Book Review: Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem

Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Gift

Zade Holder has always been a free-spirited young woman, from a long dynasty of tarot-card readers, fortunetellers, and practitioners of magick. Growing up in a small town and never quite fitting in, Zade is determined to forge her own path. She leaves her home in Tennessee to break free from her overprotective mother Dela, the local resident spellcaster and fortuneteller.

Zade travels to Las Vegas and uses supernatural powers to become part of a premiere magic show led by the infamous magician Charles Spellman. Zade fits right in with his troupe of artists and misfits. After all, when everyone is slightly eccentric, appearing “normal” is much less important.

Behind the scenes of this multimillion-dollar production, Zade finds herself caught in a love triangle with Mac, the show’s good-looking but rough-around-the-edges technical director and Jackson, the tall, dark, handsome and charming bandleader.

Buddy read with my boyfriend!

I’ve always envied those that don’t have the desire to hate-read awful books. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year, a month, a week, or even a day where I didn’t have the urge to pick up something terribly written, something that scammed its way to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers List, something that would make me simultaneously laugh, cringe, and shake my head in dismay. At best, I’ve had brief moments where I realized I should read something good. Those moments don’t come around very often.

After one long, arduous day at my desk job where I just sit at a computer and listen to audiobooks all day, my boyfriend and I packed up his car to drive to his parents’ house for the holidays. This might be hard to believe, but we had to carry Christmas presents out the door and down the stairs before we could put them in the trunk of his car, and then after all of that, he had to drive about two hours before we got to our destination, his parents’ house. When we arrived at his parents’ house, where we had been heading all along, we then had to get those presents out of his trunk and carry them up the stairs into his parents’ house. But those presents aren’t really relevant right now, because now I’d like to tell you about my cat.

My cat’s name is Aubrey, and she is not relevant to this story at all, except that she was usually in the same place as we were when we read this book. Currently, she’s sitting in her bed, which is shaped like a watermelon and filled with two teddy bears and a fuzzy blanket because she likes to be cozy. She’s giving herself a bath in a sunbeam and it’s very cute. In case you’re wondering about me, my name is Sara and I was born in Wisconsin before I moved to New Jersey and then Tennessee. I’m wearing black jeans and a sweatshirt with stars and moons on it. My Fitbit is pink today and my socks are purple. My apartment is on the second floor of the building and I work about two miles away, except when I’m not feeling well and I work from my apartment, which is on the second floor of the building.

For a moment I pondered whether I should start writing this review, but I didn’t spend a lot of energy with that thought. Long ago, I told myself that I should write reviews as soon as possible after I finish a book so that I wouldn’t forget everything I’d read and so that things wouldn’t become foggy in my mind and so that I would remember what I’d read about. Eventually I told myself that I should just get started, since I had a few minutes free.

I sat down on my couch, which was gray, and pulled out my gray laptop. I opened it up using my right hand and logged in. After I typed my password in the password box with my fingers, I was greeted with my desktop background, which was a picture of my boyfriend drinking tea. I remember when he sent me that picture, I thought to myself. But never mind that, I had things to do. I clicked on the Google Chrome logo so that Google Chrome would open. Once my homepage loaded, I typed in the URL for WordPress in the address bar. Then, of course, I couldn’t possibly forget to tell you that I had to press the “Enter” key and wait for the website to load. Once it loaded, I clicked on the little number in the top right corner, which was far higher than I usually liked it to be, and by that I mean that I had a very large amount of blog posts in my drafts that would need to eventually be finished. I had been breathing this whole time, by the way. I was taking air into my lungs and then breathing it back out so that my blood could stay oxygenated and I wouldn’t die from carbon dioxide building up in my body.

I quickly realized, after the Edit Post page on WordPress loaded, that I hadn’t finished explaining about the Christmas presents. So, yes, my boyfriend and I were at his parents’ house. It was Christmas morning, and, as is typical for Christmas morning, we were opening presents. I opened a gift from my boyfriend, and it was a copy of Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem. Stifling a laugh, I told my boyfriend to please open a specific gift next. As he unwrapped the paper, which I had so carefully taped around the book using just my fingers and a roll of Scotch tape, my smile grew. He pulled the paper off of the book and instantly knew that it was also a copy of Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem. It was meant to be, I suppose, this buddy read.

Since I finished telling you about Christmas, I guess it’s time now to tell you about this book that I read. It’s hard to say which aspect of this book I should tell you about first, because it’s just so large of a book and it’s just so badly written. On page 119, for example, Lani dedicates an entire half of a page to describing one single shirt. Here is a direct quote from that page, in italics because isn’t it fun to just put whole sections of text in italics for absolutely no reason.

