Love at First Flight, the debut novel for Tess Woods was published first by Impulse, an imprint of Harper Collins Australia, as an ebook only. At $1.99 you couldn’t go wrong and we recommended it then, back in 2015. It must have sold well in this format as it has been released in paperback this year. I didn’t read this one, but decided to try her next book, Beautiful Messy Love, thinking it would be a similar style – romance/drama. It is, but it also has many other layers that take it above the standard. Themes of inter-racial/religious relationships, asylum seekers, expectations of children, and the culture of Australian Rules football at league level.
Brother and sister Nick and Lily both start new relationships. Nick is an AFL footballer with a reputation for bedding and leaving beautiful women. He falls for atypical Anna, a political refugee from Egypt. Lily, a student doctor, meets a man in the cafeteria of the hospital she works in but then finds out his wife is a patient in the palliative care ward. Both of these relationships are tested in various ways.
The novel challenges the assumptions made about people of Muslim faith –
‘the world is full of Muslim women who wear the hijab and dress conservatively, of course. But there are just as many of us, maybe even more, who do not. There are Muslim women who are bikini models. It is just that they blend in with non-Muslims more so you do not notice them. Just like most men who practise Buddhism do not shave their heads and wear robes’.
It also raises the risks taken by those fighting for political freedom, the impact to their families and to them personally.
The book shows that people can be changed by their experiences and interactions with different people –
‘if you strike a chord in the heart of even just one person. Think of yourself like the whisper of wind in a meadow of dandelions – even if you blow only one dandelion away then you have created a permanent change in that meadow and the seeds from that one dandelion may end up creating many more in a new meadow away from all of the old dandelions. You must not give up hope, just keep being the whisper of gentle wind, forever blowing and changing one dandelion at a time’.
The depth of the novel comes from Tess Woods’s upbringing in Alexandria, Egypt. Some of the female characters are ‘inspired by the women who made up the loving village of grandmothers, aunties and older cousins that helped raise me’ in an attempt to ‘convey the true depth, breadth, strength and humanity of Middle Eastern women, regardless of their religious affiliation’.
Her message in her acknowledgements reflects the one in the book –
‘To the world’s asylum seekers, may you find the shelter, the welcome and the acceptance you deserve. Know that there are millions of us who stand with you and who will not be silenced. The day will come when your voices will be heard and until that day, know that we will continue to make our voices loud enough to drown out the others’.
This book is so much more than the average romance novel. I really enjoyed it.