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Frog Music: A Novel Hardcover – April 1, 2014
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*Starred Review* Donoghue flawlessly combines literary eloquence and vigorous plotting in her first full-fledged mystery, a work as original and multifaceted as its young murder victim. During the scorching summer of 1876, Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic cross-dressing bicyclist who traps frogs for San Francisco’s restaurants, meets her death in a railroad saloon on the city’s outskirts. Exotic dancer Blanche Beunon, a French immigrant living in Chinatown, thinks she knows who shot her friend and why, but has no leverage to prove it and doesn’t know if she herself was the intended target. A compulsive pleasure-seeker estranged from her “fancy man,” Blanche searches desperately for her missing son while pursuing justice for Jenny, but finds her two goals sit in conflict. In language spiced with musical interludes and raunchy French slang, Donoghue brings to teeming life the nasty, naughty side of this ethnically diverse metropolis, with its brothels, gaming halls, smallpox-infested boardinghouses, and rampant child abuse. Most of her seedy, damaged characters really lived, and she not only posits a clever solution to a historical crime that was never adequately solved but also crafts around Blanche and Jenny an engrossing and suspenseful tale about moral growth, unlikely friendship, and breaking free from the past. --Sarah Johnson
"A riveting literary thriller.... Donoghue brilliantly conjures the chaos of a boomtown in the grip of both a heat wave and a smallpox epidemic; her cast of colorful lowlifes includes the freeloading Arthur and his sycophantic best friend, Ernest. But it's Blanche and Jenny who hold our attention.... FROG MUSIC begins with a mystery: Who killed Jenny? But it enthralls with two other questions: Who was Jenny? Who will Blanche become?"―Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine
"FROG MUSIC...[brings] to steamy life the unresolved so-called San Miguel Mystery.... Donoghue front-loads the drama.... She captures San Francisco in all its melting-pot, fishy-smelling glory, and weaves in authentic details about smallpox outbreaks, race riots, and orphanages. Jenny Bonnet is an incendiary character pulled directly from the history books.... Her extraordinary life gives Donoghue's novel contemporary resonance."―Elyse Moody, Elle
"More fine work from one of popular fiction's most talented practitioners.... Donoghue's vivid rendering of Gilded Age San Francisco is notable for her atmospheric use of popular songs and slang in Blanche's native French, but the book's emotional punch comes from its portrait of a woman growing into self-respect as she takes responsibility for the infant life she's created."―Kirkus Reviews
"Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC-she shows genius. Like and unlike her stunning ROOM, this novel lifts into view a strange crime, a remarkable woman, and is a Ringling Brothers-grade feat of narrative strength. As ever, Donoghue focuses on people on the skirts of the world, who make their way outside the common middle of things. Blanche and Jenny are characters you will never forget, filmed in vibrant, cinemascope prose, and they mark Emma Donoghue's greatest achievement yet."―Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
"Donoghue's first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it's just as dark and just as gripping as the latter.... Aside from the obvious whodunit factor, the book is filled with period song lyrics and other historic details, expertly researched and flushed out.... Donoghue's signature talent for setting tone and mood elevates the book from common cliffhanger to a true chef d'oeuvre."―Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Donoghue flawlessly combines literary eloquence and vigorous plotting in her first full-fledged mystery, a work as original and multifaceted as its young murder victim.... An engrossing and suspenseful tale about moral growth, unlikely friendship, and breaking free from the past."―Sarah Johnson, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Donoghue's evocative language invades the senses.... Readers won't quickly forget this rollicking, fast-paced novel, which is based on a true story and displays fine bits of humor with underlying themes of female autonomy and the right to own one's sexual identity."―Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Donoghue proves herself endlessly inventive....[She] nails both the period details and the atmosphere-think sweltering heat waves, dumping grounds for unwanted babies, and smallpox epidemics. This is the kind of book that will keep you up at night and make you smarter."―Julie Buntin, Cosmopolitan
"[An] offbeat, high-minded whodunit from the award-winning author of Room."―Adam Rathe, DuJour
"A historical narrative set in San Francisco in 1876.... [that] provides further proof that Ms. Donoghue is an unusually versatile writer."―New York Observer
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Fortunately for the reader, Emma Donoghue sets a high bar to reach with her next novel. I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with.
This is a historically set mystery and I did enjoy the historical narrative. It was interesting to follow the early development of San Francisco. Navigating the streets and alleyways in long skirts - the noise, odors and international mix of people made for a crazy place to be for sure. That said, this is the craziest mix of people and events thrown together - and not in a good way. There aren't any characters that I would call sympathetic - they are all corrupt in some way or just plain unlikable.
If you like books with a lot of sex - the author throws a hefty dose of that in when things start to drag.
I forced my self to read the book to the end - just so I could confirm the culprit. My recommendation is save yourself the pain.
I wanted more depth - more emotion. The main character's moral dilemma seemed glossed over, and the excessive sexual situations were repetitive and lacking in detail and sensuality. I found it unrealistic, even though it was based on fact.
The book may get better of course, but I put it down before it did.