Author Archives: Laura Johnson

Friday Reads: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

FRLiesLockeLamoraI’ve always enjoyed a good adventure tale—swords, boots, sailing ships. These days, many of those are found in the Fantasy genre and often include some magic or monsters as well. Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora fits the bill with the added bonus of a caper. This book is the first in an on-going series, currently three volumes long and looking toward a fourth in 2016. Our protagonist, Locke Lamora, has been raised by a Fagin-esque mentor as a well-educated thief and swindler in a late medieval alternate universe of city states. Much of the action involves Locke and his pals (gang?) cleverly swindling an aristocrat while becoming entangled in lethal underworld wars. Think “Ocean’s Eleven” in tights mixed with a little “Gangs of New York” and a helping of “Game of Thrones.” The twisty fast-moving plot and the charm of the characters carry the book along. Some of the violence is extreme, and the language is salty—although inventive. I listened to the audio version, narrated by Michael Page. The other books in the series are Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves.

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Friday Reads: Consumed by Fire, by Anne Stuart

CoverConsumerbyFireFrom the publisher’s blurb: “As an assassin for the Committee, a covert agency dedicated to stamping out international crime, [James Bishop] had no business even thinking about marriage. But it was the only way to protect Evangeline after she’d unwittingly wandered into his operation against a group of human traffickers.”

Not all blurbs sum up a book that well, but this one tells a potential reader what she needs to know. Does he desert her, and then return to rescue her because he just can’t resist her any longer? Of course. Is she hurt and angry and suspicious of him, but so in love that she’ll forgive him?  Was it really a question?

Anne Stuart is known for bad boy heroes. She’s also known for snappy dialog, fast-paced plotting, steamy interludes, and pushing the envelope. The book read so quickly that I didn’t think about the general improbability of it all and just enjoyed the ride. I’d recommend it to James Bond fans.

This title, the first in the new “Fire” series, continues the world of Ms. Stuart’s popular “Ice” series. It carries the Montlake Romance imprint, part of Amazon publishing. It’s available for Kindle, in audio, or in paperback.

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NPR Readers Pick Favorite Romance Novels

npr-homeNPR Books is offering a list of “100 Swoon-Worthy Romances,” including “a printable list to take to your local library,” so there may be some romance readers browsing the stacks with list in hand.  The list was created with the results of a poll asking NPR readers to tell about their favorite romances.  Historicals seem extremely well represented on the list, but it includes books in Historical, Classics, YS, Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Inspirational, Erotic, Contemporary, and Category areas.  Some of the books are older, since participants were voting in the poll for their all-time favorites, but it might be a good collection development tool if your library would like to beef up its romance section.

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The Scout Report Reviews Public Libraries Online

scoutreportlogoThe Scout Report, that weekly compendium of  reviews of quality interesting and useful Web sites, offers a look at Public Libraries Online, the companion to the Public Library Association’s print journal, Public Libraries.  I almost always find something interesting in the Scout Report, which I get via email.  I really appreciate their help in keeping up, and Public Libraries Online is going on my regular reading list.

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Friday Reads: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

kondobookI am pretty much what my grandmother used to call a “mess pot.” Despite dozens of bins, drawer organizers, labeled shelves, color-coded files, and all my good intentions, my place is mostly a jumble. So, hope springing eternal, when I heard about this book, I knew that I had to read it.

Yes, I was looking for a silver bullet—that one quick, easy, wonderful thing that would transform my life, or at least keep shoes from accumulating under the coffee table. Any book that offered “life changing magic,” well, it wasn’t a wand from Olivander’s, but I was ready to try it.

It’s a little book, didactic (perhaps the result of the translation from Japanese) and charming by turns. Taken literally, I thought it was kind of nuts. Ms. Kondo requires things to be done in very specific ways—and her ways wouldn’t necessarily fit with my mental processes or lifestyle. There are YouTube videos, and plenty of articles and reviews that illustrate. But the spirit of her advice resonated for me:

  • Decide what you are going to keep, don’t decide what you are going to discard.
  • Keep only those things that “spark joy.”
  • Many things are not meant for forever. If something’s time has passed, it’s okay to discard it.
  • Most papers can be thrown away.
  • Tackle organizing and purging by category of items, not by location.
  • Appreciate the things you have and care for them.
  • Store things in ways that make them easy to find and access.
  • Develop habits that make it easy to maintain orderliness.

I felt that the underlying message was to practice mindfulness, to not be overly materialistic, and to make sure that possessions were working for me, not burdening me. So for me, the attitudes were more valuable than the specific methods—although her way of folding and organizing an underwear drawer was pretty slick.


