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Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories (EBook, 2008, Penguin Group UK) 1 star

Truly bad

1 star

This volume is really two books in one. The first collects various of Stoker's short stories, beginning with "Dracula's Guest", and could reasonably be described as "Late Victorian Gothic meh". Not bad, per se, but they're just sort of... there. The remainder of the volume is Stoker's last novella "Lair Of The White Worm", and here's where things really go off the rails. Now, I saw the film years ago and vaguely remember it being terrible, but being Ken Russell, it was terrible in an entertaining way. This is very much not. If you can get past the eye-watering racism (and it's really, really bad) and the sexism, what you're left with is a story that's absolutely all over the place, a meandering plot, opaque character motivations, and unbelievable dialogue. There's literally nothing to recommend this unless you're on some sort of Stoker completism kick.

A short history of Japan (2002, Allen & Unwin) 4 stars

Weirdly (un)balanced

4 stars

Actually pretty well written, but the division of pages across time feels very oddly balanced -- a headlong rush to cover everything from prehistory to the Meiji Restoration in fewer than 80 pages, then to the end of the Pacific War in another 40, and then 100 for the post-war economy. Feels like it would have been more accurate to describe it as a post-war economic survey with a history tacked on the beginning.

reviewed Dracula's Child by J. S. Barnes

Dracula's Child (2020, Titan Books Limited) 2 stars

A tiresome, questionable slog

2 stars

I really should have given up on this long ago; probably the only thing that kept me going was the way it does a pretty good job of mimicking Dracula's epistolary style and the language of the time. While Dracula has a small, almost intimate plot, this is sprawling and ungainly, including a political conspiracy and a section that reads more like a zombie apocalypse than a vampire novel. There's also some pretty questionable choices made that further lower my rating.

My Brain Is Different (Paperback, 2022, Seven Seas Entertainment) 5 stars

This intimate manga anthology is about the struggles and triumphs of individuals learning to navigate …

A tough read, but worth it

5 stars

Pretty hard going in parts as most of the stories involve the people concerned struggling through school and being bullied, and then the teachers joining in :( Ultimately pretty hopeful, though, as each contributor receives a diagnosis which at minimum allows them to make sense of their earlier life, and often allows them to make adaptations or receive accommodations to make things easier in the future.

CWs for suicidal ideation/attempts, abusive parenting, and bullying

Selected Political Writings (Paperback, 2017, Duke University Press) 5 stars

Selected Political Writings gathers Stuart Hall's best-known and most important essays that directly engage with …

A work of art

5 stars

Admittedly I find it hard to imagine giving Stuart Hall's writing any less than five stars, but this really was an absolute pleasure to read. The editors have collected a series of essays all the way from the Suez crisis to the first years of the coalition government. There's so much perceptive and prescient analysis in here, and with writing that, even if only briefly, makes me feel more articulate and erudite. Just lovely.

Regenesis (Paperback, 2022, Penguin Publishing Group) 4 stars

"What if there were a way to stop climate change and end global hunger at …

Starts off well, but fades a little towards the end

4 stars

Well-written, as one has come to expect of Monbiot, the book starts off strongly with a deep dive into soil ecology, which helps to frame later discussion of how soil should be seen as a living matrix and not just an inert substrate for plants and chemicals. The book really takes off over the next few chapters, detailing all the many problems with the current system of food production. Of particular note is the way that so much land and food production is so inefficiently mediated through meat, particularly beef. The second half of the book felt considerably weaker. Monbiot visits several unconventional farms, examining each in quite some detail and, while each seems a healthier alternative to more usual agriculture, none seemed particularly viable if scaled up to feed everyone. There's definitely lots of good stuff in here, and some of his prognoses are, frankly, a bit terrifying, but …

Cobalt Red (2023, St. Martin's Press) 5 stars

Gives new meaning to 'artisanal'

4 stars

First up, it has to be said that this book is breathtakingly brutal. The descriptions of the conditions under which Congolese artisanal miners work, and the injuries they suffer, are heartrending. The author has obviously shown great persistence, bravery, and empathy in investigating in the field. He counterposes statements from major electronics and EV manufacturers against the claim that there is no such thing as 'clean' cobalt, because artisanal (i.e., hand-mined) cobalt is merged into the supply chain so early that it can't be distinguished from mechanically-mined cobalt. That said, I'd have liked to see more explanation of just how the supposed certification processes function and how they fail so badly. That would also likely alleviate my other criticism which is that focusing on his observations in the field, involving Congolese security guards and officials together with Chinese dealers, runs the risk of occluding the role of Western companies in …

Cobalt (EBook, 2022, House of Anansi Press) 5 stars

The world is desperate for cobalt. It fuels the digital economy and powers everything from …

About 'Cobalt', but not 'cobalt'...

5 stars

Slightly embarrassing confession time -- I requested this from the library because the wait list for 'Cobalt Red' is so long, and only after I received it did I discover that it's about silver mining in the Northern Ontario town of Cobalt. Still, glad I did so -- so much great history here, examining how the utilization of the mineral reserves was based on the exploitation of the local Indigenous people, the mineworkers (many of whom were very recent European immigrants), and the environment.

The late nineteenth century was marked by brutal industrial development everywhere, but it feels as if it was even more naked in this 'frontier' town where the mining companies could just decide to excavate the main street or even within peoples' houses, and the mineworkers had to borrow to pay their way up north and could be hunted down if they tried to leave before their …

Harrow the Ninth (Paperback, 2021, 4 stars

"She answered the Emperor's call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only …

DNF'ed at 16%. I tried hard to like this, especially after enjoying Gideon so much, but the combination of all the second-person narration and the, for want of a better word, gore, was all too much. I opened my e-reader this morning and it estimated I still had 4 hours to go, and I just couldn't...