I managed to catch the most ridiculous, drawn out cold. It lasted for two weeks! I've never taken so much time off work but I did get full use out of my ridiculous adult onesie collection (I've got a shark and a panda, get jelly). I wish I could say I read a ton more books but I was so miserable I couldn't get lost in any book. I did manage to finish a few by the end of the cold, including the Tami Hoag book (Night Sin) I've been keeping in my purse. I'm not rushing to reach any reading goal as I've reached it so I don't know how many more books I'll get to before it's 2020 (!!!).
Ice Blue is a re-read for me. I have a physical copy, an e-book and the audio book. I like audio books but my mind wanders so I tend to only get the versions where I've read the book so it's not a stress. I will say the audio book narrator is really decent in this one. One of the characters is Japanese and the book before had a strong (and not sure if it was correct, it threw me when I first heard it) accent whereas this one is not strong and not verging on a trope).
Title: Ice Blue (#3 in the Ice Series)
Author: Anne Stuart
Page Number: 378 pages (paperback)
Genre: romance, romantic suspense, contemporary
Publisher: Mira Books
Museum curator Summer Hawthorne considered the exquisite ice-blue ceramic bowl given to her by her beloved Japanese nanny a treasure of sentimental value-until somebody tried to kill her for it.
The priceless relic is about to ignite a global power struggle that must be stopped at all costs. It's a desperate situation, and international operative Takashi O'Brien has received his directive: everybody is expendable. Everybody. Especially the woman who is getting dangerously under his skin as the lethal game crosses the Pacific to the remote and beautiful mountains of Japan, where the truth can be as seductive as it is deadly….
This book is set in Japan and in California (and a tiny bit in England). It features two previous characters (you don't have to read the books to understand them but it does add to the story) and features one upcoming character. One main character is named Summer Hawthorne, she works as an assistant curator to a museum in Los Angeles. On an aside, Los Angeles does have several Asian (broad definition here-any country that can be classified as Asian) museums or museum curation of Asian art. I haven't been to any of them but I do go to collections on this coast (and abroad) and it's such a treat. Summer's focus and educational oeuvre is on Japanese art. My guess is that most people have seen some type of Japanese art (or inspiration) without knowing it, for instance, Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawai is ubiquitous and Yayoi Kusama's contemporary installations (video and article) have made international news (they make great selfies...and I admit to desperately wanting to see one). Wikipedia and Japan Objects have a run-down on the history or genres that can be included. I'm nattering on because Anne Stuart mentions some of the objects (ceramics, manga and wood prints) in her book, which as a full on art nerd made me so happy.
Summer is a bit of a mess but with friends and a sister she adores. Her childhood nanny (Hana) has left her a beautiful ceramic bowl that is special to her because it was a gift from Hana not because of the history or any price is could carry. This has caused tension between Summer and her mother and stepfather. Summer's mother has joined a new religion (True Religion Fellowship), ostensibly peaceful but in reality a death cult. She (the mother) has pledged to give lots of money and the ceramic bowl to the leader of the cult, known as the Shirosama, who wants it for a ceremony. Summer is furious (but not surprised) with this request and has maneuvered and placed the bowl in the current curation at the museum to head off requests. The story opens with the opening night of the current show with guests and the Shirosama in attendance. Summer's triumph of keeping the ceramic bowl away from him is tempered by the fact that her house was robbed earlier in the week (she suspects the Shirosama and his goons) and their conversation of where the bowl should end up (he suggests with him, she offers to call the Japanese government to offer repatriation). I believe Stuart mentions the sarin nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo subway and the Aum Shinrikyo death cult at some point in her introduction or author's note. The link between the fictional Shiroshama and the Fellowship and the Aum Shinrikyo were clear.
Without putting too many spoilers in the review here, the next main character is introduced a chapter or two later. His name is Takashi O'Brien and that's not a fully Japanese name. Takashi was introduced in the second book as a member of the committee who helped Peter and Genevieve escape. His backstory was briefly mentioned (Japanese mother, American father, raised in Japan before joining The Committee) but Anne Stuart goes over his backstory again in the book here as well. Takashi is on a mission to stop the Shirosama from receiving the ceramic bowl by any means necessary. He also hopes to discover any information that Hana has told Summer about the site of a hidden shrine where the Shirosama hopes to begin the ceremony (and subsequent terror attacks). Taka doesn't tell this to Summer right away--instead he goes by his cover story of working with the Japanese government in an official capacity as a member of the Japanese Department of Antiquities. This causes tension and distrust between them.
