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?
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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