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Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare Review

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Attention Shadowhunter fans, Cassandra Clare is back with a new tale following a cast of new characters on the West Coast. Lady Midnight is the first book in her new trilogy The Dark Artifices set within the Shadow World. We are introduced to the Los Angeles Institute in The City of Heavenly Fire, book 6 in the Mortal Instruments Series, where we witness the hostile takeover by Sebastian and his army of Endarkened. Lady Midnight continues five years after the events of the Mortal Instruments and follows Emma Carstairs and the remaining members of the Blackthorn family. Emma is still haunted by the brutal murder of her parents, refusing to believe they were just another casualty of Sebastian’s evil reign. She sets out to investigate a slew of strange murders in the Shadow World, murders that resemble the way her parents were killed five years prior. What she discovers is a tangled web of love and betrayal in this heartrending first installment.

This was the first book that I loved the main characters and their romance, instead of the side characters, i.e. Magnus and Alec, rather than drooling over Jace and Clary. Emma and Julian were great characters, both separately and together, I loved their dynamic. Emma is fierce, determined and sassy female protagonist that made me laugh and terrified me, she is lethal. Cristina Mendoza Rosales, a Shadowhunter from the Mexico City Institute, is sort of studying aboard in L.A. and is best friends with Emma. She’s the most mature character in this book and I instantly loved her. The whole Blackthorn family is easy to love, each have their own strengths and weaknesses and their family dynamic felt real. There was one side character that surprised me and that was Mark Blackthorn. He’s a morally ambiguous character who once you think you’ve got a grasp on he slips through your fingers like smoke. I’m intrigued by his past in the Wild Hunt and how that is going to play out in the last 2 books. He’s quickly becoming my favorite.

Overall, I absolutely loved this new chapter in the Shadowhunter chronicles. I did find it hard to get into, at first, after getting to know characters for 6 books then introduced to new ones slowed my reading a bit. However, once I grasped the personalities of these new faces I fell in love with them and I couldn’t put the book down. We do see some familiar faces from her previous series such as Clary and Jace and others who make cameo appearances, as well as fan favorite Magnus Bane. You cannot have a Cassandra Clare book without having the High Warlock of Brooklyn pop in from time to time. With the cameos of familiar characters, it helped me fall back into this world that I know and love so much. I recommend picking this book up if you loved the previous books set in this world. I do, however, highly recommend you pick up  this book after reading The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Device, there are references to events that happen in City of Heavenly Fire and you need to read Clockwork Princess before that book. Read them in order of publication.

Review by Amanda S.
You can find me on twitter and goodreadsGive Books with a Past a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, a handmaid whose job is to birth a child to the Commander of Gilead. Women in Gilead are not allowed to read, are not allowed to have jobs, and cannot have any money. In the story, we find out that radical religious groups took over the country. Some people are taken away and never seen again to work in a radioactive war zone, some are allowed the choice to return to the lands of their faith, and some are kept in the country to provide rather hard services for a select group of higher-ups. What puts Offred in a dangerous situation is that she has not been able to conceive a child, and this is her 3rd family that she has been with. If Offred cannot become pregnant, she will be sent away. Throughout the story, we hear of Offred’s past, before the radical group takes over the country, and how Offred is living in a place where women are only valued for their reproductive abilities. We see through her eyes the oppression, the hardship, and the heartbreak Offred has had to face. Perhaps the most interesting characters in the story are the women. While some may be vindictive and cruel, the wonderful thing that this book does is make them three-dimensional and human. Offred is also such a relatable character. Most of the women in the book are all people we know in our lives. This is probably one of the book’s many strengths. When reading this book, it is very easy to think of someone when certain characters are introduced. Being a Gender and Women’s Studies major, this book is perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of fiction that every feminist or pro-woman thinker should read. While there are some problematic parts of the book, a reader will not be able to miss many of the similarities this books has with our world right now. I would very much recommend this book. It is powerful in many ways: emotionally, physically, and at times spiritually. When reading, you cannot help but think of certain parts of our society today. It is also not just for feminists and gender studies students. It is a book that anyone can read, as long as they are prepared for an emotional roller coaster!

