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!

Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Vampire Academy by Michelle Mead. YA Fiction. 332 pages. Image found on google

“St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school–it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s–the very place where they’re most in danger. Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi–the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires–make Lissa one of them forever.”

Summary from author’s website,

I don’t love this book but I don’t hate it either. I did enjoy learning about the two vampire species and how they differ, the Moroi are vampires who can handle indirect sunlight and are connected to magic whereas the Strigoi are your stereotypical vampires. Both however need blood to survive the difference is the source. I loved that the author used dhampirs in her novel and that they play a pivotal role in the protection of the Moroi against the Strigoi, rather than dhampirs being outcasted and hunted. The characters were relatable and I found myself sympathizing with Rose. She is passionate about protecting her best friend Lissa and is willing to drop everything on a whim for her. However she is into the party scene and is no stranger to causing mischief on and off the campus. This is where we depart in our personalities, besides all of that who wouldn’t want a friend like Rose?

Now for the bad news, unfortunately, but I have to add my two cents. This book is set in an academy and thought that I would get away from drama. This book is full of high school level drama. I’ve graduated college and suddenly I was hit in the face with petty fights over boyfriend stealing and who is more popular. I’m not saying this book is awful, it is not in the slightest, but I felt that the fights in between plot driving moments were undisguised filler. Another reason I only liked this book is more of a personal reason and I do warn potential readers to this subject matter. Lissa, a Moroi princess, suffers from bouts of severe depression after using her specialized magic and cuts herself. Please be aware of this before purchasing this book for yourself or someone else. Someone very close to me used cutting as an outlet for their depression and it was painful and heartbreaking to watch. This wasn’t a huge portion of the book but the few times it happened it was hard to read. I would recommend this book for vampire lovers but please take inconsideration the subject matter I mentioned above. There are six books in the series, including this one, and I’m interested to see where the journey takes Lissa and Rose. According to Richelle Mead’s website there is going to be a movie adaptation of this novel set for release Feb. 14, 2014.

Review by Amanda S.
You can also see my reviews and other posts on

You can follow Richelle Mead on twitter @RichelleMead

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

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. Fiction. 256 pages. Image found on google.

R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he is a little different from his fellow Dead. He may occasionally eat people, but he’d rather be riding abandoned airport escalators, listening to Sinatra in the cozy 747 he calls home, or collecting souvenirs from the ruins of civilization.

And then he meets a girl.

First as his captive, then his reluctant house guest, Julie is a blast of living color in R’s gray landscape, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat this girl—although she looks delicious—he wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

Summary from the back of the book.

I never thought that I would fall for a zombie and R has captured my heart. I’ve only just recently become a fan of zombies. I mentioned in my review of World War Z that I watched The Walking Dead, all 3 seasons in 2 days, and as simple as that I was hooked. However I didn’t think I would care so passionately about R and the other zombies in this book. I would say that R is the zombie equivalent to Wall-E from the Pixar film. R is different from the other zombies inhabiting the abandon airport, he wants more out of life but he is the undead and unable to express himself other than grunts and moans. His inner monologues give us a unique insight into the life of a zombie and his worries and curiosities are so human. What I found so endearing was his collection of souvenirs that fill every space of his 747, which reminded me of Wall-E. I it found interesting how Marion gives new life to the contemporary myth. It is common knowledge that zombies eat brains but it’s never explained as to why that particular part of human anatomy is their prime target. R explains that when he consumes the brain of a human he gets all the memories of the person and it makes him feel alive, even if it’s only for a moment. Zombies also don’t smell humans the way that we smell each other, they smell the essence of life not sweat or blood and that the hunger hits them all over. The zombies also have created an imitation to the lives they use to have. The zombies have pushed the staircases that lead up to the planes into the shape of an amphitheater and call it a “church” where the Boneys “preach.” Needless to say that it’s nothing but groaning but they are trying to create a sort of semblance of the life they once lead. This is echoed by the living as they try to rebuild and create a sense of normalcy out of the apocalypse.

Julie is the human girl that R takes back to the airport after a hunting trip. She’s at first weary of R and keeps up her guard, she attempts to escape a few times but R rescues her each time. I love their relationship. It’s adorable. After Julie realizes that R isn’t going to hurt her, she starts to open up and relax around him. The humor in this book is genius. Teaching a zombie how to drive a car is hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing at the images floating through my head while reading. Julie also gets R drunk later and being a zombie certain bodily functions cease when turned, his inner monologue expresses his panic about not remembering how to go to the bathroom and among other things. He is a guy despite the fact of being a zombie and he likes Julie so of course he wonders if he could one day be intimate.