Takashi (Taka) is perfectly prepared to kill Summer but doesn't as be believes she's keeping secrets about the bowl and the shrine from him. The two go to various places near Los Angeles in order to hide from the Shirosama and try and figure out the site of the shrine (Summer doesn't know but Taka thinks Hana has given her a hint somehow). Of course, it wouldn't be en exciting read if the Shirosama and his goons didn't follow and try to stay abreast of the information gleamed. During all this, Summer's sister Jilly goes missing and ends up in the Shirosama's care. He hopes to convince Summer to give herself (and the bowl up) in exchange for Jilly. Their mother has been whisked away by Summer's wealthy stepfather (Jilly's dad) from the Shirosama's influence. Which sounds like caring, but I got the feeling he was more interested in stopping her from giving away their money. In order to save Jilly, Madame Lambert (the head of The Committee) springs a trap in order to save her. This action gives Summer peace of mind to continue working with Taka.
There is romance of course, because who doesn't find their soulmate when running from a psychopath cult leather? Summer is attracted to Taka for all the obvious reasons (he's the hero/anti-hero of her dreams) and Taka is fighting his attraction as well but Summer is a bit frigid and Taka has some bad connections through his great-uncle (a Yakuza leader). The Yakuza can get a romanticized mafia treatment in America so I wasn't sure how Stuart would treat this connection. She goes more for a smaller, more tolerant Yakuza boss. One who doesn't deal in drugs and prostitution, but does do gambling. He works with The Committee (through his nephew Taka and eventually his grandson Reno). In real life I doubt it's that positive, although I couldn't find a picture of Eisenhower with the Yakuza bodyguards like the article said (I didn't look too hard) but this journal said it was planned. My point is that the Japanese government (and the previous U.S. POTUS) have cracked down quite a bit. I think realizing that the Yakuza are not cuddly people is the takeaway of my veer off here.
The end of the conflict with the Shirosama takes place in Japan at a place called White Crane Mountain. I don't think there is a White Crane Mountain in Japan, although there does seem to be one in China. I could gather that Stuart was alluding name wise to something like Himeji Castle (although she doesn't mention castles or Himeji Castle at all in the book). Himeji Castle can be referred to as White Egret or White Heron castle because of its resemblance to a bird taking flight (it's painted in all white). The actual complex is mountainous (and particularly famous as an historic landmark and a tourist destination. As for actual mountains near Tokyo, other than Mount Fuji, there could be Mount Tsukuba, Mount Takao, Mount Mitake, Mount Kinka or any of the peaks of the Japanese Alps. Basically, any mountain might work here as I couldn't figure out which mountain might work for the mythical White Crane Mountain. If you do want to see cranes, the The Kushiro Marshland is home to about a thousand Japanese Cranes, which is not near Tokyo at all but still.
The actual resolution of the book takes place back at Committee Headquarters in the UK. We get to see Jilly and Peter and Genevieve again (although I think the audio book has Genevieve as English accented when she is American but otherwise not an issue).
Even with the change of scenery (Japan, America, UK, France, etc) the first three books follow the same format a bit. Innocent woman gets caught up in an International terrorist scheme, Committee operative decides to kill them, they fall in love, etc. Stuart does shake it up a bit with the next three books (if I am remembering correctly). The format of the first sex scene being a bit grey in consent with the second being more on board is followed as well. I mention it because that might not be a thrilling thing to read about if it bothers you.
The Committee, now under Madame Lambert's control is less bloodthirsty and more save-the-world mode, which is ultimately good but it takes away an edge to the operatives. That being said...Taka is fairly bloodthirsty (he kills about 10+ of Shirosama's followers before they even leave California). Stuart does have some tendencies to the repetitive (if you read enough of her books), a good number of the heroines are neurotic or frigid, sometimes with moments of stupidity (book #2 moment of Genevieve deciding to rush into danger). I've got a soft spot for Summer simply because of her love of art and I don't think she does anything momentarily stupid in this book. She realizes the danger of the Shirosama from the start and realizes that Taka, for all his words, isn't quite on the up and up either. As for Stuart's heroes, in these books they are so atypical to me that I find them refreshing. Well, as refreshing as international spy/assassin/contractor's can be. James Bond without the STDs and willing to settle down and take out the garbage refreshing.
Stuart herself is interested in Japanese music (J-Rock for specifics) and I had to smile. I wouldn't be shocked if Taka and Reno were thought up after some of the musicians she listens to (Gackt, Hyde, etc.) or even Mayavi (actor/musician) who's been in some Hollywood movies. He's probably the most recognizable I think. As much as I enjoyed the setting and the characters and Stuart's writing (always good) this wasn't the strongest romance but it's a neat little book and I enjoyed my re-read of it. I gave it 4 or 4.5 stars in my mind because the enjoyability of Stuart's writing always scores high with me.
There is a quick story Stuart did called Married To It, which takes place after the fourth book but deals with Taka and Summer (and Reno). It's on Scribd and probably elsewhere (and I know Stuart had it on her website for a bit if it's not still there). I can't actually remember that much about it other than it introduces Reno as a main character and shows Taka and Summer getting married.