Jan Karon, , read by John McDonough. . Penguin Audiobooks, $34.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-14-280033-1

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Fiction SHEPHERDS ABIDING Jan Karon , read by John McDonough. Penguin Audiobooks , unabridged, six CDs, 6.5hrs., $34.95 ISBN 0-14-280033-3

Esther Bolick, mayor of Karon's beloved make-believe Mitford, bakes a marmalade cake for Christmas that is as sweet as her hometown. Her story, Esther's Gift , and The Mitford Snowmen —both included in this holiday collection—are previously published, stocking stuffer–sized narratives that Karon's fans have mostly likely already consumed with zeal, but the title novel is fresh entertainment that Mitford aficionados can enjoy while they do their own holiday baking. Sounding like Santa himself might, reader McDonough rumbles out these cheery tales, using dramatic pauses, lilting character voices and, at times, simple a cappella renditions of hymns to convey the upbeat innocence of the town and its residents. Choir music by Journey of the Soul fills the gaps between the novel and short stories, soaring as high as listeners' emotions will when Father Tim presents a restored nativity scene to his wife, Cynthia, on Christmas Eve. Though this audio production may be too cloying for some listeners, others will be buoyed by McDonough's jovial narration and the novel's inspirational themes. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 3). (Oct.)