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Shepherds Abiding: A Mitford Christmas Story Hardcover – October 20, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Karon works more homespun magic with this latest uplifting story set in sleepy Mitford, N.C. Father Timothy Kavanagh, stalwart of the Mitford series, is approaching 70 when he comes across pieces of an old English nativity scene at his friend Andrew Gregory's antique shop. The set has definitely seen better days, and Andrew is hoping that someone will volunteer to restore it. Who better than Father Tim, who seems to have reached a turning point in his life and needs a project to distract him? Inspired by memories of a manger from his childhood that was destroyed in a rainstorm, Father Tim, after much deliberation, takes up the cause, planning to surprise his artist wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, Hope Winchester, manager of Mitford's Happy Endings bookshop, learns that the shop is in danger of closing at the end of the year and struggles to save it and make it her own. Tear-jerking moments and humorous scenes featuring Mitford's more ornery denizens make for a cozily familiar trip into town. The restoration of the creche proves to be transformative for Father Tim, and a snowy Christmas Eve brings happiness to everyone in Mitford. Steering readers far from the "craziness and commerce of Christmas," Karon stays true to the adage that all things are possible with hard work, ingenuity and a little faith. Written in light, breezy prose that shimmers with faith and good hope, Karon's story goes down like hot cocoa by the fireplace. The author's warm spirituality and vibrant holiday spirit make this heartwarming eighth series entry a welcome one.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Jan Karon, born Janice Meredith Wilson in the foothills of North Carolina, was named after the title of a popular novel, Janice Meredith.
Jan wrote her first novel at the age of ten. "The manuscript was written on Blue Horse notebook paper, and was, for good reason, kept hidden from my sister. When she found it, she discovered the one curse word I had, with pounding heart, included in someone's speech. For Pete's sake, hadn't Rhett Butler used that very same word and gotten away with it? After my grandmother's exceedingly focused reproof, I've written books without cussin' ever since."
Several years ago, Karon left a successful career in advertising to move to the mountain village of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and write books. "I stepped out on faith to follow my lifelong dream of being an author," she says. "I made real sacrifices and took big risks. But living, it seems to me, is largely about risk."
Enthusiastic booksellers across the country have introduced readers of all ages to Karon's heartwarming books. At Home in Mitford, Karon's first book in the Mitford series, was nominated for an ABBY by the American Booksellers Association in 1996 and again in 1997. Bookstore owner, Shirley Sprinkle, says, "The Mitford Books have been our all-time fiction bestsellers since we went in business twenty-five years ago. We've sold 10,000 of Jan's books and don't see any end to the Mitford phenomenon."
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Top customer reviews
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I hate to bring it up, but Ms. Karon is hopelessly naive in the unrealistic rehabilitation of so many people from the creek. For those of you who have not read any of the Mitford books yet, the creek in Mitford is a very poor area and many of the people living there are drug and alcohol addicted. Needless to say, abusive relationships abound there.
In the 4th book of this series, the author continues to rehabilitate people from the creek. For example, two older children from the creek have been taken in by local towns people. One by the main character (the Episcopal priest) and another by a doctor's wife. The author makes clear that these older children were both severely abused until their adoption and YET they seem to make the adjustment to foster home with little more than an occasional scuffle after school. Want to know what really happens to children who have been severely abused when they finally get put in a stable home? They have to go through extensive therapy and even then they often descend into promiscuity, drug abuse, and either become abusive themselves or become victims of abuse. Yes, these children can be saved but it is a long, hard effort and many children never fully recover.
In addition, Karon has several alcoholics now completely recovered and living productive lives in Mitford. How does this happen? It's not quite clear. They decide they don't want to drink any more and they just don't. No therapy and no AA. They become people that can handle money well, are well-adjusted, and are hard workers. Again, what really happens? Even people that successfully give up drugs or alcohol usually need some kind of support like AA for years. Further, just taking away the addiction does not reveal this butterfly in a person waiting to come out. No, there are usually deep-seated reasons as to why a person becomes addicted and they have to be dealt with. Many addicts come from very dysfunctional backgrounds. Recovery is a process and does not happen in days, nor weeks, nor months. It takes years.
If Jan Karon were writing realistically, Cynthia and Timothy would come home to their house one day to find Harley (the former alcoholic they had taken in as a border) drunk and passed out in their kitchen. The house would be a shambles with many articles stolen because he needed money to feed his addiction.
Unfortunately, there are several other examples in this book where Karon obviously, obviously does not understand people who are broken by abuse and addiction. Again, these people CAN be helped and saved, but it's a long, hard road.
This was my first "Mitford" book, indeed, my first book by Jan Karon. After this, I will probably never read another one of her books unless forced. It wasn't that the story was bad or the characters dull, it was merely that the characters seemed undeveloped and the plot was thin at best. There was very little resolution, and yet a satisfying end was easily within grasp, even expected. Instead, the ending was forgettable and I had to force myself to read to the last page of this (very short) book. It was not a book I would read again, and, based on this one, I will not pick up any of the other Mitford books either.
Some of my reasons for the above judgment are as follows: The entire host of characters was shoddily introduced in this book, which, if I had read nine other books on the characters, I probably could have forgiven. However, I was left with the feeling that a proper introduction to any character (excusing the main character, Father Tim) was sorely lacking. The point of view (POV) was mostly from Father Tim, but then a whole bunch of other characters would jump in for short sections with their stories. This led to a fragmented storyline with too many POV characters and an unrealistic expectation that the "secret" did not come out when the entire town knew about it. In addition, I found the writing simple and forgettable.
I'm sure lovers of Jan Karon would disagree with my deductions (as there's clearly a large following for Mitford books), but I was unimpressed with the quality of writing, characters, or plot.