"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


If I could, all of you would find a copy of THE FIRST PHONE CALL FROM HEAVEN under your Christmas tree this year. You're welcome.

Mitch Albom is an author that I read regularly. Starting with Tuesdays wit Morrie, his books are always inspirational and entertaining. Some have been better than others, I agree, but each has given me something to think about.

THE FIRST PHONE CALL FROM HEAVEN takes place in a small town where eight  residents have received phone calls from people who have died. One is from a beloved sister, one from a mother, one from a son who was killed in the military and so on. As word of these calls becomes known, the town is thrown from being a quiet, peaceful place to one over run by tourists and the news media...all seeking to be part of the miracle.

Everyone wants to be assured that Heaven is all that we have been led to believe. The town is showing growth. The churches are full, Store fronts are re-opening. Tourists and townspeople alike are caught up in the fever. But, several people are not so sure of the authenticity of these calls. What if they are a cruel hoax?

Sully Harding is not a believer in this miracle fever. Recently out of prison, Sully has returned to his hometown and his son. While he was in prison his wife had died and his young son has taken to caring a toy phone with the hope that his mommy will call him. Sully has to prove that the calls are a hoax for his son's sake as well as to help heal his own broken heart.

What follows is a mystery as well as a study of mob mentality and our need for human connection.

Interestingly, the author has thrown some historical facts on the invention of the telephone into the story. Some facts were new to me and made Alexander Bell more real and not just another name from our history books. I am not sure if the book needed these interruptions; they seemed to stop the flow of the plot at times.

Albom really is in top form in this book. His characters are well defined and heartbreaking human. His feel for the hope and devastation of the eight people who have heard from the dead is touching. But, through it all the mystery of who is behind the phone calls and why, if it is a hoax, keeps the story moving.

In the end, the reader can decide for himself if such a miracle is possible. Things may wrap up a little neatly and sometimes I have problems with new information being sprung on me to make the ending a "neat" one, but in this case, it works. THE FIRST PHONE CALL FROM HEAVEN will give you several things to ponder. One that stays with me is, if a miracle is a "hoax" can it still be a miracle?

If you are already a fan of Mitch Albom's books don't miss this one. If he is a new author to you, this is a good place to start.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: Me Before You

Thanks to my afternoon book group at the library, I have found a new author. Jojo Moyes has won me as a fan with ME BEFORE YOU. I can not wait to see how the other members of the group reacted to this biter sweet story.

The prologue of the story introduces us to hot shot Will Trayner, a young man who has it all, a power job, big money, a beautiful girlfriend and a life full of excitement and, some times dangerous adventures. The prologue ends with Will being involved in a traffic accident.

Louisa Clark is a small town girl who has just lost her job as a waitress in a coffee shop. Her family is ordinary and not overly encouraging. Her boyfriend of seven years has become more interested in physical fitness then in their relationship. With no real job experience or training, Lou finds that the best job available is to become a companion to a quadriplegic. Wiping the bum of an elderly person is not her idea of a great job, but it beats working in the chicken processing plant.

Of course the patient turns out to be Will, now confined to a wheel chair and unable of basic self care. Will has become resentful of his condition and impossibly rude to everyone around him. Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves. In time a relationship forms that changes both of them.

This sounds like such a routine plot that I was ready to skim through it just so I could follow the group discussion Friday afternoon. Instead I became so wrapped up in the characters that I had trouble getting away from them, whether I was reading or going about my daily chores.

At first I was very put off by Lou's family. The small house contained a mother who never sat down, a grandfather who was normally napping, a "perfect" sister who was living back home with a toddler, a father who only seemed to speak when he wanted to belittle Lou. The only likable character was the toddler, Thomas.  As the story progressed, each family member became more dimensional.

Will's family also became more real. His mother seemed so cold and so impressed with her money and position and his father just distant. As we learn more about them, they did not change so much, but we at least learn why they are the way they are.

All of the characters in the book are well done. Will's male nurse Nathan becomes a large part in Lou's plan to save Will. Patrick, Lou's boyfriend, plays an important part also, although not willingly.
It was not hard to get involved with these people.

The research that Lou does on working with quadriplegics was informative as was her information on assisted suicide. These two areas gave the book another dimension as well as some surprises. Yes, the ending may have been foreshadowed enough not to be a surprise, but reactions to final events may have been.

