BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed Second Guessing by Gail Olmsted.Second Guessing by Gail Ward Olmsted

This one is coming out on February 5th. But I got the inside scoop on this one, as I was a beta reader for this author and then I got the chance to read an advance reader copy after it was done. Let me tell you, getting to be a part of that process is AWESOME. If you love to read and you know an author you really ought to get in on that action, because it is so much fun to be a contributor to an author’s creative process.

Anyway. What’s it about? OK, I’ll tell you. Second Guessing is the sequel to Olmsted’s novel Guessing at Normal, which I LOVED. The story follows Jill, a widow of mega rock star James Sheridan. Ten years after her husband’s death Jill is organizing a massive tribute concert to her late husband’s career. The story follows as she’s trying to coordinate it all, and in the process she falls for Ben Fein, the headliner of the show. She goes through the drama of falling in love as a widow, and it’s even crazier while doing it in the harsh glare of the paparazzi flash bulbs.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed Watch Me Disappear by Janelle BrownWatch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

What if your wife died, but then you started to suspect that she wasn’t actually dead and she decided instead to disappear? She went on a hike by herself, and her body was never recovered. All that was left was her phone and one of her boots. Jonathan and his daughter Olive embark on a search into Billie’s past to see whether or not she could still be alive somehow. Clues in her laptop computer are like crumbling breadcrumbs to her past as an ecoterrorist, her ex-boyfriend and the idea that she may not be dead, she could be hiding out somewhere.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed The One That Got Away by Leigh HimesThe One That Got Away by Leigh Himes

I am a sucker for stories about what would have happened had someone made a different choice or some other twist of fate caused the character to take one path and not another. This is why Sliding Doors is one of my favorite movies. In this movie Gwyneth Paltrow’s character got fired from her job. As she was going into the subway she’d missed the train home. Then the story splits, and it shows what would have happened had she got the train, and what happened because she missed it.

The One That Got Away is like this. When Abbey was in her 20s she had the chance to go on a date with a very wealthy man, she turned him down because she had a boyfriend. This book is about what would have happened had she gone on that date and the life she would have had by choosing to accept that date. In one life she is in a dead end job at a PR firm and she and her husband are struggling to make ends meet. But in the other life with the rich guy she wants for nothing, but is having everything she could possibly want—and then some—really the better option?

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed He Said She Said by Erin KellyHe Said She Said by Erin Kelly

This one had me confused at the beginning, I will admit. I felt like I started somewhere in the middle of the story. Laura’s husband Kit is leaving for a trip to go view an eclipse. She’s pregnant and she’s worried that he’s going to bump into a woman named Beth. Over the early part of the book I learn that Laura and Kit changed their names, hid themselves from social media and from the world, all because of Beth. As the story unfolds we learn why they are so afraid of Beth. But is it really Beth they should be afraid of, or someone closer to them?

BJ Knapp enjoyed Thirty Happens by Elizabeth ButtsThirty Happens by Elizabeth Butts

I am such an Elizabeth Butts fan! I’ve read her other two and featured them on my other standout blogs in the past. I am so looking forward to her next release. The three that she wrote so far have characters that mingle with each other. So we get to hear about something that happens in each woman’s life. In this one we’re focused on Karyn. She’s a journalist who comes back to live in the small town of Onset, Massachusetts. She’s on the verge of getting married and planting her roots in Onset even deeper. But her ambition was to be a hot shot investigative reporter in Boston, rather than having to report on town meetings in Onset. The story takes us through her rise to her big story at a prominent Boston paper and how she came to move back to Onset and made friends with the women featured in Elizabeth’s other books. It’s about friendship. It’s about being young and trying to figure out your life. It’s about a diamond on your finger and making sure it’s what you want. Loved it!

