Before the Coffee gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, 213 pages, paperback, Picador, £7.49.
If you could go back, who would you want to meet?
Kawaguchi’s novel takes its readers on a journey through time and how a brief encounter can make a massive difference.
Although this book was originally a play, the simple setting of the cafe doesn’t remind me of this fact. Instead I feel that the setting of this novel provides its readers with a sense of community. This is further evident in the structure of the novel.
Before the Coffee gets Cold is split into 4 sections. These could be perceived as chapters or they could be split into 4 short stories. Although I would normally prefer to see these as chapters, I found it much easier to see these sections as short stories as each section is over 50 pages. Interestingly, the way in which all of the stories are connected reminds me of Love Actually. Each have a different perspective of love and can be viewed as separate stories or as one. This is a similar structure to Kawaguchi’s novel.
Time travel with a difference
The subject that ties his stories together is the element of time-travel. The rules are always the same, yet the reader is given a different experience, each time they follow someone into the past or future. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as each person who uses the seat to transport them to wherever they like, are relatable and have different reasonings for using the seat. I also love how the same characters are used in each story, only with a different focus. This allows the readers to form an attachment with each character and really emphasise the feeling of belonging within a community.
After reading this book, I might even try and track down the play as I’m intrigued to see what it would look like in the mode in which it was originally written. This book also has another in its series, Before the Coffee gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe. Although this book was originally written as a play, the trailer for the film can be watched here.
I strongly encourage you to read this. It may only be a small novel but it’s rich in dialogue, lyrical to read and will leave you feeling thankful for your own community that you surround yourself in.
If this pandemic has taught us anything this year, its that we all love reading. This could be a psychological thriller, a goofy romance or even a self-help book. Whatever style or genre you are wanting to read, you will always find something. However as there are so many books to choose from, I have whittled my favourites down to a top 5 to help you find the perfect gift for someone this year. There is something so exciting about receiving a book. We all know the shape, yet with so many titles on our ‘to be read’ pile, we still don’t really know what we will get. Here are my top 5 to unwrap this year.
Thriller – One by One by Ruth Ware
What could be better than a psychological thriller located in a snowy setting at Christmas? Ruth Ware has brought a murder mystery concept into the 21st century by the use of realistic – and at times, relatable – settings with current motives. One by One takes place in a lodge that is extremely secluded. It could be perceived as tranquil. However with only a cable car to leave or escape the lodge, the characters begin to think it is anything but peaceful. As killings become more and more frequent, the serenity of the lodge begins to feel like a prison. Who will survive as the characters disappear one by one?
Romance – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
If crime and murder isn’t your thing, then have a fling with The Flatshare. The Flatshare is about two young professionals that share a flat but never really see each other due to work commitments. This book was my favourite read in lockdown as it made me laugh and smile when times were hard. Please note that is not the type of book that I would normally read and yet, I am now anticipating the release of her latest novel, The Road Trip, out in 2021. A perfect book to lift your mood and to laugh when times are challenging.
How many times have you heard – but have you read the book?- when a film comes out? Yes, very often and why does this get asked? The book is better. Admittedly, the latest adaptation of Rebecca on Netflix is good but at times I found the film slow and it missed a few scenes that the book had solidified in my mind. Yes, readers, I wanted to see the garden at Manderley! The book on the other hand is not slow in the slightest. The novel is an exciting read and is filled with tension and suspense between the main characters, right up to the very end. If you are looking for a classic this Christmas, I would definitely recommend this novel. Who knew a young woman living in Cornwall could have such a dark mind that could write with such suspense! A much welcomed break from Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.
Non-fiction – The Little book of Clarity by Jamie Smart
This is hands down, one of my favourite books that not only made me realise how people perceive the world, but how non-fiction can be engaging and impactful. Jamie explores clarity in this book in relation to all aspects of an individual’s life. The outward-in method that he discusses really makes you think about your own choices and your own happiness. This book is, as you may have guessed, short, clear and concise. A short but memorable read.
