Reviewers of the Year 2019

LJ editors rely on reviewers' dedication, expertise, and trusted insights throughout the year. As 2019 wound to a close, we took the opportunity to highlight some of our exceptional reviewers.

LJ editors rely on reviewers' dedication, expertise, and trusted insights throughout the year. As 2019 wound to a close, we took the opportunity to highlight some of our exceptional reviewers.


Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reference Librarian, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

(Award revoked at request of recipient in protest of the 2020 Library of the Year award.)

You may have seen Anna Clutterbuck-Cook’s byline in a variety of sections: from sociology and history to reference and romance, she’s a trusted resource in a variety of subjects and genres. I always appreciate when she gives me recommendations, or when we read alongside each other in order to share thoughts and ideas. I’m thankful for Anna’s insight, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with her.—Stephanie Sendaula

"I’ve been reviewing for LJ for six years and it’s one of my favorite ways of giving back to the community! My editors know my interests and areas of expertise and indulge me with both fascinating and infuriating forthcoming titles. I love the discipline of the short reviews, which pushes me to distill my critical assessment of a work down to a single brief paragraph and make a clear recommendation as to its value for library collections. Collection development is a crucial part of the larger project of making libraries more inclusive and equitable, and I am keenly aware that what’s chosen for review—and how we review—shapes purchasing decisions. I am grateful that my editors trust me with this important work. They never fail to offer incisive suggestions that clarify my thinking and improve my writing. I look forward to working with them for many years to come."


Melanie C. Duncan, Head of Collections & Acquisitions, Library Washington Memorial Lib., Macon, GA

With her infectious enthusiasm for quality storytelling and palpable passion for connecting readers to great books, Melanie Duncan merits recognition for her outstanding contributions to LJ spanning two decades and crossing both reviews and front-of-book features. Covering LGBTQIA romance ebooks since 2011, and branching out into graphic novels and sf/fantasy, Melanie tells me she’ll read anything "from Christian fiction to erotica!" Such versatility is a boon for an editor, and with a writer like Melanie, who balances just the right amount of care, objectivity, and expertise to ensure a knowledgeable and fair evaluation, it’s a cherished prize. This year, Melanie was crucial to jump-starting the process of selecting LJ’s Best Romance, an area I’m newly assigning with colleague Stephanie Klose, and I indeed felt the love, as her invaluable input helped keep us on track and introduced authors and titles across the many romance subgenres that guaranteed a tantalizing, well-rounded list. Many thanks for all your hard work, Melanie!—Annalisa Pešek

"This is an honor to be selected because LJ has so many top-notch reviewers. I’ve been privileged through my years of reviewing to work with some truly amazing editors, such as Bette-Lee Fox, Wilda Williams, and now Annalisa, Stephanie Klose, and Meredith Schwartz. My reviews are my way of sharing my obsession with reading with my profession, and I try to help libraries make purchasing selections that fit their budgets and readers’ tastes. I’m always willing to try new authors and genres because I believe books are waiting for their readers to find them, and as a librarian, I can help. I do read everything, from Christian fiction to erotica, and have authors I enjoy in every genre in between. It’s great to find common connections with people through the books we read and to share recommendations."


Melissa Engleman, Martin, TN

While excellent sentence structure and subject knowledge are vital to crafting a good review, just as important (and rare) is the courage to tell it like it is. Melissa Engleman is always up for the job. With her review of Moby’s Then It Fell Apart, she took the singer to task ("emotionally detached boasting"; "a humblebrag with product placement and name-dropping")—a critique that became all the more relevant when actress Natalie Portman accused Moby of falsely claiming in his book that the two once had a relationship. So when the time came to assemble a committee to choose the best arts titles of the year, I knew I had to ask Melissa. Thanks to her hard work and discerning eye, our list was top-notch. She never hesitates to share her opinion, but she’s always willing to listen and learn from others. And while Melissa is one of my go-to reviewers for performing arts, she has also turned in stellar assessments of science and social sciences titles for my colleague Stephanie Sendaula. I can’t wait to see what else Melissa takes on.—Mahnaz Dar