Earlier in the day I had noticed that he had the plaid shirt unbuttoned, showing a white ribbed fitted sleeveless shirt underneath. In the south those types of white undershirts are often called “wife beaters.” It’s a horrible name for anything really but especially a shirt. Though, in every movie I’ve ever seen the redneck wife beater wears one, and without a doubt you call it that and people instantly know what kind of shirt you are speaking about. In the cool night air the long sleeves that had been rolled up had come down and he had buttoned up the shirt, covering up the undershirt.

That was an awful lot of words that Lani just used to describe an undershirt, I thought to myself, but she’s the author and I’m just the reader and what do I know? So I just kept reading. What I learned was that Lani likes to use a lot of really unnecessary words, words that wouldn’t really be required for any kind of comprehension but might possibly paint a better, more well-rounded picture of a situation if they were used to describe something that really could have been described quite adequately in maybe two words or so. I also learned that Lani really enjoys describing clothing in general, but sometimes she goes a little over-the-top and she forgets what she’s describing, so we get a situation where a dress is somehow black and blue at the same time.

I settled on the second of the final two dresses she brought me, a tight-fitting dark blue option that hugged me in all the right places. She was right about it being made for my kind of shape. I had a fun brown leather jacket and heeled low-cut leather boots that would offset the black dress nicely and make it look slightly more casual, though the dress on its own with some nice heels would have looked pretty dressed up.

Oh, let me digress for a moment and tell you a story about my childhood. When I was fourteen years old, I was your pretty standard emo kid from a small midwestern town. I thought that Simple Plan’s “Welcome to My Life” was the height of lyrical depth because it’s true, you don’t know what it’s like when nothing feels alright and you really don’t know what it’s like to be me. Well, one day when I was fourteen years old, Simple Plan decided to go on tour and one of the stops they were making was to a venue called The Rave, which is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is about two hours away from where I lived when I was fourteen years old and about eleven hours from where I live now. My best friend and I convinced our parents to let us go to this concert even though it was on a school night, and so we attended the concert. It was a very good concert and I left feeling even more emo than before. One interesting fact about that concert is that Simple Plan had three opening acts: Plain White T’s, Paramore, and Straylight Run. All three opening acts were very good, and I quickly became obsessed with Plain White T’s. Over the years, I saw them in concert several more times, including with them as the headliner. Their song “Hey There Delilah” became a big radio hit and eventually hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Everybody and their grandmother knew that song, so imagine my surprise when I was reading Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem and right there on page 155 is the show band for Zade’s magic show, a band called Plain White T’s that nobody has ever heard of before. Imagine my further surprise when Tom Higgenson, lead singer for Plain White T’s, was featured as a minor character in that book! So all of this led me to the author’s biography, which said that she previously worked in the music business as the manager for Plain White T’s. I am really happy that Lani Sarem wrote people she actually knows into her book because that is not even remotely creepy, not even one bit.

It wasn’t but a few minutes into writing that review when I found myself sitting on my couch, which was gray by the way, and feeling quite parched. I typically kept some water nearby at all times, but for some strange reason, I didn’t have any water at that moment. I figured I deserved a tea for the suffering I was enduring by writing a review of a book quite so terrible as Handbook for Mortals so I stood up and instantly started walking over to my kitchen. I walked all the way to the end of the room and then opened the furthest back cabinet on the right side of the room, which is where we kept our mugs. I pulled out a mug with my cat Aubrey’s face on it and set some water to boil. I perused our vast selection of teas, eventually settling on a nice lemon peach tea because it was getting late and if I had a caffeinated tea I probably wouldn’t sleep well that night. Then I realized, suddenly and quickly, that my tea situation and all of the words I just used to describe it was not unlike the situation in which Lani Sarem dedicates half a page to Zade getting a lemonade at the mall. Unlike Zade, though, I didn’t get into a fight with another girl over a guy who’s still in high school, mostly because I am in my own apartment, by myself, but also because I probably wouldn’t entertain a teenager who thought I was stealing her boyfriend from the lemonade stand, but more power to Zade for fighting some random teenage girl over a random teenage boy in a mall.

One thing that I have to say Lani does very well is let us know who exactly is in a scene at any given moment because I know I personally have definitely been reading a scene where there is, for example, a date going on and I have pondered and questioned who all of the background characters were in that scene, like the people who were sitting at the chairs in the rest of the restaurant while those characters were on a date. Well, I didn’t need to worry about that in Handbook for Mortals because Lani makes sure to tell us every person who enters and leaves a scene as soon as it happens. Here is an example from page 184 of how thorough she is in her descriptions:

Tad, Mac, Cam, and Riley, along with Jackson and the whole band (Tom, Tim, Mike, Dave, and De’Mar) — and an audio tech named Drew — were all standing around the stage dealing with some work issues.

