I Think This Counts as CanLit: Frog Music

Two summers ago I was blown away by Emma Donogue’s Room. I definitely wasn’t the only one. I remember reading it in the car on a road trip, holding my breath, not paying attention to anything else. I was haunted by it afterwards. Even now, when I think about that book, I shiver remembering how messed up it was.

Messed up but totally brilliant, obviously.

Donoghue released Astray shortly after I read Room but I didn’t read it. And then Frog Music happened. Partially seduced by brilliant cover art (on either side of the border), a little bit because the Internet told me to read it, and then some more by the idea of the actual story.

Canadian edition

Blanche Beunon is a burlesque dancer in 1870s San Francisco. She lives with her partner, Arthur and his really good close personal friend, Ernest in an apartment in a building that she owns. On her way home after a show one night she’s almost run over by a bicycle ridden by one Jenny Bonnet, a men’s clothes wearing, free spirited frog catcher, fresh out of a stint in jail for wearing men’s clothes. Blanche invites Jenny home with her and so the story takes off.

A month after their meeting, Jenny is shot dead and Blanche embarks on a quest to find out who did it, while fearing for her own life and trying to find her infant son.

Obviously this book isn’t Room, but it’s good. Donoghue is amazing at stage setting; this book takes place in the middle of a heat wave and I swear you can feel the stifling air as you read. San Francisco in 1876 comes to life before your eyes: the dying days of the California Gold Rush; the freedom that all kinds of ‘different’ people are finding in this city where anything goes; the lives of millionaires rubbing up against the struggles of the poorest; the festering air and fear of a smallpox epidemic ripping through the city. Music is also infused and brought to life in this book, like it was in Room. Songs that were popular in the days described are littered throughout the narrative.USA edition

I didn’t care for most of the characters in this one but I loved Jenny. I thought she was a totally original character (based on a real person) who brought out some of the better characteristics of the people around her. Until she meets Jenny, Blanche is a self-centered princess, more intent on living a life of comfort than concerning herself with the living conditions of a son she’s farmed out to god knows where. But even though most of the characters are horrible, it doesn’t take away from the book in any way. They work in the time they are living through.

Ultimately, what happened to Jenny is really sad. Donoghue found a way to give Jenny a completely tragic ending that is completely perfect. I found myself comparing it to Room a lot, which was probably unfair. But in this case, Frog Music stands up on it’s own.

And hey! Emma Donoghue lives in Canada (even though she’s Irish) so does this mean I’ve found a CanLit book that I’ve enjoyed?


Coming Soon: Books I’m Waiting For

Spring is almost here. I can feel it. The days are so much longer, tiny flowers are starting to poke through the ground and the sun is finally up to making more regular appearances. I went for a walk at lunchtime yesterday and it was sunny and warm and so wonderful.

While we all start shedding our winter coats and dreaming about the not-so-distant days of patio lunching and t-shirt weather, can we also take a minute to think about all the great books that are coming out to celebrate the season with us?

I don’t know if you’ve let yourself loose in a bookstore recently (I keep finding myself in them despite trying so hard to stop buying more books!) but they are clearing out a lot of books to make room for the new titles and it’s really becoming a problem. So if you love a good book discount (and who doesn’t?), you need to get in on that.

Aside from the books that are already laid out on tables and set up in window displays, here are some of the ones that I’m most excited about coming out soon.

Buried Angels by Camilla Lackberg. It’s no secret that I love Camilla Lackberg. If I could read Swedish I would have finished reading all her books by now. But I can’t so I must wait for English translations. Her seriously creepy, yet strangely domestic books about all the murders that happen in a small Swedish town are addictive and I can’t get enough. Looks like I won’t have to wait much longer – Buried Angels is set to come out April 15th.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui. I’ve already ordered this – as soon as it’s released it will be on it’s way to me. I’ve long hoped that Lainey Gossip would write a book; her blog is full of sharp observations and caustic remarks that always seemed to be begging for a book deal. Her memoir about life with her mother, a huge presence on her blog and in her life, is sure to be crammed full of excellent advice and hilarious anecdotes. I am so looking forward to it’s debut April 8th.

The One and Only by Emily Giffin. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Giffin’s books. I remember devouring Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and enjoying Baby Proof. There’s something about spring weather that makes me want to read something chick lit-y and I suspect that this new book of Giffin’s will more than fit the bill. I can expect to carry The One and Only home with me on May 27th.

It would appear that Jo Nesbo has really taken off in North America. It seems that every time I turn around, a new Jo Nesbo book has made it to bookshelves. Cockroaches, then The Police and now The Son. Like Lackberg, Jo Nesbo is a master at dark and twisty crime fiction. The difference of course, is that Nesbo’s hero is just as dark and twisty as his cases. It looks like this one doesn’t feature the infamous Harry Hole though which definitely piques my interest. The Son is out on May 13th.

Did you read Room by Emma Donoghue? I did and it stayed with me for weeks. I put off reading it for ages and when I finally gave in, I was completely swept up in it. Emma Donoghue has another book out this spring – Frog Music. This one takes place in 1870s San Francisco and centers around a murder in a saloon. I’m into it. The cover design alone is worth stopping and taking a second look. Frog Music comes out on March 25th.

I can’t wait for these books to come into my life! It’s going to be a pretty alright spring. Any books that you’re waiting to be released?



When there is a lot of hype around a book, I tend to shy away from it. Same with the books that end up shortlisted for the big awards. I assume that they will never live up to my expectations or that they will be too highbrow for me to really enjoy them.

That’s what I tell myself when I miss out on books like Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Am I the last one on this bandwagon?

Very possibly. I started reading this in the car on my way to long weekend paradise and was completely antisocial until I finished it the following afternoon. It’s not a difficult read but it is completely astonishing.

I think the reason this book is so unsettling is that it’s happened. We’ve seen real life footage of old men keeping young women in their backyards or their basements, for sexual gratification. These men have fathered children and these girls, these young women then have to care for them and love them, despite the circumstances of their lives and their beginnings.

Since I’m so clearly the last one to read it, I don’t feel bad being more than usually explicit about the contents of the book. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s out in pocket paperback now so you have no excuse.

Room is split into sections: Presents, Unlying, Dying, After and Living. The first parts take you inside Room, where Jack and his Ma are ekeing out an existence around presents, the first day of the month marked with a balloon, sundaytreats, and normal activities like chores and bathing and gym. Jack’s friends include Dora the Explorer and Rug. He longs for a dog called Lucky and sleeps in a wardrobe. But this is normal for him. He believes that there is Room and then there is all the things that he sees on TV that is make believe.

Eventually his mother starts telling him the truth. That nearly everything he sees on TV is real, on the Outside. And that’s when they come up with a plan to get out.

Reading through the execution of the plan is heart stopping. And then they are outside and now what? Now they have to learn how to cope on the outside. How to handle the relationships with people that for Jack’s Ma have been on hold for seven long years. For Jack, he’s only ever had his mother to talk to. He even has to wear special sunglasses inside because his body is so unused to any natural light.

It’s an incredible book. It makes you think about what you would do in that situation. How would you handle yourself? Could you?

No one could come out of that Room unscathed. Jack is young but through his eyes you see what a scary place the world can be.

When I first started reading and saw that objects like the rug and bed were capitalized I almost despaired of the whole thing. But then I realized that they are capitalized because for Jack, Rug and Bed aren’t just things, they are friends and they hold huge importance in his life.

Room is terrific and if I’m not the very last person to read this, then what are you waiting for, go read it!