Handbook For Mortals: Book 1 of the series by Lani Sarem

Handbook For Mortals: Book 1 of the series by Lani Sarem, Geeknation Press, 477 pages, August 16th 2017, Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Handbook For Mortals by Lani Sarem is a magical realism novel aimed at young adults. Its purpose is to entice you to see the film that will be made from the screenplay the book is based upon (also written by Sarem). As a series of films are in the works, a series of books based on the screenplays for the films are in the works. This book seems designed largely for promotional purposes. It’s divided into 22 chapters, each based on a tarot card of the Major Arcana of the deck. Note: I read the entire book and am giving my honest opinion of the book itself and only the book from this point forward.

Zade is a young woman raised in Centertown, Tennessee, a town of Christians who despise and bully tarot readers by day, but come to them for advice at night. Her mother raised her alone and they have a few tense moments as Zade insists on leaving town for good to audition in a magic show in Vegas. Zade uses genuine magick, i.e. the manipulation of energy to create supernatural effects, to perform her signature trick. She’s adored by Charles, the producer and lead of the show, and immediately given a generous contract. There are several hunks working on the set, all of whom find her attractive. It quickly boils down to two guys: Jackson, the carefree, rolling stone musician; and Mac, the technical lead who hates her due to his tortured previous relationship, but falls for her at the same time. Jackson is laid back and accepting of others. Mac is logical, judgemental, and abrasive. Since Jackson and Mac met her around the same time, and they’re friends, they develop a ‘let the best man win’ attitude about dating the same girl. Zade knows she needs to choose between them, but drags out the process for several months. Roughly half of the book is dedicated to Zade’s process of fitting in with the show’s crew as she practices her trick for the show and trying to decide between her two boyfriends. The best part of the book is the last 20%. That’s where the plot makes an appearance and things start to get a bit interesting.

The things I liked about this book include Zade’s determination to cut the apron strings and make a new life for herself, her preference to shirk norms and adopt a do-it-yourself attitude, the Vegas show circuit setting, and a magician who is really a magickian. Zade’s self-reliance and positive attitude are endearing traits. On the downside, Zade sure is rude to her own mother in the first chapter. She is obsessed with her own physical appearance and describes herself at length many times. The premise shows promise. With quite a bit of work on the technical side of writing and editing the piece, it could be entertaining.

Although I read an article in which Sarem said three editors had seen her book prior to release, this book does not appear to have been edited at all. It reads like a rough draft that’s never been read by anyone but the author. The story is told mostly in first person with a conversational tone, with Zade breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader. At other points, the text switches to third person and italics. There aren’t many of these sections and I felt most of the pertinent information in the scene switches could’ve been worked into the first person narrative in other ways. Later in the book when her mother tells a story to Mac about the past, her mother narrates the story. This section could’ve benefited from expanding to “show, rather than tell” in flashback form while the “fretting over who to date” portion of the book could’ve been reduced by half. The pacing is off, making the first 3/4ths of the novel a difficult slog.

I’m not sure what the point of having Zade meet Carrot Top and Wayne Newton at the mall was. Even if they’re slated to appear in the movie, the scene serves no purpose. It doesn’t reveal character or drive the plot. It just makes me wonder if Carrot Top lets random strangers hug him at malls. One particular scene that rubbed me the wrong way took place at a lemonade vendor in the mall. A young beverage clerk tries to flirt with Zade who shows no interest back. His co-worker girlfriend gets mad and calls Zade foul names, implying violence may occur if Zade doesn’t magically make lemonade girl’s boyfriend stop flirting with Zade. Zade becomes angry over the girl’s behavior and instead of asking to speak with the manager on duty, she wields magick to explode the lemonade vat so gallons of sticky, delicious lemonade leap forward and knock the girl to the ground. Not only did Zade misuse magick for petty, unnecessary, vengeful, dark purposes, but she wasted all that lemonade.

Now I want lemonade.

You can find this book here: Handbook For Mortals .

For more information on the book’s controversy, check out The Shocking NYT Bestseller Debacle That Won’t Die.

My Rating (Based on My System)

Dimension (characters and setting): 2

Execution (dialogue, prose, originality): 2

Experiential (connection, enjoyability): 2

Technical (grammar, spelling, formatting): 1

Structural (plot, pacing, scene structure): 1

Total: 8/5= 1.6 (2 out of 5 stars)

The Trailer

Another Book Review by Perpetual Fangirl for Handbook For Mortals

Book Description:

Zade Holder has always been a free-spirited young woman, from a long dynasty of tarot-card readers, fortune tellers, 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.

Zade’s secrets and the struggle to choose between Mac or Jackson creates reckless tension during the grand finale of the show. Using Chaos magick, which is known for being unpredictable, she tests her abilities as a spellcaster farther than she’s ever tried and finds herself at death’s door. Her fate is left in the hands of a mortal who does not believe in a world of real magick, a fortuneteller who knew one day Zade would put herself in danger and a dagger with mystical powers…

Handbook for Mortals is the first book in the series of this urban fantasy, paranormal romance series by author Lani Sarem.

Following Zade through the trials–and romance–of finding her own place in the world, readers will identify with their own struggles to fit in, reflected in the fantastic, yet mundane world of Zade’s life.

Handbook for Mortals is in development as a motion picture set to debut in 2018.

About the Author:

Lani Sarem basically grew up in the entertainment industry. She began acting at age three and continued to perform through her early years. Lani began writing scripts when she was eleven. She has developed into a resourceful jack-of-all-trades in the music business. At the age of fifteen, she became a rock n’ rolly gypsy, touring with bands and working on festivals. She’s worked with everyone from Ryan Adams to Gnarls Barkley. She was also one of the youngest female managers in the business with clients that include the Plain White T’s, 100 Monkeys and Blues Traveler. Lani has appeared in films such as Mall Cop 2, Jason Bourne and Trailer Park Shark.

Handbook for Mortals is her debut novel of a series of books, which are also being made into films.

You can follow Lani on her social networks to keep up with her many adventures. Keep an eye out for her at a Wizard World Comic Con near you.



  1. Pingback: The Shocking New York Times Bestseller Debacle That Won’t Die | Leigh Holland Writes!

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read and review this book. I became intrigued when the NYT Bestseller controversy occurred but I wasn’t sure if it was worth my time to read when it’s so long. Given your review, I think I’ll wait see if more editing/rewriting occurs in future editions before checking it out for myself. I’m just glad to have found a review of the book that I can trust!


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