Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Goodreads: Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Publisher: Picador
Published: 19 September 2019
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

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…

TL;DR: A well-paced character driven story where the magical fits the mundane to perfection! Before the Coffee Gets Cold asks us if you would travel to the past knowing nothing would change in the present and if you could, who would you choose to meet, maybe for one last time? The four stories we follow wonderfully intertwine to create one moving story about love, loss, grief and hope. This was a short and quick read that packed quite an emotional punch and unsurprisingly, as a mood reader, made me teary eyed! It was equally heartbreaking and heartwarming and I would definitely recommend it.

Continue reading “Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi”

ARC Review: The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

Special thanks to Feiwel & Friends for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads: The Magical Imperfect
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date: 15 June 2021
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

Panda Rating:

(3 pandas)

Etan has stopped speaking since his mother left. His father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. His friends have given up on him.

When Etan is asked to deliver a grocery order to the outskirts of town, he realizes he’s at the home of Malia Agbayani, also known as the Creature. Malia stopped going to school when her acute eczema spread to her face, and the bullying became too much.

As the two become friends, other kids tease Etan for knowing the Creature. But he believes he might have a cure for Malia’s condition, if only he can convince his family and hers to believe it too. Even if it works, will these two outcasts find where they fit in?

BUY A COPY:

TL;DR: Ultimately, while I might not recommend this for its disability rep, I appreciated the historical context and the representation of cultures and the immigrant perspective This was very different from what I expected after reading the blurb but I was pleasantly surprised by the nostalgic vibes it gave me. This did read a bit on the younger side of MG for me but I do think that it would be suitable and enjoyable for MG readers across all ages, even older readers such as myself.

This was a very different middle-grade read compared to what I normally pick up in this genre. It’s historical fiction but also has aspects of magical realism that leant the story an even more whimsical atmosphere. It’s written in verse and though the prose is simple and without unnecessary flair, it was also evocative and I could easily picture the neighbourhood form in front of my eyes. The community was diverse and there was a sense of camaraderie between all the neighbours that made the pages feel full of warmth and joy.

While I expected a touching story about the friendship between two young misfits, and we got that, it also went beyond that and there were many elements to the plot and setting that I didn’t expect to find—from religious to historical and cultural, and I was see it in a MG. I was intrigued by the late 80s setting in San Francisco and by the historical event that occurred during the time period of the story. What I found most refreshing though was seeing the Filipino representation in a historical setting and I was pleasantly surprised to read about the immigrant journey to America from a different (non-Western) perspective! Etan’s Jewish and Maia’s Filipina cultural heritage also played important roles in their story and as I grew up in the Philippines, I found reading about Maia’s family—her Lola and the food!—was comforting and made me a little nostalgic, too.

I found the friendship between Maia and Etan to be very sweet and full of youthful optimism and joy. As their bond grows closer, Etan finds the strength in his own voice again. Maia also finds joy in being able to have someone her age who doesn’t see her as “The Creature” but can look beyond her eczema to the loving, precocious and vibrant little girl she is. I really loved her sass and confidence, as well as her connection to nature and the trees surrounding her home.

Another aspect that I thought was interesting was the representation of Maia and Etan’s disabilities—severe eczema and selective mutism, respectively. I’ve never read a book with these disabilities represented (whether it be adult, YA or MG) so I found it interesting to read about and have it be part of these characters. However, what disappointed me was the use of the magical healing clay as a “cure” for these disabilities to make Maia and Etan ‘normal happy kids’. It made it seem like people with disabilities are not ‘normal’ and that you need to look and act like others to be happy. Yes, Maia wasn’t 100% ‘cured’ but the message is still the same and it’s not one that I would want any person to read and believe that they’re less than because they have a disability or live with chronic illness. The topic of mental health was also explored a bit through Etan’s mother but I wish it was done in more depth as it impacted Etan and his family so greatly.

Even though I didn’t end up loving it as much as I thought I would, it was still a quick, engaging and easy read. I loved the diversity and the historical context and in the future I’d be interested in seeing what else Baron has written.

Have you read The Magical Imperfect or is it on your TBR?

Blog Tour Review: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Hello, hello friends! I’m so excited to be back with another blog tour with @TheWriteReads gang! Today I’m sharing a review for a book that looks all cute and fluffy on the outside but takes a step beyond that on the inside: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon. Don’t forget to check out all the other bloggers participating in this tour: here! 😍

Special thanks to Penguin for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

Goodreads: Instructions for Dancing
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: 01 June 2021
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance

Panda Rating:

(4.5 pandas)

#1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star Nicola Yoon is back with a new and utterly unique romance.

Evie is disillusioned about love ever since her dad left her mum for another woman – she’s even throwing out her beloved romance novel collection.

When she’s given a copy of a book called Instructions for Dancing, and follows a note inside to a dilapidated dance studio, she discovers she has a strange and unwelcome gift. When a couple kisses in front of her, she can see their whole relationship play out – from the moment they first catch each other’s eye to the last bitter moments of their break-up.

For Evie, it confirms everything she thinks she knows about love – that it doesn’t last.

But at the dance studio she meets X – tall, dreadlocked, fascinating – and they start to learn to dance, together. Can X help break the spell that Evie is under? Can he change Evie’s mind about love?

BUY NOW:

Continue reading “Blog Tour Review: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon”

Blog Tour Review + Top 5 Reasons to Read: Glimpsed by G.F. Miller

Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for Glimpsed by G.F. Miller. Special thanks to Simon & Schuster Books for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Be sure to click on the banner above to check out the rest of the amazing bloggers on tour!

Goodreads: Glimpsed
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 05 December 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary/Fantasy

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

Perfect for fans of Geekerella and Jenn Bennett, this charming, sparkly rom-com follows a wish-granting teen forced to question if she’s really doing good—and if she has the power to make her own dreams come true.

Charity is a fairy godmother. She doesn’t wear a poofy dress or go around waving a wand, but she does make sure the deepest desires of the student population at Jack London High School come true. And she knows what they want even better than they do because she can glimpse their perfect futures.

But when Charity fulfills a glimpse that gets Vibha crowned homecoming queen, it ends in disaster. Suddenly, every wish Charity has ever granted is called into question. Has she really been helping people? Where do these glimpses come from, anyway? What if she’s not getting the whole picture?

Making this existential crisis way worse is Noah—the adorkable and (in Charity’s opinion) diabolical ex of one of her past clients—who blames her for sabotaging his prom plans and claims her interventions are doing more harm than good. He demands that she stop granting wishes and help him get his girl back. At first, Charity has no choice but to play along. But soon, Noah becomes an unexpected ally in getting to the bottom of the glimpses. Before long, Charity dares to call him her friend…and even starts to wish he were something more. But can the fairy godmother ever get the happily ever after?

BUY NOW: Amazon (US) | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Indiebound

Continue reading “Blog Tour Review + Top 5 Reasons to Read: Glimpsed by G.F. Miller”

Blog Tour Review: A House is a Body by Shruti Swamy

Today I’m back with another Algonquin book tour for A House is A Body by Shruti Swamy. Thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. This book is out 11 August 2020!

Goodreads: A House is a Body
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: 11 August 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Panda Rating:

In two-time O. Henry-prize winner Swamy’s debut collection of stories, dreams collide with reality, modernity collides with antiquity, myth with true identity, and women grapple with desire, with ego, with motherhood and mortality. In “Earthly Pleasures,” Radika, a young painter living alone in San Francisco, begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s moment of crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy and the sense of a new beginning. In the title story, an exhausted mother watches, distracted and paralyzed, as a California wildfire approaches her home. With a knife blade’s edge and precision, the stories of A House Is a Body travel from India to America and back again to reveal the small moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world.

Buy: Amazon (US)

Continue reading “Blog Tour Review: A House is a Body by Shruti Swamy”

Review: Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Goodreads: Sourdough
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism

Panda Rating:

(Review posted from 2018)

Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her – feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.


When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

If Vietnamese pho’s healing powers, physical and psychic, make traditional chicken noodle soup seem like dishwater—and they do—then this spicy soup, in turn, dishwatered pho. It was an elixir. The sandwich was spicier still, thin-sliced vegetables slathered with a fluorescent red sauce, the burn buffered by thick slabs of bread artfully toasted.

I really enjoyed this book! Sourdough is full of quirky and endearing characters and situations that make you laugh and fill your mind with wonder. It also made me insanely hungry (2020 edit: reading that quote above already has me salivating!) and brought to life a craving for sourdough – although I’m sure the loaf that I dug into is nothing like the legendary Mazg one (unfortunately). What I liked about this book is that you can take it as lightly as you want to, but if you want to give it a bit more thought, there’s also some meat for you to chew on. It doesn’t go into very fine details, which I didn’t mind because in a book like this, you can easily over-describe situations, events and processes until you bore your reader to death. Robin Sloan definitely doesn’t do that!

I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice—and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.

Lois, the main character, is so full of life and energy. I could really relate to her thoughts in terms of wondering at being a part of something more; something significant and important. I think that’s what we all go through in our 20s, 30s (and well, some even longer), especially as we finish university and start looking for a job and try to find more meaning in our lives. To find that purpose and to chase after what makes us tick – what gives us life. Lois is so passionate and just dives into situations that come at her – which is the complete opposite of me and probably why I find people who can do that so admirable. That energy of hers was palpable and as I read the book, I happily soaked up her enthusiasm for everything that she was doing. It made me think about what I’m currently doing and whether I am just living in my own version of “General Dexterity”? It’s a big Maybe.

Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.

Of course, there’s also some magical realism sprinkled throughout the book, especially as you come towards the end when you’re kind of doused in it all at once. As someone who is very picky when it comes to magical realism, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it but I absolutely loved it! It’s another element of Robin Sloan’s writing that I loved because it’s not entirely out of place or unbelievable in stories where the characters and events are so full of quirkyness.

I read someone’s comment about his books that summarised them in a really simple but accurate way – just as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was about a secret society for book lovers, Sourdough is about a secret society for food lovers. And who doesn’t love food (and books and secret societies)?! After reading this, it’s pretty safe to say that I thoroughly enjoy the way Robin Sloan writes and he has got a fan in me! Can’t wait to read more from him 🙂

Have you read Sourdough or is it on your TBR?

eARC Graphic Novel Review: Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo, Lilian Klepakowsky

Goodreads: Eat, and Love Yourself
Publish date: 21 April 2020
Publisher: BOOM!Studios
Genre: Graphic Novel
Panda Rating:

A story about Mindy, a woman living with an eating disorder who has to learn how to love herself again.

In pursuit of the perfect body, Mindy buys the low-fat diet products and the glossy magazines which promise the secret to losing weight. One night, while perusing the aisles of the neighborhood convenience store for a midnight snack, she finds a new product. A chocolate bar called “Eat and Love Yourself”. On a whim, Mindy buys the curious candy, not knowing that with every piece of chocolate she eats, she will be brought back to a specific moment of her past — helping her to look at herself honestly, learn to love her body the way it is, and accepting love. Perhaps, she will even realize that her long lost high school best friend, Elliot, was more than just a friend…

Trigger warnings: Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body shaming, binge-eating, purging

I got extremely excited when I saw this cover and read the synopsis. The comic covers an extremely important topic that is such a personal issue for so many people who have struggled with their weight, and loving and accepting themselves. So I’m pretty sad to say that the story gave me pretty mixed feelings and that ending was especially disappointing because it was so abrupt. I checked to see if this was a series but I couldn’t find any information on it. I’m kind of hoping that Mindy’s journey will continue but I have a feeling it won’t?

Continue reading “eARC Graphic Novel Review: Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo, Lilian Klepakowsky”

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Immortalists
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Family Saga, Magical Realism
Panda Rating:

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

“Our language is our strength.
Thoughts have wings.”

It was difficult for me to write this review so apologies if it’s more nonsensical blabber than anything. I really enjoyed this touching novel about family and death. It sounds morose and it certainly isn’t the most fast paced storytelling, but as the story dove deeper into each characters’ life, I found that I couldn’t put the book down and very quickly sped through the pages. The Immortalists is a family saga that explores faith and the idea of destiny/fate. It asks readers the timeless question: if you could learn when/how you die, would you do it?

Continue reading “The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – #BookReview”

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Astonishing Color of After
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Magical Realism, Fantasy
Panda Rating:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life. Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

“Depression, I opened my mouth to say, but the word refused to take shape. Why was it so hard to talk about this? Why did my mother’s condition feel like this big secret?”

The Astonishing Color of After is a heart-wrenching story of a teenager trying to come to terms with her mother’s suicide and simultaneously exploring a side of her heritage that she never knew before. This isn’t a fast-paced or action-packed read. While filled with beautiful and poetic prose and rich emotions that are captured through the full spectrum of colors, the pace is rather slow. It’s the kind of story that requires savoring because there’s a lot going on. If I think about the range of emotions that I encountered, off the top of my head, I’d say: grief, anger, sadness, desperation, longing, love, regret, and happiness. And it’s not just tiny bursts of these emotions either, but waves of them pulling you in and up and down… Like I said, there’s a lot going on in this story.

We follow Leigh Sanders. Teenager. Chinese-Irish-American. Gifted young artist. Also, someone who experiences the world in color. Literally. They call it Synesthesia. As a result, this book is so rich with it – swirls and whirls of color to describe emotions, events, characters. Then when she loses her mother, Leigh is mired in such deep grief that she sees things in black and white, when one night her mother comes to her as a bright-red beautiful bird. Desperate to understand why her mother was so unhappy, Leigh embarks on a journey which takes her to Taiwan, where she meets her Chinese grandparents for the first time.

I never was big on magical realism but I thought how Pan incorporates elements of it into her story was very fitting. I feel like magical realism plays a big role in a lot of Asian cultures; we have a lot of stories with ghosts, spirits and unlikely magical events that happen in many Asian cultures. I feel that the magical events in this story further highlighted just how affected Leigh was by her mother’s suicide. AsLeigh recalls more memories and events become increasingly bizarre, her desperation to understand the why and how becomes more palpable.

Here is my mother, with wings instead of hands, and feathers instead of hair. Here is my mother, the reddest of brilliant reds, the color of my love and my fear, all of my fiercest feelings trailing after her in the sky like the tail of a comet.

