Pandora's Box

The Spy Who Loves Me

Julie Kenner
2004, Romantic Suspense
Pocket, $6.99, 389 pages, Amazon ASIN 0743446054

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

This book was featured in Pandora's Box for June 2004

Julie Kenner's The Spy Who Loves Me features Phineas ("Finn") Teague, a hero who's dissatisfied with his law career and likes to slip into his alternate, pretend persona of Python, secret agent extraordinaire. When he begins following an attractive woman who he has cast as a villainess, his pretend life and real life collide. The woman in question actually is part of a evil plot, and she's being tailed by Amber Robinson, who really is a secret operative. Action and romance ensue as Finn and Amber are captured together and must figure out how to foil the villains' plan.

Blythe:  I was pleasantly surprised by this month's book, The Spy Who Loves Me. The one Kenner book I'd read previously I didn't much care for, but this one was considerably better. While I do think that the heroine's characterization was a little thin, and that you have to suspend your disbelief a lot, overall I found the book action-packed and entertaining.

Linda:   I am glad that you liked it. I've enjoyed all of Kenner's books and love her sense of humor. Yes, you do have to suspend your disbelief, but I loved the characters and the story was so fast moving that after I finished it at midnight - I was so charged up I couldn't go back to sleep.

Blythe:  I knew you were a Kenner fan. I'm glad this one lived up to your expectations. I found the plot quite clever; I loved how Finn pretended to be a spy and everyone else thought he actually was one. In a way, I could relate. I remember having an active imaginary life as a preteen, always imagining myself part of this intricate international detective organization. I don't recall any of my "cases," but they all seemed to involve glamorous clothes, exotic travel, and buildings with secret passages. When I read Finn's musing about his secret life as "Python," I couldn't help but laugh.

Linda:   Yes, I pictured him as a hunky Walter Mitty - you could almost hear the 'pocketa pocketa' as he clicked into the fantasy.

Finn first appeared in last year's Nobody But You and I enjoyed seeing Jacey, David and Millie from that book. In fact I was hoping that David would get more involved in the plot as he was a wonderful hero also. But, each book stands well on its own and if you enjoyed this one I think you would like the earlier one as well.

Blythe:  I was actually confused during the part with David and the crew. I wasn't exactly sure who they were (especially Millie) But it really only amounted to one scene in the book, so I'd agree that the book stands alone. After reading this one, I'd be willing to try Nobody But You. And at the risk of sounding really stupid, I have to admit that I have no idea who Walter Mitty is. Old TV character?

Linda:   No, Walter Mitty was a short story written by James Thurber that we read for English in high school and became a sort of shorthand for talking about a timid person who dreams of an exciting life. It was made into a movie starring Danny Kaye in the 50s. Walter would just disappear into his fantasy world and each time he went into his imagination with "pocketa pocketa" as I remember.

Finn's experience also reminded me of a favorite movie, American Dreamer; the heroine got hit by a car and thought she was a spy character in a romance mystery. Like Finn her fantasies overlapped someone else's plot and she got into a series of messes. The divine Tom Conti, who I have always thought of as the "thinking woman's hunk," played the hero, who actually wrote the romance novels that were published under his mother's name. So, this book plugged beautifully into several plots that I have enjoyed in the past. The best part was that there were no lags or slow spots in the book at all and yet Finn and Amber stayed front and center.

Blythe:  American Dreamer was one of my college roommate's favorite movies. One time we were watching it in a theater and the sound didn't work, so she yelled out the dialogue for a couple of minutes until the sound came on. I'd forgotten how fun that movie was. I'd also agree that the book never lagged. It was a quick read, and there was always something going on. I could have probably used a little more introspection on the heroine's part; she comes across as a bit remote. You get inside Finn's head a little more.

I saw some of the plot twists coming (the ones involving the agency's mole) but I found all the action and secret agent stuff fun anyway. I loved the final confrontation and Finn's role in it all. I also loved his initial interrogation when they are all impressed at what a tough nut he is to crack...and they don't know that he simply doesn't have anything to tell them.

Linda:   I think a woman with the heroine's history would have a problem "being in touch with her feelings" plus her job demanded that she separate herself emotionally from those around her. What I really liked was her friendship with Brandon, her sometime partner. It was really nice to see a man and woman having a true friendship and I loved their banter. Especially when Brandon was talking in her ear on the radio while at the same time she's flirting with Finn. Part of what made the interrogation scene work is that Finn is a smart-ass, and I do love charming, smart-ass heroes.

