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Frog Music: A Novel Hardcover – April 1, 2014
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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
"The Room author's latest novel, about a woman solving her friend's murder in 1876 San Fran, sucks you in."―Megan Angelo, Glamour
"Research and invention together mark FROG MUSIC with the ring of truth and salvage a fascinating story from the ether of history."―Ellen Wernecke, A.V. Club
"Like Room...Donoghue here displays an uncanny knack for telling an off-putting story in such a way that you can't stop reading it, that you fall a little bit in love with the characters and the moment in time she's creating."―Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
"Unmissable-a novel bound to be one of the most talked about of the year."―Daniel Lefferts, Bookish
"Donoghue...devises an ingeniously plotted revision to the official story of why Jenny died-true to her sustained, career-long effort to read history slant and thereby set the record straight."―Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"It's in the tentative moments of love between Blanche and P'tit that FROG MUSIC is at its best-heartfelt, affecting, and real. Donoghue is so gifted at depicting the fraught blessings of motherhood."―Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune
"With rich, well-researched details, Donoghue evokes a multicultural, rough-and-tumble San Francisco."―USAToday
"A vivid narrative equipped with love, lust, and violence, questionable morals, period folk tunes, an eclectic band of characters, and a quest for justice."―Morgan Ribera, Bustle
"Donoghue's book captures the details of San Francisco through meticulous research. The city is a character itself."―Tony DuShane, San Francisco Chronicle
"Though Donoghue poses the book as a mystery - who killed Jenny Bonnet? - it's equally a celebration of love despite hardships galore, and the rising call of motherhood against near impossible odds."―Alan Cheuse, NPR
"Donoghue masterfully transports readers to an era of dung-covered cobbled roads, unspeakably cruel baby farms, deep suspicion of Chinese immigrants and unruly saloons."―Rasha Madkour, The Associated Press
"Donoghue's latest novel has many facets, all of them fascinating....Colorful French slang and period songs...flow through the novel lyrically, making the era as vital as the plot....[A] vibrant novel."―Connie Ogle, Miami Herald
"A dazzling historical crime drama."―San Francisco Chronicle
"A riveting literary thriller."―Karen Holt, Huffington Post
"Donoghue delivers her best to date.... [She] had us with her novel Room.... But in her latest, she outdoes herself. She leaves behind her familiar, her trusted ways and dishes up something bold, raw-ish and fabulously fun-whilst maintaining a very serious and noted literary merit."―Daniel Scheffler, Edge
"Vividly rendered.... A page-turner, full of suspense; fans of Room will recognize the dark, gripping tension Donoghue creates so masterfully. But the novel goes far beyond the usual thriller in its nuanced characterizations: Jenny and Blanche are sculpted into living, breathing, feeling individuals, and even minor characters pulse with life."―Patricia Hagen, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A captivating exploration of female friendship, music, cultural clashes, San Francisco's history, childcare, and the sex trade in the United States."―Sara Rauch, Lambda Literary
"Completely engrossing, readable, and fascinating on several levels."―Bethanne Patrick, Washingtonian
"Donoghue's latest novel has many facets, all of them fascinating.... Like her hair-raising best-seller Room, it incorporates the elements of a thriller; in fact, there's enough puzzle here to qualify as a full-blooded mystery. Best of all, there's Donoghue's intricate examination of women in impossible circumstances, bound to repugnant men for survival but never broken by them.... Colorful French slang and period songs...flow through the novel lyrically, making the era as vital as the plot. Donoghue is acrobatic with her storytelling and language and paints the stinking city vividly.... [A] vibrant and remarkable novel."―San Jose Mercury News
"An engrossing read."―June Thomas, NY1's "The Book Reader"
"A page-turner of a mystery with rich historical texture.... Atop the mystery, Ms. Donoghue masterfully overlays another story about motherhood and obligation, and friendship-even desire-between women. [She] manifests her genius by weaving the two together."―Julie Hakim Azzam, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Where Donoghue excels is in her descriptions of 19th century squalor.... Poignant."―Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times
"Endlessly intriguing.... You'll find yourself enraptured by the intricate plot developments that will keep you revising your version of the action from one hour to the next."―Maude McDaniel, BookPage
"Rich hauls of historical research, deeply excavated but lightly borne.... [An] ingenious telling."―David Kipen, Wall Street Journal
