As Bright as Heaven

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

I can never put down a Susan Meissner book and this one was no exception. I love the way she brings to light historical events in a new and emotional way. Can't remember how many times I needed a tissue on this read--but it was more than once!
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This is historical fiction at its finest!!! A novel that not only teaches you about a moment in time, but also captivates your attention with a beautifully told storyline. This book is set in Philadelphia and covers the Great War as well as the horrific effects of the Spanish flu epidemic. Goodness, I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying this time must have been. Meissner had the brilliant idea to place her characters in a family run funeral home business. This created quite a few eye opening scenes. It also made death a relevant topic. The cast learns to live through all aspects of death because they are constantly surrounded by it. It was a great way to show how different circumstances all cause the same heartache, regret, lead you to sudden actions and can even cause mental illness. 

This story is told in alternating perspective from the ladies in the Bright family. What makes this fantastic is the varying age groups and how they each perceived a certain situation differently. We have Pauline, the mother, and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa. I ached for Pauline. She is haunted by the loss of her infant son. Her feelings and inner dialogue were absolutely heartbreaking. I loved the three girls because they grow up as the story progresses. It was interesting to switch between the maturity levels when they were young and then finish with watching them take their harsh experiences and learn to deal with their own problems later in life. 

The second part of the book does contain a bit of a mystery. I figured out the details fairly early, but was still interested to see how everything slowly weaved together for the big reveal. Overall, this was simply a wonderfully told story. Susan Meissner has a gift for sharing this style of writing. I absolutely loved A Bridge Across the Ocean and will definitley be on the lookout for furture books.
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Oh my goodness, I loved this historical fiction novel about an ordinary family during an extraordinary time. The Bright family is moving to Philadelphia and it’s the outbreak of WWI. Along with the war comes the pandemic of Spanish Flu, which kills thousands of previously healthy young people. This family has to much loss to deal with, crisis, and challenges. Then in one of their darkest hours, one of the daughters finds a little baby and takes him home so that they can raise him and bring some light into their lives.

This story is told in the four distinct voices of the four main character women: Evelyn, the intelligent, eldest daughter, Maggie, who finds the baby and is quite determined, Willa, the spunky and headstrong youngest, and their gentle, kind mother Pauline. I loved the story and the characters and the message.

I have never read any of Meissner’s other novels, so I will need to look for them.

Thank you for my review kindle copy via Net Galley!
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Opening line:
"Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests."

AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN is a story of family, love and death set during WWI. I became fascinated by WWI and the Spanish Flu a few years ago and I will be adding this book to my growing WWI shelf. 
Told from the different perspectives of the Bright women, we get a unique view from different ages and personalities into their lives and what it was like to live through the worse pandemic in history. 
An uncle in Philadelphia has no children, no heirs, and wants to leave everything to Mr. Bright. He is an undertaker and wants to teach him the business and pass it on. He takes the family from  country life and introduces them to city life.
Pauline is the mother and fiercely protective of her daughters, especially after having lost a baby son. 
Evie is the oldest and the pragmatic one. 
Maggie is sensitive, wants answers but leads with her heart.
Willa is the youngest and is headstrong and lets her emotions out. 
There are so many intriguing threads that weave together nicely, and sometimes a little tangled, in this story. The story setting, the characters, the POVs kept me reading all day, wanting to know what would happen to this family. 
The story also teaches there is more than one way to be a family--being needed is one of them. The neighbors, the orphaned baby, even speakeasy owners can all become family.. 

Ten swear words (damn and hell); one scene where an unmarried woman and married man had sex but I wasn't totally sure and had to reread the passage a couple of times. It's very subtle and vague. War, death, sickness is talked about and seen throughout the book.

Thanks to netgalley for the read!
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First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.

Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.

Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.
“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”
Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.

FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life.
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I read this book earlier this year. I’ve read almost of this author’s books. I thought this one was really good just like her previous ones. I liked all the characters, I found the history in the story interesting and also alittle sad.
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Wow.....Have your tissues ready because you will feel all the feels. ‘As Bright as Heaven’ is storytelling at its best. This is the first book that I have read by Susan Meissner, but it certainly won’t be the last. When I started ‘As Bright as Heaven’, I had no idea about the plot or the setting. I was surprised to discover that much of the story takes places in a funeral home during the Spanish Flu Epidemic in 1918.  I’ve never read a book with the setting of a funeral home, or about the Spanish Flu for that matter. I found the funeral home setting kind of odd at first but it then it quickly becomes part of the story and the author brings out all the good that is done at a funeral home. I enjoyed how the family embraced life and work on the funeral home and made it their own.
The author does an excellent job at making characters come alive for the reader. You share in their decisions and feel their heartbreak.
The author gives the reader a lot to think about concerning death as well as fate. Highly emotional book, well worth reading.
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I have always been fascinated by natural disasters and how the human spirit can triumph over tragedy. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner tells the story of a family who moves to Philadelphia during World War I, in order to start over after the loss of their youngest child. Thomas Bright joins his uncle in his funeral parlor business, believing his three daughters and wife will flourish in the booming town. Told through the four different perspectives of his wife, Pauline, and three daughters, Evie, Maggie, and Willa, the story of the worst pandemic in history, the Spanish Influenza of 1918, is told and how the survivors tried to piece their lives back together. 

I loved the story and the writing, although I felt that the ending was a little drawn out and somewhat unnecessary. There are two parts to this story- the main one that takes us through the pandemic and the immediate aftermath of the pandemic and the subsequent ending of World War I, and the second part, which takes place seven years later. To avoid spoilers, I won't go into much detail, but of the four storylines in part two, I felt that Evie's and Willa's weren't really necessary to the story as a whole. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will be looking into the further reading Meissner recommended at the end.
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This was one of the book selections for Book Of The Month Club a few months back. I finally got around to reading it and I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed it! The characters were all likeable and made fairly realistic life decisions. Susan Meissner did extensive research on the subject of the Spanish Flu and it really shows in her writing. The details are rich and descriptive which makes reading a story about something tragic like war time with the additional epidemic all the more real. Something I enjoy while at the same time dread, is a book in which I know characters will die. It makes the stakes higher in terms of my emotional connection to a story. If  none of the characters die in a story about death, it would feel false and cheapen the story. The fact that this story takes place during a time when my parents weren't even born is exciting to me too. Heck, my Grandparents weren't even born!

Susan wrote a note to her readers at the end of the story that I loved. Here it is for you to enjoy:

    "Death comes for us all in one way or another. It is a certainty. Our lives will one day end, and most of us will never know when. Interestingly enough, it is our mortality that gives our existence its value and beauty. If our days were not numbered, we probably wouldn't care how we spent them. How does this knowledge that we are mortal affect our choices? The risks we take? The risks we don't? These were the questions I wanted to explore as I wrote this book and that I wanted you to ponder as you read it. We are, all of us, living out the stories of our lives. Each of our stories will end, in time, but meanwhile, we fill the pages of our existence with all the love can, for as long as we can. This is how we make a life."

This note really touched my heart. My family is currently on the final step of a very long process. We have chosen to move out of the state where we have grown up, and will be moving away from all of our family and friends. This is a risk that we are taking, and I hope it is a bright spot in our life's story.
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Fantastic writting, interesting characters and absolute impossible to forget story!!  From the moment I met the Bright family, and of course it was in my old haunt of Quakertown, PA, I fell in love with them all! As they moved and developed lives of their own, I grew more interested and devoted to them.  The history of the Spanish Flu and it taking place in my hometown was just icing on the cake!
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As Bright As Heaven starts in 1918 in Philadelphia. America is fighting in the Great War, and the Spanish Flu is sweeping the world. The Bright family must adjust to a new way of life, one they did not ask for. 

