Book Review: A Stopover in Venice By Kathryn Walker


 Venice is ripe with mystery and sensuality. In this book, her colors are breathtaking, her aura serene.  Kathryn Walker’s prose is exquisite as she paints a hint of romance, mixed in with the discovery of 16th century art and treasured … Continue reading

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Book Review: A Cup Of Friendship By Deborah Rodriguez

It is fairly obvious when you read any of Deborah Rodriguez’s books that she has deep feelings for Afghanistan. She writes so eloquently, and with so much emotion that you can’t help being involved in her story immediately. After I read ‘Kabul Beauty School,’ I knew I would love anything by Rodriguez. When ‘ A Cup of Friendship’ arrived, I was thrilled. It is filled with warmth and characters you embrace, almost as though the coffee-house is your place and you have a special seat waiting for you. It is virtually impossible to not smell the coffee, the lattes, and made to order food, delightfully paired with mouth-watering sweets and cakes. I was enticed to come in and be among friends. The coffee-house becomes the catalyst for an unusual friendship between five wonderful women, If I want to compare – and it’s unfair of me to do so – its message is stronger than ‘The Friday Night Knitting Club’ and yet reminiscent of how easily I became a part of that knitting club when I read the book. Besides, how do you not engage with a book that is about strong women, boundless love, heroism and culture steeped in religion with societal rules that have been smoothly twisted to suit the largely male dominated society. I identified with many of the book’s characters for different reasons…

Sunny is a lovely American woman who has left her home in search of something or someone, unsure of what, she eventually finds her place in Kabul as owner of a warmly inviting coffee-house in the middle of a war zone. She is fairly proud of how it thrives in spite of the climate outside and asks no questions of its patrons. Therefore, the coffee-house welcomes plenty of suspicious locals, well-to do folk as well as the expatriate community, anyone else who wants good food, company or to maybe watch a soccer game and be with friends can come in as often as they like. The coffee- house is quite literally Sunny’s home. She takes in anyone who melts her heart, and fights for their rights as she herself waits for her Tommy, to come back to her, from doing whatever it is he does. Tommy selfishly leaves whenever he chooses and sails right back into Sunny’s life expecting her to drop everything to be with him. Which, it suddenly dawns on Sunny, as not so great an arrangement. I love how passionate Sunny’s character is. Into this mix comes the beautiful but traumatized Yazmina whose beautiful eyes capture anyone who dares to look at her, behind her veil lies her secret and her story breaks your heart. There is Ahmet, Sunny’s security man, body-guard to all, straight-laced and Koran read, constantly battling with himself to give up some of his most traditional religious ideas in favor of what is right – He grows on you, so keep reading. There is the unconventional but maternal Halajan – who supports Sunny in everything, except her desire to help Yazmina. Halajan, who is also the mother of Ahmet, remembers what it was like under Taliban rule and within her heart lies the fear that Kabul is gradually going back to the Taliban way of life. She has a secret romance that she tries very hard to keep from her traditional son, for their culture suggests that the son rules the house, his mother, sister or any woman in his family if there is no husband. There is Bashir Hadi who cooks for Sunny’s café and looks after her well-being. His paternal instincts are always spot on. He is often treated badly by customers for he is lower in caste, ( a caste system still exists in many parts of the world) yet none of that matters to Sunny. Jack is Sunny’s friend, they have a fabulous friendship and a deep understanding. Their chemistry is undeniable. I kept wanting the author to delve into a relationship but Jack has a family back in Michigan, making it very difficult for the two of them to take their relationship any further. We also meet Isabel, a British journalist on a mission to expose a very risky trade that is merciless to its victims, and finally, there is Candace, an extremely wealthy, vain and spoiled woman who risks stability for desire, in the end, she stands to lose everything including her dignity.

I love how the combined strength of these women make the story what it is. I was involved from the beginning and the characters didn’t really let me down, oh (maybe) except Candace occasionally. She proves herself in the end and it does leave for quite a few surprises. Not only is this book visually stunning, it is smart and funny. If you read this, you will love ‘Kabul Beauty School- a memoir.’ I hope you read both. They are truly lovely.

Children’s Book Review: Pandora Gets Jealous by Carolyn Hennesy

  My 8-year-old is as book obsessive as I am, and heavily into Greek mythology as she is into Harry Potter.  I have sort of introduced Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson to her and it is only the beginning, but I found this series by Carolyn Hennesy to be  well written and quite a hilarious take on the very serious mythological tale about Pandora’s box of evils.

