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REVIEW: Honor Thyself by Danielle Steel

Dear Ms. Steel:

It was with avid curiosity that I read your February release, Honor Thyself, feeling quite out of the loop for not having read any of your previous work.   After finishing the book, I was less curious but a bit confused, and so I went to Amazon to see what other readers thought of the book.   For probably the first time, ever, I found myself in agreement with the vast majority of the 20-something reviews there (with the exception of Harriet Klausner and one or two others):   in short, the book was a real disappointment.

At 50, American movie star Carole Barber is finally starting to come out of the grieving fog her husband’s untimely death gathered around her, but she still can’t get past the writer’s block that threatens her first book-writing effort.   Unsettled and unfocused, Carole ventures back to Paris, a city she loves but has not visited since she broke off with her married lover 15 years ago, to see if she can find that big idea that continues to elude her.   She tells her conscientious assistant not to worry about her – that she plans to do some traveling and will not be in close touch.   So when Carole is gravely injured in a terrorist attack to a Paris tunnel, she lays unconscious in the hospital for more than a week before her ex-husband begins inquiring about her, discovering the horrible truth that Carole may not survive her injuries.

Soon, Jason the ex-husband, Anthony and Chloe the grown children, Stevie the dedicated assistant, and Matthieu the ex-lover (who finds out belatedly about Carole’s state when someone leaks the story to the press) descend upon the Paris hospital to coax Carole back to consciousness and to health.   Carole does awaken, but she comes to without her memory, recognizing no one in her life and suffering an initial inability to talk, let alone remember the right words for her thoughts.   In the process of recovering her memory, Carole and Matthieu, now a widower himself, begin to rediscover their emotional bond, and Carole has the chance to re-examine her priorities, her life as lived, and the direction she wants to take in the future.

I am not sure in what genre Honor Thyself would be classified.   It has elements of Romance and women’s fiction, and it has a decidedly happy and uncomplicated ending.   Further, while Carole struggles for a bit to recover her memory and her physical functionality, I imagine that anyone knowledgeable about brain injuries would be grinding their teeth reading the scenes detailing Carole’s injury and recovery.   Emotionally, Carole finds herself questioning things she never did before, especially the type of parent she was to her daughter, who feels she missed out on a lot while her mother spent so much time acting in different movies.   And then there is Matthieu, who initially frightens Carole with his intensity and attachment to her (before she recovers her memory), but who becomes a quick comfort to her as they begin to rediscover the strong friendship that always steadied their volatile passion.   Although Carole had been married twice, the second time much more happily, Matthieu is clearly "the one" and whatever conflict in the book revolves around whether or not Carole will be able to get past the hurt Matthieu inflicted on her in the past and adjust her newly discovered life to take the risk a relationship with Matthieu would represent.

For the most part, however, it was difficult to engage with Honor Thyself beyond the level of the narrative itself, because the narrative itself was simultaneously so strong and so weak.   It was weak in terms of its construction, which consisted almost exclusively of short, declarative sentences that rarely varied in rhythm, structure, or emphasis.   I cannot remember seeing a semi-colon or a colon anywhere, and while quotation marks occasionally broke the monotony of the comma – period combination, not nearly enough of the book allowed for direct access to the characters’ actions or interactions.   This is what I mean when I say the narrative was too strong – it literally read like one long, repetitive, monotonous voice over:

She felt very old after listening to him.   The story had taken two hours to tell.   She was tired, but she had the strong impression he had tried to be fair, to both of them.   The only one who had been lambasted in the tale was the Russian supermodel, but it sounded as though she deserved it. He had picked himself a major lemon, and he knew it.   She was a dangerous young woman.   Carole never had been, and had always tried to be loving and honest with him.   He had made that clear to her.   She had little to reproach herself for except working too hard and being away too often.

The supermodel in question was the 21 year old "tart" that Jason, Carole’s ex-husband, left her for, and she does, indeed, get "lambasted" in this novel, along with the terrorists who bomb the tunnel, all of whom serve as cardboard villains to provide some sense of danger and drama to the story.   And if it appears that the narrative reads simplistically because of Carole’s brain injury, there is this section told from the perspective of the doctors working on her after her accident:

They cleaned up her burns, her arm was set, she stopped breathing on her own, and they put her on a respirator.   It was morning before things calmed down in the trauma unit, and the neurosurgeon evaluated her again.   Their main concern was swelling to her brain, and it was difficult to assess how hard she had hit the wall or pavement in the tunnel, or how great the damage would be later on, if she survived.

As someone on Amazon noted, it should be a ventilator, nor a "respirator" that sustains Carole’s breathing.   But really, that inaccuracy is the least of this novel’s problems.   Almost a complete lack of narrative drama, excessive narrative repetition, shallowly portrayed emotional conflicts, and uninteresting prose made this an utterly boring reading experience.   The narrator seems to have so little faith in the reader’s ability to comprehend what is going on, that two pages from the end of the book, we get this bit of dialogue from Jason to Carole:
"You sure gave us a hell of a scare," he said, referring to the bombing and its aftermath.

Referring to the bombing and its aftermath?   Seriously, the only reason I can discern for that level of repetitive narrative hand-holding is to wake up the reader who has fallen asleep while reading the flat, unengaged, and unengaging prose.   Honestly, it is impossible for me to imagine that such writing created the author who can command $27.00 for a hardcover novel.

The one positive in the writing I can comment on is the level of detail provided, especially of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Carole’s personal style (diamond studs in her ears, a sleek ponytail of hair – much like the author’s picture on the back of the book, incidentally), Matthieu’s blue eyes and dignified suits and coats, and, most importantly, the brand and blend of tea Carole drinks – Mariage Frères Vanilla tea.   Now here’s where I have to make a confession:   I am a tea addict AND a vanilla addict.   I take my hot beverages very, very seriously, but until now, I have been mainly an English tea drinker (Whittard Original and Yorkshire Gold are standbys).   But as soon as this tea was mentioned I was on a mission to find it, and voila, I sit here writing this review with a cup of Mariage Frères Marco Polo green tea, with two brand new tins of Vanilla and French Breakfast sitting nearby.   And the more I drink, the less disappointed I am with the book that gave me this wonderful gift of French tea.   Otherwise, I would likely have ended this review with a snarky admonition to "honor thyself:" don’t read this book.   Instead, I will merely say, "honor thyself:" try this tea.   It’s an A+.   The book, however, is a D.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or Powells. No ebook format.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

33 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:30:11

    It was with avid curiosity that I read your February release, Honor Thyself, feeling quite out of the loop for not having read any of your previous work.

    I feel no such compunctions to ever read her books. I’d rather remain clueless. Judging by the grade alone, I feel that I am not missing much anyway.

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  2. Chicklet
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:38:03

    I think the best way to experience Danielle Steel is to watch any of the TV adaptations made of her books: That way, you can gather ’round your friends for a home version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or at the very least, get tipsy on Irish coffees and knit. That way you can avoid her dull-as-dishwater prose, but get the soapy pleasures of the overemotional dialogue.

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  3. LauraD
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:03:30

    How can you have writer’s block if you’ve never written anything before?

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  4. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:09:41

    Mariage Frères

    Try their Rouge Bourbon. It’s my fav!!!

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  5. che
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:18:23

    I read maybe 4 or 5 of Danielle Steele’s books years (and years) ago and gave up. They all seemed to have the same theme: a heroine who was either a divorcee or a widow with daddy issues. The only book of hers that I can remember even remotely liking was Palomino. Never had the desire to read her ever again.

    ETA that yes, Palomino was one of the made for TV movies.

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  6. Leah
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:52:21

    When I was a library clerk in the early 90′s, Danielle Steele books crossed the circ desk seemingly hundreds of times a day. Curious, I flipped through one one day, and was just amazed. And completely unimpressed. I really don’t understand why these things are so popular. Whenever I’m struggling with my own writing, and thinking about how much I suck, I remember that book and think, “I can at least do better than that…..”

