Tag Archives: Simon & Schuster

Review: Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle

Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle

Barking to the Choir
Gregory Boyle
Simon & Schuster
Published November 14, 2017

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Barking to the Choir

In a moving example of unconditional love in dif­ficult times, the Jesuit priest and bestselling author of TATTOOS ON THE HEART, Gregory Boyle, shares what three decades of working with gang members in Los Angeles has taught him about faith, compassion, and the enduring power of kinship.

In his first book, TATTOOS ON THE HEART: THE POWER OF BOUNDLESS COMPASSION, Gregory Boyle introduced us to Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the worldCritics hailed that book as an “astounding literary and spiritual feat” (Publishers Weekly) that is “destined to become a classic of both urban reportage and contemporary spirituality” (Los Angeles Times). Now, after the suc­cessful expansion of Homeboy Industries, Boyle returns with BARKING TO THE CHOIR to reveal how com­passion is transforming the lives of gang members.

In a nation deeply divided and plagued by poverty and violence, BARKING TO THE CHOIR offers a snapshot into the challenges and joys of life on the margins. Sergio, arrested at nine, in a gang by twelve, and serving time shortly thereafter, now works with the substance-abuse team at Homeboy to help others find sobriety. Jamal, abandoned by his family when he tried to attend school at age seven, gradually finds forgive­ness for his schizophrenic mother. New father Cuco, who never knew his own dad, thinks of a daily adventure on which to take his four-year-old son. These former gang members uplift the soul and reveal how bright life can be when filled with unconditional love and kindness.

This book is guaranteed to shake up our ideas about God and about people with a glimpse at a world defined by more compassion and fewer barriers. Gently and humorously, BARKING TO THE CHOIR invites us to find kinship with one another and reconvinces us all of our own goodness.

My Review

I read this book after TATTOOS ON THE HEART and before reading Fr. Boyle’s third book, THE WHOLE LANGUAGE. Meaning I read them in the order they were released.

The title of BARKING TO THE CHOIR comes from a conversation Fr. Boyle had with one of the employees at Homeboy Industries. He had to talk to him about his attitude. The guy responded telling him he was “barking to the choir,” sort of a mashup of “barking up the wrong tree” and “preaching to the choir.”

In this book we get even more stories about kids that Fr. Boyle watched grow up. There are more stories about their lives and how working at Homeboy Industries changed them. The book isn’t strictly about that, though.

Many chapters bring a focus to the way that these former gang members’ lives changed the people around them for better, too. Including Fr. Boyle himself. He talks about the importance of showing up and being open when working with the poor. You don’t show up expecting to make changes and be the person giving the advice and support. You show up prepared to receive. That hit me pretty deep, too. I think it cuts straight to our motives when we try to help others. It gives a great way to check those.

Taking vs. Giving Advantage

Another thing that really stuck with me is from a story he related about an interview with Anderson Cooper. In the interview, Cooper told him that people say he’s naïve, that the homies take advantage of him. Fr. Boyle responds with something like, “how can they take advantage when I’m giving it freely?”

That made me think a lot, too. Sometimes I talk myself out of doing something for someone because I’m worried about what their motives are or what might happen. And it’s not bad to consider those things and be aware. Personally, I’m wrestling with the concept of showing love because I’ve decided to rather than because someone deserves it. It’s an ideal I want to embrace.

Compassion and Covid

In the midst of Covid, there have been a lot of conversations about how much empathy or patience or compassion some people deserve. This is especially true if it seems like they’ve disregarded safety or other guidance. I don’t have all the answers there. It’s a super complicated question. I’ve decided sometimes I will respond with kindness because that’s who I am (or who I want to be!). Sometimes my response doesn’t have anything to do with the other person’s behavior. So I guess this book has challenged me to apply that idea a little more broadly or in different circumstances.

I’m excited to read Fr. Boyle’s next book. I recommend them to anyone interested in the intersection of faith and social justice or in gang intervention programs.

Content Notes for Barking to the Choir

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Father Boyle tells stories about white, Latinx, and Black gang members and former gang members.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently. Some crude language used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content
The book centers on the idea of kinship from a Christian perspective and talks a lot about who God is (loving and compassionate) based on the Bible. There are some (positive) references to other faiths and beliefs.

