Reviewers of the Year 2015 | LJ Reviews

Elegant writers, trusted critics, each offering invaluable help to readers, LJ reviewers are essential to the magazine’s success. A tremendous thank you to all our contributors, and special recognition to those who made this year even more outstanding. Interested in joining the LJ reviewing family? Click here for further details.

ljx160101webRevYear2Henry T. Armistead
formerly with Free Library of Philadelphia

My reviewer of the year is Henry Armistead, who has written for LJ since 1969. He is my go-to reviewer on birding, and since that is such a huge hobby, he’s kept busy. He knows about birds, and just as importantly for us, he has a broad knowledge of ornithology publishing, which is invaluable in helping our readers choose the right birding books for their patrons. Henry and his son both got in touch about his nomination.—Henrietta Verma

“In these 46 years, LJ’s editing of my reviews has always improved them, more than I can say for some other venues. My first review book was on a conference for social welfare. I quickly requested only books on birds and nature afterward. LJ has complied beautifully. I was a librarian at Thomas Jefferson University for 26 years, then the Free Library of Philadelphia for ten. I’ve written two collection development articles for the magazine. My personal library has around 3,500 titles on natural history. LJ’s stricture of short reviews imposes a welcome discipline to be succinct yet articulate. Onward, I hope, to 50 years!Henry’s son, George Armistead, a professional ornithologist and the author of Better Birding (Princeton Univ.) and Field Guide to Birds of Pennsylvania (Scott & Nix), comments, “I believe Dad has published more bird books reviews than anyone else, though I cannot prove that. He started the book review column for Birding Magazine and edited that column for a dozen years or so. And he had a review published in The Auk recently, which is the most highly regarded ornithological journal. I knew he’d be working with LJ for a long time but had no idea he’d be doing so for 46 years. Really cool.”


ljx160101webRevYear1Deborah Bigelow
Adult Reference Librarian, Dexter District Library, MI

Dependable, knowledgeable, curious, and creative, Deborah Bigelow began reviewing nonfiction for Library Journal in 1997, taking the helm of the Self-Help column in January 2005. She retired as director of New Jersey’s Leonia Public Library in 2015 after 14 years but has stayed active in the profession as a part-time adult reference librarian at Michigan’s Dexter District Library. Having penned 963 reviews, Deborah rules the realm of self-improvement, which broadens into areas of psychology, parenting, relationships, careers, health and medicine, and more. Her refreshing selection sense and lively reviews help me stay on top of the trends and feel confident that we’re recommending the best of the best to our readers. Thank you, Deborah.
Annalisa Pesek

“One of the aspects I like most about reviewing for LJ is getting boxes of new galleys every month—sort of like a year-round Christmas. When developing my library’s collection, I rely heavily on professional reviews to purchase the best resources for our readers. When choosing which books to review, I look for a unique viewpoint, such as Liz Pryor’s What Did I Do Wrong? When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over (LJ 5/1/06) or Ellen Kirschman’s I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need To Know (LJ 1/7/07). I also select books that come from a variety of voices including Eastern spirituality, cognitive psychology, and pop culture. Reviewing the latest titles helps me keep current and be on the vanguard of societal trends. One of the most rewarding parts of this job is being able to find the perfect book for someone’s situation, whether it’s someone I know or one of the many readers in Libraryland.”


ljx160101webRevYear3Christine DeZelar-Tiedman
University of ­Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis

Strong, well-structured writing and the ability to sum up plot quickly and gracefully, then get straight to the point: thoroughly and thoughtfully evaluating a book’s strengths and weaknesses for a wide range of libraries. In the many years that she has been reviewing for LJ, Christine does it every time. What I appreciate especially is her unflappable honesty in the face of big-name authors or big-budget promotion, and her ability to pinpoint a book’s limitations without condescension while balancing her assessment by explaining how a book does work—if it does. When Christine loves a book, she doesn’t gush but gives me solid, carefully modulated reasons, which means that I can trust what she says—and our readers can, too. Over the years, Christine has taken on a range of challenges, starting with short story collections, then moving on to novelists from Louise Erdrich, John Irving, and Thomas Keneally to Nickolas Butler, Pamela Erens, Boris Fishman, and Zakes Mda—the latter emerging authors she has helped us discover in her clear-eyed way. Indeed, I am grateful that I can throw so many different kinds of books in her direction, books that other reviewers might see as somewhere beyond the mainstream. Thanks, Christine, for the stellar work!—Barbara Hoffert


ljx160101webRevYear4Rachael Dreyer
Head of Research Services, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University

