“Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Kawaguchi sets the stage by telling the reader about a small café in Tokyo that serves carefully brewed coffee, and legend says they also offer the chance to travel back in time.

Fumiko’s boyfriend asked her to the café for a “very serious conversation.” Thinking that this might be a very special occasion, Fumiko buys a beautiful dress to wear that evening. This café appeared to be a place for shady deals, more for criminal activity than intimate conversations. 

Then, Fumiko discovers that the “most serious conversation” is about breaking up. She’s shocked and disappointed, as he is silent. She comments that later she will regret it, and the boyfriend leaves — his face “filled with sadness.”

After a week, Fumiko decides she would like to go back in time, not to change the outcome, but to take back the words she said. The café owner then begins to explain the rules about the time travel. “You can’t change what’s already happened. You can’t meet people who haven’t already visited the café. There is only one chair that can take you back in time.” Of course, there is a special blend of coffee.  However, the most important rule is about the time limit is “you have to return before the coffee gets cold.”  

There are others who wish to travel through time. In “The Husband and Wife,” a nurse wants to go back to the time before her husband’s Alzheimer’s took his memories. In “The Sisters,” one woman wants to travel to the time before her sister died in a tragic accident on the way to visit her. Finally, there is “The Mother and Child,” where the mother’s heart is not healthy enough to go through childbirth.

Kawaguchi is not concerned about the technicalities of time travel that might be explained in the typical fantasy.  This allows him to explore what he considers to be more important — human relationships, missed opportunities and love.  

And then there’s the final rule —  a person who travels through time, can only do it once. So, who would you visit if you could travel back in time? And what would you learn if nothing can be changed? Perhaps one gains a deeper understanding of people, yourself and the only thing that can be changed — your reaction to what has happened.

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

“Revival Season” by Monica West

I have never been to a revival, but I have seen at least a tent or two set up in out of the way places every summer. I would wonder about the mysterious events happening in that tent. The cover art of “Revival Season” by Monica West features an image of one of those tents, automatically making me want to peek inside the book. 

The narrator is 15-year old Miriam, oldest in her family with two younger siblings, Caleb who aspires to preach like his father, and the youngest Hannah, born with cerebral palsy. Miriam’s father, Samuel, is hoping to break “the two thousand soul” mark as the family travels the revival circuit of smaller communities in the south, preaching and healing. Mom is Joanne who behaves always as expected in a most stoic manner. Miriam spends much of her time taking care of Hannah, while her parents visit with the local clergy and church elders.

Miriam has always believed in what her father preaches, but she accidentally sees him strike a woman who has come for counsel. Miriam wasn’t the only one to see her father rage at “sinners,” and the word spreads throughout the circuit after others noted his anger when a drunken man accuses Samuel of fraud. Samuel’s reputation becomes tarnished by rumors of his violence, and invitations to revivals fade.

How can Miriam continue to have faith in the goodness of her father? And if he has the power to help or cure others, why isn’t Hannah blessed with the benefits her father offers? As the summer circuit nears an end, Miriam discovers that she may have healing powers herself even though her father suggests that the healing ministry is for men only.

As the next summer approaches, Miriam struggles with her belief in her faith, her family and her new ability, which if discovered by her father could destroy Miriam herself. The more she considers her dilemma, the more Miriam comes to understand her parents as flawed people and not idols. She also learns that there is a price that comes with her gift.

This coming of age novel poses the importance of believing in faith while believing in family, and the complications and compromises that put Miriam at odds with both all the while coming of age and developing her own voice.

Ann Patchett, called this novel, “tender and wise.” This debut novel is original, and Miriam’s voice is honest while often being heartbreaking.

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

“A Caller’s Game” by J. D. Barker

Jordan Briggs is a smart, sarcastic radio talk show host. Using her acerbic wit, she takes no prisoners, either with people that call in or with studio guests. On a hectic morning at her Manhattan studio, Jordan takes a call-in question from a gentleman who says his name is Bernie.

Bernie asks Jordan if she wants to play a game. When she agrees, he says, “Yellow Cabs or Ubers?” She chooses Yellow Cabs. Seven Yellow Cabs blow up in different parts of the city. After more questions result in heinous crimes, Jordan, her producer Billy, and in-studio guest Sen. Moretti understand the acts are not foreign terrorist attacks, but a personal vendetta orchestrated by Bernie.

Soon, they realize they are cut-off from the outside world. Hidden cameras everywhere, Bernie is in control of the elevators and has his own security team on guard. To complicate things, Jordan’s daughter, Charlotte, is visiting the studio. When Charlotte goes missing, Bernie calls with another question, “will you kill the senator to save your own child?”

Piece by piece, Bernie reveals his mission. Add in a messy divorce, a bitter ex-husband and a hotshot detective, and you’ve got a non-stop action thriller.

Review by Karyn Collins, Paul Sawyier Public Library

“Local Woman Missing” by Mary Kubica

Shelby Tebow, married with a newborn, uses the excuse of a late night run to meet her boyfriend. As she kneels in the road to tie her shoe, she looks up to see car headlights bearing down. Shelby is never seen again.

Months later, Josh Dickey, after picking up his son from the sitter’s, comes home to discover his wife, Meredith, and their 6-year-old daughter, Delilah, missing. After hours with no word, neighbors are called, the police notified and the search begins.

Meredith’s car is located at a local motel, and police find her in a room, dead from an apparent suicide. Delilah is nowhere to be found, and Meredith left a note stating, “You will never find her.” Eventually, Shelby’s husband is arrested for her murder, Delilah is not found, and the case goes cold.

Years later, a teenage girl wanders out of the woods claiming to be Delilah. Through flashbacks from the differing perspectives of the main characters, the mystery is unraveled and questions addressed. Is the girl Delilah? Did Shelby’s husband murder her? Did Meredith give her daughter to strangers and then commit suicide? The story slowly unfolds to reveal what really happened when a local woman disappears.

Review by Karyn Collins, Paul Sawyier Public Library