Monthly Archives: February 2016

Be Frank With Me, by Julia Clayborne Johnson

frank

Alice Whitley has loved “Pitched,” a book by reclusive writer M. M. Banning, for years. The book is the author’s singular and much lauded title, a modern classic in the same way “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a classic. Alice, who works for M. M. (Mimi) Banning’s agent, is sent to help the author as she works on a new book–the first one she’s written in years. When Alice arrives, she is immediately put in charge of Frank, Mimi’s son. Frank is nine years old, but inside, he’s an old soul who loves old movies, dresses in old movie fashions, and is smarter than almost everyone else. What Frank can’t do is get along in public schools, handle his reactions when people don’t follow his rules, and understand normal, everyday situations. As Alice begins to understand more about Frank, she begins to wonder about Frank’s father, and she also begins to wonder if Mimi, who types like a fanatic every day in her room, is actually writing a novel. When a handsome, mysterious man named Xander arrives in the household, Alice becomes more deeply involved with the family. Can Alice help Frank adjust to school, figure out how Xander fits into the picture, and help Mimi finish her book, all before Mimi’s finances run out? She is certainly determined to try, at the same time, she hopes to satisfy her insatiable curiosity about the secrets of Mimi and Frank’s life.

This is a marvelous book. At first, it seems like a breezy, light tale, full of comedic antics, mostly performed by Frank. But the story has hidden depth as we come to understand Frank and Mimi, and fully realize the dynamics of their relationship. This story is less about Alice’s growth as a character, and more about her learning to appreciate the personalities and needs of others. And if you don’t fall in love with Frank while you read this book, there is something seriously wrong with you. “Be Frank With Me” is a funny, charming tale, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Stillwater, by Melissa Lenhardt

Stillwater

Stillwater, by Melissa Lenhardt

Jack McBride, formerly an FBI agent, has taken the Chief of Police job in Stillwater, Texas. He arrives in town with his teenaged son, Ethan, buys the house of a local woman named Ellie Martin, and wonders about how his predecessor, Buck Pollard, left office in such a hurried fashion. Buck Pollard, he is told, ran a tight ship and crime was at an all time low in town while he was on the job. Jack is left little time to wonder about this curious matter, as his first day on the job he is called to investigate the violent death of a local couple. What looks to be a murder-suicide soon becomes a straight up murder, and Jack has few clues to follow to find the killer. Buck Pollard’s presence becomes a factor in the investigation, as Buck seems to have the continued loyalty of Jack’s officers. The plot thickens as Buck’s machinations start to affect Ethan at school. Jack begins to wonder if he made the right decision in coming to Stillwater after all.

This is an excellent mystery, full of small town gossip and small town situations. The crimes are serious ones, and it is clear that Jack will handle them as the professional he is, in spite of how things were handed by Buck Pollard before him. I loved the people living in the town of Stillwater, I loved the fact that Jack McBride’s family plays a role in the story, and I loved Ellie Martin, a love interest for Jack. This is not a romance book, and not a cozy mystery involving knitting, recipes, or tea drinking sleuths. This is a well-crafted mystery, full of vibrant characters, interesting storylines, and subtle subplots that will certainly play a part of future Jack McBride mysteries.

“Stillwater” is the first book in the Jack McBride series. Book 2, “The Fisher King,” comes out in November of 2016.

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