BJ Knapp read and enjoyed Before We Were Yours by Lisa WingateBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Years ago I read a book about Georgia Tann. She was a real woman who ran a child adoption ring until the 1950s. She was a scoundrel and sold stolen children to wealthy families. She also lobbied the government for legislation around sealed adoptions, and to this day it is very difficult for adopted and birth parents to connect as a result of Georgia Tann’s work. I remember reading one insane story about how a Congressman’s daughter was giving birth and the baby ended up being still born. One call to Georgia Tann and a baby was placed in the daughter’s arms without the daughter even knowing the baby wasn’t hers. How disturbing is that? Where did that baby come from? What happened to these children whose parents were deceived into giving them up back then? Before We Were Yours is a fictional account of a family of five children who were taken from their poverty stricken parents and placed with wealthy families that couldn’t have children of their own. The children in this book were entirely fictional, but what happened to them was not. The homes they lived in before they were “adopted out” i.e. sold to the highest bidder, were based on actual accounts of children who had endured them in real life—abuse, starvation, sexual assault, etc. I was obsessed with Georgia Tann’s story back when I read that book, and Before We Were Yours kept me riveted until the very end.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed Salem Falls by Jodi PicoultSalem Falls by Jodi Picoult

You really can’t go wrong with Jodi Picoult. Ever. She does a great job of spinning a story around a current event. This particular one is something I’ve thought about for years. Jack is a high school teacher accused of having an inappropriate relationship with one of his students. After doing his time he is released from prison and tries to start over in Salem Falls, New Hampshire. And it happens again. The daughter of the local mogul accuses him of raping her, and based upon his history the town is quick to believe her and quick to chase him with their torches and pitchforks. The problem is, again, that he did not do it. And this time around he doesn’t want to take the plea bargain and go to prison, again, for a crime he didn’t commit.

The reason why I’ve thought about this kind of story for years is that I wonder what happens to someone who falsely accuses a man of rape. The man’s name gets dragged through the mud before he even stands trial, while hers is kept private. If the man is not found guilty of the crime, he is still guilty in the court of public opinion. He ends up having a hard time getting a job as a result of the story attached to his name on any Google search. However his accuser, if it was a false accusation, never has to stand trial in public for making that accusation. This situation has always struck me as terribly unfair in the case of a false accusation. Picoult handles it beautifully, as she always does.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed Asking For It by Louise O'NeillAsking for It by Louise O’Neill

Imagine the teen queen bee party girl gets drugged and gang raped at a party. The whole school and the whole town take sides. Who are they going to believe? The party girl or the town’s soccer star good boys? Now, what if they posted pictures of them doing it to her? Now imagine if she’s still the slut who deserved it and everyone is still on the side of the boys even after everyone has seen the pictures. There’s no question that they are guilty!

This one had me unsettled. It resembles the story of Brock Turner—the high school swim team star who was caught in the act raping a woman near a dumpster. But he was only given a 6 month sentence because the judge didn’t want to jeopardize his future. It’s unthinkable that he should have been given that light of a sentence with an eye witness to his crime. Yet it happened in real life. Louise O’Neill explains to us how that could possibly happen in this day and age. She showed us how little women are valued when it comes to sexual assault—how women have to prove that they were assaulted even when there is evidence that clearly shows that.

This is not a happy story, but it’s a very important story and a must read.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed Keep Quiet by Lisa ScottolineKeep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

I listened to her earlier books, the ones about the women who were lawyers who kept getting stalked. But lately she’s been getting away from the stalkers and getting more into normal people who end up in situations that make them do questionable things, and then they have to face the consequences.

Keep Quiet is the story of a father and a teenage son. The dad let the teenage son drive, even though the son only had a learner permit and it was after hours. As they were driving on a winding road at night, the son hit a jogger with the car. The dad panics once he realizes that his teenage son’s life would be ruined by a mistake that only took seconds to make, and he makes the decision to leave the scene. He and the son vow to never tell anyone about what happened to the jogger on that dark street that night.

Will they be able to keep the secret? Will they be able to withstand the guilt once they learn who the jogger was? Then they learn there is a deeper mystery at play, and will solving the mystery make them innocent of the crime?

