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).

Q & A with Lizzy Chandler, author of By Her Side

Today I’m delighted to welcome Lizzy Chandler, author of By Her Side and Snowy River Man to Sam Still Reading for a chat about writing, inspiration and reading. You might also know her as Elizabeth Lhuede, founder of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Lizzy writes a variety of genres, including romance, suspense and fantasy. I can verify that By Her Side is a wonderful combination of suspense and romance! But enough of me, let’s talk to Lizzy:

First, I’d love to know how you got the idea for the plot and characters for By Her Side. (and um, is there a real life Vince out there?)

Thanks so much for this opportunity to tell your readers a little about my writing and reading.

The idea for both the plot and characters in By Her Side started with the setting.

Years ago I was lucky enough to accompany a photographer commissioned to take photos of precious objects in the Prime Minister’s residence in Kirribilli as well as the Governor-General’s place next door. As I looked through the surprisingly cosy prime-ministerial rooms and out to the spectacular view of Sydney Harbour, I wondered who the PM’s neighbours were and what might be their values, their history, and the peculiar problems they might face having such wealth. This became the background for my heroine Rory and her wealthy, troubled family.

For my hero Vince’s background, I drew on what I remembered of a boy I dated when I was a teenager. The son of Italian immigrants, he grew up in the then comparatively impoverished suburb of Marrickville in Sydney’s inner-west. As a kid from the affluent and mostly Anglo northern beaches, I found the cultural differences between our two families fascinating.

Putting these two settings together, I created a “princess” and “boy from the wrong side of the tracks” story, and twisted it by making Vince a cop with a tragic past, rather than an actual “bad boy” who needs reforming. It seemed more likely to me Rory and Vince would be more likely to have a genuine chance at a “happy ever after” if they weren’t really so different, despite their backgrounds; it was important to me that they share fundamental values, such as love of family and loyalty.

Is there a real Vince out there? No, but I can’t help thinking of him as a real person. I was thrilled when Escape put him on the cover. In some ways, I think, it’s more his story than Rory’s. I’m so glad he gets to be happy!

I found the plot of By Her Side brilliant – it was really taut. How do you plot your novels, if at all?

With a novel that has a well-developed mystery, like By Her Side, I plot carefully, using copious handwritten notes and flow charts to begin, and then post-it stickers and index cards representing plot-points in the editing and rewriting stages. To represent the flow of different subplots and character interactions, I lay out the plot-point cards on a big square coffee table, and link them with different coloured ribbons, say pink for romance, green for the villain, blue for the conflict between the hero and heroine, and other colours to represent the role of different minor characters. The cards and ribbons provide me with an overview of the novel as a series of scenes and sequences – like a storyboard, I guess. This visual and concrete layout helps me to get an intuitive sense whether a particular character or plot idea falls down or disappears for too long. It’s also a lot of fun to do this as it engages a different part of my brain from the one I use when writing actual scenes. I’ve had a lot of reviewers remark on the page-turning quality of my first novel, Snowy River Man, and it’s something I’ve worked hard to achieve, so I’m glad to hear you think By Her Side is a page-turner, too.

By Her Side is quite different to Snowy River Man which was more rural, but they both share a suspense element. What kinds (if any) romance do you enjoy writing?

I’ve written a lot of romance novels that will never see the light of day. They range from strict “category” to mostly suspense with a dash of romance, to a young adult fantasy novel that I’d love to get published one day. (It needs a better ending.) Most of my unpublished novels I consider now as apprentice pieces, exercises that helped me learn my craft. For preference, I lean toward writing romantic suspense, rather than straight romance, but I really enjoyed writing Snowy River Man which had very little suspense outside the relationship between Katrina and Jack. Each book is different and the characters and their circumstance tend to dictate the form the novel ultimately takes. In By Her Side, Rory and Vince are on a mission to track down Rory’s missing half-brother and sort out various puzzles from the past and this involves taking risks. It’s a scenario that cries out for suspense.

I love to hear about what authors have been reading. What have been some of your favourite reads (romance or otherwise) for the year?

