How to: Ask Bloggers for Review Requests

I’m about to dive into my third round of book blogger request emails; I had a friend ask me what that entailed as she is getting ready to start her first round. I thought maybe you could benefit from my process as well. This one’s a doozy, so let’s jump right in.

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Blogger review requests are super easy but pretty time consuming because of the work you want to put into it. It’s pretty common sense stuff if you take the time to do it right.

First off, let’s talk about your own database. I use an excel spreadsheet for my contacts. It includes Blog Title, policy review link for quick access, blogger name, their email, what formats they accept, when I contacted them, and the results (yes, no, review link if available).

BLOG TITLE      REVIEW LINK    NAME    EMAIL           FORMAT    CONTACT?     RESULTS?
Liz’s Blog          www.link.com        Liz     liz@email.com    MOBI/PDF   12/10/13         Yes! Review to come

This keeps me organized as well as from contacting the same blogger more than once (seriously, don’t do it. And don’t follow up with 14 emails to them either – if they didn’t respond to your first email, 99% of the time that was their nice way of saying no thanks, ain’t nobody got time for that.)

One really important thing is to make sure the blogger is accepting self-published books, as well as understand the genres they accept. Bloggers get super annoyed at tons of requests for things outside of their list and usually immediately delete it (for example, don’t send a fantasy book to someone who only reads contemporary or ask about erotica when they specifically say they will not read them). They don’t typically make exceptions. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and you’re not hitting your market.

It’s also important to address them by their first name and include their blog title so they know you’ve taken the time to do your research. I typically also follow them on FB and Twitter while I’m researching, sometimes they see my name and remember it later or auto-follow. Never ever request over anything but email. Drives ’em crazy.

I’m specific in my emails and include an intro (who I am, why I’m contacting them), a book synopsis to catch their interest, availability of title, and offer of the book. Sometimes I attach a cover image to get their attention, but who knows how many of them actually look at it. Don’t attach anything else though – only send them the book if they accept the request or want to read a piece of it.

Here’s a sample blogger review request email from GIFTED’s first run:

Hi Katie!

My name is Liz Long and I’ve self-published my urban fantasy book Gifted, A Donovan Circus novel. Unless you don’t love strong chicks, hot boys, or supernatural murder mysteries at the circus, I’d love to be considered for a review on your blog Katie’s World of Books!

(See that opening line? That hooked the majority of bloggers into at least reading the rest of the email. I got so much response from bloggers that began with, “With an opener like that, how could I say no?!” Who doesn’t love any of those three things, provided you’ve done the research and know they love that genre?)

Here’s what Gifted is all about: (you can skip down to the next italics)

Even in a world of freaks, being a Firestarter is considered a dangerous Gift.

Lucy was born with the ability to create and control fire. She longs to leave the human world for one filled with Earthshakers, Transporters, and Chameleons, to name a few. When she rejoins the circus, it’s everything she hoped it could be—new friends, a potential love interest or two, and a place where she can be herself.

When troupe members begin turning up dead, however, Lucy is suspected of foul play. She must not only prove her innocence but also realize the full extent of her power. To find the real murderer, she must uncover the truth behind her father’s fiery legacy while figuring out whom to trust within her new circle. Little does she know the history of the Donovan Circus and its enemies might actually destroy the entire gifted world.

(There’s your synopsis or hook, if you will. Explain what they have to look forward to and get them interested in the book itself. Same as you would expect any book to catch your eye on the shelf, right?) 

The book will be released on May 1st, though I don’t mind if it takes longer to get reviewed! It will be available for purchase in paperback and ebook form at Amazon. I would be happy to gift you a copy for your e-reader or mail you a paperback copy when they become available in a couple weeks, whatever your preference. If you’d simply like to check out the first few chapters to see if they grab your interest, we can do that too!

(I let them know where the book will be available for purchase. I also make sure they know when the book will be released, though I’m laidback about when they can get to it. I’m in no hurry for reviews as I appreciate the time behind every one – and bloggers are busy. They often have huge TBR piles and feel like they have to tell authors “no” if they’re on a time crunch. This way, the blogger doesn’t feel pressured but might still consider at least adding it to their list.

Offer up different options, since many bloggers need different files – epubs for Nooks, mobis for Kindle, PDF for other tablets or on the computer. I don’t give up too many paperbacks since that gets expensive and I need them for signings, but if that’s the only way it’ll work, then I’ll make an exception. Also, I offer up a few chapters so that if they are sort of interested but not completely hooked, it’s no pressure. If they end up not wanting to read it, no harm, no foul and they didn’t lose 2 days reading something they didn’t really want to read – which means no poor review making you cry in your corner.)

