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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Labyrinth Year
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on 14 February 2017
It's a while since I read Baby, Baby (Mullins Family Saga Book 1) the first book of the Mullins family saga by Mari Howard but I was soon drawn back into their lives which seemed to have grown in complexity following a move to Oxford (where Jenny still works in genetics) and the arrival of children. Jenny is already juggling home and career and puts herself under extra pressure when half-sister Daze arrives with problems of her own. A conference abroad causes her to miss the funeral of her father-in-law who has cast such a long shadow on all of their lives and a breakdown in communications with the rest of the family ensues. Meanwhile Daze has completed the symbolically significant Labyrinth. Will it help Jenny and Max rediscover what they still have? I enjoy how this writer’s exploration of the fine texture of domestic life reveals the subtle shifts in relationships. This is a worthy follow-up involving science, creativity and faith which could equally well stand alone.
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on 27 April 2015
I was really keen to read this book, the sequel to "Baby, Baby", which I very much enjoyed.

Like that first book, "The Labyrinth Year" is an intelligent, balanced and compassionate presentation of the potential conflict between religious fundamentalism and scientific advances in fertility treatment and genetics. Conflicting issues are presented via an engaging, likeable and interesting mix of characters. My favourites were Max, the GP whose father is a fundamentalist preacher; his geneticist wife Jenny; and her new-agey irrepressible half-sister Daisy, whose project to build a mystical labyrinth binds the elements of the story together.

As the story makes clear, if it's hard enough for parents to raise children while working full time in demanding jobs, without having to accommodate conflicting beliefs and blended families stuffed with secrets, no matter how much husband and wife are naturally drawn to each other.

As with "Baby, Baby", this is a complex and well-written novel that delves beyond sensationalist headlines surrounding genetic research and tackles the real human issues that lie beneath. A rewarding read for anyone who enjoys novels with a scientific theme, or discussion about the conflict of religion and science, or who loves a family saga weaving together and resolving conflicts between realistic and well-drawn characters. Highly recommended.
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on 14 February 2015
I really enjoyed this book. It is a brilliant sequel to Baby, Baby, but also stands alone as a vibrant account of the complexities of family life. The story moves along at a good pace and I could picture the characters and locations in my mind. The background science and theology is well researched,giving interesting substance to the page-turning relationship issues!
This book is not a trivial read; it is a thought-provoking gem.
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on 25 February 2015
I enjoyed Baby, Baby but this absorbing, well-constructed sequel is an even better read. The characters we began to get to know in the first book become deeper and more complicated – more true to life, in fact – as the stresses of juggling family, marriage, career and emotional baggage start to tell on Jenny and Max. Even Daze, who in Baby, Baby came across as the difficult, resentful foil to her stepsister Jenny’s good nature, develops a much rounder personality, her childhood trauma making her more sensitive to others’ problems; while ironically it’s Jenny who is blinded by selfishness, at least for a while.
So often child characters can give a book a cloying touch, their cute expressions and lack of inhibition designed to ‘lighten’ the atmosphere with obvious humour – but not here. Alice and Zoe, Max and Jenny’s children, are beautifully realised characters in their own right, not drawing attention to themselves, fitting into the story exactly as they should.
The conflicts begun in Baby, Baby of religious fundamentalism versus tolerance, scientific progress in genetics and fertility against the risks of new procedures, are more relevant than ever, and Mari Howard does an expert job of weaving these themes into her story without ever letting them weigh it down. In her wonderful, accurate portrayal of the different strands of Christianity, she shows how faith and science don’t need to be mutually exclusive (whatever the Richard Dawkins camp may say): all that is needed is openness to new ideas and the willingness to admit one might have got things wrong. A refreshing message, if ever there was one!
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on 10 November 2014
The Labyrinth Year revisits the characters found in 'Baby, baby' some years into the future. The characters are just as engaging, and in some ways more so as the reader learns more about them, past and present. Mari Howard writes fluently with a deft touch, slipping convincingly into the heads of very different people, and dealing particularly delightfully with the small children. She never minimises the conflicts inherent in modern family life - indeed, the stresses are all too apparent. But she also writes unflinchingly about the divided ethical standpoints of the protagonists. There is both science and philosophy here, and there is no doubt that it is well researched, but it is encapsulated into a story of recognisable human beings and their interactions. This is a story of many layers, but it is also one where the reader turns the pages to find what happens to characters who have become real. A satisfying read.
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on 13 January 2015
I’ve been waiting eagerly for this sequel to ‘Baby, Baby’, and enjoyed meeting all the characters again. I also enjoyed meeting the children for the first time, and recognising many well-drawn elements of family life with tinies! The central theme of the labyrinth (and, crucially, how it is different to a maze) is woven cleverly through the whole, reflecting the twists and turns of the plot and leading to a particularly satisfying and thought-provoking ending.
Mari Howard’s skill as a storyteller is evident, for me, through the fact that the plot and the characters kept me turning the pages and hooked into the story, despite the fact that the writing style would not have been my personal choice: it’s dense writing, switching between characters, some told in first person and others in third, with lots of half-finished sentences and unconventional punctuation. There were also a few continuity errors due to the late 90s dating of the story - I’m fairly sure that nobody said ‘OMG’ before the turn of the millenium, and a film is mentioned that didn’t appear until 2002 - but again, these were small hiccups in a good story that was grippingly crafted to keep me on the edge of my seat.
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on 1 March 2015
I know this book is worth four stars because despite some frustrations, I absolutely had to finish. I got completely invested in the characters and how all would come out for them in the end.

