on 5 June 2014
I'm a big fan of Mitch Albom but his last book, The Time Keeper, whilst good, left me disappointed. His books are normally hard to put down due to how short his chapters are; you find yourself saying I'll just read one more chapter... and then you read another and another and next an hour has passed by. But The Time Keeper suffered from ridiculously short chapters to the point where what could be one chapter was split into four for no logical reason. Also whilst I've always enjoyed the way his books feel like a life lesson, The Time Keeper almost seemed smug with its message at times.
Fortunately his latest book improves on both of these faults. Not only are the chapters of a sensible length the content is much less preachy whilst still managing to send across a message and move you.
As with a lot of his previous work the novel has a spiritual theme running through it but, whilst I myself and not a spiritual person, I still managed to engage in it. The novel deals with faith, loss and finding purpose in life after loss and it deals with it all very well. When I first began reading the novel and discovered that one of the characters was a recently released prisoner and another a priest I feared the characters were going to veer into stereotypes but luckily all of the characters were well constructed and relatable.
I think this novel is up there with Albom's best and is well worth a read.
Reading this book and knowing the author's beliefs is a little like discovering C. S. Lewis's meaning behind the Narnia books. They work well as novels, with interesting characters and plots, magic realism and whimsy, until you discover that actually, it could all be proselytising. That's not to say they aren't enjoyable.
I've enjoyed Mitch Albom's books before, even being aware that his beliefs differ from mine, and not had a problem with his stories, enjoying them for their entertainment value and interesting stories. Here's another good plot: the first of several people in US small town Coldwater, Tess, receives a phone message from her mum. Her mother is dead, however. Later that day, other residents also begin getting calls from loved ones who have died - a sister, a son, a work colleague.
What is going on? Are they really getting calls from Heaven?
The fun part for me was the media circus that quickly descends, bringing pilgrims and protestors, traffic and business into this small, shocked town. And the questions: are people lying or deluded? How is it happening? Just what about the content of these very short and cryptic calls?
The main characters are really Katherine Yellin, who can't believe she's not the only one getting calls (after all, she's the most devout), talking to her much-loved sister. There's Amy Penn, the journalist who wants to use Coldwater to make her name and career. And there's Sully, just released from a spell in prison for his part in a plane crash who is also grieving for the wife who died whilst in a coma during his confinement. Sully's son Jules desperately wants his mum to call him, but Sully is adamant that it's all a hoax.
We have theists and atheists lining up in the book to pronounce and denounce the heavenly calls, and an enjoyable plot as we discover the truth. It keeps the attention.
And a part I really liked were the segues into Alexander Graham Bell's era and story, with the invention of the telephone. Quite moving and completely fascinating.
Well constructed and engaging, with the media angle and Bell's story the best bits, some sad insights into grief and loss, an ending that may annoy and frustrate a little (as it did me), but ignoring the epilogue, a great story about love, loss and redemption.
on 9 July 2015
When I started this book I thought "what a great idea" and considered all the possibilities of phone calls from heaven. I expected something with the same theme as "5 people you meet in heaven" which I loved. Instead, I found that all but the last few pages were rambling on about nothing with a mildly interesting ending by which time my mind was to numb to appreciate. With more effort I feel the talented author could have made so much more of this story if he had used his imagination rather than a standard formula.
A small town in Lake Michigan is rocked to the very core when a handful of people start receiving telephone calls from their deceased relatives. One man, single father Sully Harding recently released from prison and full of sadness and remorse over the passing of his beloved wife finds himself in total disbelief at the events taking place. As the days go on he witnesses more and more people from far and wide coming in their droves, hoping above all to connect with their departed loved ones. Sully who finds the whole idea of the afterlife abhorrent makes the decision to investigate and disprove the phenomenon taking over his hometown.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, a warm and touching story.
What starts off sounding rather evangelical in tone develops into a surprisingly compelling mystery novel based on an original idea. The premise is that several residents of a small American town start receiving phone calls from dead loved ones who claim they are in heaven, sparking a media frenzy. The story follows these residents and others closely affected by the events. It is told in the third person, and is an easy read. It's not particularly 'literary' in style, and it retains a good pace throughout.
The hero of the story has an interesting backstory that is gradually revealed. Interestingly he is in fact the most sceptical character in the book, who ultimately sets out to disprove the supernatural origin of the calls. The other characters are fine without being particularly loveable or dislikeable. They never stood out as very 'real' to me, not because they are unbelievable but because they feel like cardboard cut outs. Each comes with a neat potted backstory and trots along fulfilling their set role in the unfolding action without coming alive on the page as individuals in their own right.
The author makes clear in his acknowledgements that he himself is a Christian, and certainly the book has a strong Christian ethos throughout, however it is not 'preachy' as such and can be enjoyed by a non-believer or adherent of other religion. What initially seems to be a story about the afterlife in fact turns out to be much more about living people and how they cope with grief, as well as getting in a good sub-theme about the media and its influence on how events unfold in the modern era.
Plot wise, it zips along with a good pace and is very gripping towards the end. It is all extremely far-fetched, and some elements are easily guessable, but all the same it does sweep you up and carry you along. Even if you don't believe in God or the concept of heaven, there is always something comforting about encountering the faith of those who do. Given the subject matter, it's not as emotionally moving as I'd have expected, but it does manage to avoid being too sweet and sickly which is a relief. It won't be everyone's cup of tea but if you're prepared to accept it for what it is, you may well enjoy it - and some readers will love it.
on 13 March 2014
I was interested in reading this more through intrigue due to all they hype, than anything else. I was on holiday in the US and attended a book signing by the author Mitch Albom, in his home State of Michigan. The queue went on for ever and ever. This was a very popular book signing!