In case you were worried that maybe Lani only gives us all of the characters in a scene, please don’t panic because she also gives us all of the items. That was a really important thing that I didn’t want to forget to write in this book review so I actually put a white flag with a little blue heart on this next quote that I’m about to share, which is from page 219:

“Thanks, I wanted to look nice, just for you.” He pulled me close, hugged me again, and kissed me this time. We were standing right by the door by a small wooden table where I lay things down when I get home, so things like my keys, mail, and other random things end up there before I put them away. I saw Mac eye what was on the table currently: show tickets from David Copperfield’s show — Charles had taken me there the night before — and a picture of Charles and me at dinner at Table 10, the four-star restaurant where we had eaten after the show. The picture was the kind they take at dinner as the photographer — often called a “camera girl” — walks around and before you have a chance to say anything has semi-forced you to take the photo and then she tries to sell it to you.

Since I brought up my white flags with little blue stars on them, this is probably as good of a time as any to tell you that I found that in this book the writing style really just isn’t very good. In fact, it could probably be described as “awful” or maybe even “in dire need of an editor,” as I will show you based on this next quote, which I flagged on page 297:

“Was that nonsense true, or did you say that for the doctor’s sake — to get him to give us answers?” Mac questioned.

Charles shook his head and very seriously responded, “It’s 100% completely true.”

“Does she know ?” Mac queried

“Yes,” Charles said, nodding slowly and in a flat tone.

I am not an editor — although I would like to be one someday — but I found at least five separate issues in that short excerpt of this book.

  • First, I think that someone might have maybe, possibly given Lani a thesaurus because no character ever “said” or “asked” anything but they frequently “questioned,” “queried,” “responded,” “stated,” “mumbled,” and did any number of things that aren’t just flat-out “saying” and “asking.”
  • Second, Charles is a dignified old man and he’s not my character, I didn’t write him, he didn’t come out of my own brain, but I cannot imagine him ever being compelled to say “It’s 100% completely true” when it would be far more in character for him to very seriously respond, “Yes, it is.”
  • I know that iPhones often put a space between the last word in a sentence and the punctuation, but this is a published book and I hope Lani didn’t write it on her iPhone — although it would be impressive if she did — so I’m unclear on why there is a space between “know” and the question mark.
  • Maybe Lani just added that sentence in at the last minute because it is also missing punctuation at the end.
  • My final point is more related to my history of having studied linguistics in the past, but if you were to map out that last sentence syntactically it would show that Charles nodded in a flat tone and I just wasn’t aware that nods had tones to them. I suppose that it’s possible that Charles has a medical condition that causes him to emit a tone each time he nods, which certainly wouldn’t be the strangest thing that happens in this book because let me tell you nothing in this book makes sense.

A fact I learned while reading Handbook for Mortals, which I am so happy to have spent two months of my life on, is that Alice Hoffman is a witch! I learned this because on page 353, Zade’s mom tells one of Zade’s love interests that a real practicing witch wrote the movie Practical Magic, and since the movie Practical Magic is based on the book Practical Magic, well clearly then Alice Hoffman must be a witch. I am so happy that Lani educated me on this because otherwise I would have gone my whole life with thinking that Alice Hoffman was not a witch when in fact she is a confirmed witch.

In the end, really, I guess what I just need to say is something like, This book isn’t worth it and I would recommend that you stay at least 500 feet away from it at all times, unless you’re looking for something to hate-read. The book has about three pages of plot and the rest is unnecessary descriptions, poorly written and seemingly not edited, with typos and frequent tense changes, sometimes even within the same sentence. It is an absolute disaster of a book made even worse by its author’s bad behavior.

If you stuck with me through this whole review, written in the style of Handbook for Mortals, thank you.

me, with my Aubrey mug, writing this review

Have you read Handbook for Mortals? Can you even believe I finished this thing?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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20 thoughts on “Book Review: Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem

  1. The busy shelf says:

    The second I saw your title I knew I had to read this! I can’t believe you had the patience to write this review, kudos to you! One of the first videos I have seen on Booktube was Caleb Joseph’s review and I died! Then I died again, it was hilarious!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. shereadsshewrites says:

    I need to write my review as soon as I have finished reading my book too. Now I have 4 pending reviews to do. Lol. This is the longest review that I ever read so far. Clearly this book is meant to buddy read with your boyfriend. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bforbookslut says:

    I’m so obsessed with your review. It cracked me up! Now I’m tempted to hate-read this book as well just so I can do my own rendition of Handbook for Mortals sitting on my grey plastic chair and typing on my keyboard which is black.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes! Thank you! You have given me life!

    First of all you have done us a true service here this day Sara. I would like to say that you took the hit so the rest of us didn’t have to but somehow your review has made this even more compelling for me to hate read because gosh – this book truly seems like something *awful*.

    My particular highlight is the list of items that she keeps on the table beside her front door because no one, not one person in the history of this world, has ever had one of those so we needed the help in knowing what kind of things are kept there.

    I’m just applauding you right now!

    Liked by 2 people

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