Compulsive Reader

The Compulsive Reader News
Volume 18, Issue 2, 1 Feb 2017

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

A review of So Much Smoke by Felix Calvino

Always there’s a sense that the world is not quite fixed and that what we’re experiencing is illusory (so much smoke), and charged by scars, memories, hunger, and all that we’ve lost. The stories that make up So Much Smoke are powerful, not so much because of what happens, but because of the way they hint at how much lurks below the surface, Read more:

A review of To The Dogs by Roberta Gould

Roberta Gould knows the minutiae of discrepancies and how we interrupt our own joy with preconceived notions, imagined grudges, misplaced assertions. In “Best Friend,” the title tells us how she feels about her dog, yet she hesitates to share a piece of her food. Finally relinquishing it and, realizing the irony of the conflict, she states, “I do it grudgingly/confusing myself with the truly hungry.” In this simple gesture she questions the meaning of generosity and our perceptions of need and greed. Read more:

A review of Ain’t U Got No Manners by Kristin Johnson

Despite the relaxed, humorous and conversational tone, the subject is serious. With Facebook, Instagram, Google (including its search engine), Twitter, Snapchat, Skype and email all linking up, nearly everything that goes online is more or less in the public domain. An ill-thought through or offensive post can get you fired, can wreck your home life, can lose you friends, and even get you arrested. Read more:

A review of The Wrong Dog by David Elliot Cohen

Part Marley and Me, part Bucket List, part travel memoir, Cohen’s book tells the story of Simba, a larger-than-life Labrador retriever whose physical size is matched only by his love of people. Cohen’s wife, Laureen, was technically Simba’s owner (he was bought by her first husband), but as is the case with blended families, when Cohen and Laureen married, their five children and the dog quickly became a cohesive unit. Read more:

A review of Maiden by Karina Bush

You might not want to read Karina Bush’s Maiden unless you like lewd literature. She presents poetry in a frank way. This moves away from the subtleness that some have come to expect and appreciate in the art of poetry. This is not a case for the censoring of Karina’s work or works like hers. In some ways, her writing reminds us that the world is not monolithic when it comes to the subject of sex. Read more:

A review of Gnarled Bones by Tam May

On reading these stories, one is reminded of the paintings of Marc Chagall: a hermetic world of imagery, difficult to interpret, informed by rich folk traditions and personal experience. In Gnarled Bones, women are the principal (but by no means sole) targets of the past’s slings and arrows. In this regard, the opening story, ‘Mother of Mischief’, is the most interesting in the collection, casting retrospective light on its own ambiguous title and showing us how we can, after all, be the authors of our own entrapment. Read more:

A review of Get Lean, Stay Lean by Dr Joanna McMillan

The advice provided by Dr Joanna McMillan in Get Lean, Stay Lean is neither faddish nor confusing. It’s commonsense and you probably already know it. Eat more vegetables. Exercise. Keep stress to a minimum. That’s the crux of it (and probably the crux of most reputable books on health and nutrition), but McMillan has presented this information that everybody knows and few people do in a way that makes it very easy to incorporate into day-to-day living. Despite the title, Get Lean, Stay Lean really isn’t about weight loss. It’s about developing healthy, sustainable habits. Read more:

A review of The Adventures of Jazzie G: Search for the Missing Peace by Gayle Johnston

Traveling on a CyberCoaster, meeting a blue-eyed pirate, dodging danger more than once, The Adventures of Jazzie G is a well written, fast paced book complete with snappy dialogue, and stimulating settings sure to please the target audience of Middle Grades – Young Adult readers who enjoy a bit of fantasy, excitement and situations featuring kids their own ages. Readers meet so many interesting characters bringing perspective of other cultures in a non-preachy manner leading to beginning understanding of optimism, comradery and how peace and acceptance comes about on individual basis. Read more:

An Interview with Mark Lefko

The author of Global Sustainability – 21 Leading CEOs Show How to Do Well By Doing Good? talks about the concept of global sustainability and what it means, why it’s important that businesses incorporate global sustainability practices, how and why he chose his interviewees, why the process has been so slow, some examples and mistakes, what led to his own passion for sustainability, the inspiration for his book, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Release the Bats: Writing Your Way Out of It by DBC Pierre

DBC Pierre’s writing book is like his fiction – a bit bizarre, purplish, chaotic, and often brilliant. Release the Bats is inspirational, making it clear that anyone can be a writer regardless of circumstance, and that literature is all about the interplay of worlds (internal/external; the gap between chaos and the ideal). The book provides a welter of ideas and tools and does so in a surprisingly coherent manner. It’s surprising because the book has a tendency to ramble, philosophise in extended and often convoluted metaphors, explode into digression, and slide into memoir, with Pierre using his own experiences as an example of how and in what ways his tools work. 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 2,041 reviews!), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



Australian readers, I have two events coming up. The first is at Sat, March 11 at The Bookplace Bookshop, 173 Peats Ferry Road, Hornsby, NSW, from 3-5pm. I’ll be ‘in conversation’ with poet and editor Michele Seminara – it’s an open discussion of all things poetry and we’d love you to join us.

The second is Wed the 29 of March at Morisset Library, 39 Yambo St, Morisset NSW. I’ll be reading from my new book Unmaking Atoms as well as chatting on poetry, with a session pitched at both readers and writers (and once again with plenty of opportunity to join in and interact. If you’re at all in the vicinity, please do come and join. Both events are free and it would be lovely to meet up with some of you fine readers.

In the literary news this month, winners have been named in the five Costa Book Awards categories. Each author receives  5,000 pounds (about $6,120) and is now eligible for the 30,000 Costa Book of the Year prize, which will be announced January 31. This year’s Costa category winners are: Novel: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, First novel: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford, Biography: Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew, Poetry: Falling Awake by Alice Oswald, and Children’s: The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan.

Finalists have been announced for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. A shortlist for the 5,000 pound Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year, in association with the Authors’ Club, will be announced January 17. Winners of all categories, as well as the Lonely Planet Travel Blog of the Year, Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year, and the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing, will be revealed February 2. A complete list of finalists is available here:

For a While by Rick Bass, Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes, and They Were Like Family by Helen Maryles Shankman have been named finalists for the 13th annual Story Prize, established in 2004 to honor short story collections and to bring further attention to the form. The prize comes with a $20,000 purse. The winner will be announced at the Story Prize’s annual award event at the New School’s Auditorium in Manhattan on March 8.

The winners of the Jewish Book Council’s 2016 National Jewish Book Awards have been announced. The Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award was given to Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis (Ecco). Michael Chabon is the winner of JBC’s Modern Literary Achievement Award “for his general contribution to modern Jewish literature, including his most recent work, Moonglow (Harper).” Rose Tremain took the J.J. Greenberg Fiction Award for The Gustav Sonata (Norton). Lauren Belfer became the first recipient of the Debby & Ken Miller Book Club Award for her work And After the Fire (Harper); and Gavriel Savit won the Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction for Anna and the Swallow Man (Knopf Books for Young Readers). Other winners and runners-up in several categories can be seen here:

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) nominated 30 finalists in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—for the 2016 awards. Carol Anderson, author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, is up for the NBCC Award for criticism. Also among the finalists are Swing Time author Zadie Smith (fiction), Commonwealth author Ann Patchett (fiction), The Iceberg author Marion Coutts (autobiography), and Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War Viet (general nonfiction). The winners of three additional prizes were announced as well. The Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement went to poet, novelist, story writer, essayist, and environmental activist Margaret Atwood. Yaa Gyasi is the recipient of the fourth annual John Leonard Prize for her debut novel, Homegoing. Also, the 2015 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to Michelle Dean, whose journalism and criticism appear regularly in The Guardian, The New Republic, and more. For the full list of finalists in every category visit:

More than 2,000 artists, writers, and readers gathered at the steps of the New York Public Library on January 15 in the name of defending free expression and the free press. The Writers Resist protest was launched by poet and Vida co-founder Erin Belieu and was co-sponsored in New York by PEN America. The protest, held the day before the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., brought writers including U.S. poets laureate Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky, comics artist Art Spiegelman, and author Jacqueline Woodson from the steps of the New York Public Library to the shadow of Trump Tower 15 blocks north. The protest, one of more than 90 simultaneous Writers Resist events held across the country and abroad, reflects the worry among many in the media and book industries that the incoming Trump administration intends to crack down on free speech.