I had read a Mitch Albom book a long time ago, so thought it about time I read another. Some of my family members in the US, of all generations, are lifelong fans and all bought a copy of this book, so when I got home I did the same.
It doesn't matter whether you believe in a higher power or not. This is not a book which is meant to sway you in one way or another. It is however, a book which really makes you think about the human psyche and how we are all in someway, fearful of letting go of someone or something in our life.
When someone in a small town on Lake Michigan receives a phone call from her Sister, it causes somewhat of a shock. They are not estranged or anything but her Sister is actually dead! Her Sister says she is calling her from Heaven.
There are some great quotes in this book. "You have to start over. That's what they say. But life is not a board game and losing a loved one is never really "starting over". More like continuing without". How true is that.
This book is extremely well written and very intriguing . There are some strong characters in the book, who are all happy to share their experiences. Some are believers, some are sceptics, but they all have the same thing in common. A phone call from Heaven.
I wouldn't say I found the book inspirational like some readers have, and like the other book of Mitch Alboms I read, but it really did make me wish I could receive a phone call from Heaven.
When I read the first page of this book, I actually had to stop and take deep breaths. It was memorizing. A woman just misses getting to her phone before the answering machine clicks in...
"Ach, this thing," she mumbled. She heard the machine click on her kitchen counter as it played her outgoing message.
"Hi, it's Tess. Leave your name and your number. I'll get back to you as soon as I can, thanks."
A small beep sounded. Tess heard static. And then.
"It's Mom... I need to tell you something."
Tess stopped breathing. The receiver fell from her fingers.
Her mother died four years ago.
Now, that is what I call a first page. I was hooked. This is Mitch Albom's sixth book, including Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I had high expectations, based on these previous works but the opening lines were promising.
Coldwater, Lake Michigan is a sleepy town, close to the Canadian border, and like many rural communities, is struggling in these difficult times. Shops have closed down, unemployment is heavy and the moral is at an all-time low. Things take a dramatic turn when many of the residents of Coldwater start receiving phone calls from their loved ones who have passed away. The calls are intimate, heart wrenching and full of spiritual hope. The town is bustling again as people travel far and wide in the hope of contacting their own lost ones. Business is booming again and the churches are packed to the rafters. One man who has mixed feelings about these calls, and their effects, is Sully Harding. Having lost his wife in a tragic accident, he already carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. His disbelief in these phone calls from heaven causes friction from some of the locals, especially his own young son. He is determined to find out, once and for all, if there is a direct line, from the supposed next world, to the one he is living in...
Mitch Albom has a way with words. Simple, yet unique. His gentle approach, to a delicate subject, is what makes this novel a success. The urge to overplay narrative could have been a temptation to a less experienced writer, but as a former journalist, screen writer and playwright, this author seemed to know when to reel it in. The characters are wonderfully individual, each with their own story to tell.
Grief can be difficult to address is fiction and often the atmosphere can be oppressive. Not so with this novel. It has a nice and steady pace, with the story twisting from Tess and other phone call recipients, to Sully, journalist Amy, Ministers, Priest and local council officials. While there are many characters dotted through the story, the reader is not confused as they are all interlinked in one way or another. Another feat that only a good writer can achieve.
There was just a little bit too much predictability for my liking, though. Sully was the typical widower. Damaged but distressed, drinking heavily but still a dependable father, dishevelled yet attractive. I'm not sure, considering what had happened to himself and his wife (no spoilers), he would have been as reliable an employee, son or father that he seems to be in this novel. Similarly, TV reporter, Amy, is saccharine sweet and comes across as an unlikely character. That said, the narrative is clever, the whole idea of a direct link with the deceased being something that enters many minds, and the magical writing of Albom makes it seem less fantasy and more of a tale of inspiration. A clever book, short in length but strong on ideas...
on 27 May 2015
I really enjoyed this book. I was able to get absorbed, and finished it within two days.
The themes are explored beautifully, and provides food for thought on the subjects of loss, grief, and religious beliefs without taking any particular stance, and goes deep without being depressing or sombre. The experiences of the characters, their emotions, and the community reactions are more important than the actual narrative, because there's plenty to think about, feel, and explore even if there are points where the story doesn't move along too much.
I found myself highlighting lots of great quotes, and it's well written. I would have given 5 stars, but there were some slower moments and an ending that I wasn't too keen on (most likely personal taste, though). I'd still recommend, both to religious and non-religious people alike, as a great exploration of human behaviour and experiences.
on 11 February 2015
disappointing..... I read Tuesdays with Morris and loved it, and found it sooo poignant and moving, but this book didn't hold me at all, I found it too wishy washy, and could not get into it... I thought I would perservere to see if the end had a message.... But if it did, I missed it.... Very disappointed in this book.
on 5 August 2015
This author is brilliant. All his books are beautifully constructed, thought-provoking and soulful. As with all his previous writings, I finished the final paragraphs through a mist of tears - Mitch Albom certainly knows how to reel you into a tale. A highly recommended read!