Justice at Cardwell Ranch

Notice: I received a copy of this book from the author in return for a fair review.

About JUSTICE AT CARDWELL RANCH:

When Dana Cardwell found her mother’s revised will in a cookbook six years ago, it did more than make her sole owner of Cardwell Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. It also prevented her siblings, Jordan, Stacy and Clay, from selling off their mother’s beloved homestead. The siblings took off and Dana hasn’t heard from them since.

When Dana finds her sister, Stacy, waiting at her door with a baby, she welcomes them in. Still, there’s something suspicious about Stacy’s story. She’s not telling Dana the whole truth and it has something to do with that baby. Does her return have anything to do with their brother Jordan who has been seen in town, too? Or is his reappearance tied to the mysterious death of a friend years ago? And how is their other brother Clay involved? As deadly forces once more threaten this clan of cowboys and cowgirls from all sides, do they still have what it takes to survive?

Reading is an interactive experience, with the reader bringing as much to the mix as the writer. How we react to a book is very personal and can change based on our mood or our expectations. I wanted to say that up front, because my expectations for this book were way off the mark, so I’m not sure I can really give it a fair review.

I also had the pleasure of meeting BJ Daniels today and listening to her presentation on writing, so I’m not exactly objective. I want to love and recommend her books just because she’s a warm, funny and generous person.

So, back to the book and my expectations. I went in knowing it was part of a series but I was surprised by how much of the story line carried through from the first book. I felt like I’d dropped into the middle of an HBO mini-series where the characters had been introduced and fleshed out before I started watching. Also, when I last read Harlequin Intrigue the romance was still the dominant story line in every book. Obviously that has changed because in this book the family drama and the murder mystery are both more prominent than the developing relationship between Jordan and Liza, and I couldn’t seem to shift gears. I jumped into every scene looking for more of the two of them.

The book is packed with action and thanks to being set at a class reunion features a huge cast, but Daniels does a nice job of keeping everyone straight.   I’ve been to the Gallatin Canyon and Big Sky area of Montana on numerous occasions and she writes the setting beautifully and realistically. The plot has some interesting twists, definitely a new take on the familiar theme of a family feuding over who inherits the ranch. If anything I think it would have benefited from being longer, so the romance could have been more developed. As is I never really felt the magic between Jordan and Liza because most of their scenes together involved the murder investigation and their personal relationship felt like a bit of an afterthought.

Basically, I can’t fault the author for not writing the standalone romance I wanted to read. I assume I’d have a better feel for the characters and the ongoing plot lines if I’d read the first book in the series where Jordan and Liza originally meet, so I may not be giving that part of the book a fair shake. All in all, I think BJ Daniels fans will find much here to enjoy, especially if they’re following this series. Those who like a book that’s heavier on the intrigue and lighter on the romance will find it right up their alley, but I definitely recommend reading the series in order.

Kari Lynn Dell