Five Days in Paris

Nighttime photo of the Eiffel Tower
Icon and plot are predictable.

In Five Days in Paris, Danielle Steel puts a different spin on her usual romance formula.

The story is about Peter Haskell, marketing man for a major pharmaceutical company who is pushing development of what he hopes will be a break-through drug for cancer treatment.

Steel makes Peter rich, charming, virtuous, and emotionally obtuse. She also has him married to the devoted, only-child of company’s CEO. Peter spent his life trying to escape his farm-boy upbringing; he has maintained no family ties.

In Paris on a trip to meet with a scientist evaluating the new drug, Peter meets Olivia Thatcher, wife of a US senator whose presidential ambition has become all-consuming. Since their baby died, Olivia and Andy have scarcely spoken.

Olivia and Peter spend an entire night talking when the Ritz at which both are staying is evacuated because of a bomb threat. By morning they have become each other’s best friend.

The following day, Olivia “pulls an Agatha Christie,” and disappears. Peter finds her and for the next three days they lovers. Then they each go back to their own lives.

Steel contrives a happy ending, but Five Days feels as if the real story is Peter’s other, earlier days.

Five Days in Paris by Danielle Steel
Delacourt. ©1995. 269 p.
1995 bestseller #03; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Accident by Danielle Steel

triangular red warning sign is art element on front of "Accident"
Accident is unexpected story from Danielle Steel.

Accident is a Danielle Steel romance in which the author throws monkey wrenches at her typical formula with a most satisfactory clang.

Page Clark is happily married. She and Brad have a son, Andy,  7, and a daughter, Allyson, 15. Page wishes Brad’s work didn’t take him away from home so much, but on the whole, she happy with her life.

Then one Saturday night Allyson and her best friend, Chloe Thorensen, say Chloe’s father is taking them to dinner and a movie.

The girls, however, have made a dinner date with two older boys. On the way home, they have an accident. The boy driving the car is killed, the other boy escapes injury. Both Chloe and Allyson are badly injured. Chloe will recover, but never have the dancing career she wanted; Allyson may never regain consciousness.

Steel’s plot is a tad more gruesome than it need be—a relationship need not be abusive for a child to dislike its mother, for example—but on the whole her characterizations are believable.

And she scores points by not exploiting the “other driver” story at the expense of her core story.

Altogether, Accident is a gushless romance that will make readers feel they know the characters.

Accident by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1994. 305 p.
1994 bestseller #08; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Wings by Danielle Steel

an airplane propeller
The story has more action than the cover.

Wings is the second Danielle Steel novel to make the 1994 bestseller list and, like fourth-placed The Gift, and eighth-placed Accident, it breaks from Steel’s romance formula: Its heroine, Cassie O’Malley, prefers overalls to Dior gowns.

Growing up on rural airstrip and the daughter of a WWI pilot, Cassie dreams of flying, which her dad and mom think unsuitable for a woman. Her father’s wartime buddy and post-war partner, Nick Galvin, recognizes Cassie’s determination and natural talent. He secretly gives her flying lessons.

After Cassie wins a flying competition, Desmond Williams, whose firm builds aircraft, offers her a contract that entails testing new aircraft and making public appearances.

Nick thinks Desmond is up to no-good. He’s especially leery of Desmond’s plan to have Cassie repeat the round-the-world flight on which Amelia Earhart disappeared. Nick and Cassie fall out over it.

When World War II breaks out, Nick goes to England to train pilots. He never writes to Cassie.

Having made her point that women need not be confined to the kitchen and bedroom, Steel wraps the story up neatly, pairing off Cassie with Nick whose interest in Cassie, like Desmond’s, revolves around aircraft.

Wings by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1994. 400 p.
1994 bestseller #07; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Like Water for Chocolate

Two Mexican women prepare food Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate defies categorization, as you might guess from the subtitle: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies.

Each of the 12 installments is about some specific event and features a related recipe.

Part romance, part social criticism, and part historical novel, the story feels like a fairy tale. As in fairy tales, the focus is on the story, not on why the story is important.

The story is about Tita De la Garza, who is literally born in a kitchen on a ranch in Mexico around the turn of the 20th century. As she grows older, Tita becomes a culinary artist in a time when cooking was backbreaking labor.

As a teenager, Tita wants to marry Pedro, a neighbor boy. Mama Elena (Tita’s real mother, though she acts like a wicked stepmother) insists Tita, as the youngest daughter, remain unmarried and care for her in her old age. So, Pedro is wedded to Tita’s older sister.

At the wedding (for which Tita has to make the wedding cake), Pedro tells Tita he only married Rosura so he could stay close to her.

If Esquivel’s unusual novel doesn’t tickle your fancy, it will certainly make you appreciate your microwave.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, trans.
Doubleday. ©1992. 245 p.
1993 bestseller #9; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend

Book title laid out in lazy curve against the Cedar Bend landscape
There’s a couple in the far distance.

The dust jacket touts Slow Waltz at Cedar Bend as a story about a once-in-a-lifetime love, but that’s misleading. James Robert Waller’s slender novel actually holds three intersecting love stories, only one of which can be told without spoiling the story.

The main story is about Michael Tillman, an economics professor, who falls head over heels in lust with the wife of a new faculty member.

Bored with husband Jim, Jellie Braden finds sexual fulfillment with Michael. Before she married Jim, Jellie Braden had had some bad experience in India which she won’t talk about.

