Spy Don’t You Try Something New?

One of the ironic parts about technically having more time to read, write, and generally get my life together, is that I have zero motivation to do so. In the rare moments where I feel a burst of energy to do something - other than internally debate whether I can pull off hot pink eyeshadow - and I pick up a book to read, I inevitably give up, and set it back down within minutes. It's like my brain is filled with benevolent bees. They're not there to sting or harass, they're just noisily buzzing along, making it nearly impossible to think about anything other than, well, the occasional Youtube video about sparkly eyeshadow palettes. 

My creative writing projects have been all but abandoned. My stack of books to read has lessened, only because I grew tired of the library emailing me about all of my overdue items. And let's not even talk about the current state of my apartment, or the fact that I regularly eat icecream for breakfast now. Sometimes, when I'm finishing off a pint of Ben & Jerry's in bed, I think about how my birthday is just around the corner, which means I'm inching ever closer to the big Three Oh, and I should really incorporate green things into my diet. You know, for My Health, or whatever. But that line of thinking only reminds me of how much I love mint chocolate chip icecream, and then I'm back to where I started. 

I'm a mess. The world is also a mess. Lately, I've found myself embracing the chaos, though, instead of subconsciously fighting against this "new normal." It is okay to not be okay, especially when the entire planet is having one long, eternally bad day. I could go on and on and on about the psychological reasons behind a collective lack of motivation, or why it's alright we're not all like Taylor Swift, who utilized her downtime during Quarantine to write, record, and produce an entire frickin album. Instead, I will share with y'all the books that have made my brain sit up and pay attention, the stories that have temporarily calmed the bees, the ones that made me remember how good it can feel to lose myself in a novel.

They all share something in common: spies.

It all started with K.J. Charles, the queen of thoughtfully composed queer historical romance, and her newest release, Slippery Creatures. Set during the 1920s, this book follows the rightfully skeptical, and likeable Will Darling, who has recently inherited a London book store from his deceased uncle. Owning and running a bookstore sounds relatively easy, right? Totally drama-free, right? And yet... This author excels at creating intriguing, twisty-turny plots and her newest offering is an absolute stunner. Inspired by pulp fiction, this book is a fun, page-turning romp, with a generous dose of romance that will keep you guessing. The love interest / main foil / possible enemy (???) Kim Secretan is a fascinating and deliciously complicated character, and one I'm looking forward to spending more time with in the upcoming sequels. 

After gobbling up that book in a matter of hours - spread over two days, because one does need sleep, after all - I reached for Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly. This book and I have a history. This book is one I've been meaning to read for years because a) that cover, I mean, just look at it b) that premise (OMG) and c) it possesses the most perfectly written first page of a book I've ever read. Taking place in an alt-1920s inspired universe, Amberlough has been marketed as le Carré meets Cabaret, which, if that's not enough for you to immediately place this on hold, I'm not sure what else I can say??

There is espionage! There are devious politicians! There is a street-wise, fast-talkin' cabaret singer! There are star-crossed lovers! There is glitter and bright lights and dark shadows! Chockful of adrenaline where the stakes start out high, and only get higher as the pace increases - keeping your heart rate up, up, up - this book, and overall series, is shocking and lovely and immensely satisfying. Reader, I cried. I'm not sure how the author managed to craft a story that is equally thrilling and devastatingly beautiful, but it's one that will live with me forever. A masterpiece.

Which leads me to another terrifically gorgeous little book, This Is How You Lose the Time War. Taking place throughout all of time and history, across planets and universes and entire solar systems, this science fiction novella is confusing, horrible, and somehow... Hopeful? This one is difficult to describe other than *brain explosion* but the story is technically about two rival time agents who begin writing letters to one another, and, predictably, mayhem ensues. Really, this book explores and manipulates what language, and prose, is infinitely capable of doing, and reminds me that, oh yeah, books are really really great

In general, I've found the kind of blood-pumping, heart-racing, edge-of-your-seat kind of books are what I'm drawn to lately when, normally, these are the types of stories I would shy away from. Maybe it's because these books are less about escapism, and more about unflinchingly highlighting all of the good, and bad, humans can do. As it turns out, there is a certain kind of comfort to be found in all the chaos. 

-Kimberly Lopez is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.