I did not know much about the Spanish Flu before reading As Bright As Heaven. Meissner was able to bring it to life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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Meissner's tale of three sisters living through the 1918 flu epidemic and its aftermath is compelling and emotionally wrenching. A haunting read.
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After reading A Bridge Across the Ocean, I became an instant fan of Meissner's. I enjoyed Meissner's ability to create intriguing characters and her grasp of historical storytelling. As such when I picked up this book, I had a lot of expectations going in. This book tells the story of the Spanish flu, WWI and the roaring 20's set in the backdrop of Philadelphia through the eyes of three sisters and at one point their mother. Each sister is going on a different path but lends an unique perspective to life in the Bright household and Philadelphia during this time period. I will say that Meissner has definitely not lost her touch in the historical telling. She gives her readers just enough detail to pull them into that time, but not so much where it is overwhelming. While her characterization for both Evie or Evelyn and Maggie seems spot on to what I have expected (the older sisters), Willa was difficult. As a child she seemed a plot device, a means to end in making the girls motherless. As a teenager, I hoped she would fare better. But ultimately, she seemed to continue as a vehicle of the times -- showing readers the underbelly of speakeasies during prohibition. Beyond this, she didn't lend much to the story. While Maggie and Evie had some similar functionality as characters (particularly Evie's view as psychiatrist in training), they still lent enough to the story to be interesting. Beyond that, I was glad to get out of the flu section. That really dragged for me and I had trouble getting through it. Overall, not as good as her last book, but I would be interested more of her work in the future.
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When I started this book I was worried that it was going to be a downer. However, the author does a beautiful job descriping the grief of the family. The slow process of putting their life back together made for a good read.
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We only see a little bit of our stories at a time, and the hard parts remind us too harshly that we're fragile and flawed. But it isn't all hard. Your story isn't all hard parts. Some of it is incredibly beautiful. 

A family is a powerful thing. It is powerful when they stick together thru hardship and celebration; change and the mundane. The Bright family had recently lost a infant son and needing a change from their hometown of Quakertown, the family accepts an uncle's invitation to live with him. With the uncle having no heir of his own or wife, Thomas & Pauline Bright bring their 3 young daughters to Philadelphia. 

The narration is done by the women of the family. Willa being the youngest, elementary age, Maggie at 13 and Evie at 15. Paulina the mother who struggles with the death of her child and being present for her daughters. They are now part of the family business in Philly as the mortician. An interesting backdrop that looks at death not in a morbid way but the reality of life. That people matter, even in death. Pauline took over the position of having the deceased groomed for the family. As she was meeting the needs of the deceased, she found purpose for herself and the death of her child. 

Each narration was personal and engaging and when the 1918 epidemic came and thousands died, along with the war, it was a struggle for the family not to go into despair but to remind themselves the hope of life. One such hope was Maggie coming to aide of an orphan baby. This is a turning point for this family that also brought hope, fear and purpose. 

Their story continues thru 1926 and I would love to see what happened to them after the 1929 thru
WWII. An unforgettable story with unforgettable family! 

A Special Thank You to Berkley Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review.
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I learnt a lot from this book.  As Bright As Heaven covers the Spanish flu epidemic in the US at the end of the first world war. I knew absolutely nothing about the situation except for the vague notion that it had happened so the whole subject matter had me hooked.

The characters were intense and attached themselves to me immediately with their narrative. Each one had a different perspective based on their ages and their stages of life.   Pauline is a strong and capable women and it's interesting that the novel begins with her thought process after the recent loss of her infant.  The novel begins with death and death is a theme throughout because Pauline and her husband move to Philadelphia to help his uncle run his funeral home.  Each of their three children also has their own voice in the book which is interesting as they begin at ages 6, 12 and 15 and grow up over the story. The author does a fantastic job of keeping true to their voices and characteristics as they grew up.  

The novel is full of heartache so be forewarned but it is also though a wonderful example of family workings and relationships- quite apart from the history lesson.

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for our review copy. All opinions are our own.
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I like happy feel-good reads, and this isn't one.  Yes, it ends with joy, and hope, and vision of the future, but death is the reason for much of the book, and for that reason it took me a while to read. No, it isn't a difficult read, it's just that my mind is mush and sometimes it takes work to get beyond a romance novel lately.

I've read a lot of books about WWII, but this is one of the few set during WWI that I've read. 1918 was not only the year of WWI, it was also the year of the flu epidemic; both play a role in the story, but the flu in a much more powerful way--and some quick research I did showed that more people died of the flu than from the war.  

What I've always considered to be signature of Susan Meissner's writing is an artifact of some sort linking a character in today's world to a character in the past.  That is lacking in this book; it is pure historical fiction with no modern characters or subplot.  Also, may of Meissner's early books were Christian fiction, though generally on the milder end of the spectrum; this is general market women's fiction.