One day Jellie just disappears.

Jim Braden is willing to wait for his wife to work out her problem but Michael gets on a plane for India, determined to find the one woman he wants.

When he finds Jellie in southwest India, he learns her previous experience there was far different—far worse—than he could have imagined.

Her present-day situation is also far more complicated than he could have imagined.

Amid all the love stories, Waller scatters wry comments about academic life that temporarily lighten the emotional tone until he can wrap up his love stories in an ending that’s more plausible than the novel’s jacket notes.

Slow Waltz at Cedar Bend
by James Robert Waller
Warner Books. ©1993. 197 p.
1993 bestseller #3; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Bridges of Madison County (book)

covered bridge photo bears a “cancellation” stamp saying “a novel”
Image is stamped “a novel”

In the Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller wraps a novelette inside two faked author’s notes.

The novel’s central story is about photographer Robert Kincaid, who arrives in Madison County, Iowa, to photograph its seven covered bridges for National Geographic.

He meets Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife and mother to two teenagers. Husband and children are at the state fair.

Their attraction is instantaneous. Their passionate affair lasts until its time for the family to come home.

Francesca chooses her family over her lover, and regrets it all the rest of her life. An “afterward” section to the story shows Robert also regretted losing her for the rest of his life.

After Francesca’s death, her children find her handwritten story of the affair. The “author’s preface” says the children gave the author Francesca’s materials and he fleshed it out.

The aura of true romance provided by the faked authors notes made the slender novel a natural for movie treatment: Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the 1995 film, that has an 87% audience score on RottenTomatoes.

The best—and worst—that can be said of the novel is that it’s pleasant entertainment with sex left to the reader’s imagination.

The Bridges of Madison County
by Robert James Waller
Warner Books. ©1992. 171 p.
1993 bestseller #1; 1994 bestseller #9.
My grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Jewels, a Danielle Steel novel

golden jewel and gold letters suggest jewels
It’s all about wealth.

Danielle Steel presents Jewels as Sarah Whitfield’s 75th birthday retrospective.

As a Manhattan debutante, Sarah fell for the wrong man. The marriage ended in a divorce that humiliated her into seclusion. To get her out of her funk, her parents took her to Europe where she met and married the much older William, Duke of Whitfield.

As the Nazis mobilized, William was called to military service. With an infant son and another baby on the way, Sarah stayed in a rural French chateau occupied by Germans while he’s gone. Although believed dead, William survived the war.

The couple had three more children and built a business buying jewels from war survivors who need money to rebuild their lives.

After William’s death, Sarah ran the jewelry stores and tried to cope with the problems her adult children cause.

Steel would have readers believe that, Sarah, despite her lack of training for anything, could refinish woodwork, direct a multi-national business, and assist in the hospital when casualties are heavy.

The historical content is equally preposteous. In rural France under Nazi occupation, Sarah and her children never so much as miss a meal.

Jewel is a novel full of characters but no real people, glass passed off as a gem.

Jewels by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1992. 471 p.
1992 bestseller #5; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Mixed Blessings (novel)

a gold and silver image represents a child in the womb
The image represents a fetus.

In Mixed Blessings, Danielle Steel splits her attention among three couples and their decisions to have or not have children.

One couple are young, hard-driving professionals in glamorous jobs. She wants a baby desperately and immediately; he thinks she should relax and let nature take its course.

The second couple are a lawyer in her 40s and a judge in his early sixties. She’s never had the least interest in babies until her stepdaughter has one.

The third couple are lower-class. The man, an orphan, wants babies to love because he never had love. The woman doesn’t want babies because they mean families and she hated hers.

Steel has one or more of the spouses in each couple to visit ob-gyn specialists, and treats readers to the details of the 1990s examination procedures.

None of Steel’s characters is fully developed, which may be for the best. The women are all immature and silly. Like a bunch of fifth graders, they scream, “That’s not fair” when things don’t go their way. And like fifth graders, upon reflection, they conclude that things don’t turn out the way you planned.

Steel herself philosophizes, “Fertility as well as infertility can be a mixed blessing.”

Mixed Blessings by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1992. 369 p.
1992 bestseller #4; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Remember by Barbara Taylor Bradford

a red ribbon tied on the b in remember is cover artBarbara Taylor Bradford sets the opening of Remember in 1989 China where TV reporter Nicky Wells and photographer Cleeland Donovan cover the student protests.

Friends before Tiananmen Square, Nicky and Clee become sex partners afterward. Clee loves Nicky; she’s not sure she loves him.

Nicky has never recovered from losing Charles Devereaux, who is believed to have committed suicide—he left a note for his mother—but whose body has never been found.

One day, Nicky sees on a TV news broadcast from Rome, a man who she is sure is Charles.

Nicky goes into investigative reporter mode to find out why he faked suicide. She suspects he might have been involved in drug trafficking or illegal munitions sales: His international wine business plus his aristocratic connections would have provided ample cover for either.

Each of the trails Nicky follows ends in a dead end, until she learns details about his parents.

The Tiananmen Square details and the European travelogue is interesting, but Nicki’s pursuit of the truth about her ex-lover has all the drama of reporting on a zoning board application.

Although the dust jacket promises readers will never forget Remember, I had forgotten most of it the morning after I’d read it.

Remember by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Random House. ©1991. 381 p.
1991 bestseller #9; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni