Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 22, Issue 1, 1 Jan 2020



New Reviews at Compulsive Reader
Literary News
Competition News
Sponsored By
Coming soon


Hello readers.  Happy New Year!  I’m very happy to report that we’re now in our 22nd year!  Some of you are new friends and some have been with us since our very little beginnings.  Either way, I’m delighted that we’re continuing to do this thing together.  Thank you for joining me in the joy of reading.  Following is the latest batch of reviews:

A review of The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

The Weekend is about so many things: preconceptions, societal norms, continuity and difference, about the self and about relationships, but most particularly about friendship and what it means to be both separate individuals in this world throughout life changes, and also the ways in which we are implicitly connected and collective. Read more:

A review of Intrusive Beauty by Joseph J. Capista

Capista is a skilled poet. His verses command the satisfying circularity of those first two poems, the variety of free verse lines, lull of assonance and repetition, questioning of a philosopher’s observations, mesmerizing rhymes occasional or throughout a poem, and pages sprinkled with sonnets and villanelles. Read more:

A review of A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

A Superior Spectre is deftly constructed piece of literature. It sits shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greats. Thematically it is a worthy companion-piece to Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve. Structurally it folds like the origami of Italio Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, and Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. Stylistically it employs some of the fuzzy voice of China Mieville’s This Census Taker, where the who and when of the narrator becomes blended and circular. Read more:

A review of The Girl in the Mirror by Jenny Blackford

Blackford’s prose is silky smooth and the book reads quickly, driven by its fantasy narrative and the way in which historical detail is covered. Though the story has paranormal overtones, shifting as it does between the two timeframes, and the shapeshifting villain and ghosts that move between the worlds, The Girl in the Mirror is relevant to a 21st century reader. Read more:

A review of Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

In Ivory, Goldstein has created a place that exists only on its own terms. There is no bridge or overlap; Ivy’s different lives exist side by side. She moves from one to the other with little effort because no effort is necessary. Ivy is able to deal with the chaos that comes with the talent attractive to a muse. Read more:

An Interview with Sybil Baker

Sybil Baker’s latest novel is While You Were Gone (IPPY Silver Medal). In this interview with novelist Ketaki Datta, Baker talks about balancing the demands of writing and teaching, about living in Chattanooga, her students and their impact on her work, her plot and character development, on the integration between showing and telling, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat

Loss and grief are rooted in a large part of the Haitian diaspora identity and manifests both overtly and covertly throughout these stories. Danticat is meticulous in her writing about Haiti and its people’s complex relationship with the U.S. In each character’s search for a better life, she magnifies the usually unexplored grief that comes with years of generational trauma and migration. Read more:

An interview with Douglas Cole

The author of The Blue Island and many other poetry collections talks about his work, the influence of being a resident of Washington, why he loves poetry, his awards, and more. Read more:

A review of The Theory of Flesh by Francine Witte

Like a scientist of existential torment, with a Ph.D. in Angst Studies, Francine Witte spells out the origins of regret, heartbreak and loss in this comprehensive, tender collection of poems. Read more:

An Interview with David Puretz

The author of The Escapist talks about the inspiration for his new novel, on self-reflexiveness, metafiction, metanarration, Paul Auster and other influences, on the frame narrative structure, his setting, experiment and contemporary lives, and lots 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 2,553), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Waterstones has named The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, published in the U.S. by HarperOne, as its 2019 Book of the Year and Greta Thunberg, author of No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, published in the U.S. by Penguin Books, as its 2019 Author of the Year. The company said that the winners “had made an unparalleled impression” on Waterstones booksellers, who nominated titles for the awards. “Amidst a wide-ranging and immensely strong shortlist they stood out to us as the books we most need now: reading to bring people together, inspiring us to act now to save our planet and to affirm the importance of bravery and compassion in a time of uncertainty.”

The winner of the 2019 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year is The Dirt Hole and Its Variations, a re-released classic hunting and trapping guide by Charles L Dobbins. The Bookseller, which sponsors the prize, reported that the winning title “swept away the competition, claiming 40% of the public vote.” Catherine Donnelly’s Ending the War on Artisan Cheese was second (24%), followed by Xanna Eve Chown’s Noah Gets Naked (18%).  Because no prize could be given to the author, Dennis Drayna, who nominated this year’s winner, was awarded the traditional “passable bottle of claret.”

