Book Review: Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Posted April 1, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 27 Comments

Book Review: Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Published by Little Brown on Apr. 1, 2014
Pages: 416
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher

It’s the summer of 1876, and boomtown San Francisco is sweltering under a heatwave. Blanche, a French circus-performer-turned-burlesque-dancer living with her fancy man, befriends a mysterious woman named Jenny, who wears men’s clothing and catches frogs for a living.

When the novel opens, Blanche and Jenny are languishing at a railroad saloon in a border town, and suddenly Jenny is fatally shot through the window. Although she has only known Jenny for a month, Blanche is determined to bring the killer to justice. Certain she knows who the killer she is, she embarks back to San Francisco to find proof. Along the way, Blanche realizes just how little she actually knows about this strange woman.

Interwoven with Blanche’s quest to solve the murder is the story of the events leading up to the shooting, from the night the two women met. As may be expected from a woman who has been repeatedly arrested for wearing pants, Jenny quickly proves to be an unusual character. Within just a few days, she alters the way Blanche perceives her life.

Readers, I couldn’t put this book down. I really enjoyed Room, but this is the first of Donoghue’s historical fiction that I’ve read. I definitely need to read more of it; she is incredible! 1870s San Francisco was a fascinating setting, and I loved all of the historical details: the smallpox epidemic, the depiction of Chinatown, “farms” that raise babies whose mothers can’t or don’t want to care for them, and the warped justice system. 

Frog Music was a riot to read. It has murder, burlesque dancers, dangerous millionaires, irresponsible gamblers, bustle skirts, bohemians sharing the love, jealousy, and former circus performers. It’s riveting and vivid, and I couldn’t get enough. This novel is all the more interesting because it is based on a real, unsolved murder of the time.

I was a bit nervous about this novel at first because of my irrational fear of crime fiction. The mention of murder in the cover blurb made me wary, but everything about this book drew me in. It is a bit of a murder mystery, but it’s very character driven — and did I mention how incredible the setting is?! Frog Music is sweaty and gritty, with phenomenal characters and danger lurking around every corner. However, as a warning to sensitive readers: there are some sexually explicit scenes with really shaky notions of consent.

 This novel is an unputdownable book about the mysteries of trying to know another person, being a woman during the time period, and the battles of motherhood. I loved it!

 I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

  • I was on the fence about this one – although I love books set in historical SF (although most that I read revolve around the Gold Rush)…but your review definitely has me convinced to get to it when I get a chance. Sounds like it has quite a variety of plot points!

  • Isi

    I need to read it! Sure I will!
    It’s great when you find a book you love so much you can’t stop reading 😉 I also read Room and it was shocking, so I wanted to read more books by this author!

    • Frog Music is very different from Room, but I think you’ll love it just the same!

  • This book is on order at my library, and I think I am second in line to borrow it. It has all the elements that I enjoy in a book.

  • OMG, you got a copy of this to review!! Awesome, and the book sounds great too. Can’t wait for when I get my hands on it. Thanks for the review

    • I hope you enjoy it!

  • Sounds awesome; plan to read it this month.

    • I hope you enjoy it!

  • Love this review. I mention it in mine, but like you, the characters in this book SOLD it for me, they were so vibrant and interesting that I couldn’t help but want to find out more about them.

    • Yes! Donoghue is so good at creating vibrant, compelling characters!

  • I want to read the review, but I’ll have to come back after I read the book!

  • This sounds really good! The title was throwing me off, but this review has definitely piqued my interest 🙂

    • The title is kind of odd, but don’t let that throw you off!

  • Sounds fantabulous! Donoghue is such a talented writer.

    • I heart her so much.

  • My review is going up tomorrow, I feel the same way. SO MUCH AWESOME! After reading this I downloaded Slammerkin on a kindle daily deal for $2.99 because more Emma Donoghue historical fiction with prostitutes? It simply had to happen!

    • Oh no, I missed that one! But I just ordered brand-new hardcover copy of Astray from Alibris for like $6 including shipping, so I’m doing a major happy dance over that! (I’ve never seen anyone on the internet talk about Alibris, but it’s an online marketplace for (mostly) used books. I’ve gotten some fantastic deals there!)

  • I’ll be reading this soooon, I promise! Loved your wonderfully descriptive review 🙂

    • I can’t wait for your review!

  • I’ve been a bit wary of all things mystery myself lately. I might just be burnt out, but most mysteries and thrillers I’ve read lately have felt exactly the same as all the other mysteries and thrillers to me. This sounds like a pleasant exception, given that both the characters and the setting were so well done 🙂

    • I’ve never really read traditional mysteries/thrillers, but what makes Frog Music so great is its fascinating, vibrant characters. And yes, the setting is fantastic!

  • I’m hoping to get Frog Music soon!

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