As you know, I founded the Australian Woman Writers challenge, and much of my reading is shaped by what books publishers send me for review. In 2015, I read 25 books by Australian women and half a dozen or so other books. Of these many were psychological suspense or crime, several were historical fiction, a number were “literary”, a few were nonfiction, and some were romance or had romantic elements. One romance was Kandy Shepherd’s, Gift-wrapped in Her Wedding Dress, which was a delight. Kandy’s a friend and writing colleague, and normally I see her work in progress, but this is one I hadn’t seen much of. It was a real pleasure to sit down and read it from cover to cover. Another I devoured was D B Tait’s debut romantic suspense, Cold Deception, and its sequel, Desperate Deception. Deb’s a fellow Blue Mountains writer and has a real talent for complex, gritty stories with a good dash of romance.

Other memorable books were more literary: Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things and Robyn Cadwallader’s The Anchoress, among them. I’d be surprised if one or other of these didn’t take out a literary prize or two. I also found The Intervention, an anthology edited by Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss to be outstanding. It’s a collection of pieces by both indigenous and non-indigenous Australian writers, and tells some difficult home truths about the effects of government policies on Aboriginal communities. More than one of the pieces had me shedding a few tears.

Thanks again for the Q&A – and happy reading!

Thank you Lizzy! If you’d like to check out By Her Side or Snowy River Man, you can do so here:

By Her Side:
Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo

Snowy River Man: Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Booktopia | Kobo

Do drop by tomorrow to read my review of By Her Side!

Snowy River Man by Lizzy Chandler

In brief: Katrina and Jack had one night together, years ago. But when Katrina sees a missing boy in a dream, she knows she has to help find him. Reunited with Jack, sparks fly and the lies of the past come to the surface. (Read more here).

The good: A gripping story with suspense, love, lies and a touch of the paranormal.

The not-so-good: Would have love to read just a little more – sequel please?

Why I chose it: Possibly the nicest review request I’ve ever had from Lizzy, thanks to her and Escape Publishing for the copy.

Year: 2015

Pages: 165 (eARC)

Publisher: Escape Publishing

Setting: New South Wales high country, Australia

My rating: 8 out of 10

Snowy River Man is an incredible debut from Lizzy Chandler, combining a number of elements in this romantic story. There’s multiple suspense elements, short term lovers reunited, a secret baby plus family mysteries to unravel. Plus the heroine has visions that help her to find lost people – what more could you ask for in this action packed story?

The story begins with a little boy, Nick, going missing at a rodeo in the high country of New South Wales. That night, a woman far away in Sydney has a dream about a lost boy and knows that she must help with the search. When Katrina Delaney arrives, she is shocked to find that Nick’s father is Jack Fairley, who she had a one night stand with several years ago. The encounter ended badly when Katrina found that Jack was engaged to another woman and they haven’t seen each other since. But even though Nick is found unscathed, Katrina (or ‘Katina’ as Nick calls her) will have a number of demons to deal with. There’s the aftermath of that night with Jack and working out where the pair stand now, with Jack a widower and interested in rekindling his time with Katrina. Katrina also must deal with family mysteries being brought to the fore and how they link in with the increasing number of visions she’s having.

There is a lot of plot packed into Snowy River Man, which made for a fast, page-turning read. Sometimes things were a little shorter than in a full length novel, but that suited me as I was snatching chapters briefly before bed (and in the intermission of Michael Palin’s recent Australian tour – yes, it’s that compulsive a read). I liked not having to wait too long for a mystery to be solved and then having the next problem presented to me as the reader. There are loads of issues tackled (such as multiple episodes of infidelity), but Lizzy Chandler handles them with a careful, delicate touch.

Katrina would have to be one of the most original heroines I’ve read in recent years. Not only is she a kind, loving woman but she’s come through some very difficult times that even she won’t realise the full extent of until the end of the story. There’s a part where Jack gives her some incredible news that flies in the face of everything she’s thought about someone in her life and her reaction is very true and understandable. It’s the strength and grace afterwards that really highlighted her character to me – this lady is an extremely good woman. Nick was incredibly cute, but not in an over the top way. As for Jack, he didn’t shine quite as brightly for me but he’s a solid hero with all the characteristics needed to make him likeable. Murray Jack was an interesting character too and I’d love to see him reappear in another story.

An engaging debut, Lizzy Chandler’s Snowy River Man redefines the elements of contemporary romance and makes it into an original, spellbinding story.

I also want to give a shout out to Lizzy, who sent me possibly the nicest review request I’ve received at Sam Still Reading. I’m still blown away that she read my review policy and tailored her email to me! Thanks Lizzy and please keep writing!