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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

'How Not To Be A Boy' by Robert Webb, on audiobook

From the BLURB:

Don’t Cry; Love Sport; Play Rough; Drink Beer; Don’t Talk About Feelings

But Robert Webb has been wondering for some time now: are those rules actually any use? To anyone?

Looking back over his life, from schoolboy crushes (on girls and boys) to discovering the power of making people laugh (in the Cambridge Footlights with David Mitchell), and from losing his beloved mother to becoming a husband and father, Robert Webb considers the absurd expectations boys and men have thrust upon them at every stage of life.

Hilarious and heartbreaking, How Not To Be a Boy explores the relationships that made Robert who he is as a man, the lessons we learn as sons and daughters, and the understanding that sometimes you aren’t the Luke Skywalker of your life - you’re actually Darth Vader.

‘How Not To Be A Boy’ is the memoir from British actor, comedian and writer Robert Webb. I listened to the audio book, which is read by the man himself.

Robert Webb is one-half of the comedy duo ‘Mitchell & Webb’ – with David Mitchell. I can’t actually remember when I first “discovered” Mitchell & Webb, because it honestly feels like I’ve known them forever, in their long careers of various comedy shows appearing on the ABC. It was probably Peep Show at some point, but various sketches from their That Mitchell and Webb Look stand out more, only because various jokes have been carved into my family’s lexicon – like when they want to make fun of my love for home-reno and property shows, they’ll pull out Mitchell’s deadpan “how are shelves?” And especially with politics lately, any of us while watching the news can at any given moment ask; “Hans, are we the baddies?” and know exactly what we’re referencing (and feeling). I also have a deep love for their movie, ‘Magicians’, their TV show ‘Ambassadors’ was fucking fantastic and needed a second season, and latest venture ‘Back’ is bloody brilliant and I hope that one gets a second season at least! Oh, and individually - my parents are goddamn *obsessed* with David Mitchell on ‘Would I Lie To You?

All of this means that when Robert Webb released his autobiography ‘How Not To Be a Boy’, I was always going to read it – but it was author Lili Wilkinson who raved about the audio book, and convinced me to come to his story that way. And boy, am I glad I did – because this has been a real treat in 2017, and a hands-down favourite listen/read. And – as it turns out – an absolutely vital one too.

‘How Not To Be a Boy’ has its genesis in the New Statesman, where Webb’s 2014 article on “growing up, and losing a parent” was such a visceral gut-punch and deep-bellied-laugh, that it unsurprisingly nabbed him a book deal for his memoir. If you haven’t, do read it as but a teaser of what is even more thoughtfully and hilariously investigated in the book itself.

The pivot-point of the novel really is the death of Webb’s mother when he was seventeen. The childhood he recounts is one peppered by the abuse of his father and this learned behaviour starting to be passed down to his two older brothers, and the sanctuary he found in a deep connection with his mother. When she passes away, he’s left in the care of mainly men – and the novel hones in on the overarching theme of how he avoided toxic masculinity (by first having to wade through it).

Of course, this is still a memoir of a comedic writer – so we are offered insight into how Webb went from being a shy child with little hand-eye coordination, to someone who’d perform a (rather rousing!) ‘Flashdance’ tribute on national television for Comic Relief. I felt real tenderness for young Webb, as he learns the thrill of comedic timing amongst his peers, and dares to dream of one day being famous … and his recounting early moments from his 20s, writing with David Mitchell is a little bit thrilling for a fan like me – being given some insight into their process.

But that’s not *really* what this memoir is about. Just as in his brilliant New Statesman article, Webb really is breaking down the patriarchy and our delusions of masculinity in a most relatable and thoughtful way – by pointing out how it’s all damaging horseshit.

He writes about denying his true interests as a child, to try and convert himself into the version of a “boy” that his family, friends and television wanted him to be. With absolutely heart-warming candour he describes falling in love as a teenager, with one of his best friends (alongside his infatuation with various female classmates, and discovering masturbating to Doctor Who female companions) – and one of the most tender moments comes when Webb tells his father of the gay relationships he’s had in the past, and discovers that family will out – even over small town conservatism.

