Remember Kabul Beauty School, the memoir by Deborah Rodriguez?  Well, the author is back, this time with a fictional account which seems likely to have been based, at least in part, upon her own life experience as co-owner of a coffee house in Kabul.  At least that’s my bet, as the dialogue and place description both have an authentic feel to it.

I enjoyed A Cup of Friendship on several levels.  First of all, it’s just a good story.  It’s got solid characterization with some humor and some romance to help balance out the more tragic episodes.  It’s also a reflection about relationships and lasting friendships with women of different faiths and cultures.   Finally, I think it helps those of us living in the West to better understand Afghan culture.  We may not agree with the way women are treated there, but knowing some of the “why” behind it certainly helps.

As one might expect, being an American woman running a business in Kabul these days is not the easiest job in the world.   However, the main character, Sunny, runs her coffee shop amidst bombs going off nearby, and still manages to create a welcoming haven for many ex-patriots.  She also finds a way to do some good in her little corner of the world.  This is a “feel good” book!

April 10-16 is National Library Week!  What a perfect time to check out some materials featuring libraries and/or librarians.

Here are a few of my favorites, and even though technically the main characters aren’t librarians, they definitely do spend a lot of time in libraries.  First off is The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.  When they wrote this, they were fresh out of college, so their descriptions of academic life at Princeton really hit the nail on the head.  Also, the book’s plot reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, as the two main characters are close to solving the mysteries of an ancient Renaissance text that has confused scholars for centuries.  It’s fast-paced and there’s lots of code-breaking going on.

Another favorite is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  This is a lengthy Draculian tome, so it’s catalogued in the Horror section.  The book begins with a young woman exploring her father’s library when she discovers an ancient book with letters all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor.”  Generations of researchers have risked their lives and their reputations trying to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler, and to uncover this source of darkness and rid the world of it powers.  Now this young woman must decide whether to take up her father’s quest; her journey takes her from  Ivy League libraries to archives in Istanbul and Eastern Europe.  I don’t usually read Horror, but I couldn’t put it down.

Just think about it.  Celebrate National Library Week! And find the answers to your quest at your Davenport Public Library!

Most readers will recognize Christine Romans as the CNN business reporter and host of “Your $$$$$.”  But I wonder how many realize she hails from right here in the QCA?  Yup, that’s right!  Romans grew up in LeClaire, Iowa, and graduated from Pleasant Valley High School.  She went on to graduate from Iowa State University in 1993 and then began working for the Des Moines Register.  Later, she worked with a financial news firm in Chicago before hitting the big time with CNN in 1999.

But now, this TV reporter is an author of a practical, no-nonsense book about money.  It’s title, Smart is the New Rich, also happens to be a perfect fit for Money Smart Week, which is happening right now — April 2-9.  According to Romans, most of us need to start managing our money a little differently than we did before the economic bubble burst, and here are her 3 primary guidelines:

  • Live within our means
  • Live with less debt
  • Be less vulnerable

She further substaniates her message with 5 clear spending rules.  A perfect example of this is the subtitle, If You Can’t Afford It, Put it Down. Other classic rules include:

  • Think of money like nutrition
  • Negotiate everything
  • Always save first
  • Don’t deny yourself

Her book is proving popular, so come check it out and use Money Smart Week to get smart and rich!

Recently, I met best-selling author Brad Meltzer in a Chicago book store.  Naturally, I picked up an autographed copy of his newest novel, The Inner Circle.  (He had a large following — I had to wait in line a long time!)

The book revolves around Beecher White, a young archivist who loves his job at the National Archives.  When his childhood crush, Clementime, shows up seeking help in tracking down the father she never knew, he takes her on a private tour, and even shows her the secret vault used only by the  President.  Within moments ( is it by accident or plan?) they discover a priceless artifact hidden under the President’s chair.  Minutes later, the security guard who admitted them to the vault is found dead.  In hours,  Beecher is on the run, unsure who he can trust,  yet frantically trying to stay one-step ahead of his pursuers by successfully decoding concealed messages.