Gifted is my debut title, the first in its series. Thanks for any interest in this. I really appreciate everything you do for spreading the book love for authors and readers! Even if Gifted isn’t something you’d like to review right now, please let me know if I can be help you out with anything (interview, guest post) in the future. Have a great week!

(I also tend to offer up anything else that might help if they don’t have time to read – a guest post, excerpt, interview, whatever. Bloggers love to fill up their calendars and if they don’t have time to review you, sometimes they still accept your help which will still give you some exposure. Plus it builds a relationship with that blogger which is the ultimate goal because they may help you out later when they can. And of course, I always thank them profusely for their time. I know they appreciate it.)

I sign off with my name, double and triple check everything (especially that the name and blog title are correct), cross my fingers, and hit send. More often than not, I get great responses back. I’ve been lucky in that regard, but part of that is targeting the correct demographic – ie, asking the RIGHT readers instead of ALL the readers I can find.

I hope this helps in your quest for book blogger reviews. Honestly, the key is to be polite and friendly. Don’t take it personally if they say no – just move on to the next person on your list. Book bloggers also talk to one another, so chances are your book may end up in their hands once they’ve heard positive things from their peers. Do your research, spell correctly, and, as my mother says, be sweet. The indie community is a great one for authors and readers alike!

Michelle Muto: Don’t Fear the Reaper (Excerpt)

Guys, today I’m showcasing Michelle Muto! She’s been on the blog a few times with her previous works and she’s sharing out a special excerpt of her release, Don’t Fear the Reaper. Read the synopsis and excerpt – then go buy your copy with the links below! (Due to subject matter, this book is recommended for mature teens or older.)

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Synopsis:
Haunted by memories of her murdered twin, Keely Morrison is convinced suicide is her only ticket to eternal peace. But in death, she discovers the afterlife is nothing like she expected. Instead of peaceful oblivion or a joyful reunion with her sister, Keely is trapped in a netherworld on Earth with only a bounty-hunting reaper and a sarcastic demon to show her the ropes.

When the demon offers Keely her ultimate temptation–revenge on her sister’s killer–she must determine who she can trust. Because, as Keely soon learns, the reaper and demon have been keeping secrets and she fears the worst is true–that her every decision changes how, and with whom, she spends eternity.

Chapter One:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for they are with me.

I repeated my version of the psalm as I watched the ribbon of blood drift from my wrist. I’d hoped it would be a distraction—something to stop me from wondering what my sister’s dying thoughts had been. Exhaling slowly, I let the emptiness consume me.

Jordan had kept my secrets and I had kept hers. In the end, it came down to just one secret between us that took her life. Now, it would take mine. I should have said something, but nothing I said or did now could bring her back or make anyone understand what she meant to me.

Are you here, Jordan? Are you with me? Tell me about heaven…

I told myself Jordan was gone, never coming back, but her memories continued to haunt me. I had no idea if there even was an afterlife. If God existed, I was convinced he had given up on me. Not once did I sense he’d heard a single one of my prayers. I wasn’t asking for the world—I only wanted to know if my sister was safe and at peace. What was so hard about that?

She should still be here. It wasn’t fair.

I’d been the difficult one—much more than Jordan. For a while, I’d even gotten into drugs. Mom and Dad had worried I’d get Jordan into drugs, too. But I wouldn’t. Not ever. Besides, that part of my life had been over long before Jordan’s death. A small gargoyle tattoo on my left shoulder was all that remained of my previous lifestyle.

Mom and Dad started treating me differently after Jordan’s funeral two months ago. She and I were twins, so I understood how hard it was for them to look at me and not see her. Sometimes, they wouldn’t look at me at all. Mom went to the psychiatrist, but no one asked if I needed to talk to someone about what happened. No one asked if I needed sleeping pills or antidepressants. Yeah, sure. Don’t give the former addict pills of any sort.

Not one person saw the all-consuming suffering that gnawed at my soul. Why couldn’t anyone see? Jordan had been more than my sister—she’d been my Samson, my strength. I would have done anything for her, and yet, I’d failed her. I wasn’t the one who’d killed her, but I might as well have been. How could I ever live with that? My heart had a stillness to it since her death.

I shall fear no evil.

