Monday, February 26, 2018

Book Review: As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Pages: 387
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."

The Bright family has inherited the family's funeral business in the bustling city of Philadelphia. The year is 1918 and this is a great opportunity for the Brights as life in Quakertown, a small suburb of Philadelphia, doesn't hold much promise for them.  When they move to the sprawling home in Philadelphia things are looking up for the Brights as now they will live comfortably.  The only issue is the world is on the brink of war and Pauline Bright's husband gets sent off to fight. She could return home to Quakertown with her girls, but she decides to stay and help with the funeral business. It helps her deal with her grief surrounding the untimely death of her young son, Henry.  Evelyn, the oldest daughter, hopes to start afresh here in Philadelphia as she is a smart girl and her schooling is important to her.  Maggie, the middle daughter, finds herself in a heartbreaking situation and one that will change her family's future forever.  Lastly, there's Willa, the youngest daughter, who is young, but not young enough to notice the dark cloud of wartime looming over her neighborhood.  Each member of the Bright family is not only impacted by the upcoming war, but also the Spanish Flu which is slowly making its way to Philadelphia.  Susan Meissner's As Bright as Heaven is a story that had me sobbing, smiling, and appreciating the plight of many families in the past.

I loved the character of Pauline in As Bright as Heaven. The relationship with her husband is a romantic one and I enjoyed learning more about how they initially got together. Once her husband is sent off to war, I felt for her as she has to raise her girls on her own. Thankfully, her husband's uncle is able to help her manage the funeral home and keep an eye on her girls.  Each chapter is from a different Bright woman's point of view and my favorite, other than Pauline, was Maggie. I really loved her character and how she is put in a very tough circumstance due to the flu. I don't want to give too much away, but the choices she makes during the pandemic impact her family for years.

Once the Spanish flu becomes a major issue in the city of Philadelphia things get really stressful for the Brights as well as many of the neighboring families. Lives are irrevocably changed by this pandemic and family members, friends, neighbors, and business associates are all impacted by flu.  It seemed that each household lost a family member to the flu.  I had no idea that the Spanish flu was such a horrendous pandemic until I read As Bright as Heaven. I also had no idea how it impacted Philadelphia so tremendously. This was especially interested to me as I have ancestors that lived in the city of Philadelphia during this exact time.  I can't imagine the stress dealing with not only wartime, but also such an upsetting and gripping illness. My heart truly went out to the Brights as they see the influenza from a different viewpoint since they help run a funeral home. Oh, this book made me sob!!

If you can't tell already, I absolutely loved the setting of Philadelphia in the early 1900s in As Bright as Heaven.  I truly cared about the Bright family; Meissner did a great job focusing not only on  their struggles and heartbreak, but their triumphs over the years as well. It felt like a sweeping family saga and the story tugged on my heartstrings. If you love historical fiction definitely give this one a try this winter.  Meissner is a new-to-me author whom I have my eye on!


  1. Susan Meissner can be hit or miss with me, but I like the Philadelphia setting and I don't know anything about the Spanish flu. Great review!

    1. The Spanish Flu was definitely new to me as well...for sure it's a fascinating and heartbreaking time in history. Thanks for visiting, Angela!

  2. This sounds like a really good read. Great review! :)

    1. Thanks, Lark! I really enjoyed it. Thanks for visiting!


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