Some reviewers are so good that you do a little happy dance when they turn in an assignment because you know: a) not much editing is required, and b) now you can send this person a new book! Rachael Dreyer is that kind of reviewer. Rachael has covered titles about taxidermy art, outsider artists, installation works, mad artists, yarnbombing, and much more, and handled the subjects with aplomb and sensitivity. That’s why I’m certain she’ll be a fantastic memoir columnist for LJ as well. She’s said she’ll have time to review the occasional “weird art” book as well, which is a good thing for all of us.
Liz French

“I’ve been a reference archivist, a page, a public librarian, and even taught English in Japan for a while. Currently, I spend a lot of time working with primary source materials and interacting with undergraduate and graduate student researchers. I’ve reviewed for LJ since 2011 and loved every minute. I typically read fiction of all stripes, so it’s been enlightening to sample books outside my usual bibliographic menu. I consider reading a lot like taking your vitamins and eating your vegetables: it’s essential to staying healthy, and variety keeps it interesting. When not reading or working, I enjoy garage-saling, drinking strong coffee, and yoga, even though I’m the least flexible person ever. I’m also trying to learn to love hiking, but I’m mostly in it for the snacks (trail mix tastes better outside).”


ljx160101webRevYear5Linda Frederiksen
Washington State University Vancouver Library

The fabulous Linda Frederiksen, head of access services, Washington State University Vancouver Library, has been my go-to reviewer for long-distance running and mountain climbing and more recently thrillers of every stripe. Upon hearing of her selection as Video Reviewer of the Year, she responded immediately—of course. Just a part of why we couldn’t do without her.—Bette-Lee Fox

“The first review I wrote for Library Journal was in 2001 for a short instructional VHS film titled “How To Get a Record Deal.” I was fresh out of library school, in my first academic library position, and desperate for a publishing opportunity that I could list on my annual review. Although the quality and variety of media technology has changed a lot since then, the joy of receiving a package of film titles to review for Bette-Lee has not. During the past 14 years, I’ve reviewed in several other subject areas, including fashion, fitness, travel, and entertainment. While not every title has been an award winner, or even very memorable, I learned something I didn’t know before from each and every one. Whether it was ultramarathon running in the Sahara Desert or the latest BBC police procedural miniseries, each film has been enjoyable in its own way. It has been my pleasure to review these films, and I hope that my recommendations have been helpful to librarians who are building or maintaining video collections in a rapidly changing budget and format environment.”


ljx160101webRevYear6Lynne Maxwell
West Virginia University College of Law Library, Morgantown

Lynne Maxwell is an ideal reviewer—she’s smart, writes well, and meets deadlines—and I always enjoy working with her. She reviews legal titles and psychology books (she wrote the two boxed reviews on the Supreme Court in the August issue, one of my favorite pieces I published in the magazine this year). In these subjects, Lynne is knowledgeable in aspects both popular and scholarly and can make a reference to the “Notorious R.B.G.” Tumblr fit perfectly in a review of a study of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career. Her reviews are consistently excellent, and I always look forward to reading them.—Amanda Mastrull

“My career has been varied and unpredictable, even—perhaps, especially—to me. I began as a college English instructor but eventually reached saturation. I then earned an MSW but discovered I was the world’s worst therapist. Then I went to law school, where my suspicions were confirmed; the law can be numbingly tedious. Along the way, I worked as a bookseller in a (now-defunct) chain. Finally, I realized that I could add an MLS degree to my JD and become a law librarian. And that’s where I am today, having moved from academic reference librarianship to law library administration. I was inspired to try my hand as an LJ reviewer when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer approximately ten years ago. To stave off chemo brain, I decided to channel my passion for critical reading into formal reviewing. And the rest is history.”


