Last Girl Ghosted
by Lisa Unger

I was kind of obsessed with this one and this is definitely a stand out read for January. In this story Wren meets a guy on a dating site. All is going well, they have been dating for a few months and she’s very happy. Then one night he stands her up for a date. She calls and texts to no answer. Then she gets a cryptic message that basically says “I got into some trouble and I can’t see you.” She tries to call him back because she’s obviously concerned and the number is disconnected. She has no way to reach him, she hasn’t met his friends yet, she goes to his apartment and learns it’s an Air BnB that he’d rented. She’s been ghosted, but obviously she’s still concerned as she fell for him. Then one day a private investigator tracks her down. He’s trying to find him too because all the women he dated have gone missing and obviously that is incredibly concerning. She ends up joining forces with the private investigator to try to track him down, and she has to confront her traumatic past—it would seem that all the women this guy dated had traumatic histories too. Wacky story!

As Seen on TV
by Meredith Schorr

This one was super cute. Adina is a journalist from New York City who goes to a small town in upstate New York to chase a story. A developer is building a condo/retail complex and she suspects it will mess with the small businesses in town. So she goes there chasing her story, only to find that this is not the case and the people who live in the town are actually happy that this development is happening. Her magazine is demanding a story, but the one she thought of isn’t there. And also, the small town mentality that she always fantasized about from her steady diet of Hallmark movies isn’t there either. She ends up being disappointed that there’s no story, and the town doesn’t live up to her expectations at all. She still needs to come up with a story, when she meets the man who is the project manager of the development and starts to fall for him. This was truly a unique story, and I loved it.

The Last Housewife
by Ashley Winsted

I was so fascinated by this book, it was disturbing and sexy all at the same time. So Shay is a housewife living in Texas when she’s listening to a true crime podcast. The host from the podcast is her childhood friend who she lost touch with when she fled New York State never to return. But the podcast is about her best friend from college’s murder—she broke up with the friend as well. See, there was a very insane traumatic thing that happened, Shay and her 2 roommates met a man they thought was the 4th roommate’s father. Turns out he was really into dominance and BDSM and they all fell for him and ended up being his mistresses. They all lived in his house and they all worshipped this man, like it was a cult. They weren’t allowed to leave, only to go to class so they wouldn’t attract suspicion. In the present day Shay goes back to help her friend, the podcast guy, and she learns that there is a rather large and very secret BDSM community that she needs to infiltrate to figure out who killed her ex-roommate friend. Very disturbing how this society treats women like they need to be put down so the men can get their control back, but at the same time the descriptions are super steamy.

Carrie Soto is Back
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is a very famous very accomplished professional tennis player who retired in the late 80s-early 90s. Then in 1995 a younger tennis player is trying to break Carrie’s record for number of slams won. Carrie cannot have this, so she comes out of retirement to defend her title. Her whole life has been nothing but tennis, her dad is also a famous tennis player who is her coach. She has a reputation of being a bitch in the tennis world, not making any friends and being an all around asshole. I like that she learns to change as she is training and trying to defend her title. She learns to hate her reputation but isn’t sure what to do about it or if she even should do anything about it. Well done. Taylor Jenkins Reid has quickly become one of my favorites, you can't miss with her.

Lessons in Chemistry
by Bonnie Garmus

I absolutely LOVED this one. Elizabeth is a chemist working in a research lab in the 1950s, and of course she isn’t at all taken seriously in her career. She falls in love with Calvin, a very famous researcher at her lab, and of course all sorts of nasty things are said about her. Then Calvin dies in an accident and she realizes she’s unwed, pregnant and partnerless. She’s fired from the lab due to her status and then takes on a job as a host on a daytime cooking show. But in her show she talks more about the chemistry behind cooking rather than then conventional “let’s make your husband happy” kind of cooking show that is expected of her. Her show is wildly popular and the viewers find it empowering. This was such a refreshing and unexpected story, definitely awesome.

Miranda Nights
by Gail Ward Olmsted

OMG! I loved this one. It was the sequel to Miranda Writes. In this one Miranda is the host of a night time legal talk show, and she has a guy call in who says creepy things. The guy turns into a full on stalker and she has to figure out who he is. I love that she also has some subplots going on too—her best friend’s teenage son is charged with distribution of child pornography when pictures of him being intimate with his also teenaged girlfriend are hacked and shared, and her stepmom has a health scare. Olmsted has Miranda navigate all this stuff all while she’s trying to keep her career as a talk show host going. A great read! Bring it to the beach.

The Lies I Tell
by Julie Clark

OK, I was obsessed with this one. Kat Roberts is a journalist tracking this woman named Meg Williams so is a con artist. So the story is partly told by Kat and partly by Meg. From Meg’s point of view you get to see how a con artist becomes a con artist and why she does this. From Kat’s point of view you see someone who is trying to get close to the con artist to get the story without getting burned. A super fascinating story.

Hang the Moon
by Jeannette Walls

Sallie’s dad is a big deal in their county back in the early 20th century. When she was very young her mother died, Dad got remarried, then in an accident she slightly injured her half brother and her step mom freaked out. So Sallie was sent away to live with an aunt. A decade later the step mom passed away so Sallie gets to go back home to help take care of her brother. She convinces her dad to give her a role in the company, to drive to his rental properties to collect rent. Then her dad passes away and she ends up taking over everything, and she ends up getting involved in smuggling booze during a time when alcohol was illegal in the United States. Ultimately it’s a story about the family you choose rather than the family you’re born with mixed in with this powerhouse woman who is a total badass in a time when women still didn't really do that.

In the Quick
by Kate Hope Day

This one was so incredibly original. It takes place in some undetermined time in the future. June is 12 and living with her aunt and uncle. Her uncle is a very famous engineer who developed a fuel cell for a space mission. He passes away and the ship is lost in space. Her aunt sends her to the astronaut training boarding school that the uncle founded despite the fact that she’s about 4 years too young to be there. She is obsessed with the ship that goes missing while trying to navigate being in this school where she’s too young and doesn’t know anyone and can’t relate to anyone. She’s put onto a team of students that is trying to make a robotic hand and she solves the problem and is bumped up to full on astronaut training. She figures out that the crew from the lost ship is still alive and has to convince everyone else that they’re still alive. Loved this one.

Cassandra in Reverse
by Holly Smale

Cassandra is pretty clearly on the spectrum. In one day she gets fired from her job as a publicist and her boyfriend breaks up with her, both citing that she and her intense way about her are impossible to be around. Then the next day she wakes up and realizes that her boyfriend is still her boyfriend and her job is still her job. She travels back in time to get a second chance to get things right. Then she realizes she can time travel at will to go back and correct mistakes and try not to get fired and dumped. But then she realizes in her time travels that she’s focusing on getting the wrong things in her life right and sets right other things that make her better off in the long run. A super interesting concept.

Remarkably Bright Creatures
by Shelby Van Pelt

This was a book club read, and now the meeting about this book will be in January so I am ahead of schedule. This book is about 3 characters: an octopus in an aquarium, Tova—the woman who cleans the aquarium and a young man named Cameron. The octopus likes to get out of his tank and explore and he and Tova develop a relationship of sorts. The octopus is a keen observer of human behavior and sees things going on that the humans don’t. Tova is a widow and years ago lost her son in an accident. She still grieves for both and is in her 70s and is wondering what is next. Cameron is in his 30s and seeks his biological father after his mother, an addict, ditches him at age 9. He ends up getting a job working alongside Tova. Marcellus, the octopus, accurately senses a connection between the two of them they aren't yet aware of and uses his sneaking out skills to clue them in to what he sees. A really original concept.

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.