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Books: Book a pleasant trip

Books | Jan Karon's imagination is a great place to take a vacation

Issue: "Arkansas' Mister Clean," July 6, 1996

This past weekend my wife traveled to the quaint little town of Mitford. Snuggled into the rolling hills of North Carolina's beautiful Piedmont region, it is an idyllic dream of a village. It is the kind of place everyone wants to live-or ought to-filled with stately old mansions, served by vibrant churches, and peopled with an eccentric range of characters, personalities, and scoundrels.

Of course, you won't find Mitford on any map. It is a figment of author Jan Karon's imagination-and that of anyone else who reads the first two books in her marvelous series, The Mitford Years. Here there is no wild action to follow, no plaguing mystery to solve, no fierce conundrum to unravel, no threatening crisis to manage, no pressing psychological thrills and chills to cope with. Instead there is merely the gentle joy and sorrow, wit and wisdom, charm and messiness of everyday life.

In At Home in Mitford, we are introduced to Father Tim, the village's loyal Episcopal rector. He is a C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, G.K. Chesterton, and Charles Spurgeon-quoting bachelor who loves his little flock, his books and gardens, and his quiet life of settled security.

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We are also introduced to those dedicated to disturbing that quiet life of settled security-the maverick dog the size of a Buick who somehow decides to adopt the good pastor, a hostile young boy who is thrust into his care, and the attractive new neighbor who begins to wear a pathway to his door, stirring feelings he hasn't felt in years. And if that weren't enough, we are introduced to a whole town full of delightful men and women, sweethearts and old coots, rarities and oddities.

Ms. Karon's skill is quite prodigious-all of the characters genuinely come to life and their ways, wiles, and woes inevitably captivate our attentions. Indeed, my wife and I have begun to talk about them as if they were old friends.

A Light in the Window picks up the story of this wonderfully motley crew as Father Tim and his neighbor discover-to their utter dismay-that they are falling head over heels in love. But this is not some schlocky romance-far from it. Instead, it is a penetrating glimpse of real life, of real faith, and of real people. You'll laugh out loud. You'll groan in frustration. You'll wince with compassion. You'll chuckle in recognition. You'll love it.

I haven't read any novels so soothing, so refreshing, or so fulfilling since the last Miss Read. Be forewarned, these are the kind of big, fat, summer-reading books that you just can't put down.

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