ljx160101webRevYear7Michael Pucci
Head of Collections & Communications,
South Orange Public Library, NJ

A relative newcomer to the LJ reviewing family, Michael Pucci won me over with his elegant writing and thoughtful analysis, no mean feat in 200 words or less. He quickly became my main critic for big books (literally and figuratively) such as The Whites, a crime novel by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt (“this ‘debut’ novel from Brandt hews closer to the tropes of standard police procedurals than much of Price’s best work,”) or Don Winslow’s The Cartel (“The staggering body count will be a challenge for many readers to get past, but the payoffs for those who persevere are immense”). But I also trusted Michael’s judgment in evaluating literary first novels such as Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (“the novel’s tone remains optimistic, and its characters retain vast depths of humanity…in spite of their bleak circumstances”) and promising titles from small presses, like Jonathan Papernick’s The Book of Stone (“Papernick’s persuasive insights into the nature of fanaticism and its destructive consequences could be applied to any ideology”). I leave it to Michael to describe what reviewing has meant for him and his patrons.—Wilda Williams

“Having relied on LJ as an essential source for building my own library’s collection, I was privileged to join the reviewing team four years ago, and I’m honored to receive this recognition today. I have been fortunate to read some terrific books by well-known authors, but I must say that it’s even more rewarding to be one of the first readers of a promising debut or an unfairly obscure novel, to look for a diamonds-in-the-rough and become a champion for it. If a book is a conversation between the author and the reader, I’m proud to play a role in getting that conversation started.”


ljx160101webRevYear9Jason Puckett
Georgia State University Library, Atlanta

In addition to reviewing a wide range of audiobooks, both those he has requested and ones I foisted on him, Jason (a 2010
LJ Mover & Shaker) did a terrific Q&A this year with musician Amanda Palmer about the audio version of her memoir, The Art of Asking (LJ 4/1/15). His reviews are always well considered and very well written, making them a pleasure to edit.—Stephanie Klose

“A good audio edition is not just a version of the text that you can enjoy at the gym; when it’s done well, it can be a transformative work or a dramatic adaptation. It’s not a better or worse medium; it is a different way to experience a book, with its own qualities. I’ve enjoyed discovering that. In addition to the fantasy and science fiction novels that I’ve always loved, I’ve been reviewing a fair number of autobiographies and narrative nonfiction the last couple of years, and I’ve discovered I particularly enjoy hearing authors read their own work. The author’s voice can bring a sense of immediacy and reality to a story that isn’t always there on the printed page. Reviewing audio for LJ has exposed me to books I’d never have picked up on my own and given me a fresh appreciation for some favorite authors. I’m honored to be recognized as audio reviewer of the year and looking forward to next year’s new releases!”


ljx160101webRevYear8Michael Rodriguez
Hodges University, Naples, FL

You may know Michael from his work for the Hack Library School blog, I Need a Library Job (INALJ), or the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA). A rising star
in the profession, Michael’s way with words inspires me
to become a better writer. As an assistant professor, e-learning librarian at Hodges University, he has become
an expert on digital services and electronic resources.
His reviewing interests span history, political science, philosophy, literature, and the occasional professional
media book—and he excels at each.—Stephanie Sendaula

“For me, one of life’s happiest moments is opening the envelope containing my next LJ review assignment. Since becoming an LJ reviewer in summer 2014, I have reviewed 25 books, concentrated in the social sciences and humanities. In 200 words (or fewer!), each review must deliver instant understanding of the book’s argument, context, and significance to LJ’s diverse readership. In addition, I strive to dig deeper into each work: assess, contextualize, and even interrogate it. These reviews are the most challenging—and rewarding—pieces of writing I do. Above all, as someone who is motivated by other people, I treasure my relationships with LJ’s wonderful editors Stephanie Sendaula and Amanda Mastrull, along with the books and encouragement they send so thoughtfully. I believe 100 percent in the old saw, paraphrased here as ‘Behind every good reviewer is a great editor.’ Cheers!”

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