This book has been sitting on my shelves for quite some time now. It’s one of those books where, at the time, I found myself drawn to it aesthetically (look at the pink cover!! How could I say no?) but once it had a home on my shelves, it no longer really drew my attention.
Now I’m participating in a 3 month long reading challenge called expand your horizons. The aim of the game is to read books either a) from a genre you don’t often read; or b) from your preferred genre but books that you have been actively avoiding. I personally have challenged myself to read 5 such books before the end of February. Secrets by Freya North is contemporary chick lit romance, a genre that I usually avoid. This challenge gave me that kick up the arse that I’ve been needing to finally get around to reading this book.
Presentation: This is a large paperback. The type is medium-sized and spaced. There are 478 pages broken down into a prologue, 44 chapters – some significantly longer than others – and an epilogue.
Story: Tess is in trouble. Her past is coming for her and, finding that she cannot face it head-on, she runs away from her life. She heads north with her baby daughter and most of their meagre possessions, accepting a job as a house-sitter for a man whose profession often takes him out of the country. This man, Joe, finds her fascinating - a far cry from any of his previous house-sitters; but at the same time he finds that he doesn’t really mind.
They soon find that their interactions are always on a grand scale either because of how intriguing each finds the other or because they’re pushing each other’s buttons. Despite the attraction between them, could they ever have anything that works when each is keeping big secrets from the other?
***Warning: some spoilers***
Thoughts and impressions: The thing that hit me the most with this story is that throughout it all, Joe is such a hypocrite! He really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s established within the first few chapters that he has women in all the foreign cities he regularly visits and that he enjoys no-strings-attached sex with each of them. Fair enough. It is then established that he is attracted to Tess, does not really act on it then goes abroad to one of his broads. Again, fair enough. Then he starts sleeping with Tess and when he next goes abroad, he goes straight to his f*** buddy (‘scuse my French.) Not cool. Not only this, but he keeps it from Tess and then has the nerve to get all high and might when she keeps a secret from him. He really wasn’t a male character after my own heart and with lines like: “His head was full of Tess but his face is full of Nathalie”, I kept hoping that Tess would wake up, smell the coffee, dump this two-timing twat and find someone who recognises that she has a good heart and deserves to be more than just ‘sex at home’ as opposed to the various women who make up ‘sex abroad’.
What’s more, whenever they fight, Tess is always the one who ends up apologising profusely even when she’s not the one who was in the wrong. The dynamics of their relationship just didn’t work for me and in a romance that’s never good. The balance was all wrong and Joe’s revelations, when they finally come, don’t get addressed properly and he never has to atone for his sins while atone is all Tess ever seems to do!
What I did like:
- Wolf: A big lummox of a dog, you can never go wrong with that! Plus, I liked his characterisation.
- Em: very cute and a bit too well-behaved for a baby. Often I found the tags that accompanied her actions would leave me smiling. She might have been too quiet for a toddler (in my experience) but she made for a very cute non-speaking character.
- Seb: I suspect that I transferred my like to him when I decided that I really couldn’t bring myself to like Joe. I just wish he’d had a bigger role.
- The girl chat: now this was a relationship where the dynamics really worked for me, though I think it would have been better to have Tamsin and Lisa as two very different personalities rather than Lisa just basically being Tamsin’s northern, and present, clone. Despite this, I enjoyed the scenes where Tess and Lisa were letting their girly sides run wild.
- Mary, the home, and Em’s stardom there: these amounted to very cute scenes often reminiscent of a sad reality of the forgotten elderly that is all too present in our society.
- The feeling of solitude: this practically oozed from the pages when Tess was yearning for the company of someone who can actually talk.
What I didn’t like:
- Joe: for the reasons previously mentioned.
- The bridge comparisons: I get why they’re there but they’d just go on for far too long and I’d find myself zoning out.
- The descriptions of the town: again, they weren’t that frequent but when they did appear I felt like I was being whacked over the head with the big, long descriptions. I would have preferred them to have been more interspersed in the narration.
- The ending: the climax came at least 50 pages before the end and everything tacked on after that was essentially to ensure that the reader fully grasped that this is how it’s going to be from now on! Eat it up! Really, it was unnecessary and just prolonged the book. With careful editing I’m sure this thing could have been at least 100 pages shorter, if not 150.
However, I do have to give credit where credit is due and admit that despite my reservations, I did find myself drawn back to Secrets each time I put it down.
Style: Most of the book was written in the past tense but there were some scenes where the tense would (seemingly) randomly be changed to the present tense. Why? I couldn’t figure out a difference.
Final verdict: I’m torn with this one. After careful consideration, I’m going to go with 2 stars for the story itself plus one for grabbing and keeping my attention. 3 stars.
Extra notes: Sex and swearing both present.