So the story goes : beautiful Pandora was the first woman on earth, created by Hephaestus on Zeus’s orders. She was endowed with gifts of beauty, persuasion and music  from Aphrodite, Hermes and Apollo, as well as curiosity. When Prometheus stole fire from Heaven to give to mortals, Zeus punished him by handing Pandora over to his brother Epimetheus. Promethius was of course punished for years and years with a deadly curse on his liver. Anyway, Pandora was presented with a box, and asked to never open it.  Because she was blessed with curiosity, she did open the box, like Zeus knew she would, and lived to regret it for, she released seven deadly evils, leaving behind the one single thing that would help humans when they faced the suffering she inflicted upon them – that one thing was hope!

In this delightful made- for kids version, we meet a 13 yr old Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena or Pandy as her friends know her.  When Zeus gives the  box to Promethius who is Pandora’s father in this story and told never to look inside it, he puts it away carefully, instructing Pandora to do the same.  Given that teenagers are quite unlikely to listen, Pandy does the exact opposite of  what her father asks her to do. Wanting to show something other than her father’s liver( mythology states that Zeus had Promethius bound to a rock, so an eagle could eat his liver during the day,  but because he was immortal, his reprieve would be that his liver would re-grow every  night and on and on.. the torture went)  for show & tell, Pandy decides to steal the wooden box and take it to school. She falls for a trick via two mean-spirited girls and her hand accidentally touches the seal on the box. It opens, releasing all of the seven evils at once.  The best part of this book is how the released evils are clearly explained with young readers in mind, they understand what it is she did and can relate to it just as well. The first in the series is about  rescuing one of those evils – jealousy. Chaos ensues as Pandy faces the wrath of Zeus, Hera and the rest of the Olympians, there, she is ordered to fix her mistake. It becomes a hilarious account of  ‘what to-do’ as Pandy, Alice and Iole ( her friends) set about on their adventure.

Secret Daughter By Shilpi Somaya Gowda

  I was  in hospital for surgery last week, and as I expected to stay 3 nights, I took this book along with me to read; I mean really, other than for walking along the corridors, holding on to my over medicated pain ridden innards, and nodding a pleasant good morning or evening, to others who grimace out their own reply, what else was I going to do? so once I received my morning meds, I took out this book to read, feeling  better already that I could keep my head about me enough to do so. Um, not so easy once I got home… anyway.. It is beautifully written, profound in exotic ways as it captures that perfect mix of  joy borne out of tragedy, cross cultural clashes and an indomitable  love that crosses all boundaries.

Somer and Krishnan ( Kris for short), lead blissful newly wed lives in my favorite city of all time – San Francisco. Every place they mentioned including the UCSF campus brought me joy… Somer is a pediatrician, ready to take on the world until she has two miscarriages. That sense of helplessness one feels when one discovers an inability to have children, leaves her feeling less than whole and unable to function, as she deals with the consequences of not being able to give birth to her own child.  Going to a friend’s baby shower makes her insecure and inadequate as her personal tragedy begins to affect her life and relationship with Kris.

Meanwhile in the tiny village of Dahanu, India, Kavita and Jasu live conflicted lives. Kavita with the beautiful eyes is dealing with the consequences of giving birth to two girls in a row, when Jasu’s only hope – well, actually not just Jasu, for it is the hope of his entire family- is for that boy, a prince they call him, one who would be their pride and joy, one who would carry their name forever. Kavita tore my heart in as much for her sacrifices as for her very personal tragedy, I really did feel her pain, for as a mother I could not believe what she was made to endure. I felt personally attached to this being, and I commend the author for getting me so involved in this character. Jasu, you will find is not a bad man. He is misguided, gullible and uneducated. I wanted to shake him.

Kris and Somer somehow make it to India after this tragedy with the hope of adopting a baby. Somer is met with some very disapproving in-laws and a slew of  cultural rules of etiquette she knows nothing about as she continues to make mistakes that offend her mother-in-law, and Kris who has managed to keep his Indian family separate from his American wife and life, begins to regret that huge division.

I love the author’s subtle nuances of joy and sorrow. I love the strong female characters and how she brought out my own emotions. I praise the whole story about adoption and bringing to light the grief and joy of being a parent. I also loved that she lets you know in her own way – there is no difference in unconditional love whether your child is adopted or biological, once you are a parent, you will always be a parent.

I really recommend this book!