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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

'Beautiful Messy Love' by Tess Woods

From the BLURB:

What happens when love and loyalty collide?

When football star Nick Harding hobbles into the Black Salt Cafe the morning after the night before, he is served by Anna, a waitress with haunted-looking eyes and no interest in footballers, famous or otherwise. Nick is instantly drawn to this exotic, intelligent girl. But a relationship between them risks shame for her conservative refugee family and backlash for Nick that could ruin his career.

Meanwhile, Nick's sister, Lily, is struggling to finish her medical degree. When she meets Toby, it seems that for the first time she is following her heart, not the expectations of others. Yet what starts out as a passionate affair with a man still grieving after his wife's death slips quickly into dangerous dependency.

Scarred by tragedy each in their own way, these warm, hopeful couples must overcome prejudice and heartbreak to prove just how much they will give for beautiful messy love.

A gorgeous, hard-hitting novel that touches on celebrity, asylum, cultural integration and family tragedy, this is a book with heart and soul.

‘Beautiful Messy Love’ is the second Women’s Fiction/Romance book from Australian author, Tess Woods.

Full disclosure: Tess is an author with the Literary Agency I work for, Jacinta di Mase. My review though, is in no way impacted by my connection to Tess (really, if I don’t like a book these days, I just don’t write about it). But I will say – I loved ‘Beautiful Messy Love’ so much, I texted Jacinta late one night, asking when Tess would have a third book out – so that’s just a little bonus to the connection!

‘Beautiful Messy Love’ is the story of two whirlwind romances that start in the most unlikely of ways, and meet their fair share of hurdles along the way. One concerns an AFL-footballer with a reputation, deciding to turn his life around right when he meets a beautiful Egyptian refugee who he falls hard and fast for. The second concerns a young medical student starting a risky romance with the estranged husband of a patient she meets during her oncology-ward rounds.

The novel is written in alternative-POV chapters from each of the four players – as we get to know all the baggage that each person brings to their new relationship, and the outside complications that threaten them all. Everything from media scrutiny to xenophobia, past-trauma and heartbreak are detailed and examined with lovely tenderness and cutting observation.

I absolutely adored this book, and gobbled it up in two days. I was actually surprised that I connected so viscerally with both couples and their stories – especially because one romance, between med-student Lily and the very tricky coupling with a grieving ex-husband Toby, sounds absolutely shocking in theory … but on the page, Woods teased this couple out with so much heat and sensuality, it was hard not to fall for them and root for them, even as all their biggest problems and obstacles were still painfully obvious.

The stand-out in this book though, is the romance between footballer Nick Harding and young refugee woman Anwar ‘Anna’. Tess Woods has written such a beautifully complex romance between them – that I also appreciated for how thoroughly Australian it is, and the bigger discussions it allowed Woods to have.

Anna has an awfully painful story of how and why she sought refuge in Australia, and coupled with the combustible media-landscape for AFL celebrities – Woods was really able to peel back a rather ugly underbelly to Australian society, media and politics that made for higher stakes in this romance, coupled with really thoughtful discussion about much bigger issues. There’s no lecture here, just a very human story that was all too believable and heartbreaking.

The book does end on a sense of … open-endedness for some that left me just a little sad to not know for sure that everyone got a happy ending. But that also felt very true, and anything neater than what we got would have felt rather disingenuous and perhaps too sickly-sweet? So I almost appreciated the sour with the sweet. But not so much that I won’t be hoping that some of these character pop up in another book – or short story/novella?

I’ve been in such a reading-slump this year, purely because I’m doing so much manuscript reading and assessing that my recreational-reading has felt a little clogged … but now I’m well and truly back in a reading rhythm, and thanks in large party to the addictiveness of ‘Beautiful Messy Love’. It’s romance that packs a punch, tender and thoughtful with a fantastic hot-streak. Tess Woods has now leapt to my auto-buy list, and I cannot wait to read more from her!


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