Annie's Wild Ride by Alina Adams
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79472-1
***
Let's just say at the outset that I don't like Alpha heroes. Never have, never will. And Annie's Wild Ride features, as Susan Elizabeth Phillips' cover endorsement promises, "the ultimate tough guy." Although I didn't love the novel, I can understand the tremendous buzz it is generating. Alina Adams is an extremely talented author, and one to watch. If Alpha guys are your cup of tea, you will get quite a thrill out of Annie's Wild Ride.

It's been six years since Air Force Majors Paul and Anne Gaasbeck terminated their volatile marriage. With joint custody of their daughter and their airplane, "both of which were named Amelia," relations have remained strained. Then Anne, returning from a brief Christmas Eve vacation with Amelia, flies into a surprise blizzard and is forced to crash land. Seriously injured and freezing, Anne is 100% certain that Paul will rescue them, and she's right on target. Paul immediately springs into action to rescue his ex-wife and daughter, despite prohibitions from everyone he encounters.

Interspersed with Paul's dramatic rescue are chapters flashing back to Paul and Annie's relationship. The two meet as cutthroat competitors at the Air Force Academy, and their competitiveness never relents as they became lovers and then spouses. The highs they experience are matched by the damage they inflict on each other over the years. Anne's wild, reckless, emotional personality clashes repeatedly with Paul's rigid, controlling, honor-bound behavior. Yet intellectually and physically they are perfectly matched. Finally, though, the relationship explodes when both are stationed in the Middle East during the Gulf War crisis. But when Paul rescues Annie they realize they have a lot of unfinished business to cover.

I had no problem rooting for the spirited and intelligent Anne, but I had some serious doubts about Paul. He is, in the words of one commanding officer, "an arrogant, macho fly-boy with a God complex." Although the officer admits that Paul "has the potential to become a human being," that potential is largely unfulfilled for most of the novel. He is a major control freak who stops communicating with Anne every time he fears that she is gaining too much power over him. In the process, he hurts her time and time again until she is convinced that he doesn't care about her.

I know that actions are supposed to speak louder than words, and that Paul's willingness to risk both his military career and his life to rescue his family is supposed to make the reader love him. I know that it takes two to tango, and that Anne is not faultless or blameless in the marriage. I know that in the end, Paul is able to finally let his guard down enough to tell Anne how much her love has meant to him. I know all that. And still I didn't like him.

Part of the problem is that the author fails to provide sufficient justification for his difficult personality - a difficult childhood, a previous broken heart, etc. - that would make the reader say, "well, he had a tough life, so you can understand his behavior." Okay, his father died in Vietnam, but he had a loving, if tough, military mother. Part of the problem is purely my aversion to Alphas. The author flawlessly depicts Paul's character - it's just one I couldn't appreciate. And frankly, I wasn't convinced that the second go-round of Anne and Paul's marriage would be much more successful than the first.

Despite my misgivings about the book's hero, I will readily admit that it is a well-written, intense and fast-paced read that can leave the reader as breathless as its titular roller coaster. Alina Adams has a fresh, energetic voice. She never lets the military jargon get in the way of the story or the characters, and she adds just enough humor to counteract the dramatic confrontations between Paul and Anne. I have no doubt that she will go far in the romance world. I'm not sure whether I'll be along for the ride or not. But if you swooned over Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" and dream about Alpha males, Annie's Wild Ride will undoubtedly satisfy.

--Susan Scribner


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