Allison Adair won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize for her manuscript, The Clearing. The prize honors “the legacy of one of the most original and accomplished poets to debut in recent years, and to reward outstanding emerging poets for years to come.” It was created by Milkweed Editions in partnership with Riva Ariella Ritvo-Slifka and the Alan B. Slifka Foundation. Chambers will receive $10,000 and publication by Milkweed in June 2020.

Didier Decoin and John Harvey were co-winners of “Britain’s most dreaded literary prize,” the Bad Sex Award for “the year’s most outstandingly awful scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel.” The Guardian reported that Decoin won for passages in The Office of Gardens and Ponds, while Harvey earned the dubious honor for Pax. “Faced with two unpalatable contenders, we found ourselves unable to choose between them. We believe the British public will recognize our plight,” the judges said. The Guardian noted that “in a clear callback to the controversial decision to award two Booker prizes this year, when chair of judges Peter Florence claimed, ‘We tried voting, that didn’t work… We couldn’t separate them,’ the Bad Sex judges said they were unable to choose even ‘after hours of tortuous debate…. We tried voting, but it didn’t work. We tried again. Ultimately, there was no separating the winners.’ “

Tim Winton won the A$5,000 (about US$3,370) Voss Literary Prize, which recognises “the best novel published in Australia” in the previous year and is dedicated to the memory of historian Vivian Robert Le Vaux Voss, for The Shepherd’s Hut, Books+Publishing reported. The award is managed by the Australian University Heads of English. Winton’s novel was selected from a shortlist that also included Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader, The Making of Martin Sparrow by Peter Cochrane, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones and Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko.

De’Shawn Charles Winslow has won the Center for Fiction’s $10,000 2019 First Novel Prize for his debut book, In West Mills (Bloomsbury). The Center commented: “Spanning decades in a rural North Carolina town where a canal acts as the color line, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.” The Center for Fiction also presented the 2019 Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction to literary agent Lynn Nesbit, co-founder of Janklow & Nesbit Associates. The Center’s inaugural On Screen Award, which honors “the groundbreaking creation of original series that mirror the complexity and vision of great novels,” went to The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, honoring author Margaret Atwood, Craig Erwich, Hulu senior v-p of originals; and Bruce Miller, creator and showrunner.

Amitabha Bagchi’s novel Half The Night Is Gone won the $25,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Organizers said the prize “has always encouraged diverse voices that bring alive the layered nuances of South Asian life, and Bagchi’s novel, a post-colonial saga that unfolds over three generations, adroitly explores human relationships, and the intertwining of fates and cultures in a thoroughly Indian context. The novel’s amazing attention to details, the inventive use of language, and its memorable well-defined characters make it an outstanding read.”

Titles from 18 countries and 11 languages are among the record 20 winners of English PEN’s translation awards, including the first translation from the Georgian as well as first translations into English of novels by women from Libya and the Central African Republic. Books are selected for PEN Translates awards “on the basis of outstanding literary quality, the strength of the publishing project and their contribution to U.K. bibliodiversity.” See the complete list of winners here: “The movement of words and ideas across borders has never felt so urgent,” said Will Forrester, translation and international manager at English PEN. “These awards go to 20 vital, exceptional works of international literature, and mark extraordinary breadth and quality–with titles from across Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe, and from small and large publishers alike. English PEN is delighted to support these books, and to continue our unwavering commitment to internationalism, the free movement of words, and literary diversity.”

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Mary Tharp, who won a copy of Emerald City by Brian Birmbaum. 

Congratulations also to Mary Preston, who won an autographed copy of The Espionage Act by Jennifer Maiden. 

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of David Lazar  by Robert Kalich  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Lazar”.

We also have a copy of The Escapist by David Puretz.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Escapist”.

Good luck, everyone!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of The Espionage Act by Jennifer Maiden, All the Lives We’ve Lived by Roslyn McFarland, Billy Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, The Imaginary Age by Leanna Petronella, an interview with Midwest Book Review’s Jim Cox, and lots more. 

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or to listen to our latest interview with Jenny Blackford on The Girl in the Mirror.  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. 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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