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The Dark Side of Heaven Hardcover – May 15, 2006
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From the Inside Flap
Heaven is rolling hills clothed in the first flush of spring, bright summer skies, and black buggies silhouetted against a winter moon. Heaven is the scent of sun-splashed laundry, lilac bushes, and homemade apple butter. Heaven is the lowing of cows waiting to be milked, sparrows chittering in a hayloft, and hooves clattering on hot, shimmering asphalt. Heaven is the touch of a kittens nose, the feel of grass between the toes, and a mothers gentle hand.But there is a dark side of Heaven, one that child prodigy, Anna Hostetler, knows all to well. Born into a traditional Amish family in Heaven, Pennsylvania, Anna begins to inadvertently buck tradition at the tender age of six when she sketches an uncanny likeness of her mother for a tourist. The Amish forbid representational art on the grounds it could lead to idolatry, so Annas mother is horrified.The gift Anna posses cannot be suppressed. The tourist who discovers Annas exceptional ability is Bridgett Monroe, a gallery owner from Pittsburgh. She encourages Anna to draw, supplying her with the necessary materials, and soon young Anna begins to defy her mother by secretly sketching in the hayloft. By the time Anna turns eighteen she has progressed to painting, and has sold a number of pieces through Bridgetts gallery.Now that she had reached the age of baptism, Anna must choose between her obedience to her church and self-fulfillment. It is a painful decision. Anna chooses her God-given given talent and is subsequently bannedshunned, as the Amish call ituntil she repents of her sin.Put on a bus to Pittsburgh by her bishop, Anna must make her way alone in a world for which she is ill-prepared. She soon learns that not everyone can be trusted, and in fact, there are those who are happy to take advantage of a naïve country girl. But there is a bright side to Pittsburgh as well, and Anna discovers that love and fulfillment can come from unexpected places.
About the Author
Although the author of twenty-five nationally bestselling novels, Tamar Myers, like her protagonist, Anna Hostetler, counts drawing and painting as her first love. Tamar began college as an art major, but and switched to English after just one class during which the professor ridiculed her assignment. Tamar reasoned (falsely) that writers receive less criticism.
Tamar counts America s first Amish settlers among her ancestors. Her mother was a Yoder, her grandmother a Hostetler, and both of her mother s parents are direct descendants of the patriarch, Jacob Hochstetler. There are several Amish bishops in her family tree.
She now lives in South Carolina with her husband, plus a Basenji dog named Pagan and a Balinese cat called Mr. Cheng. She plans to take up painting again when she retires.
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I read on silently because I couldn't do otherwise. I kept the lamp at pillow side lit hours beyond my usual sleep time. I needed my sleep. I was too often under the weather vanes. But, I needed to read that book.
That book is now held at the top of my list of the highest works of art. Though all Tamar Myers' books feel like born-to-do products, I sense that this author was conceived to write THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN.
This work has the most quietly beautiful cover I've ever seen. You have to hold it in your hands and become very still to see the full spectrum of artistic vision, in mesmerizing shadows of smoke & mirrors. Yet, the voice Tamar uses, inside the subtle, silent significance of the cover, is direct, clear, and simple, using sparkling streams of syntax to develop slow flowing cream in concept.
The publisher, Bella Rosa Books, is of impeccable quality. The type style on the creamy pages gives a time-slip impression of an ages past, but well-oiled typewriter, an Olympia maybe.
If you buy the paperback version of this novel when it comes out, after you read it, you will want to return to Amazon to buy the Bella Rosa Books hardcover version. You will want to have that essence of a true BOOK in a place of constant visibility. You will be proud to carry this DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN around with you.
I always carry a book with me when I go to supper at Zack's in Hotchkiss, Colorado. A waitress was interested in what had me so engrossed this time. As I was leaving, she asked. Pausing the palm of my hand on the cover jacket, I said, "This one is very good." I made that statement with the caring conviction of each word ringing crystal bells of truth.
I had expected a book about shunning to be torturously sad. That type of sadness I rarely seek in fiction, so I was surprised when I wanted this novel the first time I noticed it on Amazon, even with the book's aura implying an emotional soul drop. I was not actually surprised when I began reading and saw that the story was spunky and sweet, elegant in being unpretentiously unadorned. My heart was awake but not crushed. My eyes were wide and attentive to the text.
Slowly, Myers dribbled in quiet, soft humor, the antithesis of the snappy style of her 2 mystery series.
I knew she could do this. I had seen flickers of a touching seriousness in a few of her other 25, nationally best selling novels, which I mentioned in my review of NO USE DYING OVER SPILLED MILK, # 4 in Tamar's PenDutch series.
The most amazing part of this story's more serious slant is that every contrasting angle flickered with a complimentary balance of soft light and shadow. No individual, no "Way" was all good or all evil there. Nothing was all Right or all Wrong. Everything just was. This type of generosity of alternate perspectives is nearly unbelievable, almost impossible to achieve in the dramatic culture clashes between Old Order Amish and New Wave "English."
I relished the Literary Lace feel in the gentle sense of order achieved by the type of transitions Myers used between each time-shift in Anna's mind when she returned thoughts to childhood scenes which "aided-and-abetted" her career as an artist. In each of these shifts, Myers repeated a significant key word in the concluding sentence of a NOW scene, using that word again in the beginning sentence of a THEN flashback.
