Monday, October 1, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Justice at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels

Release Date: July 17th, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue 
Page Count: 216
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist, Little Bird Publicity, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

Six years ago, Dana Cardwell found her mother's will in a cookbook and became sole owner of the Cardwell Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. Now happily married, Dana is surprised when her siblings, Stacy and Jordan, show up on the ranch... and trouble isn't too far behind.

As danger draws closer to the ranch, deputy marshal Liza Turner quickly realizes that Jordan Cardwell isn't the man the town made him out to be.
What Stephanie Thinks: Titillating suspense and plaguing mystery constitute Justice at Cardwell Ranch, the long-anticipated sequel to Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch. Because I hadn't read the first book in the series, the second was a little confusing at times—too many characters, relationships, and pasts to keep track of!—but overall that didn't detract too much from the book.

I have nothing against the Harlequin Intrigue line, but do have some reservations regarding series romances as a whole. I feel they're published just for the sake of publishing, just to meet monthly deadlines and fulfill subscriptions. This comes at the expense of quality, so don't expect too much out of Justice at Cardwell Ranch. B.J. Daniels is an organized, efficient storyteller, but she's also published so many series novels that she wouldn't be able to name them all off the top of her head. No personal attack here, but I must say this isn't one of your deep, dark, substance reads.

On the contrary, it's written with an breezy, smooth style gives no reader grief understanding the plot's progression. It's a very easy read in terms of level and page count, thanks to fast action and basic structure. The quick, sudden introductions of various characters that are all connected somehow is disorienting at first, but there's enough repetition for confusion to be clarified quickly. I wouldn't say Daniels's voice is particularly compelling or commendable; it's just good: fluid and direct, nothing to ever complain about.

A major theme is the prototypical 'troubled past' that almost all the characters have going on for them. Certain frightening and disturbing scenes will make you reevaluate all your personal decisions, want to repent for the mistakes among them, and hope to never, ever dig up your past again. 

The nightmares and corruption, as well as the ironically magical innocence of the high school social scene is also powerfully rendered in Justice, eliciting a sense of both nostalgia and nausea for the distorted, painful stage of adolescence readers all yearn to return to, but at the same time, fear. While the plot and characters are shallow, the emotions are authentic, one of the biggest strengths of the book.

I would not classify Justice as a romance. There is a cute married couple-dynamic between secondary characters Dana and Hud, as well as a very minor romantic elements involving our protagonists, Liza and Jordan, but the latter is a) unrealistic, b) ambiguous, and c) not even consummated. I would consider it brief, unmemorable flirting and lots of time spent together at best, but not a romance; there's not enough depth nor development to appoint it the title. The book does a great job focusing on their individual inner turmoils and aforementioned troubled pasts, but is it a love story? For me, not at all. I would recommend this one for readers who prefer thrillers and mysteries, but not for romance fanatics, because Justice surely disappoints in the latter department.

This is a fast-paced, standard mystery that's well-thought-out and well-enough-written. Daniels has talent in multiple different areas, though nothing stands out especially. The good guys are lovable and the antagonists loathesome, but they're not deep, haunting characters. The plot is clean, well-scripted, but it's nothing ground-breaking. The voice is reader-friendly, but not a reader favorite. Overall, this book is enjoyable (although pretty banal), featuring a long-standing mystery, as well as its ultimate, satisfying resolution.

Stephanie Loves: "'I'm serious, Liza. You have me thinking crazy thoughts.'"

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