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Juan Felipe Herrera named new U.S. Poet Laureate

The Librarian of Congress announced the appointment yesterday.  Herrera will start in the fall, participating in the National Book Festival on September 5 and presenting a reading of his work in Washington D.C. on September 15.  Herrera, the first Hispanic Poet Laureate, is the author of 28 books of poetry, novels for young adults and collections for children.  See further information about him here.

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Sisters in Crime Love Libraries

Did you see that great article in Novelist’s RA News newsletter about the Sisters in Crime organization? This group of women mystery writers will give a $1000 “We Love Libraries” grant to a lucky U.S. public library each month. See the RA News article (and maybe sign up to get the newsletter in your email) at See more about the SinC grant opportunity at

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Friday Reads: The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold

chalioncoverIn The Curse of Chalion Lois McMaster Bujold, creates a fantasy world based on Reconquista Spain, a world shot through with divinity and magic. The hero, Cazaril, returning home from the wars betrayed by his superiors and broken in body and spirit, finds a new job as tutor-secretary to the royal heiress, and finds something new to believe in and care about as he attempts to guide her through political intrigue and family tragedy.

The world building in the book is well thought out and incredibly detailed. The magic in this world flows from the gods, and is often indistinguishable from miracles. The characters, even minor ones, are well fleshed out; even the villains have understandable motives and emotions. The main plot takes a little time to get rolling, but plenty is happening to keep the story moving along briskly, and the writing is compulsively readable.

Ms. Bujold has set two more books in this same world, Hugo award winner, Paladin of Souls (a direct sequel) and more distantly related, The Hallowed Hunt.

I’m a great Bujold fan, and will read whatever she writes, but this book is one of my favorites.  Chalion is not a brand new book, but it is one worth suggesting to readers looking for a human story set against an epic background, or a fantasy grounded by very human characters.

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Free literature from the Federal Trade Commission

The FTC ftcdbookmarkswill send you booklets, flyers, bookmarks, and other formats, all concerning consumer education topics, such as internet security, debt, and scams.  The publication are available in several languages.  Shipping is free.  Check out their “Free Publications to Share” at



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Edible Books Contest Begins

ediblebooks2015_300Library Thing is sponsoring their 4th annual edible books contest.  If you’d like to show off your baking prowess, get a chance at winning some books, and have a lot of fun, see Library Thing’s blog.  The deadline is April 19.  The picture is of last year’s winning entry, inspired by the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

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Booklist Reader Discusses Hi – Lo Books

BooklistReaderLogoDo you read the Booklist Reader blog?    Recently, it included a short survey of some good hi-lo books–sometimes tough things to find.  Check out “High Interest-Low Vocab Books: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

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Finalists Announced for the Nebula Award

NebulacolorThe Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have announced the finalists for the Nebula Awards in six categories.  Contenders for the awards are nominated and voted upon by members of the SFWA.  Winners will be announced at the Annual Awards weekend the first weekend in June.

Nominees for best novel are:

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu ( ), translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

Nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy are:

Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

For a list of the nominees in all categories, and of past winners, see the Nebula Awards.


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Friday Reads: Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King

bookDreamingSpiesDreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King, is the 13th novel in the popular detective series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic character that he has survived many different authors and interpreters.  The Sherlock Holmes of these books, seen through Russell’s eyes, is a mellower character than the one described by Dr. Watson.  Mary Russell is an intellectual, thoroughly liberated protégé who succeeds as his partner and her own woman.  In this volume, they continue their travels—this time from England to Japan and back.  The book gives a wonderful feeling for Japan circa 1925, as Russell and Holmes get involved with international intrigue, Hirohito, and a ninja.  A book trailer on You Tube, and Laurie R. King’s Website offer a little more information and some marketing material.  King fans will devour this new adventure; those new to the series might find it preferable to start with the first volume, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, in which Russell meets Holmes.
Dreaming spies: a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, by Laurie R King. New York: Bantam Books, 2015.

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Mockingbird Read-Alikes

BooklistReaderLogoWhile we’re waiting for Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird,   Bill Ott offers some Mockingbird read-alikes in The Booklist Reader blog.

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Friday Reads: The Reluctant Widow, by Georgette Heyer

ReluctantWidowThis past week, I was looking for comfort reading while I was home with a bad cold. I suppose everyone has their own requirements for a good comfort read.  For me, that’s almost always an old friend—a book that I’ve enjoyed before.  And if I’ve enjoyed the book previously, then the unfolding of the plot and the building of suspense aren’t so important as how those things happen, so language, the setting, and the way the author discloses details become more important.  Humor is good—and a good-humored outlook is essential.  The characters are important—I want to visit with friends.

Georgette Heyer fills the bill. Ms. Heyer had a long career, writing over 50 novels, a few historicals, some contemporary mysteries, and many titles in the genre she is best known for, the Regency romance.  Many of her Regencies include elements of mystery or suspense (e.g. The Toll-Gate.)  All include a lot of accurate period detail (An Infamous Army includes a recounting of the Battle of Waterloo and has a formidable bibliography.)  Most important, the books are full of witty banter, attractive characters, and fun.  Ms. Heyer herself once said “I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense, but it’s unquestionably good escapist literature; & I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter, or recovering from flu.”

The Reluctant Widow starts with a “meet cute” that’s tough to swallow, but Ms. Heyer brings it off. Elinor Rochdale, a lady fallen on hard times, travels to take up a post as a governess and finds herself, by mistake, at the home of Lord Ned Carlyon, who was expecting a woman who had agreed to marry his dissolute cousin, Eustace Cheviot, so that Ned could avoid inheriting Eustace’s estate. The situation is desperate as word comes that Eustace has been fatally wounded and lies dying.  Elinor is convinced against her better judgment to marry and becomes a widow overnight.  After that, a stolen secret memorandum, a dog named Bouncer, and a midnight intruder keep the book moving along briskly.  And since it says right on the cover of the book that it’s a Romance, “will Elinor and Ned get together in the end?” is not really a question.

The book is almost 70 years old, but its charm is still fresh and engaging. Readers of Romance, Historical fiction, or even Napoleonic War buffs might enjoy it.  A number of Georgette Heyer’s books are available through Nebraska OverDrive.


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What To Do About Tax Forms

The Swiss Army Librarian is discussing how his library is handlingtaxcalculator the shortage of tax forms this year.  Seems the IRS Tax Forms Outlet Program doesn’t have the budget to send all the forms it has been sending to libraries.  So what’s a library to do?  SAL has some ideas and he’d like to hear what others are doing.   If anyone is adept at dealing with shortages, it’s librarians, so this exchange of ideas should be worthwhile.

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Learn at Your Own Pace With SkillSoft Classes

skillsoftlogoSkillSoft self-paced online classes are now available to Nebraska library staff members. The Nebraska Library Commission has signed a contract with WebJunction to provide online classes from SkillSoft, using their SkillPort portal.  There are over 450 classes in the SkillSoft catalog, most of them on desktop or computer-related skills.  So if you want to improve your Excel skills, or learn about  network security or brush up on any of a number of things, these classes will work for you.  Most classes take about an hour to complete.  You will earn C.E. credits.  For more info and to get started, see “Free Online Classes for Library Staff Members!” at

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Friday Reads: The Mark of the Assassin, by Daniel Silva

bookMarkoftheAssassinThis is one of those authors I wish would write faster. I recently discovered Daniel Silva’s thrillers about Gabriel Allon, Israeli spy/assassin and restorer of great masters.  I’m a little late to the party–Silva has made the bestseller lists for years now–but I’ve made up for lost time and binged.  Read–or mostly, listened to–all 14 books in the series (so far.)  Now I’m going back to read one of Silva’s earlier titles, The Mark of the Assassin.  It’s been fun, partly because it contains a number of precursors to the Allon books, and partly because, as with Silva’s other books, the writing is good, the plotting is fast-paced and twisty, the characters are interesting, and the issues and events in the book seem so dreadfully plausible.  There’s plenty of action, but I think The Mark of the Assassin contains a little less gadgetry and hardware and a little more thinking than many spy thrillers.  Silva, Daniel. The mark of the assassin. New York: Villard, 1998.


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Best Books Lists Listed

It’s that time of year when the “best” lists of 2014 are coming thick and fast (although, as Michael points out, the year isn’t over yet.)  In case you’d like to investigate some of these lists, Largehearted Boy has kindly compiled a list of the lists on his blog–577 of them to date!  He’s updating the list daily, and no doubt checking it twice.

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Friday Reads: National Novel Writing Month

NationalNovelWritingMonthCrestIf we talk about books and reading books, at some point writing books is going to come up.   National Novel Writing Month is a challenge and a community and a place to support writing and reading.  If you or any of your library users have ever  thought about writing a novel, November is a great time to start.  And maybe we’ll be reading some of the novels by Nebraska authors that are posted on the site at the end of the month.

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