Book Reviews: Frog Music, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living
Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown, $27.00, 416 pages
Once, it was the most natural question in the world: why?
With a child’s usual curiosity, you asked it incessantly. Why are dogs black? Why’s the sun hot? Why do birds fly away?  Why?
You drove your mother nuts.
But as you aged, answers came easier and “Why?” grew faint. You didn’t need to ask “why” so much, except, as in the new novel Frog Music by Emma Donoghue, you needed the reason for a tragedy.
Long after Jenny Bonnet was dead, Blanche Beunon wondered if it was truly an accident that Jenny ran her over with a penny farthing. Jenny said she hadn’t meant it, but she’d known fully well who Blanche was; Jenny had seen her dance at the House of Mirrors, which made Blanche oddly embarrassed. So was it really an accident that a wandering woman in men’s clothing became acquainted with a burlesque dancer?
That was just one of the things Blanche pondered as she ran. Though she’d only known Jenny for a few days, they’d become fast friends. Even Arthur, Blanche’s amour since she was just fifteen, seemed amused by Jenny’s devil-may-care attitude and by the gun she casually carried in the pocket of her trousers. Arthur’s friend, Ernest wasn’t quite as taken with Jenny – but Blanche wondered if that was because Jenny’s presence seemed to affect their ménage a trios.
Then again, Ernest was an odd duck, ever since their circus days. He’d been Arthur’s protégé, his best friend. Once Blanche became part of the Le Cirque d’Hiver, it was just the three of them and Ernest never seemed to mind. Until P’tit was born.
Until Jenny entered the picture.
Those were the things Blanche considered as she wandered the streets of Chinatown , nearly melting from the heat, avoiding buildings quarantined for smallpox. Were things falling apart before she brought P’tit home?  Or was it, as Ernest claimed, all because of Jenny and her strange life?
How much did Blanche really know about Jenny Bonnet?   Or Arthur, for that matter? She wondered, as she tried to find ways to get money to live, and as she remembered the sight of Jenny’s bloody body lying on a bed…
With its bounce-around, Pulp Fiction-like format, Frog Music is confusing at first. It begins with a spectacularly bloody murder and proceeds with our heroine looking for the man she’s sure killed her friend.
But did he? Author Emma Donoghue keeps her readers guessing, but we’re not merely caught up in a murder mystery. No, Blanche herself is just as much an enigma as the crime she’s trying to solve. I briefly even wondered if the character was imagining her surroundings, so dream-surreal is Donoghue’s writing, at times.
And that brings me to the best part: it’s not entirely imagined. This tale is wound around the real unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet, killed near San Francisco in 1876. That authenticity, a Donoghue signature, lends definite richness to Frog Music, making it a book I don’t think you should miss. Why would you? 

The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Amit Sood, M.D., M.Sc.
DaCapo Lifelong Books, $19.99, 320 pages
Lately, it seems as though everything sets your teeth on edge.
The neighbors are way too noisy. Customer service… isn’t. Your in-laws are a bunch of ingrates. And your co-workers?  Let’s not go there.
You’re over just about everything: overworked, overloaded, and overwhelmed. But when you read The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Amit Sood, M.D., M.Sc, you might start to feel overall better.
In today’s world, it’s nearly impossible not to feel strain. At least that’s how it seems, and it only gets worse as we “get hijacked by impulses, infatuation and fear,” the brain wants to “escape the present moment,” and the mind thinks everything’s a danger. Says Sood, we “struggle with what is,” which is the very definition of stress.
Part of the reason for the struggle is that, when you’re awake, your brain operates in one of two ways: default or focused. You’ve undoubtedly experienced both.
In focused mode, you’re so immersed in the task at hand that you forget about almost everything surrounding you. In default mode, your brain wanders like an idle shopper, moseying from problem to worry to idea, spinning and projecting future scenarios. The key is to teach yourself to stay on “focused” mode and out of the “black hole” of meandering default.
Part of that can be done with “attention training,” which has many facets and which “speaks to the child” in you; and by “refining interpretations,” which appeals to the adult within.
Learn to pay “joyful attention,” which helps with calming and keeps your mind occupied so it doesn’t wander. Learn CRAVE, patience, and CALF when relating to others. Free your prejudices in order to “open to the world.”  Accept that nothing is perfect and that there are times when forgiveness isn’t required. Begin each day with thankfulness. Learn pride in work. And remember that compassion for others should extend to compassion for yourself.
When an institution like the Mayo Clinic attaches its name to a book, you kind of expect it’d be totally serious stuff, right?
Nope. Author Amit Sood has quite a bit of fun in this book, which certainly supports its title and its joyful cover.
But first, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living opens in a classroom then turns to the science of the brain, which serves as a nice reminder but—since bookstore shelves are packed with brain books—might be unnecessary for some readers.
That’s OK, though, because what comes next is worth it: Sood teaches us to “train” our minds to stress when appropriate, live with acceptance, and appreciate others. This, too, might be repetitious for readers who’ve filled up on motivational-type books like this one, though I took great delight in this particular handling of the subject.
I also liked that Sood didn’t pretend this is easy, but reducing stress and lessening worry sure sounds appealing and that’s enough for me. If it is for you, too, then The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living is a book you can really sink your teeth into. 

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