I loved listening to this on audio book. It’s such a cliché to say that I laughed and cried, but I did – and then I wanted to go back and do it all again from the start. There are certain pronunciations and impersonations that I was so thankful I had Robert Webb himself to demonstrate for me, but really I loved it for his warmth. This book reads like a lay-it-all-on-the-line exposé, and Webb leaves nothing unsaid and no stone unturned (except perhaps for some teenage poetry). With steely-eyed wit and clarity he talks about abuse, alcoholism, grief, bisexuality, masculinity and love. There's so much love in this book. And to have Webb talk directly into my ear – even when his voice shook, sometimes – well, it was very special indeed.

I learnt a lot about Webb that I didn’t know, but has actually given new dimension to his writing and comedy for me – and actually, the creative process generally. Extraordinary to know the heartache and bullshit he went through, to be the kind of man he is today – who can confidently say that society’s male constructs are codswallop. And it struck me that one particular line about discovering the secret to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, actually summarises the new sense of awe and respect I have for Webb;

Taking something to pieces doesn’t spoil the whole when you put it back together. You can still love the effortlessness, even when you’ve noticed the effort.


Friday, October 6, 2017

‘Can't Hardly Breathe’ Original Heartbreakers #4 by Gena Showalter

From the BLURB:

Bullied in high school, Dorothea Mathis's past is full of memories she'd rather forget. But there's one she can't seem to shake — her long-standing crush on former army ranger Daniel Porter. Now that the sexy bad boy has started using her inn as his personal playground, she should kick him out…but his every heated glance makes her want to join him instead.

Daniel returned to Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, to care for his ailing father and burn off a little steam with no strings attached. Though he craves curvy Dorothea night and day, he's as marred by his past as she is by hers. The more he desires her, the more he fears losing her.

But every sizzling encounter leaves him desperate for more, and soon Daniel must make a choice: take a chance on love or walk away forever.

‘Can't Hardly Breathe’ is the fourth book in the ‘Original Heartbreakers’ contemporary romance series, by Gena Showalter.

I loved Showalter’s paranormal romance series ‘Lords of the Underworld’, and I’d been meaning to read her contemporary romance stuff – but she has SO MANY BOOKS, it was hard to know where to start. When I randomly picked up ‘Can’t Hardly Breathe’ at the bookstore, I was excited to read so many of my fave romance tropes in the blurb – unrequited high-school crush between nerdy girl and hot bad boy, TICK! So I decided to give the fourth book in her ‘Original Heartbreakers’ series a try, even though the series started in 2015 and I was coming into it cold.

Ok. So. Total honesty – ‘Can’t Hardly Breathe’ is not technically “good”. The story is fairly outlandish, the exposition sometimes clunky and the dialogue occasionally recalls some of E.L James’s worst ‘Fifty Shades’ monologues … and yet, I still had fun reading it.

Dorothea Mathis was an outcast in high school, relentlessly bullied by beautiful cheerleaders and generally invisible to the rest of her classmates. What gave her a modicum of hope in those years though, was popular bad-boy Daniel Porter once showing her a kindness … and then ripping out her heart when she discovered him canoodling with one of the girls making her life a living hell.

Fast-forward to adulthood and Dorothea has taken over running her family’s inn, where army ranger Daniel is back in town and currently occupying a room … so he can take his one-night-stands somewhere more private than his dad’s house.

Daniel is helping his dad recover after a heart-attack, and trying to downplay the old man’s wish for his son to settle down, marry, and start a family. When Daniel realises the inn owner he’s renting rooms from is Dorothea from high school, he suddenly can’t get the woman with pin-up girl curves out of his head … or heart.