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Review by Cici Bahr

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Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. 336 pgs. YA Fiction. Image found on google.

“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”

The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

(Summary excerpt from

***This review contains spoilers***

This beautifully written book captured my attention from the moment I opened its stunning cover. The elegant writing style pulls you in and sings about a world turned upside down by tragic events of guilt and innocence. I thought that I knew the direction the book as going and how it was going to end but I was completely blindsided by the ending. I’ve never read an ending quite like this one and it was the best example of the saying, “Karma is a bitch.” The characters were well developed and I related to two of the characters, Orianna and Amber. I laughed, cried and cheered with them.

The story is told in dual perspectives, Amber and Violet, that overlap each other and a third character, Orianna, who is the connecting factor. Amber is serving time in a girl’s detention center, Aurora Hills, and sees no end to her sentence in sight. She keeps her head down and knows her place within its cinder block walls. Amber’s position is to push the library cart down each wing and pass out books, she takes pride in her job to make sure the books are nice and organized. She differs from the other girls in the facility because she is viewed as innocent, the other girls have taken part in violent crimes but Amber appears to be there by guilty association. When Orianna is sent to Aurora Hills she becomes Amber’s new cellmate which changes both of their lives forever. Violet is an eighteen year old on the cusp of starting her new life at Juilliard to pursue her dreams of being a famous ballerina. Three years ago a violent act took place behind the dumpsters at her school involving two fellow ballerina’s, as well as, Violet and Orianna. Orianna, a girl who was a natural at ballet and a genuine friend, was convicted of the crime that took place that fateful night three years prior. She was sent to Aurora Hills where she meets and befriends, Amber. But her tale is told through Amber and Violet because Orianna is dead.

This book touches on great topics such as bullying, peer pressure and domestic violence. Showing how each can effect people’s lives by leading them down dark paths. Rachel and Harmony bully Violet, one day they are sweet and the next calling her names, but when boys enter their ballet class the bullying reaches a new height. Cody seduces her into a very compromising position and unbeknownst to Violet the other girls are recording the whole ordeal. They continue to tease and torment her about said incident. As the story progresses we find out that Orianna comes from a broken home and Violet comes from a wealthy family. While Violet and Orianna have a great friendship from the outside we see that Violet manipulates her best friend by using her big heart against her. Violet pressures Orianna at a young age to hold her ballet progression back so Violet can strengthen her feet to begin pointe lessons. It’s all done indirectly but nonetheless it’s evident that her jealousy of Orianna forces her lash out in a passive aggressive manner. Violet’s jealously manifests into rage when Rachel and Harmony’s teasing goes too far, subsequently resulting in the death of the two girls. Violet throughout the whole novel denies any involvement in the act and pins it on Orianna. Guilty by association Orianna is the one punished and takes the blame for Violet, who doesn’t defend her friend once. In the case of Amber she claims to be innocent on the outside but inside she is guilty. Her mother married an abusive man and Amber quietly plots ways to get rid of him. At first it is harmless things, merely wishing him gone but it then escalates to attempting to poison him and tampering with his car. After several attempts at fiddling with her stepfather’s car she gives up but it explodes one evening causing his death. Amber being home all day sick should have been her saving grace but her mother chooses the stepfather’s side. This sends Amber to the detention facility.

I want to take a minute to talk about Orianna. She effected the lives of everyone around her and I couldn’t help but feel a strong connection to her. She’s the type of friend that everyone needs in their lives, a pure soul, who is always there for you and will do things for other people without a selfish agenda. She is such a strong presence in this book without being a primary voice, but her voice is the loudest. She made me feel the most throughout the entire book and I couldn’t help shouting out with joy at the ending (I had to put the book down to gather myself before continuing.)