Self-help – Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight
I too wish I was Sarah Knight, living in the Caribbean and writing books as my profession. Who knows, after reading this book, maybe I will. Get Your Sh*t Together, provides its readers with a little tough love, followed by fantastic strategies that can be applied to all aspects of your life – be it relationships, health or work. Sarah Knight has tried to make the subject comical as it does touch on some serious and quite scary topics. However after reflecting on this book and attempting to actually get your sh*t together, you will begin to realise that this book does exactly what it sets out do. A great gift and motivator to making your dreams become a reality.
Although I have so many other great books I wish I could include, the books above have to be my top 5. Feel free to read any additional reviews I have written on these books to help you make your mind up with which to put on your own ‘to be read’ list. If however you are still wanting some book inspiration, I have provided you with a few more noteworthy reads. Who knows, you may even want to gift one to yourself.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, Vintage, paperback, 340 pages, £6.99, Waterstones
Their dream house will become her worst nightmare…
The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware’s latest novel set in the Scottish Highlands. Ruth Ware’s most recent novel is instantly familiar to her other novels as its presence and ending continues to pack a punch.
The Turn of the Key begins it’s journey similar to Ware’s previous novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, as it begins with the main character explaining how she ended up in her current predicament. The novel begins with a job advert about a current nannying role and the main character jumps at the chance. However has the nanny potentially bit off more than she can chew?
The structure of this novel is very important to point out as it’s not the standard structure you would expect a novel to take. The Turn of the Key begins with the main character writing a letter to a barrister about her recent experiences at Heatherbrae House. The reader can instantly acknowledge that something has happened that they are not aware of, however it is clearly evident that the main character will explain everything in the letters to come. This already gives the reader a sense of intrigue as the reader begins to question whether they can be convinced of the main character’s situation. As the novel progresses the main character makes several points referring back to the prison and demonstrates an interesting narrative style. This in turn reminds the reader to be on edge and to trust no one.
The pace of this novel is very interesting as there are many subtle elements to be aware of. Since the narrative keeps referring back to the main characters’s situation, the subtle elements become even more questioning and as a result keep the reader engaged and intrigued. I must warn the readers however to brace yourself in the last hundred pages as it can feel as if you are in a tornado. As the pace and tension begins to build, so does the plot twists. So much so that it feels as if poison ivy is twisting around each scene, making the reader feel glued to the page.
Each character in this novel seems carefully considered. This novel has three children and one teenager in the heart of the story and how each child reacts and adapts to the new nanny and scenarios they are put in is really realistic. All of the characters are relatable to some extent and the Scottish characters, Jean and Jack, have been written brilliantly. Ruth has not only created characters that are relatable but has also managed to get their dialects right too. I have relatives that currently reside in Edinburgh and when I listen to Jean and Jack talk, even when in Carn bridge, they all sound authentically Scottish. Nothing is thrown in to make the characters seem obviously Scottish but the subtle differences within their language and word choice, highlights exactly where they are in the UK.
I cannot ignore that there appears to be a potential influence from Alnwick Garden, which again can be seen through the potential location and some of the ‘facilities’ that Alnwick Garden has to offer. Once you begin to read this novel you will begin to see the connection emerge.
Interestingly The Turn of the Key, reminds me of two of Ware’s previous novels, In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Death of Mrs.Westaway. The narrative structure in Ware’s current novel is similar to In a Dark, Dark Wood whereas the ghostly and haunting aspect of a manor house in The Death of Mrs. Westaway, mirrors the more contemporary isolated house of The Turn of the Key. Interestingly when considering the technology that is seen within this novel, I cannot help to compare the house setting of a similar feel to The Girl Beforeby JP Delaney. Both of these novels make the reader have to get to grips with technology fast, whilst self-policing in the process. Another book that identifies technology as a great driving force is George Orwell’s 1984, as the quote ‘Who controls the past controls the future,’ fits perfectly with Ruth Ware’s most recent novel.
If you find psychological thrillers gripping and enticing then this book is for you. I personally find self-policing an interesting topic and was unaware that this was considered in the book before reading. I personally love how Ruth Ware’s endings always seem satisfying and as soon as I picked the book up, I knew I would enjoy it. I throughly hope that The Turn of the Key has the same effect on you.
