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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

ARC Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0399585966/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=onderherose-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0399585966&linkId=96685feda5601c577ab4f030b91150b2
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.  Also, I participate in the Amazon affiliate program.  If you buy this book from the links on this page, I will get a small fee.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

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.


Review:
Usually, when I read historical fiction, the time period and actions of the novel are somewhat removed from my own reality.  But As Bright As Heaven, by Susan Meissner,  is so relevant to the current flu epidemic in this country.  I found myself both fascinated and scared out of my wits! 

What I Liked:

Historical Details:
The first half of the story focuses on the devastating Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.  The details bring that tragedy to life.  I was especially moved by the scene of Pauline and her daughter Maggie going into a poor neighborhood to bring food to the sick.  It was like a moment in a Stephen King novel!  The streets were empty as entire families were dead or dying in their little homes.  Children and old people starved because there was no one to look after them.  

The second half of the book is just as riveting as the story moves on to the 1920's and the Prohibition period.  Despite a ban on alcohol, Philadelphia is rife with speakeasies, and the temptations of the nonstop party of the Roaring Twenties.

Characters:
The three sisters, Willa, Maggie, and Evie each have dreams and ambitions.  I especially liked Willa, a rambunctious child who nevertheless showed patience and kindness toward a neighborhood boy with an intellectual disability.  Maggie and Evie also remained steadfastly loyal to their family, even when it would have been easier to leave for a different life.  I loved that most of their major decisions (Willa's ambition to sing, Maggie's fierce love for Alex, and Evie's pursuit of a career as a psychiatrist)  were based on finding meaning amidst adversity.

There were also many smaller characters that made up the little neighborhood where the family lived.  The author illustrated how each family was unique but all suffered some kind of loss, either from the war (WWI) or through the flu disaster.  I loved how people developed empathy for their neighbors as the two catastrophes created such immense damage. 

Story:
The story follows the Bright family as they move from a tobacco farm to Philadelphia.  The father agrees to help his uncle with his mortuary in order to provide more opportunities for his three daughters.  The trade off, of course, is that everyone in the family must get comfortable with the constant presence of death.  

This puts the characters in a unique position when the Spanish Flu runs rampant through the city.  Suddenly, the gentleness and care they employ with the decease must be pushed aside as the bodies must be swiftly dealt with.  As they face numerous ethical dilemmas, can they survive while maintaining their humanity? 

What I Didn't Like:
Evie :
I was really turned off by Evie's choices at the end of the novel (I will try to describe this without writing spoilers).  Given how hard she worked to achieve her goal, I found it hard to believe that she would throw it all away.  I found her choices extremely selfish and not consistent with her character.  I think this was done so that her story would have some closure.  But Evie's hard work to become a doctor should have been enough of an achievement.  She didn't need the development at the end in order to be fulfilled.





Regardless of that development, I loved this book.  The details of the events were so compelling and the viewpoint of the family was really perfect for the story.  You will not be able to put this book down!


                                                           

Rating: 

Release Date:  February 6th, 2018

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Publisher:  Berkley Books

Page Length:  400 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: Filled with historical details, this was a compelling read.  The Spanish Flu epidemic made this story scary and relevant to today. 

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1 comment :

  1. Great review! I agree with your feelings about Evie. I felt like all the stories wrapped up rather neatly, but I loved it anyway.

    ReplyDelete




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