Pandora's Box

The Shaughnessey Accord/The Samms Agenda

Alison Kent
2004, Romantic Suspense
Brava, $7.99, 120 pages
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

In The Shaughnessey Accord, Tripp Shaughnessey, an agent for the mysterious SG-5 organization, has been lusting after local deli owner Glory Brighton. Little did Tripp know when he went in for his daily sandwich that Glory had made up her mind to make her move. When Tripp surprises Glory in the back room hoping to steal a kiss, he finds her wanting more than just a simple kiss. As Tripp and Glory flirt and kiss, the deli is taken over by an unknown gang looking for information in the diner. Glory and Tripp are forced to work together to save the hostages and defeat the bad guys.

In The Samms Agenda, Julian Samms is sent by his boss at SG-5 to rescue Katrina Flurry, the ex-girl friend of the criminal taken down in The Bane Affair - the 1st book in the SG-5 (Smithson Group) series. Julian is not thrilled as all of his information on Katrina makes her look like a high-maintenance and spoiled princess, who hangs out with crooks. Julian arrives just in time to rescue Katrina from a bullet and as they flee for their lives, Julian quickly finds that he has to reassess his opinions of Katrina. Far from being a princess, she is a bright, funny and intrepid partner and their fear turns to passion as they run from a contract killer.

Each of these novellas are approximately 120 pages.

Linda:      This month was a change of pace with two novellas by Alison Kent. I have enjoyed Kent's category Harlequin's, in fact Call Me, with its phone sex, is on my keeper shelf. I certainly enjoyed these stories more than the Bombshell books with similar spy scenarios we read earlier this year.

Blythe:      Phone sex? That one sounds interesting. I'll have to put it on my tbb list. I've only read one Kent before. It was one of her gIRL gEAR books, and I found it outlandish, but pretty fun. I think these two were also in that vein, although the first one worked a lot better for me than the second one did.

Linda:      I liked the format of the SG-5 books, which will extend to at least seven and possibly more, titles. The men ostensibly work for Smithson Engineering, which is a large multi-national engineering corporation run by Hank Smithson. Hank has rescued each of the protagonists from a dire situation and put him to work for his secret group, SG-5, righting wrongs that governmental agencies cannot. Their main antagonist is Spectre, a James-Bond-sounding group that is an international criminal conspiracy.

I thought this was a fun format and I liked both of these books to well enough to read more about the men of SG-5, but I had a nagging problem in The Shaughnessey Accord that made it hard to warm up to the characters. Kent never tells us what they look like except for the fact Glory had black curls (which she mentioned repeatedly) and Tripp was a blonde—I only know that 'cuz he "cocked a blonde brow"–so I assume his hair was the same color. No eye color was given even though they "locked" eyes repeatedly. Julian Samms and Katrina were described completely in The Samms Agenda, but if a description was in Shaughnessey I missed it completely.

Blythe:      I noticed that, but it didn't bother me. Maybe because she described Glory's outfit in detail, short skirt with zippers and all that. I didn't care for Glory's name, however. Imagine the childhood teasing and snickers during the Battle Hymn of the Republic!

Linda:     Yeah, I can imagine that. Maybe it's just me, but I like to picture a couple in my head as I am reading and to do that I need to know what the heck they look like—beyond the fact that he had a nice bod. That said, though, I did enjoy Tripp and Glory's banter—this was a couple that I easily believed liked each other.

Blythe:      What made the story work for me was that they actually knew each other before it started. Tripp had been coming into her deli for weeks, and not just for the great food. I thought the first love scene especially was naughty in a fun way—I could fantasize about it but wouldn't ever do it (at least not at this stage in life). <g>

Linda:      LOL, my husband of 34 years would probably fall on the floor laughing if I tried Glory's approach—it's true, familiarity breeds contempt, or at the very least, laughter .

I did like the fantasy element of the first love scene and the later scene was hot but created a slight problem for me—the graphic use of language to describe body parts and sexual activity—I prefer more romantic language—but that's just me and I know that it will probably not bother most younger readers. I did like the fact that Glory and Tripp had gradually gotten to know each other and liked the fact that each was fantasizing about the other. I liked both characters a lot and would have been happier to see their story in a longer format (with more description).

Blythe:      Well, I am younger than you, and it bothered me too. Although perhaps I should add that my husabnd sometimes refers to me as his "Victorian wife" because of my religious sensibilities. I think if I were truly Victorian, I'd hardly be reading spicy romance novels in the first place, but that's an argument for another time.

There are some terms I can kind of get beyond and accept that many men say them (or at least think them), but try as I might I just can't see c_nt as anything but shocking and degrading. So that was tough for me as well. I thought the short format worked well in The Shaughnessey Accord, though. I don't need a huge dose of hot, heavy, and graphic, but I like Kent's modern style in small doses, and I thought the relationship was at least sort of believable. That anyone would think about sex when they were being held hostage is another matter, but I was somewhat willing to suspend my disbelief on that score.

Linda:      Yes, the first scene when they didn't know the deli had been taken over was fine. But, their torrid kissing after being threatened by a baddie was a bit much. Seemed to me they should have been working on a way out instead of kissing like there was no tomorrow. I am glad to know it isn't just me about that "c-word," I hate it with a passion...and the "p-word," and "f-word" aren't far behind. But, I am sure that people reading erotica won't be bothered in the least about it. This story did work well as a novella, but I liked the couple well enough that a longer format would have worked for me too.

Blythe:      The "f-word" doesn't bother me at all, but I know I've mentioned time and again that I hate the other "c-word," c_ck. I really think d_ck is better, but it's just what I'm used to hearing more, I guess. P_ssy is not a real favorite of mine, but, well, pretty much anything's better than the other one.

Linda:      What did you think about The Samms Agenda?

Blythe:      I didn't like The Samms Agenda as much, mostly because I had trouble buying into the relationship. It all seemed too rushed to be believable, and for some reason the language bothered me more in this one as well. I liked the heroine well enough, but the hero got on my nerves. I can enjoy a tortured hero in some instances, but I thought this guy just needed to get rid of the huge chip on his shoulder. And when he explained his deep, dark secret to the heroine, it didn't even make sense to me. I liked him a little better toward the very end of the book, when he seemed less emotionally distant—but overall I felt it was the weaker of the two stories.

Linda:      That's funny - I liked it the better of the two! Possibly because I felt I really got to know this pair—even what they looked like. I liked Julian and didn't think he had a chip on his shoulder, as he kept reevaluating Katrina as he went along and accepted the reality that she was not the high-maintenance princess that he originally expected. The love story was definitely rushed and I think suffered more from the shorter length than did Shaughnessey, as this couple meets and falls in love, all in 48 hours. I do believe in love-at-first-sight, but this seemed a little over the top for me, too.

Blythe:      I didn't really have a problem with the way he treated Katrina; in fact, I liked that he was willing to admit that his first impression of her was way off base. My dislike was more of a general personality clash. He seemed to have that ‘my past too sordid for me to have a relationship' attitude, and that's not a character type I have a lot of patience with. Also, I just have to mention his annoying—and constant—use of Mandarin. At first I thought he was Chinese, in which case it would have made sense. But as far as I could tell, he was not a native speaker...unless I missed something along the way? Anyway, I just don't know anyone who constantly swears in their second language, or mutters foreign expletives under their breath. My brother speaks fluent Mandarin, and lived in China for two years. I've never heard him use language that way.

