The two books I just finished have two things in common: maternal sacrifice and the fact that I could predict most of the events; however, the feelings I had after finishing each book couldn't be farther apart.
The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble: I was looking for something light, plus the structure of this novel appealed to me. The chapters are based on a book the group is reading during a particular month. I also liked the books they chose (Ian McEwan's Atonement, Willa Cather's My Antonia, and Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca are a few.) The women begin talking about the books, but their discussions always devolve into stories about their lives. I think you're supposed to be able to thematically tie what happens in each woman's life to the book of the month, but the links are too tenuous. For me, the characters felt flat -- I had a hard time distinguishing one from the other, and they all could be easily labeled -- Clare, the infertile one; Nicole, the woman who stays with a cheating husband; Harriet, the one who doesn't realize what she has; and Polly, the one who finds joy in sacrificing her life for her child. Plus, I think there are more women but I can't remember who they are. Blah.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: This seems like simply the tale of two women who learn to love each other and value their friendship over the course of several years, but it's so much more than that. It's the history of Afghanistan from Soviet rule to the Taliban to the present. It's also a commentary on the state of marriage in Afghanistan -- what men could do to women inside the bounds of marriage and never be held accountable for. And last, it's a book about the necessity of having a purpose in life. Hosseini's writing style is clear, concise and just lovely in this novel. The story is told in several parts -- first is Mariam's story. She is the illegitimate daughter of a rich man and is forced into marriage when her mother dies. Second is Leila, the daughter of progressive parents, who is forced into marriage with Mariam's husband when her parents are killed. The third part is their life together. Like The Reading Group, maternal sacrifice is a consideration but I didn't think in my head, "Oh, honestly!" when it becomes an issue. It tops my list of favorite books ever read, let alone, favorite book of the year.