I couldn’t very well recite the first part of Psalm 23 because it said I shall not want, and I did want. I wanted to go back in time. I wanted my sister back. Clearly, goodness and mercy were never going to be part of my life ever again. In my mind, I saw myself walking through the iron gates of hell with demons cackling gleefully all around.

I didn’t want to die. Not really. I was just tired and didn’t know of another way to stop the pain. Doctors removed a bad appendix. Dentists pulled rotten teeth. What was I supposed to do when my very essence hurt, when the cancer I’d come to call depression made every decent memory agonizingly unbearable?

Before I’d gotten down to cutting my wrist (I managed to only cut one), I’d taken a few swigs of Dad’s tequila—the good kind he kept in the basement freezer. I’d used another swig or two to chase down the remainder of Mom’s sleeping pills in the event I failed to hit an artery or vein. Then I’d set the bottle on the ledge of the tub in case I needed further liquid encouragement. Instead of using a knife or a razor, I attached a cutting blade to my Dad’s Dremel. The Dremel was faster, I reasoned. More efficient.

It would have been easier to OD, I suppose. But I felt closer to my sister this way, to suffer as she’d suffered.

I recited the line from Psalms 23 again. It had become my personal mantra.

The words resonated in my parents’ oversized bathroom. I’d chosen theirs because the Jacuzzi tub was larger than the tub in the hall bathroom. Jordan and I used to take bubble baths together in this same tub when we were little.

Innocence felt like a lifetime ago. I searched the bathroom for bubble bath but came up short. Soap might have made the laceration hurt more so it was probably just as well. Besides, the crimson streaming from my wrist like watercolor on silk was oddly mesmerizing.

The loneliness inside proved unrelenting, and the line from the psalms made me feel better. I prayed for the agony inside me to stop. I argued with God. Pleaded. But after all was said and done, I just wanted the darkness to call me home.

I tried not to think of who would find my body or who’d read the note I’d left. I blamed myself not only for failing Jordan, but for failing my parents, too.

My lifeline to this existence continued to bleed out into the warm water. Killing myself had been harder than I’d imagined. I hadn’t anticipated the searing fire racing through my veins. I reached for the tequila with my good arm but couldn’t quite manage. Tears welled in my eyes.

Part of me foolishly felt Jordan was here. The other part feared she wasn’t.

Give me a sign, Sis. Just one.

I imagined seeing my parents at my funeral—their gaunt faces, red-eyed and sleepless. How could I do this to them? Wasn’t the devastation of losing one child enough?

No. Stop. A voice in my head screamed. Don’t do this. Don’t. Please…

I shifted my body, attempted to get my uncooperative legs under me. I could see the phone on my parents’ nightstand. I could make it that far. Had to. The voice was right. I didn’t want to do this. I felt disorientated, dizzy. Darkness crept along the edges of my vision. Focusing became difficult. A sweeping shadow of black caught my attention. Someone stood in the bathroom—not my sister. A man. Had I managed to call 911? I couldn’t remember getting out of the tub. And why’d I get back in? Did I use a towel?

Mom is going to be pissed when she sees the blood I’ve tracked all over the bedroom carpet.

“I’m sorry,” I told the man in black.

“It’s okay, Keely. Don’t be afraid.” Not my father’s voice. It was softer, with a hint of sorrow. Distant. Fleeting. Later, I’d feel embarrassed about this, but for now I was safe from the nothing I’d almost become. My teeth clattered from the chill. My eyelids fluttered in time with my breaths. The tub water had turned the color of port wine. The ribbons, the pretty, red watercolor ribbons were gone.

Dull gray clouded my sight.

A voice whispered to me, and my consciousness floated to the surface again.

“—okay, Keely.”

Cold. So cold.

“I’m right here.”

There was no fear in me as the man bent forward, his face inches from mine. He was my father’s age, and yet strangely older. His eyes were so…blue, almost iridescent. The irises were rimmed in a fine line of black, and the creases etched at the corners reminded me of sunbeams as he gave me a weak smile. The oddly. Dressed. Paramedic. A warm hand reached into the water and cradled mine. My fingers clutched his. I sighed, feeling myself floating, drifting. Light—high and intense exploded before me. No! Too much. Too much! I shuddered and labored to catch my breath, but it wouldn’t come.

Finally, the comfort of darkness rose to greet me.

