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As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
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As Bright as Heaven (2018)

by Susan Meissner

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I didn't feel that the book's description was the most accurate depiction of the story that waited inside. Living in a funeral parlor and learning the work of an undertaker were huge parts of the story but were left out of the description. On the other hand, the flu seemed as if it would be a huge part of the story. Instead, it doesn't enter until about 1/3 of the way in and is gone by the 2/3 mark. I would describe the story as being about a family learning to deal with loss. Flu is just one obstacle on the route to recovery.

I wish there had been more character growth. Instead, Willa begins the novel as a selfish six year old brat, prone to throwing temper tantrums and making promises she doesn't intend to keep. At the end of the novel, Willa is a selfish fifteen year old brat, prone to throwing temper tantrums and making promises she doesn't intend to keep. Ugh. Even her narration voice stayed the same. Did she not mature at all over the years?

Then there was Maggie. She did something, initially with the best intentions, but when she realized maybe she'd made a mistake and would have to give up something she wanted, she lied. She knew the pain she could cause but gave in to selfishness. And when she learns of the suffering her actions have caused others, she still has the nerve to act as if she is the one being wronged. No decency or character growth. Again, ugh.

I didn't care for the romances. While there may not be anything abnormal about a 13 year old girl developing a crush on a 21 year old guy, the fact that he wrote her a letter expressing inner thoughts and feelings that he hadn't even revealed to his family creeped me out. As for Evelyn, her romance is at the very least unethical.

I know I'm in the minority, but this book frustrated me, and I can not recommend it. ( )
  ang709 | Feb 1, 2019 |
Thomas Bright's family moves to Philadelphia to help Uncle Fred with his funeral home. They'd lived near his wife Pauline's family, but they wanted a better life. Evie loved books so she loved perusing her uncle's library as well as the nearby public library. Maggie found making friends a bit more difficult but she struck up a friendship with Charlie Sutcliffe and his older brother Jamie who lived across the street. Willa, the youngest, made friends easily. The war raged in Europe. Jamie's draft number came up. Thomas, now well-versed in the undertaker's trade, signed up for the medical corps to avoid the front lines. The flu hits Philadelphia hard. Schools close. Pauline volunteers with the women at church to take food to families affected. Maggie goes along, discovering a baby crying with a mother dead from flu and a sister she believes will die soon. "Alex" as the family calls him comes home to live with them. Thomas informs the authorities in the event family members seek him out. Willa comes down with the flu and recovers, but then Pauline comes down with it. Uncle Fred calls Thomas home from the training camp because of the family emergency. Life will never be the same for the Bright family. After the end of the war, the book takes up in the year 1925 where we see how the events of 1918 still affect the family. This book is beautiful. During the war sections, I considered awarding this book 5 stars. Although the mid-1920s sections were strong, they just failed to mesmerize me as the earlier sections did. Willa's under-age performances, and Evie's responsibility for a divorce caused this. Still, the authored penned a beautiful historical novel that captivates readers. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jan 12, 2019 |
In 1918, with the Great War under way, but not yet having a big impact at home in America, the Bright family moves from Quakertown to Philadelphia. Thomas Bright has been asked to join his Uncle Fred's undertaker business, and eventually be his heir.

It's not Thomas's viewpoint, or Fred's, that we see this story from. It's Thomas's wife, Pauline, and their three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa, who tell the story.

All seems bright and hopeful when they arrive. Evelyn has access both to her uncle's own library, and to the public library not far away. Maggie makes friends with Charlie Sutcliffe, and his older brother, Jamie, who live across the street. Willa makes new friends. Thomas learns to be an undertaker, and in time, a fully trained mortician. Fred is reluctant to agree, at first, but Pauline takes over the cosmetics for the dead, once they are embalmed and any major injuries repaired by Thomas and Fred. Even more gradually and reluctantly, Maggie is allowed to join her mother in that final preparation of the dead. They both find comfort and fulfillment in it.

Then things change. Jamie Sutcliffe is drafted. Thomas enlists so that he can get assigned as a medic rather than infantry. The Brights and the Sutcliffes adjust to life without Thomas and Jamie, but that's only the start. Stories of an exceptionally nasty influenza, called the Spanish flu more by accident than any good reason--and it's not long before the flu makes its way to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was one of the hardest-hit American cities in what was possibly the deadliest pandemic in human history. The Brights and the Sutcliffes work their way through it, as the undertaking business becomes dramatically harder, and dramatically more heartbreaking. Both the numbers of the dead, and the potential threat of spreading the disease from handling them, makes speed, efficiency, and preventing gatherings of the family and friends terrible and necessary steps.

All four of the Bright ladies try to find their way to do the right things, the sensible things, the moral things in this time of trouble.

Not all of them will survive.

This is a very finely crafted and humane story, with beautifully developed characters.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
The flu epidemic of 1918 occurred during World War I devastating impact on families is told through the many characters that pass through the door of Uncle Fred’s funeral home. This is a tale of missed opportunities, sadness, and consequences. The setting is accurate to the period. My favorite line in the book comes near the end, “I guess all of us are just doing the best we can with what life hands us”.

I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. Although encouraged, I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  bemislibrary | Jul 29, 2018 |
I absolutely loved this novel!

Highly recommend! ( )
  TraceyTurnsThePage2 | Jul 23, 2018 |
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Epigraph
Event succeeds event;
accidents, people, happenings,
one after another come toward us.
Each must be met and dealt with. . . 
For this process of adjustment is life,
and the mastery of it is the art of living. . .
---KARL DE SCHWEINITZ,
The Art of Helping People out of Trouble, 1924
Dedication
For my mother
First words
Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.
Quotations
You think you have a view of what's waiting for you just up the road, 
but then something happens,
and you find out pretty quick you were looking at the wrong road.
I think that grief is such a strange guest,
making its home in a person
like it's a new thing that no one has ever experienced before.
Home isn't a place where everything stays the same; it's a place where you are safe and loved despite nothing staying the same.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"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. Their dreams are short-lived. 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"--… (more)

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