I was hoping there’d be a bigger focus in this book, on who Dorothea and Daniel were in high school, versus now. Dorothea had a pretty crushing experience, of seeing Daniel getting hot n’ heavy with one of the very girls who bullied her mercilessly – and I was kinda hoping that in their small town, a lot of these teen traumas would be revisited and picked apart, so there could be some closure. Also for Daniel to interrogate his history of loving and leaving, and not making the best romantic decisions, even as a teenager … Unfortunately, apart from a first-chapter prologue set in high school, the novel is very much grounded in the present day.

Dorothea is instead bogged down in a messy separation from a cheating husband, that is connected to a much bigger loss … a public warfare with her young sister, trying to keep the rundown family inn from going bankrupt, and a secret desire to finish her studies to be a meteorologist – yes, there is a lot going on. And a lot of it is stupid – the meteorology thing especially, is entirely designed for a stormy climax that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

At least the romance offers up a lot of good, steamy scenes and body-positivity discussions – as Dorothea has always been a big girl, she has body hang-ups around her weight and the scars she bares from a traumatic injury. Though I would have liked a little more discussion around this – especially because Dorothea has seen Daniel’s preferred one-night-stands, and they all tended to be thin … there was room in here for Showalter to provoke and poke at Daniel’s unrealistic beauty expectations too, not just Dorothea’s.

Overall though, the obstacles keeping these two apart are flimsy and stupid – like Daniel not wanting his dad to think he and Dorothea could have a chance of marriage and kids down the line.

Daniel is also said to be suffering from PTSD after quitting the army to start his own private security business, which – this must be the most lucrative business in contemporary romance for how many ex-Army heroes venture into that line of work. There’s really nothing to Daniel’s ex-army status, and it most definitely felt like Showalter shrugged and went with the most conventional romance hero job-trope and threw in a half-hearted exploration into PTSD.

But like I said … though this romance was perhaps quantifiably “bad” and not well-written per-se, I still found myself racing to finish and quite enjoying it. I may not venture back for book 5 (because that romantic pairing, as hinted at in ‘Can’t Hardly Breathe’ didn’t intrigue me) but I might tap back in for book number 6, at least.

So. Not “good” – but a nice little distraction nevertheless.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

'Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal' Quarterly Essay by Benjamin Law

From the BLURB:

Are Australian schools safe? And if they’re not, what happens when kids are caught in a bleak collision between ill-equipped teachers and a confected scandal?

In 2016, the Safe Schools program became the focus of an ideological firestorm. In Moral Panic 101, Benjamin Law explores how and why this happened. He weaves a subtle, gripping account of schools today, sexuality, teenagers, new ideas of gender fluidity, media scandal and mental health.

In this timely essay, Law also looks at the new face of homophobia in Australia, and the long battle for equality and acceptance. Investigating bullying of the vulnerable young, he brings to light hidden worlds, in an essay notable for its humane clarity.

‘Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal’ is the new edition of the Quarterly Essay by Australian author Benjamin Law.

The Quarterly Essay, if you don’t know – is an Australian periodical that straddles the border between magazine and non-fiction book. And I will confess, I am not a regular reader of the Quarterly. But given what’s happening in Australian politics right now, and in the lead-up to a marriage equality postal plebiscite – I found myself compelled to read Benjamin Law’s coverage of what has often felt like conservative-hysteria.

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant (or just, not Australian) the Safe Schools Coalition Australia is group of organisations in Australia focused on LGBTIQ people in schools. Its mission is to create safe and inclusive schools for students, families and staff who are in these groups.

But when a national (non-mandatory teaching) program was rolled out, conservative media pundits and pop-culture markers seemed to swirl around the organisation that eventually led to a perfect-storm of – as Benjamin Law perfectly summarises – ‘Moral Panic 101’.

This Quarterly Essay edition is Benjamin Law’s attempt to wade through the “fake news” and op-ed fallacy that has taken hold of the Safe Schools discussion, and especially eclipsed the reasons why Safe Schools was needed in the first place … to help LGBTQ+ youth who are at higher risk of suicide.

I’ve read this Essay about three times now. And bawled my eyes out each and every time. Not because Law uses particularly powerful prose or flowery imagery – but because he does the exact opposite. Offering up a refreshingly straight-down-the-line account of how Safe Schools got started, what good it was doing, and how it all came crashing down thanks to ulterior-motives and dollar-signs, it seems.

