Book Review

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer - A Guest Review by CarrieS


Title: Wild Ride
Author: Jennifer, Bob Crusie, Mayer
Publication Info: St. Martin's 2010
ISBN: 978-0312533823
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale Romance

Wild Ride - there's a roller coaster

CarrieS reviewed this book after reading it twice, and her review after the second reading was fascinating: 

I was looking for books to review and I thought, “Hey!  Wild Ride is out on paperback and it’s a new release to the large contingent of people who won’t buy a book until it’s in paperback (me).  Also, I haven’t reviewed a fantasy or paranormal in a while.  Plus it has great geek cred since it lists Joss Whedon in the acknowledgments page.”.  Then time passed, and eventually this book was no longer a new release to anybody.  But, I’m reviewing it anyway, because I had a pleasant surprise when I read it for the second time.  The first time, I expected a Romance Novel and I was disappointed.  The second time, I read it on its own merits and had a total blast.  So, if you passed this book up the first time around, or if you tackled it and were let down, give it another shot, but be prepared for it to diverge from a standard romance novel.

The plot goeth more or less thusly: Mab (short for Mary Alice Brannigan) wanders the United States restoring amusement parks.  While working in the park “Dreamland”, she is attacked by “a giant robot clown”.  Enter hilarious (and very Whedonesque) dialogue.  At the same time, the son (Ethan) of the park’s owner shows up, back from Afghanistan with a lovely case of budding alcoholism and a bullet lodged near his heart.  Hi-jinks ensue as it turns out the the park is the prison of five demons who are kept in park statues and rides, and guarded over by the park owners and employees.

In this paragraph, spoilers abound.  You, dear romance reader, are going to read the very opening sequence with Mab and Ethan and think “Ta-da!  We have the central couple.  they have now ‘met cute’ and will proceed to fall in love.”  Not so fast, Sparky.  Turns out none of the standard romance patterns apply.  Even on my second reading, when I knew what to expect, I found this to be jarring.  It would work better if the romances that do form were better developed, but they seem just stuck in.  It’s not so much a series of clever twists as a series of sort of weird stuff that culminates in the right number of couples.  Even though I kind of liked the couples, I didn’t really get to know them as couples, and I really think the book would have been stronger as a straight up fantasy without the romance elements.  I don’t have any problem with Crusie experimenting with different styles and genres, but I suspect she keeps some romance in to try to keep her audience, and it’s more awkward than it needs to be.

There is a certain group of Crusie heroines that have a marked family resemblance.  If they were all related to Min from Bet Me, then Agnes of Agnes and the Hitman would be Min’s older cousin from the South, and Andie from Maybe This Time would be her older cousin from the North.  Mare, from The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and Mab, from Wild Ride, would be Min’s younger twin sisters.  Crusie’s ability to write great characters with great dialogue remains as awesome as ever and I really enjoyed Mab’s growth as a person.  I also loved, loved, loved the characterization and plot twists with the demons.  Vanth is one of my new favorite characters and I also liked how the character of Flufluns was explored.  Generally in their collaborations, Bob Mayer writes the male point of view, so he would have been in charge of the stuff involving Ethan, and I didn’t really buy his character or the relatively easy way his alcoholism was disposed of.  I had a similar problem with Weaver, a Special Ops person who shows up.  I liked her OK, but I didn’t believe that she was a real person and I wasn’t that invested in her story.  Of the three books Mayer and Crusie have written together this one seemed more Crusie’s book, but overall it was more intermixed than their previous two books.

You’ll notice that I have a lot of positive things to say about dialogue and character but I haven’t said much about plot.  That’s because as far as I can tell the plot doesn’t make any sense.  Some of my favorite lines involve characters, most frequently Mab, pointing out that the plot doesn’t make any sense.  What is enjoyable is the atmosphere, the characters and dialogue, and the theme of shared family.  As a fantasy that is not a romance, the book is really fun.  It’s also funny, sad, exciting, and engaging.  When I read it thinking that it would not be a romance, it was made of win.  As a romance, it’s poorly developed and confusing.  So whether or not you like this book is all about whether or not you expect it to be a romance.

