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Have you read September’s Blogpost yet?

Last month, I chose to write about the meaning of four-letter word, an everyday word, widely used word, a catch-all word – an overused word…a word whose meaning I’ve been intrigued by since, at Uni, decades ago, I fell for a track on a Joan Baez album… a Bob Dylan song…such a simple idea he had, equating this word with, well, 4-letter words… Does our careless usage every puzzle you? Or are all our strong, positive desires well covered by its four letters? – the anatomy of love…

Go straight to the Blog “Mari Howard Author” here


by Anne Booth

Girl with a White Dog quietly and confidently delivers its message in plain sight, yet never over-dramatically. Author Anne Booth’s choice to refuse the heights of drama in this tale, preferring to use a first person narrative by a year nine (age 13 to 14) student makes for a sensitive account of how it feels to be the object of prejudice.

Drama is not totally lacking of course. The main drama is left to the denouement, when Jessie (the young protagonist) finally learns the meaning of her grandmother’s strange statements and behaviours. Until then, even the box of old photos she’s discovered, a familiar trope in many novels, hasn’t told all, and she’s respectfully left the old letters unopened. Although the Reader’s interest has been alerted that there’s a mystery!

Along the way, we meet several of Jessie’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances. And we experience her learning about the feelings of being a recipient of prejudice, both as she witnesses prejudicial behaviour towards others, and notices her own attitudes, and discovers a family secret.

Anne Booth, the author, has created a believable world of home, school, and village, grounded in place and time. Throughout Jessie’s search for information about her Gran, the family and other characters form both a secure background and a contrast to Jessie’s own life, giving a good portrait of early teenage experiences at a time when having a dependable family to return to can encourage forays into the world beyond the familiar. Jessie’s daily life of school and the ups and downs of friendship continue as a backdrop to her search for Gran’s secret past, her efforts to understand and accept the apparently negative behaviour of others whom she cares about, and her developing strong attachment to a boy who has always been there as part of her world.

When Gran’s childhood experiences are revealed and explained, as part of the wider history of our world, they are not the only learning experience which Jessie has encountered over the time of the story, they bring with them some interesting points about prejudice, and point of view.

As an adult reader, I feel this is a must-read for today’s teenagers, and indeed for today’s grown-ups. In the present political climate of the world it is a very timely tale.

Note: About the author: Anne Booth writes children’s and YA books, giving, with a light touch, an informative age-appropriate slant on society. She is passionate about inclusion and has experience as a speaker to schoolchildren about her books, and mum to 4 now grown-up children, including twins …Her first grown-up novel is due for publication in 2022.


by Debbie Young

Another novella by Debbie Young is always welcome light reading! After The Natter of Knitters, (a romp themed around Yarn-bombing in Wendlebury Barrow, the Cotswold village location for her Sophie Sayers cozy mystery series), her Mrs Morris Changes Lanes moves away from this familiar location and group of characters, and extends the kind of social comment we find in Young’s ‘flash fiction’. It is more of a delightful fairy-tale. employing the device of ‘magic realism’, to explore an idea of ‘What if…?’

As a novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes is an ideal read, for example, to take on a train journey. The book qualifies as a ‘fairy-tale’, as the main character proceeds, as in such ‘moral’ tales,  from a kind of discontent, poverty, or some other difficulty, to the apparent happy fulfilment of their wish for a different life… only to discover the disadvantages of greener grass. Juliet Morris, struck in what she believes is a dreary marriage to a guy she met at school, finds herself ‘whisked away’ on a journey, via an ordinary circumstance which turns bizarre, into the kind of more glamorous world she pictures had her years after leaving school taken different turn.

Young takes us through apt descriptions of this other life, with her usual cleverly observed social interactions and humour, until in Mrs Morris’s case, like  Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, but through an emotional rather than a physical tornado, she comes to the conclusion that ‘east west, home’s best’ might be the place she belongs. 

Short, funny, and definitely cozy, is an amusing and interesting variation on Young’s comforting ‘cozy’ fiction style, and as warm as a knitted jumper on a cold evening..


Autumn News

Mari HowardOctober 4, 2021 more to read, News updated

Really getting colder now, and spending less time in the garden, though the clearing and bulb-planting tasks are waiting to be done. In my writing life, I’ve completed my first draft of the Mullins series (Book Three) and begun editing. The action takes place in 2007, and the story’s told by Alice, Jenny and Max’s older daughter, who is now 15 and working for GCSE exams, thinking about the future, and has begun a relationship with Fabian Russell, from the local boys’ private school, a fellow member of the local ‘United Schools’ Orchestra’. Mysteries and drama are set to enter her life…

In MARI’S BOOK CLUB there’s a review of The Fall of a Sparrow, a new book by Griselda Heppel, a very ‘grown-up’ story which certainly appeals to ‘readers of any age’ above the 9-12 group it’s primarily aimed at, dealing with issues of inclusion, bullying, and their sometimes tragic results. Read about this unusual, subtly told story at https://hodgepublishing.co.uk/maris-book-club/


Two English Village based Stories…

by Debbie Young, and Ruth Leigh

After Sarah Moss’s three linked, feminist, rather serious novels, (Night Waking, Bodies of Light, and Signs for Lost Children), read in autumn and winter, I have turned to a couple of lighter books. Each author is someone I know: Debbie Young, who introduced me to the Alliance of Independent Authors, and later invited me to participate in the Hawkesbury Upton literary festival, of which she is the founder, Ruth Leigh via a Facebook writers’ group.

