This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.

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Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (2014)

In 1876 San Francisco, a heat wave and a smallpox epidemic mean tempers are frayed. Jenny Bonnet, a frog hunter notorious for wearing men’s clothing, collides on her high-rider bicycle with Blanche Beunon, a dancer in a strip club and a prostitute. This chance encounter sparks an unlikely friendship that is cut short a month later, when Jenny is gunned down in front of Blanche. Now Blanche is destitute and scrambling to find her baby while trying to figure out who killed Jenny.

This is an immersive novel for those readers who enjoy plunging into a different time and place. Donoghue brings San Francisco to life with a wealth of details about everyday life in this chaotic city. Her characters are real historical figures, and this is a real unsolved mystery; Donoghue’s solution may be somewhat convoluted, but it does work. The protagonist, Blanche, is a difficult person to sympathize with, a mother who first abandons her baby and then can’t live without him, a prostitute who lets herself be taken advantage of by her kept man and his best friend. Jenny is a much more engaging character, but unfortunately is not in the book much, since her murder is the central point of the plot. Overall, though, this is an engaging read, showcasing Donoghue’s clear talent for historical research.

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