Playing James
by Sarah Mason, contemporary (2002)
Time Warner, 5.99, ISBN 0-7515-3205-3

This is Sarah Mason's debut, and I hate to say it, but yes, it can't be any more obvious if someone scrawls "Newbie" across the cover in bright red ink. The characters in this book are very fond of exclamations, and exclamation marks dot the dialogues in this book like carrots in a bountiful harvest. Of course, long time readers of Jayne Ann Krentz may remember that she too was very fond of exclamation marks when she started out, so maybe I should cut Ms Mason some slack even if her characters sound as if they are perpetually surprised! Shocked! Petulant! Ech!

But the biggest annoyance of this book is its overreliance on our heroine making mistakes no woman with even half a brain would do and then smiling prettily and there, there, precious dearie, everything is forgiven because you are so cute, retch gag overdose me with paracetamols please.

Holly Colshannon is our heroine. She is so cute, she can vomit sugar bunnies and make Easter come three months early. When this story starts, her Sluttier Best Friend (TM Boring, Sheeplike Chick Lit Authors Everywhere) Lizzie has a condom stuck up her... um, you know. I will probably go to hell for asking, but I want to know - is the condom full or empty? This story never actually go into details, and I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. At the hospital, she bumps into this unfriendly but so cute cop, Detective James Sabine.

Later, by luck and by being in the right place at the right time, she is promoted at her paper that she works for. She is now a crime correspondent. This is like sending a bumbling klutz into an antique chandelier and glassware store blindfolded. Again, by being at the right place and the right time, she meets the jaded and bored trendy London PR woman of the Bristol Police Department, and the PR woman concocts a scheme that will let her flee back to civilized parts of England ASAP. Now, Holly will do a reality show kind of coverage on a cop's day by day activities, and guess who's the lucky cop. That's right, James.

What's a chick lit without the obligatory disposable significant others, right? James is about to be married in a very short time, and she has a guy named Ben. You can pretty much hear the toilet being flushed.

Exclamation mark overkill aside, Holly is one of those indescribably stupid, perky, and relentless monsters that will charge ahead no matter who gets mutilated or disembowelled in their vanguard, all the while with an insanely cheery smile on their face. James seems to be caught in a permanent scowl or bad temper, and I don't blame him, not when Holly's bungling up messages and orders often end up in him running a wild goose chase. But all Holly does is to smile and dear, dear, what a precious darlin' (Meg Ryan? Hah!) - all is forgiven dear. Don't cry, don't cry, daddy have this big fat lollypop for you to suck... eeuw, I think I just outgrossed even myself.

The romance is pretty much nonexistant as the author is more intent on proving how cool and cynical she is (memo to the author: cynical and so many exclamation marks don't go together at all). Holly is a dingbat, James is an unfaithful louse, and frankly, I believe the disposible significant others are lucky to escape with their sanity intact. Strictly for fans of formulaic chick-lits with the irritating "stupid but precious" quota set on overkill.

Rating: 50

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