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  7. Jinni
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:55:15

    The description of the prose hearkens back to Sidney Sheldon ‘airport’ novels.

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  8. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:28:11

    Keishon: You sure you don’t want me to send you my copy? ;)

    Chicklet: I would have been happy for some overly dramatic dialogue in this book, lol.

    LauraD: A friend of mine just called me, and she was laughing hysterically over your comment. Sadly, there were quite a few WTF moments in HT.

    Kalen: Thanks! I think it’s actually cheaper to order from the Mariage Freres website, even though it’s 30 bucks for shipping. The tea itself is like 1/3 the price I paid here. So I will likely be experimenting when I purchase my next batch.

    che: no daddy issues here (although her daughter has mommy issues), but it was really the prose that killed my interest more than anything else (or *before* anything else, I guess I should say).

    Leah: It’s difficult for me to believe that all her books read like this one, but maybe they do. IIRC, someone on Amazon said they couldn’t find a sentence in this one with more than 7 words, or something to that effect.

    Jinni: Sheldon is another author I’ve never read. I get really curious about some of these authors, because of their success, but don’t know where to start with their books (or even if I should, really).

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  9. Jane O
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:32:32

    I read a Danielle Steele book about 20 years ago. I gather she hasn’t improved.

    But then I also once read a John Grisham book, and thought that was terrible too.

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  10. Keishon
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:40:03

    Sheldon is another author I've never read.

    I did and enjoyed two books from him: If Tomorrow Comes and Rage of Angels. Both were very good reads at the time, might still be but don’t hold me to it since it’s been awhile since I read those two books. Those two were very good romantic suspense novels and if I remember correctly, the latter title didn’t have a HEA but it was _still_ very good when I read it.

    Re John Grisham – one time read for me, too. I read The Firm which was good and I thought didn’t translate well to film, IMO. Never bothered to read any more of his stuff.

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  11. Anion
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:50:37

    I’m normally a fan of bad prose, I admit it. I get my kicks that way, giggling, rolling my eyes, and snorting my way through the works of Jackie Collins and that Bridges of Madison County guy (oh, and yes! Sidney Sheldon! I was scandalized by Master of the Game when I was about thirteen). But I cannot countenance Danielle Steel. I read one of her books several years ago–Ghost Story? I know there’s an excellent book of the same title by Straub, but I think she had one too. Anyway, I could not get over not just the bad writing and cardboardy characters, but the numerous factual inconsistencies. Like she’d forgotten stuff she said two chapters before, and nobody ever proofread it.

    That’s one of my biggest issues; I read a big TV book pick that had serious consistency problems, from one page to the next, even. Sad.

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  12. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:06:24

    Tried her once as a pre-teen. I was nearly scarred for life. Had to pick up a Judy Blume to recover.

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  13. Tae
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 20:08:42

    never had a desire to read Steele, even while I worked at the library, and I wondered why we always purchased a bazillion of her books. No one I know actually reads her.

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  14. Kaetrin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:55:55

    I read a lot of Danielle Steele when I was a teenager. Some of her earlier work was pretty good I think – at least at the time I read them. But, after a while, it was all pretty much the same – there was always the hero, heroine and a “best friend” character – sometimes male, sometimes female. Then she started writing more “epic” type stories across generations and it all felt very repetitious and pretentious.

    I recently re-read a book that I recalled as being really good but it just didn’t gel for me. The characters seemed to fall in love on cue but for no real reason and on the basis of no real chemistry – only to move the plot along.

    I think I grew up and moved on but she’s stayed the same. I guess some people may find some comfort in that!

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  15. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:41:17

    I guess some people may find some comfort in that!

    Apparently, about 500 million.  Okay, that’s not people who’ve read her books.  That’s how many books she’s sold.

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  16. jewell
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 02:23:52

    “Honestly, it is impossible for me to imagine that such writing created the author who can command $27.00 for a hardcover novel.”

