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Frog Music

3.13  ·  Rating Details ·  18,798 Ratings  ·  3,118 Reviews
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track
Hardcover, First , 416 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
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Marcy I just finished it, and I loved it. I was stunned that the NYTimes gave it a terrible review. I liked both main characters, and loved the portrait of…moreI just finished it, and I loved it. I was stunned that the NYTimes gave it a terrible review. I liked both main characters, and loved the portrait of SF way back when. For me it was compulsively readable.(less)
Ashley While the story itself has its issues, the audio book is very well read. The reader has a lot of range to her voice and really conveys emotion though…moreWhile the story itself has its issues, the audio book is very well read. The reader has a lot of range to her voice and really conveys emotion though accents, pauses and pace. One of the better read audio books I've heard lately and if you're interested in this book this is a good way to experience it.(less)

Community Reviews

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Jan 06, 2014 karen rated it really liked it
From the Author Q & A:

One journalist kindly alerted me to the fact that there was a hoax in my Wikipedia entry, a claim that I was writing about 'the murder of a cross-dressing frog-catcher!' - and was abashed when I told him it was true.

and it is indeed a story about that, although it sounds a bit silly described that way, but it's not at all a silly book. it is an entirely serious book based on an unsolved murder case in san francisco in 1876, during the smallpox epidemic and a terrible he
Jan 11, 2014 Diane rated it did not like it
This book is a mess.

I find this extra disappointing because this was one of the novels I had been looking forward to reading this summer. I had been so impressed with Donoghue's earlier book, "Room," that I wanted to read more of her work.

Now, I want to read less of it.

"Frog Music" is an attempt at historical fiction and true crime. It's set in San Francisco in the summer of 1876, and it's based on the true story of an unsolved murder. Someone killed Jenny Bonnet in a boardinghouse, and in the
Apr 09, 2014 Julie rated it did not like it
This book croaked!
The narrative and characters were dead, dead, dead.

Should I just check the thesaurus for synonyms for "tedious" because I might overuse the word in my review? (Actually I am afraid that if I looked up "tedious" I would probably see "Frog Music"!!)

If only I had checked and seen the rather long appendix. It made far more interesting reading that the drivel presented as fictionalised history ... but sadly by then I had more than lost interested in it all.

If only women dressing as
Mar 06, 2014 Diane rated it did not like it
I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Lacking a fire, I put it in the recycle bin. I was expecting a story about San Francisco, a murder mystery and some historical facts not commonly known. I was not expecting to read French (sex slang mostly), or songs about drinking and child abuse (in French and English). The main character is a dancer/prostitute/circus performer. She loses all of her belongings, money and clothing several times in a few weeks. She loses her own child several times a ...more
Jan 31, 2017 Phrynne rated it did not like it
Shelves: 4000-books
I really struggled with this one. The characters were unpleasant, the subject matter was frequently disgusting and the story bounced around all over the place. Plus it was written in the present tense which I always dislike. To be absolutely honest I cannot find a redeeming feature for the whole book. Sorry everyone who liked it! It just was not for me.
Apr 03, 2014 Philip rated it liked it
*Explanation of Review to follow.*

When I finished this book, I was all like:

Crazy Face

I mean - did that SERIOUSLY just happen?

GIRL on bike

That's a girl on the Penny-Farthing bike that's about to crash into you, even though you thought it was a dude at first glance. She was just minding her own business - off to catch some of these guys:

Skinny Frog Legs


Tasty Frog Legs

At that point, I found myself again saying this:

Crazy Face

Half the time though, I was like: why all the old-timey songs?


Then I put two and two
Jan 29, 2014 Amantha rated it it was amazing
I actually finished this last night but I'm torn between writing a coherent review or just quietly sulking in a corner about how much I loved this book.

ETA: Phil asked for demanded a review so I'll give it my best shot:

I wasn't planning on enjoying this book so much. I wasn't even planning on reading it until BJ rang me right before she was supposed to relieve me for lunch and said "Did you want to read the new Emma Donoghue book?" I only vaguely remembered that she even had a new book coming ou
Ron Charles
Jan 30, 2014 Ron Charles rated it really liked it
Emma Donoghue has broken out of her “Room.” Four years after that bestselling story of a mother and child imprisoned in a garden shed, she’s back with a novel ravenous for space, for people, for sounds — for all the life that 5-year-old Jack never had. The millions of readers who know Donoghue only from the harrowing tale of that little boy will discover in “Frog Music” just how expansive and boisterous this Irish Canadian author can be.

“Frog Music” — her first historical novel set in America —
Apr 09, 2014 Susan marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
The story is dark, which is usually fine with me, but it's also nasty and full of unlikable characters making stupid and cruel decisions. The narrator of the audio version uses a French accent that is annoying, but even if the book had been read perfectly, I don't think I would have finished this one.

The only character I enjoyed at all is dead.

