Reviews: The Bourbon Kings: J.R. Ward

The Bourbon Kings (The Bourbon Kings #1)
J.R. Ward
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Expected July 28, 2015

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.

Press release

New York, NY; October 30, 2014 – New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House, announced today that it will publish in hardcover the first book in a new contemporary series from #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward on July 28, 2015.

Launching with a novel of the same name, The Bourbon Kings series will introduce readers to the Bradfords, a wealthy, aristocratic family in Kentucky who made their money from bourbon.

The books have already been optioned for television by Endemol Studios, the entertainment and production company behind the international hit TV series Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Wipeout, Hell On Wheels, The Fall and Peaky Blinders, among others.

Set in the heart of bourbon and horse country, The Bourbon Kings marks a departure for Ward who hasn’t written extensively about Kentucky, though she lives in The Bluegrass State and has deep ties to the surrounding community.

Ward said: “The Bourbon Kings are just like my Black Dagger Brotherhood vampires, flawed heroes for strong women who live and love in a vivid, ever-changing world of passion and excitement. Readers can expect the same big emotions, epic storylines, and soul-deep love stories in these books—as well as those signature, OMG, I have to know what happens NEXT! kind of endings.”

With more than 15 million of her novels in print worldwide, Ward is an international bestselling author best known for her phenomenally popular paranormal Black Dagger Brotherhood series about a group of warrior vampires. Dark Lover, the first book in the series, was published in 2005, and reader reaction was immediate. Just eighteen months later, the fourth book in the series, Lover Revealed, hit the New York Times bestseller list. Since then, Ward’s novels have held the #1 spot on the New York Times hardcover, mass market, eBook, and combined print/eBook fiction bestseller lists and have debuted in the Top Five on the USA Today bestseller list. Ward and her books have been featured in USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

“The Bourbon Kings has all the hallmarks of Ward’s hugely successful Black Dagger Brotherhood books—fascinating characters, compelling interwoven plotlines, passionate love stories—while also feeling completely fresh. I’m thrilled to be starting a new series with the extremely talented J.R. Ward and am confident that readers will also find this one irresistibly addictive,” said NAL’s Senior Vice President and Publisher Kara Welsh.

The Bourbon Kings series will follow the Bradfords, those who work for them on their estate, Easterly, and several other wealthy Southern families involved in Kentucky’s bourbon industry.
This book reminded me of an 80's night time soap opera about the extravagant lifestyles of the super rich families and all of their hidden dirty secrets. Cue to sweeping background music and pictures of a lush Southern Estate...

It centers around the Bradford Family Estate, Easterly, and the Baldwine family that lives there. Tulane "Lane" Baldwine is finally coming home after a two year absence due to a family emergency. Once he returns he comes face to face with Lizzie King...the one that got away. She is the head horticulturist for the estate so that adds a forbidden element to the pairing. Lane's personal life has some challenging situations to deal that he has been avoiding, but now he is motivated to change his life in order to win back Lizzie. Lizzie is independent, sassy, vulnerable, and still quite upset at Lane over situations that ended their relationship. And frankly she has every right to be. 

Lane also finds himself immersed in family drama, deception, and cover ups. Things are not what they seem and many characters have hidden agendas and secrets. Suddenly the son that ran away is the one that is left trying to sort out larger family problems than he never even imagined. He has to become an investigator, savior, and the responsible family member. And there are some serious problems and foul play going on. I came to like Lane, but he really had made some unpopular decisions and  had been kind of just coasting through life.

It also focuses on Lane's siblings.  Edward is the oldest brother who has been broken, but is trying to put his life back together as best he can. He has been forced to change his life plans and some of his coping mechanisms aren't exactly healthy. But there are a couple of new developments in his life that are just beginning to inspire him to heal more and change. I am interested in him and how his story progresses in future books. 

Youngest sister, Gin, is quite frankly a mess. The one man she loves seems to be the one she can't have. There is a lot of back and forth with her and especially with their family lawyer (who this family seems to keep really busy).  She has a history of bad behavior, secrets, regrets, and poor choices. There is a lot of drama surrounding both her past and present. She has several men in her life causing drama. I have to say that she was a hard character for me to like, but at the same time one of her scenes was probably one of the more emotional ones for me. 