Some have asked me if they’ll have to be in the right head-space to read this Essay. Given the years of media beat-up of Safe Schools, and now the marriage equality survey that’s designed to decide human rights by straw-poll … it’s a fair enough question and one I don’t have a perfect answer to.

This is a hard read, but a necessary one. I actually wish ‘Moral Panic 101’ were mandatory reading for anyone about to vote in the marriage equality survey – since so many have wrongly tried to tie Safe Schools to marriage equality and a supposedly hidden LGBTQ+ “agenda” … It might be a nice change for those hell-bent on muddying the plebiscite waters, to read an essay on Safe Schools that relies on facts instead of fears.

But no, the reason I think this is a necessary read – no matter that it’s also bound to be a painful one – is because Benjamin Law treats the group at the centre of the Safe Schools program with the respect they have always been due, but rarely granted in recent years. Kids.

 To read every article of the Australian has published on Safe Schools is to induce nausea. This isn’t even a comment on the content, just the sheer volume. In the year following Natasha Bita’s first February cover story, the Australian feverishly published nearly 200 stories either about, or mentioning, Safe Schools, amounting to over 90,000 words – four times the length of this essay. That’s at least one story about or mentioning Safe Schools every two days. This is a conservative count too, excluding the newspaper’s Cut & Paste sections and Strewth columns, as well as myriad letters to the editor. When I collated every article the Australian had published over this period into a single PDF, the resulting file was so large that my laser printer couldn’t handle it and I had to get it professionally printer and bound. The volume that came back is roughly the size of a standard PhD thesis. No one can claim the Australian isn’t thorough. 
 And yet, across this entire period, Australian – self-appointed guardian of the safety of children – spoke to not a single school-aged LGBTIQ youth. Not even one. Later, queer teenagers who followed the Safe Schools saga tole me the dynamic felt familiar. At school, it’s known as bullying. In journalism, it’s called a beat-up.

Benjamin Law talks to teenagers, especially. Those who are articulate, scared, hopeful, dejected, loving … he listens to them. He listens to how queer communities are helping them, and how Safe Schools worked or would have been appreciated by them.

Again, I will warn that this is a powerful read. If you’re like me and this all hits very close to home, it’ll definitely make you cry. But, look – the final chapter is called ‘The Kids Are All Right’. Because they are, and will be. Because no matter the outcome of this marriage equality survey, or the hate-filled propaganda of those who fear change … it’s still coming. In fact, it’s already here – in the young queer kids Benjamin Law speaks to, and the communities who are supporting and striving to understand them, instil respect for them.

The Kids Are All Right. It’s adults who have to learn to do right by them – all of them.


Oh, and P.S. — not that this has anything to do with Safe Schools continuing to be needed, or exist in some states, but for equality 

'Addition' by Toni Jordan

From the BLURB:

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920); the number of poppy seeds on her slice of orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she’ll take to finish it. Grace counts everything, because numbers hold the world together. And she needs to keep an eye on how they’re doing.

Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (also a 19, with the sexiest hands Grace has ever seen) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her kitchen cupboards without conductng an inventory, or make a sandwich containing an unknown number of sprouts.

Grace’s problem is that Seamus doesn’t count. Her other problem is…he does.

‘Addition’ is a fabulous debut novel. Grace is witty, flirtatious and headstrong. She’s not a bit sentimental but even so, she may be about to lose track of the number of ways she can fall in love.

‘Addition’ was Australian author Toni Jordan’s 2008 debut novel. It is both a romantic comedy and heartfelt tale of mental health and individuality.

I have owned but not read this book since 2008, and have known of its brilliance for that long too. This is partly because Toni Jordan attended the same RMIT writing and editing course as I did (she graduated a few years before I attended though) and all my lecturers raved about her and the breakout success of ‘Addition’ – a few of my lecturers are even thanked in the acknowledgments.

