Reviewers of the Year 2017

In honor of all our reviewers, and especially those whose work made an indelible impression this year, LJ editors thank you for your dedication, expertise, and trusted insights. Here's to many more years of working and learning together.

In honor of all our reviewers, and especially those whose work made an indelible impression this year, LJ editors thank you for your dedication, expertise, and trusted insights. Here’s to many more years of working and learning together. Interested in joining the LJ reviewing family? Click here for further details.


Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA

Erica is an amazing reviewer and so deserving to be my Reviewer of the Year. While her primary focus is French literature (our coverage in that area would be lost without her), she’s incredibly knowledgeable about a wide area beyond that, as I continue to discover with each book I send to her. For example, I recently asked Erica if she wanted to review a title on Laura Ingalls Wilder, only to find out she’s a big fan of Wilder’s work and once visited the author’s Missouri home. Erica’s reviews are consistently well written, well reasoned, and on time—and she’s really nice!—all of which makes me so happy to work with her.—Amanda Mastrull

Erica says: “I have been a librarian for almost 20 years and started reviewing for LJ in 2002. Thanks to LJ, I have read some fantastic books covering an eclectic range of subjects, including Virginia’s Woolf’s dog, the Orient Express, the murder of Chaucer, an English blogger in Paris, and Jane Austen in Hollywood. My first Master’s degree was in French literature, and I have reviewed a number of titles in this area (mainly in translation), such as biographies of Jean Cocteau, Flaubert, Genet, Proust, and Zola. I am fortunate to work with Amanda Mastrull, who sends me some great books to review and is very patient when I need an extension. Reviewing can be challenging when you are limited to 200 words, but I believe it has made me a better writer. You learn to be succinct when trying to address the essential aspects of a work. Writing for LJ has been one of the highlights of my career, and I feel very honored to be acknowledged in this way.”


Gricel Dominguez, Florida International University Library, Miami

In Gricel’s own words: “I started reviewing for LJ a little under three years ago. In that time, I’ve read more books than I can count, each one a delight and a challenge. My editors have a knack for sending me just the right titles, many of which I would be hard-pressed to find on my own. Knowing that my reviews may help a selector is the icing on a very rich cake.”

Reading Gricel’s reviews is icing on the cake for us, too. Like me, she’s curious about and interested in a variety of subjects: memoirs, biographies, history, and literary criticism (especially works about writing and books about books). You’ll also see her byline on the occasional professional media and database review. Besides helping selectors, Gricel helps me find and recommend books to others. From Lezley McSpadden’s Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil to Helene Cooper’s Madame President to Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, Gricel’s reviews always have a thoughtful balance of summary, critique, and gut-wrenching honesty—why you should read this book right now. Most recently, Gricel has delighted all of us at LJ with her stellar cookbook reviews, from introductory books on the basics to complex cooking reference guides. Thanks for all that you do, Gricel. It’s been a wonderful three years and here’s to many, many more.—Stephanie Sendaula


Sara Holder, Head of Research and Information Services, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

One appreciates how sporting one’s colleagues are when a trusted reviewer retires. Though the number of video programs on women’s sports is not overwhelming, still, I was short on coverage. My book review teammate Stephanie Sendaula suggested Sara Holder. Now two years later, Sara has tackled Olympic Ping-Pong, swim clubs, dual participation in wrestling and judo, distance running, sidecar racing, boxing, surfing, and roller derby, among other athletics, in addition to a female groundskeeper. She still pitches in for the Book Review and wrote a collection development feature on Title IX. She is my 2017 MVP and won’t be on the video bench any time soon.—Bette-Lee Fox

Sara Holder says, “Reviewing for LJ has been such a great experience. I love getting those emails letting me know that there is a book or video on its way to me. Reviewing the sports videos has been awe inspiring—there are so many amazingly talented female athletes in this world! It’s also been a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t love bingeing an entire season of Roller Derby Till I Die? (Bette-Lee and I were ready to find a squad and join up after that one.) Reviewing for LJ has also been good for my writing. Regularly having to distill your thoughts on an entire book or film into 200 words or less is a great exercise. It’s really an all-around great gig, but the icing on the cake is getting to work with Bette-Lee and all of her fantastic editor colleagues.

Photo by Angela Waarala & Rachael Johns


Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

A true Renaissance woman, Maggie Knapp does it all. In addition to heading up LJ’s Reference Short Takes column and contributing to the Best Reference committee, she crosses the aisle to our sister publication, School Library Journal, where she reviews nonfiction, fantasy, sf, DVDs, and audiobooks, and recently wrote a piece on the Vietnam War. I’ve yet to meet a colleague who doesn’t sing her praises. “There’s no book you can’t send her,” says SLJ assistant editor Della Farrell, and senior editor Liz French calls Maggie “my go-to reviewer for all aspects of dance.” Maggie’s a gifted, enthusiastic writer and a joy to work with—she responds to frantic queries and requests with grace, cheer, and good humor. I can’t wait to see what new subject areas she decides to explore next.—Mahnaz Dar

“When I first dipped my toe in the LJ reviewing waters about five years ago, I had experience with young adult books yet was still awestruck at the thought of assessing adult titles for my professional colleagues. Luckily, the books I received were perfect for my strengths (such as my long-standing interest in theater and the performing arts). Mahnaz and other editors have not limited me to one area but encourage me with books on a variety of topics. LJ reference reviewing has balanced well with assessing dragons and dystopias for SLJ. My heart happily beats a little faster when I receive an assignment from Mahnaz, whether it’s a review of a database or 199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die.”


Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac Public Library,
Ontario

From the moment I came to Library Journal more than three decades ago, I have depended on the wisdom, sensitivity, and graceful writing of Barbara Love, my go-to reviewer for all things British and Canadian. She brings such a fund of knowledge to her reviewing! I can trust her with anything: the smart, incisive novels of major award winners such as Martin Amis, Nicola Barker, Jonathan Coe, and David Mitchell; the rich joy offered by Sebastian Faulks and Edward St. Aubyn, ever exploring fresh worlds; bold new fiction from up-and-comers like Tahmima Anam, Hermione Eyre, Anna Freeman, and Hannah Rothschild, with Barbara recognizing talent and pointing us in just the right direction; multiple looks at the Man Booker short-listed Deborah Levy, with Barbara’s reviews acts of discovery in themselves; and a recent, terrifically executed roundup of five stellar short story collections from the likes of Tessa Hadley, Samantha Hunt, and Penelope Lively. I thought of Barbara when I was looking to assign Ali Smith’s formally and intellectually challenging How To Be Both and was glad I did; she responded with insight and enthusiasm, having already earmarked the book as one to read, and now I wouldn’t entrust the fiction of this formidable Costa and Man Booker favorite to anyone else. It’s a pleasure to work with such an informed, thoughtful, and generous writer from just across the U.S.-Canadian border, and I hope we will be working together for years to come.—Barbara Hoffert


Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

Happy “reviewerversary” to the Florida-based Donna Smith, who’s been reviewing for LJ for 16 years. I’ve worked with Donna since 2013 and can’t praise her enough (I will try, though). Able to cover the parsings of high-end TV productions or the more fan-glorious odes to cult shows equally well, Donna also writes to fit and is never late. She can go high or low culture, her critiques and comparisons are solid, and she lets more than a little enthusiasm creep into her writing. That’s contagious and it’s golden. I admit that it’s hard to “share” Donna with my colleagues, who enjoy working with her as much as I do. Stephanie Sendaula says, “Donna is a trustworthy reviewer of communications, professional media, and (most recently) science books. Reading her reviews is like hearing readers’ advisory from a trusted friend—fun and fulfilling enough to make you want to keep reading.” Thanks for making our jobs easier, Donna, and for making us look good on the telly, in the stacks, and in the science labs.—Liz French

“After responding to an advertisement for a communications reviewer, I was welcomed on board by then LJ associate editor Mirela Roncevic. Several years previously, I started with the Palm Beach County Library System as a research librarian, having moved to Florida after earning a BA in journalism at the University of Georgia and an MLIS at the University of Maryland. Reviewing gave me the opportunity to combine my love of writing with helping people find the perfect read or purchase for their library. My background in journalism and communications, as well as having chapters published in several volumes of the Open Court Press series “Pop Culture and Philosophy,” has been an indispensable aid in analyzing books about media, film, and television. Similarly, focusing on science and technology research in library school has helped me to tackle my latest assignment reviewing works about space history. In turn, crafting reviews has honed my writing skills, challenging me to find the perfect word or phrase to convey the essential part to the reader. Working for such wonderful editors as Liz and Stephanie has been a joy, and I appreciate the support and encouragement they have given me on this bibliophilic journey.”


Russell Miller, Adult Services Reference Librarian, Prescott Public Library, AZ

Whether describing the clean and dignified line work of Asaf Hanuka, the celebrated Fabletown of Bill Willingham, the civilization-menacing serials of Robert Kirkman, or whimsy and innocence of Johnny Hart, Russell Miller’s reviews of graphic novels and nonfiction portray especially well how art and text work together to create a perfect (or sometimes not so perfect) whole. For six years and counting, Russ has delved into the art of horror, sf, mysteries, nonfiction (history, politics, memoir), Westerns, fairy tales, and popular comic strips. He also evaluates genre fiction for my colleague Wilda Williams. I appreciate his breadth of expertise, no doubt honed by a 20-year career as a college art instructor and nearly two decades as a reference librarian, his consistency, dedication, and dependability. Congratulations on retiring this month from the library, and Happy Birthday!—Annalisa Pešek

“Imagine my surprise and stunned appreciation! I am moved and truly honored to be included in the cavalcade of LJ reviewers. My future hopes (after the big “R”) include pursuing writing, illustrating, and perhaps sequential-art storytelling…again. My wife and I have designs on traveling and creating some serious fun. With the extra time, we plan to embrace the rigors of music more thoroughly in the form of bagpipes, guitar, and drums. Writing reviews for LJ keeps me curious, honest, and connected to the things I love—literature and art. Who knows, I may have to submit something of my own for your amusement someday. Thanks to you all and most especially Annalisa and Wilda.”

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