Hazel McHaffie

Dovegreyreader Scribbles

Jodi Picoult as ebook

As you know I have an ambivalent relationship with Jodi Picoult‘s books. House RulesBut I confess I had a bit of a revival of interest when I read House Rules (reviewed on this blog back in February). Super book about autism.

So, when I was deciding which books to sample on the Kindle – just to check whether I really really did want to leap into the twenty-first century – one of the first on my list was Sing you Home. I read it ages ago but it’s taken me till now to get around to posting my comments. Which probably says a lot about my rating of the book.

Sing you HomeThe story revolves around Zoe and Max Baxter whose marriage is on the rocks after a number of failed attempts to have a baby. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I do bang on about these issues.) Anyway, Zoe finds comfort in Vanessa whose work as a school counsellor overlaps with her own music therapy. They go on to ‘marry’ and decide they want children.

Zoe already has frozen embryos left over from her IVF with Max. Using them seems like a no-brainer. But Max is now a born-again religious zealot, vigorously opposed to same sex unions, and he fights Zoe’s claims through the courts.

OK, some of the issues are my territory but that doesn’t mean I’m bound to like books on these subjects. Indeed, I can be super critical of the way authors deal with medicine and ethics. So, what was my verdict on Sing you Home? Hmm.

It’s the usual Picoult formula:
Major social issues
Multiple voices speaking in the first person.
Lots of amateur psychology.
Big social issues.
A courtroom drama

It has one unique feature:
Accompanying songs, the lyrics of which were composed by Picoult herself. An interesting ‘gimmick’, entirely fitting with the story line about a music therapist who reaches troubled people through songs.

A few amusing/thoughtful quotes to make you smile/wonder:
Max on the effect of infertility on their marriage
‘Our sex life had become like Thanksgiving dinner with a dysfunctional family – something you have to show up for, even though you’re not really having a good time … want had become need and then obsession … There was no room in my marriage for me anymore, except as genetic material.’

Vanessa on society’s attitude to homosexuality
‘I remember my mother telling me that, when she was a little girl in Catholic school, the nuns used to hit her left hand every time she wrote with it. Nowadays, if a teacher did that, she’d probably be arrested for child abuse. The optimist in me wants to believe sexuality will eventually become like handwriting: there’s no right way and wrong way to do it. We’re all just wired differently.
It’s also worth noting that, when you meet someone, you never bother to ask if he’s right- or left-handed.
After all: Does it really matter to anyone other than the person holding the pen?’

Zoe’s on school canteen
‘It looks like every other school cafeteria I’ve ever seen – a life-size petri dish breeding social discontent, students sorting themselves into individual genuses: the Popular Kids, the Geeks, the Jocks, The Emos.’

Vanessa’s on court protocol
‘The clerk scrambles forward to make his announcement as Judge O’Neill strides off the bench, so that we all rise, too, like some magnetic after-effect of his anger.’

I liked:
The insights into what music therapy can achieve with the depressed, the dying, the dementing.
The sympathetic and empathetic principal female characters.

I disliked:
The stereotypical portrayal of bigoted right-wing Christianity.
The pseudo-psychology everybody seems to indulge in.
The occasional misuse of medical terms (or maybe it’s simply American shorthand).
The anomalies in the formatting that crept in during conversion.

So, a mixed bag. Not a patch on House Rules.

Oh, just before I go, if you’re weighed down by the stress of Christmas preparations, or feeling jaded by lack of daylight hours, or in anyway down in the dumps, I recommend you go to dovegreyreader‘s post for Saturday December 10. It’s called Security knitting alert …start casting on everyone and it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.


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Online reviewing

As I briefly mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m a recent pilgrim to the review blogosphere.

Now, I freely confess it, I’ve been overtly sceptical about social networking sites. Come on! Get out into the real world, make flesh-and-blood friends, explore life in all its richness. That kind of reaction. But since I joined Facebook myself, (on the solemn advice of those-who-know in the literary world, I hasten to add) I have revised my opinion: the two are not mutually exclusive. You can have warm touchy-feely actual relationships and still have meaningful contact with geographically distant friends or link up with folk from the past electronically.

The same goes for reviews. There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit. Time was when authors relied on newspapers, magazines, radio shows, etc to bring their books to public attention. A good review in a broadsheet? Extend the house; book that exotic holiday. A bad review? Reach for the whisky; stick pins in an effigy. No review? Empty the Prozac; steal into the nearest burrow, leaving a note. But with the decline of literary editors, the rise of the celebrity cult, and the increasing struggle of small independent publishers, times have changed. So it’s good news for non-celebrity authors hovering somewhat below the plimsoll line of bestseller. There’s a whole new review world out there accessible by the touch of a computer key!

And I’m not just talking about Amazon reviews. Everyone knows they can be written by proud parents, press-ganged friends, and even by unscrupulous authors themselves. No, I’m thinking of very readable blogs written by well-read, articulate bookaholics who give measured and honest appraisals of a vast range of books. Some of them have huge followings of equally avid booklovers, ready to pick up on the books that appeal to them, even occasionally add their own tuppence-worth. Great stuff for authors. As you can see, I’m full of the zeal of the newly converted!

But don’t take my word for it. Have a look for yourselves. A good place to start is with an exceptionally good example … or two … or four … or … Well, a few of my personal favourites are Cornflower Books, Dovegreyreader Scribbles, Farm Lane Books, Meandmybigmouth and Vulpes Libris (alphabetical to avoid playground squabbles).

But be warned … you could be gone some time!

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