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review 2018-02-20 21:05
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
As Bright as Heaven - Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven is a novel that feels like a friend by the time one finishes it. The storytellers, a mother and her three daughters, each add their own perspective and emotion to the events of 1918: World War I and the Spanish flu on a global level, love and loss on a personal level. I was captivated from the beginning and sad when it ended.

The method of telling each chapter from the perspective of one of the women/girls of the Bright family reminded me of The Poisonwood Bible. Both books include families moved from all that is familiar with faith and expectations packed in their luggage. This book is not as academically written and does not make such an obvious political statement, but it also feels more real. The faith of the Bright family is ever-present but not overbearing. They struggle, make mistakes, love, forgive, and lose precious loved ones in the flu epidemic that stole more from the world than the war did.

If some of the plot twist in this novel was predictable, I think the author can be forgiven. The development of the Bright girls' characters as they grew up and the emotions elicited throughout the novel more than make up for the lack of mystery. The spotlight on the impact of the flu in Philadelphia and the setting of an undertaker business are brilliant choices that make this an original and inspirational story.

I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.

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text 2018-02-05 22:28
Well researched historical fiction
As Bright as Heaven - Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner is a poignant story about a young family who moves from a small town in Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to begin a new, and hopefully better, life after the death of their youngest child. The story is told from four points of view, Pauline Bright and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa.

When Thomas Bright’s Uncle, a permanent bachelor, asks him to move to Philadelphia to learn and take over his funeral pallor business, Tom sees it as a chance to lift his family out of poverty. With much hope, the family relocates and starts their new life. As everyone settles in to their new home in Philadelphia, the Great War in Europe is raging and the United States enters the conflict and Tom is called to serve his country. Not long after, the Spanish Flu makes it way to North America and to the city the Bright’s now call home.

Pauline begs her parents to let them return to Quakertown until the flu has passed. They refuse her, because they fear she will bring the flu with her and give it to her sister’s new born. Forced to stay, Pauline watches as the number of dead from the flu arrive at the funeral parlor in staggering numbers. She is careful to keep her mouth covered and those of the children. Yet as careful as she is, tragedy strikes the Bright family and Willa, the youngest, is the first to fall ill. Then just as she turns the corner toward recover, Pauline becomes ill too. Pauline fought hard against the flu in little Willa and she has no reserves left to fight her own battle with this enemy. In the end she succumbs and not long after their Uncle dies too.

Amidst all the tragedy, Tom and the girls open their home and their hearts to an orphaned boy.  How can they not, when the city is now full of children that have lost their parents to the flu epidemic? Little do they realize that this one selfless decision will give them the hope and courage they will need to face the future.  

As Bright as Heaven is an elegantly written, well researched, historical fiction. Ms. Meissner, knows how to write a story that pulls at your heart strings. The characters are portrayed with a realism and authenticity that is hard to find.  The story flowed so nicely and the end came much too quickly. So quickly in fact, that it felt a little rushed. That aside, it is well worth reading. I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction.

For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my book blog at www.thespineview.com.  

Source: www.thespineview.com/genre/as-bright-as-heaven-by-susan-meissner
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review 2018-02-05 13:36
What Remains of Heaven
What Remains of Heaven - C.S. Harris

Author: C.S. Harris

Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #5

Rating: 5 stars

 

This was a great installment to the series.

 

This time around the mystery involves two murders - their bodies are discovered in a crypt, but they were killed years apart. Sebastian is brought in by his aunt to figure out what is going on... and we are off! There were plenty of red herrings and great incorporation of actual history such as the Slave Trade Act of 1807 and the inclusion of William Franklin, Benjamin's son. Throughout the mystery, you get a feel of what England thought about the newly formed United States. In her author notes, Harris states that she took the character's statements from journals, speeches, letters of the time. Eye- opening.

 

On the character front, Sebastian's life just got a whole lot more complicated. He has found out information that changes everything he knew about himself. Also, Hero reappears. I loved how she was always one step ahead of him, even in the end. Her independent spirit and intelligence really added to the story. I enjoyed seeing them together on the page as she matches wits with Sebastian perfectly,

 

Definitely recommend.  Looking forward to the next one.

 

 

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review 2018-01-18 06:12
As Bright as Heaven - Susan Meissner

I have to admit, at first, I didn't really feel anything for this family at the beginning. I even considered packing it away. However, the more I read, the more I felt. This family went through a whole bunch of hardships most families face, but they also had the Great War and the Influenza Flu epidemic. The latter really hitting the family and those around them really bad.

