by Gena Showalter, fantasy (2006)
HQN, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-77129-0
I'm sure you can think of a particularly annoying person behind a fast food counter or at the local grocery store that never fails to get on your nerves. You know, the one that offers slipshod service while chewing gum and eyeing you in a creepy manner? Now, imagine this person being granted superpowers. Welcome to Gena Showalter's Playing With Fire.
Belle Jamison is unable to hold on to a job because, as she puts it herself, she has a tendency to sabotage her own life. She will show up late for work repeatedly despite being warned, "borrow" things like cars from the workplace only to crash them up, and more. Belle's latest adventure in being a failure sees her trying not to throw up as she tries to use her bosoms on the boss in order to avoid being fired when she turns up late one time too many at Grande Mocha Latte. Of course, that's on top of being rude to the customers while serving them the wrong drinks. Belle doesn't see anything wrong in what she is doing, naturally. She's one of those people who think that they are too cool for responsibilities because they are snarky and therefore one of the "cool" people. Ms Showalter then has Belle repeatedly chiming as a recurrent theme in this story that she needs a job to support her elderly father.
As Belle manages to avoid being fired from Grande Mocha Latte, a bizarre (to say the least) situation develops where a scientist ends up slipping some kind of drug into Belle's drink, which she drinks without suspecting anything, and the next morning she's living her own episode of the TV show Heroes. This puts her in the path of collision with Rome Masters, a Man In Black type who's out to zap her. Luckily for her, he likes her and decides that he has some use for her as well.
If the idea of the annoying bag person at the local Wal-Mart who always puts your fruits with your detergent in the same bag suddenly getting superpowers to blow up things is too terrifying to contemplate, be assured that Ms Showalter is a traditional at heart who believes that a woman can never get an upper hand over the hero. It's a pattern I notice in all the books by this author so far: the heroine may have superpowers up to the wazoo but their functions in her stories are for sex games and to be protected and guided by the hero. So, fortunately, Belle is still as dumb as a doorknob even if she can blow up things without much effort. She has only two aspects of her personality evident here: a singular obsession with making her father happy and an equally one-dimensional sarcasm overload. Belle is like a grotesque hybrid of Katie MacAlister and MaryJanice Davidson heroines - stupid and on sarcasm-overload. Sarcasm is fine if the heroine is capable of doing anything, but in this case, Belle is all talk and no action.
The plot is pretty obvious - Belle's father becomes a very obvious albatross around her neck as she scrambles left and right trying to be a martyr just to keep her father safe. Rome is a flat hero - he's just what he is, an action man with more sense than Belle in order to keep her from accidentally blowing up her head while using the toilet.
I don't know. Playing With Fire has very underwritten characters in a very predictable one-dimensional plot and the heroine isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the house. Being underwritten and underdeveloped is one common trend I notice in all of this author's books that I've read so far. There is always not enough depth. Then again, in just two years the author has, what, ten books out? At the rate she's going, she will leave the likes of Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan, and Katie MacAlister behind when it comes to rapidly churning out books like they are undercooked hamburgers done by ridiculously inept and irresponsible cooks like Belle. Perhaps it is time to... I don't know, spend a little more time fleshing out a book before rushing it down the conveyor belt to make way for the next McRomance?
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