To Jennifer Crusie, I would say the following.  Ms Crusie, I adore your works to a degree that borders on the fanatical.  I buy cheap used copies of Bet Me and force my helpless friends to read it.  I quote you endlessly.  So, rest assured, I am your biggest, but totally not psycho stalker, fan.  But, I couldn’t help but notice that in your last two novels, as you explore genres other than straight-up contemporary romance, the romance element seemed secondary to the actual story and kind of contrived.  It’s OK to just leave it out – that would be better than forcing it.  Or, keep it as a side plot, but keep it there with pride, don’t worry that we’ll stop loving you if you stop writing Romance with a capital ‘R’.  In the words of Buffy, “The thing about changing the world…Once you do it, the world’s all different.”  Rock on with your different badass self and don’t throw in the romance just to keep your audience.  We’ll follow you anywhere because you are the best!

This book is available at Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Catherine says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one.  I put off reading Maybe This Time because my very reliable romance bookseller told me I wouldn’t like it.  And she was half right – I think if I’d read it expecting a paranormal romance, I’d have been quite annoyed by it, but as a ghost story with a romantic side-plot I really enjoyed it.  Oddly, it reminded me a little of Diana Wynne Jones, but I can’t place why.

    I’ll be interested to see what Crusie comes up with next, and whether she stays in the romance world at all, or goes somewhere else entirely.

  2. 2
    Copa says:

    I completely agree with this review, except I didn’t have to read it twice. I got about halfway in and thought “okay, this isn’t really a romance, oh well!” and kept reading it just with a different Happily Ever After in mind. Otherwise you summed up my feelings for this book, and the characters, perfectly.

  3. 3
    Jenniferh says:

    I had similar response, but I listened to the audio book, and had to keep ‘rewind’ it a bit, and listen to it from a different perspective

  4. 4
    Jenny Dolton says:

    Tried it and just couldn’t get through it. And I’m more of a fantasy reader than a romance reader, generally. It just didn’t make any sense, and that drove me absolutely nuts. I don’t mind being confused, as long as the confusion is going to be resolved, or if the author writes in such a way that the confusion makes sense within her world (Patricia McKillip does this to me a lot), but Wild Ride seemed to be bizarre and all-over-the-place just for the heck of it.

    I’m definitely one of Crusie’s fans who is desperately hoping she’ll go back to straight romance because my reactions to her other books range from mild dislike (Unfortunate Miss Fortunes) to extreme dislike (Dogs and Goddesses) to WTF!?! (Wild Ride). And honestly, I’d be totally okay if she and Bob Mayer never collaborated again. Ever.

    Maybe I’m just grumpy this morning… obviously I need to go re-read Bet Me.

  5. 5

    @Jenny Dolton:  This is my response to most things.  “Everything sucks.  Obviously I need to go re-read Bet Me.”  “I’m bored.  Obviously I need to go re-read Bet Me.”  “Snark reserves depleted.  Obviously I need to go re-read Bet Me.” 

  6. 6
    cleo says:

    Thanks CarrieS.  As usual, I agree with your review (it’s kind of spooky how similar our tastes seem to be).  Once I realized that it wasn’t a traditional romance, and I relaxed about that, I enjoyed it.  I haven’t re-read it yet, but it seemed like a book that would do well on re-read.  I loved the demons.  And the waffles.  The plot, not so much.  The romances, not so much.  GI Joe Barbie, not at all.

  7. 7
    kkw says:

    I’m with Jenny Dolton.  No more Bob Mayer.  I’m certainly not reading any more of their collaborations (which I always say and yet keep giving them another chance, but seriously No More).  I wasn’t expecting this to be a romance, and I like plenty of books that aren’t romances, but this was not one of them.  I agree with Carrie S that it would be better to leave out the romance element than keep forcing it, but for the opposite reason – I’m *not* going to read it regardless, so there’s no point throwing sops my way.
    I’m getting grumpy too.  Time to reread Welcome to Temptation, which I might actually like even better than Bet Me but we’ll never know because there is no way to force me to choose.

  8. 8
    Tina Chaney says:

    I have found myself a bit disappointed with Crusie’s latest romances – Unfortunate Miss Fortunes wasn’t particularly engaging and I couldn’t finish the dogs and goddesses one.  (I’m sad about that because I LOVE her other stuff so much.)  I was even more disappointed with Wild Ride.  I was so looking forward to it because I love love LOVE Agnes and the Hitman and I really liked Don’t Look Down, even if it was somewhat uneven.  Then I read Wild Ride (after buying it in hardback, even!) and it was this confused, nonsensical mess of a plot with barely drawn couples that seemed to go together because some flowchart on someone’s office wall decided they’d be “together” and I couldn’t even finish it.  Considering that I wasn’t impressed with the past couple of straight-up romances, either, she’s moved right back to “I’ll pick it up at the library”.  I don’t know what happened with her recent stories, but I do know that my budget is too thin to waste on books that I end up not finishing.

  9. 9
    Bettyfokker says:

    This review was spot on for me … including the fan-girl squee at the end.

  10. 10
    Bettyfokker says:

    I was “meh” about “Don’t Look Down” but I loved their collaboration “Agnes and the Hitman”, and I enjoyed “Wild Ride” thoroughly. I’d buy another Crusie/Mayer that was romantic thriller in a heartbeat, because I feel they have found their voice. YMMV.

  11. 11
    Copa says:

    Maybe This Time is one of my favorites! It was just so fun, I’ve read that sucker 4 times now. Of course I rarely go for straight up romance, I want mystery or fantasy or suspense mixed in, or I feel like the characters are just being drama queens with all their reasons they can’t be together. Though there are definitely exceptions where straight up romance is perfect.

  12. 12
    cleo says:

    It’s always interesting to me when one of my beloved authors (or musicians) starts changing their style / genre / whatever.  In general, I’m in favor of artists not stagnating, not getting boring and repetitious, not always playing it safe, which means that they have to try something different occasionally.  But in practice, I don’t always embrace the change.  Because I liked things the way they were.

    I’ve been thinking about this lately (I think it was a discussion on Jennifer Crusie’s blog that got me pondering this) – there are some authors that I’ve followed through multiple changes and authors that I haven’t.  I’ve followed Barbara Hambly across multiple genres and moods, because I like her writing style and her general attitude / worldview.  Same for Ursula LeGuin and Charles deLint.  I tried a couple of Anne McCaffrey’s non-dragon books and couldn’t bring myself to care about them.  I can’t think of any romance authors that I’ve followed out of romance.  I’ve followed JAK through multiple sub-genres, again because I like her worldview.  If she stopped writing smart quirky heroines, I’d probably stop reading her.  And that goes for Crusie – if she starts writing dark, angsty books I’m done, but I’m willing to follow her across genres if she keeps writing funny, quirky books with smart mouthed heroines.

  13. 13
    cleo says:

    I feel like that too (although I didn’t care for AatH – too many dead bodies).  I haven’t loved all of her newer work, but I keep reading her for the humor and the heroines and her worldview. I think Wild Ride and Maybe This Time were the pay-offs for me.  I’ve been patient with her experimenting, and now she’s hitting her stride again.  And I’d buy her next single title or Mayer collaboration, even though she’s been off my auto-buy list recently.

  14. 14
    MaddBookish says:

    I really like Don’t Look Down and I LOVED Agnes and The Hitman. I love Crusie’s romance books and I’ve enjoyed her co-labs with Mayer, but Wild Ride was a definite let down in the romance department.

  15. 15
    Becca says:

    That does it. <runs bet=”” buy=”” me=”” out=”” to=”“>  I’m in need of some snark.</runs>

  16. 16
    LauraN says:

    What a coincidence!  I just finished rereading Welcome to Temptation and Faking it and am nearing the end of Don’t Look Down.  It’s been fun revisiting Crusie’s work, and I must say that I love her work with Mayer.  But then, I love suspense and romantic suspense, except when it’s ludicrous.  I think Mayer brings an authentic sounding, confident voice to the suspense plot that I enjoy because all too often when I read romantic suspense, I have to start rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness.  Admittedly, I’m talking out of my ass here because holy shit is LauraN not a secret agent.  Or a Navy SEAL.  Or really, any kind of badass whatsoever, no matter how much Buffy I watch.  (I’ve never done it, but I’ve seen it done a thousand times, right?  Right?)  I would humbly ask that anyone who is going to write a romantic thriller would at least familiarize themselves with the conventions of thrillers so that they don’t sound so stupid, though.  I’m sure the actual badasses would still roll their eyes, but the rest of us who just watch the Bourne movies would find the action believable.  Anyway, not everybody can make me believe in the action AND in the romance, but when Crusie and Mayer work together, I believe both.  I haven’t read Wild Ride (Seriously, how did I miss it?), but I’ll certainly be adding it to my TBR pile.

  17. 17
    Liz Blue says:

    Jennifer Crusie is not my bitch.

    Any time she wants to go back to straight romance, I will buy that book in hardcover.

    If she just wants to keep being Awesome on the Internet, that is fine, too. It’s just that I’d like to provide her some of my money in exchange for Stories I Like That She Used to Write But Doesn’t Anymore Which Is OK If Also Somewhat Sad. For Me.


  18. 18
    Aurana Books says:

    You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for the issue and found most individuals will go along with your website.

