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As Bright as Heaven

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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.

387 pages, Hardcover

First published February 6, 2018

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About the author

Susan Meissner

33 books6,547 followers
Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling novelist with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. Her critically acclaimed works of historical fiction have been named to numerous lists including Publishers Weekly’s annual roster of 100 best books, Library Reads Top Picks, Real Simple annual tally of best books, Goodreads Readers’ Choice awards, Booklist’s Top Ten, and Book of the Month.

She attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper. Susan’s expertise as a storyteller and her thoroughly researched topics make her a favorite author of book clubs everywhere. Her engaging and warm speaking style appeal to all manner of women’s groups, literary organizations, libraries and learning institutions, and service clubs.

When she is not working on a new novel, she enjoys teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with her family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,775 reviews
Profile Image for Melisa.
324 reviews514 followers
April 14, 2020
Update 4/14/20: I feel like now is a good time to repost this review. Here is a book that echoes very closely what is currently going on in the world.

- - - - -

Susan Meissner’s writing is like a warm hug or a slow dance or a good wine. It just flows seamlessly and gets you into your soul.

Personally, I have a tendency to romanticize the past - historical fiction holds such a dear place in my heart, I love that I can be entertained by fiction while being educated about a period of time. But definitely, not all of it is romantic. And in As Bright As Heaven, Susan Meissner has given a voice to so many who experienced a horrible plague, one that has seemingly been lost to history. To quote from her Acknowledgments:

”The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–19 was the deadliest disease in history, exponentially worse than the Black Plague, yet most people I talk to are unaware of the breadth of its impact. Fifty million people worldwide are estimated to have died from Spanish Flu. That’s a staggering number, far more than the number of the lives lost in both world wars combined. This disease is more than just a sad moment in history; it is the untold stories of people just like you and me—and our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children. It is millions upon millions of stories of people just like us.”

Told from several perspectives, Meissner was able to give a voice to four different girls and women in different stages of life effectively and convincingly. And death. Death is almost a character in this story, present at all turns and ironically taking on a life of its own.

There is love and there is loss and there is the story of a family that will stick with you for a very long time. And maybe some tears. Highly recommend.

Thank you to Susan Meissner, Berkley and Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
January 9, 2018
1918, a family after a tragic loss, moves from Quakertown to Philadelphia when the childless uncle invites the father of this family to work with him as an undertaker and become heir to his business and home. Philadelphia is a place where Thomas Bright thought he could give a better life to his wife and three daughters. They move into the funeral home so how could this book not be about death, given the business ? But death appears in ways that could not be anticipated with the outbreak of the Spanish flu and in ways that they could not imagine would touch their lives. It wasn’t until I read the author’s note after I read the book that I learned that Philadelphia was one of the hardest hit places.

The novel begins in a beautifully introspective way with Pauline Bright’s narrative which tells of their loss and how she copes with the grief. It continues in alternating chapters from the perspective of her three daughters. Maggie who is 12 at the time is feisty and good hearted and so observant, not just about her surroundings but about her family as well. Willa is 6 and not much more to say about her at least in the beginning but she grows and changes. Evelyn at 15 is smart, inquisitive, and as observant as her sister and a prolific reader.

Susan Meissner has written a fascinating work of historical fiction reflecting on the terrible impact of the flu epidemic, the death and misery it caused, as well as depicting how families were impacted when their loved ones went off to fight in WWI. It became more than a book about grief and death, but about how people can dig deep with themselves to move forward, about how an orphan baby brought hope and joy to this family when it seemed impossible. The character development is just so good and I was drawn to each of these characters. The ending, though, was just a little too neat. After reading the author’s note , it’s obvious how well researched this novel is. It’s a good story with characters to remember set in the middle of a tough time in history and I recommend it !

I received an advanced copy of this book from Berkley Books through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,479 followers
March 4, 2018
The Great War. The Spanish flu. A year that took more than just soldiers in 1918.

This one took me by the heart and squeezed it until I lost my breath and then slowly released it.

Such heartache in a family who have experienced the pain of losing a baby. The Bright family moves to Philadelphia in the process of healing and starting a new life by taking over an uncle's funeral business. Death hovers over them on a daily basis until the Spanish flu steps in and takes from them and thousands of others, more loved ones. The war rages overseas and just as the family experiences more sadness, the brightness of an orphan boy is a healing balm to their ravaged hearts.
As the Bright family recovers and mends, their happiness is again threatened.

Perspectives are told from the mother, Pauline, and her 3 daughters, Evie, Maggie and Willa. Meissner does a remarkable job recounting history during a dark period and giving it light.