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed It Ends With Us by Colleen HooverIt Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

In this one we bounce back and forth between Lily’s present and Lily’s past as told through her journal entries. In her past she is a teenager living with a father who abuses her mother. In her present she meets and falls in love with the man she eventually marries—the very driven neurosurgeon Rile. One night Rile gets upset at her and pushes her very aggressively. They talk it out and she tells him that if he lays another hand on her she’ll leave him.

You know where this is going, right? The rest of the book I was bracing myself waiting for the next incident to happen. And I knew it would happen. So, how will it end? Will she stay with him because she loves him or will she leave because she realizes she needs to love herself more? The author also provided her own experience with her abusive father in the afterword, and I am sure it was a grueling book for her to write about, as it was so close to home. It provides insight into the world of domestic violence that is so hard for the rest of us to understand.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music read and enjoyed You by Caroline KepnesYou by Caroline Kepnes

Oh man. This one was creepy as hell and in the best possible way. When Stephen King calls it “hypnotic and scary” you know you’ve got something that is beyond creepy. Joe works in a bookstore in New York city when she comes in, Beck. He googles her name, finds out where she lives, what she tweets, where she hangs out. And then he’s hooked.

A chance meeting where he saves her from an oncoming subway train and she’s hooked too. But she has no idea what she’s getting into. He will stop at nothing to be with her. Literally. He will kill for her.

I could not put this one down, I read it in one weekend. I was so drawn in with watching Joe lovingly obsess over Beck, yet behind her back terrifyingly obsess over her.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed When Live Gives You Lululemons by Lauren WeisbergerWhen Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

This is the same author who brought us The Devil Wears Prada. I loved that book, and I also will always watch the movie if it comes on TV. I loved the book because I am a sucker for expose type books about wealthy and fictitious famous people. But I will confess I wasn’t crazy about the sequel to Devil Wears Prada. But this one is kind of a sequel as well. While Devil was the story of Andy Sachs, we only got to hear a little bit about her co-worker Emily.

When Life Hands You Lululemons is told from the perspective of three women, and one of them is Emily from Devil Wears Prada. Emily is a public relations fixer for famous people. In the first chapter she’s fielding a call about one of her clients, a teen heartthrob pop singer, who was drunkenly wearing a Nazi uniform at a New Year’s party. And it’s Emily’s job to keep that out of the news and protect his image. But Emily’s problem is that a lot of her high profile clients are leaving her for someone more flashy.

Emily is friends with Miriam, who is a former attorney turned stay at home mom in Greenwich, Connecticut. While Emily visits Miriam to lick her wounds after her career is taking a nose dive, Miriam’s friend Karolina is embroiled in a scandal. Karolina, a Senator’s wife, is arrested for drunk driving. The problem is, she’s not drunk and her husband and friends completely shut her out of their lives.

Emily and Miriam rally around Karolina. Emily gets the opportunity to help Karolina revamp her image, while Karolina helps Miriam revamp her stale marriage, while Miriam helps Emily soften her own tough exterior and consider life beyond her career.

It’s a very fun story about the different things that women bring to their friendships, and how vital the friendships between women are. It was a very quick read that kept me engaged, and I genuinely liked all the characters. This book should have been the sequel to Devil Wears Prada.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed Dear Martin by Nik Stone.Dear Martin by Nic Stone

This is one of those books that forced me to have a look at a problem that is facing African Americans all over the US—the issue of racial profiling. The story opens with our protagonist Justyce is helping his white girlfriend on the side of the road. She’s absolutely wasted and he’s trying to get her home safely. A cop pulls up and assumes the worst at seeing a young black man and a drunk white woman. He arrests Justyce on the spot and doesn’t allow him the opportunity to explain.

Justyce is a young black man in an elite private school where he is outnumbered. He struggles with balancing his future in a predominately white world and his past in a poor inner city neighborhood. The issue of race slaps him every time he turns his head. Will he go to Yale or will he join a gang as he’s trying to figure out who he is in a world that he’s noticing is stacked against him because of the color of his skin.

As a white woman, these are things I do not face. And Nic Stone did a great job of telling a very plausible story that opened my eyes to just how unfair the question of race can be.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.