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review 2019-06-22 01:12
Out in Nov 2019
And Go Like This: Stories - John Crowley
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via a Librarything giveaway. I did a happy dance when I found out I won.

Many of my favorite authors I have discovered due to Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. John Crowley is one of those writers. I first read Little, Big. Eventually, I read his Aegypt sequence. He is one those fantasy writers that people who don’t read much fantasy put in literature because for some reason they think literature isn’t fantasy. (Yeah, I don’t know why they think that either).

This collection of short fiction includes stories that have, for the most part, been already published, and if it has a theme, it is about the power reading and the story. In some ways, it reminds me of Dinesen’s Anecdotes of Destiny, another collection of stories about stories.

The collection opens with “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” which starts as a story about a theatre intern and morphs into something far more powerful. But honesty, you are most likely going to want to read it for the scene where Beatrice (of Much Ado) confronts pirates. The story makes use not only of a book about the heroines, but also about the authorship debate.

It is followed by a very short story, “In the Tom Mix Museum”. While the shortest one in the collection, it is also a master class in how a story does not have to be long to be powerful and to say much.

The title story, “And Go Like This”, takes the rather interesting idea of NYC’s rooms and overpopulation. The ending sequence is just beautifully rendered. It is followed by “Spring Break” which quite frankly is disturbing on so many levels – but not in a bad read type of way. It has to do with how learning and reading have changed since the rise of the internet – in particular websites like Twitter or Facebook. It isn’t so much fake news that is being looked at but the lack of reading critically and in depth – and important aspect of storytelling.

It is followed by “The Million Monkeys of M Borel” which is a wonderful story about how we read and why the device or format we use is important. It too is one of those stories with a particularly beautiful ending. If you are a reader, this is the type of story that will speak to your story. A somewhat similar point pops in the interlinked stories that make up “Mount Auburn Street”.

“Conversation Hearts” is perhaps the story that most directly confronts storytelling. Not only because the story is about a family where the woman is an author but because Crowley makes use of tropes that populate movies but twists them.

Strangely, I found the last two stories the least interesting. They are not bad. “Flint and Mirror” has Dee in it and “Anosognosia” is a neat story about creation and reality. This is also true of “This is Our Town”.

But the overwhelming theme of the stories is that of love for stories. It makes this collection a thumping good read (to borrow a phrase) for any reader.
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review 2016-02-07 00:00
Rebellion in Ulster
Rebellion in Ulster - Angela Koenig Rebellion in Ulster - Angela Koenig The Refractions series is centered on the life and times of Jeri O'Donnell. Originally from South Boston, Jeri has managed to claw her way out of her tough, gang and drug-infested Southie neighborhood and land a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, thanks to her photographic memory and linguistic abilities, among other talents. A tragic turn of events while on vacation to Ireland sees Jeri implicated in a crime she didn't commit. She is incarcerated in an all-women Armagh prison in Northern Ireland, which is where we find her at the start of the book. IRA members inside Armagh lose no time in attempting to recruit Jeri for their cause. But Jeri is more interested in the aloof, mysterious and intriguing Arkadia O'Malley. However, as her confinement stretches to several seasons with no trial and hence no resolution in sight, Jeri starts to identify more with the seemingly ordinary women who've given up their lives for the cause...

Possible minor spoilers...

When I first came across this obscure little book titled 'Rebellion in Ulster' way back in 2014, no one I knew had read it or planned to read it and no one was talking about it. There were a handful of good reviews on Amazon but..so does every other lesfic book. The blurb piqued me, but the obscurity meant it sat way back in my reading queue. And so it was with very little expectations that I started it a full year later. But the timing fortuitously turned out to be much better for my reading enjoyment because I was able to go straight to Book 2. In hindsight, I think I wouldn't have enjoyed 'Rebellion' as much if it were a stand-alone read, because, being the hopeless romantic that I am, it would have left me terribly frustrated since Jeri's search for love and acceptance encompasses both books.

The first third of 'Rebellion' is set in a stifling, soul-sucking prison. I was immediately impressed by the author's depiction of the place, the denizens, the prison power plays, but most specially by that prison-oddity, the woman with the piercing blue eyes and hawk-like stare, Arkadia. She is, in my book, one of the most intriguing and unforgettable characters in all of lesfic. She's an 'old soul'. But not just in the usual metaphorical sense. She may literally be one. As in centuries or maybe several millenia old. This is where the book occasionally touches on the spiritual and metaphysical. In the hands of a lesser author, this can turn out pretty hokey. But it's amazingly well done here--the concepts of old Irish gods, multiple lifetimes, love beyond life--not anything fantastical or overtly magical, but a subtle and subconscious awareness, and almost imperceptible in the din of everyday life. But it is there. And it underpins the romantic narrative of the series.

