The Darkest Minds Brightens My Outlook on Fantasy

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

It has been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a series, but here we are. Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds is fantastic. It has danger and romance and amazing characters, which is the winningest of combinations. Here’s the other thing, I am not usually into dystopian novels, but I could not put this one down. 

Set in a modern, yet seriously messed up, America the book tells a story of a world in an economic black hole, rampant with crime and devoid of children. For six years, the country has been tracking down and collecting all children who managed to survive the youth plague-thing called IAAN. All survivors were left with special abilities of varying degrees from exceptional memory to mind control. The government has been collecting the survivors in concentration camps designed to contain, control and even eliminate the threat of these exceptional kids. Our main character, Ruby, manages to escape. She then teams up with a group of rogue kids who travel together. What follows is a journey of learning to trust and to survive. It turns out that those two learned instincts might be the ones that get Ruby into the most trouble. 

I came across this book at BookExpo Bloggercon. Alexandra Bracken was on one of the panels I went to and a copy of her book was included in the gift bag. There was also a great book bag that says “Let’s carpe the hell out of this diem,” which I think is really funny and was one of the more notable lines in the book. 

What I liked about this book was that it was a new idea. It’s fantasy and dystopian society, but it was different from anything I’ve read recently in those categories. The characters are also detailed and not cliched. They are the mix of characters required for every group setting, but it didn’t seem like it. They are all very layered and have really great progression throughout the story. I also like how Bracken reveals information. She is good with timing. I really appreciated that I had an actual emotional reaction to some of the things the characters did. It’s been a while since I’ve been that invested in the story. 

While I’m on the subject of fantasy… I would also recommend The Name of the Star which is the first book in a series. The second one goes on sale in the fall, but I read the galley and it is quite good. These are both unique fantasy series that are super compelling. Christine (AKA PolandBananasBooks) has a really fun video about The Darkest Minds, go check it out! 

I am now embarking upon the journey (journey) that is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Maybe I will finish it before I go to school. 

Read on! 

On Fortuitous Location

The number of Wednesdays between this post and the last is far too great. I’ve been working on some other projects. However, on Monday I visited a bookstore in between sweating my way down 9th Ave and climbing the steep steps to the High Line in lower Manhattan.

Posman Books is located near the back of Chelsea Market. The neon ‘BOOKS’ sign appeared like an oasis. I had passed three ice cream shops without indulging because I couldn’t eat another thing after lunch. Books, however, I could do.IMG_2054

To be quite honest, I felt a different kind of character in Posman, one with which I’m not sure I clicked. Although there were some cool posters (of which I wished I could have purchased several) and lots of books, it felt very new. Everything was just beginning its journey. I could almost feel packing and production residue on some of the paperbacks.

What I loved were all of the unique books by unheard of imprints next to the stylized covers of classics like The Wind in the Willows and Frankenstein. It got me thinking about the fortune of a name. If an author has a creative title and a last name like Hemingburg, his or her book will probably get a few more looks than the boring title in the middle of the Ws. It turns out that being in the right place can be as helpful as automatic recognition… at least at the beginning. On Monday I perused a dozen books by authors I’d never heard of simply because I was looking for a copy of Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” (which I did find and purchase).

So like the fortuitous placement of Posman Books at the end of a long stretch of delicious looking food, uncommon authors can make readers stop with an interesting title and the fortune of an alphabetically strategic last name. Of course, this really only applies to readers who go to bookstores to look for their books… but that is an entirely different story.

So what do we do? As readers, how do we find the good stuff that maybe is not alphabetically charmed? Listen for buzz on the internet and spend a lot of time in bookshops.

Read on,

Currently reading: That Book About Harvard by Eric Kester, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Just Finished: The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank

Blogs vs. Vlogs: Tension at Bloggercon

It wasn’t long ago that book blogs were rocking the publishing world and making authors re-market themselves and their books. In fact it was so recent that it’s still happening. However, a new medium has snuck into the mix: vlogging, more affectionately known in the book world as ‘book tubing.’

Perhaps it was the proximity of ‘b’ and ‘v’ on the keyboard, or the phonetic similarity of the words or the general misunderstanding of the differences between blogging and vlogging, but the powers that be at the BEA bloggers conference misadvertised one of the panels and nearly had an uprising on their hands. Yesterday, 100 or so attendees of “bloggercon” showed up to hear from industry professionals about how influential book blogging has been. Instead, they received an hour of enthusiasm on the wonders of book tubing. The panelists included Alexandra Bracken, author of The Darkest Minds series, and her editorial/marketing team in addition to Christine Riccio (aka PolandBananasBooks on YouTube).

I’ll first just say that the panelists and the moderator handled themselves very well and were super informative about the benefits of book tubing and the effect it has had on Ms. Bracken’s book. They were discussing what they knew, but the audience of mostly traditional bloggers found it hard to relate.

Book tubing is becoming increasingly popular (shameless plug: I just finished a video series about children’s books, click here to watch). People are reviewing, book talking and theorizing via videos on YouTube and they are reaching a huge audience. The big thing, and this is seriously important, is that the videos are reaching a broad audience of non-readers and they spread more virally than blog posts.

The question becomes: are vlogs more influential than traditional blogs? The sensitive answer might be that they are just different; blogs reach an audience of readers while videos target a larger, perhaps more diverse, audience. To the bloggers in the room yesterday, it seemed that vlogs were being given the more prestigious hierarchy, which created some tension. Regardless of yesterday’s events, it is an important question. Video blogging seems to be the next step, but blogging still isn’t fully developed. How do we deal with that? To me, the fact that book tubing reaches readers and non-readers alike is very appealing and might just be enough to inch it ahead. It also makes it easier for our community’s personality to come through. There are so (so) many interesting, kind and charismatic people in the book blogging world, but it is very difficult to express personality in a review.

