I received a copy of an ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. As always, thank you Netgalley.
What book is this you ask? Well, I got my hands on a copy of one of the most controversial books of 2017: Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem. While I know this book is low rated on Goodreads and Amazon due to the scandal(s) surrounding the author, I tried to read this book for a true and fair rating. Honestly, this book got a bit more than a fair reading from me, as if it had been any other book, I would have marked it as DNF a short time in.
So if you are reading this to see me talk about the scandal, I most likely won’t. If you are assuming this is an anti-Lani Sarem article just because she did something stupid, it’s not. I’ll try to backup how I feel about this book with actual quotes from the book, so expect lots of quotes (because I highlighted a LOT in this book.) I’ll also try to find some nice things to say about this book. But…..this will mostly be a rant.
Book: Handbook for Mortals
Release date: August 15, 2017
Rating: 1/5 Moose
The first nice thing I’ll say about this book, is that this is the calmest I’ve probably been with a 1 star book. I’ve only 1-starred three books this year: one made me angry, one annoyed me, and this one. I went in with no expectations, and thus I wasn’t let down. So, Kudos?
Let’s start with the characters.
Scheherazade “Zade” Ester Holder: That’s Zade as in Z-aide, not Zaad….despite the fact that Scheherazade is zaaad. She’s named for two Queens (Scheherazade is not a princess and never was and I have been studying Arabian Nights for 2 months now so I feel pretty confident saying this?) and is the story’s main character. She’s pretty and beautiful but not to herself — she sees herself as cute and nothing more. She is able to do magick (with a k, so we hear repeatedly). She has anger issues (thinks of punching her mom in the 0 chapter, and then uses her magic to get revenge whenever she doesn’t like something done to her.) And that’s…..about all you need to know about her. You learn more — like that she is “dyslexic” — she used to write everything backwards — but this has nothing to do with the story other than background dumping.
Clark “Mac/Macgyver” Kent: First and main love interest, not to be confused with Cam, who is the hottest guy ever. (And since Zade won’t date someone hotter than her, Cam is not a love interest.) They start out hating each other, eventually bond over superficial things like loving red vines and “crotch rockets” (okay that’s a bit harsh, except they ONLY bond over superficial things?) and while there is a love triangle the entire story, Mac is clearly the more important and obvious guy. Also because he’s a tool and jealous and possessive and that guy always wins.
Also he was in love with a woman name Clara Faust and like…if you are going to commit to a literary theme for your name, commit?
Quote about Mac:
Either way, I noticed that several guys in their show blacks were handsome; one in particular caught my eye for some reason. He wasn’t the most traditionally handsome one of the bunch but there was something really striking about him. […] I’ve always paid attention to [how people walk] and it’s astonishing how accurate it really is — and how few people walk with a confident stride and step — but this guy did in spades, though he also seemed closely guard, which is an odd combination. (Most of the time, super-confident people are much more open and free.)
He was slender and tall, definitely six feet if not an inch or so more, with just the right amount of muscle in his arms. You know, just enough to grab you and hold you tight — but not enough to look like he was stung by a bee and allergic.
Charles Spellman: Can you guess what his job is? He’s the head illusionist in the Vegas show Zade goes to join. He is also *SPOILER ALERT I TOLD YOU THERE WOULD BE* her dad, we come to find out, in case no body could see it coming. He’s dating a woman much younger than him, and comes across as calm and chill and no one intimidates him. Outside of that, the only other explanation given is
Charles was older, but still a very handsome man. I would describe him in a similar way that one might describe Harrison Ford.
….which Harrison Ford? The 70 year old man today? Outside of occasionally singling out Jade to his girlfriend Sophia and Mac’s discomfort, he kind of just floats in the background.
Jackson…….Something. (Milsap, if anyone cares): As Zade and Mac both have names that are borrowed, Milsap is probably a “nod” to Ronnie Milsap, a country singer if you don’t know who that is. And I’d almost bet money on this, as Jackson is the head singer of the house band and the rock band they are outside the stadium. Where Mac is tense and jealous and quick tempered, Jackson (the other third of the triangle) is calm and collected and super chill. He’s also the fictional singer of the very real band, the Plain White Ts.
Charm just flowed out of him the way most people sweat in the sun on a hot August day in Tennessee. It got hot in Vegas, like 124 degrees hot, but it was a dry heat and let me tell you it was not as sweltering as a humid ninety degrees in Tennessee. You will sweat buckets without even lifting a finger the moment you step outside.
Dela Holder: Zade’s mother. She’s also magick, makes a living telling fortunes to people through tarot cards, used to be apart of a traveling circus, and apparently has RUINED ZADE’S LIFE (as she makes it clear in the 0 chapter.) She’s gorgeous and the best at magic and everything Zade has to live up to.
Who else? Well, there are a myriad of dudes who all literally stop whatever they are doing when Zade walks into the room:
Zade walked by on her way to the main stage, moving too quickly to notice the group of men who had all stopped to stare at her.
“God that girl is beautiful! It is beyond that, there is something unique and special about her.” Drew said nudging Mac with his elbow. “Wonder what my chances are. Is she dating anyone?”
The mean girl, aka Sophia aka Charles’ girlfriend, Zade’s mom, the costume woman who annoys Zade because she’s SUPER CHATTY, and the strange girl who randomly attacks Zade with Magick at the mall (who is clearly an overall antagonist but is completely pointless and useless in this book). Basically, it’s full of guys who like and want to date Zade and other females. None of which are important.
Oh, and Wayne Newton and Carrot Top make an appearance that makes NO SENSE. But probably more on that later.
How is the Plot?
Here’s a quick summary of the book, including spoilers:
Zade leaves her home in Tennessee to move to Vegas and join a Vegas illusionist show. She auditions with an amazing illusion, which she cannot tell anyone how it is done because it’s not an illusion, it’s real magick. She then meets two guys who both fall for her and 90% of the book is which guy will she end up with. Then, about 65% of the way through, she attempts a dangerous illusion (magick) and falls into a coma, where the next ……30% of the book is told from Zade’s point of view of the memories she “pulled” from people’s brains. She eventually makes it out and her parents remarry.
The end. Only not, because my book had the first 4-5% of the next book. (I couldn’t finish it. I now believe this isn’t a first draft, but that sneak peak is most definitely an earlier draft.)
- Zade is a Mary Sue, almost to a textbook definition. From Fanlore, a Mary Sue is as follows:
- Unusual hair or eye color, general attractiveness Multi-hue colored hair with perfect bangs, every guy finds her attractive, only she finds herself “cute” so CHECK
- Exceptional abilities, even in a “verse” such as Star Trek where exceptional people are the norm Well, she has magick that has essentially no rules or specialties other than “it does what she wants,” and she’s the best Illusionist ever so CHECK
- An exotic pet No pet, I will admit.
- Being a confidante of one or more main characters Hmm. Everyone loves her, Charles confides in her, Mac confides in her, Riley confuses in her….Check!
- A detailed description of the character There is an entire 0 Chapter that is a description of her….Check!
- Here’s a quote from when Mac stared at Zade while she was getting measured:
Mac could see Zade standing in nothing but her lace underwear and bra as Lil pulled a measuring tape around her narrow waist. Both pieces were black and nude with lace trim and the panties, which were high-waisted cut, framed Zade’s body nicely and showed off her curves and small waist. Lil made a note in her pad of the measurement and moved down to Zade’s hips. Under the bright lights, Zade’s skin looked porcelain white. She was beautiful. She wasn’t supermodel hot but there was something about her that just made her stand out. Mac couldn’t quite put his finger on it but there was something there.
- Zade is also a vindictive and mean Main Character, who never has a character arc and uses her magic to punish people she feels have wronged her.
The biker flipped upside down as if he’d hit a massive pothole that came out of nowhere, or at least to anyone else it probably looked like that. He landed pretty hard on his back, and made a few loud sounds of shrieking pain as the bike crashed into a bench, sending a few pieces in different places. I was fairly certain he wasn’t permanently injured, but he also wasn’t going to be riding anymore today; that’s for sure.
- This is because he hit her on accident and didn’t say sorry. Seriously.
- Can we stop books where all women who aren’t the main character are competition, bitchy stuck up princesses, or obsessive and “too obnoxious?”
- Or they are too vapid and only talk about clothes.
- This book changes point of views frequently, and it’s made visible by italics. However, you’re going to have the entire time she’s in a coma be told from her perspective….of the memories she took from other people…..rather than from THEIR POV?
- First of all, with it from her POV, there is no tension of will she survive. We know she’s alive.
- Which really helps as the entire time she’s in a coma, it’s about how her parents met. Which is apparently SUPER IMPORTANT TO HOW TO SAVE HER LIFE. For…..reasons.
- It’s confusing as fuck because of the tenses changes.
- First of all, with it from her POV, there is no tension of will she survive. We know she’s alive.
