4 star, adult

Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

What would you change if you could go back in time?

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?



This one took me by surprise. Not in the sense that I didn’t think I would like it, but rather in the way that it panned out. A friend of mine suggested this to me and I happily obliged to after I heard about the concept. As I was reading the first part, I was definitely not super engrossed, but willing to press on out of interest. But after the second, third and the final part, I found that I was really enjoying it, and the rest of the book flew by for me!

Before the Coffee Gets Cold centers around a special café in Japan. Its specialty? Time travel. Say what? Yes that’s right, at this coffee shop, they offer a very special deal indeed, an opportunity to go back through time….with conditions of course. I thoroughly enjoyed the way time travel was portrayed in this novel, and how the situation was set up for it to occur. Perhaps it’s the Japanese origin of this book, or perhaps I haven’t read enough time travel stories, but this one struck me as quite unique, and the themes that it explored using its special time travel scenario was very well done.

The book is set up in four parts, each following a different individual who ends up deciding to go on this little time travelling journey. What is the price of time travel and what are the gains and risks? These are all questions that are well answered in here, in my opinion. Though of a scientific education, I am not a particular stickler for the scientific feasibility and logic of such sci-fi stories. Despite this, I found the scenarios to be quite believable, and the staff of the café really do well to add to its mysticism. Each character has their own personal growth journey, and a very particular reason why they want to travel back in time – what will they learn along the way, and will they come out the other side a changed person?

Of course in any time travel book, the mechanics and rules of all the time travel itself are very interesting and intriguing. However, the build up and growth of the characters, and the complexities of the choices one can face even with an option to travel through time, really spoke to me in this book. I really felt for each character, and struggled to contemplate what I would do in their situation. I found that each scenario in the book added more and more stakes to time travel, and this quiet underlying build up of tension and suspense also constantly pulled me forward through this story. Overall, I had a great experience reading this book, and I can solidly recommend it to all of you guys!

Note from Fives: I do believe this book is translated from Japanese though, so some of the manners of speech, etc. are more or less directly translated and were a bit odd as a North American reader. That being said they weren’t grammatically incorrect or anything – just make sure to keep that in mind if you ever find something a bit strange in the way things are said. Some things just don’t translate to English very well, and I’m glad the translator chose to keep true to the elements of Japanese culture.

Overall Recommendations

Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a tale of an interesting café with the ability to transport its patrons backwards in time. Set in Japan, translated from its original Japanese, this story follows different customers looking to tap into the special powers of this café. It has very original rules for its time travel, and undoubtedly creates complex situations in which these customers must make decisions of heavy weight. How the customers go through their decision making, and the ramifications of their choices are all explored in this short novel. What would you do if offered the chance to go back in time? A very thought-provoking novel, with ever increasing tensions with each story, brings us through an emotional journey which truly tackles the complexity of human nature. I recommend this read for sure!

4 star, YA

Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Books are dangerous things in Collins’s alternate universe, a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England. It’s a world in which people visit book binders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean and their memories lose the power to hurt or haunt them.

After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of one such binder to live and work as her apprentice. Leaving behind home and family, Emmett slowly regains his health while learning the binding trade. He is forbidden to enter the locked room where books are stored, so he spends many months marbling end pages, tooling leather book covers, and gilding edges. But his curiosity is piqued by the people who come and go from the inner sanctum, and the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection, changes everything.


4 Drink Me Potions


The Binding is an alternate world where some chosen individuals are born to be binders, a special type of person who is able to “bind” a person’s memories, releasing the original memory from the original holder. This story follows Emmett Farmer, who is called to work as a binder. Not dissimilar to a coming of age story, we follow Emmett as he embarks on the journey to learn this sacred trade – not looked upon highly by all. To some it is evil, a black magic that only witches perform, and to others, a means to an end, whether to forget a painful memory or for something more sinister.

I’ll admit it, I actually randomly picked this off the shelf at Chapter’s one day because it seemed interesting – and boy was it interesting! This led to me getting hooked on the first 100 pages, and then forced me to find a way to finish the rest of the story. This world is just so darned interesting. Like the brief suggests, the world is reminiscence of 19th-century England. The main difference is of course, the art of bookbinding. Now, as if I wasn’t already interested enough in the art of bookbinding in real life, Collins put an extra spin on it, and I almost wish that her imagined bookbinding it were a real art.

At first glance it’s harmless enough, what’s wrong with forgetting a bad memory? Feels like most people in the modern day world can agree to a thing (or two) that would be better left forgotten. How much easier then would it be to just start over after that? Quickly you discover that just like any tool or technology out there, it can be monetized, taken advantage of, and even abused. A tool is just a tool, depending on how you use it. This story follows Emmett as he transitions from being a common farmboy into a revered (or outcasted) bookbinder. He meets many different people in his journey, and most have a differing opinion on the bookbinding profession. He travels between the countryside where he grew up as well as the big city, and just like in real life, the difference between the two settings is stark.

The story really takes a wild turn when he discovers certain names on books, which threatens to reveal secrets of the past meant to be hidden (forgotten?) forever. Collins does a fantastic job leading us through this journey, and really explores the value of memories, now that they can be detached from the original owners. The cost of having something so valuable ripped from you will certainly leave behind a type of scar if not done properly. Which memories are worth keeping, and what is the value in forgetting?

Whew! I really enjoyed this book, and also quickly ate it all up in one day after my initial taste of it at Chapters. The themes that are explored are extremely fascinating, and you quickly find yourself on the emotional journey with Emmett, ready to face the very interesting world that Collins has built.

Overall Recommendations:

The Binding follows a farmboy, Emmett, as his whole life changes when he is called to the sacred art of bookbinding – or the taking of one’s memories and sealing it in book form. This novel truly explores the importance and value of human memory, as well as the whole concept of a book in general. Just what should and shouldn’t be forgotten? And how does one determine the value of a memory? This concept of memory and bookbinding certainly had me spellbound, and wishing that it were real. If you have any interest in this concept, or love a realistic world with just a hint of magic, this may be the book for you!