This was a fairly fast read, mainly because I really wanted to see what was going to happen. While I was checking the author for other books, I found that a movie version will be out in 2016 and that there is a sequel, After You. I may pass on the movie, but the sequel sounds intriguing. My favorite authors are those who can build interesting characters and it seems as if Jojo Moyes can do that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: Brothers

The second book in the Juniata Iron Trilogy is out. Author Judith Redline Coopey has picked up the next generation of her family saga with BROTHERS.  Ellie and Adam MacPhail's family has grown up in the shadow of the Etna Furnace and are now ready to play out their own parts in the ongoing history of the early iron industry in Pennsylvania.

Talking about the middle book in a trilogy is very difficult. It would be cruel to spoil the first book, The Furnace, for anyone who has not read it. There are some major events in the first book that carry over to the second story. (and I personally hate spoilers.)

Ellie and Adam's children do grow up and have children of their own. The brothers, Laird, John, Robert, and grandson Will become the center of the story and each becomes very real to the reader. Laird is set on becoming part of the world of books and on teaching, instead he knows that he is the only brother who has a head for business and so he puts away his dreams and steps up to run the iron plantation. John is an idealistic person who prefers his solitude until he picks up the cause of the underground railroad. Robert takes after his natural father. He is handsome, charming and not able to make personal commitments. Illegitimate Will is not sure of who he is, part MacPhail and part Trethaway, Ellie's archenemies.

The story is told through different voices, giving the reader a chance to see the same incident from, sometimes, contrasting views. As a result we learn more about each character. Ms Coopey is an author who moves her stories through character, so it is important that the reader connect with each one. I did!

It was like meeting an old friend to see Miss Ellie as she aged. I was happy that though she did mellow a bit, she kept her feisty nature. One of the stand out scenes in the book is her holding her own with the Rebel soldiers during the war. By the time tragedy hits Laird and John, as life has a tendency to do, we are so engrossed with these two men that it feels as if we are watching friends grieve. We even find sorrow at Robert's fate.

Young Will completely captured my heart. His father Robert ignores his existence and his mother is so full of hatred that I was so pleased each time kindness and affection was shown to him. His relationship with John made John that much more human.

There is so much to BROTHERS. A whole generation grows up; loved ones are lost; babies are born
 and a way of life disappears. We see how war changes people and how love may be the most important thing in our life. A Judy Coopey book does not gloss over the uglies of life, but she does give us people that we can root for and make us feel that we are all part of the human condition, no matter the time or place.

Now I personally am not too patiently waiting for the third and final book in The Juniata Iron Trilogy. I really want to see the rest of Will's story.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


There is a good reason why Geraldine Brooks has won a Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Her books never fail to impress me with all of the things that I need in a book, good character development, interesting plot and a new slant on little known parts of history. Her CALEB'S CROSSING meets all of these requirements and more.

In 1665 Bethia Mayfield is growing up in a tiny island settlement called Great Harbor. Her neighbors are English Puritans who had moved from the main land to be allowed to maintain a more strict way of life. Bethia has lost her mother and is being raised, along with an older brother and infant sister, by their minister father.

Bethia is in constant conflict with the rigid constrictions of the community. She has a burning need to learn and listens to her brother's lessons as she cleans, cooks and takes care of her little sister. Her curious mind and restless spirit  take her on exploration trips around her island. At age twelve on one of these explorations she meets Caleb, the young son of a Wampanoag chieftain. The two form a secret relationship that pulls them into each other's world. This strong friendship is to last for their whole life.

Bethia's father is determined to convert the Wampanoags to his own strict religion. In doing so he creates an enemy of Caleb's uncle, the tribe's medicine man.  Things become personal when it is discovered that Caleb has an extraordinary ability to learn. This feud causes not only a war of wills, but also a high stakes battle that may cost the reverend his life as well as his soul.

As I said, CALEB'S CROSSING  has all of the things that make me love a book. Author Brooks based the novel on the true story of one of the first Native Americans to be graduated from Harvard. The author covers in this period of time the contrast in relious beliefs, the treatment of "outsiders" by the Puritains, a woman's place in what was suposed to be a community of equality,etc., all with a feeling for her characters as well as a commitment to historical facts. Great Harbor later became Martha's Vineyard and we all know how Harvard grew. Brooks comments in her afterword how pleased Bethia would be to know that one day Harvard would have a woman president.

CALEB'S CROSSING is told in Bethia's voice and we get an inside view as she grows and struggles with the life she lives. Gerldine Brooks is an author that never talks down to her readers even when using a young voice. She is an intelligent author who takes it for granted that her readers have the ability to stay with her.

Side note: Her Pulitzer was awarded for March, the story of the March sisters' father and his experiences in the Civil War. If  Little Women was a favorite book of yours, March will be like meeting old friends. If not, it is still an excellent book about the loss of innocence in war.