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As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
Historical fiction

As Bright As Heaven

Early Release

This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait to read it.

by Susan Meissner

Quick take

This story of love in the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic is equal parts heartache and romance.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Romance


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints


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.

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Why I love it

I love when a book makes me experience such powerful and raw emotions that, days after turning the last page, I find myself still completely immersed in that world. Such is the case with As Bright as Heaven, a stunning and intimate family saga that follows the lives of the Bright family women against the backdrop of World War I-era Philadelphia during the little-known Spanish flu pandemic that took thousands of American lives.

The novel opens with heartbreak: A mother, Pauline, is reeling from the sudden death of her infant son. So when her husband is offered the opportunity to help his brother run the family funeral home in the big city of Philadelphia, they jump at the chance to leave their sleepy farm town and create a new beginning.

Though their three daughters don't understand why they have to leave all they have ever known behind, they are soon absorbed with their new life at the mortuary. The eldest daughter, Evelyn is fascinated by books, science, and anatomy and her new environment (though morbid), feeds her passion for knowledge of these things. Maggie helps Pauline style the hair and the make-up of the deceased and Willa is a precocious teenager blessed with the gift of song. Even though they are surrounded by death, Pauline and her daughters grow, laugh, love and slowly begin to heal. Just when all is well again, the Spanish Flu hits, to terrible effect for both the family and the community.

Meissner has penned a beautifully-constructed world dominated by female protagonists that, time and again, find themselves completely devastated yet somehow rise up, infused with hope and determination to survive. This is a story about family and the resiliency of the female spirit, about grace in the face of adversity and all the little moments that bring joy. A book filled with beauty, As Bright as Heaven is masterfully done.

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Member ratings (4,768)

  • Suzzanne S.

    Wauwatosa, WI

    This is a fabulous book. It is about a family that moves to Philadelphia for a better life. They do have a good life but not the life they expected. You need tissues for this book. A ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ book

  • Stacie L.

    Springfield, OR

    Loved this one. And the period it was set in. I Didn't know anything about the Spanish Flu, so it was very interesting learning some of that history. I also liked how each chapter was a different character

  • Brenna C.

    Secaucus, NJ

    I’m not normally one to gravitate towards historical fiction, but I’m happy I gave this a go. It is a quiet and cozy story that’s full of heart and love. It’s about family, sacrifice, and survival.

  • Elizabeth W.

    Rapid City, SD

    What an amazing book, it’s going on my favorites list for sure. It was heart reaching and beautiful! Don’t let the subject matter dissuade you like I almost did, you won’t regret reading this book!

  • Ricardo T.

    Rosharon, TX

    Love the story. Wasn’t expecting to read it in the point of view of the famil, however I found it fascinating to get to know the in-depth thoughts of the main characters. A tear jerker +lovely ending.