Deadly Ever After

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Kristen and Julie’s Favorite Books of 2014!

Today’s brew: Caramel Chai tea

by Kristen

Happy New Year! Yeah, I know I’m a day or so late on this, but whatever. You know we’re on Undead Duo time.

I’m not a huge fan of year end nostalgia. I don’t need the news to remind me about Ferguson or Ebola like it’s a new story. But I love these year-end book lists. There’s a lot of books out there. A lot. There’s no way to keep up with them all. I’ve discovered some new interesting books these past couple weeks.  I hope you guys will with our lists, too.


Julie reads differently now that she’s an author and an editor, but it hasn’t changed what she likes. Sci fi, dystopians, vampires, horror, stories of warriors and stories of romances that will never end. “These days the character has to drive the story for me without question. A good idea isn’t enough. A character that I want to see more of is the critical element that I demand as a reader, writer and editor. I read with an open heart as author David James once said. I don’t go in looking for what I personally could do better, or what doesn’t work,” she says. She reads more carefully now, because she doesn’t have the time that she did before. “But I must read for my sanity and for my job as author. I read with strategy now. First I like to read something that relates to what I’m writing so that even when I’m reading, I’m in the mood to write. It can be as simple as that I’m working on a YA so I read YA.” She likes to see how authors make their reputations, and how they make a story their own.

Yes, she sees more typos now. But as long as the story and characters are captivating, she can overlook them.  “I’ve seen works that had an incredible premise, and the character wasn’t complex enough or the themes fleshed out enough for me to buy into it. That’s the editor and the writer in me that wants every story to work. The editor in me wants to take the great idea and make it come alive the way the author intended it, in their voice, and it saddens me when that hasn’t happened,” she says.

FairylandThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente: Yes, the world is stunningly imaginative and vivid with Neil Gaiman-like depths and Oz-like creepiness/beauty, but what makes the series is September. September is a less than likely heroine, because she’s twelve. But man alive is she self-aware, self-possessed, and while she’s afraid of her choices, she makes them with conviction. She’s entirely believable as all of these things because of Valente’s gorgeous writing style that is breathtakingly poetic when she tells us things like September is a child, and therefore mostly heartless. The relationships that the child forms are solid, thoughtful, full of plausible, sweet love and ones I want to revisit in every novel in the series. Another thing Valente does incredibly well– she keeps the relationships interesting and fulfilling while still giving us loss and realism. Just an amazing feat of literature.


poisonprincessPoison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles) by Kresley Cole: I’m a sucker for dystopian novels, as well as for new and exciting paranormally/urban fantasy stuff. Cole gives us both of these things plus a great heroine with a bitchin’ dark side, a cast of delicious characters and a love triangle for the ages. As far as page-turning, can’t-get-enough stuff, this was by far my favorite book this year. Cole roped me in with references to the world’s end that this seemingly ordinary young girl managed to survive, and as if that isn’t enough to keep me reading, Cole throws at us this amazing mythology of the Arcana and our heroine’s place in it, the worldly and otherworldly loves that she falls into, and then puts this nice girl in a bunch of death traps that test her and make her grow on each page. I’m in love.



matchedMatched by Ally Condie: This one surprised me. At first I found it stiff, didn’t see what was exciting about the main character that would make me want to follow her story. But Condie had a plan, and it came to light quick. The stiffness lent to the Orwell-ish setting, but I wanted emotion, a breakout hero from that dystopia. It was when Condie ocassionally hit me with gorgeously poetic and hopeful prose that I saw there were more layers to this novel than I originally thought. And when Cassia’s voice seeped through those layers, hidden by the Society even in the very wording, I found myself truly excited by her. Her willingness to learn, to be different, while very quietly remaining a part of the Society. And as the series (which I devoured fast) moves forward, we see Cassia emerge more and more from the text and the story becomes truly complex, heartbreaking, and powerful. Condie hooked me.