You can buy Ruth Ware’s latest novel The Turn of the Key here.
The Last by Hanna Jameson, paperback, 400 pages, Waterstones, £8.99
Hanna Jameson’s The Last is an immersive read from beginning to end. This novel is unlike anything I have read before as it begins in a situation that no one else has ever experienced. The Last is about the last remaining guests at a hotel in Switzerland During their stay the work ends. The Last tries to exhibit what this situation would be like. Furthermore, with reason to believe a murderer is staying at the hotel – as a body is discovered – the novel begins to question whether morals have ended too.
Throughout this novel it is clearly evident that Jameson has given ‘the end of the world’ many thought when creating this novel. Small luxuries we take for granted are stripped away from them in an instant, making us question what we could possible live with – or without. Furthermore with a hotel providing accommodation for a variety of cultures, The Last begins to showcase humanities beliefs to the bare bone.
Interestingly the format of this novel isn’t your standard ‘chapter 1.’ The novel has been written by John, a professor from San Fransisco, who is currently attending a conference. Instead of chapters the novel follows a diary-like structure to recollect the days that have went by. This may not be everyone’s favourite structure style, however it is very suiting and adds a personal touch to the experience.
There are two main themes underlying in this novel. One is anthropology and the other is mystery. Throughout The Last, all of the characters are significantly different and thus show very different reactions to the end of the world and to each other. Although I found this very interesting, my main reason for reading this novel was due to a murder investigation in a very unusual circumstance.
As the novel progressed I was unsure how the novel was going to end as there was little progress made about the murder. Overall I felt let down as the murderer was only identified after their was a solution to morals and leadership. For this reason, I felt like the mystery element was an afterthought and made the suspense I had, flop like a pancake.
I am still pleased that I read The Last as I did enjoy the characters’ journey. However I would describe this novel as speculative fiction, as I felt misled with this novel being associated as a crime or thriller. If you like alternative fiction, think Lord of the Flies survival in the time of Brave New World, then you’re in for a treat.
Please give it a read and keep an open mind. It may not have been the type of book I wanted to read but I really enjoyed the change.
Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland, paperback, 400 pages, £7.99, Waterstones
This novel is about work/life balance and what happens when they intertwine. Steph works for the internal investigations department in the FBI whilst her son is finishing his studies before heading off to college/university. However it takes just one knock at the door to flip everyone’s life upside down.
During the novel there are several flashbacks of Steph’s life before the FBI. Although this information is vital to know, I found that this distracted my attention from the original plot I was trying to follow. This could have been resolved by using chapters to represent the past and present of Steph’s life. The constant change of flashbacks within chapters began to hinder the pace of the novel and ultimately my interest.
Cleveland can create some fantastics characters, especially in her first novel Need to Know. However the characters in Keep You Close needed more personality. I didn’t like a few of the main characters, particularly Steph as I felt like she had too many flaws. My favourite character was her son, however I felt like his background and personality was overlooked. This could however emphasise what Steph see and believes. Therefore questioning the readers own judgment of Steph’s son.
Prequel or sequel?
My biggest issue with Keep You Close is how it has tarnished my memory of Cleveland’s first novel. I loved Need to Knowand was over the moon to find out that previous characters were in this book too. However I was crestfallen once I had read the epilogue. For this reason I would strongly advise reading this book first and then Need to Know. Otherwise, don’t read the epilogue as it made me as a reader lose hope and feel a defeatist.
If you love twists and turns regardless of characterisation then you may find this book a real head turner. You can purchase Keep You Close here.
The Switch By Beth O’Leary, Hardback, 323 pages, £12.99, Waterstones
Beth O’Leary’s The Switch was released on 16th April and has had a whirlwind of reviews since. The Switch is based around two female characters, Leena and Eileen. After they both go through a difficult time, they decide to switch houses for a change of scenery and to reconnect with themselves. The novel itself is split over London and the Yorkshire Dales which gives the reader a sense of urban and country life. Although this is slightly different from her previous novel, The Flatshare, there are many good qualities that run through both of her books.
