Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

WceGgDUNlCA8RPHOz66AbHHs4RI12Vqg+OoBRGBrKx2plCphEkAr3aizNSRpuGHkIoDZcS4gLRs3LNNbucM2t9F9fdaEYpGYGalgPVZQmRtQ5iDKyCBWtzAWMsmQ+7PKBook – It’s been a long time–possibly the year-and-a-half since Counting By 7s, another book featuring an unforgettably brilliant young character–since I’ve encountered a novel as tempting to recommend and hard to put down as Be Frank With Me.

Practical, responsible Alice Whitley, twenty-four, accepted the position of assistant to an affable New York publisher as a way to stave off the inevitable day when she would put her accountancy degree to its logical use.  She wasn’t expecting to be dispatched to L.A. as chief cook and bottle washer to caustic author M.M. Banning, real name Mimi Gillespie, who wrote one classic as a teenager and hasn’t published a word since.  Now in her fifties, Mimi has recently been swindled out of her fortune and needs to write another book, fast–not so much for her own sake as to provide for her son, Frank.

Frank Banning is the beating heart of Johnson’s book, as the title suggests.  A miniature genius eccentric, this nine-year-old powerhouse dresses and talks like a jazz-age tycoon, rushes through the world like a disaster-prone human hurricane, has a seemingly bottomless well of facts at his command, and alternates between social ineptitude and piercing emotional insightfulness.  Alice’s new role as Frank’s caretaker and companion shapes her relationships with Mimi, whose resentment sours her underlying gratitude, and with Frank’s “itinerant male role model,” the gorgeous handyman Xander, who bonds with Alice over their shared inside-outside place in the Gillespies’ world.  But it is Alice’s growing friendship with Frank, often undemonstrative but deeply affectionate nonetheless, that makes Be Frank With Me so irresistible, as we fall in love with Frank–in all his glory–through Alice’s eyes.

 

Festive in Death

festiveBook Festive in Death is the 39th book in this series and while you don’t technically need to read them in order, they’re nowhere near as much fun to read if you don’t.

When Eve’s nemesis, Trina, stumbles over a dead body with one of her friends, Eve is enmeshed in an investigation where the deceased is hard to like. A womanizer who juggles and uses is found dead with a kitchen knife pinning a note through his chest that says, “Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!!” Sifting through the muck of his relationships and planning for the ever exasperating holidays, Eve does what she always does, looks for justice, regardless of the victim.

I love this series. Saying that, I’m totally biased when it comes to the Christmas themed stories. Some of my friends rolled their eyes and said, “Here we go again, same old, same, old,” but I love that. I love the fact that each year Eve is a little more comfortable with her new extended family, with shopping, and there is an awesome excuse to look into the lives of the bit-players from earlier in the series. I will continue to not only read, but purchase these books for as long as JD Robb keeps writing/publishing them.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchBook – This Pulitzer prize-winning story has been likened to a number of classic coming-of-age tales from Charles Dickens. The central character in this novel, Theodore Decker, loses his mother during a tragedy that he himself survives at a New York art museum. The traumatic event, told from Theodore’s perspective, provides a compelling start for the book.

The audiobook for this title is narrated by David Pittu. His narration is exceptional as his voice conveys the pathos of young Theo and the psychic burden that overlays his life. Theo and his mother had been estranged from his father, and after the events in the museum Theo is housed for a time in a beautiful Manhattan apartment with the wealthy family of a socially-inept schoolmate. His appreciation for the art and antiques in the apartment touches upon on-going themes in the book: the immortality of masterpieces, the messages they convey through the ages, and the profound attachments individuals form with these pieces.

I was especially glad to be listening to the audiobook version of this story when Theo, as a teenager, develops a friendship with Boris, a boy from Ukraine. Both author and narrator played delightfully with the Slavic dialect. Boris is a wonderful character because he brought levity and perspective to the story, and David Pittu’s Boris was very likable.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraBook – “What do you seek in these shelves?” What recently unemployed graphic designer Clay Jannon sought was employment. His quest was successful at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore; a place with bookshelves and ladders extending up three stories, and a collection of curious books that are never bought, but are “checked-out” by eccentric individuals. Clay calls upon his friends to assist him with investigating mysteries which extend far beyond the walls of the enigmatic store. This thought-provoking tale includes puzzles that revolve around technology as antiquated as the printing press and as cutting edge as Google wizardry. The humorous writing and optimistic tone make this novel a rejuvenating read. Appropriately, this book offers a surprise if the reader turns out the light. The audiobook does not offer that perk, but the narrator Ari Filakos delivers the likable Clay’s inner monologues and quirky humor so well that I went back and listened to some key sections to hear his moving delivery of them.