Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 23, Issue 2, 1 Feb 2021



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Hello readers.  Here is the latest batch of reviews and interviews:

A review of Theatrix: Poetry Plays by Terese Svoboda

Svoboda’s verse is playful, a true delight. As Alan Michael Parker writes in his Introduction in the style of an Introduction, “…give us voices, and their own inner voices, the ways we have made gender our playmates, and how we make our bodies the play. Then stand close, and watch the players play. Read more:

An interview with Brianne Davis

Brianne Davis is a Hollywood actress, writer, producer and director. She can be seen as an actress in Lucifer, Casual, True Blood, the History Channel’s series Six, and the film Jarhead, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. She has directed two films, The Night Visitor 2: Heather’s Story and Deadly Signal. In this in-depth Q&A, she talks about Why she wrote her novel Secret Life of a Hollywood Sex & Love Addict, , the relationship between her writing and acting, how much of her story is based on real-life, how music influences her work, how she structures her writing time, her Secret Life podcast, advice for those struggling with this disease, and lots more. Read more:

A review of My Father’s Face by Chandra Gurung

My Father’s Face is a very welcome collection from a neighbouring country, Nepal, and its contemporariness is what makes it both relevant and moving. At some places the editing and the translation could have been a bit tighter, and minor irritants like phrases/ structures like ‘an ocean of deep gashes’ or ’I am delightful’ could be worked on for future editions. Also an Introduction to the volume by the poet himself would help in grounding the poetry in more specific locales and circumstances. Read more:

A review of Alcestis in the Underworld by Nina Murray

Murray does not try to establish a perfect correspondence between these poems and the myth’s incidents and details; instead, the poems move freely back and forth between two planes of existence, the personal and the mythological, as they recall Murray’s youth in Ukraine and her subsequent career in the U.S. diplomatic service, particularly her time in Russia. The myth itself functions in the poems more like a reticulated canopy, casting an occasional net of shadows over the scenes taking place below. Read more:

A review of Snowdog by Kim Chinquee

This is a quietly impressive collection for lovers of the flash form, the traditional short story, and of poetic form. It is for dog-lovers, for mothers and lovers, and those for whom the routines, landscape, and concept of domesticity implies a multitude of contradictions and simultaneous truths. In her poised expressions and riddle-like compositions, we come to know the many dimensions of this Kim Chinquee/Elle character and her relationships. Read more:

A review of Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge

The fifty-odd pieces that make up this collection are divided thematically into eleven different sections and take aim at national holidays, movies, language, literature and a host of other themes, from a Native American perspective, and culminate in a merciless assessment of the Donald Trump administration, the coup de grâce a poem entitled ”Ars Poetica by Donald Trump.  Read more:

A review of Beowulf, a New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

What the book shows clearly is that human nature and its relationship to the world is timeless, and Beowulf is also a story about modern life. We may not have literal dragons, but we have plenty of bar-room bombast, metaphorical monsters, and enough inequality to make Beowulf as relevant a tale as it ever was.  This is a version that is highly recommended, not so much to ensure you’re up with your classic education, but rather, for the sheer pleasure of the story and its execution. Read more:

A review of Love After Love by Ingruid Persaud

Persaud tightly packs an abundance of emotions into this novel where laughter, anger, and tears were freely expressed throughout. Evenly impressive is Persaud’s use of food throughout the novel as a love language between friends and family. Detailed descriptions of how to create some of the Caribbean’s most famous dishes litter the story, and always during a time when a character needs comfort the most. Read more:

A review of Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

In Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars, Wade profiles the imagist poet, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.); the mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers; two scholars/academics, Jane Ellen Harrison and Eileen Powers, and the modernist novelist Virginia Woolf.  All five, writes Wade, “pushed the boundaries of scholarship, literary form [and] societal norms in order to have lives of the mind in which their creative work took priority. Read more:

A review of You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

The book discusses migrant experience, discrimination and inequality in perfect way for readers who are just starting to read young adult fiction. Inspiring themes and messages are communicated throughout, and these are some of the elements I loved which made me so excited to talk about in this review. The family’s culture and beliefs are portrayed and the language, being Arabic, is also incorporated. I discovered and learnt a lot whilst reading, which I really enjoyed and found to be yet another impressive element in this story. 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 2,733), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, the shortlist for the 2020 International Beverly Prize for Literature has been announced. The prize is awarded annually by Eyewear Publishing for a manuscript that is an outstanding work of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, memoir or criticism. The winner will be offered a publishing contract with Eyewear, a small press group in London. Canadian poet Lisa Pasold is the judge of this year’s contest. The ten titles are: I Want to be This Girl by Ea Anderson. A Petit Mal by Ana Maria Caballero. Ironwork by Gail DiMaggio, The Seed Drill by Ben Egerton, Let Me Know if You Need Anything by Kristen Forbes, TRUE by Sativa January. The Asparagus Wars by Carol Major, Toasted Ice by Emilie Murphy. Keeper of Stories: Finding the Buddhist Communist’s Jewish Granddaughter by Hoangmai Pham, and A Reason for Everything by Samantha Schoech. 

