Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cold As Ice by Anne Stuart

Contemporary Romance Challenge: March 2009

(hosted by Brie of Musings Of A Bibliophile – full details here)

Category: Contemporary – Romantic Suspense

Series: Yes – Book 2 of the Ice Series

The job was supposed to be dead easy – hand-deliver some legal papers to billionaire philanthropist Harry Van Dorn’s extravagant yacht, get his signature and be done. But Manhattan lawyer Genevieve Spenser soon realizes she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that the publicly benevolent playboy has a sick, vicious side. As he tries to make her his plaything for the evening, eager to use and abuse her until he discards her with the rest of his victims, Genevieve must keep her wits if she intends to survive the night.

But there’s someone else on the ship who knows the true depths of Van Dorn’s evil. Peter Jensen is far more than the unassuming personal assistant he pretends to be – he’s a secret operative who will stop at nothing to ensure Harry’s deadly Rule of Seven terror campaign dies with him. But Genevieve’s presence has thrown a wrench into his plans, and now he must decide whether to risk his mission to keep her alive, or allow her to become collateral damage…

I read this book with Taja (of Books and Games blog) as both of us have the rest of this series sitting in the TBR pile, and it’s always nice to buddy-read with someone. Please join me in welcoming Taja, my very first guest blogger.

Please be aware there are spoilers sprinkled throughout our joint-commentary below.

Overall impression

Jace: The story started off very well. Both the leads were interesting characters and I was interested in the plot. Then about half-way into the story, I began to smile. Why? Because the characters, and events that unfolded, became somewhat absurd - the story felt almost like a cartoon – and it continued that way to the end.

Taja: I read Black Ice and I loved it. (Read Taja’s review here. Mine is here.)

I got my hands on Cold As Ice as fast as I could and read it a few days after Black Ice, also in a rush. I had one “huh?” moment and there were two things that annoyed me quite a bit (later in the story) which was the reason I rated it 4 out of 5. Overall, I thought the first-half/two-thirds stronger than the last chapters.

I re-read Cold As Ice for this joint-commentary, and my initial opinion has changed a bit. I guess I was still under the influence of Black Ice when I read Cold As Ice the first time. The “huh?” moment – which was at the back of my mind and which I barely registered the first time – grew considerably in proportion. And it's actually not just a moment, it's quite a lot … I thought the story was so contrived!

So after the second reading, my impression of what I thought was the stronger part of this story, suffered a lot.

Jace: You nailed it! I thought the story was "cartoony" but “contrived" is the better word for it.

The plot and characters

Jace: In the beginning, I totally believed in Peter’s and Genevieve’s characterization. He was inconspicuous and nondescript which totally fit his secret agent role. She was a nervy but smart woman – she put on a brave face and made the best of things. I was interested to continue reading.

Taja: I loved that Peter barely registered with Genevieve as an attractive male the first time she met him. He was a "gray ghost of a man". Totally right for his mission (and a welcome change from what usually happens when the hero and heroine meet). I liked Genevieve and agree with what you said about her. I also liked that she was tall and had to wear contacts because I thought it something different. I was especially intrigued by the first descriptions of her.

Jace: Then, my first problem with the story. Peter vacillated between getting rid of Genevieve and saving her. That man was supposed to be a stone-cold agent; he never failed in carrying out his assignment! Heck, he would even have sex with a man in order to do his job. For him to hesitate in sending Genevieve off the boat (in the first place) and getting rid of her (later) was uncharacteristic, and for me, simply unbelievable.

Taja: This part didn't really work for me either – all this waffling around about killing Genevieve! I think it was supposed to show his inner turmoil over Genevieve but I believed in neither his bestest-agent-evah persona nor in his lover persona, so on the whole, Peter's drama failed to really move me because his conflict seemed a bit out-of-the-blue.

Jace: Sure, he would not hurt an innocent bystander – but he also thought “too bad, she was at the wrong place at the wrong time”. This aspect of his characterization reminded me of 2 other Stuart heroes – in Moonrise and The Widow – both couldn’t decide whether to be cold and ruthless or helping/saving the heroines. However, Peter was a much-improved version of the other two, whom I couldn’t stand!

