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Readers get a seventh chance to visit Mitford

By Gayle White

Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- With more than 10 million books in print, Jan Karon's made-up mountain town of Mitford has become as well-known in some circles as that other fictional North Carolina hamlet, Mayberry.

There are similarities. Both are populated by an odd lot of folks whose eccentricities contribute to the fabric and flavor of civic life. Both feature main characters -- Sheriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry, Episcopal priest Tim Kavanaugh in Mitford -- who are honest, lovable and imperfect. And both towns seem to be as much a state of mind as a setting.

Readers who have taken up residence in Mitford will be happy to know that "In This Mountain" (Viking, $24.94), the latest volume in the series, has hit bookstore shelves.

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Karon, a former advertising executive who gave up life in Raleigh for her dream of writing books in Blowing Rock, has produced six previous Mitford novels, plus two children's books, a Christmas novelty volume and a compilation of quotations.

The Mitford series, which began with "At Home in Mitford" in 1994, has spawned reading groups, Hallmark greeting cards, online chat groups, a newsletter and a recipe for orange marmalade cake. (The cake was the highlight of Mitford covered-dish gatherings -- but, like the town, it was fictional. Reader demand prompted Victoria magazine to commission a recipe by Atlanta chef Scott Peacock.)

Karon attributes the appeal of her books to the fact that they're nice. "Nobody is afraid of what they're going to meet around the next corner of the next chapter," she says.

In the books, terrible tragedies and struggles of faith are met with prayer and perseverance, good triumphs over evil and, as a former mayor's slogan says, "Mitford Takes Care of Its Own." God is as close as the regulars in the corner booth of the Grill.

All the favorite characters, good and evil, human and canine, are present, except those who have gone off to their heavenly rewards. Some plotlines seem a bit protracted and repetitious, and some events a bit unbelievable.

Still, if some of the freshness has worn off the series, it's replaced with a comfortable familiarity. Mitford lovers will be pleased.

As one California reader wrote to Karon, "I love the way you bring in place, weather, smells, texture. This enables me to live inside your books so I'm not aware that here I am, a reader, sitting in a chair in my home reading a book. No, I'm living in Mitford, seeing and hearing its people."

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