The latter part of the book finds the new recruit Jeri being sent all over Europe for training missions, and later on, for actual ones. The thriller elements are excellently paced and tightly written, but what makes the book stand out from the rest is it's humanity. The action set-pieces are like windows into the journey of Jeri's soul--from fiesty, ambitious, full-of-life youth, to bitter and indifferent prisoner, to committed and idealistic revolutionary, to disillusioned and revolted foot soldier. The book doesn't shy away from the questions engendered by the moral quicksand that the lead character sinks into little by little after every mission. The sensitivity and depth of the writing is way beyond most lesfic I've read. Why isn't this book more popular? It's most likely the subject matter. In this jittery post-9/11 world, reading about planting bombs in public places stokes our most primal fears. There's also the perceived lack of romance in books that tackle such subjects. But in this case, that's not true. There are some very erotic romantic interludes. Jeri may be a loner, but she still needs love. Which brings us to the supporting characters, all of whom are fully fleshed out, vividly drawn, and invariably, candidates for Jeri's affection. ;)

I'm unabashedly promoting this book, because, well there's more to lesfic than the usual, done-to-death, endless variations on the romance theme that's just everywhere...and there's very rare lesfic that's thought-provoking AND thrilling AND angsty AND erotic. To fully enjoy the tale, I think it's best to commit to at least the first two books in the series. Because hey, we all need our HEA.
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review 2008-09-16 00:00
The Hound of Ulster
The Hound of Ulster - Rosemary Sutcliff,... The Hound of Ulster - Rosemary Sutcliff, Victor G. Ambrus I believe I had probably read this book before, when I was very young. However, it's possible that I'd read a different re-telling of these stories.
"The Hound of Ulster" is Cuchulain, the legendary Irish hero, who, when his battle rage was upon him, was undefeatable.
It collects the different tales of Cuchulain, and strings them together into a narrative, much like Howard Pyle's tales of King Arthur.
The language is quite traditional, without using the technique of fleshing out the stories with many completely original details, as is more the mode today. What's here is pretty much just what's in the original tales, but told in an easy-to-follow, enjoyable way.

However, in Sutcliff's introduction, she mentions how one can tell a lot about a people and culture from the tales that they tell... and, reading these, I couldn't help but be reminded (again) of Ursula K. LeGuin's "Gifts," and how she showed in that book how small and petty conflicts and rivalries could be magnified to an importance all out of proportion in an isolated, primitive culture. Here, a good deal of Cuchulain's "heroic" exploits have to do with no more than stealing a neighbor's cattle! It's interesting to read these stories in contrast to so much of the extremely 'elevated' fantasy inspired by Celtic myth.
The book also shows, however, some of the interesting aspects of the culture - how a Queen could sometimes be more powerful than her husband, how bearing a child out of wedlock did not have shame attached, and acceptance of infidelity in marriage - things that are there in the original stories, but surprising, I thought, for a book published in 1963 and marketed to an audience including young people.
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review 2003-10-01 00:00
Outer Edge of Ulster: A Memoir of Social... Outer Edge of Ulster: A Memoir of Social Life in Nineteenth-Century Donegal - Hugh Dorian As well as providing a an unusually detailed and long-spanning account of what life was like for the impoverished Irish of the 19th century, Dorian's memoir also highlights some of the most significant changes that occurred in this period, such as:

The increasing deferral of avoidance of marriage after the Famine (probably due to widespread trauma of watching family members die).

The shift to a primarily monolingual populace called the "Great Silence".

The burial of divisions with the Irish Catholic community in favor of alliance to promote Home Rule and land reform.

A literary revival which reconstructed and idealized West Ireland as the home of Irish identity and nationhood (versus Dorian's firsthand experience of degraded and downtrodden misery).

These changes were accelerated by the Famine. For one thing, it killed off the elderly, and marginalized groups like traveling musicians and storytellers, creating a rift in the oral tradition. Also, the work house experience introduced new notions of time and discipline, as well as contributing to the lasting bitterness towards England.
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review 2003-01-01 00:00
The Liberals And Ireland: The Ulster Que... The Liberals And Ireland: The Ulster Question In British Politics To 1914 - Patricia Jalland "This book explores the nature and role of the Irish question as a dominant force testing and weakening the British Liberal Party" in the years just prior to the First World War. It provides a detailed analysis of the Liberal response to the growing Ulster Crisis during 1911-1914. Jalland is NOT concerned here with public opinion.
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