Violent Content
Brief descriptions of abuse and gang violence.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This
Rachel Lynn Solomon
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Published June 8, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This

Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

A wedding harpist disillusioned with love and a hopeless romantic cater-waiter flirt and fight their way through a summer of weddings in this effervescent romantic comedy from the acclaimed author of TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW.

My Review

While I’m definitely not disillusioned about love, I felt like Quinn’s character really resonated with me. Her feelings about being trapped in the family business and being at a loss as to what her real passions are felt so real that sometimes I squirmed while reading (in a good way though). It was really fun reading a book about a romantic guy, too– I don’t see a lot of those, and I found Tareq absolutely charming.

I loved the way the story explored Quinn’s connection with music, though. I don’t know much about the harp, so I can’t speak to the technique, but I found the performances engrossing and believable. And the way Quinn’s journey with the harp guided her through other conflicts in her life was really cool. I loved that.

The romance was great, too– Quinn’s fears were relatable and the conflicts had me reading one more chapter long past my bedtime, and even peeking ahead a couple times. (What can I say, sometimes I just NEED to know what happens so I’m emotionally prepared.)

I think fans of Solomon’s other books will enjoy this one a lot, and readers looking for a summer romance with a bit of spice should definitely add this to their reading lists.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Quinn and her family are Jewish. Tareq and his family are Muslim.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Some references to sex and explicit sexual content between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Some references to Jewish and Muslim beliefs and traditions.

Violent Content

Drug Content
Some scenes show teens drinking alcohol.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog. I received a free copy of WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Misfit in Love by S. K. Ali

Misfit in Love
S. K. Ali
Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads
Published May 25, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Misfit in Love

Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.

And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too.

Sweet, constant Nuah.

The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college…and ready for Nuah.

It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin—starting right at the wedding.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna.

And Nuah’s treating her differently.

Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers—the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth—have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants.

Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.

In this fun and fresh sequel to SAINTS AND MISFITS, Janna hopes her brother’s wedding will be the perfect start to her own summer of love, but attractive new arrivals have her more confused than ever.

My Review

Janna is hilarious and awkward and completely adorable. I love her. Every time I sat down to read for a few minutes, I got pulled straight into this story and its big, quirky family and all the drama of getting ready for the wedding. I love the way Janna has this community of women surrounding her and building her up. She also spends some time asking herself really hard questions about love and forgiveness, and I love that the story pursued those threads, too. It was fun getting to revisit some of my favorite characters from SAINTS AND MISFITS and adding some new characters to the mix.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy faith-positive stories like this one so much is that I feel like I can really easily connect with a character whose faith is deeply important to them. I guess I just feel like I really connect with characters whose faith drives a lot of their everyday decisions and motivates them to try to be a better person to others. I’m glad to see faith-positive stories in young adult literature.

I think fans of HENNA WARS by Adiba Jaigirdar or TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW by Rachel Lynn Solomon will enjoy this book.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Janna and many of her friends and family members are Muslim. A few minor characters are Black. Janna’s dad is Indian and her mom is Egyptian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Janna has feelings for a boy, but doesn’t pursue physical contact with him because of her faith. She believes that dating should be focused on preparing for marriage and chaperoned by a companion.

Spiritual Content
Scenes show Janna and others rising early to pray and praying together at other times in the day. Janna’s faith governs her behavior toward boys, too. She covers her hair with a hijab. She wears a burkini to swim. She doesn’t have physical contact with boys. She also edits a question and answer page on her mosque’s website, and browses some of those questions and answers in one scene of the story. Some other precepts of Islam come up, like the importance of caring for the environment and the value of loving others.

Violent Content
In SAINTS AND MISFITS, Janna was assaulted by a family friend. She mentions the assault a couple of times, but it’s not described in any detail.

Janna also confronts a loved one about anti-Black behavior and wrestles with how to handle having a relationship with that person going forward.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog. I received a free copy of MISFIT IN LOVE in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2)
Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster
Published January 9, 2018

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Thunderhead

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

My Review

Okay, let me review this backwards and say that the ending of this book hit me like a kick to the guts. (Does that need a spoiler warning? I don’t know. I feel like we can expect the ending of a second book in a trilogy to have a big issue because it sets up the final book and makes us desperate to read it?)