With summer at last appearing, both these books would provide an excellent light read for a vacation or staycation. Murder Lost and Found is the seventh book in Debbie Young’s cosy mystery series, and keeps you guessing past the halfway mark as to whether or not a crime has really being committed. Or have Sophie and her friend Ella been hoodwinked by a joker?

Once verified, the pace increases, and the sad fact behind the murderer’s intentions becomes clear. No spoilers, but as is appropriate, the motives are found, as was the body, in the depths of the local primary school.

Having read most of the series, I’ve always found Sophie Sayers a wide-eyed, innocent protagonist, and her employer/boyfriend Hector not entirely someone who’s future intentions towards her I would trust. As we move through the series she sometimes seems to be becoming slightly more savvy, but in this story she is definitely showing us her most innocent side, while Ella seems slithery and suspect, and Hector doesn’t help Sophie’s peace of mind at all. The text sustains the usual atmosphere of archness and amusing irony, though as a city dweller how could I comment on the attitudes and relationships of villagers many of whom are restricted to living among the same group of people their whole lives? They were mostly together at the primary school – and long before now each found their allotted place, and knows well the foibles of the others! Certainly the denouement is unexpected and the motive gives pause for thought about traditional English education.

‘Suddenly, the church clock began to strike midday, and I knocked over a sugar bowl in my surprise’: what could be cosier, once the murderous culprit (and the body) are uncovered? A book to leave you with that warm feeling, all well in the world in a perfect English country village.

Ruth Leigh’s debut novel, The Diary of Isabella M. Smugge, also set in a village, (it’s Suffolk this time), also brings rural and cosmopolitan living into contrast, and on the first hearing about the book I expected it to be a waspish critique of well-heeled contemporary living, especially of ‘influencer’ style mums. 

I found it a pleasant surprise, and was soon captivated by Isabella Smugge (rhyme it with Bruges), known to her cult followers on Instagram as Issy. Again we are given a portrait of village life but here it is the contrast between Issy with her urban sophisticate ways and the mums at the school gates, particularly those from the council estate struggling with various family difficulties yet gamely carrying on. Issy discovers how the other half live. As various difficulties hit her family and thus her influencer status, she begins to see how other people’s lives, without the safety net of wealth, are impacted by coping with their everyday troubles. She is treated as just another mum by the Head. By contrast, her present life seems a charmed existence: her banker/hedge fund manager husband, au pair, and wonderfully written brittle, gin-drinking Mother, (‘If I begin to behave like that, shoot me!’) though clouded by memories of boarding school, from where, nonetheless, Issy left with the ‘crime’ she committed still unsolved. All these contrast with her new friend, the Vicar’s wife, (whose background I found a little extreme, though it made its point of apparent contrast.)

Other reviewers have likened Leigh’s book to the work of Jane Austen: there is certainly something of Emma in Issy Smugge…

And a clever thing about Leigh’s portrait of Issy is how true it is to reality. I have had friends from this group,  lively, life-affirming women with a strange innocence about them around the class differences and the wealth issue: this made them charming and funny, and you knew that despite the ‘big kisses’ at the bottom of their letters, these larger than life ladies, (I think of splendid blooms at the Chelsea Flower Show), are sure to melt back into their proper place, unlikely to become real bosom pals with us middle-class mortals. They can’t, they are different breed.

Again, a book which reaches its denouement as it gallops downhill towards the end, and in the tradition of that old Victorian Charles Dickens, leaves the reader waiting impatiently for a sequel. Though from early on I guessed where the problem might turn out to be. Although this is a longer and, as we begin to realise, a more serious book than it appears, it’s a page-turner which might suit a longer holiday break.

Both highly recommended for enjoyment, relaxation, and a gentle way to study the ‘human condition’.


New Book Review: ‘Behind the Crime’ (non-fiction)

Read author Colin Ferguson’s experience of working in the Probation Service in the 1970s-1990s, and learn a little about the lives, motivations, and hopes of some prisoners and ex-prisoners, the real vulnerable, confused, unhappy, or angry, people ‘Behind the Crime’. How do they see themselves, what motivated them to commit the crime, what hopes do they have for the future? Has probation helped? Read full review at Mari’s Book Club – click Read more


News: Updates January 2021

Mari HowardJanuary 12, 2021 more to read, News updated

Hello followers and others! News needs a quick update. TWO Mari Howard Author blogposts have been added – December 3rd and December 28th

In ‘Writing that Inspires’ (December 3rd) Mari considers the kind of books and authors she enjoys and which inspire her own authorship, particularly of course in the two Mullins novels – Baby,Baby,and The Labyrinth Year.>Inspiration from writers as diverse as Khalid Hosseini, Barbara Kingsolver, Leila Aboulela, and – yes – Joanna Trollope – among others – have formed Mari’s writing style and content, including her strong belief in showing respect for characters, their foibles, their strengths, and the beliefs which motivate them.

Then looking back at Christmas on December 28th, in the long drawn-out year of Covid, she muses, in ‘Christmas – how was it for you? on whether or not ‘Christmas’ can be ‘banned’ or is that just negative thinking? Should we pay more attention to the climate crisis than the traditional feasting? How do we understand what ‘Christmas’ is?

You might also like to trawl through and discover the previous blog – fascinating stuff from fellow writer Fiona Veitch Smith, whose The Art Fiasco was published back in October. It’s the 5th novel in her Poppy Denby series and is very worth following up if you enjoy historical crime with a good dollop of 1920s fun and information.

Mari Howard also blogs for the Authors Electric group of writers on 22nd of each month. Do visit the site – a different author each day, a wide variety of literary-related ideas and subjects. Find AUthors Electric here

So, two blogs or even three – get reading and Happy 2021 – may it be a better year for us all!