    I find her later books unreadable – but her early ones are much, much better. I think it’s these that created the brand.

    If anyone wants to try an early one, I recommend Family Album, Changes, Palomino, Full Circle and Now and Forever.

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  17. Cauterize
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 02:56:49

    I also read a couple Danielle Steel in the 90′s… mostly because Mom bought them, never read them, and had them lying around. The only one I can recommend is Jewels. It has an american divorcee and a sexy Duke of Whitfield set before and after WWII. They have real chemistry and it follows the long progression of their love (believeable to boot!) Plus, the descriptions of the amazing jewelry they buy and sell are to die for.

    I will give Ms. Steel props for never writing a sequel (I’m not the biggest fan of romance sequels). Unfortunately my love for that book led me to watch some of those made-for-tv movies. They are all shades of craptastic.

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  18. Avid Book Reader
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 09:10:38

    I’ve never had the desire to read any of Danielle Steel’s books, not at least since I was in junior high… If you are trapped in an airplane for 4 hours, they are tolerable, otherwise, read something else.

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  19. Lizzy
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 09:50:55

    @jewell: Gah, I confess, I’m with you. Some of those early ones are pretty juicy. I’m going to throw ‘Wanderlust’ on that pile, too. But the later stuff is true, unmitigated tripe. I can’t even read past the dust jackets.

    Also, S. Sheldon has been mentioned a few times here and I just have to confess (again), I’ve gobbled up ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ more times than I care to admit. But not recently, I swear! I’m working the steps here, people!

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  20. Jeanette
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 11:59:34

    The last Steele I read was “Accident” must of been back in the 90′s. It was the most depressing read….. Teenager sneaks out and gets into critical car accident while her wonderful husband is cheating on her and just totally abandons her when she needs him most, meets widower/or divorced man( I think his wife might have left cause she couldn’t handle their mentally challenged kid) he also has a teenager who is critically injured in the accident. A pregnancy OMG just Shoot her and put her out of her misery. Who could have a HEA after all that???? The absolute last time I attempted a Steele

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  21. jewell
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:24:56

    Lizzy: I forgot Wanderlust. I mean they’re still annoying in lots of ways, but they are actually, you know, books.

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  22. Masha
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 18:02:06

    I think part of why Steele’s books sell so well is because of the short, declarative sentences. I’ve never read her, but it’s probably easy reading on the bus or train as you’re getting jolted around. Not like Faulkner where you could be in the middle of some horrendously long sentence and have to struggle to find your place again.

    Also, I used to work in adult education and there are an amazing number of people out there who are not good readers. They may be literate enough to have graduated high school, but they really struggle with sentences with more than one clause. Steele’s books are probably also popular with people who aren’t fully fluent in English. When I taught ESL, I was told to recommend that my (female) students try reading romance novels. That probably means something like Steele (short sentences, repetitive narrative hand-holding) and not something more like Jo Beverley.

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  23. Ann Bruce
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 18:21:14

    When I taught ESL, I was told to recommend that my (female) students try reading romance novels.

    Whenever I want to brush up on my French, I look for French Harlequin romances because if I come across a word I don’t know, I’ll usually be able to figure it out in the context of the sentence or scene. Thank God for formulaic books!

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  24. Robin
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 01:06:15

    Thank you so much for the Steel and Sheldon recommendations, everyone! (I’m not inclined to try Grisham at this point in time, so no loss there)

    Masha: While I was reading the book, I actually tried to talk myself into an explanation like the one you gave, but having also taught English learners, I don’t find repetitive sentence structures particularly good for students (especially when the writing itself isn’t startlingly good or even always grammatically correct, despite the dearth of words), because they don’t replicate real speech and language past a very elementary point. It’s actually not the short sentences, per se, that bugged me, but the persistent monotony of those sentences and the absolute lack of variation in syntactical rhythm that got to me.

    As for students of English, be they native speakers or not, I wish more professionally published prose could serve as good models of exemplary language use. Whenever the argument comes up that people in general aren’t grammar masters, my response is always that the lack of mastery actually necessitates more outstanding models, because reading is one of the ways we learn to use and expand our language skills, IMO.