The story starts with Pauline's youngest child dying and Pauline never completely emotionally recovering from that.  It's funny, we know in our heads that babies died in those days, and that it wasn't uncommon for people we consider young today to die, but how often do we put ourselves in the shoes of those young mothers whose babies didn't survive infancy?  I've "always" known that my mother had an older sister--though I've never thought of her as such--she was nothing to me but a stone in the graveyard.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I threatened to miscarry and at that point I wondered how my grandmother had felt when her baby died.  Years later for some reason my mom told me that my grandmother became depressed when she went through menopause and that my grandfather had asked my mom, who was on her own by that time, to come home for a while to cheer her mom. My mom said that my grandfather mentioned that my grandmother had been like that after they lost the baby, and that he understood that, but couldn't  understand why she was so upset over something that everyone knew would happen at about that age.  

Back to the book, Pauline and her family move to Philadelphia to live/work in a funeral parlor and caring for the dead Pauline begins to heal.  

The story follows the family through the flu epidemic and then the end of WWI and to the beginning of Prohibition. The world was changing, and so was the family.  One of the daughters ends up in medical school and working as a psychiatrist.  

Susan Meissner does a great job of capturing the era, the death, the hope, the change and despite the fact that it isn't all smiles and rainbows, I recommend the book highly.  Grade:  A. 

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.
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What an interesting read! There are so many angles to this story, areas that are not frequently explored in fiction, that this story felt fresh and new throughout. There aren’t many novels that deal with the Spanish Flu, even when they are telling the stories of WWI, but Susan Meissner handled the effects of the Flu on Philadelphia masterfully and wove it into several critical story plot twists that have lasting implications for the Bright family. The full effects of the Flu are explored from the symptoms, how it seemed to come about, how many people were dying, and how it really contributed to the rise of the funeral home business. It’s always interesting to me to see how major events affect areas that you wouldn’t even consider, like funeral homes. And speaking of the funeral homes, we get an inside look in how they would have operated and what was needed to be done to preserve bodies.

The only part of the novel that was a bit of a struggle for me was the beginning; it felt very slow and I put it down/picked it up several times. I think part of the issue for me was the multiple narrators and I couldn’t connect with anyone right away. Once the story got rolling and they were in Philadelphia and each was their own distinct person, it was much easier to enjoy and I raced through those pages. I understand the importance of those early scenes, but they didn’t do anything for me in terms of getting me into the story. Each of the Bright women and girls have their own unique set of struggles with the move to Philadelphia and the effect of the Flu and the subsequent directions their lives take and I enjoyed exploring their storylines. The twists and turns of this story I did not see coming and feel that they paid out well for the reader.

I would definitely read more works by this author as I loved the depth that the author was able to bring to both the characters and the events of the time explored.
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This writing in this story was just top notch. You can tell the author put in a tremendous amount of research but it never comes across as too much. It actually helped the story come alive. I don't usually enjoy multiple perspectives but that structure worked really well for this story. I didn't know anything about The Spanish Flu when I started this book but the author drew me in and made me care about it's impact on the Bright family. There's such a sense of tragedy to this story which really came through and I found it to be compelling and engaging throughout
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This was another fantastic book from Susan Meissner. I have enjoyed all of her books but this one is my favorite - at least until her next book comes out.

This novel starts about 1917 when the Bright family decides to move to Philadelphia to better their lives. The dad has been given a chance to learn the mortuary business and eventually take over his uncle's funeral home. The family has been given beautiful room above the mortuary to live in. The novel is told in four alternating female voices - the Mom - Pauline and the three sisters, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa. As they begin to try to make friends in school, their lives are getting ready to change. The Spanish Flu epidemic hits Philadelphia and in fact the whole country with disastrous results. According to the author in the afterword, more than 12,000 people died in Philadelphia. The flu didn't discriminate between the rich and poor and didn't leave the Bright family untouched. After the flu epidemic is over, life will never be the same for the family and they struggle for normalcy and learn what is truly important in life.

This was a wonderful well-researched novel about a subject that I knew little about. It's always wonderful to read such a compelling book and learn more history at the same time. The characters were so well written that I laughed and cried with them throughout the book. If you enjoy historical fiction - this is a must read.
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