The Happiness Blueprint by Ally Zetterberg

Posted 5 April, 2024 by Heather in Blog, Blog Tour, Book Excerpt, Heather / 0 Comments

Here’s a great start to the weekend. I have an excerpt from Ally Zetterberg’s THE HAPPINESS BLUEPRINT. Set in Sweden with an autistic main character with diabetes, this is sure to be a fun romance.



Google: How do I run a construction company?

Sibling pairs are a bit like shoes from a lost and found. You put your hand in and can only hope to get two that match, knowing that two shoes are still better than one—at least you don’t have to walk around with one foot bare. In my parents’ case they won themselves a dust-covered Converse, perfectly functional and sturdy, and matched it with a glossy kitten heel that likes to look down at the flat sneaker.

I, the sneaker, speak.

“I have commitments, too!” I say, trying my best to sound as important as my sister, pretty sure I’m failing. I’ve said this exact sentence several times in the past twenty minutes, trying hard to be the winner of the Zoom tug-of-war, the holder of prime position and the central big square overshadowing the small ones. The current leader board has my sister, Saga, at the top followed by our mum as a close second.

“I have plans,” I say again, for a brief moment flitting onto the screen. Well, it is true. At least if Tuesday drinks and defrosting the freezer count. I can feel my blood pressure—actually, it’s more likely my blood sugarrising. Stay focused, Klara.

“It’s a family emergency,” Mum chips in yet again. Thanks for stating the obvious. As if we didn’t know that already.

I decide to revert to the technique when you go back to the beginning of the conversation, repeating it all, hoping you have magically missed the solution and that it will make itself known—loud and clear—the second time round.

“How long would his treatment be, again?” I ask, even though I know full well the details, having joined the oncology team at Dad’s appointment via FaceTime earlier that day. Three months. Dad is lucky. Just one surgery and then a course of innovative localized radiation to beat what is considered stage 1 of prostate cancer. He caught it early and will most likely be okay. I’m not too worried about Dad. Cancer is a poignant, scary word, but 1 is a harmless number, thin and unassuming. At the end of the call, we were asked if we had any questions, and I would have had plenty, but now I had a 1 and didn’t need any other explanation. I haven’t even googled it.

Saga doesn’t bother to repeat why she can’t do the job, which surprises me. She usually misses no chance to talk about her important academic career at a highly esteemed international university and just generally, you know, her full and perfect life. Got to have that work–life balance, Klara!

Right now, I’d settle for just having a life. Never mind a balanced one.

“I’m really sorry I can’t be there to support Dad myself. There’s just so much going on.” My sister’s face is filling the Zoom square to the point where it has no background. Now if that’s not a telling picture of Saga, Queen of Filling Up Every Room She Enters. Me, me, me.

“It’s only a few months. Think of it as a long holiday—you will even get paid! Really, it’s an opportunity.” I ponder this. Sweden is in no way my preferred holiday location. But a salary from my dad’s company would be an increase compared to what I currently earn. Nothing.

“Say I agree, I’m not saying I do, but if, how would I even do it? You need qualifications and skills to do that type of job,” I say.

At first, we had been so relieved to learn Dad’s good prognosis that we had forgotten everything else. Then Saga had pointed out the company. This tiny little inconvenience in rural Sweden with three employees that somehow needed to stay afloat while Dad was focusing on his health.

“Darling, you already work in property!” Mum says, before turning to loudly sip a lurid green smoothie. I can’t help but think that if this had happened five years ago, before The Divorce, we wouldn’t be having this discussion as she would still be there. Not in a Marbella condo with a widower named Inge who she met at her church choir. I push the thought away. It’s not Mum’s fault. If Dad doesn’t resent her, then neither should I.

“I work for a website that sells them. I don’t demolish, construct, or tile their bathrooms!” I mean, what does Dad even do? Definitely not something I have expertise in. Which is technical-support chatting (“No, you can’t place the properties in your online basket, Susan. You must call the listed agent for a viewing.”). Mostly I do nothing that remotely touches on property. Think of me as a helpful bot.

“Please, Klara. Someone has to do it. We need your answer soon,” Saga says. Oh no, not that line. Translation: you’ve got to do it, you are the little one, and I may have some shared responsibility, but in the end it’s on you, little sister. Like when we were kids and messed up the living room building a fort or a shop and the time came for tidying up. Someone has to do it, Klara. If my sister ever happened to commit murder, I bet you it would be my job to dispose of the body, due solely to my genetic link to her and our birth order.

