Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 21, Issue 12, 1 Dec 2019



New Reviews at Compulsive Reader
Literary News
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Hello readers.  Happy last month of the year.  Before I get to the reviews and literary news, I just wanted to shout-out to the wonderful Beth Spencer, whose interview with me about my book High Wire Step went live today on the Climactic Network.  You can check it out here: I recommend Climactic’s superb podcast very highly – so if you like what you hear, subscribe!  Following is the latest batch of reviews:

An interview with Elliot Perlman

The author of Three Dollars talks about his new work and its origins, on writing about sexual harassment, on the times we live in, his characters and his real life experiences in law, tips for writers, and lots more.

A review of Giant Steps Edited by Paul Munden and Shane Strange

There is so much to explore in this wonderful collection: work that stretches the imagination, plays with language, time, and space in order to explore human endeavour, both scientific and artistic – and in many cases the distinction becomes blurred. Strange and Munden have done an exceptional job choosing and structuring poems.   Read more:

A review of Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Not many writers could pull off such a diffuse structure but Smith does it beautifully, using her poetic vernacular and pulling the reader in so tightly, we begin to think and perceive in Smith’s fragmentary, hallucinogenic way. The result is strangely exhilarating. Read more:

A review of Emerald City by Brian Birnbaum

Birnbaum, a CODA himself, loves florid, beautiful, language. Perhaps being a hearing child of Deaf parents channeled his talents to the written page more readily than to a spoken art? Some well-turned sentences are spot on: “Matthew was a walking gerund, always stating things that could’ve just been done in the first place” personifies the unity of word and action by using its difference. Read more:

An Interview with Brian Birnbaum

The author of Emerald City talks about his new novel, about growing up as a child of deaf parents and its impact on his writing, about his publishing company Dead Rabbits and upcoming books, the impact of his psychology background, on failure and trauma, on Video Relay Service fraud, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Creature by Rosalee Kiely

The poems in this collection cover many areas from the personal to the general, from the subjective to the concrete; they linger through very effective image making. Kiely poetry is clever and accessible and her ideas flow in sensory experiences. The writing is confident in range and depth. The poems are rich in veiled feelings, sometimes coloured by banalities and others tainted with pain and nostalgia. Read more:

A review of Chronicles in Passing by Carol Smallwood

Carol Smallwood is to be praised for her skill, perspective, and philosophy over a wide poetic range. Hers is a unique set of senses, capturing sights, sounds, moments, and observations of the everyday world in such a manner that causes the reader to see what is all around him in a fresh, new way. Read more:

An interview with Cherry Potts

Founder and editor of Arachne Press, Cherry Potts, talks about the perks of publishing anthologies, Brexit, why you shouldn’t expect an ad campaign on the London subway, to Insta or not to Insta, editing, and lots more including a special, bonus cake recipe! Read more:

A review of White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad

Hamad spoke with more than two dozen women from across the Western world and found she was not alone in her experiences. In her book she manages to contextualise how these imbalances in tone-perception came about. She lays bare the results of colonialism. Read more:

A review of The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Ethical marketing all about relationships, giving people work they will get value from, and working within carefully obtained permissions. It’s about creating a brand that people will continue to trust, so you’re not just selling one book, but yourself as a person. This kind of work builds on itself and each thing that you do increases the overall messages you’re putting out, creating a cumulative effect. Read more:

Interview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series for writers, was an instructor for UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program for nearly a decade, and was named Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of the California Legislature and Women Who Make Life Happen, by the Pasadena Weekly newspaper. She drops by to talk about her recently re-released book The Frugal Book Promoter as well as the other books in the series, her career trajectory, some key ingredients new writers need to succeed, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Clean Body: A Modern History by Peter Ward

The book is full of interesting nuggets of information; for instance, in 1814, the British Parliament banned nude bathing in the Thames. It includes thirteen illustrations, ranging from a late eighteenth century engraving showing members of a family picking lice out of each other’s hair, to a 1920s German advertisement for Persil detergent. Read more:

A review of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

The book is fast paced, consistently engaging, and is often very funny. It comes across as light and easy, but amidst the intriguing mix of Vivian’s self-deprecation and self-aggrandisement there are serious themes in the book. The key one is the relationship between female desire and male aggression. The book subtly but powerful explores the way in which women are both diminished by the men around them and the ways in which they retain and reclaim power.