Links:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
B&N
iTunes
Smashwords

Where to Find Michelle:

Michelle’s blog
Michelle on Twitter
Michelle on Facebook

Dante’s Girl by Courtney Cole

Today I wanted to share amazing news about my friend Courtney Cole!! Her new title, Dante’s Girl, is officially ready for your reading pleasure! Without further ado, I present to you the first chapter of Dante’s Girl, below the cover and blurb (sorry for any wonky formatting, but I promise it doesn’t take away from the terrific writing!) I can’t WAIT to read this!! Congratulations Courtney!!

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Back Cover Blurb:

I have spent every summer since I was ten years old with my father in London. Every summer, since I was ten years old, has been uneventful and boring.

Until this year.

And this year, after a freak volcanic eruption strands me far from home, I have learned these things:

1. I can make do with one outfit for three days before I buy new clothes.
2. If I hear the phrase, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” even one more time, I might become a homicidal maniac.
3. I am horribly and embarrassingly allergic to jellyfish.
4. I am in love with Dante Giliberti, who just happens to be the beautiful, sophisticated son of the Prime Minister of a Mediterranean paradise.
5. See number four above. Because it brings with it a whole slew of problems and I’ve learned something from every one of them.

Let’s start with the fact that Dante’s world is five light-years away from mine. He goes to black-tie functions and knows the Prime Minister of England on a first name basis. I was born and raised on a farm in Kansas and wear cut-off jeans paired with cowboy boots. See the difference?

But hearts don’t care about differences. Hearts want what they want. And mine just wants to be Dante’s girl.

My heart just might be crazy.

And here’s Chapter 1!! (Squee!!)

It is impossible to look hot in the dingy fluorescent light of an airport bathroom. Or as my best friend Becca would say, hawt. At this particular moment, I’m not hot or hawt. I make this revelation as I vigorously scrub at my arms and face and then use a wet paper towel under my pits. And what is it about peeing in an airport toilet ten times in a day that makes you feel so completely scummy? I glance around at the crumpled tissues strewn about on the scuffed floor and the dirty toilets peeking from behind half-closed doors and cringe. That answer is clearly ‘because of the germs’. Ack.

Trying not to think about it, I clean up the best I can. After running a brush through my hair, I stick a piece of gum in my mouth, apply a thin layer of lip gloss and call it good. I glance into the mirror and cringe. It isn’t good enough, but it will have to do. Very soon, I’ll put this dreadful four hour layover in Amsterdam behind me and before I even know it, I’ll be in London.

With my father.

For the summer.

It would be torture.

Just shoot me now.

And it’s not because I don’t love him, because I do. My reluctance doesn’t stem from lack of love. It comes from the deep-seeded fact that Alexander Ellis doesn’t understand me. He never has and he never will. It’s something that I’ve made my peace with and I’m not angry about it. I’m his only child and he works his life away as some top-secret agent for the NSA. His job is so secret that I don’t even know what he does. In my head, I imagine him jumping from helicopters and saving starving children in war torn areas. But in reality, I know he probably sits behind a desk and analyzes information from a satellite stream or a taped telephone conversation. I’m pretty sure that’s what the NSA does,
anyway. They aren’t the cool kind of spies.

Also, he isn’t exactly sure what to do with a daughter. I was supposed to have been a boy. Seventeen years ago,   sonograms apparently weren’t as absolute as they are today, because the technician told my parents that she was 99.9% sure that I was a boy. They painted my nursery blue and picked out my name and everything. I can only imagine the shocked horror on my father’s face when I was born with lady parts. Regardless, I know he loves me. Even though he had willingly given my mother full custody when they divorced years ago, I know he only did it because he works overseas so much and he isn’t exactly sure how to raise a girl. He does okay. But then again, I do have some reason to believe that he still pretends that I’m a boy, just to make it easier on himself. It’s fairly easy to do since I still have the boy name that they originally picked out.

With my head down, I trudge back out into the congested halls of Schiphol airport. Weary travelers bustle around me and I shift my bags so that I can pull the stubborn strap of my tank top back over my shoulder where it belongs. As I do, I crash into someone with enough force that my bags go flying out of my hands and scatter onto the ground under people’s feet.

“Son of a –“ I blurt before I even think.

“Buck?” a male voice offers helpfully.

Looking up, I stare into the most unique and beautiful shade of blue that a pair of eyes has ever possessed. Of that I am certain. Blue just shouldn’t be that multi-faceted and twinkling. There should be a law or something. Or at least a warning label: Caution, these eyes may cause female knees to tremble.