I'll finish mildly entertaining books, and even enjoy some books that are not great, but life's too short to spend reading a book I hate. I made it about
Betsy Hetzel
Apr 21, 2014 Betsy Hetzel rated it did not like it
After ROOM, a book I loved, I was so excited for Ms. Donoghue's next book FROG MUSIC but.... now that I've read it, I simply do not understand how/why this book got positive reviews; in my opinion, it was just awful!
The beginning was confusing as it was difficult to know what action was happening when/where; was I reading about pre-murder or post-murder?
The characters were also awful: Blanche, the prostitute who loved her "work", and Arthur and Ernest, the parasites who lived off her and her
Rebecca McNutt
Jun 10, 2017 Rebecca McNutt rated it liked it
Shelves: history, mystery, fiction
Frog Music is a good historical work, but it seemed too short to me, and the characters felt rather detached and unrealistic.
Frog Music is absolutely remarkable, well researched and thought-out novel where the reader is transported back in time to a colourful, wild bohemian lifestyle of San Francisco in 1876; during an unforgiving heat wave and the outbreak of smallpox, racial prejudice and riots against the influx of Chinese immigrant, and the damaged infants at these ‘baby farms’.

And while this is all taking place, Donoghue tells us of a crime that has been committed, based on actual events.

Donoghue gives us an ins
May 10, 2014 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star-books
Sleaze and sordidness behind the glitz and glamour of showbiz provides a decadent backdrop for this sexy historical whodunnit. Set amid the gaudy world of burlesque, gambling and prostitution in San Francisco's Chinatown during a heatwave and smallpox epidemic in the late 1870's, this is a story of lust, betrayal, murder and redemption that will keep the reader hooked from the very first page till the end.

Former circus performer Blanche Beunon is an exotic dancer who lures the crowds at the Hous
Diane S ☔
Nov 07, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
I am so glad that Donoghue has returned to historical fiction, in this her latest offering. Based on the unsolved murder, in San Francisco during the latter part of the 1800's; the murder being that of Jenny Bonnet, a cross dressing, frog catcher with a mysterious past. She and Blanche become friends after Jenny runs into her with her while riding her high wheeler.

Blanche, who had come from France with her two, well one was her lover and the other his friend, has become a dancer and prostitute
Sep 23, 2016 Petra rated it did not like it
I found that this story had not much to do with the premise of the outline. Sure, there's a murder but it's not what this book is about. It's about Blanche; just Blanche. No matter what happened in the storyline, it became about how it affected Blanche.
I find Blanche a self-pitying, obnoxious, self-centered woman. I don't have to like the characters in a book, so this didn't play into my rating. But it got eye-rollingly annoying how much Blanche thought only of herself and how all the events ar
May 15, 2014 Sarah rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I believe that life is too short to finish a book that you do not enjoy.
This one started off great. I was enjoying reading about 1876 San Francisco and an interesting collection of characters that live just inside the underbelly of the city. The story alternates in time, the shooting and its aftermath, a few weeks before the shooting and then earlier time periods. At the half way point I just didn't care anymore. I read the final chapter and then the author's notes on the real life people that i

Exotic dancer Blanche Beunon was executing her routine dance at the House of Mirrors with energy and dedication, while the audience cheered and screamed for her. The San Francisco heatwave of 1876 was stifling but she gave her customers everything she had. Wandering home later that night, hot and exhausted but looking forward to seeing her lover Arthur, she was suddenly knocked violently to one side – a person dressed in men’s clothing had run her over with a one-wheeled bicycle. When she f
Amanda Patterson
May 05, 2014 Amanda Patterson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What a terrible book. I'm not even sure what it was all about. I felt no connection to either the characters or the setting.
I think Blanche is supposed to be the protagonist but I couldn't really tell. She is a dancer/prostitute who was once a circus performer who loses her belongings and her child several times over a short period of time in San Francisco in 1876. Then she loses her house while she is out of town for a few days, and her abusive lover, Arthur and his friend, Ernest leave.
She m
Jan 06, 2014 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Blanche remembers being fifteen: the dull, shackled sensation that life is something that happens to other people. And then one day, with no warning, it begins.

I never read Room because I am an unabashed snob and, if I wasn’t interested in a given book before it becomes a Thing, I’m probably not going to read it once it does become a Thing. I just find that, when I read something just because it’s popular and buzzy, I am almost always disappointed (see: The Night Circus, The Husband’s Secret, St
Apr 30, 2014 Gretchen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhere between Blanche having sex with various men (and maybe women) and Blanche whining about wanting to have sex with various men (and maybe women), there was a murder. On top of all the sex and the murder, there was the worst book I have read all year.

This book is suppose to be some kind of engrossing look at San Francisco during the summer of 1876 when the city was plagued with heat and a small pox outbreak. Yes, Blanche suffered (more like whined) through the heat. Yes, Blanche had a ru
Based on the actual 1876 murder of Jenny Bonnet, a young woman whose choice of attiring herself in scandalous pants (well, scandalous for a woman) in San Francisco in the 1870’s, Frog Music begins with the character of Blanche Beunon, Albert Deneve and Albert’s buddy Ernest, former tightrope walkers from France. In the background San Francisco is undergoing a heat wave for the record books, and a smallpox epidemic which created an atmosphere of panic and finger-pointing at the Chinese population ...more
Jan 25, 2014 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frog Music is an unusual and, at times, discordant composition, hopping from one event to another, revealing the underbelly of San Francisco in 1876.

Based on a true unsolved crime, this is the story of Blanche and Jenny, two women striving to scrape a living in a turbulent and violent city. Blanche, former equestrienne with the Parisian Cirque d'Hiver, is now an exotic dancer living with her "maque" (pimp) Arthur and his close friend Ernest. Jenny is a cross-dressing frog-catcher of no fixed abo
Sharon Bolton
Apr 28, 2014 Sharon Bolton rated it really liked it
A chance meeting on the streets of San Francisco brings together Blanche le danseuse: prostitute, Burlesque dancer and property entrepreneur and Jenny: cross-dressing, frog-catching, Penny-Farthing rider. Not long afterwards Jenny is shot dead.

From then on, the timeline splits and we flick from the developing friendship between Blanche and Jenny, watching events unfold that lead to her death, and the subsequent attempts by Blanche to solve the mystery of her friend’s murder and recover her miss
May 21, 2014 Annalynn rated it it was ok
As a student of history, women's rights, and the place of women in history, I'm kind of the target audience for this book. Yet, this book did very little for me, and I can't imagine I would have finished it were it not my book club selection for May.

I disliked the mystery, I disliked the moving back and forth in time and tense, and I especially disliked the characters. Heck, I even dislike the baby, P'tit. Blanche was awful. Just awful. Jenny might have held some interest for me - a Victorian-e
Jan 12, 2014 Suzanne rated it liked it
Recommended to Suzanne by: Donoghue's other books
3 stars. But just barely.

I’m rounding this up to 3 stars, but it’s really more like a 2.75. At first I was OK with this as just a “light entertainment / nothing special” type of book, but by the middle I was annoyed by its mediocrity and thought some parts went on too long.

It is essentially a murder mystery, based on a real-life unsolved case in 1876 San Francisco, and I am not that big a mystery fan. I was expecting something more along the lines of Room or Slammerkin, both of which I enjoyed
Jan 09, 2014 Mara rated it really liked it
Some of the undertones in the explicit sexual scenes in this gave me pause, particularly the moment during a threesome in which a woman thinks about how nice it is that the men don't ask for her consent--"the trampling on her will rather excites her; her body likes having its mind made up for it." *shudder* However, the novel as a whole is quite good and takes an interesting look at gender performance in 19th century San Francisco. I liked the song lyrics woven throughout the text and knew I was ...more
Mar 28, 2014 Emily rated it did not like it
I really had high expectations after loving Room, and knowing this was set in gold-rush San Francisco...but I just couldn't get into the plotline (all broken up) or the characters. Oh, and it is really too long.
Jul 29, 2014 Dhitri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
The book takes readers to San Francisco in the broiling summer of 1876. The shaky city is aflame with crime, disease and racial violence, fueled by the most disgusting show of wealth and poverty. A smallpox epidemic rips through the city and the sweltering heat is stoking an impending race riot.

The story revolves around the shotgun murder of cocky cross-dressing frog catcher Jenny Bonnet. What's more fascinating is the fact that Donoghue crafted the story based on true life events; Jenny Bonnet
Rebecca Foster
(Nearly 3.5) Bawdy, enjoyable historical fiction that gives an authentic sense of San Francisco during the 1876 heatwave and smallpox epidemic. Donoghue learned about the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet, a real-life cross-dressing frog hunter, in a museum gift shop book, and then peopled the rest of the background with mostly historical figures she encountered in newspaper articles and census reports. Chief among these is her protagonist, French prostitute Blanche Beunon, with whom readers will ...more
Nov 10, 2014 Mona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm kind of ambivalent about this book.

Emma Donoghue is a great story teller, and this book is full of surprises and bumps and jolts.

It's certainly entirely original. There's nothing like it.

The novel based on a true story of a cross-dressing female frog catcher who was murdered in 1870's San Francisco. It's a story of the sordid underbelly of San Francisco life--whores, pimps, disease, thieves, racism (specifically anti-Chinese sentiment) and murderers.

But the central character (the narrative i
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Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of ...more
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“People have no idea of the things that don't happen to them—the lives they're not living, the deaths stalking them—and thank Christ for that. Hard enough to get through each day without glimpsing all the hovering possibilities, like insects thickening the air.” 11 likes
“better keep your mouth shut and seem stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” 7 likes
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