Read more:

An interview with Marc Graham

The author of Son of the Sea, Daughter of the Sun and Runes for Writers talks about his new books, his research, the system used, on the transition from fiction to nonfiction, advice for new writers, and more.

Read more:

All of the reviews listed above available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive (and growing) categorized archives (currently at 2,541), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, the shortlist has been unveiled for the 2019 Waterstones Book of the Year. Nominated by booksellers, the finalists now go before a Waterstones panel, headed by managing director James Daunt, to choose a winner, who will be announced November 27. The winning title receives the full support of Waterstones. This year’s shortlisted titles are: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, The Binding by Bridget Collin, Underland by Robert Macfarlane, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett, Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, Lanny by Max Porter, On the Origin of Species by Sabina Radeva, Dishoom by Shamil Thakrar, and No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg.

The British Academy announced that Toby Green has won the £25,000 (about $32,475) Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding for A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution. The prize celebrates “the best works of nonfiction that demonstrate rigor and originality, have contributed to global cultural understanding and illuminate the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide.”

The American Library Association has announced the six books shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, awarded for the previous year’s best fiction and nonfiction books written for adult readers and published in the United States. The two medal winners will be announced by 2020 selection committee chair Donna Seaman at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards (BMAs) event at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Carnegie Medal winners will each receive $5,000. All the finalists will be honored during a celebratory event at ALA’s 2020 Annual Conference in Chicago, Ill.

2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction shortlist titles include, for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction 2020 Shortlist: Figuring by Maria Popova (Pantheon), The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (Riverhead), and Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham (Simon & Schuster). The shortlist for excellence in Fiction 2020 is Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg (Scribner), Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf), and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World). 

Jean-Paul Dubois won the 2019 Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious French book award, for Tous les hommes n’habitent pas le monde de la même façon (roughly translated as All Men Do Not Inhabit This World in the Same Way), a “moving and colorful epic about a prisoner looking back on his life,” AFP reported. While Dubois gets only €10 (about $11) for winning the Goncourt, “the prize almost guarantees a boost in sales of 450,000 copies or more, placing it instantly among the year’s top bestsellers.” Sylvain Tesson won the Renaudot, “often seen as the consolation prize,” for The Snow Leopard, “an account of his search in Tibet for one of the most endangered animals on the planet,” AFP noted.

Winners have been announced for the 2019 Writers’ Trust of Canada awards, “presented for individual works and career achievement, and in recognition of accomplishments in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, short fiction, poetry and literature for young readers.”

Jenny Heijun Wills was awarded the CA$60,000 (about US$47,000) Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for Older Sister, Not Necessarily Related; André Alexis received the CA$50,000 (about US$38,100) Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for Days by Moonlight; and Angélique Lalonde took the C$10,000 (about US$7,620) Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her short story “Pooka.”

Four authors received C$25,000 (about $19,050) awards for mid-career and lifetime achievements: Stephen Collis (Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize); Olive Senior (Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life); Rawi Hage (Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award); and Susin Nielsen (Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People).

The American Literary Translators Association has announced winners of the 2019 National Translation Awards for translated poetry and prose, which “includes a rigorous examination of both the source text and its relation to the finished English work.” The winning titles each receive $2,500. This year’s NTA in Prose winner was What’s Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (New Vessel Press). The judges noted that in Emmerich’s translation, “the prose becomes as luxurious and welcoming as Cavafy’s own poetry.” The NTA in Poetry was taken by Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania by Adam Mickiewicz, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books). The judges said Johnston’s translation “masterfully captures the exceptional beauty and disarming directness of Mickiewicz’s rhymed couplets.” In addition, the $5,000 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize went to Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi (New Directions); and the $5,000 Italian Prose in Translation Award was given to The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti, translated from the Italian by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre (Atria).

Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell (Knopf) has won the $75,000 2019 Cundill History Prize, sponsored by McGill University and the Peter Cundill Foundation and honoring “the best history writing in English.” Chair of the jury Alan Taylor called the book “a revelation. Julia Lovell thoroughly explores the origins of Maoism in China, and then goes on to show us the many ways in which Maoist thought has influenced societies as different as Peru and Indonesia, Europe and the United States. Her book will dazzle readers with lucid and vivid insights into the power of a protean, and often deadly, ideology–and its enduring impact on our world today. Julia Lovell has written an exceptional work of history.” Runners up, both of which won $10,000, were: Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice by Mary Fulbrook (Oxford University Press), and These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore (Norton).

Canada’s biggest fiction prize, the Giller, was awarded to Ian Williams. Williams took home the C$100,000 award for his debut novel Reproduction (Random House Canada), a book about the intersecting lives of a young black Canadian girl and rich older white man who produce a child and the interaction of this random family over 40 years. The jury citation called the book, a “masterful unfolding of unexpected connections and collisions between and across lives otherwise separated by race, class, gender and geography.” The shortlisted authors, each of whom received C$10,000 were David Bezmozgis for Immigrant City (HarperCollins); Megan Gail Coles for Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club (House of Anansi Press); Michael Crummey for The Innocents (Doubleday Canada); Alix Ohlin for Dual Citizens (House of Anansi Press); and Steven Price for Lampedusa (McClelland & Stewart).

Foyles Bookshops in the U.K. has named its three 2019 Books of the Year. For fiction, it’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press), which the store described as “An intimate novel of a man’s unburdening as he wrestles with sexual discovery, family tradition, and the ghosts of the Vietnam War.”.  For nonfiction: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (Avid Reader Press/S&S). “A modern masterpiece of narrative non-fiction that opens up the sexual and psychological lives of three contemporary American women.”  For children’s Book: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell (S&S Books for Young Readers). “A thrilling middle grade adventure where four talented misfits discover friendship, courage and a sense of what’s right.”

Hallie Rubenhold won the £50,000 (about $64,155) Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction for The Five: The Untold Lives of Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. Chair of the judges Stig Abell said the book “seemed to synthesize all that we were looking for in a winner, indeed in any great book: at a simple level, it was beautifully written and impressively researched; and more broadly it spoke with an urgency and passion to our own times. Brilliance meeting relevance. It is a book we would all give to a friend for Christmas, knowing that they will have finished it with pleasure by New Year’s Day.”

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Alex Phuong who won a copy of Chronicles of Hope by Lois Hermann.  

Congratulations also to Jean Feingold who won a copy of Runes for Writers: Boost Your Creativity and Destroy Writer’s Block by Marc Graham.  

Our new site giveaway is for an autographed copy of The Espionage Act, Jennifer Maiden’s new poetry book – hot off the press!  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Espionage”.

We also have a copy of Emerald City by Brian Birmbaum to giveaway.  To enter the giveaway, send me an email at with the subject line “Emerald City” and your postal address. 

Good luck, everyone!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of The Weekend by Charlotte Wood, The Girl in the Mirror by Jenny Blackford, The Theory of Flesh by Francine Witte, interviews with Douglas Cole and Sybil Baker, and lots more. 

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or at  to listen to our latest interview with Sarah Myles, who reads from and talks about her latest novel The Wolf Hour.  To listen, visit the show page or you can listen directly from the site widget (right hand side of the site).

You can also subscribe to the show via iTunes and get updates automatically, straight to your favourite listening device (in my case, that’s the phone – as I usually listen to podcasts in the car). Find us under podcasts by searching for Compulsive Reader. Then just click subscribe. 


(c) 2019 Magdalena Ball. Nothing in this newsletter may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher, however reprint rights are readily available. Please feel free to forward this newsletter in its entirety.

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