Jacob Polley won the 20,000 pound T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize for Jackself, his collection of “loosely autobiographical poems [that] use the ‘Jack’ of nursery rhyme and local legend to tell the story of a childhood in rural Cumbria,” the Guardian reported. Chair of judges Ruth Padel described Jackself as “a firework of a book; inventive, exciting and outstanding in its imaginative range and depth of feeling…. Rather like Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns, he is looking at a childhood though a very English mythology. He has taken a word out of Gerard Manley Hopkins–‘Jackself’–as the starting point for a collection that is incredibly inventive and very moving.

Finalists have been announced for the 2017 PEN America Literary Awards, which showcase 50 works and this year feature four new prizes. Nearly $315,000 will be awarded altogether to writers and translators, spanning the fields of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, translation and more. View the complete shortlists here.

The shortlist of the Australian Indie Book Awards, chosen by independent bookstores, has been announced in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, debut fiction, children’s and young adult and can be seen here: The list for fiction includes: The Good People by Hannah Kent, Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson, and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. Winners will be unveiled March 20.

Finally, Susan Howe has been named the 2017 recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal, presented annually for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. Previous winners include Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Barbara Guest, Lucille Clifton, Charles Simic, Michael S. Harper, and Marilyn Nelson. Howe is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including That This, which received the 2011 Bollingen Prize; The Midnight; Pierce-Arrow; Frame Structures: Early Poems 1974-1979; The Nonconformist’s Memorial; and Singularities. Her essay collection The Quarry was a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. A new poetry collection, Debths, will be published this spring by New Directions.

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Paul Tuersley, who won a bundle of Sue Duff’s entire The Weir Chronicles series, including an Audible of the first book Fade to Black and eBooks for Books 2-4

Congratulations also to Steve Anderson, who won a copy of Global Sustainability: 21 CEOs Show How To Do Well By Doing Good by Mark Lefko.

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Get Lean, Stay Lean by Joanna McMillan. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Lean” and your postal address.

I’m also running a Goodreads giveaway for an autographed copy of my new book Unmaking Atoms. To enter, just go here press the “enter giveaway” button and enter your address (I’ll only receive the address of the winner). The giveaway is open worldwide and if the winner is a CR subscriber, I’ll throw in an extra little gift.

Good luck everybody!



The Adventures of Fawn series: Fantastic! Fun-tastic! Fawn-tastic!

The precocious, young daughter of legendary reindeer Comet and Vixen thinks she knows more than her mum and dad, and against their wishes, sneaks out of Santa’s Village each day to find excitement and adventure, and friends. She finds them…and lots of danger, too! Excitement, adventure and heart-warming friendships combine for a North Pole trilogy well worth reading!

Melissa Smith of Jessica and Gracie’s Tree writes: “I’m giving…a five for the whole trilogy. They are very good books and they should become Christmas classics. If these books had been published by one of the big publishing houses, they already would be and we’d probably be getting movies soon.”




We will shortly be featuring reviews of Safe at Home by C Dennis Moore, The Vimy Trap by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, The Play with Knives trilogy by Jennifer Maiden, Beginning French by Eileen McKenna & Marty Neumeier, and lots more reviews, news, interviews, and giveaways.

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or at to listen to the latest interview with Dr Joanna McMillan, who talks about her new book Get Lean, Stay Lean. 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. Just find us under podcasts by searching for Compulsive Reader. Then just click subscribe.


(c) 2017 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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