Review: The Beast

Review: The BeastThe Beast (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #14) by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #14
Published by NAL on April 5th 2016
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 508

“She was the watch on his wrist, the roast beef when he was starving, and the pitcher of lemonade when he was thirsty. She was his chapel and his choir, the mountain range to his wanderlust, the library for his curiosity, and every sunrise or sunset that ever was or would ever be.”

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book. Ward has done a great job creating a realistic conflict between Mary and Rhage which stays true to their story but accommodates the changes that have occurred with them and their friends.

THE STORY:  Rhage thinks everything should be perfect. He has the woman he loves, his brothers have found love and are doing well.  But Rhage is having panic attacks and he can feel a distance between him and Mary and even a distance in his own life.  At the same time, Mary is dealing with a crisis of her own at work.  When Rhage suffers a mortal injury, he and Mary must confront their problems rather than ignore them.

There is also stories about Layla and Xcor which moves them closer to their own book.  Assail also has his own story continue.

OPINION: I found this book particularly enjoyable because it takes seriously Mary and Rhage’s relationship. This book settles a lingering issue between Mary and Rhage. While the two love one another, they have never dealt with the fact that they cannot have children together.  Now as the other members of the BDB are moving on to the stage of having children, the issue that seemed settled rises again.

I enjoyed how Ward goes deep into her characters in this book.  Even with love, there are sometimes disappointments in relationships. Rhage loves Mary and wouldn’t choose anyone else, but there is no doubt that the reality of never having children is finally settling in. So many times, the choices we make seem simple until we have to live with them.  Rhage and Mary are both having to live with their reality.

I really am embracing Ward’s revisiting of couples from the original Black Dagger Brotherhood. I still find those characters the most compelling in the series and am happy to see more of their journey.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a new character introduced who has an interesting connection to Manny.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE BEAST is closely connected with the Black Dagger Brotherhood ongoing story.  A reader could read LOVER ETERNAL and understand the romance between Mary and Rhage but there are other storylines which would not be understandable without reading more of the series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: The Angels’ Share

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Angels’ ShareThe Angels' Share (The Bourbon Kings, #2) by J.R. Ward
Series: The Bourbon Kings #2
Published by NAL on July 26th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432

“Timing, like fate, is everything.”

–the Note from the Author

FINAL DECISION:  One of my favorite books of the year.  THE ANGELS’ SHARE interweaves the individual stories of the various siblings in a compelling dramatic and amazingly mesmerizing way.  I couldn’t put this book down and my only regret is that I have to wait for the next book in the series.

THE STORY:  This book picks up immediately after the events of THE BOURBON KINGS.  The head of the family, William Baldwine has been found dead after the discovery of his embezzlement from the family company and the personal family fortunes.  First believed a suicide, suspicion begins to fall on the oldest brother, Edward, who was almost killed by William leaving Edward in pain, scarred and a shadow of his former self.  Edward also struggles with his attraction for Sutton Smythe, the new head of the family company’s rival and the woman Edward has wanted for years.  This story, along with the youngest brother Lane’s struggle to grasp the scope of the family’s financial problems and save them all are the focus of this book but there are other ongoing stories.  Gin, the sister continues her self destructive ways, loving lawyer Samuel while agreeing to marry a man she hates for money.  Now Maxwell, the mysterious brother who has been gone for years, has returned as well.

OPINION:  I came to this series after reading and enjoying Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood paranormal romance/urban fantasy series.  I actually like this series more.  After reading the THE BOURBON KINGS last year, I returned to the BDB series with a better appreciation of the multi-narrative technique that Ward uses in both series.

In THE ANGELS’ SHARE, the multi-narratives give this book the sense of a saga, a soap opera, a complex story that slowly reveals itself.  By slowly disclosing the individual stories of these characters, their complexity and humanity is revealed.  By giving readers the personal viewpoints of the various characters, we can understand them even when they are not particularly likeable.

The organizing narrative again comes from Lane.  Lane is becoming the family head after the death of his father.  With the strength of his love for Lizzie, Lane is changing and growing into a role that should have been his oldest brother Edward’s.  I adore Lane who is becoming a truly admirable man as the story progresses.  His honest struggles and mistakes make him eminently likeable and I still love his weakness for the practical and grounded Lizzie.

I want to say that this book is not a romance in the traditional sense.  Lane and Lizzie are together at the beginning of this book and no one else has a happy ending at the end.  I usually avoid giving spoilers, but those readers who insist on a very traditional read will not find that here.  Instead, there are multiple romances in this saga, all of which change and are exposed here for good or for bad.  The mistakes and miscommunications and successes of these characters in relationship to one another is the focus. Life and relationships are complicated things, changing and molding these characters.

