Genre: Chick Lit
Publication date: October 23, 2020
Stella Halfpenny lives with her boyfriend, Jackson. Happily, she thinks, until she finds he is moving to New York with someone else, Nina – a friend. In extremis, Stella moves in with septuagenarian, Olive. After a long period of grumpy wallowing, she is coaxed back into life by her friends Kim and Bart, the ‘incomparable’ Olive and the work crowd, including office Golden Boy, Miles.
Stella thinks Miles is too nice and goodlooking (and young) to be trusted and wants nothing to do with him. But Miles is persistent and gradually wears down her resistance. Just as things are working out, Nina turns up and Miles realises Stella is still not over Jackson and gives up, taking a job in Hong-Kong. Plus, Nina is pregnant and, to Stella’s horror, soon accepted back into the fold.
Miles returns from HK with a new girlfriend in tow, Chloe, and Stella gets a bad case of you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-til-its-gone-itis.
Trying to move on, Stella takes a blind date to the Christmas party where Miles, overcome by jealousy, realises he still loves her and they finally get it together.
Jackson turns up after Nina has given birth, only to find he is not the father.
I think the synopsis gives away far too much of this immensely funny book, so I’ll begin by saying – don’t read it! You’ll enjoy Unexpectedly Stellar so much more if you go in blind. I’d forgotten the synopsis by the time I read the book, so I didn’t have a clue what I was in for.
Unexpectedly Stellar is told from the point of view of Stella Halfpenny, a 34-year-old who works as a PA to an unreasonable, sadistic boss. Her controlling, manipulating, and gaslighting boyfriend of five years, Jackson, breaks her heart and leaves her bereft. In the process, Stella also becomes estranged from one of the few people she is truly close with.
What follows is a heartwarming saga of how she tries to pick up the pieces, fails, and tries again. On a chance visit to her childhood town, she discovers a different facet to her alcoholic mother and learns something about her absent father. This gives her a wakeup call about the current state of her life and she is boosted into action.
Stella is helped along her journey of self-discovery by a whole lot of wine drinking and self-deprecating humor. I don’t know anything about wines so this was an education.
The puns and the sarcasm made the book great fun to read. Sample this:
“Nina told me to aim for the stars and look where it got me. Much safer to aim for Streatham.”
Stella never views herself as anything other than average, even though she sounds like a friendly, happy, fun person. Consider how she describes herself in the beginning:
“I was ashamed at my pathetic life, thirty-four years old, a rejected failure with a few bin liners of cheap clothes and a heap of charity shop books.”
But I could relate to her the most when she said this, somewhere towards the end of the book:
“Wearing black is like eating comfort food or lying on the sofa in pyjamas, drinking tea. It is easy, undemanding, manageable.”
You’ve got to love a girl with no artifice whatsoever, completely natural.
Watch out for Olive and Iris, who are so wholesome that it made me want to hug them. I liked Miles, too, and I wished there was more lovey-dovey stuff with him and Stella.
There are plenty of characters in this book and some sort of action on nearly every page, but you never get lost or bored.
I think this is a great holiday read which carries you on its highs and lows, laughing and shedding a tear or two. It all comes together in a satisfying and uplifting end, and I felt sorry to leave the story.
(I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for an honest review.)