- The love triangle is really Mac — Zade — We-need-someone-who-is-opposite-Mac. But Opposite-Mac (aka Jackson) might still be her love interest overall you know. He likes tarot! He likes music! There is really no depth or spark to either relationship other than “we both kind of like things!” Also no sex, which might have made this book better. Or at least solidify it as a romance novel.
- I’ve mentioned it with another book this year, but man can we stop with the constant “I gave him a look that said ____.” “His look clearly said [insert paragraphs of what he could have said but the look cannot get this in-depth people.]”
I stared back at him with the best “Go ahead, I’m nice. Ask me.” look I had.
- Randomly, Carrot Top and Wayne Newton show up. They know who Zade is, she talks to them like they are the oldest of friends. Yet there is no mention of ever meeting them, there is no mention of them again, there is no context as to why this was needed or necessary.
- The beginning of this book makes it seem like the important thing of this book is Zade finding a “normal life,” by being in a Vegas show. Yet there is no mention of the first time she performs for an audience; she’s just automatically famous. In fact, for about half the book I was convinced they were still practicing for her first show. This changed with the mention of her creating a new illusion with Charles.
- You cannot convince me that the author isn’t in love with someone in Plain White Ts and this is a fan fiction of her eventually ending up with the lead singer.
- Are there rules of magic? I don’t know. Can ….someone with magic …..marry a …..mortal? It’s practically a law they can’t. So who makes these laws? Who enforces them?
- This book needs some serious editing. There is randomly a mention of a camping trip that Zade and Mac fight about because Zade planned the trip but can’t go. Two lines later, the camping trip is over and she’s making dinner for him as he’s back in town. Did she do nothing? No. Because Mac gets mad about her going to dinner and a show with Charles. So like, why? It’s like the author wants to put clues and hints (i.e. Zade is spending time with her father) but doesn’t know how to actually incorporate them.
- When Charles admits to Mac he’s Zade’s dad, he literally SENDS THE ER DOCTOR OUT OF THE ROOM WHILE THEY HASH OUT THAT HE’S HER FATHER. Who cares that she’s bleeding internally and from every hole and just what. Also, what doctor tells the family “I don’t know what she has but only House could solve this.”
Quotes That Drove Me Nuts:
The theatre is “in the round” as it’s called, meaning the seats circle the whole state (that is also round) and the seats closest to the state are basically level with the stage. The rows get bigger as they go up and the farther from the stage they are the higher they are, which means the stage is at the bottom of the room.
My editorial note: Stadium. You are describing a “stadium.”
And, as much as I wasn’t always completely accepted by everyone in the town, I still belonged. It was home. I also really loved helping people and guiding them through difficult hardships and to a new place in life where they could be happy. My mom and I had enlightened some people in town and taught them to understand that not everything we are brought up to believe in the world is true.
This comes after a few pages of basically talking about how much she needs to get out of her hometown because it’s not right. Make up your mind, honey child.
He jammed his hands in his pockets, rocked back on his heels in a very “Tad” sort of way, and blushed.
Upon meeting Tad, she knew exactly how Tad should always be.
It almost seemed like it had been planned that, at that exact moment, Mel, another girl Mel, who worked for the show, walked around the corner with a large cake lit with candles.
…..I don’t remember meeting another Mel, never mind the first female Mel.
I felt my right eyebrow rise as I looked into his eyes and my eyelashes bat unconsciously.
Honey, if your body parts are moving on their own, it’s time to go see a doctor.
I instantly looked up at the clock on the wall and realized the clock said five til seven on it. This whole time we had been talking I should have been getting dressed but I was so caught up in the conversation that I had completely lost track of the time. Here I was, not dressed at all.
Just an example of the frequent round about wording of saying the same thing, multiple times. I just can’t imagine an editor looked at this.
“I’ll stop if you let me do this.”
And then he kissed me.
The next day, I had to go into the theatre early to work on the new illusion.
Another example of transition and time issues.
With that he kissed me passionately while bending me back like they do in the movies until my knee popped, which anyone who’s ever seen any romantic movie would know, is a very good thing.
Honey, your foot should pop. If your knee is popping, you’re probably in PAIN.
Lani, you had a good idea. An illusionist who can do real magic? Sure why not! You might have had a good rough draft. But you needed someone to tell you to pick a novel type, and who would tell you no and what to edit.
I don’t fault the people who like this book, just like I don’t fault those who like the other books I’ve one-starred this year. But I also don’t recommend this book.
Finally, you weren’t at Book Con. if you’re all about selling on the convention trail, that should have been a major stop for you. So please, let’s just own up that you messed up on the whole trying to make it seem like you’re a best seller. I guess bad publicity is still good publicity though.