Taken from a "then" scene during which young Anna had been interrogated sternly and preached to clearly by the bishop, and guided gently into speaking truth to the kindly questions from her father:
>> The Bishop's eyes said Daat was wrong. "Anna, there are to be no more drawings. Do you understand?"
>> I nodded.
>> "And why is that, Anna?"
>> "I have no paper." <<
Until I had read nearly half the book, I hadn't made my usual pen marks on the pages of my copy of THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. I didn't want to mar the perfection of the book's physical presentation. Finally, I had to sparingly highlight some of the excellent prose and enlightening commentary, for easy reference of returning to relish some of the passages.
My pen leaped to sketch around some of the regular, tasty doses of Anna's way of seeing English idioms, a way which reminded me of my 5-year-old-response to my Aunt Mary when she said, "Linda, you want to `have your cake and eat it, too.'"
My first thought, which flew off my ready tongue, was, "Why would you give me a piece of cake, then tell me not to eat it? That would not be nice, and it doesn't make sense."
As Aunt Mary somehow kept her lips from curling upward, she replied, "It doesn't mean that..."
My aunt had a difficult time explaining the ironies of life to a 5-year-old who still believed that speaking, wanting, and giving were clear and simple actions. But, for me that day, the grapes of reality had begun, ever so slightly, to sour, even though I saw that my Aunt's motivations were driven by caring that I grow up right, strong, and not too greedy.
So now I'm addicted to reading and reviewing culinary cozy mysteries, ranting and raving about never enough flavor hits!
And so it was that I enjoyed the misunderstood terms spiced throughout this story, as Anna put her slant on the Englisher's slang. Anna heard "cobble stones" as "gobble" stones because they sounded like turkeys when cars drove over them. "Up scale" boutiques were interpreted as "up the scale" because many of the people Anna saw in that area appeared "fat" to her eyes, compared to those living in the constantly laboring Amish communities.
With what felt like a priority to honor with grace the foundation of Amish life in which they labor to live their sacred beliefs, Myers opened the plot with a delicate touch, sketching the serious situation of shunning.
Myers accomplished this sotto voce mood by surfacing her humor so gradually and quietly that it could be easily missed, yet it effectively resulted in just the right amount of (sneak in) leavening. As I read into the novel, and as the deeply touching separation from Anna's Amish community evolved, I felt the young woman's changing situation shift gently, as Myers interjected snippets of humor, of which I caught the bare edges, warming into easy, small smiles. Later in the book, as Anna grew in her understanding of the English among whom she had begun living, the humorous inserts intensified, ever-so-slightly, beginning to draw from me deep, healing chuckles. Later, a "Ha!" slipped out here and there. And, of course, since this pen was pared by Tamar Myers, some of the lines made me laugh out loud. At a couple points, a burst of roaring laughter gave a joyous release.
Even so, this was not a comedy, nor was it a tragedy. It did offer light romance.
As THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN brought out beautifully, a shunned Amish beauty can make a great Cinderella. In a sense, Anna became the best Cinderella, even though her princes were not what you would expect.
Also, as I would not have expected, when Brandy visited the Amish, her nonchalant freedom with ongoing curses did not pause to consider anything. The unpredictable result, though, of her obliviousness to habitually raw speaking, was not that Brandy seemed distastefully disrespectful. Instead, her slang spice was elevated as bright honesty contrasting the sad severity (felt by both sides) of shunning. Maybe this feeling of elevation (which became endearment) was partly because, ironically, for the first time in the novel, Brandy was not driven by pain or insecurity into her slashes of sarcasm. She was brimming with love. In that new mood of natural purity, the sewer edge of sloppy speech came across as a welcome type of humor, relieving the worst type of situation.
To highlight yet another flashing gem of unanticipated value in this novel, I'll note that the way Myers described Anna's painting process and products caused each offering to come alive with such luxurious clarity, the pocket book wanted to fly through reality's gateways and buy not one but many of those precious gems of plain beauty.
This is one of the all-round-best-novels I've ever read. If it didn't have so much simple warmth and sensitive humor, I would compare its rich significance to Atlas Shrugged.
I'm thankful that Bella Rosa Books, of South Carolina, was the publisher of THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. I believe it was Bella Rosa's artistic environment which enhanced the soul-flourish of the author, and of Rod Hunter, jacket design, and Blair Seitz, Buggy Photo. I've praised to high heaven some of the cover art of books I've reviewed, and I still see them up there, like silver linings in clouds. This book jacket radiates something special, which I've sensed but not quite yet described to my satisfaction.
Thank You Tamar, and Bella Rosa Books, for this treasure which quietly beacons to the highest in the kingdom of dragons, compelling them to show the weighted glitter of their scales and wings, and to roar fire in honor. Yes I call upon that most unlikely of magical images for a novel which exposes beautifully, kindly, and perfectly the Amish culture and ways, within the silver-framed setting of worldly pride and pleasures.
Working to remain in peaceful coexistence with the bumps and benefits of life's kaleidoscopic,