Taja: Yes, I got that he didn't want to kill an innocent but as bestest-agent-evah, he shouldn't really care about that or find a way to get her off the yacht before it was too late, so I agree with you there. The only saving grace is that I think of Cold As Ice as a romantic suspense so I'm a bit more lax about characterization.

Jace: Genevieve spent most of the story being thrown about, drugged and trussed up, didn’t she? Frankly, she became quite a joke. I also didn’t like how mouthy she was – and you know this is one of my pet peeves.

Taja: *grin* I know about your pet peeve. And I suspected this novel would trigger it - at least near the end. The two annoying things near the end that brought the grade down the first time that I mentioned above? It's because of her. Lord, Genevieve was mouthy just to be mouthy and still hadn't a clue later on. My opinion of her changed from rather intelligent to too-stupid-to-live during the later parts of the story.

Jace: Peter and Genevieve were dancing around each other verbally – this was irritating too. They talked and talked in circles, with no real communication between them.

Taja: I enjoyed most of their conversations and Genevieve's comebacks up to a point. But I agree … I, too, didn't see a real connection between them (which made the ending all the more incredulous).

Jace: I honestly couldn’t see why Peter fell for Genevieve, and she him. Which aspect of her made him fall in love? And what did Genevieve see in him?

Taja: On page 138 there's this sentence in Peter's POV … "He just didn't know if he could live without Genevieve Spenser in this sorry world." And I just didn't know where that came from. [I mean to go back and read his POV scenes up to that point to see what I missed.] On the whole, it was like Genevieve managed to get to him and that was it.

Jace: The villain became increasingly over-the-top as the story progressed. In the end, he reminded me of a cartoon villain.

Taja: I didn't care for the way Stuart established Van Dorn as the villain. As you said, totally over the top. What I did like … he reminded me of the villains in the older James Bond movies who had batshit crazy plans to take over the world. Van Dorn's Rule of Seven fits right in with that, IMO, and I liked that. LOL

Jace: Now that you remind me of those James Bond villains ... yes! LOL Entertaining, yes. Convincing, no.

And my final grouse … Madame Lambert. I seriously couldn’t believe her to be the LEADER of a group of stone-cold, hardass secret agents. Her wishy-washy and regretful thoughts had me cringing. I suppose Stuart purposely made her sympathetic and having a heart – after all, she was getting her own story later. But come on, her characterization was just pathetic.

Taja: Again, why did Madame Lambert worry over having Genevieve killed? She gave the order to start with the mission and if she was worried so much about Genevieve she could have waited. I can't remember reading an explanation why they had to up and leave right then and not wait until Genevieve had left the yacht. (It would have been better all around if I had known the reason why they needed to move just then because it would have helped to alleviate my impression that the whole story was really contrived.)

What worked and what didn’t

Jace: These aspects of the story worked for me:

1. When Peter decided to be ruthless and showed it – that was very good. Yes, he was a cold and ruthless SOB, but he was IN CHARACTER.

2. The writing was good – descriptive, brisk and restrained.

3. It was good to see Bastien and Chloe (of Black Ice) again.

4. I’m curious about the born and bred yakuza, Takashi. I’m looking forward to reading his story.

Taja: I agree with your points, especially 1, 2, and 4. In addition, I liked some of Peter and Genevieve's conversations and I liked their verbal dance around each other (all pre-rescue, and yes, even though I couldn't really see why they were attracted to each other, and I thought the whole situation on the island highly orchestrated).

What I didn't like:

1. I thought the story was really contrived as it got going.

2. Being told again and again how Peter was the most efficient and ruthless agent ever (the same goes for Van Dorn's evilness and Madame Lambert's worrying).

3. The danger was missing because the Committee had “gone soft” and Peter's inner turmoil over killing Genevieve couldn't make up for it since I wasn't really convinced of it.

4. I liked individual parts but the whole story just didn't come together.

5. (on a less grievous note) When Peter threw Genevieve glasses away … that was just plain cruel and unnecessary even if her vision wasn't actually all that bad. I just didn't understand why he did it. It didn't serve anything.

Our rating

Jace: Overall, this story was not so good for me.