The characters and their lives have seeped under my skin. This is one of those feel good reads 4+ ⭐️
February 8, 2019
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

I had previously read “A Bridge Across The Ocean” by Ms. Meissner and I was anxious to read this new novel. Wow, it is one of the best books that I have read this year!!! The prose is beautiful and flowing and amongst all of the heartache and physical and emotional difficulties the human spirit shines brightly!

The setting is Philadelphia around 1917 and on. The Bright family, husband Thomas, wife Pauline and their three daughters have just moved to Philadelphia from a poor tobacco town to join Tom’s uncle’s funeral business. The Bright’s have recently lost their young infant son and have decided that a move would be a positive thing for them, a new environment, better education for their girls, a solid well paying job for Tom with the knowledge that he will someday inherit the funeral business from his childless uncle.

The novel is so multi-layered that it’s difficult to do it justice in a review. It is told from multiple perspectives of family members. The war begins to really rage in Europe and soon even Tom, in his 40’s, is called to serve. Not long after their father leaves the Spanish flu begins to spread it’s ugly tentacles across the US, having started in Europe. Many soldiers have died while in service and they also return to the US forts and hospitals and the flu spreads like a wildfire. I didn’t know much about this terrible time but Ms. Meissner has done extensive research and there is a wealth of knowledge here. She helps us see the extent of the human suffering, the victims falling to the disease so quickly, the undertakers and gravediggers can’t work fast enough or provide enough caskets for the dead. In the end it’s told that around 10,000 people in Philadelphia alone died from the flu.

It’s at this time that Pauline and her daughter Maggie volunteer to take food to the sick and Maggie hears the cry of a baby, enters his home and finds his dead mother and what she believes to be his dying sister. She bundles the filthy, untended baby in her coat and returns to her mother. They take in the child and raise it as their own having provided all of the information that they know to the police and other authorities.

The family experiences the horror of the flu as they "lose loved ones". Through the years, as their father returns from the war to care for the children and eventually run the funeral home they experience happiness again.

There are so many interesting stories of the girls, their interests, loves and losses that are all well developed and I felt as though I knew each of the girls. This book made me realize that the flu in the end claimed almost one third of the population in the world, more than all of the soldiers that died in the World Wars. It’s hard to even imagine a devastating disease such as this ever happening again, but there is always that chance that science may not be able to keep up with the ever changing viruses.

I would recommend this book to everyone, there is so much to like about this book. The interesting plot with well researched facts, the well rounded characters believable and incredible and the writing flows like a river. Buy this book, read it and pass it on, it’s that good.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, thank you.
Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,198 followers
February 16, 2018
I just loved this family, the Bright’s. This book begins in 1918 during the Great War and the Spanish flu epidemic, when this family of five, the parents and three daughter’s moves from Quakertown to Philadelphia. The father’s uncle gives him the job of undertaker to his funeral home and heir to his estate.
The chapters are told in alternating chapters by the woman and girls of the family.
From life in the funeral home, the neighbors, the Great War, the flu, prohibition... so much touched on in this book.
This will pull at your heartstrings many times. I so enjoyed it!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
April 28, 2018
Audiobook....read by Cassandra Morris, Tavia Gilbert, Jorjeana Marie, and Abigail Revasch

The first thing I noticed from the Audiobook is that the reader/readers SPEAKING VOICES WERE GOOD- they had the potential to hold my attention, but I honestly thought some of the writing felt like a package of store bought cookies. The tempo didn’t have many ranges - The cookies - characters - were lined up in a row in their container- waiting their turn to be eaten ( to speak and share their point of view).

I admit I’ve developed a little negative pet peeve when a child dies at the start of a novel. We never get to know the dead child ....so ‘everything’ that follows - grief - stories of the child’s characteristics - etc. are all through other characters whom we haven’t gotten to know yet.
So....I had to jump a little hurdle over Henry...the little baby who died.
Death is where this story begins...in the year 1918 for the Bright Family. ....
Death is a running theme from start to finish...
Love is always a running theme.

We are invited into the personal intimate story of this family: Tom and Pauline and their three daughters, Evie, Maggie, and Willa, live in funeral parlor when the Spanish Flu breaks out.
Many of the side plots felt stronger than the flu itself.

Overall .....this book kept me interested enough to know what was coming next ....but if I think about it too much my rating will go down.

I liked it...but something about mixing kids- kissing - embalming - grief -love loss- the Spanish Flu - lots of death and - and tinker bell happy ever after endings all together .....disrupts my chatterbox voice from a peaceful sleep.

3.5 — I’ll even rate up ....mark 4 stars.....but don’t let my chatterbox voice rate it....it’s a little more judgmental than my surface breezy listening. As an Audiobook ‘companion’, I liked it. I just needed to stay out of my head- and not think too much.

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
October 22, 2017
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.

