Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 17)

Review: Princess Amy (Melinda Pollowitz)

Melinda Pollowitz, Princess Amy (Bantam, 1981)

Category: Young Adult Fiction > Romance

Series: Sweet Dreams, #4

Setting: 1980s Michigan, USA

Locations: Mackinac Island, Petoskey

Key Words: Love triangle, class, family, snobbery, LARP, holiday, romance, cousin

In Brief: The biggest issue with this book is that we’re supposed to believe that Amy is torn between Pete and Guy when Guy is just plain awful. We’re told repeatedly that he’s really hot, and that’s why Amy can’t stay away despite him being a prat, but she finds Pete attractive too, so it doesn’t make any sense. The dialogue’s often clunky, too.

Huh?: The Chad-like Guy and all his super snobby friends apparently play a LARP version of D&D. Not likely.

Protagonist: Amy Painter (16 years old, female, white, American, middle class, slim, able-bodied, neurotypical)

Diverse Key Characters: Pete Demarest (working class)

Content Warning: Unhealthy weight loss discussion and behaviour. (Amy’s aunt and cousin diet constantly and want Amy to do the same. Initially she says she doesn’t need to, because she’s not overweight, but by the end of the book she’s crowing about her stomach shrinking and she’s dropped a dress size in three weeks.)

Author: Melinda Pollowitz (American)

Review: Jessica Gets Spooked (Francine Pascal)

Francine Pascal, Jessica Gets Spooked (Bantam, 1993)

Category: Junior Fiction > Contemporary

Series: Sweet Valley Kids, #43

Setting: 1990s California, USA

Key Words: Twins, Bullying, School Trips, Pranks, Crushes

In Brief: Not one of the better Kids books. As happens far to often in these, bullying isn’t dealt with at all well, made even worse in this one by the inclusion of the terrible concept of boys harassing and assaulting girls because they “like” them. Telling kids that this is a thing—and an acceptable thing, what’s more—sets them up for a lifetime of toxic gendered behaviour. Uncool.

Protagonist: Jessica (7 years old, female, white, American, middle class)

Other Key Characters: Elizabeth (7 years old, female, white, American, middle class)

Content Warning: Toxic gendered behaviour

Review: Jessica’s Monster Nightmare (Francine Pascal)

Francine Pascal, Jessica’s Monster Nightmare (Bantam, 1993)

Category: Junior Fiction > Contemporary

Series: Sweet Valley Kids, #42

Setting: 1990s California, USA

Key Words: Nightmares, Twins, Fears

In Brief: An entertaining and realistic story that would be genuinely helpful to readers who had nightmare monsters of their own. I particularly appreciated the fact that the nightmares were depicted as being truly scary and not just something Jess could conquer through courage alone.

Protagonist: Jessica (7 years old, female, white, American, middle class)

Other Key Characters: Elizabeth (7 years old, female, white, American, middle class)

Author: Molly Mia Stewart (ghost writer, presumably American)

Creator: Francine Pascal (American)

Illustrator: Ying-Hwa Hu (Taiwanese American)

Review: The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)

The Fault in Our Stars book cover
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin, 2012).

Category: Young Adult Fiction: Contemporary

Setting: 2010s Indianapolis, USA

Key Words: Cancer, Romance, First Love

In Brief: A book that initially is more about life than imminent death, but which succumbs to many of the usual tropes by the end.

The Plot: A terminally ill girl meets a boy in her cancer support group and they fall in love.

The Protagonist: Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl whose terminal cancer has been paused by a new drug.

The Love Interest: Augustus, seventeen years old and in remission for fourteen months at the start of the novel.

Other Female Characters: The only main one is Hazel’s mother, who is more complex than it initially seems. Hazel has kept one school friend, but their friendship is surface level compared with her friendships with Augustus and Isaac.

Diverse Characters: The three teenage characters are disabled / chronically ill.

The Worst Bit: Three words: Anne, Frank, applause.

(content warnings under the cut)

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Review: The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gitat book cover

Details: The Bhagavad Gita, trans. Juan Mascaró (Penguin, 1962). Original date c. 500 B.C.

Category: Religion: Hinduism; Philosophy: Ancient India

Setting: Ancient India

Key Words: Philosophy, Religion, Poetry

In Brief: Reviewing a work that is a sacred text for a lot of people is a complicated endeavour. Here, I am discussing it entirely as a piece of literature, and as that alone it didn’t really work for me. In this particular translation, I didn’t find a lot of beauty in the language, and the content was repetitive. I am not a philosophy person, and The Bhagavad Gita didn’t change that fact.

Review: The Fog (James Herbert)

The Fog book cover
James Herbert, The Fog (New English Library, 1975)

Category: Adult Fiction: Horror: Non-Supernatural

Setting: 1970s  South England and London

Keywords: Biological Weaponry; Epidemics; Madness

In Brief: A fast-paced and entertaining read, with high stakes and high-level violence obscuring a rather bland cast of characters.

Plot: A fog causes a mass outbreak of extreme violence.

Protagonist: Male, lower-middle-aged public servant, surprisingly adept in the action hero role.

Female Characters: Very few. Only two continuing characters, neither much more than an outline of “naïve young love interest” or “doctor”. Apart from the doctor, everyone doing anything remotely useful in here is male.

Diverse Characters: A gay man and a lesbian are in here briefly; homosexuality is not depicted well. Cast is almost entirely white.

(content warnings beneath the cut)

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Review: “The Popularity Plan” by Rosemary Vernon (Bantam, 1981)

The Popularity Plan book cover

Series: Sweet Dreams, #2

Genre: YA Romance

Setting: Contemporary USA

Quotable: “Don’t worry, Dad. Mom’s not going to let them make me into a wanton woman.”

The Good:

  • The protagonist, Frannie, has a realistic reaction to her newfound popularity, but ultimately she understands it for how performative it is.
  • Frannie’s parents are present and active in her well-being.
  • The writing is engaging and the book is a swift read.

The Bad:

  • Frannie’s friends are horrible bullies, and yet she’s always the one apologising to them.
  • Ronnie isn’t very well developed as a love interest

The Unbelievable:

  • Frannie arranges dates with five different boys in a week and that just earns her a reputation as a girl who doesn’t want to settle down yet. In 90s Australia, that would’ve earned her a much worse reputation than that. (Unfairly, of course, but still.)

Review: The Dark

Title: The Dark

Author: James Herbert

Read: 10th – 15th June, 2020

Published: 1980

Setting: London, England / the near future

Key Words:

  • good vs evil
  • science vs paranormal
  • philosophical
  • extreme violence
  • human nature
  • life after death

Thoughts:

  • strong building tension
  • genuine high stakes
  • interesting concept
  • forgettable characters
  • abrupt ending

(content warnings under the cut)

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Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Author: Stephen King
Read: 7th-8th June, 2020
Published: 1999
Setting: Contemporary New England, USA

Key Words:

  • child protagonist
  • lost child
  • suspense
  • supernatural (maybe)
  • divorce
  • isolation
  • survival
  • bad parenting
  • poor decisions

Thoughts:

  • good writing
  • overlong
  • excellent sense of place

Review: P.S. I Love You

Title: P.S. I Love You

Author: Barbara Conklin

Series: Sweet Dreams, #1

Published: 1981

Setting: 1980s Palm Springs, USA

Key Words:

  • first love
  • romance
  • holiday romance
  • class/wealth
  • divorce
  • family
  • young adult
  • illness
  • loss

Thoughts:

  • simplistic writing
  • genuine emotion
  • likeable protagonist
  • good love interest

(content warnings under the cut)

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