The Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem

Lani Sarem spoke at a writers’ conference to give her side of the story about being the only person booted from the NYT bestseller list. She’s a good speaker–engaging, humorous, and credible. From this encounter and her summary of the story, I decided to purchase her book. Hmm…..

I don’t believe anyone edited this book. There are strange errors that are not just typos and cut and paste issues. Although this distracts from the story, it doesn’t affect the coherency, but becomes more of an interesting side note. The narrator of the story learns a secret of her mother’s, but the readers are maddeningly left to figure this out, and only at the end can connect it. The writing doesn’t flow as well for me as I would have liked. Zade (the narrator) joins a magic show in Las Vegas, keeping the true magic of her “illusions” to herself and the show’s founder. The whole idea of a real witch (Sarem doesn’t use the term) in a magic show is fascinating. Unfortunately, Sarem spends the majority of the book on the love triangle, endlessly lamenting over which one Zade should choose.

About 2/3 of the way through the novel, Zade experiences a huge glitch in her “illusion” and must be rescued by none other than her real witch mother. The scene in her home seems to go on and on while Zade lay dying, the timing of which is only explained after the fact. Zade can see everything that happened from the memories of those involved, and this fact is mentioned many times throughout that part of the narrative to remind the reader how she knows. It seems Sarem doesn’t trust her readers. She also spends too much of the story telling the reader how to feel instead of showing the characters’ emotion through behavior. I know she originally wrote this story as a screenplay and it feels like it.

I liked the story. The writing / characters need development, and Sarem needs a good editor and to move beyond obsessing over romantic interests. A writer can show that a character does this without doing it with the writing itself. Two things that stood out: a new character attacked Zade at the mall and barely featured again, with only two slight references; Zade met Carrot Top and Wayne Newton at the mall, for the sole purpose, apparently, of name-dropping in the book, as they simply had cameos in that scene. I expect that Sarem was setting up the attacking character for the next book in the series, but it was oddly glossed over by the main character, who only mentioned it casually after she recovered. The name-dropping was silly. It’s a book.

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