sinnerSinnerby Maggie Stiefvater: This was an easy one. Stiefvater is one of my favorite authors, and the Wolves of Mercy Falls is my favorite series of hers, so when this unexpected addition to the series came to life, I was the first one at the book store smelling my copy. Don’t judge me. This novel is not just a shut-up-my-fans book (something I don’t think Stiefvater would be capable of). She takes characters that another author would make vapid and dull, and gives them gorgeous, loveable depth. Isabel, the fashionista rich bitchy girl, has serious trust issues and Cole, rockstar werewolf back from the dead, is an egomaniacal drug addict with poetry in his heart and a monster sense of humor. It was love at first sight with this book. Stiefvater never steers me wrong. (Note from Kristen: I need to read this.)



wonder showWonder Show by Hannah Barnaby: I’ve got a thing for circus stuff, despite having never been to the circus. Writing a story about a freak show that’s not ALL FREAKS at the heart of it is a feat. This is the story of how Portia ended up at the freak show, her heartwrenching story and the strength it gave her to go to a place where she didn’t belong among a bunch of people that don’t belong. She’s clever, brave, calculating. And yet we love her for what she’s lost, for her hopes, and for the sweet little love story that barely forms throughout. I just love this book and plan to read it again and again.





Writing has changed the way  I read this year. If you’re wondering what my Achilles’ heel is, it’s reading. I haven’t read nearly as much as I’ve wanted to this year, and I’m making a concentrated effort to catch up. I’ve been reading for research lately, but not non-fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of book by popular romance authors, a genre I never paid enough attention to before I branched into writing straight romance. Don’t get me wrong, like Carrie Bradshaw, I am in love with love, but it had been a long time since my first choice wasn’t paranormal, biographical, or even literary fiction.  Needless to say, it’s been an up and down year. I’ve picked up some things I normally would not have. Some captivated me and I still can’t stop talking about them. Some had me muttering curse words under my breath.  I’m not as afraid to abandon ship on a book. If it’s not working for me, I’ll find something that does.

Regrettably, there are some books I can’t read any more. I have a hard time with classics. I’m horrified by this. But some of them are just too slow for me now. Blame it on my ADD, I guess. Like Julie, I notice typos more, and I’m okay with that. I know how hard it is to make something flawless.

I don’t think my taste has changed, like Julie, I’m pickier now, but I’m still all about a good, smutty, fantastical story at heart.

poisonprincessPoison Princess by Kresley Cole. First of all, I should be on Kresley’s payroll for this book. I’ve sold it to random strangers in Barnes and Noble. But silly Kristen did not want to read this book when Julie so kindly offered me something for my plane ride to Vegas. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I’d been working like a dog, and I didn’t have a chance to pick anything up. So I took her Kresley Cole book. I was alright with Kresley’s vampire stuff, but it was nowhere near my favorite. And this was YA? Dystopia? Ugh. Julie. But it’s six hours to Vegas, so this girl begrudgingly opened the book. Then I could. Not. Put. It. Down. I almost threw it out the plane window in the beginning, while Evie’s still in High School, but once the Flash hit, holy crap. Buckle your seatbelt. I could not put this down. The story reached up and grabbed me with both hands. The world, the struggles, and Jackson Deveaux. He was my first book boyfriend in a long time (although he’s sharing the throne now, keep reading). Cole nails the alpha male. I drove around Vegas like a maniac looking for the second book, Endless Knight, because I COULD NOT WAIT to have it.  Book three, Dead of Winter, comes out Tuesday, and all I can say try not to need me because this chick has a date with Jackson.

stormStormby Carian Cole. This book is the proof to me that blog tours work. I found this book as I scrolled through my Facebook feed on my author page, and a blogger had a release day blast. I mean, look at this guy. If you’re wondering what the men in my brain look like, it’s that. Storm Valentine. So I totally bought this book based on its smokin’ hot cover. And Storm was just as hot on the inside as he was on the outside. I’m wary of rock star romances. Some of these guys get written like brainless sex machines, but Storm was written with complexity and emotion. Three months later, I’m still captivated by this guy.  He was the one who managed to unseat Jackson. I could totally identify with Evie as well, settling for the safe things, afraid to take a chance. Readers get down on heroines like that, and I think it’s because they can hit a little close to home. Book two, Vandal, comes out in February, and that’s another day you can’t need me, because I need to get to know Storm’s brother.


promiscuousPromiscuous by Isobel Irons I offered to beta this book, and man, was that a good decision. This book showed me what New Adult literature could be. Brash, unapologetic, and raw. This book shies away from nothing. Tash gets labeled as the school slut, and she’s fine with that. But she’s actually a virgin. Her best friend is wilting under high school pressures, and dying from an eating disorder. They live in a trailer park, and come face to face on a daily basis with the uglier things in life. Also, I loved Margot’s grandma and aunt. A+ old ladies in a young persons’ book. This book woke up my writing. Instead of writing a story, I let my characters tell the story in their own voices. I owe a lot to Isobel Irons for that. Reading this book liberated me.

alone with youAlone with You by Debbi Rawlins Yeah, this one surprised me, too. I got it for free at the NECRWA conference, and opened it because I needed to something to read in a pinch. I judged it for looking a little cheesy. And I’d read plenty of genre Harlequins, historical, erotic, what have you, but never a straight one! Yes, this is true. I was really impressed with this book. Sure, it followed a formula, the poor little rich girl and the bull rider (Tanner! Fans self), but they had complexity and I was really into their story. Again, I enjoyed Tanner because he was alpha without being demanding or abusive. He was a man who was sure of himself.  So if you turn your nose up at these kind of books, do yourself a favor and give one a try.



TIE: LOVE, CARLY by Rosemary McElhannon and AND SCENE by Nikki Rose. I can’t link you to any pretty pictures or buy links on these ones. Why? These books aren’t out yet. They were both submitted to me when I mentored Pitch Wars.  I chose Love, Carly as my top pick and turned down And Scene because there was nothing I could do to make it better. They’re both movie star books, which is another genre I usually steer clear of. I work in the industry, and I’m going to spot bullshit from a mile away. But both Rosemary and Nikki nailed their movie stars. In Love Carly, Devon Hayes is on top of the world and Carly Klein is straight out of a stint in rehab. They’re costarring in a movie. Can they make it through without scandal? Do they want to?  Devon is hot. In And Scene, Preston’s a Dom who’s looking for a sub who can keep his A list sized secret. He finds Mina, and they even have the same hard limit: love. I know an agent or two reads this blog, and if you’re reading this, please consider these books!  They’re well written, well developed, and they made this list ahead of a lot of other well read authors.  Get in touch and I’ll point you in the right direction!


OBSESSIVE By Isobel Irons: Trailer, Excerpt, and Free Books!

Today’s Brew: Blueberry, of course. I’m obsessed. Get it?
by Kristen

Today we have a guest, and she wants to give you stuff. Isobel Irons is my favorite new discovery of 2014. She writes gritty contemporary young adult/new adult that is so real you feel like you’re talking to your sassy girlfriend or you’re neurotic brother. Her voice grabs you by the hair and makes you pay attention. You don’t have any other choice. The Issues series is refreshing, funny, entertaining, and you can get OBSESSIVE today for free on Amazon.

Free doesn’t convince you? Check out the trailer and the excerpt below, then go get OBSESSIVE!



In first grade, I was officially ‘tagged.’

When my parents asked the school counselor what that meant, she explained that the school district had recently been granted funding for special, extra-curricular programs for students who fell outside the boundaries of what they considered ‘average.’ According to my test results, she said, I was ‘academically gifted,’ which meant that I was one of those kids who just naturally took to learning, problem solving, and following directions.

Two years later, in what was either a stunning coincidence or a sick cosmic joke, my little sister was also ‘tagged.’ Only instead of ‘gifted,’ Gen was labeled as ‘special needs.’ They spent the next five years trying to figure out where she fell on the special needs ‘spectrum’; if she was severely ADD or mildly autistic. Either way, Gen didn’t learn things as quickly as other kids seemed to, and unlike me, she couldn’t handle studying for hours on end.

One thing we did have in common was that we both got pulled out of class twice a week, in front of all of our fellow students, and taken off to our own ‘special’ classrooms. But I got to do complex scientific experiments, and Gen got to practice reading from her textbooks through different colored panels of cellophane. Apparently, seeing the words in yellow or blue instead of plain black and white was supposed to make it easier for her to retain facts. That was around the same time I started highlighting my homework—in addition to taking copious, meticulous notes.

