All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Stella Makes Good – Lisa Heidke

Stella Makes Good
Lisa Heidke
Allen & Unwin AU
2012, 312p
Read from my local library

Stella and her ex-husband Terry are on excellent terms, even though they’re separated and Terry is now living with another woman. Stella is philosophical – their marriage had run its course, they had realised they had nothing to talk about with each other once their children were removed from the equation. She’s happy to maintain a friendly and communicative relationship with him, encouraging her children to visit him, even though they aren’t too happy that Dad is shacked up with another woman. She also keeps on excellent terms with Terry’s mother, popping in to see her and help out now and then. After all, she isn’t divorcing Terry’s family – just Terry.

Stella’s friend Carly has been hocking into the wine a little bit lately but she’s declared that this year is the year of finding herself a friend with benefits. A bit suspicious that her once loving, now a bit distant husband is having an affair, even though it’s a question she asks often and he denies, she thinks the passion is gone from their life. When she meets a young, nice doctor on a night out, she thinks that might be what she’s looking for. Or is it just the wine talking?

Their other friend Jesse’s life is in a bit of a mess. She’s married to the wealthy but overbearing and controlling Steve, who monitors her every move, disapproves of her friends and thinks they lead her astray and seeks to keep Jesse confined to the house. He quashes her desire to have a more demanding job, or another baby, telling Jesse that she’s simply not up for such things. And it’s true that Jesse is rather nervous, but who wouldn’t be with a spouse like Steve?

A night out between the three girls, where Jesse goes home early and where Carly meets the young doctor (who happens to be a colleague of Mike, the divorced dad from school whom Stella has been enjoying a flirtation with) and they end up at a party in the northern suburbs of Sydney that Stella, Mike, Carly and Toby, the doctor realise is not to their personal taste! Not before Carly and Stella recognise one of the participants though. They are torn about what to do – on one hand someone deserves to know what this person is up to. On another, it’s none of their business and could destroy friendships, marriages, even lives. Stella and Carly also disagree on how to handle it, which further puts off a decision they need to make.

Stella Makes Good is split between first person Stella’s point of view and third person for Carly and Jesse. Stella is at a stage where despite having separated from her husband, she is content and happy with her life. She has a job she loves at a local library and she has two lovely teenage children. Despite the fact that her and Terry are separated, he still calls often, seemingly for no reason at all at times, and Stella maintains a civil and friendly relationship with him with good humour, even when he starts telling her of his domestic woes with his new girlfriend. When Terry’s mother has a fall, it is decided she go and stay with Stella until she is better as Terry’s new girlfriend’s apartment isn’t suitable. Stella is the sort of person who seems to do the best she can by everyone.

By contrast, both Carly and Jesse don’t seem as together, or as content in their lives as Stella. But the three women, despite their differences, form a strong and enviable friendship that stands the test of time, different priorities and lifestyles. I really enjoy reading novels about women where friendship is at the crux of it and there are no dramas between them, no fights, no cattiness, no jealousy, no competition. There are issues – because life isn’t life without them – but they usually strengthen and enhance the friendship. Stella Makes Good is an excellent example of the sort of friendship I like to see and the sort of friendship you can imagine yourself having at their stages in life. They’re busy with jobs, or child-raising, or different lives but they still connect with each other, they still take time for each other and they’re understanding and supportive of the different things that happen.

Stella and Carly both disagree on how to handle an issue – Carly wants to spill the beans, Stella is more cautious but in the end, fortified by some wine, Carly lets fly and the truth outs. That sets off a chain reaction of events that end in a tragic accident for one of them and it’s through that incident that I also think this book shines. There’s a real believability to the emotion that the accident triggers, which I think is difficult to portray without coming across as over dramatic and fake, but Lisa Heidke nails it, the background already laid by the wonderful friendship the three women share.

Stella Makes Good is a lovely read, enjoyable and heartwarming but with a depth that isn’t obvious from the fun-looking cover. I really enjoyed the characterisation, particularly that of Jesse, who struggles with OCD and stress-induced behaviour and also that of Toby, the youngish doctor that Carly meets on the night the women are having a drink in a bar. I did sometimes wish that Stella would stand up for herself and be a bit assertive, she did strike me as very pliant and easily manipulated into doing things for other people, particularly Terry. Terry was only a small part of the book, but despite being separated from Stella he certainly prevailed upon her to do things for him! Stella Makes Good is my second Lisa Heidke read and I enjoyed this one even more than the first one I read, Claudia’s Big Break.