Before I can help it, I scan the rest of him. Sweet Mary. This guy had lucked out in the gene department. Tall, slender, beautiful. Honey colored hair that had natural highlights that could even catch the crappy airport light, broad shoulders, slim hips, long legs. He is tan and golden with a bright, white smile. I am surely staring at Apollo, the god of the sun. Probably with my mouth hanging open, which makes me realize that I must look like an idiot- the personification
of what foreigners think Americans to be. I snap my mouth closed.

“I’m sorry,” I say quickly, trying to still my racing heart. “Did I run into you?”

“Only a bit,” Apollo says gentlemanly, with a shrug of his strong shoulders. I can tell he is strong even through his shirt sleeves, which are snug across his toned biceps.

Sweet baby monkeys.

“How can someone run into someone else only by a bit?” I ask with a nervous smile as I kneel to retrieve my stuff. Please don’t let him smell me right now, I silently pray to any god who cares to listen. I am sure that at this point in my travels, I probably smell like soiled hamster bedding.

He bends next to me and picks up the contents of my spilled purse. He smells like sunshine. And rain. And everything beautiful that I can think of. I try not to cringe as his fingers grasp a tampon and slide it back inside my bag. He doesn’t even flinch, he just casually continues to pick up my things like he’s used to handling feminine hygiene products.

“Oh, it’s fairly easy, really,” he answers. He has an exotic sounding accent that I can’t place. “At least, when you’re not looking where you’re going.” My head snaps up and he laughs.

“I’m kidding,” he assures me as he extends an arm to me. Even his hand is graceful. I gulp as his fingers curl around mine. “You can bump into me any time you’d like.”

“Thanks,” I mumble. “I think.”

“I’m Dante,” he tells me, his impossibly blue eyes still twinkling.

“I’m Reece,” I answer with a sigh, already anticipating his reaction. “Yes, I know it’s a boy’s name.”

“You’re not a boy,” Dante observes. “Most definitely not a boy.”

Is that a note of appreciation in his voice? Surely not. I look like a bedraggled Shih Tzu.

“No, I’m not,” I agree. “I just don’t know that my dad ever got that memo.”

I look past Dante and find that he is alone. He seems to be about my age so that’s a little unusual in these circumstances. My parents had flown me as an ‘unaccompanied minor’ across the ocean for years, but other people’s parents are usually a little squeamish about that.

“I’m sure that fact hasn’t escaped him,” Dante tells me in amusement.

Why do his eyes have to sparkle so much? I usually go for brown-eyed guys. But this boy is most certainly making me re-think that stance.

“That’s debatable,” I sigh. Realizing that we are impeding the busy pedestrian traffic like a dam in a rushing river, I smile.

“Thank you very much for helping me pick up my things. Safe travels!”

I turn on my heel and pivot, walking quickly and what I hope is confidently in the other direction. Hitching my heavy purse up on my shoulder, I fight the urge to turn and look at him. Something about him is practically mesmerizing. But I don’t look. I keep walking, one foot in front of the other. When I reach the moving walkway, I hop on and focus ahead of me, eyes straight forward.

Don’t look back.

Don’t look back.

Don’t look back.

Regardless of my silent chanting, when I step from the walkway I discreetly check behind me. Apollo is nowhere to be seen. With a sigh, I continue on to the British Airways terminal. Only three short hours left until take-off. Plugging my earbuds into my ears, I settle into a seat and close my eyes.

***

“Excuse me, Reece?”

Before I even open my eyes, I know the sexy accent is coming from Apollo. I can feel his epic hotness emanating through my eyelids. I only hope that I haven’t been drooling in my sleep.

“Yes?” I ask as nonchalantly as I can while my eyes pop open. I try to discreetly smooth my hair down. In my head, I envision myself as Chewbacca from Star Wars and wince.

Dante hands me my phone, which must’ve fallen from my lap as I napped. “Are you on the flight to London?” he grins. “They’re boarding priority travelers now. I just thought you should know.”

Yikes. I had slept for three hours? In a noisy airport? I must have been super tired.

“Thank you,” I reply quickly, gathering my things in a rush. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I’m not a priority traveler, but I probably would have slept through general boarding. Thank you for waking me.”

I glance at him as I stand up and can’t help but do a double take. It isn’t easy to get used to his particular brand of sexy. He is laid-back, handsome and casual, which is a formula for utter female devastation. The impossible thing is that he doesn’t seem to realize it. He’s effortlessly sophisticated and chic.

“Well, you’re awake now and that’s the important thing. Have a nice trip, Reece,” Dante grins once more before he joins a group of men who are apparently waiting for him. I was wrong, I guess. He isn’t alone after all. The men close around him in a tight circle and they board the plane with the other passengers with first class tickets. He’s on my flight.

