Friday Book Whimsy: To Be Where You Are

I read Jan Karon’s novel To Be Where You Are earlier this fall shortly after it was released, and it happened to be a particularly difficult time in my life. The latest in her Mitford series featuring our favorite Episcopalian priest Father Tim was an ointment for my heart soul, just as I knew it would be.

The entire series – now a total of 14 books – takes place in the fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina, a small village in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville. While Father Tim and his wife Cynthia are the stars of the show, the surrounding players – his son Dooley and various beloved family and friends – are really what make these stories so lovely. Karon manages to make the townspeople lovable and quirky, but not caricatures of small-town hillbillies.

In her latest novel, Dooley and Lace, now married, are preparing for formal adoption of their foster son Jack, while trying to get Dooley’s vet practice going. Lace has her own distractions, as she has been commissioned to do a painting for a well-known Hollywood actress. All of this takes place as Father Tim struggles to help out several friends in unexpected ways. While a town like Mitford likely doesn’t exist anywhere, Karon’s books always have a realistic way about them. In To Be Where You Are, faithful readers say goodbye to a beloved friend, as we have had to do in the past, but hello to others.

The story is punctuated by the characters’ strong faith in God and belief that they are all part of a bigger plan. I took the prayers uttered by the characters to my heart and prayed them along with them. Much highlighting. Very much highlighting.

To Be Where You Are reminded this reader that at the end of the day, it isn’t the amount of money you earn or the fancy house in which you live, but instead it’s the number of people you can call friends and the blessings that are in you life.

Karon is in her 80s now, and I don’t know how many more Mitford stories she has in her. I hope a few more. While To Be Where You Are left us with a perfect segue to the next book, it also ends with Father Tim and Cynthia driving off in an RV for an adventure. A perfect way to end a series.

Fingers crossed it’s the former. I loved this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Blue Mountains

There in the highlands, clear weather held for much of the time. The air lacked its usual haze, and the view stretched on and on across rows of blue mountains, each paler than the last until the final ranks were indistinguishable from the sky. It was as if all the world might be composed of nothing but valley and ridge. ― Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain

I live in the mountains, and have for over 40 years. Well, maybe I don’t exactly live IN the mountains, but all I have to do is look out my window and I see the mountains. Well, I don’t actually SEE the mountains if I look out my window, but I do if I walk down to the end of my street. You get the picture. Denver is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. What’s more, our Arizona house also has a beautiful view (at least from the front yard of our house) of Superstition Mountain.

All this is to say that I am familiar with mountains, and I can tell you that they are all very different. My grandmother, who grew up in Switzerland, was content with the Rocky Mountains; still, she always said that it was the Grand Teton Mountains in northwestern Wyoming that most reminded her of the Alps. Go figure…..

Grand Teton Mountains

Give a big sigh of relief, because I’m finally getting to my point. While visiting Bill’s brother in Winston-Salem this past week, we drove one day to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, and they are like no mountains with which I’m familiar. We took a day trip to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and it made my Mitford-loving heart happy……

For those of you who don’t know, Mitford is the fictitious town about which author Jan Karon writes in her lovely series featuring Father Tim, a retired Episcopalian priest. The books are just about my favorite book series ever, and Mitford is where I want to live. It’s where everyone who reads these books wants to live. And it’s based on Blowing Rock, North Carolina…..

The town of Blowing Rock admittedly didn’t remind me much of Mitford. There is probably no town on earth that would remind me of Mitford, because towns like Mitford only exist in literary fiction. There is no town like Mayberry. There is no Stars Hollow apart from Gilmore Girls. Still, the drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains was amazingly beautiful. Almost heaven. The weather was perfect; the town bustled with activity; lunch was al fresco. What more could a person ask?

I had quietly cogitated about the idea of going to Blowing Rock during our visit, but said nothing. Why would two men who have never read a Mitford novel care one iota about driving an hour-and-a-half to see this town? But the topic of reading came up at a business lunch (yes, Bill and I did have one business-related activity while in NC), and I was asked what I was reading. I told them honestly that I had just started the most recent Mitford novel called To Be Where You Are, and explained that the book took place in a fictitious town based on Blowing Rock.

Squeals from one of the women with whom we were meeting. Well, since it was a business lunch, maybe squeals isn’t entirely accurate. Nevertheless, it seems that she had recently visited the community with her husband, and gave it a thumbs up.

Would you like to go, Bruce asked me. Why, I hadn’t given it a minute of thought, but now that you mention it….., I lied. And so we found ourselves a couple of days later driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains and into Blowing Rock…..

I spent the entire day looking for Jan Karon. I looked in stores. I peered around the restaurant in which we had our lunch. I didn’t see her and didn’t actually expect that I would. I have subsequently found out that she now lives in Virginia. Apparently Father Tim didn’t go along with her.

It was a very fun day, and one I won’t soon forget.