I really was moved by this book and thoroughly enjoyed my journey with this family. 

By the end of the book, I was actually sorry to see them go. Ending it on a somewhat more happy note really made the tears flow.

An incredible story of a family who loved, lost and lived.

Thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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review 2018-01-17 19:43
Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
Pigs In Heaven - Barbara Kingsolver

I have a theory about the genesis of this novel. By the time she wrote her first novel, the beloved The Bean Trees, it’s clear that Kingsolver was already deeply invested in social justice issues. But she missed one when her protagonist, a young woman named Taylor, traveled through Cherokee tribal lands in Oklahoma just long enough to unwittingly rescue a battered native toddler dumped on her by a frightened aunt. And when Taylor returned, with the best of intentions, it was to fraudulently adopt the child without the knowledge of the tribe.

As I envision events, a Cherokee reader talked to Kingsolver about this, pointing out that Cherokee have large extended families who would miss the child; that after a long history of genocide and other abuses at the hands of white America, including the removal of children, tribes need to hang onto their kids if they are to survive (hence the Indian Child Welfare Act, which among other things prohibits outside adoptions without the tribe’s consent); and that Taylor, who is physically and culturally white despite a Cherokee great-grandparent, is unequipped to teach Turtle about her heritage or how to deal with racism.

So Kingsolver, as we all should do when confronted with our oversights, recognized the problem and set out to fix it. And this sequel was born.

Pigs in Heaven picks up three years after the end of The Bean Trees. Turtle gets her fifteen minutes of fame when she witnesses an accident, and a newly-minted Cherokee lawyer named Annawake – who has a personal stake in ICWA – hears her story and realizes something is fishy. After a visit from Annawake, Taylor panics and takes off with Turtle, but her mother, Alice – just out of a brief and unsatisfying marriage – takes a different tack, going to stay with a relative on tribal lands in hopes of amicably resolving the problem and getting to know Turtle’s extended family.

I actually liked this book better than The Bean Trees; Kingsolver has clearly matured as an author. The plot is more focused and cohesive and flows smoothly, without ever feeling slow. It follows several major characters while keeping everything moving and the reader eager to know what will happen next. It examines the central issues from all sides and with empathy for everyone involved, all of whom make mistakes but are trying to do the best they can for Turtle. Yes, it can be predictable, but in this case I don’t see that as a flaw; this story is built not on suspense but on family relationships, and I enjoyed sinking into the characters’ journey and guessing at where it would lead them. The writing style is good and endows the book with warmth and wisdom.

Meanwhile, Kingsolver seems to have done her research, or rather the friends she credits in the acknowledgments did a thorough job of educating her. I read a legit Cherokee book right after this in part to check her facts, which checked out. But there are also subtle things, like the story that’s told to two different people and slightly differently each time, that readers familiar with Cherokee culture will likely appreciate. If anything, life on tribal lands seems a little idealized – there’s a lot of family values, community and tradition, with social problems acknowledged but kept out of sight – though much of this is related through Alice’s point-of-view, and I suspect that her experiences as a visitor to tribal lands were, reasonably enough, based on Kingsolver’s.

My two issues with the book aren’t with the writing. One is that there are several continuity errors between the first book and this one. The legal first name (April) that Taylor gave Turtle on adoption vanishes; Alice and Taylor’s Cherokee ancestor changes from a grandfather to a grandmother (significant because clan passes through the female line); Taylor’s father goes from a mystery man about whom Alice would only say that he was nobody Taylor knew to an ex-husband about whom she’s not reluctant to speak when necessary. The other is more about judging other people’s parenting than anything else. Taylor makes several questionable choices that are never called out in the narrative, from moving herself and Turtle in with a boyfriend about whom she’s not that serious, to telling the real story of her abandonment on national TV – which is not only stupid because it’s inconsistent with official records, but publicly telling the story in front of Turtle and allowing it to be made light of seems hurtful. But real people aren't perfect, so characters shouldn't be either.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, which tells a compelling story about contemporary issues, with good writing and populated by sympathetic characters. I read it quickly and was fully engaged with the story and characters, which doesn't happen as often as I'd like these days. I recommend it, whether or not you read The Bean Trees first.

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