Thursday, February 28, 2008

One book I loved. Two books I didn't...or did I? Plus, a Giveaway!

For those of you who read all the way to the bottom, there's a giveaway on this post!

"In the hundreds of books you've read since we've been married, I've never seen you respond to finishing a book like this." So said my husband, five minutes after I finished reading Amanda Eyre Ward's Forgive Me.

I've said many times what I like in a book: a story that uses a narrative to teach me something I don't know, to take me someplace I haven't been. A story that shows both the beauty of life and the pain of life, together as one. In Forgive Me I was drawn into a story that taught me of South Africa, of Apartheid, of pain, of forgiveness. Of history, of those historical events that have taken place in my own lifetime. And most of all, of this incredible, life changing journey of motherhood I'm on.

I have friends who are South African, a sister-in-law currently living in South Africa. And it is through the eyes of Nadine, an American journalist both running away and running home, that we see this beautiful, hurting country during its most pivotal current day moments.

I can't say enough about this book. I also can't say it is light or easy to read; it is neither. But it is excellent. I won't say much more, lest I give anything away. The Denver Post said of Forgive Me: "Compulsively readable...a fascinating journey to salvation." That about sums it up for me.

Suffice it to say, five minutes after I finished the last page, I'd had a good cry, kissed my husband, checked on my sleeping toddler, and considered starting the book a second time.

I tried to avoid reading Anne Patchett's Bel Canto for months. The back cover told of a story of political terrorists and hostages...not my kind of tale. In fact, when I actually read it and described the plot to my husband he was incredulous. That's not the kind of book you read! he insisted. And yet, every review I read was raving, and every Audible/Amazon injunction declared "People who love the books you love also love Bel Canto." I finally gave in, but just a little. I got the audio book.

To be honest, I thought the book was totally over-written, unrealistic, and ostentatious. Not to mention it was about political terrorists and wealthy hostages. I listened to hours of NPR to put off continuing my audio book. I watched in dismay the growing piles of books that had to wait until I managed to finish it.

Then, I finished it. And the end was amazing. Obvious, predictable and yet...somehow so stunning I'm still a bit in denial. The underlying themes were so piercing and vividly portrayed. (See, now I'm becoming over-written, unrealistic, and ostentatious. *sigh*)

I think I recommend this book. Give it a try. Tell me what you think. People who love the books you love also loved Bel Canto.


Another book I surprised myself by reading was Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World. Again, the back cover described a book that was entirely not my type, but the reviews were calling it the best book of 2007. I gave in.

In The Post-Birthday World Irina is caught in a moment, the moment where she chooses between remaining with her husband or kissing another man. After coming to this crossroads in the first chapter, the rest of the book follows both paths in alternating chapters.

This is a fascinating concept, and the author pulled it off spectacularly. The characters became so real to me, I entered so easily into their world. But I just got so tired of reading about marriage people hurting each other; the strength of character development worked against me. My worldview slanted a bit towards suspicion. I couldn't make it through.

But when I skipped to the last 50 pages to gain some resolution before giving up, the endings caught me back up into the story and I found myself reading further and further back. But finally, I put it down. Its just not my kind of tale.

And yet - the storytelling was so artfully good, so creative; the characters so real and suddenly important to me. I'm almost tempted to read it again, start to finish. Or, to never read another page.'s your chance to give it a read and tell me what you think: I have a copy of The Post Birthday World to give away! Just leave a comment before Midnight on March 7th to enter. If you have a blog, please link back to the contest, and be sure to stop by again to see who wins. Make sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner!