“Happy Birthday” by Danielle Steel

This was my very first Danielle Steel novel, and I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had high expectations. I really should know better by now, but really, it’s DANIELLE STEEL! It’s like the gold standard of pulpy romance novels! Or so I thought.

The book opens on November 1st, the birthday of its three main characters: Valerie, April, and Jack. Valerie (60) is basically Martha Stewart – a “gracious living” guru with tv shows and licensing contracts galore. But as she was concentrating on building her career, her love life has gone by the wayside.  April (30) is Valerie’s restaurateur daughter, and echoes her mother in both work ethic and lackluster love life. Jack (50) is a former NFL start and current sportscaster who happens to work at the same network as Valerie (but they don’t know each other – yet!).

Valerie is in a foul mood because the entire world just found out she’s 60 yrs old (GASP)! Imagine her dismay when her prudey daughter announces she is pregnant! Valerie is WAY too young to be a grandmother! Unless we’re talking chronologically, in which case it’s about right.

But while Valerie is feeling sorry for herself, April is really the one with the raw end of the stick. She works 20 hours a day, 7 days a week at her restaurant. It’s her dream, so she doesn’t mind, but how will a baby (or a toddler, or a teenager) fit into this life? April considers getting an abortion, but when she sees the baby on the sonogram she knows she can’t get rid of it. She has to tell the father – Mike Steinman, a food critic who gave her a bad review two months before, despite having drunkenly banged April the night of his meal.

Mike Steinman doesn’t want kids because his own parents sucked, and his brother committed suicide at fifteen. Well, I can see how that would traumatize someone, but seems like Mike is just selfish, really. April tells him she’s pregnant, and he freaks out, then spends the next several months vacillating between wanted to date April and wanting nothing to do with her and their unborn child.

And what is Jack doing during all this time? I dunno, actually. Danielle Steel seems to have forgotten about him too.

UNTIL! April is working in the kitchen one average morning when out of nowhere Mike calls to tell her there is a terrorist / hostage situation at the TV network where Valerie works! Well, isn’t that unexpected! April and Mike watch the news together, looking for developments. Meanwhile Valerie is presumably locked inside, as a hostage. I say “presumably” because Danielle never tells this part of the story from Valerie’s perspective. How can you write something as “dramatic” as this, and NOT tell it from the actual hostage’s perspective?? I mean, we get her thoughts on astrology, fabric samples, and her new sexagenarianism, but we don’t get to see a TERRORIST TAKEOVER through her eyes? Rip off!

Meanwhile, Jack has been in the background minding his own business, waiting for his time to shine. He sort of ingratiates himself with the police / SWAT / National Guard, and they agree to let him be involved in the rescue proceedings. Because he was a football player. Natch.

So some authorities enter the building and free the women, of which Valerie is one, and as they’re running through the lobby, Jack enters to usher them to safety. Just then a sniper shows up, and opens fire. Valerie’s assistant, Marilyn gets shot in the head and it’s pretty gruesome for something that is totally glossed over. Jack protects Valerie with his body (SEXY) and doesn’t realize he’s been critically shot in the leg until after they’re all safe and sound.

So there’s that.

Things get back to normal pretty quickly with the only lasting effect of the attack being Valerie and Jack’s newfound friendship. They start hanging out regularly and eventually he decides to give up all the twenty-something models he used to date and go out with Valerie instead. She’s intimidated by this, but since she’s in love with him she’s willing to work through it. Cue the whirlwind romance that changes both their lives forever.

Okay, back to April. She is going along, minding her business, buying commercial-grade kitchen appliances when BAM, Mike Steinman shows up and professes his love for her. By the way, at this point they’ve been on one date, and haven’t been speaking for the majority of the 7 months that they’ve known each other. But okay.

Mike sees that he was being a selfish dillhole, and that he’s not doomed to repeat the same mistakes as his parents, etc etc. No real idea where this revelation came from, but it doesn’t matter because April is in love with him too. Or, is super hormonal with her pregnancy and willing to overlook the repeated abandonment in order to believe that they should be together.

Then her restaurant burns down. A kitchen fire gets out of control, and April tries to fight it herself with an old rag until she is literally dragged from the burning building by firefighters. All this at 8 months pregnant. This freaks Mike out enough that he proposes to her and a month later they get married in a sparsely described wedding. Ms. Steel is not what you would call succinct, but she must have been getting as tired of this book as I was, because she tied up her loose ends in a HURRY. The entire wedding day was maybe three pages, and then they unceremoniously have the baby a couple days later. THE END.

I don’t even know what to say. The writing in this novel was so bad, I want to believe that Danielle Steel retired years ago, and these are being ghostwritten by college interns. Either that, or she (or her editor) suffers from Alzheimer’s. The writing was so repetitive, the book could have whittled down to half its length just by taking out all the redundancy. One actual passage read like this, “’What do you mean?’ Jack asked, puzzled, as if he didn’t know what she meant.” Um. Yeah, he JUST ASKED what she meant! GAH! Oh, and also, there were NO steamy sex scenes. Zero. And for that, I give it 0 stars. Tough luck, Steely.

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