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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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  • Published Feb 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

"Starred Review. Meissner's prose maintains a balanced tone of sorrow throughout this novel. Fans of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and the television show Six Feet Under will enjoy." - Library Journal

"A good choice for book groups who read M. L. Stedman's A Light between the Oceans (2012), another novel set in the post–WWI era in which tragedy blurs moral lines." - Booklist

"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

This information about As Bright as Heaven was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

Becky H

The 1918 Spanish Flu is similar to COVID19
In 1918 there was the Spanish Flu. It was devastating. Millions died. This is the story of how one ordinary family was affected.
The Bright family chooses to move to Philadelphia where they will take over the family mortuary just as the Great War and the Spanish Flu descend upon the city. Thomas and Pauline and their three daughters, Evie, Maggie and Willa, take up residence and intend to have a better life than tobacco farmers. The victims of the flu upend their plans as the mortuary fills and then is inundated with bodies. Disease strikes every family even as the war takes away the young men.
This picture of how a family and a city is changed, gives a realistic picture of medicine and funerary practices as well as family life in a middle class family. Well written and researched, the book is compelling even as Corona 19 claims lives today.
5 of 5 stars

Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

As Bright As Heaven
From a small town in Pennsylvania as a family rolling tobacco leaves for a living to Philadelphia as a family living and working in a funeral home.

The Brights made a big change from their quiet life in Quakertown to the noisy, big city of Philadelphia. Both the city and the job Thomas Bright had were quite different from what they were used to.

The girls had to leave their friends and make new ones, but most folks weren't interested in being friends with a funeral director's daughter. Pauline Bright was always solemn and quiet since the death of her infant son, but she seemed a bit better but different in Philadelphia.

Along with the change in their lives comes Thomas going off to war and then the Spanish flu arriving full force and killing thousands.

AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN has the reader following and becoming immersed in the lives of the Bright family. They were a sweet, unassuming family that you will want to be a part of and to get to know better.

The reader will also learn about The Spanish Flu and its devastation of the population around the world. If you are like me, you will do research of your own about the Spanish Flu.

Ms. Meissner has written another touching book that teaches us some history as well as teaches us about the goodness of mankind and its generosity in times of a crisis.

Another marvelous, heartfelt read by Ms. Meissner you won't want to miss. You will fall in love with the characters and won't want the book to end.

AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN has a beautiful story line, beautiful research, and beautiful characters.

You will also need a few tissues. 5/5

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher, NetGalley, and BookishFirst. I received an ARC. All opinions are my own.

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.

...38 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Susan Meissner Author Biography

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than three-quarters of a million books in readers' hands and translations in eighteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Nature of Fragile Things, which earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly; The Last Year of the War, named to Real Simple magazine's list of best books for 2019; As Bright as Heaven, which earned a starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist's Top Ten Women's Fiction titles for 2014. She attended Point Loma Nazarene University in California and makes her home with her husband and ...

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Name Pronunciation
Susan Meissner: MICE-ner

Other books by Susan Meissner at BookBrowse
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  • Only the Beautiful jacket
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