Having written more than 50 novels, Brenda Novak is an expert at pulling our romantic heartstrings. But in addition, a mysterious disappearance forms the backdrop in Before We Were Strangers (MIRA).

Inspired by a segment from a true-crime television show, her latest novel is a story of intrigue, mystery, and psychosis. Novak says she watched a show that “featured a woman whose mother went missing when she was small. As the girl grew up, she suspected her father had something to do with it, but she wasn’t sure enough to accuse him, and because there was no solid evidence…

Novak couldn’t resist the pull of the question, “Did the father do it?” and wanted to explore the mystery through her heroine’s eyes.

Sloane McBride is five when her mother disappears during the night. Her father swears she ran away after an argument, but what Sloane heard as she lay in bed that night doesn’t match her father’s story. As soon as she graduates from high school, Sloane leaves her family to start a new life, away from the doubt and suspicion surrounding her childhood. Like her mother, Sloane just disappears one day, leaving her high school sweetheart, Micah Evans, and her best friend, Paige, without explanation or goodbye.

Ten years later, after pursuing a successful modeling career in New York, Sloane’s mentor and friend, Clyde, dies from cancer. She has never felt more alone and decides it’s time to return to her hometown of Millcreek, Texas, to seek the truth surrounding her mother’s disappearance. Clara McBride must be dead; there is no way her mother would have ever left her children, never contacting them again. Sloane owes it to her mother to find her killer and bring him to justice. And she needs to know if her father was involved.

But how can Sloane bring herself to return to her past? The love of her life, Micah, married Paige not too long after she left, and they’re raising a son together. Her father, Ed, and brother, Randy, are angry that she continues to cast doubt on the family name. Unfortunately, her father also wields considerable power in Millcreek as the mayor makes returning not only uncomfortable but dangerous.

Although Micah and Paige divorced a year earlier, Sloane dreads seeing either and is shocked when Paige insists she stay with her and Trevor. But does Paige have a secret agenda? And what about Micah? Now a policeman, he offers to help with the investigation. But just how much does he resent Sloane for abandoning him?

Who can Sloane and Micah trust while uncovering secrets hidden for so many years? Can they bring her mother’s killer to justice? And will the love Sloane and Micah once shared resurface through the pain of the past?

Before We Were Strangers is a multi-genre tale, a murder mystery hiding inside romantic suspense, with touches of women’s fiction—a triple bang for the buck. I was lured by Micah’s rugged yet sensitive persona and his life-long devotion to Sloane, and I rooted for Sloane to uncover the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and to rediscover the love she’d left behind.

Although Novak is skilled in meeting her goal of entertaining readers in fictional worlds, she also loves writing about “heroines who tackle big problems and do it with determination and heart.” Before We Were Strangers unequivocally checks off both boxes.

Being a best-selling author of romantic stories of intrigue—incredibly writing three a year—is not Novak’s only claim to fame: she’s also earned five stars with her fundraising efforts. Novak’s son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was five, a devastating condition requiring strict food monitoring and insulin injections “When I learned what my son was up against, I wanted to fight back…. I remember dreaming of raising a million dollars…. but I was a mother of five young children and just starting my writing career. Needless to say, I didn’t have a lot of time.”

Novak also enjoys interacting with her fans and eating cookies—she’s found an interesting way to do both. Besides her book group (which boasts over 13,000 members), she sponsors a Christmas cookie-baking contest. “My husband gets to be the judge [and] I usually do a Facebook Live event showing the recipes we decided to try (from all those that were submitted) and announcing the winner who gets a prize. After the event, I always put up a compilation of the recipes submitted on my website (www.brendanovak.com) so that others can collect and try them, too.”

What else about Brenda Novak are readers dying to know?

For one, she loves historical fiction. “My love for it started when I was in fourth grade and happened to find the classics on the library shelf…. Jane Eyre and… The Secret Garden… so captured my imagination that I still prefer a big, juicy historical to any other type of read.”

And what about Novak’s little-known role as a Greek goddess? “I was once part of a reality TV series on OWN…. I was chosen to judge potential male romance cover model hopefuls and help select a winner…. [and] told that I would be judging these men doing ‘Olympic-style’ events. But when [we]… started shooting, they had me dress up as a Greek goddess, and I soon learned the show… wasn’t quite as tame as they’d made it sound. (In other words, … a little embarrassing and corny).”

Brenda Novak—author, fundraiser, book group guru, cookie connoisseur, and goddess. What more could fans want?

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“When I first got the idea to become a novelist, it took me five years to teach myself the craft and finish my first book,” Brenda says. But she sold that book, and the rest is history. Her novels have made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and won many awards, including five Rita nominations, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Book Seller’s Best and the National Reader’s Choice Award.