This book was a great read and I’m excited to hear about a possible sequel still in the works. I love this book and I’ve already lent my copy out to a friend after she heard me praising it. I do recommend this book for Teens and up. However do be aware of strong language and gore. R is a zombie and there are depictions of him eating humans and Julie and other humans swear throughout the book. If you are not a big zombie fan I urge you to give this book a chance, it’s a unique tale and it’s nothing what you expect.

I recently bought the movie and loved it (I’ve watched it at least 4 times this weekend). The movie follows the book pretty well, there are things omitted and changed, but I wasn’t upset with them. A very good movie adaptation and the actor playing R, Nicholas Hoult, did a fantastic job giving life to the character.

Review by Amanda S.
You can also see my reviews and other posts on

You can follow Isaac Marion on twitter @isaacinspace

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown. Fiction. 480 pages. Image found on google

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

Summary from the author’s website,

Our favorite Harvard Professor of Art History and Symbology is back!

Robert Langdon awakes to find himself in a hospital recovering from a concussion caused by a grazed bullet. When he glances out the hospital window he makes a startling discovery; he is in Florence, Italy.  Worse yet, he doesn’t remember how he got there. Events start to unravel fast as a woman clad in black leather shoots and kills one of the doctors attending to him. Sienna Brooks, the other attending physician, reacts fast and helps Robert escape the armed woman and the soldiers marching up the stairs. Suffering from retrograde amnesia Robert’s memories appear as flashes of disturbing images; legs protruding from the ground, hordes of dead people, mask of a plague doctor and a veiled silver haired woman telling Robert to “seek and find.” Hidden in a secret pocket in Langdon’s jacket is a tiny canister, inside is a Faraday pointer that projects La Mappa dell’Inferno by Sandro Botticelli. The painting is a tribute to Dante’s Inferno and depicts Dante’s travels through the nine circles of Hell. Langdon is quick to see that the painting has been altered and deciphering the message leads Sienna and Robert all over Florence. The disturbing codes are the work of a brilliant scientist who is deeply influenced by Dante and creates his own hell on Earth. Racing against the clock and the authorities Robert and Sienna dive head first into a raging inferno.

I absolutely love this book! This is, without a doubt, the best book in the Robert Langdon series yet! Being a fan of the previous novels in the series and the two standalone novels, Digital Fortress and Deception Point, I patiently awaited the arrival of this novel. I enjoyed learning more about Dante and his famous epic poem through the labyrinth of cryptic messages and codes. Having touched on The Divine Comedy when I was in school I was never fully immersed in his life or the true, or hidden, meanings of his work. It’s hard to grasp something so complex when you’re so young. Many of the art and architecture mentioned in the book that help guide Langdon on his journey of discovery I studied while in college. I recommend that as you read to search for the works of art, the author gives a detailed description of the artwork, however the pieces are stunning. This made it easier to picture in perfect detail the paintings or sculptures so I could try to piece together what was going to happen. I attempt but Langdon is always out smarts me. What I love about his novels is the journey through the historic cities and the suspenseful chase. The novel flows easily and is brimming with information but you are not weighed down by the facts. I recommend this novel to avid Dan Brown fans, you will not be disappointed! To those who are picking up a Dan Brown novel for the first time I suggest starting from the beginning of the Langdon series with Angels &Demons, but Inferno makes no references to the previous novels.

Review by Amanda S.
You can also see my reviews and other posts on

You can follow Dan Brown on twitter @AuthorDanBrown

Below are a few of my favorite works of art and architecture mentioned/visited in the book:

Hagia Sophia. 532-537

Hagia Sophia (Interior). 532-537

Il Duomo by Brunelleschi. 1446–1461

Gates of Paradise, Nothern Doors by Ghiberti. 1401-1424

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.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

World War Z by Max Brooks. Fiction – Horror. 420 pages. Image found on Google.

“We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the plaque years.”
Summary found on back of book.

