Ride Steady (Chaos #3) by Kristen Ashley
Ride Steady is the third installment of Kristen Ashley’s Chaos series.
There’s one bright spot, though--the cheerleading, homecoming queen, quarterback’s girlfriend, Carissa Teodoro. She’s out of Carson’s league, so far as he’s concerned, but she’s nice, and Carson doesn’t get much nice. So he daydreams, draws, and waits for the day when he can make his break.
Carissa and Carson both have their paths laid out in front of them, as far as they’re concerned. Carissa will marry a rich guy, be a beautiful housewife and mother, sail through the rest of adolescence into a picture-perfect adulthood. Carson wants to be a mechanic, and maybe he’ll manage it--but he’s not holding his breath. he figures, more or less, that he’s headed into a dead end.
Of course, we all know that things rarely go the way you thought they would when you were eighteen.
So when Carissa and Carson meet again, years later, they’re hardly recognizable as their former selves. In fact, Carissa doesn’t recognize Carson at all; although that might have something to do with the fact that he’s morphed into a badass biker, beard, tats and all. He recognizes her, though, even after half a decade, a marriage, a divorce, and a baby. She’s still Carissa. Sweet, beautiful, unattainable Carissa, standing on the roadside with a flat tire, and infant on one hip, no wedding ring, and no idea what to do.
Carson--or, as he’s been dubbed as a member of the Chaos Motorcycle Club, Joker--stops to help a woman and winds up face-to-face with the girl who got away. Can he catch her this time? Or has it been too long?
Overall, Ride Steady is more or less Sons of Anarchy: the Novel. I’d say it’s mushier than SOA, but, like, have you seen that show? It’s a soap opera for dudes. The only big division here is that the Chaos MC is comprised of genuinely good dudes, where the guys in Sons of Anarchy are always trying to be the good guys but never quite manage to be. Of course, Chaos has the benefit of being invented from whole cloth by a woman who was custom-designing an MC that would appeal to ladies, so it’s no surprise that they’re seemingly scary but honestly cuddly teddy bear men. “Sure, there are scary biker men out there,” Ashley assures us, “but not these men. These men are all absolute gentlemen who put women first and have no serious, lurking, scary real-world characteristics!” Look. I have a large, fun, and very rough-around-the-edges group of guy friends, and while they are wonderful men and I love them dearly, they’re still human beings. You don’t get a group of guys like this without having a couple that are absolute dicks, or screwed up in a way that’s not going to be resolved by a pretty lady and some well-planned emotional closure. Every lady likes the idea of being the only Belle who can tame the Beasts, but I don’t think it usually goes this smoothly.
Carissa and Carson’s relationship is very, very sweet, though, and despite all the potholes and speed bumps they have to dodge to make it work, it’s almost charmingly mundane. The big biker man settling into family life is, of course, a delightful image, and one that Ashley plays up nicely. Joker feeding babies, Joker being the good guy, Joker being understanding and gentle while all the “conventional” men are being just plain awful.
Beyond the frankly tickling imagery, though, is a well-crafted story of two people looking for second chances, two people who are afraid that their ships have already sailed. Starting again after a divorce, with a baby in tow and no real experience being on your own, is something no woman wants to face. It’s scary, finding yourself alone again after so many years of thinking you’d already found the man you’d grow old with. Carissa is a sweet, infuriating, occasionally immature ball of emotions, and while she can be irritating at times (even to the reader), she’s authentic, if nothing else. A woman who is on her own for the very first time in her entire life--after all, marrying your high school sweetheart doesn’t leave you with much spare time for introspection--is, by necessity, going to be a bit of a mess. Likewise, a man who has raised himself in the shadow of a violent father isn’t exactly going to be the most emotionally mature human being on the planet. But watching them figure it all out is what gives the novel its heart. It’s a good representation of a complicated but engaging dynamic.
Speaking of dynamics--let’s talk bedroom antics. Carissa and Carson definitely have chemistry for days, and their sex scenes are definitely good. I don’t know if I’d call them great; the prose falls off a bit when it comes to horizontal mattress tango, and Ashley gets too tangled up in mechanics for you to lose yourself in the action. The sex isn’t bad, necessarily, just a little distant and wordy, so if you’re looking for serious wank material, this might not be the safest bet. Still, fans of Carissa and Carson will probably enjoy what physicality we’re given.
Ride Steady is a sweet, engaging book. Despite a too-glossy, wish-fulfilling plot, it delivers a solid story with a lot of heart and two leads you can definitely root for. Fans of big, scary men with hearts of gold will be delighted--and the rest of us will probably have a lovely time as well.