"[An] ebullient mystery..... Donoghue cross-cuts between Blanche's desperate present-time search and scenes from her Technicolor past with showstopping aplomb.... It's all great fun, and so richly atmospheric.... Astonishing details are scattered like party nuts.... Donoghue also provides riotous musical accompaniment for her narrative.... Call it a mind-bendingly original crime novel, or a dazzling historical mystery, but in the end, this is really a book about love-a mother's love for a strange child, for an exotic friend and finally, for herself."―Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle
"In Jenny the frog-catcher, Donoghue has resurrected a true original-witty, perceptive, iconoclastic and nearly indomitable."―Kathy Ewing, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"FROG MUSIC is miles away from the traditional who-done-it, and rather more colorful than your mama's historical fiction...[and] should appeal to those who don't mind their history with grit and unflinching details."―Brooke Wylie, Examiner
"Whether the crime is stranger than fiction or simply more colorful than anything a writer would dare to invent, the true story of Jeanne Bonnet is a scandalous delight."―Sara Breselor, 7x7SF
"The authenticity Donoghue brings to her work, something of a signature, lends richness and verisimilitude to the book. FROG MUSIC is a can't-miss work."―Terri Schlichenmeyer, Washington Blade
"As with Room, the book thrives on Donoghue's precisely poignant details.... This is a book to cherish, to share with your friends and book clubs, to buy for every reader on your Christmas list, and to read again in a few years. Adored is not too strong a word to describe my feelings for it. My one wish: Emma Donoghue, could you please write faster?"―Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News
"Room's eloquent author brings the same sensitivity to this period piece, which explores the unsolved 1876 San Francisco murder of Jenny Bonnet through the eyes of the bohemian friend she left behind."―InStyle
"The setting [Blanche] inhibits is alive, brimming with sin and music."―New Yorker
"Donoghue depicts with feeling the new parent's confusion, anxiety and guilt--not just 'Am I doing the right thing?' but 'Am I feeling the right thing?-.... Respect for the facts lets the book sprawl towards its final revelations. The effect is a rough if vital music, not unlike Blanche's own repertoire."―Adrian Turpin, Financial Times
"Donoghue has a gift for place, for setting, for wringing anxiety and drama out of the spaces her characters occupy, as well as for taking real-life events and rendering them realer and sharper than they were the first time around.... It's a bizarre story through and through, and Donoghue more than does it justice, drawing for the reader a (clearly assiduously researched) world that feels both too strange to be real and too vivid not to be."―Ellen Cushing, East Bay Express
"The perfect highbrow historical murder mystery summer read.... Working from actual historic record, Donoghue...masterfully fleshes out San Francisco's demi-monde of French émigré performers and pimps.... [and her] pacing is exemplary.... FROG MUSIC also makes a case for the return of blatant eroticism to mainstream literature. Blanche Buenon's world is one of sex and prostitution, Jenny's one of subverting her gender expectations, and both women have a charged sexuality that simmers like that summer heat wave under the surface of the novel. Donoghue handles graphic sexual scenes deftly, never compromising the frank and lustful point of view of her main character."―Leigh Baldwin, San Antonio Current
Top customer reviews
That said, this is not what one would call "great literature." Sarah Waters is far more accomplished in this genre. The author employs a "flashback" structure to the storytelling, instead of a straight line chronological approach. Although this seems to be a common practice to build suspense, I found it confusing in this book. My actual review would probably be 3 and 1/2 stars, but I gave this book an extra bump because of the careful research that underlies the story.
What follows is a fascinating and horrifying account of real baby farms, homes in the business of tending infants and children for money and which were most often appaling in their conditions. The entire view of the underside of the glittering post gold boom San Francisco is evoked in detail that allows the reader entry into this closed world. The characters are multi-dimensional, and each is fascinating in her own right.
This book appears to be a large departure from her previous work. In fact, "Room" shares with this novel the world of women struggling against the strictures in which they find themselves. Donoghue also has a back list including "Slammerkin" another historical novel with women who must make a living in a world who sees their worth in strictly defined limits. Some graphic scenes are portrayed, but frankly I found the state of the baby farm to be more shocking than the sexual scenes. I found this book to be interesting, well written, and educational. References are provided at the end that include the genesis of the songs sung by the characters in question. I recommend this book.
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.