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Review & Giveaway: The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt

THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME
by
MELISSA LENHARDT
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Romance 
Publisher:  Graydon House (Harlequin)
Date of Publication: August 4, 2020

Number of Pages: 352Scroll down for the giveaway!

True love never fades—and old secrets never die . . . 

Nora hasn’t looked back. Not since she fled Texas to start a new life. Away from her father’s volatile temper and the ever-watchful gaze of her claustrophobically conservative small town, Nora has freed herself. She can live—and love—however she wants. The only problem is that she also left behind the one woman she can’t forget. Now tragedy calls her back home to confront her past—and reconcile her future.

Sophie seems to have everything—a wonderful daughter, a successful husband, and a rewarding career. Yet underneath that perfection lies an explosive secret. She still yearns for Nora—her best friend and first love—despite all the years between them. Keeping her true self hidden hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary. So when Sophie finds out that Nora has returned, she hopes Nora’s stay is short. The life she has built depends on it.

But they both find that first love doesn’t fade easily. Memories come to light, passion ignites, and old feelings resurface. As the forces of family and intolerance that once tore them apart begin to reemerge, they realize some things may never change—unless they demand it.

PRAISE FOR THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME:

“A compelling story of second chances and being true to yourself.”
Harper Bliss, bestselling author of Seasons of Love


“Lenhardt convinces in her portrayal of the conflict between desire and control.” —Publishers Weekly
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(Personalized/signed copies available through Interabang)

A portion of royalties are going to the It Gets Better Project
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Review

The Secret of You and Me by Meslissa Lenhardt has been described by the author herself as a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I read Persuasion years ago and had to read a synopsis to refresh my memory. My takeaway? I saw some parallels, but Lenhardt’s story felt more tragic to me.

Persuasion was aptly named because that was the method used to rip Anne away from the man she planned to marry. If The Secret of You and Me was renamed to a single word description of how Sophie and Nora were separated, it would be something brutal like Slander or Intimidate. Living my whole life in Texas as part of a deeply religious Asian family, I could relate to the “my way or the highway” parenting that left relationships and confidences in shambles. There are moments that I look back and wonder how things would be different if I had been braver. But seeing the choices that Nora and Sophie made and how their lives panned out showed me that there are different ways of being brave. There also seems to be very a thin line between being perceived as a martyr (in the overdramatic sense, not the literal) and being selfish. Nonetheless, this book left me with this: Life is the series of choices we make and it is never too late to make new ones as long as we are still alive.

While the perspective shifts between Nora and Sophie, I got the distinct feeling that Nora was the main character. Reading the author’s acknowledgements at the end seemed to verify that for me. However, I never felt like I truly knew Nora. And I don’t know if it’s because we don’t get as much detail about what her life has been like the past 18 years. With Sophie, you meet the people she’s been around who have influenced her decisions – namely her mother, her husband, and her daughter. We meet the important people in Nora’s life, but the secrecy and the walls that are up are denser than those in Sophie’s circle. Because of that difference, I felt more for Sophie and was firmly in her corner as the two sparred for the upper hand in their relationship.

Lenhardt’s characterizations were a nice mix of qualities that are common in other books or movies, but different enough that I had several different actors in mind for each role while the story played out like a movie in my head. It is the multifaceted characters like Sophie and Charlie in particular that would be interesting to cast because of the changes in their character (or at least our perception of them) that occurs in the story. I think that their daughter, Logan, is also a very interesting person and I would enjoy seeing her character on the big screen.

While definitely a love story, this book was not the typical romance novel for me. Most romances are light and fluffy, like a yeast donut, while this one was like a mochi donut. Not cloyingly sweet, but super dense and much to chew on. What would you give up to be with your soul mate? Don’t wax poetic. Literally list everything and everyone that means anything to you, and then ask yourself if you could give that all up. That is how deep and heavy this book is.

Melissa Lenhardt is a women’s fiction, mystery, and historical fiction author. Her debut mystery, Stillwater, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest, and Sawbones, her historical-fiction debut, was hailed as a “thoroughly original, smart and satisfying hybrid, perhaps a new sub-genre: the feminist Western” by Lone Star Literary Life. The New York Times called her sixth novel, Heresy, “An all-out women-driven, queer, transgender, multiracial takeover of the Old West.” The Secret of You and Me, her seventh novel and her first contemporary women’s fiction novel, was published on August 4, 2020.

