Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 22, Issue 6, 1 June 2020



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Hello readers.  Following is the latest (bumper!) batch of reviews:

A review of A Kinder Sea by Felicity Plunkett

Though these are personal poems, rooted in love, loss, grief, and rebirth, there is a strong, though subtle underlying politic which takes the form of advocacy. Collective empowerment is an important theme throughout the work, linking back to the title–kindness as a radical act. Read more:

An interview with John Fitch and Max Frenzel

The authors of Time Out talk about their book and the backstories behind it, society’s view of “noble leisure” time, the culture (or cult) of “busyness” and how it can be unlearned, macro and micro practices for quality time off, the importance of solitude, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Vault by Alice Jones

This collection is a word feast to be read over days, not in one sitting, and these poems by Alice Jones deserve to be savored. Despite frequent medical and historical multisyllabic vocabulary, many of the poems regard common social phenomena. Readers will appreciate each word as they feel the momentum of stylistic and linguistic rhythms within and between sentences. Read more:

An interview with Geoffrey Gatza

The author of The Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross talks about his latest book, the relationship and differences between the young adult writers and poetry communities, his work on the journal BlazeVOX, experimental fiction, children’s literature, what’s on his writing desk, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross by Geoffrey Gatza

Gatza’s collection of short stories highlight important ideas such as connecting with family members, living the fullest life, challenging how to think beyond the obvious, and learning how to handle grief. Each of these lessons are truly important for both children and adults alike. What connects each of these stories, however, is the ability to experience each day with someone that readers care about whether that be a family member, a parent, a friend, or a sibling. Read more:

A review of The Alpaca Cantos by Jenny Blackford

Even at its most intense, Blackford’s poetry never stops being warm, accessible and humorous. The Alpaca Cantos is beautifully presented with thick paper, careful layouts, with lovely drawings by artist Gwynneth Jones. These are poems that are both complex and simple, tragic and yet infused with delight and an almost impish joy in the day-to-day. Read more:

A review of Flourish by Dora Malech

As in Bishop’s works, Malech seems to present some of her poems in utter simplicity, then surprises with the unexpected turn at the end. “Dear Reader” (p. 67) does this quite successfully. Some of the poems appear enigmatic, but when studied, reveal a coherent whimsy. “Come Again” (p.55) plays on the comedy of typos and “Euscorpius italicus” ( p.37) on the fear of spiders, both done with commendable control. Read more:

An interview with R.W.R McDonald

The author of The Nancys talks about his lifelong passion for Nancy Drew, his inspirations, working with top-notch editors, his novel writing workshop at Faber, world building, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Tricks of Light by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Rutkowski ruminates on so many of the little things that usually escape notice. Three poems are devoted to a pet turtle. Imagine that, a turtle, the very definition of a slow-moving, boring thing. Yet in poems like “Turtle’s Cold Day,” we see Rutkowski actually worrying about the animal because of subtle anomalies in her behavior. In “Head Scratching” he observes that he knows why she stretches her legs – “to cool off.” But he’s puzzled by the reason behind her scratching her head. Could it be a mosquito? Read more:

A review of Figuring by Maria Popova

Emily Dickinson, in particular, comes across with such a delicacy and radiance that we begin to understand and sympathise with the odd recluse whose great love lasts a lifetime, and whose poetic work has not only been the beginnings of the modernist movement in poetry, but also an ongoing inspiration. Read more:

A review of Million Dollar Red By Gleah Powers

Million Dollar Red provides great insight into the point of view of a child who survives childhood traumas to finally make a sustainable life for herself. It would be a great book to be read in community work-focused classrooms for those who seek to be trauma-informed as they make a difference with today’s youth. Read more:

A review of The Wondrous Apothecary by Mary E Martin

In addition to writing a solid storyline for her Trilogy of Remembrance, she also demonstrates a rather thorough background in the visual arts and gracefully weaves that important historical stance into her story in a most mature and sophisticated manner. These are novels that will please a broad audience – those who love romance novels and those who want to explore the universal discussion of what is art at this particular time in history. Read more:

A review of Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen

So many of these poems are littered with broken hearts and relationships gone sour, feelings of foreboding and loneliness and vulnerability. The second reference to “girls like us” comes in “Diagnosis III,” which highlights the incipient violence lurking everywhere. It begins: “Girls like you, he spat, / his breath laden with smoke / and Svedka….” It ends: “Girls like / you, he repeated, leaving me / a blank to fill.” Read more:

An interview with Jerry Yudelson

Jerry Yudelson, author of The Godfather of Green: An Eco-Spiritual Memoir, released on Earth Day 2020 by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, talks about the way his book combines environmental work and spiritual discovery, and why he thinks that the climate crisis should be tackled the same way as earlier social and environmental crises. Read more:

A review of Unlike the Heart by Nicola Redhouse

Redhouse is an exceptional science writer, and her research is extensive, making connections, incorporating anecdotes both personal and as part of her research, so that the overall effect is engaging, open-minded, informative and powerful. The hybrid effect allows for multiple perspectives that remain open-ended rather than didactic. Read more:

All of the reviews and interviews listed above available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews and interviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive (and growing) categorized archives (currently at 2,621), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month,  The winners of the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented by the Mystery Writers of America are, for Best Novel: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), for Best First Novel by an American Author: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG), for Best Paperback Original: The Hotel Neversink by Adam O’Fallon Price (Tin House Books). The full list can be found here:

Philip Boehm has won the $10,000 2020 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for his translation of The Fox and Dr. Shimamura by Christine Wunnicke (New Directions). Boehm also received the Wolff Prize in 2013 for his translation of An Ermine in Czernopol by Gregor von Rezzori (New York Review Books Classics), making him the only translator to be awarded the prize twice. The prize is administered by the Goethe-Institut New York.

Winners of the 2020 Triangle Awards, honoring the best LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans literature published in 2019 and sponsored by the Publishing Triangle, are: The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press), The Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction: Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji (Arsenal Pulp Press), The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry: Company by Sam Ross (Four Way Books), The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry: Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman (Alice James Books), The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature: I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press), The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction (two winners): In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press) and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman (Norton), and The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction: How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster)

The winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Award are Jacqueline Woodson of the U.S. as author and Albertine of Switzerland as illustrator. The awards, organised by the International Board on Books for Young People, “recognize lifelong achievement and are given to an author and an illustrator whose complete works have made an important, lasting contribution to children’s literature.” IBBY said that Woodson “has a prolific body of writing from picture books to young adult literature, all of which feature lyrical language, powerful characters, and an abiding sense of hope.” As illustrator, Albertine “creates books with multiple levels of interpretation, with drawings made with infinite precision that are lively and full of humor.”

Rachel Taube has won the 2020 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize for her short story “The Gentle Clack of a Fox’s Teeth.” Final judge Randall Kenan said that the story “feels like a fresh take on the South and confronts a very serious controversial subject with humor and wit and pathos. This writer is wise.” Honorable Mention stories were “Patriotism” by Jason Gray and “The Runaway” by Sarah David. The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize is administered by the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

The 2020 Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded. For biography, the winner was Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser (Ecco), which the judges called “an authoritatively constructed work told with pathos and grace, that captures the writer’s genius and humanity alongside her addictions, sexual ambiguities, and volatile enthusiasms.”. The fiction prize went to The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday), which the judges called a “spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption.” The history winner is Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel (Oxford University Press), which the judges called “a masterfully researched meditation on reparations based on the remarkable story of a 19th century woman who survived kidnapping and re-enslavement to sue her captor.”  For general nonfiction, the award went to The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books) and The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care by Anne Boyer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). For poetry, The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press) was named the winner.

A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson has won the £10,000 (about $12,340) Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, honoring “a book of the highest literary merit–fiction, nonfiction or poetry–which best evokes the spirit of a place.” Pascale Petit, one of the judges, commented: “The spirit of place in this outstanding collection is the portable paradise of Trinidad in London. Roger Robinson’s profoundly moving book manages to balance anger and love, rage and craft. Every poem surprises with its imagery, emotional intensity and lyric power, whether dealing with Grenfell, Windrush, or a son’s difficult birth, which is also a tribute to a Jamaican nurse. This is a healing book, enabling us to conjure our own portable paradises.”

Ed Roberson has won the $70,000 2020 Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded annually by Poets & Writers to “an American poet of exceptional talent.” The judges commented: “This is an extraordinary time to be awarding this significant prize in poetry, a momentous time in our recent history, a time of panic, fear, uncertainty and inner turmoil, and devastating tragedy… [Roberson is] both scholar and jazz-like innovator… Roberson’s poems work a way into your heart and consciousness, because he is a visionary of luminous detail, of histories, of what he has felt and lived and observed.”

Daniel Mason has won the $50,000 2020 Joyce Carol Oates Prize, which honors a “mid-career author of fiction who has earned a distinguished reputation and the widespread approbation and gratitude of readers” and is administered by the Simpson Literary Project. Mason is the author of The Winter Soldier (Little, Brown), among other works of fiction.

