To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
It’s always enjoyable to visit Mitford, North Carolina, home of Father Tim and his artist wife, Cynthia. This time around, readers get to catch up on most of the town’s residents, and visit young veterinarian Dooley and his wife at their busy animal clinic a few miles outside Mitford. In town, everyone seems to have a big life event, from writing a book, riding in a parade, buying an RV, adopting a pet, to having a baby. Retired Father Tim helps out at the local grocery store when the owner gets sick, and puts off taking Cynthia on a big road trip. So, no real plot, just a very pleasant visit with the folks in Mitford. The first book in the long cozy series is At Home in Mitford.
Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan
Nell Stillman, a minor character in other novels by Sullivan, gets to shine here. This is Nell’s life story, from early married life to old age, all set in the small town of Harvester, Minnesota. After her husband dies suddenly, leaving her with young son Hillyard, Nell is relieved to be offered a job as third-grade teacher. However, teachers in the late 19th century and early 20th century were held to very high standards. Small town gossip can be harsh, and often anonymous. Nell brings a young cousin, Elvira, to live with Nell and Hilly in their apartment over Rabel’s Meat Market. A few years later, she leaves town in disgrace, and Nell is blamed. Nell’s main comfort in life, besides her loyal friends, is reading and re-reading the light, humorous novels of P.G. Wodehouse. My only complaint about this absorbing, character driven novel is that a book about the value of light humorous fiction shouldn’t be quite so serious and often melancholy in tone. I enjoyed reading about the changes in Harvester and in Nell’s apartment over the years including the building of a library, but two world wars and the depression do not make for light reading, especially as Hilly comes home from war shell-shocked. Nell does find love later in life, but a book that covers many decades inevitably includes several deaths. To cheer up I might read one of P.G. Wodehouse’s books (our library owns thirty, and they are quite funny, if now somewhat dated), but I plan to read more of Sullivan’s work, starting with The Cape Ann.
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, by Jan Karon
It’s been nine years since there’s been a new book by Jan Karon set in the small town of Mitford, North Carolina, but I think it’s been worth the wait. Father Tim, an Episcopal priest, first appeared in At Home in Mitford in 1994. The two most recent books featuring Father Tim and his wife Cynthia have been set in Mississippi and Ireland. Cynthia is still writing and illustrating children’s books, and Father Tim is struggling with how to find meaning in retirement. When he is asked to preach again at the Episcopal church in Mitford, it’s a tough decision. Adopted son Dooley is in college and has given a friendship ring to Lace. Dooley’s younger brother Sammy lives next door, and Tim wonders how he can reach out to the troubled teen. An unexpected opportunity to volunteer at the local bookstore one or two days per week while the pregnant owner is on bed rest gives Tim the chance to re-connect with his friends and neighbors as Christmas approaches. All of Mitford’s quirky characters make an appearance, with plenty of laughter and some tears in this heartwarming novel.