Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: The Bourbon Kings

Over the years I've heard countless stories from romance readers on how they discovered the genre - and 9 times out of 10 it involves the ubquitous grocery sack of Harlequins they found in their 1) Mom's closet 2) Grandma's closet or 3) in the house of the woman they used to babysit for.  This, sadly, did not happen for me during my wee impressionable pre-Super Librarian days.  No.  Mom and Grandma didn't read romance novels.  They watched soap operas.

My God-fearing grandmother who used to scold me for using words like "hell" and "damn" would let me watch Dallas with her.  For those of you who watched that soap too?  Yeah, I know.  Grandma was warped.  Mom has been watching The Young and the Restless since it debuted on television.  My way of unwinding in college was watching four daytime soaps (Y&R, The Bold and the Beautiful, One Life to Live, General Hospital) not to mention this was the era of Melrose Place.  Seriously, it's amazing I managed to graduate.

So trust me when I say Wendy knows her soaps.  And while I've cut the cord on Daytime Drama, I'm still keenly susceptible to soapy goodness when it creeps into genre reading.  Despite not really "getting" the whole Black Dagger Brotherhood "thing" (I can't get past the craptastic dialogue that Ward writes in those books - but to each her own...), I read the description of The Bourbon Kings and was sunk.

Folks, I'm here to tell you - it's like Dynasty and Dallas had a baby and then decided to get that baby hooked on meth.  It's that over the top.  It's that soapy.  OMG, it's the trashiest trashtastic trash I've read in a dog's age.  And I mostly mean that as a compliment.

The trick to this book is to not expect any sort of compelling contemporary romance.  I think I was at first, and it was a hurdle I needed to get over.  The Bradford family is insanely wealthy, an American dynasty that made their fortune in Kentucky bourbon.  The family is a mess, a mother living in a drug-induced haze, an abusive father, a wounded/scarred/drunkard older brother, a spoiled princess of a daughter, another son who has literally vanished off the face of the Earth and our hero - prodigal son Lane who comes home to take care of old business - namely divorcing his trophy wife and picking up with his One True Love, head estate gardener, Lizzie King.

That's right, the hero is married.  He's also the sort of hero that everyone seems to keep making excuses for - including our heroine.  Nothing is ever really his fault.  Granted he gets railroaded into his marriage....but still.  Lizzie is our martyr, Lane is the golden boy - if you've watched one soap opera you know exactly where this is going.  As I said, as a romance this one isn't firing on all cylinders.  I mean, THE HERO IS MARRIED TO SOMEONE ELSE!

Where the book does excel is the family drama.  The reader spends just as much time with brooding wounded older brother Edward, and spoiled princess with a haunted past, Gin.  There's back-stabbing, double-dealing, and generally loathsome people doing loathsome things and yet I. Couldn't. Look. Away.

Is this subtle?  Hardly.  Everything here is broad-strokes.  It's about as subtle as the BDB books, which is to say sort of like a chainsaw.  Or like a jackhammer going off outside your bedroom window at 3AM.  On a school night.  Every single female character in this book, outside of the heroine, is vile to the point where I seriously began to wonder if Ward hates women.  They're all botoxed and blonde and evil and/or blackmailing a man because they're pregnant with his baby.  The old Romancelandia trick of making every other uterus look like the devil so that the heroine will look like Mother Mary standing next to them.  There's also some extremely problematic elements like an elderly woman of color who is basically portrayed like a cross between Mammy and Aunt Jemima (she's a cook who Lane views as a mother figure) and when one of the characters finds herself tossed in jail she's horrified that one of the prostitutes might "cough AIDS on her."

Um, yeah.

Eventually Lane and Lizzie get their happy ending - sort of.  I mean, it's hard to say because the Family Drama ramps up to 10,000th degree by the final chapter.  Gin finds herself tied up with a vile man (spoiler w/trigger warning: he rapes her after she agrees to marry him - seriously, this book!) and looking at the description of the next book, it seems Edward is heading into Love Triangle territory. Oh and did I mention there's a secret baby?  Yeah, there's one of those too.  I'm beginning to wonder if the long lost brother, Maxwell, will show up in the shower one morning and tell us all it was just a dream.

So where does this leave me?  Hungover with no idea how to grade this one.