The 2020 ABIA Book of the Year is Bluey: The Beach, Ludo Studio, BBC Studios and Penguin Random House Australia. ABC Kids’ Bluey is Australia’s most popular children’s television show about a family of Aussie heelers. It’s the most-watched program in the history of ABC iview, has won a Logie Award, AACTA award and two Screen Producers Australia awards, and now, to add to that impressive list of accolades, the awards have begun in another sphere altogether, publishing. Bluey: the Beach is the first children’s picture book to win this award.  Other winners include, for International Book of the Year, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and for Literary Fiction Book of the Year, The Weekend by Charlotte Wood. The full list of winners, and indeed the entire telecast awards ceremony, can be found here:

Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy (Norton), has won the $100,000 2020 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The prize is given annually, for nonfiction and fiction in alternating years, to “an emerging writer who demonstrates the potential for continued contribution to the world of Jewish literature.” Finalists for the prize, each of whom receives $5,000, are: Mikhal Dekel, author of Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey (Norton), Sarah Hurwitz, author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) (Spiegel & Grau), and Yaakov Katz, author of Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power (St. Martin’s Press)

The longlist for the A$60,000 (about US$38,915) 2020 Miles Franklin Award, which “celebrates novels of the highest literary merit that tell stories about Australian life,” consists of: The White Girl by Tony Birch, Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng, Islands by Peggy Frew, No One by John Hughes, Act of Grace by Anna Krien, A Season on Earth by Gerald Murnane, The Returns by Philip Salom, Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany, The Yield by Tara June Winch, and The Weekend by Charlotte Wood, The shortlist will be announced June 17, and the winner on July 16.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has won the 2020 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, sponsored by Lambda Literary and honoring “lesbian/queer-identified women and trans/gender non-conforming nonfiction authors” whose work “captures the depth and complexity of lesbian/queer life, culture and/or history.” Piepzna-Samarasinha’s books include Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Bodymap, Love Cake and Consensual Genocide.

Bryan Washington won the £30,000 (about $38,160) International Dylan Thomas Prize for his debut short story collection, Lot, the Bookseller reported. Sponsored by Swansea University, the award recognizes the “best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under.”

Pemi Aguda won the £10,000 (about $12,435) Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award for her “gripping” work of fiction, The Suicide Mothers. The prize, founded in 2015 as a tribute to the late literary agent Deborah Rogers, honors “a first-time writer whose submission demonstrates outstanding literary talent and who needs financial support to complete their work.” Stephen Buoro finished in second place for The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa, and in third was S. Bhattacharya-Woodward for Zolo and Other Stories. Each author receives £1,000  (about $1,245).

Sarah Riggs’s translation (from the French) of Time by Etel Adnan, and Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough were the international and Canadian category winners respectively of the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize, which honors “first edition books of poetry written in, or translated into, English and submitted from anywhere in the world.” They each receive C$65,000 (about US$46,455), with the other finalists awarded C$10,000 (about US$7,145) each. Riggs will take 60% of the prize and Adnan 40%. The annual gala presentation was canceled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, Johny Pitts won the £1,000 Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Color for his debut book Afropean: Notes from Black Europe, the Bookseller reported. The prize was established in 2016 and seeks to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME writers. In addition to the cash award, Pitts will receive a trophy sculpted by artist Neda Koochakian Fard.

Have a great month and stay safe!



Congratulations to Debra Guyette, who won a copy of The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan.

Congratulations to Claire Derry, who won a copy of I Can’t Sleep by J E Rowney

Congratulations to Vicki Wurgler, who won a copy of Legends From Mom’s Closet by Sasha Olsen. 

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of House of Weeds by Jack Wallington and Amy Charlotte Kean.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “House of Weeds” and your postal address in the body of the message.

We also have a copy of Time Off by John Fitch & Max Frenzel to give-away.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Time Off” and your postal address in the body of the message.

Finally, we have a copy of Becoming: The Life & Musings of a Girl Poet by Nadia Janice Brown.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Musings” and your postal address in the body of the message.

Good luck, everyone!



The Waiting Room by Dominique Rispoli

Go on a journey with the author through a season of waiting. See yourself in the pages as she grapples with mental illness, heartbreak, and longing. Visit:


The Road to Delano by John DeSimone

The Road to Delano is a coming of age novel set during the Delano grape strike led by Cesar Chavez. “…a historical narrative that will stand the test of time. Its messages of nonviolence being stronger than violence remind us of the great need to choose the higher moral ground, especially during harrowing times of unrest. DeSimone’s novel tells a classic story of the strength of friendship and how the choices we make every day pave life’s path.”  Book Review Directory  Find out more here:



We will shortly be featuring reviews of Firefront, edited by Alison Whittaker, Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs, Dear Terror, Dear Splendor by Melissa Crowe, A Constellation of Kisses edited by Diane Lockward, and lots more reviews and interviews. 

Drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) to listen to our latest episodes which features interviews with Nicola Redhouse who talks about her book Unlike the Heart, and Maria Tumarkin who talks about her book Axiomatic. You can listen to the latest episode directly from the site widget or go to the website for all of our interviews (currently at 137 episodes!). 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.  If you listen on iTunes and enjoy it, please leave a review – it will help others find us!  Thank you!


(c) 2020 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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