Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: Jan Karon Invites us to Return to Mitford

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out.  Just as they are – chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Geo. Eliot 1819-1880

Back in March 2014 I blogged again on author Jan Karon, recommending the Mitford companion book Patches of Godlight. Here I reprint those words of my post about the Mitford series that I now cheerfully “eat”:

“Jan Karon has finished writing about Mitford, so for those of us who have come to the end of the novels, this volume and the Mitford Bedside Companion help us manage our feelings of loss.” (https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/patches-of-godlight-companion-book-to-jan-karons-mitford-years-series/)

With great jubilation I now type the following: Ms. Karon wrote another novel in the Mitford series, published on September 2, entitled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. Promoted as the tenth Mitford novel, it comes in chronological order as the 13th about Father Tim Kavanaugh. (See publication list below.)

If I knew the author personally I would bring her a bouquet of two dozen roses of her favorite hue and kneel down to kiss her hand after laying the flowers across her arms. Since I am simply one of her millions of fans, I humbly offer this glowing book recommendation in lieu of flowers to show her my gratitude for returning to Mitford to give us another wonderful story.

Reprinted with permission Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

Reprinted with permission
Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

2005 was the year the penultimate Mitford novel was published (Light from Heaven), yet Ms. Karon masterfully and seamlessly brings Father Timothy Kavanaugh and his wife, Cynthia, back, in place and time, to the small town of Mitford, North Carolina in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good immediately after their exhausting travels in Ireland (In the Company of Others, pub. 2011)

Andrea Larson, a goodreads.com reviewer and a Readers’ Advisor at a public library in suburban Chicago, summarized the main theme and plot lines of the newest novel:

“This may be one of my favorite book titles ever. After all, isn’t it what we all wish for? And if you’re a Father Tim fan, you’ll know that he has, in fact, gotten this wish. He’s finally back in Mitford, the idyllic North Carolina mountain town that is the scene of the first nine books in the series, with his lovely wife Cynthia and the eccentric cast of characters we’ve come to know so well. But although he’s back at home, Father Tim’s life is not the same. He’s no longer the rector of Lord’s Chapel, the local Episcopal church, and he must now figure out how he wants to spend his time in retirement. Without his calling, he’s a bit at sea, but as always, somehow events conspire to help him find his way.

Karon has an incredible gift for illuminating the sacred in the everyday, and she does it with her usual brilliance in this book. Ordinary life becomes something greater. Meaningful quotes appear on the windows of the town bookstore. A visit to the Children’s Hospital precipitates a turnaround in the delinquent behavior of one of Father Tim’s teenage charges. A wayward priest earns forgiveness from his flock. Karon’s trademark gentle humor is also ever-present – one recurring theme is the opening of a new spray-tan machine at Fancy Skinner’s beauty salon, which goes over like gangbusters, much to Father Tim’s dismay.”

Father Tim manages to profoundly influence the lives of friends and relatives in the community. However, this main character, albeit central, is not like some Superman, saving the day all by himself, with superhuman strength. The entire community of Mitford struggles to answer the question put so baldly by intrepid journalist Vanita Bentley of the local Mitford Muse newspaper: “Does Mitford Still Take Care of Its Own?” The 511-page novel wrestles with that question because people are in trouble and the town is neglected.

Echoes of this important query reverberate within me: Do I care about others? Is my community intact, thriving, and growing? Am I a contributor to this growth?

“Hope springs eternal” in Jan Karon’s novels, yet not because life is idyllic. Do you realize how intense are the themes the author weaves through the stories set in the “sweet small town” of Mitford? (Marital infidelity, alcoholism, clinical depression, schizophrenia, sex addiction, cancer, and child abuse.) And yet, we readers do not finish the book and close the cover despairing. Why not?

Because, like Victor Hugo, Jan Karon subtly yet steadily tells us, through each situation in Mitford, that God is at work, and  often through human intermediaries: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” (Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables)

People can, and will, rise to new heights of sacrifice to help others. Do you believe this? I do. I am strengthened by Ms. Karon’s books to do my part and to have faith that God is doing His with great effectiveness and love.

Here is my favorite blog comment from my original post on Mitford https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/have-you-been-home-lately-at-home-in-mitford-by-jan-karon/: “Jan Karon is one of my favorites. She can walk you into another life from the first word on the page. I loved each person that she introduced to me on our journeys together, and cringed at the mishaps and felt embarrassment when they did. Ms Karon has the magic. Father Tim has my devotion. I walk away from each visit with Father Tim with a sermon in my heart”. http://blessedx5ks.wordpress.com

PRIZE FOR BEST COMMENT: I will send a free copy of the 20th Anniversary edition of At Home in Mitford to whoever writes the best comment on this post.

