In this fast-paced winner of a novel, Sunny Tedder trades the boredom of "Nowheresville, America" for all the danger she can handle as the owner of a coffee shop in war-torn Afghanistan. Author Deborah Rodriguez first made her name with the bestselling memoir, "Kabul Beauty School," and this time out, she's crafted a fictional account chronicling the daring intersection of women's lives in that same city, where nothing is ever simple for the fairer sex.

Although a veil has long been drawn across the lives of women in Afghanistan, Rodriguez's work insists upon bearing witness to both the atrocities and hidden jewels of tenderness that coexist in a region long maligned and misunderstood. Despite the indisputable entertainment value of Rodriguez's first fiction, the author grapples with real issues -- and real reservations -- surrounding Western involvement in the mysterious land.

"An argument can be made for leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans," one character insists. "We treat them like idiots. ... We Americans infantilize everyone not like us."

As if living in constant fear of suicide bombings, kidnappings and outright murder isn't enough excitement, Sunny and her network of complex female heroines struggle to navigate the cultural clashes, forbidden sexual romps and secret love affairs that lend this immensely readable novel more twists and turns than a Kabul back road. Readers of every political stripe will find "A Cup of Friendship" the work of a serious artist with great powers of description at her disposal.