Fortunately for me, because I had the ‘gifted’ classification, my excessive note-taking was chalked up to being an exceptional student. That was another thing the counselor told my parents about me. I’m what psychologist types like to call ‘exceptionally socially intuitive.’

If you ask me, that’s just a P.C. way of saying that everything I do or say is an act. A lie, custom tailored to whoever might be watching, to make sure no one ever figures out the true motives behind my actions.

But like most things about me, even that label is a lie. The truth is, I’m exceptional in the same way chameleons seem exceptional to the average, uneducated observer. For chameleons, blending into their surroundings isn’t exceptional at all. It’s not a magic trick, meant to impress or delight. It’s not even about showing off or attracting a mate. It’s about survival.

I read this article once, about a drug addict who kept his habit a secret from everyone in his family for almost 30 years. One thing he said really stuck with me:

“I was the world’s greatest actor, in the world’s worst play.”

I never thought I’d have so much in common with a junkie. But that quote pretty much sums up every waking moment of my life, up to this point.


Also, fun fact about this trailer: My husband Eli wrote and performed the song. So…that’s some exclusive “behind the scenes” info.


Be My Valentine!

Today’s Brew: Caramel Hot Cocoa. Because it’s a special day. Hallmark SAYS SO.

by Kristen

I was at work, bored out of my mind listening to people rave about a new platform to sell investment banking, and I came up with a brilliant idea.  See? Good stuff can come out of sitting in a cubicle.

I decided to ask some of my author friends what their main couples would get each other for Valentine’s Day.

I think Mr. Jacob Farrish would whisk Lady Eleanore Barnaby off for a few days to Bath or Cornwall, to spend time alone. He’s a busy barrister! 😉 She would most likely give him a set of new law books, and a more…um, PRIVATE present later.
–Olivia Kelly, The Heart of a Duke

Corbin would get Mara a new bow and Mara would get Corbin a silver shield. Lol.  Not as fun in the middle ages.
–Tammy Farrell, The Darkness of Light

Beau would get Jack something sarcastic. A slogan tee with ‘If I were chocolate, I’d eat myself‘ written across the front. Or maybe, ‘James Bond 2.0‘  Jack would get Beau a limited edition Yoda doll to replace the one that was broken during the chaos. Or, all things considered, he may get her one of those squidgy stress balls with his face printed on it…
–Louise D. Gornall, In Stone
For their first Valentine’s Day together (if they make it that far, because you’ve got to remember a. They got together two months before graduation and we all know how that usually works out, and b. Tash is kind of an emotional land mine), Grant would most-likely spend weeks stressing over what to get Tash and then eventually ask his mom for guidance. She would tell Grant to get Tash a sweater or something, and Tash would hate it. Tash, on the other hand, would probably be so uncomfortable about the mere thought of taking part in Valentine’s Day that she’d attempt to lighten the mood with some kind of gag gift, and Grant would be horrified because he’d wonder if deep down Tash secretly believes that he would be caught dead wearing a “Female Body Inspector” T-shirt. After a few moments of extremely creative cursing (on Tash’s part) and painful politeness while inwardly violent self-kicking (on Grant’s part), they’d both admit how socially awkward they are and have a good laugh about it together. And then they would make out. The end.
–Isobel Irons, Promiscuous

Abel will give Brandon a customized heart-shaped guitar pick stamped with I PICK YOU, plus a hoodie with the Castaway Planet logo. His valentine card will be very large and festooned with smooching robots, and it will play a tinny “Let’s Get It On” when opened. Brandon will give Abel a limited-edition Captain James P. Cadmus action figure and a giant tin of cinnamon jelly beans, because cinnamon jelly beans will remind him of their road trip always and forever. Also, his construction-paper valentine will look handmade by a monkey with extra thumbs, but Abel will put it under his pillow anyway.
–J.C. Lillis, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

