September 18, 2016

Be Frank with Me

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
2016 HarperCollins Audio
Read by Tavia Gilbert
Finished on April 15, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

A sparkling talent makes her fiction debut with this infectious novel that combines the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Reclusive literary legend M. M. "Mimi" Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she's flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she's put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer's eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank's father is, how his gorgeous "piano teacher and itinerant male role model" Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Full of heart and countless "only-in-Hollywood" moments, Be Frank with Me is a captivating and unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

I adored this book and fell in love with Frank and his naive curiosity and hilarious non sequiturs. If you've ever watched The Big Bang Theory, Frank is exactly how I would imagine Sheldon at the age of nine. I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion, as well as having my heartstrings tugged during the sweet tender moments between Frank and Alice. I zipped through the audiobook very quickly, but not wanting it to end, worrying just a bit that it was going to have a tearful ending. I was really more sad to say goodbye to these endearing characters. 

On Being "Tackless":
"I have uncanny intuition unencumbered by the editorial reflex," he said. "I heard Dr. Abrams explain it that way to my mother when I pressed my ear to the door during one of their marathon discussions. My mother's response was, 'Where I come from we call that tactless.' Can you tell me what she meant by that? I have tacks. Quite a nice collections, in many colors. I understand that thumbtacks have fallen out of favor since the invention of the Post-it note, but my mother knows I am still a fan. When I asked her why she said I was tackless, all she did was sigh. Can you explain that to me?" 
On Fashion:
After Frank got the tape off his eyebrows, he'd refreshed himself with a pass through Wardrobe. Now he was wearing an outfit more suited to an afternoon's motoring: white canvas duster over chinos and a white shirt, leather aviator's cap and goggles, a silk scarf and old-school binoculars around his neck. He had his plastic machete stuck in his belt and his pith helmet under his arm. "Is that what you're wearing?" he asked.

"What's wrong with it?" I had on a T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, and tennis shoes.

On the Little Prince:
"Of course you look like the Little Prince," I said. It was something I'd noticed when I worked in the kindergarten. On the days kids brought their favorite books to class, you could see the Pippi Longstockings and the Cats in the Hat and Courduroy Bears coming from a mile away. Bedtime Story as Destiny, I used to call it. And here we had another case in point: Frank, a snappy little dresser given to mood swings, scarves, and non sequiturs, just visiting our world from a small, eccentric planet of his own.

Me? Harriet the Spy. Of course.

On L.A. Traffic:
Back in the car we decided to try the freeway for the full-on traffic experience, driving toward the jagged cluster of downtown Los Angeles with the mountains propped up behind it like cardboard scenery. Though the "driving" I was doing felt more like being parked in Omaha at the Seventy-Second Street Wal-Mart, waiting for the store to open for its post-Thanksgiving Day sale. The freeway was so packed it was hard to believe there could be anyone left driving cars anywhere else in the world.

Final Thoughts:

This is an excellent debut novel and I can't wait to see what the author writes next. I'm glad the book is finally available in paperback. I loved the audio book, but have had a difficult time hand selling the hardcover to customers since most of my regulars prefer paperbacks. I have a feeling once it hits the shelves it will become a favorite about book clubs and quickly hit the bestseller list. I hope so since I think it's a great book. 

Highly recommend for fans of The Big Bang Theory, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Rosie Project and Lottery (by Patricia Wood). 

Note: If given a choice between the print edition or audio, I suggest audio for the full impact of Frank's humorous lines. Tavia Gilbert is an excellent reader and her rendition of Frank's monotone voice is perfect.


  1. I grabbed an e-copy of this when it was a daily deal at Amazon. I might wait and see if a cheap audio pops up, though, based on your recommendation!

    1. Kelly, if you can get it on audio, I'd go that route. It will make you laugh out loud!

  2. I love the audio version, too, and had to keep reminding myself that there was just one narrator - so well done! This is a book I worry would not have had the same impact on me in print. Maybe more people will read it now that the paperback is available.

    1. JoAnn, thank you so much for the recommendation! I wasn't sure if I'd like the book when I first heard the reader speaking Frank's lines, but I was quickly won over and I'm keeping the book on my phone for another reading when I'm in need of a laugh. Great book! Thanks again!

  3. I don't do a lot of audiobooks but this sounds like it could be a good one of that. Great review!

    1. Iliana, this is a winner! Maybe save it for a long flight to Germany? :)


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