Thursday, October 15, 2020

Danielle Steel - Happy Birthday

For April Wyatt, turning thirty is not what she had expected. She's single, with no interest in changing that in the foreseeable future. Her popular, successful restaurant in downtown New York - where she is chef and owner - consumes every ounce of her passion, attention and energy. Ready or not, though, April's life is about to change, in a tumultuous discovery on the morning of her milestone birthday.
April's mother Valerie is a popular TV personality and the queen of gracious living. Since her divorce long-ago, she has worked tirelessly to reach the pinnacle of her career and to create a camera-ready life in her Fifth Avenue penthouse. But she's having trouble equating her age with how she feels, and all the hours with her personal trainer, the careful work of top hairdressers and her natural good looks can't hide the fact that she is turning sixty, and the whole world discovers it on her birthday.
It is also Jack Adams' birthday - the most charismatic sports personality on TV, a man who has his pick of desirable younger women. But he fears his age may finally be catching up with him when he wakes up on his fiftieth birthday needing an emergency visit to the chiropractor...
A terrifying act of violence, an out-of-the-blue blessing, and two very unlikely love affairs soon turn lives inside out and upside down. As these three very different people celebrate their birthdays, they discover that life itself is a celebration - and that its greatest gifts are always a surprise... 

Comment: It's been quite a long time since I've read a book by this author. If I remember correctly, I've read around around five books by her before this one and two (Changes and Malice) were good ones for me. The others not as appealing.

Recently, a friend has been reading some of the author's older titles and we have chatted about them and that is why she gave me this book for my birthday (how apropos). This one is a more contemporary title, originally released in 2011.

In this book we follow the lives of three main characters - just turned 60 famous Valerie, her just turned 30 daughter April and just turned 50 Jack Adams, a sports personality. These characters all share a birthday day but are in specific moments of their lives and there's a sense that time is running out from the kinds of things they feel they should be doing. When a terrifying event makes them think about the things they have been focusing on, will that make them want to change their perspective on life?

Danielle Steel, for those who have read her, has a distinctive formulaic style that nevertheless, as with everything, can be a hot or miss. Some of her stories manage to have a good balance, others are too sappy, others OTT melodramatic, others aren't solid enough... it really feels as if any opinion can come out of reading one of her books and with such a long backlist, some titles seem to work better than others for everyone who has read them. The ones I mentioned above worked well for me because I felt the drama and the plot had enough elements to make it work. 

Returning to this Happy Birthday - and thinking a little on what I've said above - doesn't feel as if it's as moody as it could be. It's very predictable, the writing feels rushed, too mechanical... I can't tell if it's just a matter of her writing style having evolved into something simpler, too contained, or if it's just the fact this story is very weak and doesn't really allow for the characters to emotionally grow into something that would be exciting to follow.

The main characters are Valerie, April and Jack and we do follow them as they think and act and go through the motions of their days but I'll confess I didn't feel such an empathy towards them to the point I had to root for them or be happy they "learned" whatever lesson they were supposed to. Their presence was so thin, the journey they go through so superficially addressed, it really felt as if the author only wrote what was necessary, what conveyed the minimal information required and that was it, job done. I missed a bit more.... complexity. Not drama, in the sense their lives had to be more difficult or their decisions harder, but something that could make it easier to connect with someone who was going through personal/emotional issues, more layers of who they were.

Valerie is feeling her age, she has done her best to delay the fact she is getting older and she feels a woman in her 60s is always put in a certain label. I can understand her mind frame, her fears of not being as well respected because she is getting older. But her personality was too bland, too plain and even though she entered a relationship with Jack, a younger man by ten years but with the same sort of issues, I kept thinking she wasn't fully developed. Jack, too, he was described a womanizer, preference for younger women in their 20s... I wasn't too keen on him and his evolution to accept his age and being with Valerie, who shared much of his views and experiences, wasn't done in such an amazing way that I had to change my mind about him.

There is, in the middle of the book more or less, an event that changes everyone's way of thinking from what we had been told. It's something bigger than life, sort of, and almost too unlikely to be possible but that was used to affect the character's POV. April, as the character I felt was the most developed, went trough the biggest change, not as much in personality but in how another character interacted with her. But... it was so obvious, so lacking a believable transformation that it had to be a situation only happening because of the big event. I felt the author went the easiest way, but not the most rewarding because the characters didn't really evolve in a way that I would consider acceptable.

All in all, this wasn't a bad story, there were interesting elements yes, but as a whole, I just think the story could have been done better and other books by the author prove she could have done it. On the other hand, if one wants to dip into her work, this is certainly one of the easiest books to start, I think.

Grade: 6/10

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