When Melissa isn’t writing, she’s thinking, “I really should be writing,” and eating Nutella or peanut butter straight out of the jar. A lifelong Texan, she lives in the Dallas area with her husband, two sons, and two Golden Retrievers.

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Excerpt & Giveaway: Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt

BADLANDS
Sawbones, Book 3
by
MELISSA LENHARDT
!!NEW RELEASE!!
  Genre: Historical / Western / Action-Adventure / Romance
Publisher: Redhook
Date of Publication: June 27, 2017
Number of Pages: 416

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in the conclusion to Melissa Lenhardt’s fast-paced historical series.

Laura’s worst fears have been realized: Kindle has been taken into custody and she is once again on the run. The noose awaits her in New York, but Laura is realizing that there are some things worse than death. Finally running out of places to hide, it may be time for Dr. Catherine Bennett to face her past.
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Excerpt from Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt

Chapter One, Part 3

Continued from the Lone Star Book Blog Tours July 5, 2017 stop of the Badlands tour.
A tall man with a hat pulled low walked behind the woman, jostling her and breaking our gaze. A small strip of his white collar showed between his longish dark hair and the navy-blue coat he wore. Buff colored pants were tucked into the top of his cavalry boots, well worn and dusty from the trail. He held a Remington rifle loosely in his right hand and favored his left leg. A stream of smoke trailed behind his head and I knew he held a thin cigar between his teeth.

I dropped the notebook. It was Kindle, come to find me. Rosemond hadn’t been lying about helping me on Kindle’s behalf. I grasped the open window and yelled, “Kindle!”

My voice was barely a whisper, and the man continued on without stopping, down the steps of the platform and into town. I stumbled across the compartment and opened the door on the third try. Ricocheting down the hall on legs I could scarcely feel, I tripped down the stairs and fell onto the platform on my hands and knees. The redheaded woman was next to me, helping me up with strong thin hands. I stripped my arm from her grasp and tried to run in the direction the man went, but stumbled again. Why wouldn’t my legs work?

“Let me help you.” The woman lifted me up, put an arm around my waist and walked me in Kindle’s direction while I craned my neck searching for him. The steel gray sky was thick with the earthy smell of impending rain.

“There.” I pointed at a saloon down the street and the woman dutifully carried me along. We navigated through horses, wagons and pedestrians, drawing our own peculiar interest; an ugly woman holding a carpet bag in one hand and her other arm around a pale, ill woman. I reached for the porch column and pulled myself up the step. I rested my cheek against the coarse wood, hoping for a well-spring of strength to propel me inside the saloon, and into Kindle’s arms.

“You can’t go into a saloon,” the woman said.

I stumbled through the open door and stood for a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the dark. A card game at a table to the right of the door. A bartender polishing a glass behind planks of wood resting on two cracker barrels. A cracked mirror behind him. The jagged reflection of a thin women with disheveled hair and bruises beneath her eyes. My mouth watered as the oaky scent of whisky drifted around me. I followed the sound of a woman’s laughter coming from the back.

“Hey!”

Finding my legs, I made it to the hallway in the back and stripped open the canvas curtain door of the first room. Empty. I moved to the room across the hall, startling two women in various states of undress. I went to the next room and ripped open the curtain. Kindle had his back to me, facing the naked woman on the bed, her hand between her splayed legs. My stomach lurched with nausea. “Kindle?” My voice was barely a whisper.

“She your wife?” the whore said.

The man turned and appraised me. A thin mustache hung limply from his upper lip, framing a cruel mouth and taking no attention away from his pockmarked olive complexion.

“That dope fiend? Hell no.” The man grabbed my arm and threw me out the door and straight into the bartender who lifted me up, and tossed me over his shoulder like I was a bag of leaves. He stalked through the saloon and dropped me on the ground outside in the middle of the only puddle in the street. With shaking arms, I pushed myself into a sitting position, horse piss dripping from my jaw, and looked up into the ugly woman’s face. The sun was behind her head, masking her expression.