8/10

Book #19 of 2012

Stella Makes Good is my fifth read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It’s set among the northern suburbs of Sydney and it’s not the first time I’ve visited this area for this challenge!

5 Comments »

Claudia’s Big Break – Lisa Heidke

Claudia Taylor is about to turn 39 and her life is going no where. Somehow, without her realising it, her twenties and most of her thirties are long behind her now in a blur of mind-numbing office jobs, inappropriate and disastrous relationships and monstrous debt. An ill-timed and probably ill-thought out fling with her boss has just hit the skids and as a bit of a kiss off, her boss sends her to Greece (all expenses paid) for a couple of weeks. Claudia just has to do this one thing for him in Athens while she’s over there and then the rest of the time is hers to enjoy in Santorini.

So Claudia convinces her two best friends since high school, Sophie – thin, gorgeous, former corporate lawyer now wife to workaholic and mother of a toddler, and Tara – aspiring writer, suffering from a serious case of lack of inspiration, to come with her. The accomodation is all booked and paid for courtesy of Claudia’s boss (and former lover, but Sophie and Tara don’t need to know about that small detail) so they need only pay for their flights. Sophie of course has to bring her young son but apart from that, the three of them are free to have fun in Greece, reliving memories of holidays gone by together when they were all young and single.

Flying to Athens to complete the transaction for Claudia’s boss doesn’t go exactly as smoothly as Claudia hoped. She has an awful amount of trouble tracking down ‘Con’, realising that the directions she’s been given have taken her to the red light district and that maybe some things are going on here that she doesn’t exactly want to be eye witness to. The three girls hotfoot it to Santorini, with the promise that ‘Con’ will catch up with them when the very busy businessman has a moment. Claudia is a little wary of this odd situation but she mostly puts that out of her mind in order to have fun and enjoy her holiday.

A few encounters with a handsome Aussie get her blood racing – he was at Brisbane airport, she saw him on the street in Athens and now here he is in Santorini. Despite the fact that she feels that maybe, her holiday fling shouldn’t be with a boy from Yackandandah she can’t deny that well, the Aussie’s cute.

Unfortunately a few pesky incidents keep cropping up and threatening to ruin an otherwise perfect holiday.

Claudia’s Big Break is a contemporary women’s fiction novel written by an Australian author, Lisa Heidke. I haven’t read her previous two novels but this one was generating enough chat on Twitter for it to catch my eye. The plot actually reminds me a bit of a novel I read many years ago, entitled Girls on the Run, by Talia Lyon. Both novels involve three friends taking a holiday overseas (one with a child in tow), a mysterious stranger who pops up in the most unlikely way, a fling between one of the characters and their boss and the underlying threat of something sinister that the reader identifies way, way before the actual character set up to take the fall does.

I know Lisa Heidke has children, but I’m not sure that she’s traveled with them the way Sophie does with her young son, Levi in this novel, taking him overseas with her. However, whenever I was reading any scene where he was throwing a tantrum, being obsessed with the word ‘poo’, spilling drinks on the plane, etc, I was nodding my head in agreement. I have a 2.5yo son named Hunter and quite frankly the idea of taking him on a plane to Athens has me screaming on the inside in horror. I also related so well to Sophie’s feelings post-Levi, about how she felt she’d lost a bit of herself now. I don’t struggle as much as Sophie did, but I’ve had those feelings and then felt guilty about it. Too often the fact that parenting is hard and can be unrewarding at some times, is glossed over. You’re a bad mother if you admit to not coping, or not adjusting to just being there for your baby instead of being your own person. If you want your life back, you shouldn’t have had kids. But these are all normal feelings and it’s nice to see them written so plainly with no judgement attached!

Claudia as a character, was a bit of a tough one. She was very naive – she really should’ve copped on to quite a lot in this book before she did. She was drifting through her life, approaching 40, in a job she barely tolerated, a string of bad relationships behind her and she was living with her best friend because of her crippling debt. Although I felt sorry for her with how she obtained the debt, the sympathy kind of disappeared when she kept adding to it with silly purchases and not taking responsibility and trying to pay the debt off properly. She does a lot of growing up in this novel – when we meet her she’s still living almost like a college student but by the time the novel comes to a close she’s made some really decent and mature decisions about her situation and we can only assume that she goes ahead and implements them and changes her life for the better.

If you like reading novels about women and their relationships with each other, more so than with their romantic partners then you’ll enjoy this one. The relationship between the three girls is deep and layered and the holiday brings out the best and the worst in all of them but it’s a nice, easy summer afternoon read perfect for the beach, pool or just a lazy day in the sun.

7/10

Book #13 for 2011

Leave a comment »