first novel in an enthralling new series set amid the shifting dynamics of a Southern family defined by wealth and privilege—and compromised by secrets, deceit, and scandal....
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.
What I Liked:
Huh. This book was not what I expected. You know I have not read a single J.R. Ward book? I really want to try her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, but it's just so long... I'm not sure I have the attention span for that many books, companions or sequels. In any case, I really liked this book, and I'm glad it was my first Ward read.
The Bradford family are not entirely who they appear to be. Kings of the bourbon industry, yes, but there is more going on behind closed doors than one could ever imagine. Lane Baldwine has not been at Easterly in two years, not to see his cold wife, or his cruel father, or his listless mother, or the horticulturist he once loved. Lizzie loved Lane too, but she is determined to forget him. Two years later, Lane comes back to Easterly, after receiving distressing news about someone he loves. The arrival of Lane not only brings back memories for Lizzie, but stirs up secrets - past and present - that shake the family and nation to the core.
This book reminds me of daytime soap operas, a bit. My mom watches Days of Our Lives and One Life To Live (though I think the latter is no longer airing), so I know all about daytime soaps. This book rivals one of those shows. Unfaithful partners, cold heartless women sleeping with anyone and everyone, cold heartless men sleeping with anyone and everyone, cold heartless people using sex with anyone and everyone to get back at each other, rich spoiled princesses, underhand deals, paternity in question... this book has it ALL, in terms of soap opera madness.
Luckily, Lane and Lizzie are not the crazy ones of this book. Lane wants to stay in New York, rather than live in Kentucky with his wife. He doesn't love her, hasn't touched her in years, but he's married to her... so I guess that his soap opera claim-to-fame. Lane is such a good guy though. He cares about Miss Aurora, who practically raised him. He cares about Lizzie, his former lover. He doesn't hide the fact that he cares about people, which makes him strong. I love his strength, also his protectiveness, and persistence, his intelligence.
Lizzie is a very independent woman, having worked as a horticulturist (head gardener) in the Bradford home for a decade or so. She has her own farm that she is paying off, and she's doing her best to forget Lane and their history. But easier said than done, because he comes back to Easterly, and the memories are still there. Throw in the fact that he will be divorcing his wife (but not because of Lizzie. That wife, Chantal, needed to go from the start).
This book also follows other characters. Edward, the older brother, who was kidnapped in South America and ransomed, but not before being tortured and injured and scarred beyond measure. Edward lives on a horse farm, breeding horses. Gin, the youngest child of the Bradford family and only girl, is a weird one. I actually hate her, I think. She sleeps with EVERYONE, mercilessly. She does NOT care who lifts her skirts. I'm sorry, I know we're all for feminism, but, um, not classy? Anyone, I felt back for her towards the end. She didn't deserve what was happening, but in the end, she chose it. She's a dumb woman (said so herself), but no one deserves that. Samuel T is the family's lawyer and Lane's friend. He's mixed up with the Bradford family as well, and knows all their crap. Samuel is in deeper than he knows, thanks to a little secret someone kept from him.
This story follows what happens when a little secret unravels into a bigger one into an even larger one. Lane discovers things about his father and the bourbon business that he never would have known. I was riveted with and fascinated by the story. Ward takes this filthy rich, snobby family, and packs more drama and shenanigans than a soap opera. Lots of OMG and WOAH happening in this book!
I liked the romance. There was a lot of romance going on, not just with Lizzie and Lane. Not in a love triangle way though. Lizzie and Lane are a pair, and no one, not even Lane's wife, can touch that. I had my doubts, because Lane is married in the beginning, but it becomes obvious what kind of marriage that is. Lizzie and Lane have history, so this particular story was a slowburn romance for them. They are angry with each other, yet desperate for each other. Love! The romance was sweet and steamy, though I was surprised by the scant amount of sexy scenes. If you know what I mean,
Other romance - well, there's Gin and a certain someone, but that certain someone keeps his distance from her because he knows her game. The two of them are the exact same person, just different sexes. They make the perfect couple, yet Gin did something foolish at the end of this book. And then there's Edward - he's a dummy too. The only smart Bradford/Baldwine is Lane.
Anyway. I really liked this book. I liked Lane a lot - I wanted to hug him at most times! I liked Lizzie, despite her lapse in judgment towards the end of the book (it's all good though!). This book wrecked me, had me going through all kinds of emotions. I had to stop reading and process things very often, because my heart was racing and my brain was in shock mode. Ward definitely knows how to write a great story, and a satisfying romance! I can't wait to read the next book.
What I Did Not Like:
The one thing I didn't like about this book is the lack of resolution we get, in the end. Like, we're left hanging a bit, in terms of Gin's future, or Samuel T's relationship with his girl, or the aftermath of a death that was unexpected, or Chantal's next move. Even Lane and Lizzie's relationship - it's solid, but I wish we had a fireworks scene at the end. Basically, this book ended a bit abruptly, and it could have done well with an epilogue. I know this is a series - it looks like it isn't a companion series, likely a sequel type of series? That bothers me a wee bit because with romance novels, I like a happily-ever-after with each book. But. I guess I will have to suffer and wait for the next book.
Would I Recommend It:
I loved this book, so I would totally recommend it! I am quite sure Ward fans will enjoy this book, and anyone looking for a fun (and terrifying) dramatic contemporary novel with a lovely side of romance. The romance is important, but not the focus of the book. So you don't even have to be a romance fan to enjoy this book!
4 stars. I haven't been really enjoying the books I've read recently, so this book was a welcome change. I could not read it fast enough! I was literally rushing through some pages at times because it could not be read fast enough! The story was so engrossing and so intriguing and I want more. Give me the sequel or give me, well, I'll settle for only the sequel!
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