One of the other brothers, Max is supposedly a bit of a troublemaker but is just talked about and shown in a flashback, but I assume that he will eventually make his way home in one of the upcoming installments. The parents are a whole other situation with issues surrounding them.

The side characters were interesting and it was easy to either like them or hate them. I really Liked Samuel T, Sutton, Shelby, and Miss Aurora. Some others I really despised with a passion. This book is told in multiple points of view that change after each short chapter. I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into the story and almost quit a couple of times. The in depth descriptions of the house and gardens, lavish decor, bourbon making process etc. kind of overpowered the beginning of the story. I had a hard time connecting with the characters initially, but did come to like some of them and did get interested in their stories and how they were progressing. Although I felt sometimes that I was just being told their stories and not really feeling them.

This was full of drama, twists, secrets, deceit, pain, challenges, corruption, scandals, deaths, dysfunctional relationships, and multiple story lines developing. It sometimes felt like a really long introduction that was trying to acquaint us with a lot of characters, information, and history. But then it was full speed ahead drama and surprises, and it did leave off with many stories still in play to continue in the next installments. But at the same time it was not left in a total relationship or overly dramatic cliffhanger that needed immediate resolution. I can definitely see why it was optioned for tv and it might just be the family and setting that could bring back the popularity of the night time soap.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Looks can be deceiving. While Easterly and the family that reigned the bourbon empire from within always looked so perfect, so imposing, the walls that kept them isolated and in power were crumbling.

Lane Baldwine has avoided his father’s house for two years, but a vague phone call has him running as fast as he can to get back. Lane is the second son; he was never supposed to be the one to handle the family business. With his oldest brother still recovering from a tragedy and his other brother out of communication, Lane must step up when things start shaking up at home.

Lizzie knows what steps to make when working at Easterly. Staff entrances, staff uniform, staff rules. And staff and family don’t mix. When she runs into Lane unexpectedly, her world is shaken to the core as all the rigid rules begin to be broken.

These two were combustible together. Though Lizzie fought hard to keep Lane away, to remind him that they shouldn’t be together, he was determined to prove to her that he wanted her. I loved watching them circle each other, deal with the situations that arose as a result of her working for the family and his own situation.

I loved reading Lane with his momma. The relationship all three children have with Miss Aurora is one that I absolutely loved -- at times it had me grinning and others had me feeling a deep emotion I hadn’t expected from the story.

Lane and Lizzie’s story, while the focal couple of this first book, was at times overshadowed by the introductions, build up for other characters, and the general drama and tension growing on the estate. Lane and Lizzie themselves are a nice second chance story. 

This was like reading a sweeping soap opera/murder mystery on the page rather than watching it on a screen. I found myself reading the twists and turns wondering who to trust and what was going on to the point where I finally gave up trying to figure it out. There is so much going on at Easterly behind the scenes that I just turned the pages as fast as I could and hoped the answers would find me.

I am looking forward to more answers. The ending happened rather abruptly, both for Lane and Lizzie’s story arch and the rest of the background events going on. I am looking forward to seeing what else comes up as a result of the final day in this story and how the siblings will fare in future books. Edward, especially, intrigued me and I think he has been the most dynamic of the side characters yet. He drew me in to his story from the start. Gin, the only sister, was a character I couldn’t quite pin down my feelings about. I started out feeling like she was just a spoiled product of her upbringing, oblivious to everything and everyone except herself. But as the story went on, I found more sympathy for some of her choices, while other choices only reaffirmed my initial impressions. 

The Bourbon Kings is definitely the first in a family saga. Readers are introduced to the Bradford/Baldwine family, their staff, and a circle of friends and competitors who create drama and scandal around them. As the story quickly unfolds, it expands into a twisted web of family deceit, business questions, and several star crossed pairings. The story does not begin on page one, but began when the siblings were children. The past weaves through the story as Lane, Edward, Gin, and Lizzie remembers threads of the past.
I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.
J. R. Ward 

J.R. Ward is a #1 New York Times bestselling author with more than 15 million novels in print published in 25 different countries around the world. Ward is a graduate of Smith College who currently lives in Kentucky. Before turning to writing full time, she worked as a lawyer in Boston and also spent many years working as Chief of Staff for one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation.
Visit her popular website and fan community at www.jrward.com and facebook.com/JRWardBooks.


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