The supernatural element to the story was one of the best elements of the story. I didn’t see it coming at all it took me completely by surprise; it elevated the ending to a new level. Karma. The best use of karma with a supernatural element in a young adult contemporary that I have ever read and I wish it would happen in real life. Orianna appearing to Violet at the end was super creepy (in a good way) and I found myself glued to the pages waiting to find out what was going to happen.

I usually read series and trilogies, my book cases are packed with never ending series. It’s not often that I read a standalone novel; the story has to be special in order for me to even think about picking it up. The Walls Around Us is a very special book. This book is everything and more. The characters and the story will stay with me for a very long time and I can say that this book is going on my top reads of 2015. I can’t wait to reread it. I love this book. I love the characters and the writing. The writing is beautiful; I cannot stress this enough. I’m finding it extremely hard to adequately describe my feelings. It’s just so good. I urge everyone to go out and pick up a copy and begin reading immediately; you do not want to miss out on this stunning novel! If you love a good young adult paranormal suspense then this is a book for you. Since this is a YA novel expect themes appropriate of that age group (sexual situations and implied drug use.) I highly recommend this book.

I gave The Walls Around Us 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Review by Amanda S.
You can find me on twitter and goodreads.
Please follow Nova Ren Suma on twitter!
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Labor Day Flash Sale!!!

50% off all cards
50% off all toys
30% off selected T-shirts

Hurry in! The holidays will be here before you know it so join us this weekend to get a head start. Sale runs Saturday, August 30th through Monday, September 1st.

Introducing Booktalk Nation

Ah, author readings. It makes you feel smart to say you’re going to hear an impressive author speak, and it’s intriguing to see and hear an admired author in person. But frankly, well, in the words of Anna Kendrick:

Booktalk Nation offers a service that might be able to deliver the best of both worlds. They offer a free phone-in and streaming video author talks that connect readers with authors…from the comfort of your own home. And sweatpants.

These talks are free (can’t argue with that), and last no more than thirty minutes. You can sign up for any event on the Booktalk Nation website and listen to authors discuss their latest book, buy signed personalized copies, and with every book you purchase you will be supporting Books With A Past (BONUS).
Check it out and let us know what you think!

Squishy Invasion!

Today is take your Squishable to work day!

Don’t know what a Squishable is? They’re big, round and fluffy plush animals that are perfect for hugging!

Every year asks that you bring your Squishable into work and show them what you do all day when you are not hugging them. You can take pictures of them helping you out around the office or work site and post them via twitter, instagram, or pinterest with the hashtag Squishywork2013. At the end of the day you email all your pictures of your Squishable working with you and they will donate a dollar for every picture to Dress for Success. For more information about “Take Your Squishable to Work Day” visit their website here.

Hello! I’m Amanda, Books with a Past’s social medium, you may have read some of my book reviews or seen me in the store typing away on my laptop. I brought in my Squishable dragons, Loki and Ciel, into the store yesterday. They were very excited to see what I do when I’m not with them. Sebastian, my third squishy dragon, was eager to help me finish my book so that I can review it. Look for the review on Thursday on Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy.

Sebastian reading ahead in my book

Loki: "My arms are too short" Ciel: "Pass them to me"

Ciel wants to help Daenerys retake the Iron Throne

Loki helping schedule tweets

Movie cover or original cover?

by Amanda S.

