Audiobook Review: The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

Posted on 09/08/2015 in Book Review / 3 Comments

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Audiobook Review:  The Bourbon Kings by J.R. WardThe Bourbon Kings (The Bourbon Kings, #1) by J.R. Ward
Published by Penguin Audio on July 28th 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

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.... \r\n 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.\r\n 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.\r\n 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.\r\n

Lawd have mercy, The Bourbon Kings was such a delicious novel!\n\nBut first, a story.\n\nBack in April, I drove with my friend Jeremy to Colorado to help him move and get situated in his new digs.  It was a long, long, LONG drive, but it meant we got to motor through the rolling hills of Kentucky, resplendent with its signature blue grass, perfectly manicured pastures and – yes – bourbon distilleries.  We couldn’t very well ride through Bourbon Country without stopping at a local distillery, now could we?  I feel like that violates some kind of road trip rule.\n\nKentucky was beautiful and I spent a large part of that drive wondering how that other half – the wealthy, horse-breedin’, bourbon-making half – lived.  Who was behind those ornate iron gates and herds of race horses?\n\nWhen The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward was announced, it looked divine.  I had to have it.\n\nFolks, it does not (really) disappoint.\n\n \n

What I Liked About The Bourbon Kings

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Juicy, juicy characterization!

\nWhat did I like about The Bourbon Kings?  All the juicy characters, of course!  So many things happen behind closed doors, so many things are whispered behind hands and just about every character was ruthless.  Ward was very good at making you hate some characters and making you love others.  This is where it really felt like a season of Downton Abbey for me.  In fact, I drew several parallels to Downton Abbey, but more on that in a bit.    Since the story follows both family and staff, it was easy to become engrossed in their individual stories, which Ward expertly weaved together to create a whole lot of drama.\n\nI was pretty invested in the stories about the Bradford children.  Tulane, the prodigal son who returns home to see his “mother” before she dies; Edward, the former heir to the entire estate-turned horse breeder/professional avoider/drunk; Gin, the baby of the siblings, who is completely inept at caring for herself, but also cunning enough to play her games with people.  Parts of me felt bad for all of them, while other parts of me figured that karma is a real bitch sometimes.\n\n \n

Let’s talk about the setting of The Bourbon Kings

\nIt’s lush and beautiful, and Ward compromises nothing when describing the Easterly Estate, with it’s many rooms, decadent parlor and dining room, and just plain flashy, old money lifestyle.  I pictured it as a modern-day castle much akin to the setting of Downton Abbey (only with a less depressing backdrop – you know, all that fog and grey clouds that perpetuate throughout the U.K…).  This is a family that is proud to be from old money, who looks down on their other wealthy counterparts who might have only come into their fortune within the last 100 years or so.\n\nWard illustrates the landscape with incredible brilliance, bringing to life the blue-green blades of grass and the sprawling pastures that go on for as far as the eye can see.  Derby Day?  Check.  She captures the madness that is preparing for the Derby, including the schmooze-fests that accompany such an event.\n\n \n

The Meh

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The plot was just okay.

\nInstead of focusing on a single protagonist, The Bourbon Kings follows the entire Bradford family dynasty through the trials and tribulations that “sort of” begin with a flight back home for Tulane, one of three sons in the Bradford family (“sort of” because their problems go back much further than the start of this novel).  His return to the estate after a more than two-year hiatus from his family spawns feuding, unpleasant memories and other conflict that only escalates to untimely circumstances and revelations.  And while I didn’t not like the plot, it did always felt a little convoluted, because it’s told in third-person and follows so many members of the family and staff.  Basically, it’s a soap opera in a book.  And while not a bad thing, it’s also not my favorite method of story-telling.\n \n

I was never really invested in the Tulane/Lizzie storyline.

\nThis first installment of The Bourbon Kings is supposed to focus on the Tulane/Lizzie storyline.  And while it does open and close with them, much of the book was spent with the other characters, I assume, to set up the next few books in the series.  I didn’t mind this too much, but I would have liked more time with the main characters in this particular story.  As it stands, I find them a little forgettable.  The characters I’m really interested in are Edward, Gin and their father, in no particular order.\n \n

But overall, The Bourbon Kings was an intriguing story.

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 While that many storylines isn’t my favorite way to read a story, it also did just kind of work for this one.  Yes, I totally realize I just contradicted myself!  I just don’t know if there is a better way to start a story like this.  But truly, The Bourbon Kings is a sum of all its parts, and readers will consume those parts with guilty pleasure.

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Narrator 4-1-1

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Alexander Cendese was a decent narrator.  I could sometimes tell that his southern accent wasn’t natural, but a part of that comes from growing up with and around a southern accent, so I can spot a fake from a mile away.  His pacing was good, but his drawls sounded forced and unnatural.  I’m still not a fan of men narrating women’s voices, but that’s not his fault.  In short, I’d listen to him again.

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Hey!  Wanna listen to a snippet of The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward?  Click play below!

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three-half-stars
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Jennifer became addicted to books when she randomly picked up a Sweet Valley High book in grade school. She never looked back. After blowing through the SVH and SVU series faster than her parents could put them in her hands, she began perusing her stepfather's bookshelves and reading fantasy like Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, which she still maintains is some of the best fantasy ever. She collects books like the Duggar family collects kids and began waiting for her Hogwarts letter at the tender age of 33.

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