ARC from bookbrowse and publisher.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,607 reviews10.7k followers
June 7, 2022
As Bright as Heaven is a truly beautiful work of Historical Fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I must say I don't read this genre often.

Following three sisters, and their mother, in Philadelphia during the time of the Spanish flu epidemic, we cycle through each woman's perspective throughout the story.

All of the ladies were dealing with issues involving what society expected of them, based solely on their gender, which I felt makes this a pertinent piece of Women's Literature as well.

One very interesting aspect of this is that they were all at different stages in their lives, so the issues were spanned a variety of topics.

Due to this, I feel like this story could be related to and appreciated by a wide age-range of readers. It may actually be a good bridge book for someone looking to make the jump from YA to Adult.

I will admit, I was deeply moved by this story.

Yes, even me with my cold, dark heart, shed a tear or two, I will admit.

I found it to be an excellent examination of not just women's issues, but also mortality and life choices. The book focuses a lot on personal decisions and how they influence our path, or the stories of our lives.

Additionally, there was a strong focus on how our choices can have great repercussions on those around us. I felt that aspect was so nicely done.

There were some deep and moving passages that gave me pause to reflect on the meaning and how they hold true in my life.

I loved the setting so much. Philadelphia is such a vibrant city and holds such a strong place amongst American history.

The Spanish flu is not something I know a lot about, so I was glad to read about that topic.

The story really brings to light how devastating it was around the world and I am definitely interested in learning more.

I would recommend this book to anyone, but particularly to history fans who like to have their heartstrings tugged once in a while.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to experience this gorgeous story and share my thoughts on it.
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,168 reviews37.3k followers
April 29, 2018
5 Brilliant Stars

Evocative and heartfelt.

The Brights lost something immeasurable. Little Henry. And now they are left empty, searching for something they can’t quite express. Unable to fill it, they leave Quakertown for Philadelphia. Finding a new home with Uncle Fred, living in his Funeral Home, helping with the family business.

Pauline misses her son Henry desperately. Working for Fred, doing makeup and hair for the deceased, she has found a way to cope. Her middle daughter Maggie helps with the bodies as well, wanting to make things perfect for them. She is strong willed and has the best of intentions. Evi, the eldest is training to be a psychologist and desperately wants to help those in need. Willa is the youngest. Above all else, she needs her family.

It is the time of the Great War. When the Spanish Flu hits, it wipes out thousands of people in the Philadelphia area and Uncle Fred, Pauline and Maggie are inundated. Making rounds with her mother, helping those in need, Maggie finds a little baby boy who she fears will die if she leaves him alone. In a moment of panic, she picks him up and takes him as he reminds her of Henry - and so it begins. Everyone has a choice to make and Maggie makes hers.

Life takes its toll on the Brights. Their story is not a fairytale and resilience is their middle name. “As Bright As Heaven” resonates, its characters echoing in your heart and soul. It is told from four POV’s: Pauline’s, Evi’s, Maggie’s and Willa’s. Each is very separate and distinct - which is a true feat for Susan Meissner. My favorite POV was Maggie’s. I loved how independent and fierce she was, even at a young age. Her bravery surprised me constantly.

“As Bright As Heaven” is a novel about hardship, family and dealing with choices we make. It is a novel full of heart and it captured mine.

I read this novel with several of my traveling sisters. We had a great discussion about this book. Thanks Sisters!

Published on Goodreads and Twitter on 4.29.18.

Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
February 20, 2018
5 oh my gosh I loved this story stars

Sometimes a story just comes together and as you unwrap its layers, you find yourself more and more in love with what was written. This was the case with this reader. Susan Meissner told this story with love and a devotion to show us what the ravages of a world war and a deadly disease, that of the Spanish influenza did to families. The loss of life from both of these tragedies was staggering and no one came away unblemished in some part. Following the Bright family, their lives, their loves, their sadness, and their joy was like taking a walk through history. We learned of the tragedy a disease can bring and the devastation that is felt in people after a war is fought.

This flu as the author points out in her notes randomly killed all people, those who were poor alongside those who were rich. As she continued her story, set in Philadelphia where there were over twelve thousand deaths, she involves us not only into the tragedies but also in the life of her characters. The characters become reality and across the pages they reach out to us and entangle us in their lives.

If you enjoy the story of family, the story of life and death, and walking the road between the two, then this book comes highly recommended by this reader. The characters are wonderful as they show love and loss and the ability to go forward when all seems to be futile. It and they were a testament to what we do as humans when life becomes onerous. We move forward looking towards the future for better times, better minutes and hours, and better days.

Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
745 reviews1,791 followers
January 15, 2018
Perfection! I absolutely adored this novel. I have never read anything about the Spanish Flu and was astounded at the number of people & families it affected. Meissners writing is flawless. She draws you in with her remarkable characters and storytelling. This is a novel not to be missed! 5+ stars.
Profile Image for Norma.
551 reviews12.7k followers
May 22, 2018
Brenda and I were lost in a coulee with four of our Traveling Sisters reading As Bright as Heaven and we were all drawn into this eye-opening, emotional, and heartbreaking read. It led to a very interesting discussion where we shared our thoughts on the things that we learned from this read and also our thoughts on grief.

AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN by SUSAN MEISSNER is a story about love, loss and family. It was such a fantastic, enjoyable and beautifully written historical fiction novel that we thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

This is the first book that most of us have read that centered around the Spanish Flu and it was definitely an eye-opening experience for us as we knew little about the Spanish Flu. We really appreciated what we learned here with some of the devastating effects that the pandemic of 1918 had on the world. Susan Meissner does a good job balancing history and with focusing on the impact it had on the Bright family.

SUSAN MEISSNER does such a fantastic job creating an interesting and unique setting here with this story that really added some layers to the storyline for us. A few of us had different reactions to the setting that brought out different emotions for us. It gave us a different and interesting perspective to the tragic events of such a devastating pandemic.

Susan Meissner delivers a well-written and compelling read here with interesting, honest and believable characters that touched all of our hearts. We absolutely fell in love with the Bright family and thoroughly enjoyed reading this story through the four different perspectives of the Bright women/girls of the family. Each given a strong voice that set them apart with their age and personalities, allowing us to feel for each one.

The cover of this book is so beautiful and the title is extremely fitting to this story!

This was definitely an interesting, entertaining, enjoyable and unforgettable story that I am so happy to have discussed and read with my fellow Traveling Sisters. Would recommend!

Review written and posted on our themed book blog:
Two Sisters Lost In A Coulee Reading

Coulee: a term applied rather loosely to different landforms, all of which refer to a kind of valley.

Profile Image for Sandysbookaday .
2,048 reviews2,103 followers
June 27, 2022
EXCERPT: January 1918 - Pauline

Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests. Stouthearted Chickadees are singing in the day, just like they have done every other winter's dawn, but when this same sun sets tonight, I will be miles away from them, and inside an unfamiliar house. There will be no reminders anywhere that Henry was ever mine. Not visible ones anyway.

I kneel on the dead grass, brittle with icy moisture. The fabric of my skirt draws in the chilled damp, as if it was parched with thirst. The growing wetness at my knees is unhurried and easy, like a clean, slow blade. I look at the little marble slab that bears Henry's name and the carving of a sweet lamb curled up among lilies, and I'm reminded again that he was my angel child, even before he flew away to heaven.

From the moment I held my boy, glistening and new, I knew that he wasn't like the other babies I'd given birth to. He wasn't like my girls. They'd slipped out annoyed by the noise and chill and sharp edges of this world. Not Henry. He didn't cry. He didn't curl his tiny hands into fists. He didn't shout his displeasure at being pulled out of the only safe place he knew.

When the doctor placed him in my arms, Henry merely looked at me with eyes so blue they could've been sapphires. He held my gaze like he knew who I was. Knew everything about me. Like he still had the breath of eternity in his lungs.

He didn't care when I parted the folds of his blanket to look at his maleness and marvel at the pearly sheen of his skin against mine. I could scarcely believe I'd given birth to a boy after three girls and so many years since the last one. I just kept staring at Henry and he just let me.

ABOUT 'AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN': 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.

MY THOUGHTS: As Bright as Heaven is so very reflective of the world situation since 2020. What amazes me most is how very little has changed in 100 years. The response to Covid-19 largely mirrors the 1918 response to the Spanish Flu, although it must be noted that the Spanish Flu was over and done with far more rapidly than Covid, which continues to visit it's permutations upon us. Just as with Covid, the response to the Spanish Flu was PPE gear, admittedly decidedly more basic than what we currently have available, and isolation. A vaccine was developed within a year of the outbreak but there is no mention of people protesting against its use.

But Spanish Flu is only one aspect of this beautifully written book. In 1918, although the end of WWI was imminent, young men, and then all men under a certain age, were being conscripted to fight.

Both these events are the backdrop for As Bright as Heaven, the story of the Bright family, parents Pauline and Thomas and their three daughters, Evie, Maggie and Willa. This is a family already familiar with loss after their beloved baby Henry died at the tender age of four months. Desperate to provide their daughters with a better life, Thomas and Pauline accept an offer from Tom's childless Uncle Fred to move to Philadelphia and join him in his undertaker's business. How different would their lives have been had they not gone? This is a question that will come back to haunt them.

