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Maura O'Leary
When Angels Play Poker
Maura OLeary, author
If you're wondering what Angels do all day, immerse yourself in a charming, inspirational story by Maura O'Leary about the adventures in Heaven when an ordinary couple go about their lives on earth, while being watched over, prayed for, and loved every day.
A cocky con man must prove his worth as a spirit guide in O’Leary’s uplifting debut. Jimmy, a sarcastic, self-serving, womanizing 64-year-old, has a heart attack while he is getting ready for a hot date and thinking about his brother Bob’s girlfriend, Maura. When he awakes in Heaven, Jimmy is annoyed that he missed out on his date, but he gets no sympathy from Master Norm, his jocular elder guide. After chastising Jimmy for being selfish during his time on earth, Norm introduces Jimmy to the workings of Heaven and assigns him the task of being a spiritual guide to Maura, since she was the last person on his mind when he died.

Though parts of the narrative are weighed down by limited character development, vague descriptions, and repetition, O’Leary’s story of a flawed but likable man is enticing. Jimmy works to overcome his faults and become a worthy guardian angel, while Maura navigates her inconsistent and confusing relationship with Bob and struggles with her self-esteem. She’s always felt connections with Heaven, and finds Jimmy’s presence in her life—creating dreams for her, playing oldies on her car radio—both awe-inspiring and unsettling. Jimmy’s rapport with those around him is entertaining, and O’Leary skillfully weaves in dramatic moments.

There is a delightful playfulness in O’Leary’s depiction of Heaven, where the residents communicate telepathically, live within marshmallow-like clouds (including “cloud cubes” for work), and play poker while they watch over their earthly charges on television-like display screens. The story clearly conveys a message about making the most of one’s life and trusting in angelic intervention as well as human intuition. The effective cliffhanger epilogue shifts the focus of the story to Maura and will leave romantics and angel lovers anticipating a sequel to this winsome novella.

Takeaway: This simple, sweet tale about trust and transformation will touch the hearts of those who believe in angels on Earth and in heaven.

Great for fans of Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: B-