The novel is structured around the shifting perspectives of three people – Oxford fertility researcher, Jenny; her doctor husband Max; and Jenny’s step-sister Daisy. Max and Jenny struggle with the juggling act forced upon parents with demanding careers. Unresolved family of origin issues on both sides inevitably worm their way into the relationship. Daisy stands on the periphery, trying to make sense of a life shattered by early abandonment. A cast of interesting secondary characters – Max and Jenny’s daughters, Alice and Zoey; Max’s cousin David, mothers and fathers and friends – keep the story moving along.

The reader is carried from person to person as each attempts to unravel thorny issues of identity and life direction. Like the labyrinth that forms a leitmotif for the entire novel, the characters wind back and forth and in and out of their perceptions about one another until a type of collective wisdom is gained.

The descriptions of Oxford and Cornwall are breathtaking. It felt like being there. Whether a homey pub, a Church, a research lab, a doctor’s office, a country fair or a beach – it all rang wonderfully true.

I wanted to stay on the side of each character, understanding their reality as it presented itself to them. This was difficult with Jenny. She didn’t come across in as sympathetic a manner as her husband or her step-sister. All the characters were adept in their ability to scrape through their own motivations and inner worlds for insight lavishly shared with the reader. With Jenny, at time, it was painful to wade along with her. She was often harsh to the point of callousness and some of her choices made me squirm. And at one point in the novel, I began to suspect that listening to her perspective was a mistake as it seemed she was utterly blind to the realities of her own situation.

Wherein the frustration? I had issues with the dialogue. It literally rushed along and left me scratching my head more than a few times. Part of this may have been my lack of understanding for expressions and colloquialisms common to people who live in the UK. I think I was also hampered by not having read the book that preceded this one. And a major revelation near the end of the novel caught me by surprise though I realize the signs were there. It was almost as though it was too difficult to hold onto everything that was happening. I became as rattled as the characters. Maybe I need to seek out a labyrinth of my own to walk.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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on 16 January 2015
I really liked this book. I came to it late (having not read Baby Baby) but it works as a stand-alone story. The first person present tense gives immediacy and acts as a hook from the beginning, a hook which is maintained thoughout. I loved the way in which this book couldn't be compartmentilised. The story only gets better and I found the characters to be both believable and fascinating.
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on 6 February 2015
This review is by Marlys Craun. Mari Howard's second book builds on her first book Baby, Baby. While each could be read alone, they are probably best read in sequence. Ms. Howard continues her exploration of ethical issues in reproductive science and how they can impact everyone in the process, from those doing basic research to the prospective parents. She is especially good at creating believable characters that the reader cares about and at exploring the ways that decisions, seemingly individual, actually affect the interlocking dynamics of families, marriages, and communities. Which character was speaking occasionally blurred in the dialogue and I would have liked to hear much more about Daisy and her mother--but maybe that is another book.
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