"When I started reviewing for LJ, I expected it to be a simple task I could add to my tenure file. What I’ve discovered instead is a challenging intellectual experience that I hope to continue long after leaving academia. Turning pages and pages of notes on each book into 200 informative words has been a wonderful exercise that has inspired me to focus on the craft of writing in other areas. The range of topics sent my way has spurred debate and rants in my house on everything from narrative structure to toxic masculinity (everyone should read Jared Yates Sexton’s The Man They Wanted Me To Be). Even the cat gets animatedly involved at times. Trying to convey the joy of a great book and the frustration surrounding a bad one within an abbreviated space has been rewarding and humbling. I also feel a little more comfortable about things like Twitter now. Librarians end up reading hundreds or thousands of reviews across a career—I hope mine are useful and at least a little bit engaging."


Samantha Gust, Head of Acquisitions, Niagara University Library, NY

The inestimable, indefatigable Samantha Gust has been with LJ for 19 years, and I have been her editor here since 2013. Before I came on board at LJ, I had the pleasure of working with her at another book review magazine. At both places she was and is an excellent writer, a perceptive reviewer (of fiction and of performing arts titles), and a hilarious correspondent, but she has steadily upped her game and become even better (and punctual! No more overdue fees for this university librarian). We LJ editors often praise our Reviewers of the Year who "barely need any editing"—this is a big deal for us. Samantha is one of those. I think the reason for this is partly that she reads the magazine—and not just her reviews. She’s provided thoughtful commentary on the genres she doesn’t cover, collection development pieces, and even some of the editorials. Sometimes she takes note of something I hadn’t noticed. Samantha is a useful one-librarian sounding board, a trusted, valuable part of the LJ reviewer team, and a treasure to work with. —Liz French

"Reviewing is my way of using my MLS and my BA in journalism (where I learned about editorial writing). What I love about reviewing for LJ is that it is of potential interest to anyone involved with any library or information and library science program (I graduated from University at Buffalo). Because of this, LJ’s reviews reach more people, including library professionals making acquisitions decisions, and I am proud to contribute to the profession in this way. I started reviewing for LJ in early 2000. I had experience evaluating books and media for other library publications and couldn’t help myself when I saw a call for reviewers in LJ. For many years, I covered women’s health books and popular fiction for Wilda Williams. I now review fiction and pop/rock music books and have the pleasure of working with the delightfully droll and infinitely patient Liz French. I am grateful for the opportunity to review two genres—the variety is fun! I have many LJ memories, including assignments of memoirs by the original members of KISS (I missed out on the Gene Simmons one), giving starred reviews (never done lightly), tastefully skewering deeply flawed books (it happens occasionally), and interviewing an author. It’s so rewarding to be recognized for something I love to do—I’m truly honored. Thank you."


Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

Given the demands of reviewing, there’s always the danger that reviewers will slip into what I like to call reviewerese: stock phrases or general abstractions readers are bound to encounter everywhere about the book under review. Not Shirley Quan. Shirley never generalizes. She’s a deeply granular reviewer, attuned to the specificities of each book, honestly assessing it—never mind the raves a big-name author might get elsewhere or the particular challenges a small-press title might present—and offering a grounded sense of what works for public library readers and what doesn’t. I see her work as a real service to her colleagues, distinctively tailored to library needs and reminding me of my audience. It’s always fun for me to hear what Shirley has found in a book, and I appreciate
her firm, even stubborn gaze into what’s really there. She’s immeasurably helpful to me in her longtime role as a specialist for LJ in Asian and Asian American literature, but I know I’d be interested in her views on just about any book out there.—Barbara Hoffert

"I’ve enjoyed working for LJ, and the books I’m sent always open up a whole new realm to show me what many new authors are writing about. I’ve learned much about so many cultures through reviewing and enjoy seeing the trends in the diversity of the authors who have been publishing over the years. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the team of librarians who review for LJ."

This year's Reviewers of the Year were originally featured in Library Journal's January 2020 issue. 

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