By: Susan Meissner
Published Year: 2018
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shape or form influenced my opinion.
Summary (Provided by Goodreads): 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.
Ooooo! Very pretty! Meissner’s covers definitely speak to me. I was very intrigued by the summary. I enjoy historical fiction and I have never read a book that takes revolves around the Spanish Flu. Add in the intrigue of an orphaned child and I knew this would be one I would enjoy.
What I thought
As Bright as Heaven is split into two parts. Part 1 occurs before and during the flu, part 2 occurs after. I have to admit, that I think I was partial to Part 1.
Pauline and her husband, Thomas have 3 girls aged 15, 11, and 7. In the early 1900s, they decide to move their family from Quakerstown Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, not long after losing their baby boy. They move into the home of Thomas’s Uncle Fred, who is an undertaker. Shortly after the family arrives, World War 1 and the Spanish Flu leave their mark on the city. Amongst this chaos, Maggie, the middle child, finds an orphaned baby boy and brings him home. The family raises them as their own, filling the void left by baby Henry.
Without giving too much away, there is a bit off complication with how Maggie finds orphan Alex. This is explored in the second part, but it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that it’s going to come back and bite Maggie in the butt.
The story is told with alternating perspectives from Pauline and each of her daughters, Evie, the eldest, Maggie, and Willa, the youngest. It was a bit hard to get into at first because of that. I felt like I wasn’t quite getting far enough into the story to connect with any of them, so when it switched perspectives I felt lost. Luckily, the writing settled pretty quickly, and about 20% of the way through the book it really started to flow.
I think part of the reason I preferred the first part to the second is that the first part had a bit more drama and suspense. The second part was a lot about relationships and was a bit more predictable to me than the first part. I did enjoy seeing the relationships between the sisters grow and I also appreciated seeing what they did with their lives as they grew, but it wasn’t my favorite part.
Again, it’s hard to talk about certain parts without giving things away, but I wasn’t crazy about Evie and Willa’s stories in the second part. I was more so irritated by Willa’s storyline than Evie’s, but there was one aspect of Evie’s story that just didn’t sit well with me. It is meant to be romantic, but it just rubbed me the wrong way a bit.