“I told you not to go in there.” I took her offered hand. She pulled me up and released me quickly. She flicked the excess urine from her hand, bent down and wiped it on the bottom of her skirt. “Was it him?”

I shook my head.She sighed. “I’m sorry.”The train whistle screamed and the train labored forward toward California. “You’ve missed your train.”

Though my brain was fuzzy with laudanum and I wanted nothing more than to lie down in the middle of the street and sleep, I understood the import of the train leaving without me. I was free of Rosemond and could return to Kindle. I managed to smile. “So I have.”

My happiness was short lived.

“Laura!”

Rosemond in her ridiculous blue dress stalked toward us holding a flour sack, her powdered, pox-scarred face a mask of fury. The ugly woman turned around and stood shoulder to shoulder with me. “Who’s that?”

“My kidnapper.”


Melissa Lenhardt is the author the Jack McBride mystery series, as well as the Laura Elliston historical fiction series. Her debut mystery, STILLWATER, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest, and SAWBONES, her historical fiction debut, was hailed as a “thoroughly original, smart and satisfying hybrid, perhaps a new subgenre: the feminist Western” by Lone Star Literary Life. A lifelong Texan, she lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two sons.

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CHECK OUT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:
6/27
Notable Quotable 1
6/27
Notable Quotable 2
6/28
Review: Blood Oath
6/28
Review: Badlands
6/29
Review: Blood Oath
6/29
Review: Badlands
6/30
Review: Blood Oath
6/30
Review: Badlands
7/1
Review: Blood Oath
7/1
Review: Badlands
7/2
Badlands Excerpt 1
7/3
Bonus Review
7/4
Bonus Review
7/5
Badlands Excerpt 2
7/6
Badlands Excerpt 3
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Promo and Giveaway: Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhardt

BLOOD OATH
A Laura Elliston Novel, Book 2
by
MELISSA LENHARDT
!!NEW RELEASE!!
  Genre: Historical / Western / Action-Adventure / Romance
Publisher: Redhook
Date of Publication: May 23, 2017
Number of Pages: 384

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Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this action-packed follow up to Sawbones.

Laura Elliston and William Kindle are on the run — from the Army and from every miscreant in the West eager to claim the $500 bounty for Laura’s capture as their own. But the danger isn’t just from those pursuing them. Laura and Kindle have demons of their own and a past that won’t stay dead. Exhausted, scared, scarred and surrounded by enemies, neither realize the greatest danger is yet to come.


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Watch Lone Star Book Blog Tours for the Badlands tour starting June 27th – with reviews of Blood Oath, Badlands, and Special Features with the inside scoop!



Melissa Lenhardt is the author the Jack McBride mystery series, as well as the Laura Elliston historical fiction series. Her debut mystery, STILLWATER, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest, and SAWBONES, her historical fiction debut, was hailed as a “thoroughly original, smart and satisfying hybrid, perhaps a new subgenre: the feminist Western” by Lone Star Literary Life. A lifelong Texan, she lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two sons.




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Stillwater by Melissa Lenhardt

STILLWATER

by
Melissa Lenhardt
 

Big Secrets Run Deep.

Former FBI agent Jack McBride took the job as Chief of Police for Stillwater, Texas, to start a new life with his teenage son, Ethan, away from the suspicions that surrounded his wife’s disappearance a year earlier.
 
With a low crime rate and a five-man police force, he expected it to be a nice, easy gig; hot checks, traffic violations, some drugs, occasional domestic disturbances, and petty theft. Instead, within a week he is investigating a staged murder-suicide, uncovering a decades’ old skeleton buried in the woods, and managing the first crime wave in thirty years.
 
For help navigating his unfamiliar, small-town surroundings, Jack turns to Ellie Martin, one of the most respected women in town—her scandal-filled past notwithstanding. Despite Jack’s murky marriage status and the disapproval of Ethan and the town, they are immediately drawn to each other.
 
As Jack and Ellie struggle with their budding relationship, they unearth shattering secrets long buried and discover the two cases Jack is working, though fifty years apart, share a surprising connection that will rattle the town to its core.
 