This is a fast-paced read and those interested in political conspiracies or action-packed thrillers will be entertained with all the unexpected twists and turns.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the ending, but then it made more sense when I read that  Meltzer has a sequel planned, using  Beecher again as the primary character.  He is a rather lovable archivist, after all.

For those who may be further intrigued by the mysteries of symbols and codes, check out the author’s show on the History Channel, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.

February was Black History Month, but  March marks the transition into Women’s History Month.  If you didn’t catch our displays last month, stop by and see what’s new. 

One book in particular that serves as the perfect segue from one theme to the other is Sister Days by Janus Adams.  Subtitled “365 Inspired Moments in African American Women’s History,” the book is written in diary style, with short anecdotes for every day of the year.  For example, Philippa Schuyler, who was declared a prodigy at age 3, is featured on July 29th, while Era Bell Thompson, who was inducted into the Iowa Hall of Fame, is the woman of the day on April 30th.   Personally, I had not heard about either of these remarkable individuals! 

Another book that’s received a  lot of press lately is the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  It’s a true story of a poor woman who died of cervical cancer.  Before her death in 1951, a sample of her cancerous tissue was taken, but without her knowledge or consent.  Her cells, known as HeLa cells, not only survived in the lab, but thrived, providing scientists with a building block for many medical breakthroughs, starting with the cure for polio.

This is just a small sampling of a wide variety of materials celebrating women of achievement throughout the years.  Come check some out!

I don’t know about you, but the warmer weather we’ve been having has made me realize that “swimsuit season” will soon be upon us!  If you’re also looking for some help or motivation in getting a little toned up before it gets really hot out there, check out these titles on our “New Materials” shelves. 

Pilates Practice Companion is a beautiful book with tons of color photograhps.  The book has several different sections featuring exercises at different levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced, as well as other chapters, such as “Maturing with Pilates.”  It also has two-page spreads with 15, 30 or 45-minute routines which would certainly simplify any home workout.  Another advantage is that it also shows photographs of “common faults.”  When I first starting taking Pilates classes, the instructor would come around and correct our form.  Often I thought I was doing a move correctly, only to have her alter my position by what seemed like an inch or less, taking me from “oh, this is okay” to “ohmygosh this is hard!”  A final plus is that the author, Alycea Ungaro, is well-known in her field, having written several books on the subject as well as having trained many celebrity clients, such as Madonna.

Full Body Flexibilty by Jay Blahnick is another great book whose message is enhanced with wonderful photos.   Our staff is now doing stretching exercises at work each day (just for a few minutes) but those interested in taking it to the next level would be well-served by this resource.  One feature that’s particularly useful is that the stretches are divided by different sections of the body.  So, for example, if you had back or hip problems, you could concentrate on those stretches.  I think this book will prove popular:  I had it out at a public desk while working on this blog and a patron asked if she could check it out.  Absolutely.  That’s what we’re all about!

Emmett Conn is now a fully-Americanized 92-year-old man living in Georgia in The Gendarme.  But his story fades back in forth in time, to when he was still Ahmet Khan, a 17 year old Turk charged with deporting a large group of Armenians from Turkey to Syria at the start of World War I.  Emmett has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor; it is unclear whether the tumor of the medications used to treat it are causing him to have vivid, sometimes terrifying dreams.  Or perhaps these dreams are the truthful but shocking memories of a past he has long forgotten?

A central figure in Emmett’s dreams is the beautiful Araxie, one of the Armenian refugees who first captivates him by her unique appearance, but with whom he later becomes obsessed.  He is determined to protect her — indeeed the odds are stacked against her.  The conditions in the refugee camps are abysmal; food and water are scarce and many die from dysentery.  Of the original 2000 deportees, possibly only fifty are expected to make it alive to Aleppo.

It is an alarming fact of history that these forced death treks occurred.  But more alarming is that so few people know about it, and I include myself in that group.  Initially, I felt guilty about my ignorance, but these feelings were somewhat assuaged when the author (Mark Mustian, who is of Armenian descent) stated that he himself had not heard of the atrocity until well into his thirties.  Indeed, even the World Book Encyclopedia barely mentions it.  I quote: “The campaign reached a peak during World War I.  By 1918 about 1,800,000 Armenians had been murdered and thousands more had fled to other countries.”