And yet – 2017 is the year of Toni Jordan for me (or, well – technically 2016 was but I couldn’t remember my Christmas read of ‘Our Tiny Useless Hearts’ so … nevermind!) 2017 is the year of Toni Jordan for me. I think I’m going to read all of her books as a treat to myself, and after this – ‘Fall Girl’ will be next!

‘Addition’ is about 35-year-old obsessive-compulsive counter Grace, who is on leave from her teaching job because her counting compulsion came to the attention of parents (“they wanted me teaching their children, not counting them,” she explains at one point). Grace is high-functioning in her compulsion, so long as she sticks to routines and keeps her life patterned by numbers her world will keep ticking along … number of steps to the café, poppy seeds in a slice of orange cake, 10 bananas bought from the supermarket. Her one true love is similarly tortured-by-numbers inventor Nikola Tesla, whose photo is framed and sits by her bedside.

Then Grace steals Seamus’ banana. This is not a euphemism. She swipes it from his grocery basket while waiting in line at the supermarket – to complete her perfect 10. Over the next few days, Grace’s carefully ordered patterns seem to keep leading her back to Seamus … and the two eventually embark on a relationship (Grace’s first in three years).

What follows is both an utterly sexy and tender romance, and a heartbreaking exploration of mental health that questions conformity and normality in the most respectful and humorous ways.

And let’s make something 100% clear – this is a romance (to me, at least – Bookthingo thought differently and that’s okay). But to me – it’s also a *hot* romance. I am coming to quickly admire Toni Jordan’s sweetly sensual stories which beautifully uphold the one true romance rule for me – that is, that our female protagonist has to stand a little taller by the end of the novel. And on her own two feet, with a companion who encourages her autonomy but wishes to be apart of her journey. If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that I would have liked a little bit more – and especially scenes of Grace meeting Seamus’s family.

I am loving my journey through Toni Jordan’s backlist, and I’m not even a little sorry that it’s taken me this long to finally get around to reading her … because these are just the books I needed *right now*. To get me out of a few reading slumps, and to be companionable friends when world events start squeezing in. I’m not sorry that I’ve taken a while to join the Toni Jordan fan-club, I’m just happy that I found my way eventually.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

'Irresistible You' Chicago Rebels, #1 by Kate Meader

From the BLURB:

Hot in Chicago series author Kate Meader returns with her all new, scorching Chicago Rebels hockey series. Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem, a chip on his shoulder, and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…

‘Irresistible You’ is the first book in a new ice-hockey romance series called ‘Chicago Rebels’, from author Kate Meader.

Every romance reader has their happy-tropes. Friends-to-lovers, and enemies-to-lovers are two of my faves. I am also partial to kilts and Scottish highlanders generally. I do not like fireman or ice-hockey players. Except when they’re written by Kate Meader. She hooked me on firemen with her ‘Hot in Chicago’ series, and now it looks like she’s got me flipped into a puck-bunny with this new ‘Chicago Rebels’ series.

The book is about three half-sisters whose father has recently died, leaving his bedraggled ice-hockey team in their management and care. First book is about the oldest sister who always wanted to be an NHL owner-manager, Harper Chase – and the Cajun ice-hockey player who turns her world upside down.

Now, it wasn’t just that growing up I had a total crush on X-Men cartoon character Gambit; but also that Remy “Jinx” DuPre is a fine specimen of an alpha hero. He doesn’t overstep the mark into asshole territory, but is instead a steely and considerate male who loves cooking, family and gets turned on by Harper growing into her own as bossy businesswoman. Hell. Yeah!

Harper comes with a lot of emotional hurt, having been burnt by a violent romance with an ice-hockey player in the past. She is also being emotionally dragged down by the mind-games her hurtful father played on her and her sisters when he was alive (and is still managing to play, from beyond the grave).

I loved this first book, and I thoroughly adored Remy and Harper’s chemistry and opposites-attracting heat. I will say that I’m not as excited for one of the sister’s romances, that is set up in this first book, but the second scheduled – ‘So Over You’ coming out in December – is about the athletic middle-sister taking over as coach of the NHL team and coming face-to-face with the Russian player who she had a girlhood crush on, and gave her virginity to … OMG yep. Sign me up!

Kate Meader can do no wrong in my eyes. If you aren’t reading her romances yet, please get on it!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

'Our Tiny, Useless Hearts' by Toni Jordan

From the BLURB:

Henry has ended his marriage to Caroline and headed off to Noosa with Mercedes’ grade three teacher, Martha.

Caroline, having shredded a wardrobe-full of Henry’s suits, has gone after them.

Craig and Lesley have dropped over briefly from next door to catch up on the fallout from Henry and Caroline’s all-night row.

And Janice, Caroline’s sister, is staying for the weekend to look after the girls because Janice is the sensible one. A microbiologist with a job she loves, a fervent belief in the beauty of the scientific method and a determination to make a solo life after her divorce from Alec.

Then Craig returns through the bedroom window expecting a tryst with Caroline and finds Janice in her bed, Lesley storms in with a jealous heart and a mouthful of threats, Henry, Caroline and Martha arrive back from the airport in separate taxis—and let’s not even get started on Brayden the pizza guy.

Janice can cope with all that. But when Alec knocks on the door things suddenly get complicated.

Harnessing the exquisite timing of the great comedies to the narrative power and emotional intelligence for which she is famous, Toni Jordan brings all her wit, wisdom and flair to this brilliant, hilarious novel.

‘Our Tiny Useless Hearts’ is a 2016 romantic comedy novel from Australian author, Toni Jordan.

I did read this in December last year. But I clearly have brain-fog for the entire Christmas month and cannot for the life of me remember the reading clearly … so I spontaneously decided to re-read Toni Jordan’s comedy about love and marriage, and I was absolutely rapt.

This is the first Toni Jordan book I’ve ever read, but after doing so I (must have enjoyed it, back in December?) went out and bought her other novels ‘Addition’ and ‘Fall Girl’, and now that I’ve had a rebooted reading I intend to get stuck into those ASAP too!

I won’t even try to recount the plot of this book – instead I’ll say it’s a sort of modern Melbourne suburban take on Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, except the comedy-of-manners is more a comedy-of-morons who’ve lost their heads and hearts to utterly foolish infidelities and self-inflicted heartburn. It really is wonderful!

Liane Moriarty provides an endorsement quote, calling it “cutting and clever, and yet so very romantic, as though P. G. Wodehouse had satirised life in the suburbs.” This is a very appropriate endorsee – because Toni Jordan’s novel did remind me of Liane Moriarty’s work, minus the seedy underbelly that goes with her explorations of love and betrayal. Jordan takes a much more light-hearted approach, that still manages to cut to the heart of the matter;

‘Something special, I mean. Your moment, whatever that means.’ 
He breathes out in a rush and leans against the side of the house, he tilts his head back and rests his hands on his thighs. ‘I think everybody feels like that.’ 
‘What if it never happens? What if we’re all here, getting ready, like our entire life is the night before the first day of school, and we’re waiting and waiting and the moment we’re preparing for – it never actually comes?’

Jordan’s novel is also a romance. Through and through. Which is great, and also caught me off guard because Toni Jordan is *so* beloved in Australia and especially by indie bookstores (again – wonderful! And what took me so long to get cluey?!) – but generally Melbourne publishing has an issue with romance … insofar as they don’t respect it very much. There’s no doubt that Jordan brilliantly weaves romance with marital dramas, family observations, and general suburban rot too;

‘When you ask the little boys in my class what they want to be when they grow up, none of them say “a man”,’ says Martha. ‘They all want to be boys for ever, but boys who have a magnet in their chest that prevents anything touching their heart. And that also powers their flying iron suit, so they can live in their penthouse with their car collection and play video games with their friends.’

… but all romance does this. Toni Jordan is writing contemporary romance, but I see her often getting labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ – but I hope romance readers of Australia are like me and have found their way to her hot, biting observations of the up’s and down’s of love. It’s totally worth it!


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!