By Her Side by Lizzy Chandler

In brief: Rory returns home from her travels to find her family in disarray – her grandfather is sick and her half-brother is missing. Could she be in danger too? Will Vince, a reluctant hero, be able to protect her? (Read more here).

The good: Loved the multiple mysteries occurring and the friends to lovers storyline was done with care.

The not-so-good: I was so surprised at who the villain was! Never would have picked it.

Why I chose it: Thanks to the author and Escape Publishing for the eARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 210

Publisher: Escape Publishing

Setting: Sydney and surrounds, Australia

My rating: 9 out of 10

Sometimes it takes just one book to remind you why you love a genre. By Her Side has renewed my faith in romantic suspense as it balances a developing romance with an intriguing plot. It feels like the romance is a sweet extra, but it’s not forced –it’s a natural progression of the hero and heroine from friends to lovers. All aspects of the plot just worked beautifully together to make a great story.

The novel opens with Rory returning home from a long trip overseas. She’s excited to reunite with her grandfather, who is the head of one of Australia’s most recognised companies. Stopping by the office on the way home, the action begins as Rory is nearly run down and Mr Sutton has a heart attack. Luckily, Vince Maroney happened to be in the area – he’s a policeman recovering from a failed undercover mission but his quick thinking saved Rory and her grandfather. Mr Sutton then asks Vince to watch out for Rory, given that her half-brother is missing too, but Vince is reluctant. His ventures into hero territory haven’t been successful but his protective side wins out – yes, he’ll watch Rory only until other arrangements can be made.

It’s the start of a friendship that also has attraction on both sides, but neither Vince nor Rory is willing to complicate things just yet. Both of them find out that the other has hidden depths and problems to work through. For Vince, it’s the loss of family; for Rory, it’s her missing brother and the need to be able to stand on her own two feet away from Sutton’s. The pair work very well together as a detective team with a hint of sexual tension. What I really enjoyed about this book was that romance never pushed its way in front of the plot; everything is a credible and natural progression. For romance fans, you’ll love the simmering sexual tension and both Rory and Vince pondering whether to make their feelings known. The high drama of the finale only adds to the tension and I honestly couldn’t pick the villain. It was a complete surprise, but once you find out their rationale for doing what they did, you’ll find that it fits in perfectly.

I was very impressed at how taut the plot is – it’s not a huge book, but there’s no padding. Everything is planned well and ties together neatly at the end. If I had a criticism, it would be that Mr Sutton’s hospital progress is a bit vague; however, I’m sure only I would find angiogram and biochemistry results interesting. Perhaps it’s because I connected so closely with these characters that I want to know everything about them! They are excellently crafted – flawed, realistic and interesting. Vince’s previous heartbreaks made his determination to seek justice (and protect Rory) all the more thrilling; while Rory’s determination not to be a princess was sweet.

This is a lovely read for the summer break (or any break really).

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