There story is told from the viewpoints of Pauline and her three daughters as they move from small town Quakerville to the bustling metropolis of Philadelphia where they know no one other than Uncle Fred. The story takes in their period of adjustment both to living in a city and living with elderly Uncle Fred who is very set in his ways.

As Bright as Heaven is a story of forming relationships, living with loss, and of finding hope and love in the most unlikely of places. The characters are magnificently depicted and the plot compelling. It drew me in to the point where I was futilely yelling at one stage, 'Don't let him die, please don't let him die!'

This is a reminder to us all we are not singled out to suffer; the world has seen it all before, and will likely see it all again. We will get through this pandemic and we need to learn to appreciate what we have and to take comfort in our loved ones.

An emotional, uplifting and heartwarming read.

I listened to the audiobook of As Bright as Heaven superbly narrated by Cassandra Morris, Tavia Gilbert, Jorjeana Marie and Abigail Revasch



I: @susanmeissnerauthor @penguinaudio

T: @SusanMeissner @PRHAudio

#audiobook #familydrama #historicalfiction #romance #WWI

THE AUTHOR: Susan Meissner attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper. Susan’s expertise as a storyteller and her thoroughly researched topics make her a favorite author of book clubs everywhere. Her engaging and warm speaking style appeal to all manner of women’s groups, literary organizations, libraries and learning institutions, and service clubs.

When she is not working on a new novel, she enjoys teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with her family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,130 followers
June 5, 2018
3. 5 Stars
A nice easy read that was entertaining and insightful in bringing the flu epidemic to the attention of readers who like myself may not have read much about this time in history.

I listened to this one on audio and the narrators were good. I enjoy historical fiction stories that take a time in history that readers may not have been too familiar with and weave it into a story. As Bright As Heaven is set in Philadelphia around 1918 when men were were leaving in their droves to fight the Great War. We come to know the Thomas and Pauline Bright and their three very likable daughters Evelyn Maggie and Willa. The story gives us a glimse of how a family like the Brights cope when the Spanish Flu reaches the city and claims more than 12,000 victims.

I probably would have given this four stars but felt the last 3rd of the book was a little contrived and too good to be true as I am not . Having said that an enjoyable historical fiction read that was both entertaining and insightful.
May 24, 2018
4.5 stars

This was my first book by this author. I love her writing and will be looking for more of her books. This novel focuses on the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that killed more people than WWI. “The flu took whoever it wanted, no matter what any of us did or didn’t do.” And often it took healthy young adults, which sounds scarily familiar to what we experienced this year. I knew about the Spanish flu as a fact I’d learned in history books but this book brings it up close and personal by looking at a family that owned a funeral home, the Brights.

The first half focused on the pandemic itself, while the second half focused on the aftermath for the Bright family. I did enjoy the first half of the book a little more than the last, but other readers felt the opposite. The ending was a little too tidy, but sometimes I need that in my stories, and this was one of them. I was very moved emotionally throughout, often brought to tears. The author’s writing was beautiful and I cared deeply for this family. I learned things I didn’t know, it made me think, and it touched me emotionally. 

"Death comes to all of us....meanwhile we fill the pages of our existence with all the love we can for as long as we can." 

"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. Some of it is incredibly beautiful."

Highly recommended.

*I read this with the Traveling Sisters group and the book inspired great discussions. Thanks Sisters! You can find their blog with reviews to this book and others at:
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
617 reviews20.5k followers
April 29, 2018
This is a wonderful novel that takes place when the Spanish flu epidemic hit the world in 1918.

It appears that the words "Spanish flu" and "wonderful" should not be in the same sentence but in this case what makes the book captivating are its characters.

The novel follows the Bright family as it sets in Philadelphia. While they just moved in and are getting settled, world events like the Great War (WWI) and the Spanish flu bring tragedy and challenges into their lives.

The novel is told from alternating points of view and it was completely engaging. The author did a great job developing the characters and detailing the times.

Overall, I loved it and recommend it to readers of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Nikki Joyce.
194 reviews68 followers
May 3, 2018
Five BRIGHT stars!!

“…it’s not how short or long an experience is; it’s the depth to which it touches the core of who you are that matters.”

I feel like I should send Susan Meissner a thank you note for giving us this gem of a book. I wanted to hug it and never let go. Lovers of historical fiction, here is a novel you’ll want to snuggle up with as soon as possible!

As Bright As Heaven is the story of the Bright family, who leaves their tobacco farm to head to the big city of Philadelphia. With this move, they are searching for… Change. New beginnings. Answers. As they start to settle in and adjust to their new life, their world is turned upside down. As the Great War is taking place, they worry for their friends and families and what Germany will do next. However, they suddenly realize it’s more than just war they should fear. The Spanish Flu arrives, and this pandemic sweeps across the city like a tornado, with its sudden, devastating arrival. The ghastly effects are hard to comprehend. Meissner’s use of a funeral home setting really emphasizes the deadly results of this illness.

