Friday, July 22, 2016
Review: The Bourbon Kings
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."
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.