Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Pub. Date: February 6th, 2018
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 387

Genre: Historical Fiction


From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

What Did I Think About the Story?

I have to admit right up front that I am a forever fan of Susan Meissner's novels. I've read nearly all of her historical fiction and have purchased the few I haven't yet read to read as soon as I can. I feel so lucky that I've gotten to be a part of her street teams in the past and that she was kind enough to offer me a copy of her newest novel, As Bright as Heaven, to read. My answer...YES PLEASE!! This newest venture moves away from her typical format in that it keeps the reader solely in the past (many of her other novels have both historical and contemporary timelines) and I, for one, loved being transported to Philadelphia in 1918 and shortly thereafter and being completely immersed in the heartache and hope of the Bright family and the country at large.

The story opens up with the Bright family moving to Philadelphia after a devastating tragedy. Pauline's husband has been given the opportunity to apprentice in and someday take over his uncle's funeral parlor. It's a wonderful opportunity for the whole family, not only because of it's greater opportunities financially but for Pauline to explore the new companion - death - that seems to be shadowing her since the tragedy. However, as the family begins settling in to this new life, two overwhelming world events barge in to turn everything on its head - WWI and the Spanish Flu epidemic.

As Pauline's husband goes off to do his part for the war, along with a neighbor who has become a big part of their life, Pauline and the girls are forced to take over a larger part in the funeral home and within the city dying before their eyes. It is during this time that choices are made that will have devastating and lasting effects on all of their lives and that will shape the course of their lives forever.

I was amazed at how well Meissner brought the devastation of the Spanish Flu to life within these pages and just have heartbreaking and widespread it was! Having the Bright family run a funeral home was the best possible way to show this as they would (and did) have bodies literally stacking up at their door. It's terrifying and claustrophobia-inducing as the various characters don't want to step outside without a mask for fear they will be struck ill. Meissner further drove the point home by developing these characters - both primary and secondary - so well and then having them swept away by the flu right before our eyes. It broke my heart to come to care for some of these characters and then to see them gone in an instant without any rhyme or reason. It truly was heartbreaking but also made the aftermath and growth of the remaining characters so much more compelling.

While definitely taking a backseat to the Spanish Flu the time and detail given to the men who went off to WWI and the PTSD issues many had when they returned was also well done, mainly shown through the neighbor. I can't say too much about this as it leads to other developments later in the story, but I will say that it not only scared these men - both physically and mentally - but took them away from their loved ones, robbing them of being able to say goodbye to those killed during the flu epidemic. I would never have thought of this aspect of what the war robbed these men of and really appreciated getting to see it from this angle.

I am being purposely vague about the rest of the story because I don't want to spoil anything. However, I will say that I appreciated seeing how the Bright daughters were effected by their experiences during this time and how it shaped them into the young women they became. I came to really care for two of them (one ended up somewhat self-centered and unfortunately got on my nerves a little) and admired the choices they made, even if some of them were somewhat questionable choices. These are strong female characters who stood by their actions and I, for one, love that.

As Bright as Heaven is top shelf historical fiction. It's detailed and tragic and hopeful and so many other things. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or really just a wonderful read.      

What Did I Think About the Cover?

It's so pretty, even more so in person!! I love the soft, sort of distressed colors and the backdrop of what I imagine is Philadelphia. The solitary woman could be any of our women, really, and I love the overall composition. Beautiful cover!

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) of As Bright as Heaven from author Susan Meissner. All opinions are mine alone. To find more information about the book, including other reviews and links to where you can purchase a copy, see Goodreads HERE.

Reviews of Susan Meissner's Other Novels



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