Creating a brand takes lots of work, effort and time. This is especially true when someone has to read two or three posts and click around a website for a while before they get to know (and trust) the author. With book tube, it is far easier to pull someone in with a human being talking. It’s difficult to be comfortable enough on camera to really present your personality, but when it’s done right, videos are extremely engaging.

We seem to be in murky waters now. Both mediums serve different purposes and cater to different audiences. It seems that book tube is the next step, but it would be a shame for blogging to fade before it’s reached its potential. The problem with book tubing is that it is quite difficult to produce a video and it is far more time consuming than writing and editing a blog post.

I am not migrating to book tube, but I am certainly experimenting with it. The important question for me, and hopefully for most book bloggers, is: what will get people reading? After all, isn’t that the end goal of all of this?

If you have predictions or thoughts on this topic or were at the conference, please respond in comments or tweet @bookstomark!

Read on,


Have You Read it Yet? (Finally!)


Hi all,

I have finally begun to publish my video series about the children’s books every kid NEEDS to read! The first features The Giving Tree and Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Check back every week day for the next few weeks for a new video!

Read on,

Children’s Books and New Projects

I will be graduating in a few weeks. However, before I can graduate I have to (and am excited to) complete a “May Term” project. I have decided to make a video series about children’s books. Throughout the month of May you can look forward to videos from yours truly comparing modern and ‘classic’ children’s books. My definition of each is very broad and the lines are a bit blurred, so I am looking for your input! Chapter books, picture books, kids ages 0-12. If you have any favorite children’s books or know what kids like to read, please leave suggestions in the comments, email or tweet @bookstomark!
A few examples:
Goodnight Moon
Junie B Jones
Polar Express
Walk Two Moons
The Giving Tree
Nancy Drew
A Wrinkle in Time

On another note, World Book Night is next week and I am so(oooo) excited. Tomorrow night I am going to a reception to pick up my books and then next Wednesday we will give them out and my library is having a small shindig to celebrate! I am giving away Hoot by Carl Hiaason.  More on that next week!


Read on,

What Are You Reading?: New Book Recs!

Quite a few people have asked me for book recommendations lately. So, for this week’s post I thought I would make a list of all of the books that have either been released recently or are coming-soon that I am looking forward to. Without further ado, here we go.

1. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman My school librarian and another of my mentors, Ms. Maza, recommended this book to me and said it was for readers who liked The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I loved The Night Circus. This looks magical, intriguing and fun.

2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt There has been a lot of hype about The Goldfinch. Personally, I have heard mixed things. The description looks interesting, I always like a little mystery, a little intrigue and some missing artwork. It’s on my shelf, it’s coming soon.

3. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline I was fortunate to meet Ms. Kline when she came to speak to a few of us at my school last year. We had a very nice conversation and I have been meaning to read Orphan Train for some time. I am always amazed by the amount of research writers do to make their work great and Ms. Kline discussed the work that she did to prepare to write this story.

4. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton So, the description makes this seem like YA fantasy, but I have heard really great things about this.

5. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling, coming June 2014). So, I haven’t actually read The Cuckoo’s Calling yet, but I am excited to do so. This is the sequel, which comes out in June, so I thought I would link to it here. It will be interesting to read Jo when she isn’t writing as Jo.

6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd I loved The Secret Life of Bees. Kidd’s new book (it came out in January) follows the journey of a young girl and the slave she is given for her tenth birthday. If anyone could do this type of story well I think it would be Sue Monk Kidd and I look forward to it.

7. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira The premise of this book is intriguing. The main character learns about herself and the world around her by writing letters to dead people. Some of them are famous, some of them are not. I am interested to see how the writer treats the idea that I frequently play around with and the idea that I think is at the core of meaningful work; learning through writing.

8. The Storied Life of A.J. FIkry by Gabrielle Zevin It’s about a bookstore and bibliophiles. I don’t think I need to elaborate.

9. The Swan Gondola by Timorthy Schaffert I was attracted by the title and then by the words “reminiscent of The Night Circus.” A young romance in the midst of the Omaha World’s Fair? I will take it.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman I have heard nothing but good things about this and Neil Gaiman is a genius, so there’s that. The Amazon description is very short, so basically I am intrigued.

So, there you have it. New/coming soon books that I am looking forward to. I realize that this is historical fiction/mystery heavy, so I learned something here. If you have thoughts on any of these please leave them in comments!

Read on,

Making Stuff

Yesterday, John Green made a video that was largely about how artists create. In that video he said: “Individuals don’t really create stuff so much as they process their influences and try to build upon them in order to create something helpful for others.”

So, this is a pretty bold statement. Creators don’t really create, they synthesize. I tend to agree. I think that all artists, their work and their consumers are part of a community and partake in an unending dialogue that reflects our cultures and the human condition. Just for fun, here is a list of my favorite influences.

Here we go (in no particular order other than in which I thought of them):

Pablo Neruda
Hank Green
JK Rowling
Jane Austen
The Lives of Others
Julio Cortazar
JD Salinger
Ray Bradbury
Jonathan Safran Foer
The obituary section in any newspaper
The band Fun.
Garth Brooks
Erin Morgenstern
Sharon Creech
EB White

What are your influences?

Read on,