As Bright as Heaven: Book summary and reviews of As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven

by Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner X
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Feb 6, 2018
    400 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In As Bright As Heaven, Susan Meissner had penned an original and vivid portrayal of a family in Philadelphia during the Great War and the flu pandemic of 1918. With stunning prose and keen detail, Meissner has deftly created a heady mix of love, politics and survival—a family saga, coming of age tale and riveting historical fiction all in one. A must read!" - Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale
 
"From the unthinkable tragedy of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic to the glittering speakeasies of the roaring twenties, Susan Meissner delivers a story of one family's heartbreak and hope. Strong, resilient, and determined to make their way in a changing world, Meissner's characters step off the page and into history." - Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours

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Reader Reviews

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Julia A. (New York, NY)

A Most Engaging Reading Experience
I was stunned by how much I enjoyed this book! Susan Meissner is so skilled at writing from multiple points of view that I am left in awe of her talent. The four female characters (Pauline, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa) who tell the story in alternating chapters captured my attention and interest from the first page. Add in some truly memorable male characters (especially Jamie, and though he has a very minor role, Mr. Weiss) and "As Bright as Heaven" becomes a book with wide appeal. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 is practically a character in this work of historical fiction, given that it is the flu that influences just about all that takes place for the Bright family. Above all else, though, for me, this is a book about love in its many manifestations. As Pauline comments midway through the book: "If we were made of stone or iron, we would be impervious to disease and injury and disaster, but then we could not give love and receive love, could we? We'd be unable to feel anything at all, and surely incapable of spreading our wings and flying…" These characters to a person give and receive love, and the sisters Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa, surely spread their wings and fly in three very diverse fields, psychiatry, mortuary work, and jazz. Loving parents support most of the children in the novel, and, were it not for the flu and World War I, their lives would be too perfect to believe. But the history against which the novel is set lends a necessary dose of reality.

So, cancel your appointments for a day and settle in to read "As Bright as Heaven." You won't be sorry.

Linda Z. (Melville, NY)

Making Choices
I love the vivid descriptions of the setting and the characters in "As Bright As Heaven" by Susan Meissner. The genres for this story are Historical Fiction and Fiction. The story setting for this story is mostly in Philadelphia, and some other areas as described in the story. The timeline of the story is around 1918, when there is the Spanish flu epidemic and carries through the Great War, World War One, and after.

The characters are described as complex complicated and confused, mostly dictated by the devastating times. The Bright family moves to Philadelphia to hope for a better life, where the husband will be working in his Uncle's Funeral Home. Pauline Bright has lost her baby son, so this move for her family looks like it could be positive. Despite the fact that men are headed to fight in The Great War, the possiblility of the new move for Pauline, her husband and three daughters seems like a wonderful chance and new beginnings.

The Spanish flu epidemic has grasped hold of much of the country and soon schools and public places are closed. There are many deaths. The funeral home doesn't have space for all the deceased bodies. Moving to Philadelphia, where the population is greater, and there are so many sick people may not have been such a great choice.

Pauline volunteers to go to the poorer part of town to deliver food and materials to sick people. Her daughter accompanies her. While Pauline goes to one of the apartments, Maggie hears the cries of a young baby. She sees that the mother is dead, and brings the baby to her mother Who will care for the little boy?

Despite the heartbreaks and challenges, the family looks at the choices they have to make. Are there really all good choices, or all bad choices?

I appreciate the historical research that Susan Meissner has done for this time period. The Spanish Flu doesn't discriminate between the rich and poor, or the young or old. I also love that the author discusses the importance of family, friends, good neighbors, loyalty, courage, kindness, being helpful, love, hope and faith. I would highly recommend this book for readers of Historical Fiction. I received an Advanced Reading Copy for my honest review.

Cheryl P. (Lebanon, PA)

As Bright as Heaven
A beautifully written story of the life of the Bright sisters and their family. I love how the author brought the story to life by each of the sisters and their mother. The struggles they faced before and after they moved to Philadelphia and how they each grew independently but connected to each other by such a force of undeniable love. Love, tragedy, heart-ache, death, renewal, it is all here. Was very insightful to a time of Pennsylvania history I didn't know much about.

Diane S. (Batavia, IL)

As bright as Heaven
1918, Philadelphia, a city with many opportunities, a city that the Bright family, Pauline, Thomas and their three daughters move to for just that purpose. Thomas's elderly, childless uncle wants them to live in his large house, and for Thomas to train and takeover his mortuary business. Leaving Quakertown behind, this is what the family looks forward to, a new and better life, especially after the tragedy of a terrific loss.

I fell in love with this family, and we hear individually from each of them in alternating chapters. Things look promising for them but then the Spanish flu comes to call, an unwelcome Spector that causes further loss. Such a winning combination of characters, history and a first hand look at the devastation of War. The Spanish flu hit Philadelphia extremely hard, the hardest in the nation and caused untold hardship and heartache for many. The Bright family will lose much but also gain a baby in an unusual manner, and this child will keep the family moving forward.

We watch as the girls grow, but there is a secret one is keeping that will come back to haunt. Prohibition is also instated at this time so we also are treated to a look at some of the results of this act. This is a wonderfully told story, rich in family, love, and history. So many details make this book stand out, details for n the mortuary business and in everyday lives. Sorrows and hurts, joys and happiness. An immersive story that tugs at the heart.

Sue Z. (Cornelius, NC)

As Bright As Heaven
Susan Meissner's book "As Bright As Heaven" is about family or, more precisely, love of family. The Brights, mother, father and three daughters, have left their quiet Pennsylvania home to move to the bustling city of Philadelphia. Once there, this very close family has to gradually adjust to the many changes in their lives. Including those brought about by the start of World War I and the decimation caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic. Despite these trials they are able to find solace in each other and joy in the tiny baby they adopt. This is an ideal book for book clubs.

Patricia E. (Sugarcreek, OH)

Historical Fiction at It's Best
I learned to appreciate historical fiction through the words of Susan Meissner, so I was delighted to open As Bright As Heaven. In this captivating story, the author uses both World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic as her backdrop. The novel is told alternately among Mrs. Bright and her three daughters as they leave rural Pennsylvania and move to Philadelphia. There Mr. Bright has accepted an offer to work in his uncle's mortuary and live in the attached residence.

This setting gives each character a unique perspective on death and the lives it leaves behind. Having already lost a young son and brother, the Bright family members are learning how to survive and thrive in one of the world's darkest eras. For me, though, the novel contains more light than dark, greater hope than despair and is the best of Meissner's books to date.

...36 more reader reviews

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Susan Meissner is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper and an award-winning columnist. She is the award-winning author of A Fall of Marigolds, Secrets of a Charmed Life, Stars over Sunset Boulevard, and A Bridge Across the Ocean among other novels. Visit her at susanllmeissner.com and facebook.com/susan.meissner.

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