Anyway, now, days later, I’m kind of still reeling. I need gentle books for a while. Haha.

I think one of my favorite things about this series so far is the way the story pushes Scythe Anastasia (Citra) and Rowan apart and yet their feelings pull them together. They each have incredible strength and big things to contribute. I love that. What I’m not sure about yet is whether together, they’re more than the sum of their parts. I suspect that THE TOLL will address that pretty well.

As THUNDERHEAD progressed, I felt like I could see all the threads of the story pulling toward something big. At first the points-of-view all seem very separate– Citra, Rowan, and Grayson all seem to be individual characters with their own goals and motivations, intersecting at times but moving in totally different directions.

There are always hints at a bigger plot happening. And a greater evil emerging. I’m excited to see how all the threads weave together in the third book. Eventually. Once I get my insides sorted out and feel ready to face the end of the series. 🙂

As with Shusterman’s other books, this one has some heavy/dark themes. I think it’s balanced by incredible characters with deep moral values. Good guys committed to remarkable good in a world of others who are indifferent at best. True evil at worst.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

I don’t remember race details. It may be that most central characters are white? I’m not sure. I’ll try to revisit the book and update this.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to sex.

Spiritual Content
A cult called Tonists oppose the Thunderhead and Scythes.

Violent Content
Obviously descriptions of death where Scythes “glean” people. Some try to do this in humane ways while others revel in the violence and power of it. In one section, a character visits clubs in which patrons are permitted to bully or attack workers as part of extreme role playing.

One scythe decapitates and burns his victims after they’ve been killed. Some descriptions of and descriptions leading up to violent deaths.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.

Rock Star Book Tours Cover Reveal: Cold Falling on White by G S Prendergast

I don’t often do cover reveal posts, but this series sounded so cool that I really wanted to share it. Basically, I was hooked as soon as I saw the words “The Fifth Wave meets Beauty and the Beast.” So on to the cover reveal by Rock Star Book Tours and G. S. Prendergast! (Also, stick around for a chance to win a signed copy of book one in the Nahx Invasions series, Zero Repeat Forever.)

Cold Falling White (Nahx Invasions #2)
G. S. Prendergast
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publishes November 19, 2019

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

The 5th Wave meets Beauty and the Beast in this fast-paced and heart-stopping follow-up to Zero Repeat Forever, which VOYA called “an edge-of-your-seat page-turner.”

Xander Liu survived the end of the world—just barely. For more than a year he has outsmarted, hidden from, and otherwise avoided the ruthless alien invaders, the Nahx, dodging the deadly darts that have claimed so many of his friends. When the murder of his friend Raven leaves him in the protective company of August, a rebellious Nahx soldier, Xander is finally able to make his way back to human controlled territory and relative safety.

But safety amongst the humans is not what it seems. Nothing is anymore.

Raven remembers dying in the arms of August. She remembers the pain, and the way he cried as she faded away. But months later when she wakes up on a wide expanse of snowy sand dunes, shackled to a boy she thought was dead too, she has a lot of questions. What has happened to her and the other reanimated humans gathered on the dunes? What is the meaning of the Nahx ships that hover ominously above them? And most pressing of all, where is August, who promised to keep her safe?

In the shadow of an unforgiving Canadian winter, Xander and Raven find themselves on opposite sides of an alien war neither of them signed up for. Left with little choice about their roles in the great battle that now seems inevitable, they search for answers and allies, all while feeling inexorably drawn back the place it seems their respective fates were determined, and to the one who determined them: August.

About the First Book in the Nahx Invasions Series

Zero Repeat Forever (Nahx Invasions #1)
G. S. Prendergast
Simon & Schuster BFYR
Published August 29, 2017

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

The 5th Wave meets Beauty and the Beast in this fast-paced and heart-stopping novel about an invasion of murderous creatures and one girl fighting for her life at the end of the world.
He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…

Watch the Zero Repeats Forever Book Trailer

About Gabrielle Prendergast

Website |  Twitter | Facebook | Intstagram

Gabrielle is a writer, teacher and designer living in Vancouver, Canada.  You can read about her books here. She is represented by Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
In 2014 she was the Writer in Residence at Vancouver Public Library. In 2015 she was nominated for the BC Book Prizes and chosen to tour the province to promote BC Books. In 2017 Gabrielle took part in the TD Canada Children’s Book Week Tour. She has also been nominated for the White Pine Awardand the CLA Award.