Tavis would create a special corner in the hedge maze at the Imperial Palace for Faylanna, one with some of her favorite plants from the Gardensia Exotica planted there. It would be secluded, so she could have time to herself if she wanted, or with just Faylanna, Tavis, and their daughter.  Faylanna would secretly arrange with Tavis’ steward to clear several days of commitments and tell him to spend the time any way he wanted, so long as it had nothing to do with being the Crown Prince. They’d end up leaving the city, taking no one but themselves for the week.
–J. Elizabeth Hill, The Nine
 Cerise would give William a doctor costume and he’d go rent a wing of some hospital.
Torren has always loved literature and spent a lot of his free time reading, so as a romantic gift, Lilly would get Torren something book-related, such as an autographed first edition of a book he adores or a new book he hasn’t read yet but which she knows he’ll love. Torren’s romantic gesture for Lilly, on the other hand, would lean toward the experiential rather than the material. He would plan a romantic date and not tell her where they were going. Something super special like showing her a spectacular view she’s never seen before or taking her to a production of Turandot, which was the opera they saw on their first date together and which captivated her and stirred her emotions.
–Jeanie Grey, Awakening 2
Eliza would get Nicholas something ridiculous and so wrong it was right like a plant stand. Nicholas would get Eliza a crazy amount of food, not fancy especially but a lot. Like lobster and stuff. And an onyx necklance. He’d say it was pretty and deathy like her.
–Julie Hutchings, Running Home
Tristan would get Callie an antique sewing machine and some really pretty fabrics, like crushed velvet with a funky dye to it, because she’s been sad she hasn’t been able to make anything since she’s been in Vegas.  Callie would get Tristan a journal, a leather one with a cool cutout pattern for his songs. Then one of them would say something to ruin the whole thing, but they’d make up and have a great night.
–Kristen Strassel, Because the Night

WAKE FOR ME–Meet Isobel Irons

Today’s Brew: Wild Mountain Blueberry! It’s back!

by Kristen

Everyone! This is Isobel! On Twitter, she’s a self proclaimed hipster, she directs indie films, and she’s an all around bad ass.  She has recently released WAKE FOR ME, and we’re excited to share a little bit of the book with you.

”Meeting the man of your dreams can seem impossible-especially if you’re unconscious.”

WAKE FOR ME Cover 1563 x 2500

“Loneliness and darkness have just robbed me of my valuables.” –Sigmund Freud

I walk down a set of brushed steel stairs, dropping my feet in time with the music. My thigh-high leather boots are attached with straps to my elbows. The heels are ten inches high.

The room below me is completely black, except for a small circle of deep blue light in the center. The dance floor pulses with angry, writhing life. Bodies crush together so closely, you can’t make out which parts are which. The beat is muddy, dirty. It runs together.

My feet finally hit the floor. There is no floor. Just a thin line of neon light, stretching away into the darkness.

I’m a dominatrix, a marionette. My hair falls into my eyes, and I have to keep pushing it back. It’s razor straight, the deep purple of a twilight sky. It isn’t my hair, but someone else’s. I can’t see. The beat shifts, and I can hear the sound of laughter behind it. My heart beats faster and faster in time. Sweat runs down my face, my arms, into my eyes. It stings and splashes the people around me. They sizzle, and burst into flame. I’m surrounded by glowing embers with melting eyes.

I scream. My voice comes out as a whisper.

My feet are on fire, my hair is on fire. I beg the waitress for a drink. She looks at me from across the room and shakes her head.

“You’re not dressed appropriately for this establishment.”

“These aren’t my clothes,” I tell her. “This isn’t me.”

But my voice is hoarse and unrecognizable. I cough, and purple smoke comes billowing out of my mouth.

The music changes again, and I fall.

“You’re flying,” Aiden’s voice whispers. “I’m falling.”

I land on my hands and knees, hard. I’m kneeling in a pile of dead, brown leaves. The trees all around me are blood red, with yellow branches. I reach for one of the branches, trying to pull myself up. It turns into a snake and wraps itself around my hand.

I scream, silently, and run.

Crashing through the trees, I come to a river. It’s black and wide, and my right foot splashes into the freezing water before I can stop. The current pulls me in, waist high, chest high, neck high.

I suck in a breath, but it’s too late. I’m sinking.

A hand swims across my vision, thin and pale. There’s a thick gold ring on one of its fingers. My father’s ring. I reach for it, but my hand passes through. I close my eyes, willing myself to breathe. I can breathe underwater. I can do anything if my will is strong enough.

