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Vita’s gift shop would do better if she ran it as a business, not as somewhere to daydream. But she’s not one to tell herself off–she leaves that to Tim, her ex, who still co-owns the shop. He cheated on Vita and broke her heart. Could she ever give him another chance?

Oliver, an experienced and successful tree surgeon, runs his home as calmly as his business. However, his heart is still with the mother of his child, even though it’s been three years now. He won’t take a chance on love again.

Then a pear tree brings Oliver to Vita, and as spring turns into summer they are given choices and chances. Will they grab them or walk away?

‘Chances’ begins with leading lady Vita trying unsuccessfully to get over her cheating ex-fiancé Tim, the pair having separated almost a year ago. She isn’t helped by the fact that they own a shop together: as neither is financially able to buy the other out, they’re stuck as business partners.

Our heroine has recently moved into Pear Tree Cottage and is just beginning to feel settled when the fruit of the house’s namesake begins to grow. Grow and attract parakeets. Not only do these birds wake Vita up early each morning, they also cause the fruit to fall drawing a multitude of angry wasps. Vita’s terrified, and in desperation calls upon the services of Oliver Bourne, a widowed tree surgeon. She finds herself falling in love with Oliver, but is she destined to be hurt again, as she once more falls for a man with another woman on his mind- even if this time the lady in question died three years ago?

Oliver’s sorrow over his deceased wife is treated very compassionately: he’ll never forget his wife but is doing his best to move on with his life, something he’s not finding easy. Freya North does a beautiful job of describing how it’s often the simple, everyday things, which can cause the biggest waves of grief.

I liked both the main protagonsists, although I did find Vita a little childish – the woman needs be more decisive and stand up for herself! Childish, but very kind, as we see illustrated by her dealings with the delightfully dotty old lady who regularly pilfers things from her shop.

The character of Oliver’s son, Jonty, was wonderfully written; I really got a feeling of the love and support he gives him father, and of the gap left in his life by the loss of his mother. His encouragement of Vita and Oliver’s romance is very sweet. The scene where Jonty and his dad are cooking their ‘chops and chips’ dinner for Vita is a wonderful example of the great relationship between father and son.

All in all, I do have to say though that I’m a little cross with Ms North at the moment: I had a busy day planned before my copy of this book dropped through my letter box, but thanks to this engaging and compassionate story, my poor children and loving husband were somewhat neglected for the best part of a day and my house remains unhoovered. Thank goodness Freya’s not able to produce a book a week, else my home really would fall apart!

4 stars

They drive each other crazy. And they both have something to hide. But we all have our secrets. It’s just some are bigger than others! Joe has a beautiful house, a great job, no commitments — and he likes it like that. All he needs is a quiet house-sitter for his rambling old place by the sea. When Tess turns up on his doorstep, he’s not sure she’s right for the job. Where has she come from in such a hurry? Her past is a blank and she’s something of an enigma. But there’s something about her — even though sparks fly every time they meet. And it looks as though she’s here to stay!

Joe has a job that he loves, and a woman waiting for him in every country his work takes him to. He’s very set in his ways and a confirmed bachelor. So when he advertises for a housesitter to look after his house and dog whilst he travels, he doesn’t expect to find himself hiring Tess – a woman running away from her problems in London with a baby in tow and seemingly determined to lock heads with him at every opportunity.

He suddenly finds his life, and his house, being turned upside down by Tess and baby Emmy’s arrival. And what’s worse, he rapidly becomes intrigued by Tess and what exactly she’s running away from. Will Tess be able to keep her ‘secrets’ to herself whilst living with Joe? And is it possible that Joe could have some secrets of his very own?

Joe was a fantastic male lead: very sexy and brooding. His job, building bridges, made his character interesting and led to some brilliantly original scenes and a very perfect ending to the book. Unfortunately however, the man just doesn’t seem to know what’s good for him: I found myself almost shouting out loud with frustration at how he treated Tess, he was so infuriating! I just couldn’t put the book down until he sorted himself out and did what I wanted him to do, which took a while! Thank goodness he got there in the end.

Tess came across as a little weak at the beginning of the novel but then really came into her own. There’s one particular scene where she thinks that Joe is going to leave after an argument and she completely turns the tables on  him – he will forever after have a fondness for Iggle Piggle.

The way the relationship develops between Tess and Jo is beautifully written, and I love that Freya North isn’t afraid to have the main characters come together in the middle of a novel so that the reader can watch their new relationship grow.

The setting of Saltburn-by-the-Sea was another great aspect of the novel. The descriptions of the region were captivating and it’s easy to see that it’s somewhere thought of with great fondness by the novelist. It’s not an area that I had heard of before, but I would now love to visit if I ever get the opportunity.

This is the first book I’ve read by Freya North; I’ve been meaning to try her writing for a while but just hadn’t got round to it until now. I found ‘Secrets’ a lovely, very romantic novel, with an incredibly sexy lead man and a cute dog and toddler chucked in – what more could you ask for? I’ll definitely be on the look out for more of Freya’s work.

4 and a half stars

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