I gulp and find a place in line with the other travelers flying coach. As the richer, better-dressed passengers file past us, I feel a little like a bumpkin in rumpled clothing. Even though I travel to London every summer to visit my dad, I live in rural America the rest of the year. And all of a sudden, I feel like I am wearing a blinking neon sign proclaiming that very fact. The clothing that had seemed sophisticated to travel in this morning now seems like it was hand-made in someone’s
backwoods shed.

And it so makes sense that Apollo is in first class. He smells like a beautiful sunrise in a wooded meadow. Oh, my gosh. What is wrong with me? Where did that come from? I am totally being as corny as an erectile dysfunction commercial.

I roll my eyes at my own absurdity and hand my ticket to the heavily made-up flight attendant who is waiting to take it. She glances at it and then at me before she stamps my passport and hands it back.
“Have a nice flight, Miss Ellis,” she tells me before turning her attention to the passenger behind me.
Yeah, right.

I like flying almost as much as I like having dental work. Or having my fingernails pulled out one by one. Or having paper cuts sliced onto my legs and then lemon juice poured onto them. Just about that much. Filing down the narrow aisle through first class, I can’t help but search out Apollo.

It doesn’t take long to find him. He is situated by the window in a wide, leather first- class seat. He’s already covered in a warm blanket and looks like he is settling in for the hour long flight. As I move closer to him, his eyes pop open and meet mine, the electric blue of his almost causing me to gasp aloud. He smiles slightly as I pass and his gaze doesn’t waver from mine.

I find myself wishing that I could sit next to him. Not only because of the lavish first class seats, although those would be nice too. But rather, there is something in the air between Dante and me. I can feel it, an instant connection. I can practically reach out and touch it. I’ve never experienced chemistry like this in my life. It’s the kind that seems corny when you read about it in books, but in real life, it is anything but. It is simply electrifying. Ripping my eyes from his, I continue down the aisle and find my seat.

Taking a deep breath, I stash my carry-on in the overhead bin and slump into the window seat, trying not to hyperventilate as my fear of flying suddenly overwhelms me while the cramped airplane closes in around me.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Repeat.

I watch the flight crew below me loading the bags into the belly of the plane. What if they dislodge the landing gear while they are messing around down there? What if they don’t check the systems well enough and we die in a fiery crash? What if the metal holding the plane together rips off in the air and peels away like tissue paper?

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Repeat.

I might die.

Seriously.

I listen impatiently as the flight attendants give their safety spiel and motion toward the exits like they are NFL referees with dumb tiny scarves around their necks. I just need for them to get on with it. Just let us taxi out and take-off and then I will be perfectly fine once we are in the air. My hands get clammy and my ears start to roar.

Why am I such a freak?

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Repeat.

You freaking flight attendants.

Hurry.

Up.

I’m just getting ready to shove my earbuds back in to distract myself when Dante appears next to me like a savior or an angel or something of equal beauty and importance.

“Is this seat taken?” he smiles and I notice a dimple in his right cheek that I hadn’t noticed before. How had I missed a dimple?

“Um, not that I know of,” I answer weakly, trying not to die from heart palpations. “But the seat belt sign is on. You’re not supposed to be out of your seat.”

Fabulous. Now I sound like a hall monitor with a heart problem.

Dante shrugs without seeming worried.

“I think it will be okay,” he answers. “We’re not even on the runway yet.”

“Good point.”

“Can I sit here? I’m bored up front.”

I nod, my palms instantly clammier. “I hope you brought your blanket. You won’t get much back here except for a bag of peanuts.”

And now I sound like a cheap hall monitor with a heart problem. I’m presenting myself better and better by the moment.

Dante smiles yet again and sits next to me. He brings his charming accent with him and the scent of his amazing cologne. I take a deep breath. He smells far better than the stale airplane air. Far better. I fight the urge to jump into his lap and inhale his neck, a maneuver that just might make me appear slightly insane.

“You look pretty pale,” he observes as he buckles up. “Are you afraid to fly?”

“Is it that obvious?” I ask quietly. “As much as I’ve flown in my lifetime, I should be used to it. But I’m afraid that’s never going to happen. Once I’m in the air for awhile, I’ll be fine, but until then… well, I’m terrified. I admit it.”