I have to be honest–there were moments when this book became too overwhelming for me. Not only because there’s so much going on in the story, but at the heart of it is a profound exploration of depression. I never really understood it when people said they read something and felt triggered, but I finally understood when I read this book. Pan does such a raw portrayal of depression; it’s just very honest and upfront. There’s no ‘explanation’ to depression; it wears many faces and seemingly comes and goes as it pleases. As someone who suffers from depression, reading about how Dory’s life was basically eclipsed by it, was quite terrifying in how relatable it was. So, I definitely had to take breaks between reading and I pushed myself to finish this, but this story was so worth it.

“Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger.”

This story takes us on a journey of discovery through dealing with depression, grief, love, family and friendship. I was feeling all the feels and crying buckets by the end of this book. Because of its subject matter, this book is undoubtedly one my reads that hit home the hardest. It’s not an easy topic to discuss and it’s definitely not an easy topic to read, but Pan does a truly incredible job of it.

Pan also does an amazing job in capturing the tumultuous thoughts, emotions, hopes and fears of a teenager who goes through an achingly big loss. In her search for answers, Leigh’s character also experienced a rich self-discovery of her Chinese roots and a deep understanding of family and friendship. We are with Leigh as she processes her grief, her confusion, her anger and frustration, and we are also with her as she finally gets her closure and finds peace with the loss of her mother. This is a highly recommended read.

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What’d you think of it? Let me know in the comments and let’s chat!

#UltimateBlogTour: A Different Time by Michael K Hill – #BookReview

I participated in my first ever blog tour earlier this year with TheWriteReads group for Ben Galley’s books (check out my review) and now I’m participating in my second blog tour with the gang, this time for the contemporary fiction: A Different Time by Michael K. Hill. Special thanks to Dave for hosting and organising another beast of a blog tour (please check out the other bloggers who have participated as they’ve all written great reviews for this book)! I’m in awe and super appreciative of all the time and effort you dedicate to TheWriteReads gang, and for bringing such a wonderful community of supportive people together! Special thanks also goes to Michael Hill for providing us with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!

Goodreads: A Different Time by Michael K. Hill
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Magical Realism

In 1989 she spoke to the love of her life.
In 2019 he answered.
Keith Nolan falls in love with a remarkable young woman from the past, talking to him on a home video she recorded. To keep their conversation going, he must find more of her tapes – while forces work against them both – and time is running out.

About the Author

Beginning as a sketch comedy writer for American television, Michael K. Hill progressed to become an internationally published writer of fiction and non-fiction. His short story anthology, Anansi and Beyond, published in 2017, and his debut novel, A Different Time, is available now. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, kids, and 7 rescued animals. You can find out more about Michael on his website: http://michaelkhill.com/

When I first heard about this book, my first thought was OMG, IT’S LIKE THE LAKE HOUSE! You know, that movie with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves? The one with letters and past and future coming together? (The one that I may or may not be trash for…?) Yeah? No? It really doesn’t have the best ratings, but I love this duo and this movie is a definite guilty pleasure. BUT I DIGRESS!

At only 100 or so pages, this book was a very quick and easy read. The premise of this story is really fascinating and I actually haven’t read any books based on it. It’s told in alternating timelines between the past (1989) and present (2019) and focuses on Lindsey and Keith’s lives. There are few side characters so there’s not much to distract you from the storyline playing out between the MCs. I really felt for both of them. I think the strongest parts of this story were their characters; their indecision about their next steps in life and their loneliness and desire for company was extremely relatable. The doubt and loneliness make it unsurprising that they’re quick to accept the impossible the first time they connect, as they’re both desperate for connection, although the concept still requires you to suspend your disbelief.

As much as I questioned the possibility and probability of the events, I read on eagerly, wondering if they would ever find a way to be together and what that meeting would be like considering the large gap in the years between them. You can’t help but hope for a surprise that will allow them to be together. Despite being able to predict who Lindsey actually was, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of having it confirmed in the end. It was definitely a bittersweet one that made me feel emotional.

The only thing that had me feeling a little so-so about the story was completely based on my own preference when reading. While I used to be a fan of insta-love back in my younger days *cough* I’m very much not a fan of it now and this was very much what happened between the two. I found that I struggled to get past the fact that they almost instantly fell in love. Considering that this was novella length, I understand why things happened as quickly as it did. This made me honestly wish this book was longer so the story could’ve been more developed and we would’ve had the chance to get to know these characters and their stories more because Lindsey and Keith had very interesting backstories and they deserved more development!

That said I’m very glad I got the chance to read this and that I got to be part of this blog tour!
Thanks again to TheWrtiteReads for organising this tour and to Michael Hill for the book!

Have you read A Different Time? Is it something you’d perhaps be interested in reading? Let me know in the comments and let’s chat!