Linda:      Yes, that was odd as it was never mentioned he was in China—he was in Africa so it didn't seem to make sense and probably needed an explanation—although it didn't get in the way of the enjoyment of the story. I don't have a lot of patience with the 'I am not good enough for love' hero either, btw, but since this was a short story we didn't have to watch him angst about it a lot and I could understand why he felt guilty. The type of killing he was forced to do should keep anyone up nights thinking about. Even if he had no choice, it shouldn't be something that one could easily dismiss. I also felt Julian was a sexier hero than Tripp—I guess I just like those brooding types with long hair and great bods. <g>

Blythe:      I, on the other hand, don't care for long hair on men (with the exception of Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings). I thought Tripp was sexier in a high-tech James Bond kind of way. Oh, and he was blond, which is always a plus in my book. And was it my imagination, or did Glory have freckles too? Freckled heroines are few and far between, so I tend to really appreciate them.

Linda:      I don't remember freckles and we differ again as I prefer dark haired heroes. Have no idea why, but the only thing I like less than a blonde is a red-headed hero. Just personal preferences in our vision of a hunk, I guess. While I liked these stories and felt Kent did a great job of interesting me from page one, I do wonder about the the cost of them. These books are approx 115-120 pages long, yet Kensington is charging $7.99 for them. I could see them at a later time in an SG-5 anthology at a more affordable price.

Blythe:      I didn't realize they were so expensive. They are trade size, but that doesn't make them any longer, does it? But it seems to me that it's been fairly standard for publishers to charge a little more for erotica. I remember Bertrice Small's books were sold as trade paperbacks way back in the late 80s, and Brava seems to be continuing that tradition. Nonetheless, I don't think I could quite justify the price for these either. I thought The Shaughnessey Accord was pretty fun, but the combination of the higher price and cruder language would probably make me seek out a Harlequin Blaze instead. Those can get pretty hot, but the language is a little tamer.

Linda:      Yes, the language definitely suits me better in a Blaze, but I really did enjoy these stories and plan to find the first book, The Bane Affair.

The books are a little pricey, but I do want to read the rest of the series. I just kind of skim over the language I don't like.

Blythe:      I haven't read The Bane Affair, but I know both Laurie and Ellen did (as did our editor, Sandi, who tells us there is a LOT of sex and graphic language). If I recall correctly, Laurie liked the book a lot more than Ellen did, but also wonders about the high price for these novellas.

Linda:      Well, if Laurie liked it I probably will too—she rarely recommends a book that I don't enjoy. As far as the price, I know that I paid more than usual for the trade paperbacks that were equally short that I purchased from Elora's Cave at a recent event. But, the SG-5 books are labeled "contemporary romance" - not erotica - and nothing in the back blurb clued me in that this book would be more graphic than the usual contemporary. But while both the graphic sex and the price may surprise some readers; I hope they won't be deterred from trying these books. I really like the concept and enjoyed both of these stories and skimmed when the sex got a little too graphic for me .

Blythe:      I would recommend The Shaughnessy Accord for readers who like action romance and aren't adverse to very explicit terminology. The Samms Agenda wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite my thing, either. I'd love to hear opinions from readers who've read both books. Since we're so late with Pandora this month, they'll be able to read the second one pretty soon.

What's up for next month, Linda?

Linda:      Next month we are dipping into the near past with one of my favorite anthologies: The Night Before Christmas with stories by Victoria Alexander, Sandra Hill, Dara Joy and Nelle McFather. While not new, it's still available both new and used on Amazon and I saw it recently at Waldens. Victoria Alexander's Promises To Keep is one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories—right up there with A Christmas Carol and Diana Palmer's Humbug Man. I know this is a mixed bag, but each of the stories have the appropriate dose of poignancy, joy, and let's face it—just plain schmaltz—that makes for a good Christmas story. What is best about this anthology is that you can go from Alexander's sweet, poignant story with an ending that always has me crying and smiling at the same time and then turn to the Dara Joy story and laugh hysterically.

Blythe:      I enjoy holiday anthologies, but I've never tried that one. I'll be looking forward to it. Happy reading.

Order The Samms Agenda from Amazon Books
Order The Shaughnessey Accord from Amazon Books

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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