But there is much more to this book than the flu. It explores the lives of the Bright family, through love and loss, chance and choice. Meissner tells this story through the eyes of a mother and her three daughters. Alternating between their perspectives, the book flows beautifully with their respective voices. The characters are so real and so likable. I found myself caring and worrying over everyone in this novel. The writing is exquisite. And even the cover of this book is gorgeous. Susan Meissner has given us the total package.

I highly recommend this novel. It’s a fascinating time in history: war, pandemic, prohibition, etc.
Also, the author’s note at the end is very informative. Going into this book, I did not know how horrific The Spanish Flu was, and I am still floored by its impact.

**Another wonderful Traveling Sisters read! The discussions were fantastic, and this book was a winner for everyone.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,388 reviews581 followers
February 23, 2018
I read the entire, but the last PART which occurred in 1925 I read far more quickly than the rest.

No synopsis in any detailed measure but the short or tall of subject matter with my reaction.

It's a heartfelt tale of a family by the separation narrator sections for each female individual's "eyes". Constantly flipping. Three daughters and their Mother. (So 4 different narrator divisions for the basic form.) And most of the tale occurs in 1918-19 surrounding the Spanish Flu epidemic within Philadelphia, in particular there.

But the historical aspects of war and disease are stilted and reflected through a highly, highly romanticized lens. Death is even a character with an "ok" and rather trending personality. And each girl is extremely type stereotyped. Much like in Dickens (with women being either angels on earth or nasty bad ones) or with Little Women type "labels", yet they are more gently idealized for their type here. The "smart" one (like Jo), the "practical" one (like Meg), and the "fun/selfish" one (like Amy) of lighter spirit. Actually it is EXACTLY like Little Women in the stereotypes, but in a different and later time period and quite out of similar birth order. We even have the tragic one (Beth) too, but this time it is not a girl but their brother. And the youngest too, of course.

Regardless, it is sad. But every single individual thread is closed tied and knotted by the end. Exactly and essentially identical to a few Hallmark movies that I've seen. Nearly antithesis of what happens in real life outcomes. Every apt pairing was easily foreseen and preordained too. I guessed one before I was on page 100. Correctly. Predictable.

I wanted to know the reality of that disease, and this book didn't provide any of that medical slant detail. It didn't fully describe the embalming processes either. It vaguely did (not in any practical applications information to "how" at all) but solidly glossed over all the particulars.

At points the juxtapositions of the plot and deciding about the work each girl would do upon growing up to adulthood was interesting. But to me it was all written to gush emotive reaction in the reader. And it was definitely hazy fog territory for scientific reality beyond the smell and the most polite expressions for unpleasant. It didn't at all reflect the horror of that epidemic period and apprehension to near insanity as it actually occurred. Just the terrible grief and outcomes. Overall- having it within the home too; it was just more complicated than that.

It got a whole star to the positive for the Mother's copy. Her discernment within her own mother's rejecting responses and their reasons. And a few other measures of logic and knowledge depth within her thoughts.

This is not my style of preferred prose at all. It's consistently redundant and cloys on me. Way, way too unrealistic in address for the most part too. People had different mannerly mores then but this large over-relationship with neighbor and with the uncle so quickly. It didn't seem actual and real enough to embed within for me.

Too light in characterizations within too HEAVY and dire circumstances.

I know that I am outlier on this opinion. But I did finish it, although the last part was truly a slog.