One element that the reader really can acknowledge with The Switch is the fullness of O’Leary’s characters. There are so many characters used, each with their own distinct personality, that it is easy for the reader to relate these characters to people they may know. I’m pretty sure every reader will have lived next to the grumpy man next door or know of a friend who is gorgeous, but has a list down to her arm of qualities a man must have. The amount of depth that O’Leary goes into with her characters is admirable, especially as every single character is so distinctive. It is clearly evident that her characterisation within The Switch is what captivates the audience and propels them through the story.
The concept of family and a sense of belonging is a recurring theme that allows the reader to join Leena and Eileen’s family along the way. At times you may find yourself comparing their family to your own, as you may have shared those many bumps along the road yourself. The family unit in The Switch interprets some areas that may be perceived as unconventional and representing them as the new modern family unit. The support and union can still be seen but feels as if it has almost had a fresh lick of paint to make it seem more realistic.
Reflection is also a significant element to the book as so many decisions are left open at the beginning of the novel. It is up to you as a reader to pick up the pieces of this family and to reconnect the dots again. By doing this however, you will begin to reflect on your own life and consider what it is that you want yourself. Admittedly, this book was read during lockdown and time for reflection seems much easier to acquire. However The Switch does make the reader question their own choices and what they define as important to them.
Overall I found this novel an uplifting read in a different way to The Flatshare. Admittedly I found the humour a lot stronger in The Flatshare, however I was looking for a laugh and I found it. The Switch on the other hand is still humorous, but has a more family focused approach. I found Eileen in this novel particularly amusing, especially through the contrast of livelihood and personalities. I would argue that I felt like I received more closure towards the end of The Switch in comparison to O’Leary’s previous novel, as I felt that the ending was more uplifting and felt like the novel had a strong sense of purpose.
As cliché as this sounds, The Switch isn’t normally a novel I would go for but as I enjoyed The Flatshare so much, I had to give this a read. Since reading both of O’Leary’s books I feel like I have found a new author that I wouldn’t have even encountered, if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone a little. For that, Beth O’Leary, I thank you. I strongly encourage any other readers to step outside your comfort zone and do the same. Who knows, you may surprise yourself!
If anyone would like to purchase the book, I have included a link at the top of my page. Although I managed to buy this in Tesco (the closest I could get to a bookshop), I would strongly recommend purchasing the book at Waterstones through the link above. The link will locate you to a signed copy of this book. At the moment it’s the same price as a regular hardback version of The Switch (if I’d known about this, I would have totally bought this book first!).
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, Paperback, 434 pages, £8.99
From the author who provided us with the best-seller and now TV series, Big Little Lies, Moriarty has allowed readers to see the transformations of nine perfect strangers. Moriarty’s latest novel is set in a very glamorous and prestigious health resort in Australia. Tranquillum house offers its guests a 10 day transformation, however does anyone last the full 10 days?
This book is propelled forward by its fantastic characters. Each character has a relatable trait and is very easy to emphasise with. At times the pace of the novel does begin to steady as all of the characters viewpoints need to be taken into consideration. Each chapter provides a character’s viewpoint and moves the story towards another character’s point of view. This is a great tool to create in-depth characters however sometimes the pace of the novel can become a secondary element.
Throughout the novel the reader goes through a rollercoaster of emotions. We laugh, cry and feel for each character and the decisions they make in the book. Moriarty is very aware of her readership. This is emphasised more so towards the end of her novel.
Moriarty demonstrates a clear love of romance through her engagement to the reader. Similarly this also has the same impact as Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Please do not think that this is a romance novel however. Nine Perfect Strangers offers suspense and comedy throughout, so much so, that it is hard to distinguish a clear genre for this novel.
The biggest message from this novel would be to not judge a book by its cover. This message coincidentally also relates to my viewpoints of the novel but also to the nine perfect strangers. The more you read, the more you will realise that nothing is ever just black or white.
If you wish to buy a copy at a discount price of £6.99 you can do so here