LJ Reviewers of the Year 2018

LJ editors rely on reviewers' dedication, expertise, and trusted insights throughout the year. As 2018 wound to a close, we took the opportunity to shine a light on some of our exceptional reviewers. We couldn't do it without you!

LJ editors rely on reviewers' dedication, expertise, and trusted insights throughout the year. As 2018 wound to a close, we took the opportunity to shine a light on some of our exceptional reviewers. We couldn't do it without you!

Thomas L. Batten, Grafton, VA

Tom Batten arrived on the LJ scene in late 2013, having contributed a stunning Reader’s Shelf article, “Let’s Get Graphic: Creating Comics in Novel Ways” (LJ 1/14). That ingenious first read displayed a deep knowledge and refined sensibility for how “words and pictures can combine in amazing ways.” I sought him out immediately. Within weeks he was writing online-only Xpress Reviews. By 2016, he was cocolumnist of the quarterly print graphic novels column, and, in 2018, took over the role completely. Tom’s preference for all types of comics means he’s open to everything, expertly gearing his choices toward the public library market. In addition to writing LJ reviews, Tom keeps up a rigorous teaching schedule at William & Mary University, VA, as well as assignments for other publications, including The New Yorker and the Guardian. Librarians are in good hands, and I’m one grateful editor.—Annalisa Pešek

“Reviewing graphic novels for LJ over the past five years has given me a new appreciation for an art form I have loved throughout my entire life. Every genre is represented in comics, from every type of creator, for every type of reader. It can be challenging to capture the magical synthesis of writing and illustration in a 200-word review and to pinpoint how best to explain the allure of a particular project given the scope of the readership, but ultimately it has been massively rewarding for me in my development as a writer and a reader.”


David Faucheux, Lafayette, LA

I’m thrilled to honor David Faucheux as the 2018 Audiobook Reviewer of the Year. David has an incredible enthusiasm for a wide range of genres and topics and never ceases to want to learn more and improve his writing. In addition, as LJ’s only visually impaired audiobook reviewer, David’s feedback on the user experience of various platforms, formats, and recordings is unique and invaluable.—Stephanie Klose

"Audiobooks take me places and show me things I would otherwise never get to encounter. They see for me by their descriptions, their vivid word pictures, and lyrical prose. They befriend me when I’m lonely, educate me when I’m curious, and amuse me when I’m in a blue mood. I have always known I could pick up a book and for a time be in a better or at least a different place. Books don’t judge, ignore, or marginalize us. According to Henry Petroski, author of The Book on the Bookshelf, ‘Books spend a lot of time on bookshelves, hanging around near the curb, as it were, waiting for someone to come along with an idea for something to do.’ The many voices of these books become almost friends as they spin tales of intrigue, mystery, and adventure in places near and far across time. Desiring to share my love of books with a wider audience, I wrote and self-published the memoir Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile."


Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY

LJ regularly receives major literary fiction titles whose outsize insight and exemplary grasp of language, often matched by real physical heft, require a reviewer with outsize insight, exemplary language skills, and the ability to toss off heft lightly. To whom should I assign such titles? Why, Joshua Finnell, of course, whose astute comments, gracious style, and fair but forthright approach to each assignment make him an editor’s dream. (My colleagues who assign him performing arts titles agree.) Josh’s assignments for me have ranged widely, from heavy hitters like Paul Auster’s 4321 and Peter Carey’sA Long Way from Home, to Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’sThe Red-Haired Woman and ambitious fare like Paul Kingsnorth’s Beast, to David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time and Édouard Louis’s History of Violence, to Elliot Ackerman’s Waiting for Eden and Richard Powers’s Overstory, the last two LJ 2018 Best Books. Did I mention that with previous Reviewer of the Year Sally Bissell, Josh served on our newly minted Best Literary Fiction committee? What a joy to work with him on that project, and what a joy to receive every review he sends; they’re truly a lesson in how to write.—Barbara Hoffert

“My wife is a professor of creative writing and a novelist. She, more than anyone, has taught me to approach book reviewing as a promise and a responsibility; a promise to respect the labor of the author and a responsibility to assess the book honestly on its own merits. Whether it’s an author from the Oulipo literary project or a translated work from Salwa Al Neimi, I always look forward to an assignment from Barbara Hoffert. Over the past 12 years as an LJ Reviewer, I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to evaluate works spanning National Book Award winners to debut novelists from independent presses. Reviewing literary fiction, in particular, affords me the opportunity to appraise an author’s writing style and narrative choices rather than merely summarizing plot. Danielle Steel once quipped, ‘A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it.’ I’ve never actually reviewed a Danielle Steel book, but I try not to sit on too many cakes. I like cake a lot.”


Cliff Glaviano, formerly Head, Cataloging Department, Bowling Green State University Libraries, OH; retired

Cliff Glaviano has been my reviewer since 1990. Neither of us is quite sure how that came about, or was it, as Bob Dylan would say, a simple twist of fate? Cliff responded to an advert for AV reviewers, with an interest in audiobooks. Several editors over time absorbed the audio portion of our show, but I held on to video. At some point, Cliff decided to review video, too, leading to 229 reviews to date (he still reviews audiobooks, as well). His reviews are timely and so well written, addressing subjects essential to collections and to our world, i.e., Vietnam, poetry, sports, military topics, and PTSD; he has jumped on practically overnight deadlines when we wanted an Oscar nominee covered prior to the TV broadcast. We can never thank him enough, but I’m hoping this acknowledgment will tell him how very much he is valued.—Bette-Lee Fox

“The call for LJ reviewers came at a very good time for me. I had fallen away from recreational reading and thought audiobooks would take its place…audio didn’t, but the audio stimuli pointed me right back to reading fiction again. The videos have been very rewarding. There are so many excellent indie documentaries out there that only a great LJ editor could have pushed so many in my direction. It has been a privilege to view Oscar-nominated documentaries and more films about the Mideast conflicts and our Iraq and Afghan wars than I could have discovered (or afforded) on my own. (Nonscreener copies go to Otterbein University.) It’s been fun, but it has also been an honor to work with the editors and interns at LJ. All are professionals who treat me with the greatest respect and understanding. I know I am appreciated. Thank you for making me part of the team.”