“Let me see if I can make some arrangements,” I mutter.

“I didn’t want to say this, but… I thought you were on a break from work right now?” I can hear my sister’s smug smile even though her blurry screen prevents me from actually seeing it. She is well aware that people have breaks from relationships—not jobs. If it’s the latter, then it’s simply called unemployment. Or disciplinary suspension. Let’s not get into that, shall we.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to connect with old friends?” Mum attempts.

What friends? I think. The ones I had a decade ago have inevitably moved on and away. If I were an old lady, we would now have the sort of relationship that is marked only by the exchange of Christmas cards. Except I’m not, so there aren’t even the holiday greetings. If I were braver and funnier, even a faint shadow of my sister, I would have seen this coming and averted it by recruiting new friends. But this would have required actually socializing, going places with a frequency I’m not adapted to (I need rest days from socializing the way others do from the gym) and the ability to keep a conversation going without the help of alcohol.

I currently have a grand total of one friend: Alice, who is my housemate and who says hilarious things like “Yay, I got booked for a hand job!” (She has a side gig as a hand-and-foot model.) Mum and Saga both know this.

“Listen, I know it’s not what you want, although I’m not entirely sure what you actually do want. But quite frankly, it’s time that you pulled your weight.”

I look down at my waist before I realize that she is not talking about my BMI.

Then my nephew Harry—Saga’s primary excuse for dodging the Sweden bullet—starts howling like a wolf in the background, hitting a key only a toddler can master. The noise! Quickly, I make up my mind. “Okay, then.” The Harry siren goes off again.

“Right, that’s my cue to leave the call!” my sister shouts in a key only a mum can master. I swear parents teach their children to become a distraction at exactly the right time. It’s not fair that they all have an excuse to leave a boring Zoom call while the rest of us have to stay put and listen to the end.

“Fine. But you help out with what you can from over there. That’s the deal.” I insist on calling my sister’s new homeland by anything but its proper name. I’m well aware that it is childish behavior coming from an adult, however much she misses her sibling.

“Of course. Bye, then. Lifesaver!” Saga leaves the call.

The doctors will be saving Dad’s life, not me, I want to argue. But then I think of the convention to liken unpleasantness with death and consider the fact that it is perhaps Saga I have saved from Sweden.

“Mum?” No reply. She must have hit a button or lost connection. Her screen is empty. I’m left staring at just myself in the Zoom square, a sad sight of disheveled dark locks and eyebrows in a discontented frown. Finally occupying the prime position.

I toy with the idea of calling them both back up and demanding their attention. You and I need a word, I would say with authority. Well, literally just one word. No. But I do just that: think it, and nothing more.

Scheibe,” I say to screen me. One of the few words I’ve picked up from my sister and kept handy in my vocabulary. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve had to use it almost daily during my twenty-six years in this world.

I guess I’m heading home to run my dad’s company. Great.


Move between neighborhoods like I’m haunting them. Left too early for my appointment, and when I realized, I just kept walking. Possibly in circles, as I seem to be seeing a lot of very similar hip coffee shops. Notice after a while that I’m avoiding the bustling Möllevångstorget and its bronze monument named The Glory of Work. Lately, I’ve taken its presence as a personal insult.

It’s fucking freezing, and I curl my fingers into my hand, shielding them within my fist. The coat sleeves just about reach down and stop any icy wind from getting to them. Don’t mind being cold: reminds me I’m still capable of feeling things.

It’s 4:00 p.m. when I finally walk into the Malmö Psychotherapy Center. Dr. Hadid is wearing a bright blue headscarf with a flower pattern when I enter her room. It does brighten my mood ever so slightly; I much prefer medical professionals who are relaxed and colorful as opposed to the GP uniform of shirt, smart trousers, and loafers in shades of beige. Find myself counting the small delicate flowers on her head. Math is a good distraction and one of the things I still enjoy. Aware it may not be the coolest hobby for a twenty-nine-year-old. I get to sixteen before she interrupts me.

“How have you been doing, Alex?” she asks.

“Okay, I guess.”

“Did you do anything this weekend? Do you want to tell me a bit about your past week?”

Not really, but it’s a rhetorical question. They all are, and the whole purpose of me being here is to answer them, so obviously I speak. There seem to be a lot of rhetorical questions to answer when your brother dies.

“I went to my uncle’s funeral. What else? Had pizza five times. Capricciosa with added jalapeños. Aren’t jalapeños just the best spice ever? A little bit naughty, like telling-a-dirty-joke naughty, but not so full-on that you have to cover your ears. They challenge you, but don’t tip you over the edge. I like that in them.”