Winners have been named in the five Costa Book Awards categories, celebrating “the most enjoyable books of the year by writers resident in the U.K. and Ireland. Each author receives £5,000 (about $6,760) and is eligible for the £30,000 (about $40,560) Costa Book of the Year prize, which will be announced January 26. This year’s Costa category winners are: Novel: The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey, First novel: Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud, Biography: The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence, Poetry: The Historians by Eavan Boland, and Children’s: Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant.

Elle McNicoll’s children’s book A Kind of Spark was named Blackwell’s Book of the Year for 2020. According to the Bookseller, McNicoll is “a Scottish and neurodivergent author who wrote the book, her debut, after growing tired of the lack of inclusivity in the industry. The novel features two autistic young women as lead characters. McNicoll has recently signed a second deal with Knights Of for a middle-grade novel coming in March.”  The shortlist, which included Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, Humankind by Rutger Bregman and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, was voted for by Blackwell’s booksellers across the U.K., and the winner selected by a panel of five Blackwell’s booksellers.

Dublin City Council announced that Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession is the One Dublin One Book choice for 2021. A new One Dublin One Book edition of the novel will be available and online events are being scheduled in April to accompany the reading initiative, which is led by Dublin City Libraries. Dublin City Librarian Mairead Owens said that Leonard and Hungry Paul “reminds us all that life is precious and that there are many challenges facing us as we negotiate daily life. The book is uplifting and positive and gives comfort at this time. The book is a treasure and will hopefully encourage many more readers to seek refuge and sustenance from reading.”

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge has been named the winner of Yale’s 2021 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. The Bollingen Prize, established by Paul Mellon in 1949, is awarded biennially by the Yale University Library through the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years, or for lifetime achievement in poetry. The prize includes a cash award of $165,000.

Winners have been unveiled for the 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Awards, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. The winning titles were selected by a volunteer committee of independent booksellers from 400 nominated titles published in 2020. This year’s winners are:  Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan), Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido), The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E.J. Koh (Tin House Books), Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey), rough house by Tina Ontiveros (Oregon State University Press), and This Is My America  by Kim Johnson (Random House Books for Young Readers).

The finalists for the Story Prize, honoring the outstanding short story collection published in 2020, are: Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Riverhead Books), and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia University Press). The winning writer receives $20,000 and an engraved silver bowl. The two runners-up will each receive $5,000.

The Australian independent booksellers have announced their Shortlist for the Indie Book Awards 2021. The Shortlist for fiction is: All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton (HarperCollins Australia), The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan (Knopf Australia), Mammoth by Chris Flynn (University of Queensland Press), and Honeybee by Craig Silvey (Allen & Unwin). The full list can be found here:  The twenty-four shortlisted books, the best titles of the year as nominated by Australian independent booksellers themselves, will be vying for the top spot as the Overall Indie ‘Book of the Year’ for 2021. Panels of expert judges (all indie booksellers and avid readers) will choose the winners in the six book categories – Fiction, Debut Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustrated Non-Fiction, Children’s books (up to 12yo) and Young Adult (12+). Independent booksellers from around the country will then vote to select their favourite book of the year from the six category winners.

Finalists have been unveiled for the first annual $50,000 Gotham Book Prize, which was created last July by Bradley Tusk and Howard Wolfson “to support New York City and its arts community by recognizing what makes the city so special as it enters a challenging recovery from Covid-19.” The prize honors the best book (fiction or nonfiction) that either is about New York City or takes place there. The jury will now vote for a winner, to be announced in March. The 10 finalists are: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha, Kings County by David Goodwillie, You Again by Debra Jo Immergut, The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, The Hard Hat Riot: Nixon, New York City, & the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution by David Paul Kuhn, Luster by Raven Leilani, Deacon King Kong by James McBride, Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel, and Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld.

A 12-book longlist has been announced for the £20,000 (about $27,120) International Dylan Thomas Prize, sponsored by Swansea University featuring books by an author aged 39 or under.” This year’s list features nine novels, two poetry collections and one short story collection. A shortlist will be released March 25, with the winner revealed on May 13, the eve of International Dylan Thomas Day. The longlisted titles are: Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat, Antiemetic for Homesickness by Romalyn Ante, If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha, Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, Rendang by Will Harris, The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes, Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze, Pew by Catherine Lacey, Luster by Raven Leilani, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. 