“Don’t worry,” Dante tells me quietly, his voice calm and reassuring. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re more likely to get into a–”

“Car crash rather than die in a plane crash,” I interrupt. “Yes, I know. I’ve heard. Where are you from?” I ask curiously, half out of genuine curiosity and half out of the need to distract myself. “You have the most interesting accent.”

He smiles, his teeth brilliantly white. I decide on the spot that I could watch him smile all day long.
“Caberra,” he answers, reminding me that I had asked a question. “It’s an island near Greece. And you?”

“Like you don’t know that I’m American,” I chuckle. “I know it’s written all over me. I’m sure you’re a fan, right?”

“Of Americans?” he raises a golden eyebrow. “Of course. I love them. I have no reason not to. They bring a lot of tourist dollars to Caberra.”

“Well, we are a land of excess,” I admit. “But that’s usually what foreigners seem to hate about us.”

Dante stares at me for a moment and then smiles. “Well, I can’t speak for all foreigners, but I don’t hate Americans. And you’re not in America right now, are you?”

I shake my head. “No, I am most certainly not.”

“Well, then. You’re the foreigner now.” He grins and I can’t help but smile back. He has a point.

The pilot gets on the intercom and his nasally voice drones on and on, but I am able to tune it out as I engage in conversation with a boy who is surely a direct descendent of the gods. There is no other plausible explanation for his good looks or charm. I barely even hear the words that come out of Dante’s mouth, because I am so mesmerized by the shape of his lips as he moves them. Pathetic, I know, but true. One thing about me: I don’t lie to myself. I might stretch the truth for my parents from time to time when necessary, but never to myself. And I’m pathetically fascinated by this boy.

Finally, the aircraft shudders a bit and noses forward and I startle, gripping the arms of my seat. My fingers turn white and I am certain that I am leaving permanent indentions in the cracked vinyl arm-rests.

“Don’t worry,” Dante says quietly, unpeeling one of my hands and grasping it within his own. “It will be fine.”

The feel of his hand distracts me. Strong and warm, it cups my own carefully, like he is holding something very fragile. I close my eyes and enjoy the feeling. I only have a couple of minutes to soak it in, however. As the plane moves down the runway in preparation for take-off, something happens. Something isn’t right. Our plane rocks a little, then quivers, like it is being moved by a strong gust of wind. I feel it a brief moment before Dante tightens his grip on my hand, a split second
before light explodes from outside of my eyelids. I open them to discover fire tearing down the runway past my window. Before I can react or even scream, all hell breaks loose.

Book Review: Smokeless Fire, Samantha Young

I’m not a spoiler person, so let me please forewarn you that while I will talk about the book, I won’t give away too many details. I don’t want to give away the twists that come with reading the plot, so I’ll give you a basic rundown, but I won’t ruin it for you. Promise!

“For the last two years Ari Johnson’s life has been anything but normal, and on her 18th birthday, when her friends surprise her with a gimmick genie claiming to grant wishes, Ari discovers the truth. The tragic and strange occurrences surrounding her 16th birthday were not coincidental and her life is never going to be the same again. Ari’s real parents are not normal. They are not loving. They are not human. They are myth. They are Smokeless Fire. They are Jinn.”
Smokeless Fire, #1 in the Fire Spirits series, follows a teenage girl named Ari Johnson, an astoundingly beautiful girl who also happens to be a loner. No mother, a father who’s never home, friends who are self-absorbed, and then there’s Charlie, the sweet best friend turned asshole addict from his little brother’s death by car accident. (Ari’s pining over Charlie gets old quickly–thank god hot Jinn Guardian Jai comes in fast.) After some developments, Ari is whisked away to her true father’s palace, and I gotta say, The White King gave me the heebie-jeebies immediately. (The description of his deformed yet vicious Jinn pet truly gave me the creeps). There’s a big ol’ twist about who she really is and why she’s such a desired being, but again, I’ll save that for your own fun surprise. There’s another smaller twist involving Charlie, which I thought was just okay–it seemed like an excuse strictly to keep Charlie around for the love triangle/connection to Ari’s past. Although I do grow to like Charlie (more in the 2nd book, though), I still mostly wanted to smack the dumb, stoned expressions off his face and tell Ari to get over it already. (I think that’s due more to my own personality than anything, though. I can’t handle whiners.) Anyways, that’s where Jai comes in, a young Guardian working for his father’s security firm. There’s a whole bunch of bad blood from Jai’s family, giving him firm reason to be a hardass guardian at first. Of course, the more he grows to know Ari, the more he starts to fall in love with her, which is a huge no-no. Ari must learn how to survive in a dangerous new world while figuring out who she really is–which leads well into Book 2, Scorched Skies.
I loved the chapter when Ari finds out what she is, who her real father is, and especially why he wants her around. The White King is a scary motherfu–dude, sorry–and he means business when he says she’ll regret turning him down immediately. They’re well-written and give me plenty of setting descriptions. When he tells her he is not human, that he is Jinn, it’s such a great section in the book that it’s probably my favorite part.