The Mitford series novels in order of publication: At Home in Mitford (1994), A Light in the Window (1995), These High, Green Hills (1996), Out to Canaan (1997), A New Song (1999), A Common Life (2001), In This Mountain (2002), Shepherds Abiding (2003), Light From Heaven (2005), Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)

The Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs (2008), In the Company of Others (2011)

Author’s website: http://www.mitfordbooks.com

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Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: Jan Karon Invites us to Return to Mitford

  1. Thank you for your review of a most loved book series. My wife introduced me to “At Home in Mitford” as I prepared for neck surgery and recuperation. I was at once a new resident of the town and followed Fr. Tim’s daily ministry.

    I set out immediately to acquire the complete set so as to not allow a lapse as the stories unfolded.

    I was drawn in deeply to the life and love of this pastoral soul as it breathed past forgotten life of wanting to serve in the priesthood. Abandonment as youth, loss of a parent in early death, seeking service with grace as a constant theme . . . These themes and more brought me alongside myself on every page.

    Now in my semi-retirement, I find such a timely resurrection of the desire of a 9 year old to serve the priesthood . . . perhaps, as my wife suggested, as a chaplain.

    Thank you for your blog and the excitement of finding out there are more after Light From Heaven…

    • I am happy to say that not only are there more books in the series, but that they lend themselves to being re-read! I have enjoyed reading the first 5 in a row again during my own post-surgery period this summer. I believe that we are all Father Tims and chaplains at heart. Thanks for your comment.

      • April F

        Ah, we are re-reading these together, my friend! I started these last July, got as far as starting #9- Light from Heaven, and then stopped to re-read them because some friends are doing a book club together, reading them all in a row! So I am back at the beginning, and need to wait patiently until we are back up to #9…..

  2. Your review is beautifully written and makes me want to reread this lovely book again. When I read Jan Karon’s books, I feel like I could step in to book and be on the streets of Mitford.

    I especially liked this quote you shared from Andrea Larson: “Karon has an incredible gift for illuminating the sacred in the everyday, and she does it with her usual brilliance in this book. Ordinary life becomes something greater.”

    I also liked this statement: “Jan Karon subtly yet steadily tells us, through each situation in Mitford, that God is at work, and often through human intermediaries.”

    Amen and amen! Reading Jan Karon’s books leaves me with a feeling of hope that there remains goodness in people and that God is at work in our lives.

    I’m so glad I discovered your blog. Your words are thoughtful and heartfelt.

    Lord bless…Susan

    • Thanks, Susan for stopping by my blog. It is an honor to have you visit and comment. I am so blessed that Jan Karon picked up her pen again after planning to be all done. I heard from another blog visitor that Jan is allergic to roses – isn’t that a “hoot” that I thought to use roses as an illustration for how grateful I am that she wrote another Mitford book!

  3. I love this series and its characters – when I read one of the Mitford books, it always makes me wish for simpler times. I’ve discovered there are plenty of people out there like the wonderful folks of Mitford, though, if you just have your eyes open for them. No need to enter me in your great contest.

  4. I live close enough to Blowing Rock, NC, that when Jan Karon did an event there in September I most happily attended. Guess what? She’s allergic to roses. There was a big bouquet on the front of the stage and she explained they were why she had the sniffles. So I’m betting she’ll like this blog post even better than flowers!

  5. April

    I have wanted to read these books for a long time, and your blog has inspired me to get started sooner rather than later!

  6. Thanks for your comment, Susan! I like the “time travel” image 🙂 I, too, “go” to Mitford and yet again wasn’t disappointed by what I found. The themes in this latest novel are very profound and actually parallel some life experiences in my real world.

  7. I noticed you classified Karon’s books as “Chick Lit,” but I’m sure you would agree that they can’t be categorized that easily. Yes, they appeal to women more than to men, but they have none of the formulaic plots of that genre. Just as Jane Austen books shouldn’t be labelled “Chick lit” (because they are about much more than romance), the Father Tim books are more about human relationships and spiritual struggles than “boy meets girl.”

    It’s been a very long time since I read any Jan Karon, so I’m looking forward to reading this (especially after your rave review.)

    • Yes, using Chick Lit as a classification leaves a lot to be desired. I was hoping to lure in the women who search for relational stories. What other genres would apply, do you think? That question aside, you pointed out that the Mitford books are more about human relationships and spiritual struggles, a point of view that I so appreciate! Thanks for commenting.

  8. “If I knew the author personally I would bring her a bouquet of two dozen roses of her favorite hue and kneel down to kiss her hand after laying the flowers across her arms. Since I am simply one of her millions of fans, I humbly offer this glowing book recommendation in lieu of flowers to show her my gratitude for returning to Mitford to give us another wonderful story.”

    From what I know of Jan Karon as an author, she would take your glowing tribute any day over two dozen roses! What you have written shows real feeling for her books, and that is music to any author’s ears.

    Reading one of her books is like time travel for me–I find myself magically transported to another time and place to spend time with dear friends. I hate to have to leave them when the last page is read, so I’m delighted to know that I can go to Mitford again!

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