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Book review: Jan Karon returns to Mitford - for the 14th time

Posted September 20

"TO BE WHERE YOU ARE," by Jan Karon, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 464 pages (f)

Best-selling author Jan Karon’s latest foray into the much-beloved Mitford series starts off with a funeral, a case of mistaken identity and a wrestle with a blender. All of the series' favorite characters are back, and Karon takes good care of them in this fourteenth installment.

Though sometimes meandering, this novel ultimately feels like a friendly visit to the charming community fans of the series know and love.

Karon unfolds the stories of Mitford’s denizens with a richness of detail that makes the town and characters instantly familiar. From the maples versus pansies controversy on the town's Main Street, to local control freak Esther Cunningham’s promise (threat?) to seek another term as mayor, the town and characters are compelling enough that readers may find themselves planning a family vacation to Mitford before remembering these books are works of fiction. The funeral scene in this book will make readers feel like they've lost a friend, and they'll likely cringe along with Mitford's newspaperman J.C. Hogan as he tries to save his marriage with marinated pork chops. And if all of J.C.’s talk of food makes readers hungry, a recipe for Esther Bolick’s famous Orange Marmalade Cakes is available online.

The addition of the homestead at Meadowgate (Dooley, Lacey and their foster son Jack) enriches an already diverse cast of characters, and Karon writes vividly about the young family's highs and lows of starting a life together. From their agonizing financial problems when the pipes break in Dooley’s vet clinic, to the smell of Lacey’s paints as she brings the homestead to life on canvas, to the family saving their pocket change for a rainy day, readers won't doubt them when they tell each other, “I love you big."

As welcome as the return to Mitford is, this installment does occasionally stumble. Abrupt transitions sometimes make it hard to figure out who’s talking, and the story takes a while to find its rhythm. Karon’s signature character development feels a little more shallow this time around, and it can be harder than in past novels to connect with the Mitford cast on a personal level. Cynthia, for example, almost seems like an accessory rather than a main character in the story. That being said, loyal readers know these characters well enough to fill in the gaps.

"To Be Where You Are" contains all of the elements Mitford fans have come to expect, and ultimately the novel resembles a family reunion. For fans of the books, it’s a chance to catch up with people they love, and despite minor annoyances, it is really good to see everyone again.

Content advisory: "To Be Where You Are" contains nothing offensive.

Janica Meiners is an adjunct English professor at BYU-Idaho. You can contact her at meiners5@q.com

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