A weak 3 out of 5. I’m ambivalent about this story. It’s an average read, veering towards problematic. Sensuality: Warm+

Taja: I’m definitely grading it lower this time around. I would go with 3 out of 5 also but for one thing – I remember I was really caught up in the story the first time and I wonder if I had trouble staying with this book this time because the first time I read it was only some weeks ago. So now it's 3.5 out of 5, which means it’s a decent read to me. Maybe I should read it in one year to see what I think then. LOL


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jace, for buddy-reading with me. I had a lot of fun!

And thank you for doing such a good job editing our emails into shape. I know it was a lot of work, especially with my tendency to be rather long-winded sometimes. *g*

If/when we do this again, it'll be my turn to edit. :)

Jace said...

And thanks for agreeing to do this with me. :) Sure, when we read Takashi's book, it's your turn to edit. LOL

Brandy said...

While I appreciate the review, it's just reaffirmed my suspicions that I'll pass on this book. It just doesn't sound like my kind of read. *G*

Melanie said...

Nice review ladies! The next story in the series is better IMO. J, I think you'll love the hero in that one. He's one of my all time favorite heros. It's so rare to find an Asian hero, so he was a real treat LOL.

Jace said...

Brandy: I can't recommend this book - there are just too many things that I don't like about it.

Mel: Thanks, M. :) I hope I'll like Takashi's book more, or else I'll be in trouble ... what am I going to do with Books 4 & 5?! Not to mention all those older Stuart books that we glommed like mad last year?!

Melanie said...

J, We certainly went mad glooming her books LOL! It's strange because I like her books, yet those ones like Nightfall, The Widow, Moonrise just didn't work out. I'm hoping the rest of them go better!

Also, as much as I like her writing, I think I'm going to pass on her new one....the cover is too creepy for me.

kat said...

great job! your review reminds me, that this book (along with the rest of the series) is still sitting somewhere in Mount TBR! I suspect that after your review, it'll collect dust a little longer......LOL

Jace said...

Mel: I certainly hope the older books are better than NIGHTFALL, MOONRISE and THE WIDOW!

Kat: Thanks, K. :) Honestly, I don't think you'll like this one very much. After reading about Madame Lambert in this one, I'm NOT looking forward to reading her story (Book 4) either.

Anonymous said...

It's good to hear that the next one is probably better. I'm actually looking forward to reading it because of the hero. That's not something I can say for book #4 and its heroine. LOL

Melanie said...

Madam Lambert is is hard character to like....till you get to her book. I almost didn't buy it because I couldn't stand her but am so glad I gave it a chance.

She was finally a Stuart heroine that could match the hero if that makes sense? I read Stuart for her bad boy heros, but her heroines are almost always borderline TSTL! I am sometimes left wondering what these "super secret spies" are doing with wimpy, rather silly females LOL.

Jace said...

Taja: Following Mel's comments on Madame Lambert, we should give her a chance, eh? ;)

Mel: Ok, I'll read her book. :) It's already in the TBR anyway. I hope she'll surprise me (in a good way) in her own story.

Christine said...

I know I'm late to the discussion here, but thanks for the review. It's reassuring to see your viewpoints are so similar. Since I haven't yet read any of Stuart's ICE books, I'll probably skip this one. But I admit I'm interested in Black Ice!

Anonymous said...

Jace, sure we'll read Madame Lambert's book! After all, we both have it already. And Melanie's comments also help. Thanks, Melanie! :)

And Christine, you know what I think about BLACK ICE! *g*

Jace said...

Christine, I really liked BLACK ICE. It started an Anne Stuart glom for my reading buddies (Mel, Lisa, Kat) and I. :)

Amy said...

Jace, still around? Haven't seen ya in a while!

Sadly, I have COLD AS ICE on the TBR -- but I don't know which is sadder, the fact that I'm leery of reading it now, or that it's still in the TBR...

Jace said...

Amy, yes, I'm still around. :) Just quite busy with my online shop. Once I have those things under control, I'll be more active here.

Some people did like COLD AS ICE, so don't let this commentary sway you from reading it, since you already have the book. You may like it more than us.