Seven Steps to Happiness – Stella Newman


9/10. Great use of colour, and I love the illustration.

“Is there a formula for happiness? If it’s Netflix, two-for-one Malbec and the perfect toasted-cheese sandwich, Lenny has it covered. But when her friend Juliet finds herself at rock bottom, Lenny realises it’s going to take more than that to fix her. Luckily help is at hand in the form of HappyGuru: a plan which promises happiness in seven easy steps. So when Lenny is asked to research it, she puts scepticism aside and persuades Juliet they should give it a go. The friends quickly find themselves immersed in mindfulness, juice cleanses and death-defying circus stunts. Yet as Juliet becomes increasingly buoyant, things only get more complicated for Lenny. Can it be that happiness is only seven steps away?”

Here on the KCARAB blog I’m very open about how much of a Stella Newman fan I am. From Pear Shaped to Leftovers The Dish, as soon as I saw that she was publishing a new novel (I’m not ashamed to admit that I sporadically search her publisher’s page to check) it was my next purchase.

I will admit, however, that it didn’t seem like a classic Stella read upon starting – this novel has a new writing style, with the story split between two protagonists, Lenny and Julia, and the starting protagonist isn’t a talented cook/all-round foodie (see: Pear Shaped‘s Sophie, Leftovers‘ Susie and The Dish‘s Laura) – Seven Steps to Happiness immediately showed a new writing side of Newman. However, there was certainly enough mention of food to keep me happy – not to mention that Julia is a ghost recipe writer-turned-artisan bread maker.

However, Julia’s new bread empire doesn’t come easy – a married mother and talented chef, her world is turned upside down when she realises that her seemingly perfect husband, Matt, is a serial cheater. Her best friend, perpetual singleton and unfulfilled tech worker, Lenny, takes it upon herself to bring her back to life – with regular visits, emotional support, and the use of a new app she’s trialling – HappyGuru. Julia starts off at a happy level of four, but as she takes the advice that the app offers her – taking up exercise, new hobbies and challenging herself creatively, that level starts to creep up as she embraces life and sloughs off her broken relationship. Meanwhile, Lenny is going the wrong way – moving from having a stable job to being unemployed, wearing inside-out clothes and wasting time with Ellis, a man who has refused to commit to her for years and who can’t even carry out a simple instruction right.

Julia’s new endeavours start to help Lenny too, as her business starts to expand and she needs Lenny’s help to turn her business into a success story, rather than simply keeping her afloat. As the two pair up to take Julia’s company to the next level, navigating friendship bumps, love life issues and the mission to find the perfect toastie combination, they both find happiness – all without the use of the HappyGuru app.

As always, there’s a link to Stella’s other novels – something I’ve always loved about her books. Seven Steps to Happiness is a classic serving of literary comfort food, penned by the eternally talented Stella Newman – who always serves up the perfect blend of friendship, romance and cuisine. The only thing missing from this book was toastie recommendations – though that’s perhaps no bad thing, when I already learned how to make the Compost Cookies from her first novel and I’m trying to avoid having a classic ‘winter body’ this year…


The Dish – Stella Newman

24485926I’m a big Stella Newman fan. Pear Shaped is one of my favourite novels of all time and Leftovers is up there too. I’m a big fan for a number of reasons: Stella’s witty dialogue, her excellent characterisation (I will always root for a character who would prefer pasta to a salad) and her plotlines, to count but a few. But one of the things Stella truly excels at is giving her readers a fantastic insight into an industry or career that they wouldn’t generally otherwise have. Take her latest read – The Dish, which focuses on the life of Laura Parker, anonymous food critic and divorcee who’s been lying low in love since breaking up with her husband, Dave. Fans of Pear Shaped will remember her as Sophie’s best friend/side kick, and the feisty Miss Klein makes a number of welcome visits in this novel.

But this love story is all about Laura, and her blossoming relationship with Adam Bayley, the head chef at pretentious new restaurant LuxEris. Laura eats at the restaurant before they meet and hates everything – from the ridiculous menu and the high prices to the lurid, tacky décor. She writes a damning review for her publication – The Dish – but she starts to change her mind once she meets and starts dating Adam. He’s a brilliant chef and a master of flavours – surely he couldn’t have been cooking that night? Laura decides to go back and do a re-review, and sure enough the food, this time around, is exquisite. So she decides to change her review – before her first one gets out there and damages Adam’s reputation, and his position at the restaurant. But a snide colleague sabotages her, and suddenly everything starts to fall away – Laura’s beloved boss falls ill, she’s plagued by guilt over the death of her mother, and when Adam finds out who the face of The Dish is, he’s furious with Laura for keeping it a secret. But it’s not as big as the secret he’s keeping…

The Dish is classic Stella at her best: cracking wit, sparkling ripostes and, as always, a protagonist you always want to win. My only complaint is that she doesn’t write fast enough – more books please, Stella!

NB: For fans of Pear Shaped, why not try my version of Sophie Klein’s compost cookies?