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ADVANCE PRAISE FOR STILLWATER:
 
“Secrets, lies, and betrayals run through STILLWATER like irrigation through dry land. Melissa Lenhardt’s writing drips with detail to create a story that rushes like a wave toward an ever-twisting ending. Don’t let the name fool you; STILLWATER’s threats lie right below the surface.” —Diane Vallere, bestselling author of the Material Witness, Madison Night, and Style & Error Mysteries
 
“Dangerous things lurk beneath the placid surface in Stillwater, Texas. Secrets shunning the light of day, decades-old betrayals, lies that have taken on a life of their own.  Moody and atmospheric, utterly compelling, you don’t want to miss Melissa Lenhardt’s marvelous debut novel, STILLWATER.” —Harry Hunsicker, former Executive Vice President of the Mystery Writers of America, author of THE GRID
 
“Crisp and pacy writing pulls you in deep from page one, when Jack McBride strides into a crime scene and a world of trouble. STILLWATER is the perfect combination of a tightly plotted tale peopled by rich, complex characters (plus one or two deliciously hateful true baddies). Slashed budgets, racial tensions, messy pasts – this small town is anything but cozy. The mystery itself is a classic puzzle, though: clever and convincing. Roll on Jack #2!” —Catriona McPherson, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity–winning author of the Edgar-nominated The Day She Died
 
Small-town loyalties and long-simmering secrets combine for  a compelling page-turner!  A fish-out-of-water lawman and his adolescent son try to escape the past in not-so-cozy Stillwater, Texas –but soon they’re battling corruption, revenge, and murder. Fast-paced dialogue, an authentic setting, and engaging characters–Stillwater is a one-sitting read.
Hank Phillippi Ryan – Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Daphne and Mary Higgins Clark award winning author
 
STILLWATER runs deep with intrigue, passion, and long-buried secrets. Melissa Lenhardt weaves a rich tale of suspense as hot as the east Texas town in which it’s set.
Annette Dashofy, USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mysteries
 
With a twisting plot, nonstop action and a sexy, complex protagonist you’ll root for from page one, Lenhardt brings the town of Stillwater, Texas (pop. 2,436), and all its long-buried secrets, to life. Fast-paced and tightly-written, STILLWATER is a must-read for anyone who loves great crime fiction. Book two can’t come soon enough!
Wendy Tyson, author of Killer Image and Deadly Assets.
 
Chapter One
Thursday
 
A line of flashing blue and red lights led the way to a pale green single- wide trailer. Firemen, sheriff deputies, and EMTs huddled in front of the house, talking, looking around, and laughing. All eyes turned to Jack McBride’s car as it pulled into the dirt-packed front yard, which doubled as the driveway.
Jack set the alarm on his phone. “Stay in the car,” he told his thirteen- year-old son, Ethan. He opened the door, got out, and leaned back in. “I mean it.”
 
“I know, Dad.”
 
Neighbors grouped behind yellow crime-scene tape. Some wore paja- mas, others wore work clothes. Women held babies, children craned their necks to see better, eager for information to share at school. A young officer guarded them—Officer Nathan Starling.
 
It was his file that had fallen from Jack’s lap when he was startled awake by the early morning call. If Jack hadn’t read Starling was the youngest and newest member of the force, he would have guessed it from his role as crowd control. Starling shifted on his feet and looked over his shoulder at the crowd, as if debating whether he should leave his post to introduce himself or stay put. Jack waved an acknowledgment to him and moved toward the trailer.
 
Jack nodded at the group of first responders as he walked by and received a couple of muttered hellos in return. Some looked from Jack to Ethan and then back. Jack climbed the uneven concrete steps, stopped at the door, and put on paper booties and gloves. Behind him, he heard a low conversation start back up, the words alone, wife, and no one knows carrying across the yard as if announced through a bullhorn. The screen door slapped shut behind him, cutting off the rest of the conversation.
 
The smell of chili, paprika, and cumin hung in the air of the trailer. Flimsy wooden cabinets topped with a chipped orange Formica counter were wedged against the back wall of the main room by a strip of ugly, peeling linoleum. Brown shag carpet, flattened by years of traffic, marked off the living area of the room. Left of the door, under a loud window unit dripping condensation, sat a couch of indeterminate color too large for the room. A black-haired man with bloodshot eyes and a green tinge underneath his dark skin sat on the couch, chewing his nails. He looked up at Jack and stopped chewing—a signal for his leg to start bouncing. A bull-necked police officer, his thumbs crooked underneath his gun belt, stood guard over the man.
 
“Officer Freeman,” Jack said.
 
If Michael Freeman was surprised Jack knew who he was, he didn’t show it. His face remained expressionless.
 
“Chief McBride.”
 
A third officer stood at the mouth of the hallway to the right with a portly, elderly man. Relief washed over the officer’s face. He moved for- ward, hand outstretched. “Chief McBride,” he said. “Miner Jesson. This here is Doc Poole.”
 
Jack shook their hands.“Sorry to meet you under these circumstances, Dr. Poole.”
 
“Helluva case to get on your first day, eh?” the doctor said.
 
Jack nodded and gave a brief smile. He pulled gloves and more paper booties from his coat pocket and handed them to Jesson and the doctor. Jack walked down the hall and entered the room. Jesson stopped at the door.
 
“Gilberto and Rosa Ramos,” Jesson said. “Found dead this morning by Diego Vasquez.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the man sitting on the couch. “Says he’s Rosa’s brother. He don’t speak much English, but from what I gathered, he came to pick Gilberto up for work and heard the baby screaming. When no one answered, he let himself in. Door was open. Found them just like that.”
 
They were both nude. The woman lay face down, covering half of the man’s body. The right side of the man’s head was blown across the pillow. Blood and brain matter were sprayed across the bed, under the woman and onto the floor. A clump of long dark hair was stuck to the window with blood. Her right arm extended across the man’s chest, a gun held lightly in her grip.
 
Jack walked around the bed.
 
Doc Poole stood next to Officer Jesson. “It takes a special kind of anger to kill someone you are in the middle of fucking, doncha think?” Doc Poole said. “Ever see that in the F-B-I?” Derision dripped from every letter.
 
Jack ignored him. “Where’s the baby?”
 
Jack hoped the revulsion on Jesson’s face meant scenes like this were rare in Stillwater. If he had wanted to deal with shit like this on a regular basis, he would have taken a better-paying job in a larger town.
 
“Officer Jesson?” Jack said. “Where’s the baby?” “Oh. It’s with a neighbor.”
 
“Has anyone called CPS?”
 
“Why?”
 
“To take care of the baby.”
 
“The neighbor offered.”
 
“And what do we know about this neighbor?”
 
He shrugged. “She didn’t speak much English.”
 
“So, she could be in the next county by now?”
 
“Oh, I doubt that,” Jesson said. “She seemed like a nice sort. Very
motherly.”
 
Jack cocked his head and puzzled over whether his most senior officer
was ignorant, naive, or an amazing judge of character.
 
He turned his attention to Doc Poole. “What’s the time of death?” “Sometime last night.”
 
“Can you be more specific?”
 
“Didn’t see the need. Seems pretty obvious what happened.”
 
“Oh, are you a detective?”
 
“No. I’m a general practitioner.”
 
“You’re the JP, aren’t you?”
 
“No. I used to be.” He chuckled. “Too old for this now.”
 
“Yet, here you are.”
 
“JP is on the way, Chief,” Jesson said.
 
Jack kept his focus on Doctor Poole. “So you heard this over the radio
and decided to come? Or did someone call you?”
 
“Well,I—”
 
“Do you have the instruments necessary to establish a time of death?” “Not with me, but—”
 
“Then get off my crime scene.”
 
The little man straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. “I can
see why Jane Maxwell liked you.” He started to leave but turned back. “We do things different here in Stillwater.”
 
“Not anymore we don’t,” Jack said.
 
 
Melissa Lenhardt writes mystery, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Heater Mystery Magazine, The Western Online, and Christmas Nookies, a holiday romance anthology. Her debut novel, Stillwater, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest. She is a board member of the DFW Writers’ Workshop and vice president of the Sisters in Crime North Dallas Chapter. Melissa lives in Texas, with her husband and two sons.


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