Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission from Publishers Weekly magazine.

Fiction | Non-fiction | Self-help/Inspiration | Theology and PrayerFiction

In This Mountain
By Jan Karon
Viking


Fans of Mitford, N.C., will rejoice over this anticipated full-length seventh installment in the bestselling series, especially those disappointed with its shorter, rather lightweight predecessor, "A Common Life."

Although this offering is permeated with Karon's trademark charm, the plot isn't all sweetness and light. Three years have passed since Father Tim Kavanagh and his wife, Cynthia, returned to Mitford from Whitecap Island, and depression and discontent are gnawing away at the good cleric as he faces the big "7-0." As Cynthia's career reaches new heights, Father Tim makes some personal decisions that lead to tragedy. But never fear - although Karon strikes some somber notes, she avoids becoming heavy-handed.

Devoted readers will find the same appealing characters and enchanting writing that originally won them to the series. Edith Mallory is up to her old tricks, plotting her seduction of Father Tim, and haircut wars are fought between barber Joe Ivey and stylist Fancy Skinner. Convicted jewel thief George Gaynor returns to the series after his release from jail; something new is cooking down at the Main Street Grill; and Dooley Barlowe learns the ropes of romance even as he agonizes over a search that may turn up his lost father and brothers. Karon more fully fleshes out two of the series' minor characters, Helene Pringle and Hope Winchester, and introduces newcomer Millie Tipton, a wise-cracking Methodist preacher who fits comfortably into town life.

Homespun dialogue, fresh and lively descriptions, laugh-out-loud moments and poignant scenes mark the heartfelt book, which is a happy reunion for Mitford devotees.

Ecstasy
By Sudhir Kakar

Overlook

Set in 20th-century India, yet based on the historical narratives of 19th-century mystics, this intriguing bildungsroman is a free-floating excursion into the psychological paradoxes of the pursuit of nirvana. As Gopal, a young Brahmin and aspiring sadhu (monk), grows up in a 1930s village, his feminine appearance and strong attachment to his mother indicate his ambiguous sexuality. Signs of his saintliness are evident from the beginning as well, and his ascension to the position of Paramahamsa Ram Das Baba is heavily foreshadowed.

Jumping ahead several decades, we meet Vivek, a worldly, well-educated student wrestler who visits Ram Das Baba on a whim and is shocked by the warmth and intensity of his welcome. After making it clear that Vivek, too, shows signs of a spiritual calling--including a keen disinterest in women--the narrative returns to Gopal's youth and recalls his captivating ascent to sainthood.

Central to this transformation are talking bronze idols, tantalizing visions of the sex act, possession by female goddesses and six-week meditation fasts. As in "The Ascetic of Desire," Kakar's fascinating novel that doubled as an essay on sex, the author's greatest strengths lie in his ability to portray the emotional conflicts resulting from physical experiences. Simple daily events and godly revelations are narrated in the same gentle, vivid prose.

Although Kakar's sympathies and well-honed talent are generously devoted to the exploration of his characters' mystic experiences, his clear awareness of their interpretation in Western culture can border on irony. At times, his half-grounded, half-fantastic narration causes his characters to seem naOve and misguided. Whether this is part of the tangled web Kakar weaves or simply an unfortunate consequence of his attempt to combine story and philosophy remains open to interpretation, like much of this lusciously imagined novel.

The Shall See God
By Athol Dickson
Tyndale


The Christian market sorely needs more quality suspense novels, and Dickson's excellent offering makes a solid contribution to the genre.

Rabbi Ruth Gold and lapsed Protestant Kate Flint share a hideous legacy from their childhood: together they stumbled upon a murder scene, then helped incarcerate the man they saw holding a knife by the victim. Now he's been released after 25 years in prison, and a bizarre string of events mimicking stories from the biblical book of Genesis unfolds in present-day New Orleans. Gold's boyfriend is poisoned with cyanide after eating an apple in her living room, a brother is tricked into killing his brother and wild animals are released from the zoo to roam the city. Meanwhile, tension escalates between Gold's Jewish congregation and a group of Christian fanatics who picket the temple and badger the Jewish people to turn to Jesus.

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