Deborah Rodriguez’s debut novel, A Cup of Friendship, has all the charm, warmth and insight that marked her best-selling memoir, Kabul Beauty School, plus the added advantage of Mozhan Marno’s pitch-perfect narration. It’s a feel-good story backed up by real, on-the-ground knowledge—the kind of inside understanding we rarely get from sound bites and headlines. Sunny, a gutsy girl from Arkansas who owns and runs a coffee shop in Kabul, is the centerpiece. She attracts good people, local and foreign, who form a strong family of friends. Among this cast of memorable characters is a BBC journalist with her own demons, determined to expose injustice against Afghan women; a rich Boston divorcĂ©e who finds self-worth in taking up the cause; the tradition-scoffing Afghan woman who works with Sunny; and the lovely young woman from Nuristan whom Sunny takes in and gives new life to. All are touched by the problems of living in a war-ravaged, corrupt society—and by the power of friendship to salve them.

PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE
“There is so much good and evil in breaking secrets.” Sally Ryder Brady uses that quote from G.K. Chesterton to let you know that a secret lies at the heart of her remarkably candid memoir, A Box of Darkness, convincingly read here by Joyce Bean. When Sally met Upton Brady, she was a Boston debutante and he was a dashing Harvard classics major who danced like Fred Astaire. They married, had four beautiful, bright children and lived what looked like a charmed life among the literati glitterati, with all the trappings of the wealth they didn’t have. But urbane, clever Upton, a man who could rewire the house or make an exquisite evening dress, drank to excess and had a closeted gay life, one he hid and denied with Sally’s seeming compliance. They’d been married for 46 years when Upton died suddenly; going through his things after his death, Sally was no longer able to deny who he had been. Thus she began to ask the questions that led to this “story of a marriage,” to the peeling back of layers of memories, trying to understand this complex man, yearning to have her “partner for eternity” back.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO
Judi Dench is a treasure, and her latest commentary on acting, actors, directors and her celebrated, multi-decade career is a treasure trove of memories and moments, onstage and off. She insists that And Furthermore is not an autobiography, but rather a filling-in and a follow-up to what has been written by and about her. Narrated in perfect Dench style by Samantha Bond, this is the ideal format for quick glimpses, drawn with humor and charm, of her incredibly full working life, from her earliest appearances with the Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company to her many roles in West End and on Broadway, in television and on the silver screen, including an Academy Award-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Acting seems to be as important to Dame Judi as breathing; it’s what she does and who she is—and it’s her greatest joy, a joy she delights in sharing with her audiences and, here, with us. Dench doesn’t intend to quit, so if we’re lucky, there will be a further And Furthermore.

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