Photo courtesy of Church Directories


Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, LLC, Duluth, GA

The versatile Marlene Harris reviews in various categories, but her sf/fantasy expertise in particular has been invaluable to me as the section’s new editor. When we revamped the 2018 Best Books process in order to deepen editors’ involvement in the genre lists and implement more collaborative deliberations, I asked Marlene to join the sf/fantasy committee, along with LJ sf/fantasy columnist Kristi Chadwick, having read her insightful 2017 genre preview feature, “Galaxy Quest” (LJ 8/17). Not only did her longlist expand the range of voices under consideration and her votes and annotations strengthen the end result, she was instrumental in documenting our progress and suggesting voting mechanisms to best capture our ideas. Without her, it would have been far more disorganized and far less fun! —Meredith Schwartz

In Marlene’s own words: “I became a librarian ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ before starting to review for LJ in 2011. I started my book review blog, Reading Reality, as a way of keeping a finger in the library world during the recession, when library jobs were scarce. For several years I contributed the Best E-Originals column as part of LJ’s Best Books, and eventually began reviewing genre fiction. I’ve had the joy of discovering terrific new-to-me authors as well as books I’ve salivated over for months. Every new book to review is always a treat!”


Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, IN

Lesa Holstine is a gift from the library gods. A tireless reviewer and blogger, she reads and assesses hundreds of fiction titles as LJ’s mystery columnist as well as for her blog, lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com, all while working as a collections and technical services manager at Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, IN. She travels to many book cons as well, making connections and keeping abreast of publishing trends. Lesa has been a librarian for 40 years, working in Arizona, Florida, and Ohio, as well as the Hoosier state. When I took on the role of LJ’s mystery and pop fiction editor last summer, Lesa was my rock and inspiration, helping me keep the mystery column viable and current, advising and conferring about coverage. Her knowledge is vast, and her reviews reflect that. She’s the queen of read-alike recommendations and always has the latest news about authors and publishers. When LJ’s 2018 Best Books selection process moved in a different, more inclusive direction, Lesa pivoted right with us, serving on the crime fiction committee and suggesting some very good titles for consideration. She is reliable and steadfast, but so much more. I admire her work ethic and ability to adjust to varying schedules and requests, but I do wonder if she ever sleeps! —Liz French

“I cried when Liz told me she was picking me as her reviewer of the year. It’s such an honor to work with LJ and write reviews when I know other librarians are using them to select materials for their collections. Over the years, I’ve reviewed books for VOYA, a Florida newspaper, and my own blog. I’ve learned the most about reviewing from the careful editing done at LJ. Even when I was covering women’s fiction for LJ, I coveted the mystery column. I’m grateful for the chance to have worked with former columnist Ann Chambers Theis, who invited me to cowrite the mystery column during my first of two (so far) years covering the genre. In 2018, Bouchercon presented me with the David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award for contributions to the crime fiction community. That goes hand-in-hand with this recognition. When I review for LJ, I can share my passion and knowledge for crime fiction, and I appreciate that opportunity. Thank you.”


Rebekah Kati, Institutional Repository Librarian, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries

I first worked with Rebekah Kati when we were both volunteering for INALJ (formerly I Need a Library Job), and I’m thrilled to be working with her again. You might notice her byline in several categories: history, sociology, and political science, along with the occasional reference and professional media reviews. Like me, Rebekah has varied interests and is always eager to read about a new subject.—Stephanie Sendaula

“It’s hard to describe the feeling of excitement that I get whenever I receive an email about a new review assignment from LJ. Stephanie and the other editors are so good about selecting books that are tailored to my interests—I don’t know how they do it. Reviewing has helped me explore new, sometimes challenging perspectives and experiences, and I look forward to seeing what Stephanie sends me next!”


Rob Tench, Old Dominion University Libraries, Norfolk, VA

Assigning reference books is a tough job, but having the help of thoughtful, hardworking reviewers makes it easier—and they don’t get much better than Rob Tench. Since I took over this section, Rob has become my rock. He writes incisive reviews of print books and databases, often taking on multiple assignments simultaneously. As a member of LJ’s Best Reference committee, he surfaces can’t-miss titles: solid, informative resources and whimsical, offbeat selections alike. And an email exchange with Rob never fails to put a smile on my face. He responds to my queries quickly and with good humor. The LJ reference section owes Rob a great debt.—Mahnaz Dar

“I’ve been a reviewer for LJ since 2012 and still get cranked up when I see a title assignment coming my way. Although many folks think reference books are boring, I love them and cannot wait to see the latest and greatest! During the review process, one tries to be as fair-minded and thorough as possible, but it’s easy to slide off the rails at times. That’s when a great editor comes in, and for my money, one could not ask for a better one than Mahnaz Dar. She is patient and supportive with spot-on suggestions. Moreover, she has exceptionally high standards. Forget about submitting clichés or just mailing something in—it will not be accepted. But I love that about her and the LJ reviewing process because it challenges me to do my best! I am so happy to have the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful profession and publication. Thank you for this honor—truly a high point for me!”

This year's Reviewers of the Year were originally featured in Library Journal's Winter 2018 issue.
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