Recovering Soap Opera Addict Wendy Grade = A++++++++ SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Jaded Wendy With a Hangover Grade = Uh, a C?  Honestly, I have no idea. 


Lynn Spencer said...

I grew up on soaps, too. Still remember piling into my parents' bed with my mom and siblings to watch Dallas and Falcon Crest - wholesome family entertainment indeed. Like you, I never could get into BDB but the sheer craziness of this book is intriguing me.

azteclady said...

It's Ward; that's enough for me to turn my nose up at it.

(az holds grudges :grin: it's like my one skill)

PK the Bookeemonster said...

Soaps. I was in college during the "golden era". General Hospital and the Ice Princess, Luke and Laura hype. Days of of Lives with Marlena and Roman (original) and Bo and Hope. Santa Barbara with Mason and Julia.

Anna Richland said...

Law school in California during Melrose Place. Need I say more?

(But my grandmother watched Guiding Light).

From the review, I'm channeling vintage Jackie Collins or Sidney Sheldon?

Bona Caballero said...

Dynasty and Dallas had a baby? It looks just my thing. I'd love to read something so crazy and full of family drama.
Only -
It's written by J. R. Ward and I've only read two of her BDB books and hated them. Her female characters are as deep as amoebae. It looks like this book has got the same problem.
These days I'm not very fond of books that revolve around the heroes, and all women are evil but the heroine, so -
I guess I'd have the problem as you.

Nikki said...

Thanks for the great review. It sounds just way too over the top for me. We scheduled our classes around General Hospital and One Life to Live--my brother, my hubby-to-be and the whole baseball team were glued to the tube from 12-2. And that was back in the 70's. Yikes.

Jill D. said...

OMG!! Your review totally cracks me up!! If I am looking for drama, I will know where to go. I haven't read Ward in a while. It sounds like if I am ready for a guilty pleasure read, I know what to pick up, LOL!

Wendy said...

Every summer I run across lists of "best beach reads" and it always amazes me to find High Falutin' Literature and Classics on such lists. Uh, no. I used to say "Jackie Collins" - but now I'm going to say this book. It is textbook beach reading, all the way. It's Crazy Sauce with a Capital C and Capital S.

Bona: Yeah, the women are...not that well drawn in this book either. Sister Gin could have some possibilities. As the reader you waffle between feeling sorry for her and finding her completely despicable. It will be interesting to see what Ward does with her eventual book.

Bri said...

I read this last year and thought it was soapy in the best sense. Yes, it's over the top. Yes, the characters are mostly evil. Yes, there is nothing redeeming about the hero and he is a butthead a lot of the time. Yet, even with all that, I could not put it down. It entertained me in the 'Oh no, they did not do that!' way that soaps are known for.

It definitely helped that I went in expecting crazy family drama and not expecting a romance in the traditional sense. The second book comes out this week I think.

Kelly Campbell said...

My mom watched soaps and read romance novels. Win/win for me.

I watched all the 80's prime time soaps and I at one time or another watched all the daytime soaps. The exceptions being Y & R and B & B. They were too over the top, even for soaps to me. Oh, I never watched Sunset Beach or Passions either. Watched a few episodes of Generations.

SusiB said...

I guess I have to read this book now. Read the first book in the BDB series and despised it. Also, I couldn't get over the ridiculous names of the characters. But I was a teenager in the 1980s and loved watching Dallas and Dynasty (I was even allowed to stay up until 10.30 pm on schoolnights to watch them). I can't possibly not read a book that is "like Dynasty and Dallas had a baby and then decided to get that baby hooked on meth".

Wendy said...

Bri: Once I let go of expecting a "traditional contemporary romance" I fell right into this one. But I was halfway there already given the completely over the top soapy shenanigans :)

Kelly: B&B had a tendency to run off the rails for me - and OMG, Passions! That was too over the top even for me! LOL

Susi: My main gripes with the BDB are the pale-shadow, under-developed heroines and the inane dialogue. This book isn't great when it comes to the female characters, but the soapy aspects were able to carry the book for me. I'm hoping Little Sister Gin gets more fully fleshed out in future books because she's....interesting so far.

nath said...

I watched Dallas and Dynasty, but I was too young to get the whole thing ^_^;

Great review, Wendy. It was really fun to read :P But yeah, I'll pass on the book. Not a huge fan of J.R. Ward... and I don't think this book will change my mind.