Wild Ride was my least favorite Jennifer Crusie romance until I realized it is not a romance. I read this when it was first released in 2010. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago because I couldn’t remember much about it other than it wasn’t a great romance, and one other thing I’ll discuss later in the review. Crusie and Bob Mayer co-wrote three romance-adventures/adventure-romances, Don’t Look Down, Agnes and the Hitman, and Wild Ride. They made for an interesting writing pair, but this is the weakest of their collaborations. All of the main characters are great, but the plot is weak, and I’m not sure Bob Mayer was as invested as Crusie.
Crusie’s romances were never standard romances. Even in the most standard of them, the romance was always secondary to character growth. There might be sex, but the real romancing and relationship building didn’t happen until characters were ready to unmask themselves and reveal Truths. One of the true things that was becoming clear to the observant Crusie fan, was that she was becoming frustrated with the genre and wanted to challenge it’s limitations. She teamed up with other writers and she introduced moral ambiguity to some of her main characters. Of all of her collaborations, I think the ones with Bob Mayer work best.
The basic setup is this – an amusement park in Ohio is really a prison for 5 powerful Etruscan demons. Five of the people who run the park are a group called the Guardia, and they are the demons’ jailers. Well, four now, because one of them died before the book began. Periodically, one or two demons will get out and wreak some havoc.
Mary Alice Brannigan, Mab, grew up in the town near the amusement park, but was never allowed to attend because her mother thought it was possessed by demons. Also, Mab was conceived at the park. Now Mab is back as an adult and an artist to restore the park. Ethan’s mother co-owns the park. Ethan is returning home after a disasterous tour in Afghanistan. He has a bullet lodged near his heart and a burgeoning drinking problem. Ethan and Mab are co-lead protagonists, but not ever going to be romantic partners. They are both told about the demons, but it takes a while before they believe.
Both Mab and Ethan have romantic relationships, but they aren’t really comfortable elements of the overall plot. The secondary characters, including the demons are entertaining and complicated. The dialogue is snappy and it was a fun read. As with all Crusie books, it’s really about fixing mistakes, owning the past, accepting who you are, acknowledging but not being ruled by family, and embracing the freedom to grow and change.
The one thing that had stuck with me from my first read of the books was waffles and ice cream for breakfast. Cindy runs the Dream Cream and makes her own ice cream, ice creams that evoke and encourage moods and emotions.
“Hey.” Cindy flipped up the lid on one of the waffle-makers as its light began to blink, pried out two waffles, and dropped them on a plate. Then she opened the freezer case, scooped pale yellow ice cream on one waffle, and slapped the other one on top. She set it in front of Mab with a fork and a spoon.
Mab cut a piece of ice cream–filled waffle and bit into it, the cold high-fat cream flavored with something clean and fresh melting into the hot buttery crunch of the homemade whole-wheat pastry. Not maple nut ice cream this time. “Lemon?” she said to Cindy.
“Lemon balm, poppy seeds, and passionflower.” Cindy put the ice cream back in the freezer case. “I call it The-Kids-Will-Go-Back-to-School-Soon Lemon because it’s very calming. It was popular with mothers the last week the park was open full-time, so I brought it back for Halloween.”
I’ve never been an ice cream maker, but I have been obsessed with waffles and ice cream ever since.
Only one of the romances in this book was necessary and made sense. It would have been a better book without the others. I think the book suffers from having the co writers write co-leads who don’t really interact much until the book is about halfway through. The pacing is off and the switch between characters is jarring. Mab and Ethan would not have made sense as a romantic couple, and they are both written as heavily guarded loners. But the book doesn’t gel until late in the story because the characters the co-authors are writing are too separate. When it does finally come together, it makes pushing through the first 2/3 of the book worthwhile.