As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

abahWhen the Bright family moves to Philadelphia from their rural Pennsylvania town in the autumn of 1918, to run the family funeral home and after the death of newborn Henry, they have no idea what the future holds. Months into their new life, the Spanish flu pandemic hits the US, and hard. In As Bright As Heaven, we are taken on the full journey of these characters from before the flu, to during the pandemic, to after the flu, right into its long term effects and how it has shaped those who survived. The virus makes its way to the Brights rather suddenly, and with the lives of over 12,000 souls in its wake disappears just as quickly as it appeared. Indeed, the flu spans only a few chapters in this novel leaving the reader feeling shocked and saddened in the aftermath. This was one of the most heart wrenching novels I have read in a long time; inducing tears when I do not cry easily at books.

I thought this was a unique imagining of the Spanish Flu during WW1 by bringing in the perspective of those who care for the dead – the undertakers, the morticians and their families. We witness the story through the eyes of the four Bright ladies; Pauline, the mother, Evelyn the oldest, Maggie the middle child and Willa, the youngest. Well written, in easy, clear language, this novel was difficult to put down. This is a book full of characters and events that you will never forget. And while Death is prominent in this story, we are never left without hope.

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Birds of Wonder by Cynthia Robinson

bowBirds of Wonder is an engrossing and heartbreaking first novel. Detective Murder Mysteries are not my usual fare. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and this was definitely one of those exceptions. The body of a beautiful teenage girl is found in the field of a prominent Child Services lawyer by her theater teacher, and thus begins Birds of Wonder. The story is told from the points of view of the six main characters, each with their own chapters, and each is introduced in such a way as to build the mystery, main story and backstory with just a slow enough climb that you want to see what’s next. The writing is succinct and each voice is clearly different. What I enjoyed most about this novel was that the authors medievalist and ornithological expertise is well woven into the story, adding unique symbolism and interest to a murder mystery. At turns poignant and disturbing, this is a novel that explores the darkest edges of the human mind and heart, what we don’t see (or more accurately, what we ignore) and is a story not soon forgotten. I absolutely recommend this book! Available February 20th, 2018 from amazon.com (I am not affiliated!)