The storyline is very unique–Jinn, or Fire Spirits, are far from vampires, werewolves, and faeries. There’s a long and built up history the author has designed and I’d explain it all, but it’s pretty tedious (plus I don’t have my book on me). I felt like I was being forced to read something for class, which made my eyes immediately skim for important keywords and move on to the next scene. I have trouble processing information given to me as a history book–I get why Young chose to do it this way and I don’t mind it terribly, but it’s just not how I want to read. It’s important for Ari to read it, but perhaps we could’ve gotten her Cliff Notes version.

I love the Red King–I think he’s not only the comedic relief, but also the supreme wild card of the story characters. He’s well-written, full of personality (I love that he has such a fascination with humans and their world), yet mysterious and just dangerous enough to make us not trust him, despite how Ari feels. We never really see what his true intentions are, except to serve his father Azazil. He may or may not come to care for Ari, but that doesn’t mean he won’t throw her to the wolves if it’s required of him.

And where do I even start with Jai? Okay–for me, Jai saved this storyline. He’s the best character in the story, especially where character development is concerned. As the youngest therefore impressive Guardian, he comes from a very complicated family history that really supports his viewpoint. With such awful family, I get why he has the attitude and personality he does–his silence or anger, his anguish over the new feelings for Ari versus the idea of responsibility towards an unloving father–it’s easy to like him and I found myself wishing more than a handful of times that we saw his POV more than just a couple times.

The language was sometimes a little varying–characters would speak as adults with logical issues, then turn around and call someone an “asshat”–which of course I still giggled at, but given the life-threatening situations, I found it difficult to believe there wasn’t more serious freaking the eff out going on. I think Young was trying to balance it, though–to keep Ari as a human teenager while hanging very serious situations over her head and it didn’t always compute well.

While reading, Ari gave me some frustration. I wanted to throttle her at times when she allowed herself to be a human doormat. She’s a loner by nature, which is perfectly believable, but her attitude to do whatever everyone wants drives me crazy. For someone who’s alone a lot, she spends the majority of her time thinking about Charlie or Jai and instead of making me feel bad for her, I want to tell her buck up (or be all, “Okay, we get it already, Ari.”). I also think she’s a little too cool for school–when she finds out she’s Jinn, she sticks her ostrich head into the sand and pretends she never heard a word. She flat out refuses to accept the news and when she finally does, it’s in a shrugging “meh, okay”  way that made me grimace. There was no freak out, no uncontrollable crying or screaming…I’m sorry, I get that Ari likes ghosts like Ms. Maggie and whatever, but her reaction to the insane news supernatural creatures and of being a powerful, targeted Jinn is unforgivably unbelievable. I need reaction to circumstances and while she gives one to every other situation, this one was a biggie that fell flat. Like once she accepted it was all real, that was it. No problems, no questions asked, and suddenly The White King is her father in narration as opposed to “that scary motherf–dude.” Once decided she will leave her home to save family and friends (a fine hero personality), she’s very robotic about it. Other than Charlie, she seems to have no real problem about leaving home. I get that Ari’s making the “right choices” but there probably should’ve been a little more self-struggle with the decisions.

However, I will say she flashes a different, much stronger personality in many points of the story, which gives a good indication that it’s only a matter of time before she comes into her own. (In fact, I’ve read Book 2 of the series and while I won’t give anything away, I will say Ari is much more likeable when she realizes what needs to be done to save her existence.)

None of these things I listed, however, keep me from reading the series. As soon as I finished Smokeless Fire, I bought the second book (and I’ll hint that I think the second book is even better) and I’ll keep reading the series until she’s done. I was able to invest in these characters, despite their flaws, and that’s extremely important to me. It’s not necessarily about relating to them, but I do like them enough to care about them and wonder where they’re headed. I’m looking even more forward to Book 3, Borrowed Ember, to finally see how Ari is gonna nut up and take back her life. At the very least, she’s not a damsel in distress and that I can appreciate.

Wednesday and Friday we have interviews with Samantha Young on her favorite passage, her inspiration behind the series, and her advice to aspiring indie authors!