Friday Book Whimsy-Thursday Edition: Favorite Books of 2015

I am often astounded at how many books some book bloggers read each year. Some post a book review almost every day. Of course, their blogs are devoted to book reviews, so it is incumbent upon them to read, read, read. I think that I read a lot, and yet I never seem to break the 100-books-in-a-year mark. This year my total was 93 books.

Oh well, I’m telling myself. I do have a life beyond books. Say, friends and family. Oh, and now crocheting.

I post a book review every Friday, but I read many more books than those for which I post a review. For example, I generally don’t post books (almost always mysteries) that are part of a series unless I found the book particularly compelling or I’m begging you to read the series. And since I’ve already admitted that my reading motto is Life is too short to read a bad book, I start many books that I set aside because I simply didn’t like them. That is why most of my book reviews are positive. So, sue me.

Having said all of the meaningless babble above, here are my five favorite books I read in 2015 for which I posted a review.

5. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
An unexpectedly upbeat and pleasing read about a quirky family with an unhappy past joined together simply because they love one another. An interesting element of this book is that the mother is a hoarder, which definitely defines the family members and impacts the plot of the book. It isn’t, however, what defines this interesting story. I was surprised at how much I loved this book, which I wouldn’t have picked up if someone hadn’t so highly recommended it to me.

4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Karon’s Mitford stories are like eating dessert first. They are simply delicious and not to be missed. The characters, the setting, the stories — all mix together to make for a wonderful read. Her latest novel involves the marriage of two favorite characters, and allows readers the opportunity to get to know better some who previously were only marginally present. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and settle down for a pleasant experience.

3. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
Talk about a book I can’t believe I liked so much! This story takes place in Cambodia, which is the only reason I read the book (a daughter-in-law is from Cambodia). Based on a true story, the family — mom, dad, and little boy — lives in a municipal waste dump in Cambodia and they survive on what they make from scavenging the dump each day and selling the wares. That’s the setting, but the story is about friendship and loyalty and what it means to love someone. It was a truly beautiful story that I highly recommend.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My heart broke year before last when one of my favorite authors — Kent Haruf — passed away. Our Souls at Night was his final gift to those of us who love his writing. The book is once again set in the fictional Colorado town of Holt. Septuagenarian Addie Moore, a widow for many years, marches over to her equally-aged neighbor Louis Waters’ house and suggests they, well, hook up. Sleep together. Just see how it works out. The result is a surprisingly beautiful story about love and friendship. I enjoyed Haruf’s stories for his characters, and while not as good as his first novel Plainsong (nothing could be), it was a wonderful book.

And my favorite book of 2015…..

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Dang, I hate being predictable. The Girl on the Train is likely to be the favorite read of 2015 of many book reviewers, but it’s for a good reason. I couldn’t put down this book. The author doled out the pieces of the mystery little by little, keeping the readers in constant suspense. The final pages were delicious. The characters were interesting, imperfect, multifaceted, and realistic. I can’t wait for Hawkins’ next effort. This one will be hard to beat.

I’m looking forward to many more good books in 2016. Maybe that will be the year that I finally beat that 100-book challenge.

This post linked to the GRAND Social 

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Friday Book Whimsy: Come Rain or Come Shine

searchPotentially, this could be the shortest book review ever. All I REALLY would have to say is that there is a new Mitford book by author Jan Karon entitled Come Rain or Come Shine. Boom. Everyone can correctly assume that I loved the book.

The fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina, makes me happy. I am fully aware that such a wonderful community where everyone gets along and loves one another doesn’t exist. Still, isn’t it so nice to read about something like the friendly folks of Mitford instead of about pain, and murder, and bickering, and poverty, and the horrors of the real world, especially during this time of the year?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Dooley – who we met in Karon’s first Mitford novel At Home in Mitford – has graduated from veterinarian’s school, set up a practice and is finally getting married to his long-time girlfriend Lace (who we also met in the first novel). Typical for the young couple, they want to make their wedding simple and inexpensive, and to include all of the people they love. They decide, then, to make it a pot luck affair to be held at the ranch where they will reside after they are married.

Since nothing ever goes entirely as planned in Mitford (or in real life), the novel offers a series of surprises and unexpected joys. While Dooley and Lace have to be flexible with their plans and the wedding doesn’t go as smoothly as one would hope, Karon’s story gives us a full picture of love – the love of friends and the love for and of God. The amazing and vivid trust that the people of this town have in God’s provides for a joyful read.

And let’s not forget the wonderful food that is always a part of Mitford – and Karon’s wonderful stories.

Come Rain or Come Shine was written a bit differently than Karon’s previous novels. The point of view changed with each chapter. Being an avid Mitford fan, I was able to recognize whose point of view was being presented in each chapter. However, I would think that if someone picked up the novel without having read Karon’s previous works, it might have taken some time to recognize the point of view. If I have any criticism, that is it.

One of the best parts of the novel, I felt, was getting to know Lace a bit better. While she has been part of the Mitford series from the beginning, she has never played a major role. I enjoyed learning more about who she is and how she thinks.

This is a grand book for someone wanting to read a happy story during this time of year. I strongly recommend it.

Here is a link to the book.

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