Review: Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshicazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Before the Coffee Gets Cold
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

While I loved the concept behind this I’m afraid the execution didn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s a quirky and unusual read but a little lacking in the emotion it needed to elevate it.


THE BLURB

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?


MY REVIEW

I have to admit to being a little disappointed in this (and not only because of the lack of a cat despite one being shown on the cover). Having recently developed a love of Japanese fiction I was very excited to come across this on Netgalley, particularly when I read the blurb and discovered it was a story involving time travel (I love stories with time travel). Perhaps my expectations were too high as while I loved the concept behind it I didn’t really connect to it and it became an OK read rather than something special.

The story is set in a small cafe where if you sit in a specific seat and follow a set ritual you can travel in time. There are a number of rules but the most important is that you must return before your coffee gets cold. You can’t change your present by going to the past but you can go back and see someone you’ve lost, to tell them how you feel, to resolve conflicts and get closure. It’s a wonderful idea and there are some truly touching moments but these were too few and I think down to me being a soft touch rather than the story.

It’s so difficult to tell with translated fiction how much of the problems come from the translation and how much from the original but I did feel like the writing let it down. I am starting to think this is just typical of the Japanese style of writing, short, quick sentences, little in the way of description or emotion, but I felt this was particularly lacking.

I can’t say any of the characters were particularly likeable and they often come across as blunt, rude and unfeeling. They make fun of Fumiko for wanting to go back to the time her relationship ended as if she’s silly for being upset the man she hoped to marry chose work over her.

There are times when it seems in fact that the author views all women as silly, nasty or manipulative. It could be a cultural thing or it may be something has gotten lost in translation but I found a few things annoying. Kei not having a phone because her husband does, Hasai thinking women need to wield tears like a weapon.

Added to this it’s a little repetitive in places and some of the rules around time travel seemed a little inconsistent or forced to fit the story. I also thought the ending left a little too much unresolved.

It is however an intriguing read and does make you ponder a few things. At around 200 pages it’s also quite a quick read so it’s not too difficult to make it to the end.

Overall, an interesting and different read that was just missing the emotion needed to elevate it. I would still say it’s worth a read but if you’re looking for Japanese fiction there are better books out there.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an ARC. All views are my own.

Review: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

InvictusInvictus by Ryan Graudin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perfect for fans of TV shows like Firefly, I absolutely loved this story about five teens travelling through time stealing artifacts.

There’s something instantly engaging about Graudin’s writing and as someone who isn’t generally a fan of historical fiction I absolutely loved the mix of history and science fiction. There’s plenty of action, a few unexpected twists, a teeny tiny bit of romance and a fantastic cast of characters.

The only bad thing about this book is that it’s a standalone and not the first in a series.


The Blurb

Time flies when you’re plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.


Review

Have you ever started reading a book and known from the very first page you were going to love it? That was exactly what happened to me with Invictus.

I’m a big fan of time travel stories so this was always going to be right up my street but there was something instantly likeable about Graudin’s writing style and I loved the cast of characters she created. When it comes to TV I’m a big fan of sci-fi shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who and Firefly and this definitely has that kind of vibe about it. It really reminded me of Firefly in particular with the crew of the Invictus travelling through time stealing artefacts and trying to avoid the authorities.

I loved each and every member of the crew but most of all I loved the camaraderie between them. There’s a good mix of personalities represented from Farway, the self assured, risk taking captain who can adapt to pretty much any situation to Gram, his quiet and genius best friend and engineer, to Eliot who always seems to be a step ahead and full of secrets. My favorite character however had to be Imogen, Far’s cousin and the historian on the crew. She’s just so bright, positive and devoted to her fur baby, Saffron the red panda. They definitely bring the joy and fun to the story. Medic Priya was probably the hardest to warm up to but I think that was simply the nature of her character, calm and a little detached.

The story is told from the POV of each of the crew members as well as brief chapters from a couple of other characters so you definitely get to know them all well. Personally I loved Imogen and Gram’s chapters the most but I would happily hang out with all of them and just really want to join the crew.

The story itself is fast paced and takes a few unexpected turns. I was drawn in from the very beginning and found it almost impossible to put down. I do love stories with time travel but I get the feeling most writers avoid them because of the sheer volume of work involved. There are multiple time periods historical and future as well as the scientific theories and rules to get right. Honestly I’m exhausted just thinking about it but the author handles it brilliantly.

Everything hangs together beautifully. Every time period visited is created with care and feels real. The sci-fi elements are handled especially well. A lot of thought and research has clearly gone into the science and theories behind time travel (As well as the other tech). It all makes sense and even complex theories are made understandable to non science readers like myself.

I thought the author picked the perfect time periods to visit too. I loved that a big chunk of the book is set in Rome, ancient and future. It’s just such a dramatic and epic time period and the fact that you get to experience the gladiators fighting in the arena is incredible. There’s just so much emotion about the whole thing and it literally had me on the edge of my seat.

Despite being very fast paced and action packed the author has done an incredible job of packing in plenty of emotion. I found myself very attached to the crew of the Invictus and was rooting for them all the way. There’s a little bit of romance but it doesn’t take over the story and is very sweet and believable (I totally shipped it). There is also a lot of humor and some truly heart breaking moments (I cried, on the train).

Basically I loved it from the very start to the very last page. Definitely one I’d recommend particularly if like me you’re a big fan of time travel and aren’t scared of a little bit of scientific theory.

 firefly malcom reynolds GIF

OK I couldn’t resist a Firefly Gif 🙂

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.