    Also, am I the only one who’s not convinced that Steel is consciously trying to appeal to the educationally underserved and those new to English? ;)

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  25. jewell
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 03:13:47

    My take is simply that Steel has got very lazy – recycling old characters and their physical attributes, lack of research, all telling, no showing – really, her first books had depth, and her later ones have none at all – I’ve stopped reading now as I don’t even get a happy ending quick fix – the plots are utterly ridiculous now, rather than far-fetched – my impression is that they are written without the care that was evident in the earlier ones. Just my opinion, of course. :)

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  26. Jill
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 15:17:47

    I read several Danielle Steel novels when I was a teen, and enjoyed them very much — probably because I was a teen. ;-) The two I remember best are The Ring and The Promise.
    Steel was good for a certain time and place in my life, and I haven’t read anything by her in years.

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  27. Cindy
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 08:44:02

    I read one Danielle Steel book…took me nearly a month because it dragged so. I only read it because mom did, and she was a fan of Gothics and Coulter, so I thought I would enjoy it. Ha.

    I work at a UBS and we have those who buy Danielle Steel because “they don’t like trashy books”, those who also agree that “You’ve read one, you’ve read them all, they’re all alike” and “I wouldn’t touch a Danielle Steel book with a 39 1/2 foot pole.”

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  28. kelly tea lover
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 19:44:42

    Can you please tell me the exact name of the vanilla tea from her book Is it the Mariage Frères Marco Polo green tea? I tried to find it but theres so many and I cant really understand the website myself please get back to me I really want to order it

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  29. Robin
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 12:38:29

    @kelly tea lover: The actual blend was not named, and I doubt it’s Marco Polo, since that has a very fruity flavor. My guess is that it is either Mariage Freres Bourbon Vanille (a red tea) or Mariage Freres Vanille Imperiale (a black tea). I have the black tea and it is wonderful.

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  30. colleen Henderson
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 23:54:22

    I just finished Danielle Steel’s “Amazing Grace”, only finishing because I felt I needed to comment to the person who recommended it to me. It was painfully boring to slog through her assurances that a character looked fantastic and that someone was incredibly thoughtful. We, the readers, were never shown anything, only assured that this person was perfect and that one mature and this other one lovely. This writer violated every standard of interesting writing. I hoped none of the drivel rubbed off on me. Next I will pick up an old paperback by Dean Koontz and try to recover.

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  31. Jennifer
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 10:54:39

    I have noticed inconsistencies and simplistic writing in Steel’s books for years now… I’m currently reading my 3rd book, but as soon as I started reading it, I remembered my issues with the other 2 books. Maybe I’m too into conspiracies, but I think either she has a series of ghost writers, or she churns out the books so quickly that she makes all of these errors.

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  32. grace
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 23:30:51

    I think it is so funny. Many years ago, i picked up one of Danielle Steel’s books and thought it was so ‘amateur’that I put it down. I never picked up another one again – until recently. I figured I’d give it another chance. Maybe all those years ago, I was having a bad day.

    Needless to say – I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW SHE HAS SOLD OVER 590 MILLION COPIES OF HER NOVELS-SHE IS A HORRIBLE WRITER! And I don’t mean to be so blunt, but I just don’t get it! Janet hit it on the button – with the way she has to ‘spell things out for the reader’. She does it ALL THE TIME – it’s extremely annoying. That sentence was a perfect example! She’s extremely repetitive – and she switches character’s perspectives TOO OFTEN. You will be reading from one perspective for an entire chapter – then, only for a paragraph or sentence, suddenly another perspective is thrown in – then back to the original perspective. I just dont get it at all.

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  33. Gabby
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 12:04:11

    Okay, so I started this book today and so far its not that bad, kind of repetive and drawn out, but not bad. And so I went online to see reviews for it… And it seems like Danielle Steel has more haters than she has of people who actually like her books.. Now Im wondering if I should even finish it.?

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