I speak one word, séchez, into the river. Heat bubbles from below, and the river boils. I rise with the steam, until I’m standing in the middle of a dry riverbed. My childhood home sits before me, looking like someone has dropped it from a great height. Like Dorothy’s house, I think. In that story…I can’t remember the name.

I walk carefully across the ground, feeling the parched, fragile mud crack under my feet like eggshells. I misstep once or twice, and almost fall through. Finally, I make it to the front porch of my house. Painted white columns jut diagonally into the sky, and the old bricks look like decaying, mismatched rows of teeth. I open the door, and instantly I am surrounded by tall wooden casks corseted with wide steel bands. They’re twice as tall as I am. I walk through the cedar-scented maze until I reach the dining room.

The table is set for company. There are three sets of clothes, one on each chair. The fourth chair is empty. I pick up my clothes and put them on. I sit in the chair and wait for my parents to come in from the show room.

But they never come.

Instead, I fall asleep at the table, pillowing my head on my arms.

“Wake for me,” a voice says, and I do.

I look up to find Sam sitting at the table across from me. But now, the table is a miniature wine cask. Our knees brush against each other on either side.

“You’re late,” I tell him. “I was so worried.”

“I love you,” he says, much too quickly. He’s hiding something, but he wants to see me smile, just once, before he tells me what it is.

“I know,” I say. There’s something rolling around inside my stomach. I could be pregnant, I think. The thought terrifies me and excites me at the same time. Maybe the baby is Sam’s. He’ll be so beautiful. But we should get married first. Wait, I’m too young to get married.

No, this is bad news. Everything is wrong.

“You’re so beautiful.” His hands feel warm around mine. “I never realized how beautiful. Your eyes….”

“I wish you would just say it. You know how much I hate surprises. They make me feel…” I search for the right words “like you’re taking advantage of me.”

“Let me see you smile,” he says.

His face makes me want to cry. He loves me so much. He’s the only thing that feels real to me anymore. The candle on the table sputters and dies. I can’t feel his hands on me anymore.

“I’m never going to wake up from this, am I?”

Arms surround me in the dark. It’s so warm, so quiet. Finally, for the first time, I can breathe. I inhale deep. The smell of chlorine and freshly washed laundry fills my lungs.

“I promise you, you’re going to wake up,” he tells me. “But when you do, things will never be the same.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” I demand, pushing away from his embrace. “Why are we here? Why have all the voices stopped?”

But he doesn’t answer. I’m alone.

I fumble for the candle, for anything that will shed some light and bring him back to me. But my grasping hand only meets an empty pile of clothes. Something rattles. Pearls. A watch. Cufflinks.

It’s so quiet. Too quiet.



IsobelIronsAs you might have already guessed, Isobel Irons is a pen name.

In real life, I am (among many things) an indie film director and TV producer with a deep–some might even say obsessive–appreciation for onscreen storytelling and a lifelong book habit that I just can’t seem to kick.

In film, there’s nothing I like better than a JJ Abrams “show, not tell” character reveal, or a Joss Whedon banter session. Or an Erik Kripke-level “bromance.” And of course, I’m a die-hard fan of the will they / won’t they trope, where the fans start shipping two characters agonizingly long before they share their first kiss. Or in Hart Hanson’s case, like three frigging years before. (That’s right, Hart. I’m talking to you, you incorrigible tease.)

In my novels, I use my visual storytelling skills to show the reader an entire menagerie of hidden worlds. When it comes to imagination, there is no production value and no budget. But if there was, I would spend it all and then some. To me, my characters are real people, who just happen to live in my mind. Before I write, I scout locations to set the scene, I hold exhaustive casting sessions to find the perfect quirks that will ignite the maximum amount of conflict. Then, I throw in some tricky, but believable situations that allow my characters to expose themselves–sometimes in a figurative, emotional sense, other times quite literally. Rawr.

Finally, I sit back and let the story unfold. If it sucks, I cut it. I tell my characters–sternly, but calmly–to reset and do it again, but this time give me MORE. Show me MORE. Make me laugh or cry or want to hit something MORE. And then, when I realize I’ve read through the entire thing in one sitting and–Holy shit, is it really that late, and Oh my God I am SO hungry! Have I even eaten today? That’s when I know it’s ready to be unleashed into the world.

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