The finalists in six categories for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Awards and the John Leonard Prize for First Book include, for fiction: Martin Amis, Inside Story (Knopf), Randall Kenan, If I Had Two Wings (W.W. Norton), Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet (Knopf), Souvankham Thammavongsa, How to Pronounce Knife (Little, Brown), and Bryan Washington, Memorial (Riverhead). For poetry: Victoria Chang, Obit  (Copper Canyon), Francine J. Harris, Here Is The Sweet Hand (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Amaud Jamaul Johnson, Imperial Liquor (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press), Chris Nealon, The Shore (Wave), and Danez Smith, Homie (Graywolf).  The full list which includes Autobiography, Biography, Criticism, and Nonfiction, can be seen here:

Bhanu Kapil won the £25,000 (about $34,210) T.S. Eliot Prize, which recognizes “the best new poetry collection written in English and published in 2020,” for How to Wash a Heart. Chair of judges Lavinia Greenlaw said: “Our shortlist celebrated the ways in which poetry is responding to profound change, and the stylistic freedom that today’s poets have claimed. From this impressive field, we unanimously chose Bhanu Kapil’s How to Wash a Heart as our winner. It is a radical and arresting collection that recalibrates what it’s possible for poetry to achieve.”

Monique Roffey won the £30,000 (about $41,055) Costa Book of the Year award, honoring the “most enjoyable” book, for The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story, the Guardian reported. Roffey’s novel bested other Costa category winners The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence (biography), Ingrid Persaud’s Love After Love (first novel), The Historians by Eavan Boland (poetry) and Natasha Farrant’s Voyage of the Sparrowhawk (children’s).

Finally, Jewish Book Council has announced the winners of the 2020 National Jewish Book Awards. Among the winners were: Jewish Book of the Year, Everett Family Foundation Award: Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Basic Books), JJ Greenberg Memorial Award in Fiction: Apeirogon by Colum McCann (Random House), Book Club Award, The Miller Family Award in Memory of Helen Dunn Weinstein and June Keit Miller: The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross (HarperVia), Berru Award for Poetry, in Memory of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash: Nautilus and Bone by Lisa Richter (Frontenac House). To see the full list visit with lots more detail:

Have a terrific February!



Congratulations to Jackie Clewlow, who won a 337 by M. Jonathan Lee pack (book + goodies). 

Congratulations to  Laini Pearl, who won a copy of The Merciful by Jon Sealy. 

Congratulations to Kim Dewdney who won a copy of Creature by Rosalee Kiely. 

Congratulations to Catrina Pomerleau who won a copy of The Parisian Professor by Joseph Sciuto. 

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Biological Necessity by Jennifer Maiden. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Biological Necessity” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

We also have a copy of Prepped by Bethany Mangle to give away! To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Prepped” and your postal address in the body of the mail. 

Finally, we have a copy of The Measure of Gold by Sarah C. Patten. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Measure of Gold” and your postal address in the body of the email. 

Good luck, everyone!



A Visitor Who Belongs Here by Luwa Adebanjo

“There are many ways to tell a story. This is mine, and it is a celebration.”

This debut poetry anthology is all about home, belonging and the joy of surviving despite all hardships. The anthology follows Luwa’s journey after arriving in the UK from Nigeria. As a child, she struggled to fit into her new environment while remaining the perfect daughter she felt her family needed. Every place felt unfamiliar, and she began to feel like a visitor no matter where she went. At home, the pressure of looking after her brothers and hiding her struggle with her sexuality in an abusive household meant she never felt safe. At school, she felt alone and out of place, unable to fit into British culture. She was too weird, too loud, too fat, too crazy, too gay, too black- and yet somehow not enough of anything to belong. At 19, after battling with anxiety and depression all her life, Luwa was diagnosed with OCD. This diagnosis pushed her to change her life and begin a journey of healing, striving to turn her suffering into joy.  Enter the giveaway!


The Parisian Professor

The Story of a CIA Operative

A New Spy Novel by Joseph Sciuto


The Parisian Professor explores the roots of state-sanctioned corruption and the scourge of dictatorship in America and beyond.




We will shortly be featuring reviews of Sonnets by Theresa Rodriguez, The Lying Lives of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Vegan Junk Food by Zacchary Bird, How to Be Australian by Ashley Kalagian Blunt, 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 episode which features an interview with Angus Gaunt who reads from and talks about his book Black Rabbit. You can listen to the latest episode directly from the site widget or go to show directly here:

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(c) 2021 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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