The corners of Dr. Hadid’s mouth move upward.

“The bin collection on our street seems to have moved to 5:00 a.m. I’m thinking about giving the company a call to complain.”

“Have you tried the earplugs we talked about?”

“I find that then my thoughts get louder, if that makes sense? I prefer to listen to the garbage truck than to my mind.” There is a flower on the windowsill; I wonder who waters it on weekends and am just about to ask when Dr. Hadid addresses me.

“I think it’s time to start making some plans. It’s been six months since Calle died and four since I started seeing you. You’re ready. It would give you structure and take the focus off the unhelpful thoughts.”

Notice that she’s using my brother’s nickname. Maybe she thinks she can get through to me, appear more familiar, if she doesn’t call him Carl.

“Plans? Like coffee with a friend?” That may be hard since my friends have taken a back seat recently. Somehow, me in sweatpants better suited for the laundry basket and holding a pizza box and a bag of chips isn’t their ideal Friday night. Or any other night of the week, for that matter. We talk around that for a while, and a possible route out of the idle existence of Netflix and Nil (the latter referring to my current account balance).

“Let’s start by entering to-dos into your calendar. I’ve seen success with this approach before. Do you have an iPhone?”

I shrug and nod simultaneously.

“Great. So you set yourself a challenge of entering three tasks per day. They can be simple, such as doing the dishes, going for a walk, or updating your CV. The important thing is that you set the intention—add it to the calendar—and then complete the task. How does that sound?”

“That’s fine, I guess.” Brush your teeth, do some reading, make the bed. Sounds like a to-do list for children. Next, she’ll be handing me a star-sticker reward chart. Got to take recovery seriously, though, so tell myself off for trivializing the very qualified professional’s advice.

Dr. Hadid is unaware of my thoughts and proceeds to write up notes on her screen.

“Good. We will move appointments from weekly to monthly, but please call me if you feel you need one sooner. My door is always open.” This makes me smile. If there is one thing a therapist’s door always is, it’s firmly closed. To guard the consultation room from the waiting room. I have one last question. An important one.

“What about the car and the ring?” I fiddle with the ill-fitting metal around my finger, sliding it up and down, my thoughts turning to something else through the motion, embarrassing, completely involuntary.

“I suggest keep them for now. One step at a time. I don’t see any harm in those two tokens if they give you comfort.”

We finish up with small talk about her daughter who is backpacking in Asia and how it gets dark already at 5:00 p.m. in Malmö this month, and then I enter the same way I came.

There are twenty-seven flowers on her headscarf.

Excerpted from The Happiness Blueprint by Ally Zetterberg. Copyright © 2024 by Ally Zetterberg Literary Ltd. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.



On Sale: April 2, 2024; 368 Pages, MIRA

Klara and Alex are having trouble connecting, but at least their calendars are in sync.

Klara—who’s always thought of herself as a little different, a sneaker in a world full of kitten heels and polished boots—is feeling a disconnect these days. She has type 1 diabetes, currently works in a dead-end job, and is in desperate need of a change. When her dad falls ill, Klara begrudgingly agrees to help run his small construction company while he recovers, even though it means moving back home and pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone to the extreme.

Alex has been a shell of himself since his brother died in an accident. He’s unemployed, has bills piling up, and is distant from friends and family. His therapist is encouraging him to keep things manageable by setting up a calendar, checking off tasks each day, and looking for work to help get him back on his feet. When an ad pops up for a carpenter position at a small construction company, he jumps at the chance to take a step forward.

Klara’s and Alex’s stories unfold through a series of miscommunications in this clever and witty novel from debut author Ally Zetterberg that’s about finding acceptance and even love in unexpected places.


Find The Happiness Blueprint

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About Ally Zetterberg

Ally Zetterberg is a British-Swedish writer. She spent ten years working internationally as a fashion model before becoming a full-time mum. Being neurodivergent herself and the mother of a child with Type 1 Diabetes, she is passionate about writing relatable characters and representing those living with medical conditions in commercial fiction. She speaks four languages and spends her days doing her best not to muddle them up.


Connect with Ally Zetterberg

Twitter | Website | Instagram | Goodreads 



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I'm a PhD chemist who loves sarcasm, music, and books-paranormal, mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, and romance. Most of my free time is spent at the martial arts studio these days--whether practicing Combat Hapkido or reading books while watching my son's Taekwondo classes, or even working up a sweat with Kickboxing for fun. Goodreads

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