2.5 stars rounded up. Chick lit at its poignant, sorrowful and most tear jerking efforts. This author is verbose in the process and she just doesn't hold reality of connections for me. Too precious!
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,547 reviews602 followers
April 7, 2020
[2.4] Why would I read a novel about the 1918 influenza pandemic in the midst of the 2020 pandemic? Well, I thought perhaps some historical perspective might be useful. But this is the wrong novel to give me anything - except for boredom. The writing is pedestrian, the characters underdeveloped and the ending forced and implausible.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,140 reviews2,757 followers
September 1, 2020
Reading The Pull of the Stars awakened in me a curiosity about the 1918 Great Influenza. So, when a friend recommended As Bright As Heaven, I picked it up.
The story covers the Bright family. They move from Quakertown to Philadelphia so the father can work with his uncle in the family business. That business happens to be a mortuary. But they also move to escape the stark reminders of a family tragedy. We hear from the mother and each of the three daughters. I thought this narrative style worked well given the distinct ages and personalities of the main characters.
This historical fiction does a good job of showing us the spread of the flu on American soil. When there is a parade to raise money for the WWI soldiers, one of the daughters thinks to herself that “they would have called off the parade if it wasn’t safe.” Within days, of course, it’s spread throughout the city and schools are canceled. And I was totally unaware that even back then, they developed multiple vaccines to try and combat the flu (only problem is that all the vaccines assumed the flu was caused by bacteria.)
To me, this was almost two different books. The first half, which deals with the flu and the end of WWI, was fascinating. It combined my two requirements of good historical fiction - to teach me something new in combination with a good story. But the second half, which jumps forward to 1925, was obvious melodrama. Resolutions to some dramatic points that occur in the first half resolve just as you would expect. Meissner didn’t develop a feel for the different time period, other than having one of the daughters singing at a speakeasy.
So, in the end, a promising start ended on a flat note for me. But for those that like their endings tied up in a neat bow, this should work for you.
Profile Image for Cindy Burnett (Thoughts from a Page).
575 reviews991 followers
August 1, 2020
Sue Meissner’s books just get better and better with each new one; every time I pick up her latest book I hope that it will be as good as her last ones, and instead I end up liking the newest one the most. Very few authors can sustain that level of excellence; it is quite an impressive feat. As Bright as Heaven is simply fantastic: Meissner’s tale is fascinating, heartbreaking and an all-around beautifully written book. Moreover, her characters are well-developed, authentic and believable. Using the four Bright females as narrators was a solid and effective choice; their various stories are slowly unfurled as the pages fly by. Each female character has a distinct personality, and I was constantly awestruck at how Meissner chose the perfect individual to reveal a particular secret or fact.

I knew virtually nothing about the Spanish Flu epidemic in the United States (I knew that it had devastated parts of Europe) at the end of World War 1 before I read As Bright as Heaven. Learning about events like this is one of my favorite things about historical fiction, and I especially enjoyed that aspect in this book because it was a significant event about which I am glad I now know occurred. In her Author’s Note, Meissner states that the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 was the deadliest disease in history, significantly worse than the Black Plague, and she chose it because it was an untold story. I am so glad that she did.

There are times when I am reading a novel, and the events occurring are such that I cannot see an ending that will be satisfactory to me. There were two such plot lines in As Bright as Heaven. Without including any spoilers, Meissner managed to wrap both issues up successfully (one better than the other but both reasonable resolutions) which I felt was no small feat.

As Bright as Heaven is an amazing and highly relevant book for today's world.

Listen to my podcast at https://www.thoughtsfromapage.com for fun author interviews. For more book reviews, check out my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,081 reviews1,412 followers
February 1, 2018

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.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
760 reviews566 followers
April 23, 2021
After reading The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry back in November 2019, I developed an interest, fictional and non-fictional, to read about the so-called "Spanish flu". I was pleased to read Susan Meissner's "Acknowledgements and Author's Note" that she used the above-mentioned book as one of her resources for this novel. Meissner puts a human face to this horrific pandemic of 1918, specifically in the city of Philadelphia where people died in droves. A good deal of attention was paid to the setting details and character development. Although I liked the main characters overall, some of their behaviors annoyed me. I loved the emotional dilemmas portrayed in this story, and I was fascinated by the information regarding embalming history and its procedures (gently told without being gruesome).
If you prefer reading stories with happy endings, then this book is for you! Myself, I would have preferred a darker novel with a greater focus on the pandemic. Just my opinion!
Profile Image for Andrea.
740 reviews111 followers
January 7, 2018
5 GLORIOUS stars (and 5 random thoughts):

1. My first ARC! Thank you to the publisher for providing my with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

2. Apparently, 100 years ago, fifty-million people worldwide perished from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the deadliest disease in history and I had NO idea. As the backdrop for this novel, I was enthralled.

3. The story follows the alternating perspectives of a wife and her 3 resilient daughters as they make a new life in Philadelphia. Their voices are spot-on authentic. Never once did I want to take my nose out of this book.

4. Be warned....It is a complete sob-fest, but so worthwhile! Books like this are why I read.

5. “She surely will come to understand when she is older, as we all do. Sooner or later she will learn that time changes everything, takes everything; sometimes in a blink and sometimes so slowly you can’t even see it happening.”
Profile Image for Brandice.
910 reviews
April 15, 2018
I really enjoyed As Bright as Heaven, a historical fiction story set in Philadelphia from 1918 through the mid-1920s. The story revolves around the Bright family: parents, Thomas and Pauline, and their three daughters, Evie, Maggie, and Willa. There are plenty of additional characters in the story, but it’s primarily told through the daughters’ POVs.

Thomas is an undertaker, working in business with his uncle Fred at their funeral home, and becomes extremely busy with work as a result of the Spanish Flu outbreak during this time. The flu impacted the nation as a whole, and Philadelphia was a particularly hard hit region.