This was a fascinating book with a little something for everyone — adventure, danger, romance, much of it in an exotic setting.  Even the secondary characters, such as Emmett’s daughter, Violet, were multi-dimensional.  Still, I think the best part of the book was how the author almost subliminally imparts a deeper message of peace and forgiveness, about how love can transcend race, religion and politics.

If the title doesn’t grab you, the story will.  In a style similar to Jodi Picoult’s, author Amy Bourret takes a controversial subject and somehow manages to sympathetically portray both sides of the issue in Mothers and Other Liars.

Ruby was only 19 when she discovered an abandoned infant in a trash can at an Oklahoma rest stop.  She raises the baby girl as her own. After nine years they have settled into a comfortable and happy life in Sante Fe, New Mexico, with a “family” of very supportive friends.   Then one day she happens to read a magazine article about a baby who was unintentionally kidnapped by car-jackers.  Ruby realizes that life as she knows it is over.  Will she choose to move to Mexico and live a life on the run? Or will she present herself to the authorities and suffer the consequences?  Her choice is further complicated by that fact that she is pregnant by her boyfriend of 3 years.

As a Yale Law School graduate who practiced included child advocacy law, author Bourret brings real-life experience to the tale.  The courtroom scenes seem particularly dramatic.  However, the real kicker comes at the end of the story.  Sorry — but you’ll need to read it to find out what happens!

Right about now, in the frigid frost of  a typical Midwestern mid-winter, a nice hot beach read can come to the rescue.   Fortunately, Dorothea Benton Frank’s Lowcountry Summer fills the bill.  Previous fans will find familiar ground in this sequel to her bestselling novel, Plantation. Though Frank resides in New York, she was born and raised on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and her knowledge of the area and it’s cultural customs certainly seem to authenticate the already colorful characters.

For some reason, I don’t know why, maybe it was all the references to the mouth-watering food they were eating , but the narrator kept reminding me of Paula Deen.  But then she’d reinvent herself when describing her laugh-out-loud love-life, and yet again when trying to deal with a drunken sister-in-law or comfort her grief-stricken brother.  So there’s more than just sass and sex  — there’s all the dynamics of complicated family relationships with some unexpected and poignant outcomes thrown in along the way.

I think the thing I enjoyed most was how she used dialog for the narrator, Caroline.  For example, Caroline might respond verbally one way (to her 19 year old son in college who’s shacking up with an older single mom) but she also lets the reader know her real thoughts, as shown here:

“But it’s nothing really.  I just go over to her place for dinner, that’s all”

Oh. My. God.  He was having sex.  My son was having sex!

“Oh, Is she a good cook?”  She had better not be a good cook.

See what I mean?  So, come to the library,  pick up a copy and than pretend you’re on vacation on a beach near Charleston.

In Heart of the Matter, the latest novel by the popular Emily Giffin, Tessa is a former professor turned stay-at-home mom.  Her husband, Nick, is a renown pediatric surgeon, and in all appearances, the two seem to enjoy a charmed life.  On an evening out to celebrate their anniversary, Nick is suddenly called away to attend to a six-year old burn victim.  The boy’s mother, Valerie, is a high-powered attorney and a single parent, and though both families live in the same Boston suburb, the women seem to have little in common.  In the course of caring for Charlie, through several skin grafts and other surgeries, Nick ‘s devotion to his work soon becomes complicated by his attraction to Valerie.   Meanwhile, Tessa is left on the home front, trying to figure out why Nick is suddenly so distant, and imagining the worst scenario.

Giffin claims that she draws from her own personal experiences and this seems evident in the relationship the women have with their friends and other characters in the novel.  For example, the subtle judgment and conflict often felt by both career women and their soccer-mom counterparts is realistically portrayed.  Plus, one can’t help but wonder if Giffin used her own career days as an attorney in Manhattan to help flesh-out Valerie’s personality.  In all, an enjoyable read, with believable characters caught in untenable circumstances.