Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

April 2, 2014 Crime, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 35

Hey There Bookworms,

I loooove me some Emma Donoghue. You might remember that from me going on and on about Room (review) and Astray (review), so it won’t surprise you to hear that when I found out Emma Donoghue had a new book on the horizon, I had to get my grubby little hands on it. I typically get the books I review (at least as far as ARC’s go) through Netgalley or publisher pitches. This is the first book I’ve ever reached out to the publisher and downright begged for. Luckily, the very sweet representative from Little, Brown, & Company obliged me and sent me an advanced copy of Frog Music. (Thanks Meghan!) *Even though I’m super grateful that I was sent a free copy of this book, my review will remain honest and whatnot. But for heaven’s sake, it’s an Emma Donoghue, it’s not like it was going to suck anyway.*


Frog Music takes place in 1876 San Francisco. Blanche is a French circus performer turned burlesque dancer/prostitute living the Bohemian life with her  layabout paramour and his buddy. The city is in the grips of a record breaking heatwave AND a smallpox epidemic. After a short acquaintance with the enigmatic Jenny Bonnet, Blanche’s world is rocked when Jenny is shot dead through the window of a railway saloon. (That’s not a spoiler, y’all, it’s like the first scene.)

Jenny Bonnet was a heck of a character. She was repeatedly arrested for wearing pants. Yup, back the day, dressing in “men’s clothing” was grounds for arrest. Crazy, right? Jenny was a frog catcher by trade. She delivered these frogs to San Francisco’s many French restaurants. Because frog legs are tasty… To people who aren’t me. (I don’t much care for them, but to each their own, I say!)

And Blanche? Absolutely fascinating. I don’t know why I’m always so enthralled by tales of prostitutes, but they’re all so dang varied and interesting. The girl ran away to join the circus, emigrated to the US, and became one of the most successful (ahem) entertainers in San Francisco. Her friendship with Jenny put Blanche’s life on a completely new trajectory in ways Blanche never saw coming.

The craziest thing about this story? It’s TRUE! Well, it’s based on a true story, and I read the author’s notes at the end- this novel was very thoroughly researched. Jenny Bonnet was indeed a woman murdered in 1876 San Francisco. She was in the company of Blanche, a burlesque dancing prostitute. Her murder was never officially solved, though the list of suspects was not short. Was it an enemy of Blanche? An enemy of Jenny? A random drunk who liked shooting people through windows? Very mysterious.

You guys, this book was AWESOME. I could not put it down, I simply had to know all the sordid details of Blanche and Jenny’s lives. I had to know about the smallpox epidemic sweeping the city. I also had to get a visual image of Jenny’s Highwheeler bicycle (though I prefer the term “Penny-Farthing” to describe the contraption.) Can you imagine trying to ride that thing?

File courtesy Wikimedia Commons, author Dave Hogg.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, author Dave Hogg.

Tell me, Bookworms. Is there a particular type of character you’re drawn to in books? Am I the only one who is absolutely enthralled by ladies of the night? (In a non-sexual, purely literary sort of way. It’s hard to talk about hookers without sounding pervy.)

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35 Responses to “Frog Music by Emma Donoghue”

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Meghan IS nice. She was so nice to me too when I begged for a copy of The Goldfinch.

    Okay, this is an unfair complaint, but I am furious that the character called Jenny immediately dies. Why do books gotta discriminate against characters called Jenny? They are always servants or dead. Musicians have lots of good Jenny songs, but there are nooooo good Jennys in books and movies. (Forrest Gump doesn’t count because I hate that movie with every part of my heart because of all the damn people who have called me “Jenn-AY” over the years. And also I think the movie is bad. #minorityopinions)

    Do you know EJ Bellocq btw? He was this photographer in New Orleans back in the day, and he took a bunch of really lovely pictures of prostitutes. Look him up! You will like the photographs! (Everyone likes them.)

    • Words For Worms

      Hahahahahaha! Jenny’s do get the shaft when it comes to books. The only good, non-dead, non-servant Jenny I can think of is Jamie Fraser’s sister from the Outlander series. I am totally going to check out that photographer!

  2. Lady @ Snail on the Wall

    I am an Emma Donoghue fangirl, too, and I can’t wait to read this one! Thinking about novels focused on prostitutes, have you read The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman? It’s been around for more than a decade, I think, but it is still one of my very favorites.

  3. Megan M.

    This does sound really intriguing, especially since it’s based on a true story. Although, I really hate the name Blanche (and Blythe, FYI.) Maybe I can pretend she’s called something else. LOL

    I’m always drawn to stories about writers. It immediately intrigues me. And dancers. It just seems so cool and romantic to be a dancer. It’s why I love So You Think You Can Dance.

    • Words For Worms

      Blanche was her working name. I believe her birth name was Adele- you can mentally substitute that! I’ve got a dancer book next on my TBR stack :).

  4. Ashley F

    Gotta love a good fallen woman.

    I’m hesitant to read this. ROOM kinda messed with my head and the style (having the kid as the narrator) didn’t really work for me. I didn’t read Astray though so maybe worth a shot.

  5. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I LOVE hooker tales. I don’t know why exactly. Is it because I can live vicariously by reading about their sordid lives? Perhaps. But the prostitute with a heart of gold is a trope as old as….well as old as the oldest profession 😀

    Have you read Belle Cora? I feel as if we’ve chatted about that before?

  6. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I love books with notes about which parts are true 🙂 I’ve been reading so many good reviews of this lately, I’m definitely going to need to get myself a copy too!

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