Edward, the oldest brother, goes through the most growth in this book.  After being abused and tortured by his kidnappers in South America, Edward has spent years in pain and pitying himself.  Having abandoned everything that was important to him before, he remains angry.  After an experience that has fundamentally changed him, he doesn’t know how to deal with those changes and how even to integrate those he loves from his life before.  Instead, he wallows in a half life.  Now a suspect in his father’s death, Edward is being moved from his stasis. He has two women in his life now — Sutton, who he loved for years but believes that he can now never be good enough for, and Shelby who never knew him before and has no expectations of him. Things are changing for Edward and by the end we see that he has a lot of secrets that have yet to be revealed.

Gin, the sister, is in trouble.  Engaged to marry a man who she hates because she fears the loss of the family fortunes, she continues her self-destructive ways.  Much of Gin’s story remains a mystery but even for her there are bright spots.  In fact, there is scene between her sometime lover and often nemesis Samuel that is my favorite in the book.  The incredibly deft hand that Ward uses in crafting that scene made it one that both warmed and broke my heart reading it.  The question of how these two people who love one another so much managed to mess it up so badly remains concealed for another day.

We are finally introduced to the mysterious sibling Maxwell. He only has a small appearance in this book, but he clearly has secrets of his own.

Ward has interwoven these stories in such a way that I was sucked into the stories and couldn’t put this book down.  I read through much of the night with the “just one more chapter”. When I reached the end of the book, I was both incredibly satisfied and incredibly anxious for the next book in the series. I am addicted this dysfunctional family and I have to know what happens next!

WORTH MENTIONING:  The “angels share” refers to the amount of bourbon that is lost during the aging process though evaporation.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE ANGELS’ SHARE is the second book in The Bourbon Kings series. This series consists of the stories of the Bradford family heirs to the Bradford bourbon company.  The stories of the siblings (and their friends) are intertwined in each book.  While a reader could skip the first book in the series and catch up here, this is a family saga where each book builds on the prior one and leaves much to be resolved in later books.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 enthusiastic stars.


Review: Lover at Last

Review: Lover at LastLover at Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #11) by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #11
Published by NAL on March 26th 2013
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 608

FINAL DECISION:  I was happy that Qhuinn and Blay finally got their HEA but I thought this story lacked something perhaps because the most dramatic parts of their story took place in other books sapping some of this book’s emotional core.

THE STORY: Qhuinn has loved his friend Blay for years but has denied the attraction afraid of adding being gay to his other perceived “imperfections”.  Despite the fact that he has impregnated the Chosen Layla, Qhuinn finally has reached the point of admitting that he wants Blay. At the same time, Blay has apparently moved beyond his own attraction to Qhuinn after years of unrequited love. Blay is in a relationship with Qhuinn’s cousin.  Despite the relationships pulling them in different directions, Blay and Qhuinn cannot deny the passion that exists between them.

OPINION:  After being thoroughly engage in Qhuinn and Blay’s story in the last couple of books, I was a bit disappointed by how things went in this book.  First, I think that if you haven’t read the other books in this series, this book fails to make the romance compelling.  I think the most dramatic and emotionally compelling part of their story took place in prior books and without those portions here, the angst just dragged on rather than move the story forward.

I felt the story was “Q&B don’t talk to one another”, sex, “Q&B don’t talk to one another”, sex, etc, etc. until “I love you” and HEA. What I didn’t like was that it felt like the two always loved one another, Qhuinn had made the significant breakthrough in admitting his feelings in the previous book and all that was keeping them apart at this point was lack of saying “I love you.”

Despite that, there were moments between Qhuinn and Blay that I really liked and the longtime connection between these characters gave depth and significance to them finally finding their path to one another.  I’d give a 5 to their entire journey together, but only a 4 to this book alone.

Of course, there is not only one storyline in this book.

The continuing storyline about the Band of Bastards attack on Wrath’s reign is accelerating in preparation for the next book of the series which revisits Wrath and Beth’s relationship.  The intriguing relationship between Xcor and Layla also continues here. A new relationship appears on the horizon between the drug dealer vampire Assail and his “burglar”.  Finally, someone from Qhuinn’s past unexpectedly reappears and thus a new storyline is born.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I will reread it later and perhaps my opinion will evolve after I get over some of my expectations disappointment.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The Lesser Society has made a welcome reappearance after being mere fodder for the vampires to kill in the last few books.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  LOVER AT LAST is the eleventh book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This series has intertwined stories which cover a number of books. A single book has multiple viewpoints.  Qhuinn and Blay’s story takes place over a number of book merely culminating here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Lover Reborn

Review: Lover RebornLover Reborn (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #10) by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #10
Published by NAL on March 27th 2012
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 592

“If I can live though the events” she said, “I can get through the memories.”

FINAL DECISION:  Ward takes a difficult romance and slowly draws readers into the heart of these characters.  A minor quibble about the rationale of an important element of the story keeps this from a higher rating, but I thought this was a great addition to the series.

THE STORY:  In the vampire world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, it has been over a year since Tohrment’s shellan and unborn child were murdered.  He is a shadow of himself unable to move forward.  Instead, he hopes for the day when he will be able to join his loved ones in the fade.  Then Tohr finds out that his beloved and child are trapped by his love and longing in the inbetween unable to find peace in the fade.  The only way to save her is to move on with another woman.  The woman who has caught his interest is No’One who is trapped in her own way.  She had been raped and gave birth to a daughter as a result.  Committing suicide immediately after the birth, No’One was given a second chance, which she has taken by serving others by cleaning and living a modest sacrificial life.  She agrees to help Tohr help release his loved ones by connecting with her in a sexual way.  But the two end up finding more than they expected with one another.

OPINION: This is a book about people who are trapped in one way or another. Tohr is trapped by his love of his shellan Wellsie and his unwillingness to let go of that past.  Wellsie and her child are trapped by Tohr’s love.  No’One is trapped by her rape, pregnancy and suicide.  For Tohr and No’One guilt (even though unwarranted) plays a strong role in trapping them.  While the plot centers around Tohr’s determination to save Wellsie, the central conflict is how Tohr and No’One free themselves and one another.

I commend Ward for writing a story about grief and the guilt that survivors feel.  It would have been infinitely easier to find a way of bringing Wellsie back. Many more fans would have been satisfied.  Instead, she wrote about moving on and the joy that can be found by those who are left behind.  I thought this story was complex and nuanced and the fact that it was a huge book where the events happened over a long period of time gave realism to the story.

My one complaint is that I don’t think there is any logic why No’One despite having committed suicide is allowed to return to the world why Wellsie is sent to the fade.  Ward, to her credit, addresses that controversy, but doesn’t really have a good explanation.  A reader thus has a choice — accept that things in life don’t have logical explanations or complain and fret about the illogical events. Perhaps, Wellsie’s work in the world was done and No’One still has a purpose.  Like so many tragedies in life, there is no answer.

I very much enjoyed this book and have acclimated to Ward’s multi-narrative approach to these books.  There are several secondary storylines.

John Matthew and Xhex are having problems adjusting to being mated.  John Matthew doesn’t find it as easy to accept Xhex risking her life as he had believed.

Qhuinn/Blay/Layla/Saxon continues to steam along.  It is clear from the end of the book, however, that Qhuinn and Blay’s book is next.

Xcor and his Band of Bastards continue to make themselves into the the opponents to the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  At the same time, the Lessers which have been the primary enemies to this point have begun to diminish in importance.  Xcor and his followers have some interesting developments in this book.

I greatly enjoyed this book.  After some initial problems when Ward changed her narrative focus in the series, I have again tremendously enjoyed this series (although they are better for me when I space out the reading rather than gorging on them).

WORTH MENTIONING:  Ah, I loved how this book ends with a nod towards the next book about Qhuinn and Blay.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  LOVER REBORN is the tenth book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This book, as is true with others in the series, has overlapping storylines which begin before this book and some which continue into subsequent books. I think it is almost impossible to understand what is happening in this book without having read the others in the series first.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: Lover Unleashed

Review: Lover UnleashedLover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #9) by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #9
Published by NAL on March 29th 2011
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 512

FINAL DECISION:  I enjoyed this book because the major stories were all ones I cared about.  The vast majority of the book is one of three stories: Payne and Manny, V, Jane and Butch, and Qhuinn and Blay.  For me, it felt more relationship focused and that pleased me.  I also really liked going deeper into V, Jane and Butch’s relationship.

THE STORY: Payne, the twin sister of V, has spent hundreds of years imprisoned by their mother, the Goddess Scribe Virgin because Payne killed their father.  During a training session with the King, Payne is seriously injured with a broken spine.  V and his mate Jane desperately need the help of the human surgeon, Dr. Manual Manello. And thus, Manny is dragged into the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a world of vampire warriors. The connection between Manny and Payne is intense and immediate, but there cannot be a future between them even if Payne recovers.

OPINION: LOVER UNLEASHED is a typical book in the recent Black Dagger Brotherhood series.  There are multiple stories most of which began in other books and many of which continue past this book. For me, the plus of this book is that the largest chunks of the book are about the twins Payne and Twin and those they love.

The main story, of course, is Payne and Manny.  I liked this story because of Manny himself. Ward does an exceptional job of quickly making Manny a character I want to root for. His brief interaction with the BDB a year ago (although wiped from his memory) has changed him.  Jane’s “death” has left him with a great deal of emptiness in his life.  When he is brought to heal Payne, it really is love at first sight for these two.  Payne’s character remains a little more opaque in the book and I didn’t feel as much connection to her, but I really did like the interaction between these two.

The secondary storyline about V’s spiral out of control after Payne’s injury is the angst filled storyline here. Learning about Payne and then almost losing her has unmoored V from all the progress he has made since meeting Jane.  His reaction threatens his relationship with his mate. I absolutely loved this storyline which I think is the highlight of the book.  I’m a sucker for these situations where a couple delves deeper into their relationship.  Some lingering threads of the series are resolved with V and Butch and I was happy that V and Jane grow even closer as their story resolves.

The minor story with Qhuinn and Blay continues here.  Qhuinn has hit rock bottom and it is time for him to start recreating himself.  Nothing is resolved here but it seems like the story is slowly inching towards these two’s story being resolved. With two others involved in the story, Ward does a good job of keeping everyone likeable and not going for the easy out of making villains out of the characters which serve a function of keeping Qhuinn and Blay apart.

The focus on the internal operations of the Lessers is missing here. Instead, a new group is introduced as foils against the BDB — the Band of Bastards.  It appears that this group of vampires will play an important role in upcoming books.

WORTH MENTIONING: I’ve had a much better reaction to these books now that I space out the reading of them.  I think my brain can only process so much before I get annoyed and frustrated.  Having read the disappointed reviews of this book, I also think I benefit from having some knowledge about where the series is going so that I don’t have unmet expectations.  I honestly don’t think that the world building in these books is consistent anymore.  Things feel less grounded, more fluid and there are well documented conflicts.  I read the books for the characters so giving myself a break between books makes the inconsistencies in the story lines less obvious.

CONNECTED BOOKS: LOVER UNLEASHED is the ninth book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  At this point, I don’t think there is any way to understand this book without having read the others in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: The Bourbon Kings

Review: The Bourbon KingsThe Bourbon Kings (The Bourbon Kings #1) by J.R. Ward
Series: The Bourbon Kings #1
Published by NAL on July 28th 2015
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 420

Start of a Scandalous Soap Opera Type Series

FINAL DECISION: I did not expect to like this book, but I actually loved it. This family is severely disfunctional but I think I love that all these characters are damaged and their family is a mess. Lane might be the most normal of the group and Lizzie is definitely in the “normal” category.

THE STORY: Lizzie King, head gardener for the Bradford family estate, fell in love with the youngest son Lane Baldwine. They had a bitter breakup but he has been gone from the estate for two years. Now he has returned and his determined to make Lizzie give him another chance.

OPINION: This book is the beginning of the story of the Bradford family of Kentucky and their secrets and scandals and loves. I am a moderate fan of Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood — I really liked the first couple of books and then had to drag myself through the rest of the books. I did not have high hopes for this book but was intrigued by the completely different setting and genre.

I am glad that I read this book because I loved it. This is a seriously messed up family. There are many secrets and scandals that this book sometimes reads as a soap opera, but that is one of the reasons that I loved it. It is sprawling and big in scope and the intertwining stories of the different siblings really works here.

The book has deaths and suicides and possible murders. There is adultery and abuse and very evil machinations. There are also mysteries and sweet relationships.

I especially loved Lane as a character. He seems to be the most normal of this whacked family because of his love for Lizzie. He messed up his relationship with her before and is determined to make it work this time. In the midst of the craziness of the story with the revelations that seems to come on every page, Lizzie and Lane have a relationship that is sweet and sexy and sometimes feels incredibly normal.
I can’t wait until the next book.

WORTH MENTIONING: While this book concentrates on the relationship between Lane and Lizzie, there are significant events between two other couples: Lane’s older brother Edward and his love interest Sutton and Lane’s sister Gin and her romantic nemesis.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE BOURBON KINGS is the first book in the series by the same name.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.