  19. 19
    peggy h says:

    Let me start by saying—Glad to know I’m not the only person who waits for MMPB to buy a book (I even wait for it now that I mostly only buy e-books, since often the e-book price drops when the MMPB comes out.) 

    I agree—reading this book with the thought that it’s a romance, even a paranormal romance, makes it less enjoyable.  Thinking of it as a paranormal book with some romantic elements (or maybe more like coupling/sexual elements rather than “romance’) makes it a much more fun read. 

    I like Maybe This Time a little more than Wild Ride, though.  However, again…better not to think about it as a romance.

    I know JC’s next project is something of a mini mystery series.  I don’t know how much I’ll enjoy it, though I’ll probably at least give it a try.

  20. 20
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  24. 24
    Lizwadsworth65 says:

    “Of course I rarely go for straight up romance, I want mystery or fantasy or suspense mixed in, or I feel like the characters are just being drama queens with all their reasons they can’t be together…”
    This, so much.  I worked my way through Crusie’s backlist this past summer, and my favorite by far was Faking It (I actually was disappointed by everyone’s favorite Bet Me as there was no murder mystery plot to balance the romance.)  If a mystery series is in Crusie’s future, I’ll definitely be there.

  25. 25
    Copa says:

    My two favorite Crusie’s are Faking It and Maybe This Time.

  26. 26
    Bettyfokker says:

    I am also a Hambly fan, and read her Hamilton historical fiction too. I do miss her fantasy things … but she can rock a historical mystery.

  27. 27
    My3sonsagn says:

    I have loved everything Crusie has written – even the not-romance-romance Wild Ride. I would have loved Maybe This Time (‘cuz I’m a sucker for reunion romances) except for the way the heroine totally shafted the little boy (who definitely had his own problems and fears) in favor of the little girl. The hero’s mother even calls her on it, but it doesn’t change the favoritism the heroine shows the girl.  Maybe it’s because I have all boys, but that pissed me off.

  28. 28
    infinitieh says:

    Since my first Romance read was “Anyone But You”, I do have a fondness for her books.  I loved “Wild Ride” but was only so-so on “Maybe This Time”.

  29. 29
    valor says:

    I think my favorite Crusie is Faking it, although I also brought Bet Me with me when I moved overseas last month (and I only brought 8 books, total, so you know I have Crusie love).
    I have to say, I really like Agnes and the Hitman, b/c it reminded me of what I think is the really twisted moral of Faking It, which is that even criminals and really bad people still deserve love, as long as they can find someone compatibly screwed up. I was not a huge fan of Don’t Look Down, primarily b/c of the sister subplot and also the annoyingly precocious child (she bothered me more than Dilly from Welcome to Temptation, I don’t know why); also, there was an infidelity subplot, and I just can’t stand those.
    As for Wild Ride, I think it really fell down on the Romance (and romance) plots. That said, it really struck me as similar, in some ways, to Terry Pratchett without footnotes, and I just rode it that way. Pratchett books sometimes have romantic elements, which are under-delivered, but since I’m there for the laughs, I’m ok with that.
    I read the note on Crusie’s blog about not reading Maybe This Time as a romance (my local bookstore has never shelved her in romance, which always confuses me), so I went in with that in mind, and yet I love that book as a straight romance. I read the scene where the two main characters talk in Alice’s bedroom by itself, sometimes, b/c it is such a perfect working-out-the-problems scene. Relationships are hard, it says, and you will occasionally screw them up, but don’t let that stop you. I like that.
    A number of people have said they don’t like the Unfortunate Miss Fortunes and also Dogs and Goddesses. I actually do, but I admit to only reading one storyline at a time. After I read the books the first time, I started rereading them as if they were three Harlequins. First I read the oldest sister, then the youngest, then the second sister. so, three shortish books for the price of one. same with Dogs and Goddesses, first I read the baker, then the one with borrowed dog, and then the professor. (we can all tell I’m great with names, right?)  I find it less annoying this way (also, one of the heroes is a math prof, and geeks need love too), and I’m a book skipper anyway. Some books I will only read one scene from at a time, for the emotional punch it gives me.

    and I think that this ridiculous ramble proves that I should not be up so late.

  30. 30
    Sugarless says:

    I actually enjoy her work with Mayer. Agnes and the Hitman remains one of my favorite books of all time – I’ve used it to induct more than one person into the romance world. For me, Wild Ride was something that I enjoyed (because I knew going into it that it wasn’t a romance) but don’t feel the need to read again – much like Don’t Look Down. Agnes though… I’ve reread that more times than I can count.

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