I’m a big historical fiction fan and thought this story was unique - I haven’t read or heard much about stories using the 1918 Spanish Flu as their premise. Even knowing this was the premise, there was a bit more tragedy throughout the book than I was anticipating.

I liked all three of the Bright daughters for the most part, who were the main characters of the story. I liked that they were close and could read each other well, but also each different in their personalities - something I think is realistic among siblings in many families.

I thought the ending to this book was tied up a bit neatly, but I also appreciated that there weren’t many loose ends left open. I recommend As Bright as Heaven for readers who enjoy historical fiction and family dynamics.
Profile Image for Hazel Gaynor.
Author 16 books3,009 followers
August 7, 2017
I was very lucky to read an ARC of Susan Meissner's forthcoming novel and it totally swept me away. Beautifully written and vividly imagined, AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN is a mesmerizing portrayal of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, a devastating event in our global history that I haven't read about in such depth before. The author deals with the subject with grace and sensitivity, while drawing the reader into the wonderfully constructed world of her female protagonists - a mother and her three daughters - who move into a funeral home just before the outbreak of the flu epidemic. I walked every step with Pauline, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa around their unusual and atmospheric home, and around the flu-stricken streets of Philadelphia. Brilliantly researched and emotionally charged, this is a novel which will linger long in the memory.
Profile Image for Lisa Wingate.
Author 46 books10.3k followers
August 11, 2017
One of the loveliest benefits of author life is being given the opportunity to peruse upcoming books before they make their way to the rest of the world. When an early copy of Bright as Heaven came my way (still in a plain white wrapper, no gorgeous cover yet), I couldn't wait to crack open the pages. Rich in historical detail, Bright as Heaven is a vivid journey into an almost unimaginable time. Pauline, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa face loss, transition, change, and uncertainty with grace and resilience as they come to life on the pages. Kudos to Susan Meissner for spinning this skillfuly-told tale and illuminating a fascinating slice of American history.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,735 reviews477 followers
June 11, 2018
"As Bright As Heaven" shows how the love of their family keeps the Bright family on a hopeful course during a difficult historical time. The family and their neighbors are touched by World War I, the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918, and Prohibition. Thomas Bright's childless uncle invites the family to move to Philadelphia, and offers to train Thomas to take over his mortuary business. His wife, Pauline, and their three daughters take turns narrating the story. An orphaned baby becomes a symbol of hope and rebirth to the Brights who have suffered through several heartbreaking losses.

Each of the three daughters has their own distinct voice and talents, and it was enjoyable to see the paths they chose. But the end of the book seemed to be trying to tie up all the loose ends by including some events that were a little too coincidental or improbable. The interesting book had a good sense of place, and the author had thoroughly researched the pandemic. This year is the centennial remembrance of the 1918 influenza pandemic which killed an estimated fifty million people worldwide, even more than the deaths due to World War I.
3.5 stars, rounded up.
Profile Image for Pam Jenoff.
Author 24 books5,347 followers
October 22, 2018
I was lucky enough to have an early read of this wonderful book set in Philadelphia around the outbreak of WWI. It is a unique premise and gloriously written!
Profile Image for Lynn.
898 reviews132 followers
March 16, 2018
4.5 stars rounded up.
This is a beautifully written book of historical fiction centered around the time of the Spanish Flu outbreak and WWI.
The Brights, a farm family with three daughters, move to Philadelphia in 1918 to help their uncle in his mortuary business. When both WWI and the Spanish Flu break out, they find they are overwhelmed by the losses and sacrifices they must deal with. In the midst of their grief, they take in an orphaned baby. As time passes, each of the daughters must find her way into adulthood and make her place in the world on her own terms.

The story is told from the POVs of the mother, Pauline, and the 3 daughters: Evelyn, Maggie and Willa. Each girl's personality comes through so clearly, as does the mother's. Through them we get to know all the other characters as well. All the characters in the book are wonderfully portrayed, though I have to admit that I found Willa a bit annoying.

I had never read about the Spanish Flu before. It was incredibly devastating and capricious in its destruction. 50 million killed worldwide; 12,191 died in Philadelphia alone.
The author did a lot of research on this and it showed. The realism of the passages about the Flu were devastating to read, but added so much to the authenticity of the story.

The writing is just gorgeous at times. Occasionally there is a sentence or phrase that just stops you, and you have to re-read it. If I have any dings on the book, it's that there is a major plot twist that is just too obvious. As soon as it's introduced, you know where it's going, at least I did. Also the ending is just a little too pat. But those are really minor, overall. I absolutely could not stop reading this book.

I totally recommend this book!
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