The interviewer remains anonymous throughout the novel, stressing that the book belongs to the survivors.  Each new voice adds another piece to the puzzle, starting from the very beginning to the peaceful years following mankind’s reclaim of the world. In the words of General D’Ambrosia , a survivor, “The book of war, the one we’ve been writing since one ape slapped another, was completely useless in this situation. We had to write a new one from scratch.” No one knew how to combat this new enemy, in order to fight and conquer; you need to have prior knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Zombies are stripped of their humanity and are driven by their primal hunger of flesh. World War Z is set in a world where zombies do not exist in their cultures so they went to war completely blind. Yonkers is the most referenced battle because of how the squad stationed there floundered about even with every weapon imaginable at their disposal. The zombies continued their relentless trudge up the streets towards the men whom they wanted to devour. They cared not for the conditions of their own bodies, missing limbs or vital organs dangling from their flesh, did nothing to stop them. The only way to kill the undead is to destroy the brain, which is where the infection starts the reanimation process of the body. With the rising number of infected joining the ranks of the zombies mankind had to think of ways to come back into power and they had to do it on the run.

This novel was not at all what I expected. After becoming a fan of the television show The Walking Dead on AMC and accustomed to the gore and violence I was prepared and anticipating something similar to that. It was mostly comprised of military or political accounts of the war and not head to head zombie combat or encounters. It was difficult to get into, at first, each interview coming from a different person, felt episodic and disconnected instead of a single coherent narrative. However, I enjoyed each interview of civilian encounters with the undead and I wish there were more of those stories being told. One such story I connected to belonged to Kondo Tatsumi, living in Kyoto, at the peak of the apocalypse. He described himself as an outcast and lived his life through the internet forums completely oblivious to the threat right outside his apartment building. His parents would leave him meals outside his bedroom door and he only became aware of the threat when the Wi-Fi cut out, not the fact that the meals had stopped arriving. He used his knowledge of films he had seen and that on internet to escape the zombies, knotting together bed sheets to climb down from each balcony to escape from his infected neighbors. I would like to think that if he could survive the apocalypse then so could I. The parts that gave me the creeps were the interviews that told of zombies living in the oceans attacking ships and small boats. The interview that upset me was of Commander Terry Knox of the International Space Station who could only sit back and watch as the world fell apart from the view screens on board the space station. Although I found it a hard read in the beginning I quickly became immersed in the war and the mechanics of fighting an enemy unlike any that had become before. Once I hit “The Great Panic” I could not put this book down. I recommend this book to all zombie lovers of appropriate age, be aware that there are disturbing images described and the use of strong language. I look forward to the movie adaptation hitting theaters soon.

Review by Amanda S.
You can also find my reviews and other posts on

…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!

Point-Counterpoint: Ulysses

Anyone who’s ever had to do required summer reading knows that there’s always controversy over what makes a book a classic.  Everyone has their own opinion, and here at Books With A Past, we have many opinions.  Fortunately for us, the staff also has differing opinions, which leads us to this thread: Point-Counterpoint.  Each literary opinion in this section will be argued, then countered, by different booksellers.


In honor of Bloomsday (June 16), here is Becky’s defense of the eponymous Leopold Bloom and Ulysses.

James Joyce’s Ulysses has been deemed unreadable and offensive by multitudes, and yet it remains an important classic. It took Joyce almost a decade to write Ulysses and it is often considered to be his greatest work. The book takes place over the course of one full day and features the “Odyssey” of the main character, Leopold Bloom, as well as some accounts of the life of Stephen Dedalus, the main character of Joyce’s previous work, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  “If Ulysses is not worth reading,” Joyce declared, “Life is not worth living.”

Each section of Ulysses is written in a different writing style, each of which is reflective of the content of that particular episode. It shifts from realism to modernism and even contains a section composed entirely of newspaper titles. The style reflects the characters and the situation as well as strengthens the overall plot and ideas presented. For example, when Stephen Dedalus (the young “poet”) is the central character of a chapter, it is filled with literary allusion and analysis while the sections that focus on Leopold Bloom contain more common thoughts and observations that easily reflect a middle-aged man living in turn-of-the-century Dublin.

Despite the obvious and consistent references to Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses is often attacked for being a work with no central ideas or, worse, a mere satire on the honor and heroism found in the Odyssey. However, it is more than an extensive criticism on heroism. The work is revolutionary because Leopold Bloom is virtuous in the traditional sense, but Joyce does not glorify the main character and does not overlook his less-than-noble qualities. This true realism only brings the reader closer to the characters and makes the entire work far more believable. The personalities that populate the pages are not larger-than-life heroes; they are starving artists, lonely middle-aged men, and overly romantic young girls. Ulysses shows that there is life beyond standard greatness that is often intriguing, intelligent, and spirited and presents it in a perfectly honest and perhaps even shocking way.

Ulysses is another “portrait” by Joyce, but it is a portrait of a day and the unconventional heroes that reside within it.