Book Review: Be Frank with Me

Monday, September 19, 2016

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

From the publisher:
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.

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.

Damn, this book was incredibly charming. It's hard to think of a more fitting adjective for this book. It was also witty, sweet, sometimes sad, and sometimes hilarious. But overall, and mostly because of Frank himself, this book was just overwhelmingly charming.

This book is definitely character-driven, and I truly fell in love with the characters (Frank and Mr. Vargas in particular). They're all fully real-feeling: flawed, complex and vulnerable. Frank is one of the best characters I've ever read, without a doubt. I would gladly read hundreds of pages on just him and his moment-to-moment activities. He's remarkably funny, intelligent and complicated, and I couldn't get enough. I wished throughout that Frank was real and I could be Alice just hanging out with him all day. The characters of Mimi and Xander (and to some extent, Alice) were a bit less fleshed out, which was mildly frustrating. But for the most part, I didn't care, because I was reading almost 100% for Frank; I couldn't help it. If I sound rambling and gushy, I am. It's not often that I adore a character this much, and want to fight for the happiness of someone fictional, but that was certainly the case here.

At times, small portions of the book seemed almost a bit confusing to me, particularly towards the end. It's quite a short novel, and I felt at numerous moments that some details could have been added to enhance or clarify the story, without making it overly long. It felt from time to time like certain events or actions were glossed over, which I felt detracted just a bit from the quality of the story. I also don't know that I felt quite fulfilled by the end of the book. The chosen ending was alright, but I felt like something was missing or a bit off for me. Maybe I just wanted more and could never be satisfied! I'll be vague on this point though, to avoid spoiling the book.

Overall, I truly adored this book. It was absolutely captivating, and so sweet. I laughed out loud more times than I can remember, and at many points, couldn't stop smiling like a fool. It also has moments of drama and pain that round out the story in a satisfying way and make it more than just "charming", though that'll always be my primary descriptor.

I received this book for review from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.
Check out the rest of the tour here!


  1. I haven't heard a book described as charming in quite a while, and that description sounds so very appealing. Frank is a character I simply MUST meet.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. Cool. Charming kids are irresistible. Just met one yesterday in real life -- so adorable and sweet. But then, when kids get tired and cranky, watch out! Nice review, Annie.