Blythe:  Yes, Finn's smart-ass personality is fun. I did find his name distracting, however. My youngest son is also named Finn, and at first I kept picturing him. He's certainly charming and attractive, but four is a little young for love and romance. With his love of weapons (which he did not get from me) and carefree attitude I could see him growing up with a similar personality to the hero. Fortunately, I doubt many other readers have sons named Finn, so this sort of confusion was just my problem.

Linda:   LOL, having met your Finn I think I can guarantee he will be a heartbreaker when he grows up - he's adorable. It isn't surprising that I like smart-asses, as my Dad always said I was a born wise-ass. My youngest son Travis is one also and he's hilarious, but there were a few teachers along the way who didn't appreciate his sarcastic humor. I too identified the mole, but since I usually unravel mystery plots fairly early on, it rarely spoils a book for me. I also loved the villains here; Diana was just a divine villainess and I loved when she dreaded having to go to bed with the nerd.

Blythe:  I kind of liked how she penciled in her villainous activities between spa appointments. Overall, it's a fun book. The plot doesn't really bear close scrutiny (and I'm not much of a fan of made-up government agencies). But I really just didn't care, because I was too busy having fun. On a pure entertainment level, this book really delivers.

Linda:   What I really like about Kenner is that all of her single title books have been completely original and different from the run-of-the-mill romances. Her first single-title The Cat's Fancy was hilarious and I love her Aphrodite series, which sets up a whole society of Greek Gods dwelling under human's noses as their protectors from demons. Kenner created an entire government and reading about the heroes having to fill out a form in triplicate to get a flying cape or other magical device is hilarious. Kenner's sense of humor is delightful and her heroes and heroines are always likable. None of Kenner's books - including The Spy Who Loves Me have ever dragged and are all extremely original. For all of the readers who are looking for something different, Kenner joins the ranks of Lisa Cach, Susan Grant, Janet Chapman, and in her new Maggie series, Kasey Michaels, as writers who are all delivering some very different and entertaining stories. I think Kenner is in very good company indeed.

Blythe:  The other book I read was in the series about Greek Gods, Aphrodite's Passion, was clever, but I never warmed to the hero, who seemed like a big jerk to me. This one worked much better for me. I do appreciate authors who are willing to try something new, or put a unique spin on something familiar. I think The Spy Who Loves Me falls in the latter category. I've read other action/adventure romances that had some similar ideas, but this was both fresh and entertaining. It was definitely head and shoulders above the Gennita Low book I read earlier this year, which also featured an imaginary government agency and political intrigue. I think the reason this book succeeded where the other failed is that it didn't take itself too seriously. There was a lot of subtle humor, and Finn was a hero who could really laugh at himself. The hero of this other book was a real ass who also had an alternate personality: "Dick Hard-on, the ultimate prick." It was an apt name, let me tell you. It's easy to tell which guy I wanted to read about.

Linda:   I am glad I missed Low's book - there's a big difference between a true jackass I usually want to strangle and a smart-ass I want to laugh with. What initially struck me funny was how both the good and bad guys looked at Finn's spotty work history and saw it as a cover for a spy, rather then just a guy who couldn't find himself. It made me think about how many of our files could look to some government bureaucrat. I have had a lot of jobs plus spending 17 years at home with toddlers, goodness knows what they would think of me!

I also loved the prologue it set the tone for the book and as you said this was just a fast and fun read - perfect to take to the beach this summer.

Blythe:  I'm glad we both enjoyed it. So what's up for next month?

Linda:   We are doing something a little different next month - reading two books in the new Bombshell series. The first is Get Blondie by Carla Cassidy, who is a new to me author (although I believe I have some of hers in my large tbr pile). The second is Justine Davis' Proof. I absolutely loved Davis's High Stakes, a great mystery with non stop action and a great couple. The Bombshell series features Buffy or Alias-type heroines; "heroines who know how to kick butt and take names later." Time permitting we will also take a look at new author Judith Leon's Code Name: Dove.

I did just finish a book that I really enjoyed: Catherine Coulter's The Sherbrooke Twins. When I wrote my review I was really tempted to headline it with a twisted version of the Jaws II movie's ad campaign: "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water." I was going to use: "just when you thought it was safe to cross Coulter off your authobuy list she's baaack". I'd almost given up on Coulter, when she turns out a book as good as the beloved favorites like The Sherbrooke Bride, Valentine Legacy, and The Wild Baron. I loved the twins and guess Coulter will stay on my autobuy list a while longer.

Blythe:  Well, even the established authors will be new to me. I'm always up for trying something different, so I'm looking forward to giving these a shot.

Coulter has been off my list for awhile, but I liked the other Sherbrooke books, so I confess that I'm tempted.

Have a great reading month (and good luck moving, too)!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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