Gabrielle won the Westchester Award for Audacious. Audacious was included in CBC’s list of 100 YA Books That Make You Proud to be Canadian. A poem from Capricious was chosen for the 2014 Poetry in Transit Program. Pandas on the East Side was chosen as an Ontario Library Association Best Bet for Junior Fiction in 2016. It was also nominated/shortlisted for the Chocolate Lily Award, The Red Cedar Award, the Diamond Willow Award and the Myrca Award.

Enter the Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: For This Life Only by Stacey Kade

For This Life Only
Stacey Kade
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

A bonfire he had to escape. Ice on a roadway. A night that changes everything for Jacob Palmer. The night his twin brother is killed in a car accident. Jace almost shared his brother’s fate, and in that moment when his heart stopped, there was no light welcoming him to something after. There was only nothing. And now that Jace has survived, he can’t help feeling like fate got it wrong. Eli, the good son, the one who loved everyone around him, the one who made people feel loved, should have been the one to live.

As Jace wrestles with his guilt and the injuries that make his dream of a baseball scholarship an impossibility, his family fractures further. Jace has questions. The kinds of questions a pastor’s kid isn’t supposed to ask. Then he meets Thera and he discovers that perhaps a notorious psychic’s daughter and a prominent pastor’s son have more in common than he could have imagined. But when he stumbles onto Eli’s unfinished business and a dilemma that could destroy his father’s church, Jace realizes he’s facing more than his own questions of faith, but questions of who he is and what it means to do the right thing regardless of who it might hurt.

One of the things I really liked about this book is that it brings faith into the story in a non-preachy way. This isn’t about Jace’s spiritual journey in terms of having a salvation experience or ultimately answering life’s big questions. It’s really only the beginning of that journey in which he begins to take ownership of what he believes.

I liked the genuine conversations that Jace and Thera share. Their relationship definitely felt like one of those life-changing ones, where each person gets to feel seen and truly understood. I liked that Jace’s relationship with his dad is something he continues to wrestle with. That also felt very real, and it was easy to understand how hurtful and frustrating some things between them were. Though this wasn’t my experience as someone raised in a church, I felt like I could see people that I knew in the faces of characters in this story. It definitely captured some of the hallmark fails of church service and politics.

What’s sad in a way is that there isn’t really anyone on the other side whose faith is genuine, who has come through the fire of asking these big questions. I would have liked even a minor character just to kind of nod to the fact that this happens. But it really wasn’t the point of the story, so I can see why the author may have chosen not to show that point-of-view. Jace’s brother is kind of the closest example we have of that, but he’s absent for so much of the story. Overall, I really liked this book. It was a tough read because of how sad the beginning was, but I definitely enjoyed reading it overall.

Cultural Elements
The central characters felt pretty white middle class to me. Thera may be Greek. Her mother is obese. At one point she talks about what that means to her and how that affects the way people see her and the choices she makes.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing and petting between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Jacob wrestles with questions about faith and what happens after death after a life-changing car accident. Though he’s a pastor’s son, he mostly identifies spirituality with rules and pressure to perform a certain way. He discovers that the local psychic’s daughter also feels trapped by the expectations people have about who she is and what she believes. They share a relationship where they allow themselves to question things.

At one point as he’s beginning to question things, Jacob makes a comment about there not being stories in the Bible about people making active choices about what they believe. I find I disagree. It was a minor point not really central to the story, though.

Overall, this is not a story about who’s right or wrong in terms of faith vs psychic energy vs science. There’s some limited exploration of what a life committed to those principles looks like, but the story isn’t really about finding or losing faith. It’s more about appearances and assumptions and finding the courage to live honestly despite what it may do to the expectations others have.

Violent Content
Jacob sustains some serious injuries from a car accident. Not many details of the accident itself. Two boys get into a fist-fight.

Drug Content
Jacob drinks alcohol at a party with his friends.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.