Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other remuneration was received.
Book Title: THE BOURBON THIEF
Author: Tiffany Reisz
Category: Women’s Fiction/Southern Gothic
Author’s Website: http://www.tiffanyreisz.com/
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Main Characters: Tamara/Levi, Veritas, Paris
Source: ARC provided by NetGalley, ebook format
5 Batty Moons!
A Family With Bourbon in Its Blood, and Blood on Its Hands
When Cooper McQueen wakes up from a night with a beautiful stranger, it’s to discover he’s been robbed. The only item stolen—a million-dollar bottle of bourbon. The thief, a mysterious woman named Paris, claims the bottle is rightfully hers. After all, the label itself says it’s property of the Maddox family who owned and operated Red Thread Bourbon distillery since the last days of the Civil War until the company went out of business for reasons no one knows… No one except Paris.
In the small hours of a Louisville morning, Paris unspools the lurid tale of Tamara Maddox, heiress to the distillery that became an empire. But the family tree is rooted in tainted soil and has borne rotten fruit. Theirs is a legacy of wealth and power, but also of lies, secrets and sins of omission. The Maddoxes have bourbon in their blood—and blood in their bourbon. Why Paris wants the bottle of Red Thread remains a secret until the truth of her identity is at last revealed, and the century-old vengeance Tamara vowed against her family can finally be completed.
READ ON FOR MY REVIEW!
I am exhausted. That’s because I started reading THE BOURBON THIEF at about 10:30 last night…and finished at 3:50 am today. I know I throw the saying, “I couldn’t put it down” around a lot. I tend to be a compulsive reader, and even a mediocre story can pull me through, because I need to know what happened. A really good book, I’ll gobble down in two or three big chunks. Occasionally, I pick up a book that grabs me so hard, that the only thing that makes me stop is a bathroom break.
THE BOURBON THIEF was one of those books. No, not even “one” of those books, it was probably the best book I’ve read in a long time.
Before I start the raving, if you are a fan of Tiffany Reisz, I have heard that she’s a popular erotic romance writer. This book is listed on Goodreads a lot as “erotica” and “romance.” While there are a few intensely erotic scenes (SMOKING HOT), and there is a central love story, this is not a romance. The love story is important, but only in how a part of the main characters it is. It’s not the core of the plot itself. Whether or not the ending is happy depends on how you judge it as a reader. I loved it.
It’s difficult to categorize this book. It’s so complex, and so shot through with deep, emotional sub-plots, calling it one thing or the other just doesn’t feel right. It’s gothic, it’s the story of a strong woman (actually, a few strong women), it’s a family saga, it’s a stunning love story (both in the beautiful and shocking sense), it’s a peak into a certain kind of southern culture. There are horses, and of course, bourbon. THE BOURBON THIEF is a lot of things, none of them easy to pin down.
It struck me as I was reading that this book felt like the polar opposite of KILLER LOOK by Linda Fairstein which I recently reviewed. That book bored me, buried me in dry, uninteresting facts, and offended me pretty badly in its treatment of race and ethnicity. THE BOURBON THIEF turned the flaws in that book on their heads.
For example, while the book teaches a crap ton of things about the bourbon industry (as a rule, this isn’t something I’m interested in–though I enjoyed me some Jim Beam back in my wilder days. Okay, a LOT of Jim Beam.), it is woven into the story in such an organic manner, it doesn’t feel like an info dump. At all. Bourbon is literally the blood of the story, and I was fascinated by the way it played out, and the interesting things I learned along the way.
Boring? Wow, not even close to it. This story-within-a-story took barely a chapter before there was no way I was going to back out. The characters were just… my usual words don’t really work for the characterization here. Rich? Complex? Fascinating? Oh, yes. But they don’t really convey it. Even a character who had been dead for 150 years stole my heart and made me cry for her pain. Every time a new story development or shock happened, I was more addicted. Like I had a bourbon IV in my arm for a week! I cared so much about these people.
Which brings me to my next contrast to KILLER LOOK: the treatment of race. THE BOURBON THIEF looks straight down the barrel of centuries of American racism. Slavery, after all, was the foundation upon which the U.S. was built. Fortunes made literally on the backs of human beings. This book does not look away from that. It treats a horrible subject with some of the seriousness and pain it deserves. The way the system’s horrors echo through to the present day was heart-wrenching, but in a way, refreshing to see in fiction. We are so afraid to talk about the fundamentals of race relations in this country.
The African-American characters in this story, from a slave sold off to satisfy a jealous wife’s hatred, a young bi-racial man who doesn’t know just how complicated the truth of his ancestry is, his humble, hard-working (and seriously badass!) uncle, and a rough-around-the-edges journeyman who makes kegs for the great bourbon dynasty, every one is multi-layered, three-dimensional, and for me, didn’t feel like characters at all. They felt like people, not stereotypes, not caricatures. And the heroine telling the story-within-the-story, a mysterious woman named Paris (who may not turn out to be so mysterious in the end… but I’m not telling!) When we first meet her, there’s no way to know who or what she is, or what her motives are. But the way she spins the tale, by the end, we feel like we may know her very well indeed. And understand how her audience in the book feels.
You can put literary labels on these characters if you want, but if you do, you’re only looking at them in the most shallow possible manner. These are characters that make sense, that feel like people who might exist. The effect of racism (among other things) on each of them made them unforgettable and sympathetic.
This book had a deeply emotional effect on me. It was less like a roller coaster, and more like being one of the astronauts training in those “reduced-gravity aircraft” (fondly called the”Vomit Comet”). Up, down, shuddering and flailing, chuckling and sobbing, slamming into walls, crashing into the floor–figuratively, of course, although it felt pretty literal. I swear, I spent most of the book with my teeth clenched, completely tensed, trying to prepare myself for the other shoe to drop.
There are a LOT of shoes in THE BOURBON THIEF.
There are things in this book that might–no, will–disturb and offend some people. You root for characters that you maybe shouldn’t root for. You wish for things to happen that not only may not, but probably shouldn’t, either. You’ll shriek and curse, hate and love, and like I said, maybe sweat and pant a little.
The title of this book is very clever, and plays on a couple of very important parts of the story. One meaning I can tell you about (that I learned) is that a “bourbon thief” is an actual thing in distilling. It’s a tool that goes into the cask so the distiller can taste what’s inside. It goes into a hilariously named bung hole, an opening in the cask usually kept sealed by what is unsurprisingly called a “bung,” basically a plug.
See? I got some learning with my fiction!
I don’t know who to recommend this book to. I would love to say, “EVERYONE!” but I think it might not have that broad an appeal, especially among traditional romance readers. Parts of it are downright disturbing and ugly. It is tragic and sad. There is triumph, but it comes at serious cost. There is a deep, abiding love story, but not one that will be acceptable for a broad selection of romance readers.
But I loved it. I rarely buy a book in hardcover to put on my Keepers shelf, but this is one I might need to. Maybe Santa will bring me a copy. Or maybe I can find a signed copy, because that’s what I’ve started really started to collect. I wish my town HAD a bookstore so we could have authors come and I could get signatures myself!
Anyway, THE BOURBON THIEF affected me profoundly, and I won’t forget it anytime soon. I even re-designed my batty moon rating graphics, which I’ve been planning to do for a while, but just haven’t gotten around to, in honor of this fantastic book. I can’t remember now which of my regular book review blog stops reviewed this book and liked it, but if I do remember, I have to send them a fruit basket–or maybe a bourbon basket!
THE BOURBON THIEF fully earns:
5 BATTY MOONS!