While browsing I stumbled upon a discussion asking whether people preferred to purchase books with the original cover art or the movie tie-in cover. The majority of  the comments agreed that the original cover was best and therefore they would purchase only the original cover art. Personally I don’t discriminate because the story behind the cover hasn’t changed, just the cover. How does the saying go? “Never judge a book by its cover.” One of the arguments on goodreads said that the original cover art is the artist’s interpretation of the content of the book, to which I agree but, to my understanding, the author has little to no say about the cover of their book. There are plenty of books out there that have a model posing on the front simply to grab the attention of a potential reader and having nothing to do with the main character or plot. I do agree that putting the actors on the front of the cover puts a face to the character in the book and prevents that reader to create their own image of the characters. I admit to imaging the actors when reading certain books, Harry Potter and Twilight, however I owned these books before the rumors of the movie adaptations and overtime these actors became the perfect image of the characters. For example, Alan Rickman, will always be Severus Snape for me, but I’m able to bounce back and forth between his image and the author’s description.

I don’t have a strong opinion on this matter but I can see both sides of the issue. My bookshelf is full of books with both covers. I read for the escape not for the cover art. Just my opinion. I would love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment below.

Also posted on

Let the record show

We were amused to realize recently that Books With A Past has sold more copies of I Could Pee on This than of Fifty Shades of Grey. We’ll leave it at that.

…and, we’re back!

Okay, I didn’t fulfill my promise from last summer to keep up with this blog.  But we’re back and we’re going to try reeeeeeeally hard to get this up and running again.  We’ll post goings-on in the store, but we’re also going to have some guest bloggers writing reviews and generally being cool.  First up is a guest post from Amanda, our new social medium (thanks to @fightthestupids for that great job title.  If any our legions of readers are ever in New Orleans, check them out–in real life, they’re the Maple Street Bookshop). So please welcome Amanda, whom you will be seeing on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr as well, and enjoy her review of World War Z!

Oh, The Places They’ll Go!

Every week, we buy or are given literally hundreds of books.  Often, we are unable to purchase any more of a specific title or genre, and offer to donate them instead.  We thought our readers might be interested to know who ultimately benefits from those donated books.  Depending on the type of book and time of year, we donate to one of the three following organizations.

Last month, Books With a Past donated fifty-four boxes of books to Better World Books. This organization was built on the belief that access to books and education is a human right, and works to donate both books and money to developing nations where there is little or no access to these things. So far, they have donated over six million books both to regions in need as well as to other partner organizations such as Books for Africa and the National Center for Family Literacy. In addition to collecting books to donate, Better World Books also raises funds and works to make sure that books are properly recycled if not reused. Each time a book is purchased from them online, they make a donation. So, if you are looking to add to your library at home (and we don’t have the book in the store!), buy from Better World Books knowing that you are helping children around the world learn to read. And because of their carbon-neutral shipping policy, you can help limit your carbon footprint as well. Books With a Past will be donating several dozen more boxes to Better World Books in the coming months; if you’d like to donate to them through us, please feel free to drop your books off here.  Just please check out their list of accepted books first–we really don’t need any more Harlequin Romances than we already have.

Over the last few months, Books With a Past has also donated to Shepherd of the Glen Lutheran Church in Glenwood, Maryland in support of their upcoming book sale. Shepherd of the Glen Lutheran Church will be holding this annual sale on September 13-15, at their location on Burntwoods Road.  This year, they will also have a selection of books at their annual yard sale, held June 1-2. All the books have been donated, and the proceeds will go towards the church’s many outreach programs. With past collections having topped twenty thousand books, this local event attracts people from far beyond Howard County. For more information on the programs that this event supports, and for information on donations follow the link provided below.

Similar to Better World Books is the Wish You Well Foundation, founded by New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci.  The organization promotes literacy and its importance around the world. They organize donations as well as volunteers in their fight to help people around the world overcome their inability to read or write.  This is actually a great distribution model: Wish You Well sends books to food banks and soup kitchens, thus targeting populations that are quite likely to face illiteracy. With the link provided below, learn more about the various ways that you can make a difference, either through donations or volunteering.

Are you too looking to donate books? Bring them to Books With A Past for store credit on any book in the store, or make a contribution to any of the organizations listed below.

Better World Books:

Wish You Well Foundation:

Shepherd of the Glen Lutheran Church: