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Jealous Haters’ Book Club: Handbook for Mortals, Intro and Chapter 0, “The Fool” or “There Must Be Something More Than This Technicolor Dream Hair Life”

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While I was away on my fabulous vacation and only receiving internet contact from the outside world sporadically, shit. blew. up. Which is how it always happens. Stuff I want to be snarky and sassy about always seems to take place when I’m incommunicado, while the scary, serious shit goes down when I can’t escape it. But late last week, when I heard about Handbook for Mortals: Book 1 of the series (actual title), the literal overnight success that swept up to the very top of the New York Times Young Adult bestseller list to unseat the reigning YA phenomenon, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, I had to get the scoop. Because I, like pretty much everyone who watched the scandal unfold over a few dozen hours, knew in the very bottom of my heart that there was absolutely no way that a book no one had ever heard of, from an author no one had ever heard of, released by a publisher no one had ever heard of, had managed to knock a new American classic out of the #1 slot by playing fair. As the sordid details unraveled, I was glued to my phone.

Unfortunately, I had to do some extreme shit to get a signal.

My pale legs, sticking out of jean cut-offs, shot from straight above as I stand in sun-dappled water.
Standing in the crisp 39º F waters of Lake Superior, for example.

But it was all worth it. Because there’s nothing I hate more than seeing someone game the system to get ahead of other authors who work far harder and deserve it so much more, and on this one, shining, rare occasion, that someone was exposed for their lazy, obvious fraud.

Writer Kayleigh Donaldson did an amazing job of reporting the story, which was broken by author and publisher Phil Stamper, who investigated the details with bookseller Jeremy West. You can read the whole sordid tale here, and I really hope that you do because it’s epic and so full of absurd twists and turns that it could have been a screenplay about a con gone wrong written by Danny DeVito. The basic run down is, bulk orders for Handbook for Mortals: Book 1 of the series started rolling in exclusively at bookstores that report to the NYT list. The book wasn’t available in any physical form at any bookstore, anywhere, and it was listed as out of stock and ranked lower than #100,000 on Amazon, but the bulk order stats boosted the title to the top of the NYT chart. The resulting scandal involved a veritable who’s who of late ’90s, early ’00s people you go, “Who?” about. Like…Blues Traveler is somehow involved, and the chick who played Glorificus on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and culminated in the New York Times revising and printing a corrected list which returned The Hate U Give to its rightful place.

But that’s not all, friends. That is not all. Lani Sarem, clearly aware that a cute white author with quirky hair can usually get away with anything short of murder and win the support of racist garbage people, just so long as whatever the hell it is they’re doing can knock an author of color down a peg or two, decided she was going to play the “poor, attacked” author card. From The Hollywood Reporter:

She believes The Times caved to social media pressure. “My personal opinion: I’m a first time author; I did some great numbers,” Sarem says. “They put me on the list. The list is curated. They didn’t have to put me on the list despite how many books I sold. When these people made a big issue, they were like, ‘This is too much effort.’ ”

That’s right, everyone. The people who objected to lazy, transparent manipulation of the system in an attempted shortcut to literary fame and fortune are just, dare I say it, jealous haters?

“The last book that caused a lot of controversy was Fifty Shades of Grey,” Sarem points out. “And it was caused by the book community because it was nothing like what they’ve put out. Whether you like the book or hate it, you have to acknowledge it outsold everything.” She continues, “I remember seeing an article where someone in publishing said we had to stand up and look at this because there were people out there that wanted to read this and we would never have put it out. That’s what people forget. There’s a world out there of people that read books; they just don’t exist in this little pocket, in this niche.”

Lani. Honey. Sugar. Baby doll. You did not need to make this so easy for Mother Trout.

So, here we are, at the start of another Jealous Hater’s Book Club, skewering yet another con-artist author touting herself as the Lewis and Clarke of an entire genre. Because Handbook for Mortals isn’t just another badly written wish-fulfillment urban fantasy that makes the legendary My Immortal read like Tolstoy in comparison– Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That was a typo. It should have read, Handbook for Mortals is just another badly written wish-fulfillment urban fantasy that makes the legendary My Immortal read like Tolstoy in comparison. In fact, it started out on Wattpad, a site known for fanfic (although it does feature original works), so it has common internet roots with both My Immortal and Fifty Shades of Grey. At least this isn’t a blatant rip-off of someone else’s work, though.

Without further ado, let’s get into Handbook for Mortals!

A blindfolded woman poses atop a precarious structure in front of a large bullseye, which is pierced with knives.

Oh, shit, wait, sorry. That’s The Knife-Thrower by Gill Del-Mace. This is the cover of Handbook for Mortals, a blatant rip-off of someone else’s work:

A blindfolded woman poses atop a precarious structure in front of a large bullseye, which is pierced with knives.

Yeah, Bleeding Cool covered that part of the story.

I want to start off with a look at the back cover copy. Because it’s important to know what we’re getting into.

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.

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.

Oh. Well. I guess we don’t really have to read the book now, do we? Since you kind of just told us everything we needed to know, except for the end, which I guarantee we won’t give a shit about, anyway. Because this book is horrible. But let’s really talk about the fact that the book blurb itself categorizes this as “urban fantasy, paranormal romance,” yet they scammed it on the YA list. Why on earth would anyone want to do that? If you’ve done the recommended reading above, you already know the answer. But:

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

So, it makes sense that since the most recent YA book to hit #1 on the list got a big time movie deal, getting this book to the top would pay off for this one, too. The difference between the legitimate movie that The Hate U Give will be and whatever direct-to-Cinemax low-budget trash Handbook for Mortals is fated to become is that the guy who jizzes into the beer Stifler drinks at the beginning of American Pie is attached to direct and star in Mortals, while The Hate U Give has to settle for Image Award nominated director George Tillman, Jr. and The Hunger Games star, Amandla Stenberg.

Handbook for Mortals begins with a foreword by author Skye Turner (yeah, me neither), in which the pronunciation of Lani Sarem’s impossibly confusing first name is cleared up:

It is Laannee or as she would say Annie with an L, just in case you were also wondering. At first, I wasn’t even sure of the pronunciation of her name…was it Lae-nee or Lan-ee?!

Just in case you’re not clear on how unique and exotic Sarem is, Turner goes on to describe her friend as having “a bit of a g—y soul” and a “nomad life” as a tour manager, as well as how she and Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnniiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeooooooooouuuuuuuuuand-sometimes-y first met:

You see; this bestselling young adult vampire series was filming the final two of the five films in the series near my home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Because my friends were superfans of the series and one the actors in the films, I started a Facebook page for fun.

The actor is Jackson Rathbone, by the way. Twilight fucks us once again. Why do the things I love always hurt me?

Basically, Turner started a fan page for Twilight and then Sarem, who represented Rathbone’s band, got to know Turner through it. Later Sarem helped Turner by beta reading the “International Bestseller” that Turner wrote, which through a little sleuthing appears to be Alluring Turmoil Book 1 Bayou Stix (yeah, me neither). Then Turner returned the favor when Sarem wrote a screenplay called Handbook for Mortals:

She asked me for my opinion on it and though it was vastly different from the novels I write and the process, layout, and depth of description are nothing alike, I devoured the plot. The story was good.

This is somehow both a wildly unsubtle neg and vicious self-burn at the same time.

Gif of Indiana Jones saying, "That belongs in a museum"

Turner goes on to describe how Sarem adapted the screenplay into a book, which is, of course, referred to as her “baby” by Turner.

I told Lani that I enjoyed this book far more than other books of the genre that have exploded. That wasn’t idle talk or a friend telling another friend something nice so as not to hurt their feelings. It was real and it was honest.

Either Skye Turner was tied to a chair in a damp basement, sobbing as she scrawled this out with a shaking hand as she pleaded with her captors to let her live, or she knows the book is total shit and wanted to see her frenemy humiliate herself the way Galinda humiliated Elphaba by convincing her to wear that pointy hat.

As an author myself,

Holy shit, are you an author, Skye? I feel like you haven’t mentioned it yet in this forward to your friend’s book that you are supposed to be writing about your friend and her book.

I tend to be a bit snobbish about books. While I enjoy a good many books for their entertainment value and I absolutely respect every single author that has the gumption to take a chance and put themselves and their work out there, I rarely “love” a book. This is a book I loved.

Handbook for Mortals is a book I cannot wait for you to read. I see big things ahead. After all, who can resist succumbing to a little magick…

Me, peering above a sign I am holding, which says, "ME."

So, let’s head on over to the first chapter, or Chapter 0 The Fool. See, there is a chapter for every card in the Major Arcana. I really hope there’s a lot of tarot shit in this book, because full disclosure, I’ve read cards for like, twenty years now and I’m looking forward to laughing at how ooky spooky interesting it makes someone.

I’ve always envied those with normal lives. I don’t think I’ve ever even had a normal month, a plain week, or an average day. At best, I’ve had brief normal moments here and there.

98% of these brief normal moments have occurred at a Hot Topic.

I’m sure most people would envy me, but some days I think I’d trade places in a heartbeat.

Woe is me, the object of everyone’s envy.

To me, those moments of feeling normal or getting to do average things have always felt like a cool sparse breeze on the hottest summer day, or the first breath you take after holding it underwater for as long as you can.

Or whatever other metaphor that comes to mind without too much thought.

The grass is always greener, so to speak.

Right, like that one.

I won’t cover everything that has been crazy or unusual in my life.

I’m on page two and I feel like you literally have already done that. Our narrator tells us that if she tried to list all the ways she’s not normal, the book would be much longer. I’m already considering sending her a thank you card for sparing us.

Instead, I’ll start on the day I left home. It marked a turning point–a fork in the road, if you will.

Somebody bought Lani Sarem the Trite Metaphor A Day calendar. I’m not saying it was Skye Turner, but it was probably Skye Turner. But the bold choice to tell the reader when the story starts instead of just starting the story there is probably all Sarem’s work.

Ever try really hard to make something happen, but no matter what you do you can’t seem to make it work? You fight and kick and scream, but you end up right where you’re supposed to be–which might not be where you want to be. That’s when Destiny has grabbed your hand and said, “Hey! You’re coming with me!”

I know exactly how that feels. I felt it when I downloaded the sample of this book. And here we are now.

Now that the future and destiny and shit has been covered, we launch into the past with a poignant reflection on memory. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of memory, don’t worry. The author will explain it for you. Four. Times.

People say some memories will stick with you forever. They burn brightly in your mind and each detail is as clear as the day it happened. Each color, each smell, the way things felt, the way you felt–it all pierces your mind each time you think about it. You can practically place yourself there at that moment, as if it were happening all over again. Close your eyes and breathe in deep and all of a sudden you are back in that time and that place.

I want to point out that at 3% into the book, the story hasn’t started and nothing has happened except the narrator talking directly at us about the story she’s going to get around to telling.

For me, I will never forget one particular July morning;

Okay, here we go, guys.

the grey clouds that hovered over the ancient trees lining the street; the wind that blew swiflty through my blonde hair.

Finally, we’re getting somewhere.

It also spun about the chunky pieces on the lower half of my long hair, which I had dyed to be a multitude of fun colors. Today they were pink, purple, blue, and turquoise green, but I have a habit of changing colors frequently.

Son of a bitch.

My perfectly cut bangs stayed mostly unaffected by the wind except for a few squirrely pieces.

A photo of a woman who is exactly the person described in the book.

See that? That’s author Lani Sarem, with the chunky dyed pieces of blue at the bottom of her long, blonde hair, complete with perfectly cut bangs. It bears noting that Lani Sarem is slated for the starring role in the movie adaption of her book. There has never, in all of recorded human history, ever been so obvious a self-insert character.

Well, I mean, except for all those novels where middle-aged writers or professors end up having affairs with much younger women, but I didn’t have time to count all of those and give our narrator an actual rank.

So, anyway, a storm’s a-brewin’, but that doesn’t bother Lani:

Most people prefer sunny days and puffy white clouds, but not me.

Of course not. You’re unique.

After a paragraph about how storms are so amazing because something magical and unexpected might happen (and of course it makes complete sense for our heroine who longs for a normal life like everyone else’s to really enjoy the possibility of weird, paranormal shit happening), we move on to the story.

SIKE! We can’t possibly get into the story if we don’t know the history of the town:

I’d lived in that one-horse southern town my whole life, practically a quarter of a century.

Which town? That town. The one that Lani has already told us she’s leaving, but which we need to know the history of, including the fact that her ancestors founded it and it was once the Tennessee state capital before Andrew Jackson changed it.

Lani informs us that her mother is the “area tarot card reader and spell caster” and that people in town don’t approve of them. They still seek her mother’s advice and help, as do people from all over the state and beyond. There are a few lines about notable soothsayers in the Bible which read like a rebellious Christian teen’s defense of her Ouija board and incense, and a condemnation of the hypocrisy of the townsfolk.

That might be the worst part, knowing they actually believe in it as well but they are all just afraid to admit it. Though if they really knew what we actually were they’d probably end up reopending the old “burning people at the stake” idea. Something our family is quite familiar with.

Jesus Christ, just say you’re witches and move on with this. Also, if Lani’s ancestors founded the town and were burned at the stake, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the townspeople already knew what Lani and her mother were? And her mother is already doing spells and shit for the people in town. You know who casts spells?

Witches.

But for the sake of authorial intent, let’s all pretend we don’t see this amazing reveal from seventeen lunar distances away when it’s finally spelled out for us three or four times in one paragraph.

Regardless, it’s been hard for me because of it.

Wait, regardless of the fact that the townsfolk would burn you at the stake, it’s been hard for you? Getting potentially burned at the stake is the easy part, and regardless of that, things are still hard? Words mean things. You can’t just go, “This sounds like a smart transition,” and slap it on there, fully ignoring the context of the last paragraph.

Regardless, Lani had a hard time making friends or dating because the simple, close-minded hypocrites of her poor provincial town wouldn’t let their kids hang out with her.

It’s hard to be looked at not for who you are but for what people think you are.

I feel like another book explores that theme much better than this one will. You know. The one you scammed out of the #1 spot on the NYT list?

After one long, deep breath I pushed myself off of the top step of the huge porch that wrapped around the antique house and pounded down the wooden steps that led away from the house my family has owned for more than 150 years.

Some preps stared at me. I put my middle finger up at them.

But seriously, did something just happen? 4% into the book, did the narrator actually take physical action? And it’s kind of exciting! Lani is escaping from the huge porch that’s pounding down the wooden steps away from the antique house. Action-packed already.

My favorite high-waisted Levi’s dark denim skinny jeans–ripped in all the right places–made the swishing noise as I lifted my legs and my perfect flowy Lucky’s top that I wear far too often billowed around me. I rarely think this but I wish a photographer had taken my picture at that moment as the outfit and the background and I may have produced a cool-looking photo.

I’m starting to sense a pattern. For every action, there must be at least one paragraph of description or introspection. Because she goes on to describe the house (a miniature reproduction of Tara from Gone With The Wind) before she can put her luggage in her car. This also gives her an opportunity to…

oh yes…

here it comes…

I glanced at myself in the reflection of the car side mirror.

We have mirror reflection self-description sign!

People tell me I’m pretty all the time, beautiful even. I’m not sure what they see. I think I’m more of a cute, average looking girl.

I’m slender but I do not believe most would say skinny. Not “hot-girl skinny,” at least. I have long legs that are toned but I think my thighs are too large and I do not have a thigh gap. My arms are kinda flabby and while I do have an hourglass figure I have always felt my butt is a little too big and my face is a bit too round.

You saw all of that in the side mirror? And, like Anabella Steele-Grey-Swan, Lani’s most grotesque physical characteristics, unfortunately, coincide with societal beauty standards. Woe is her, to have a big ass, thick thighs, long legs, and an hourglass figure. I’m sure the bell she has to ring to warn the villagers of her approach gets heavy.

Maybe people are just being nice.

The people who want to burn you at the stake and won’t let their kids talk to you?

In a small town where everyone looks like they fell out of Mayberry, I think I look different.

Not to be that gal, because I like a little color up top, myself, but I feel like that has something to do with the blue hair you described as “shimmering” in an earlier paragraph.

I know how the neighbors described me as sweet and kind, but rough around the edges.

So, the people of this town constantly tell her she’s beautiful, describe her as sweet and kind, but don’t want their progeny to associate with her and are one bad harvest away from burning her alive. I mean, I guess I see the point. I’m only 4% into this book and I want to set this living embodiment of imaginary problems on fire.

I’ve just always thought I was a determined free spirit and tough only when necessary.

That’s right off a casting sheet if I ever saw one. “Lani or Zade or whatever. (Definitely caucasian and almost guaranteed to lament her pale skin later, 18+) Sweet and kind, but rough around the edges. Determined free spirit. Tough when necessary. Beautiful, but doesn’t know it.”

Lani’s mother comes outside, and Lani explains that they look exactly alike.

There’s something about her that says “old soul.” It’s something tha tyou can see in her eyes–she says you can see it in mine, too. She says it means we’ve lived many lives. But I haven’t felt like I’ve been able to live much in this one. That’s all I’m trying to do, I guess. Just live.

FACT: You have now forgotten something from 8th-grade social studies that would have come in handy in an internet argument later this week. It has been replaced with all of this. But the bright side is that we’re seeing clear-cut motivation here. Fetch me my smelling salts and a gif of someone fainting.

Colin Morgan as Merlin, dramatically fainting.

My eyes darted to her dark blonde hair, which shone despite the lack of sunlight.

Is anyone else imagining that her mom is shittily green-screened into her life?

Lani asks her mom if she’s supposed to be happy in this quiet village where every day is like the one before, just reading tarot cards and living at home. Low-budget CGI mom says:

“But, Zade, I thought you liked reading cards. I thought you liked this kind of life.”

Finally, we have a name. We know everything else about this character, but not her name. And now I will reject that name and just call her Zani.

She was right. A big part of me loved the place and being there with her. It was comfortable. And, as much as I wasn’t always completely accepted by everyone in the town, I still belonged.

I’ve been trying to keep track of the times Zani has contradicted herself, but math itself hasn’t found a number that high. She wants to be normal, but she hopes for magic to happen during storms and dyes her hair wacky colors to stand out. Everyone wants to burn her at the stake, but they’re super nice and she feels like she belongs among them. I don’t want to point fingers, but it sounds like someone is kicking and screaming against destiny here.

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. Some were starting to see things different and, in a few years, maybe I would even be treated like everyone else.

So, why not stay? I seriously do not understand the manufacturing process of this drama.

Regardless of all these things, I knew if I stayed I would regret it for the rest of my life. I had to do more.

That’s it! That’s all you needed! “I want to leave because there must be more than this provincial life” is a perfectly valid motivation/call to adventure. We don’t need all of this other crap about how the super nice mean townspeople are going to come for you with pitchforks and shower you with compliments about your Technicolor dream hair! “I’m restless in this small town” is far less confusing than, “I have to leave this normal town where everything is too normal because I want a normal life full of magic and blue hair.”

For no apparent reason, Zade tells us about her learning disability:

Due to my dyslexia, I could write things perfectly–but I wrote them backwards. It wasn’t till I was nine almost ten I could write the proper way without a lot of thought. It baffled my teachers but was something “normal” for me.

One, that is like, 100% not how dyslexia works. It’s not just writing backwards and not understanding that you’re not writing the way other people do. And I can’t remember any of my teachers being baffled by my dyslexia because it’s a pretty common learning disability. Something like 10% of all people have it or something.

It was also a cool trick at school as I learned to write fast in either direction.

Awesome! My cool trick that I can do with dyslexia is get put in special ed classes and graduate with a 2.0 GPA. And what does this have to do with anything else in this paragraph? Yes. Paragraph. Oh, didn’t I mention that EVERYTHING AFTER HER MOTHER’S INITIAL DIALOGUE IS ONE GIANT BLOCK PARAGRAPH?

I chewed hard on my lip a nervous tick of mine that I did so often I had a permanent dent on my bottom lip.

Dakota Johnson as Ana Steele, biting her lip in the beginning of 50 Shades of Grey

Hang on tight, because I think we’re in a Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey/The Raven Cycle cross-over fanfic here, and we’re still not free from the block paragraph of horror.

“[…]I need to go somewhere where people don’t know. Where they don’t whisper and stare like I have horns growing out of my head. Where I can meet new people and just be a a normal person for once.”

Look there she goes the girl is hot, no question!
Pretty and kind and casting spells!
Her ancestors made this town
We should burn her to the ground
‘Cause she really is a horn-ed girl
A beautiful not normal girl
A super modest self-insert!
That Zaaaaaaaade!
In a new paragraph of unholy doom, Zani and her mother make deep eye contact while Zani thinks about a Dr. Seuss quote her mother likes to throw around:
“Why try to fit in, when you were born to stand out?”
I always retorted with, “Why would I want to stand out? People who stand out get things thrown at them. People who stand out get called names and shoved into lockers. If the people who don’t stand out are too cowardly to do any of the previously mentioned options then they just awkwardly whisper about you–the people who do stand out–as you walk by.”
Yeah! People who stand out get called names! Like “pretty, beautiful, even,” and “sweet and kind.” I mean, look, none of what Zani is saying is wrong; that is absolutely what happens when you stand out. But she keeps flip-flopping between “the entire town hates me” and “everyone thinks I’m basically a real-life Disney princess.”
Zani’s mother is like, okay, what are you going to do, then, and Zani figures there’s no sense in lying to her, and says she has an audition. Her mother already knows exactly what the audition is for, and it’s apparently a point of contention between them.
“Yes, Mom. You know what? I don’t know how you ever got away with keeping me out here for so long, anyway.” My eyes narrowed as I confronted the issue we had never really talked about. I looked down again as I finished my sentence. It was a hard subject for both of us, and something we both seemed to usually avoid.
“I had my ways,” she said so quietly I barely heard her. I looked up to see she wasn’t even looking at me as she answered. She was looking off into the distance. I knew that she really didn’t want me to hear her answer. I sighed deeply as I glared at my mom, waiting for her to look at me again before I answered.
If you’re guessing that the answer is that her mom has used magic to keep her from leaving town, your answer would be correct. But it’s never stated outright, probably to heighten the drama or the intrigue or something:
“Stop!” I shouted in anger. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m not you, okay?” I inhaled deeply and tried to relax. “I have my own life, and I think you were really selfish for what you did.” She winced, wounded. The truth hurts, or so she’d always told me.
Her mom tries one last time to convince her to stay, and Zani is like:
“Please, what? Haven’t you ruined enough of my life?” I immediately wanted to take it back. I didn’t mean it. Why had I said that?
Mother Greenscreen cries and Zani tells her that right now, she just needs to get out and live her own life, and they hug and say they love each other. Again, perfectly valid motivation that works without any adornment, because it’s something many, many people go through as a rite of passage. It’s so common, in fact, that the Dixie Chicks wrote a song about it.
Before I could change my mind I jumped into my car, quickly fastened my seatbelt and backed out of the driveway. I turned the radio on right after I threw my car in drive and the most appropriate song came blaring through the speakers of my car. It was the opening lyrics to the Dixie Chick’s song “Wide Open Spaces.” I couldn’t help but laugh at how truly that was my anthem at the moment.
Just in case you were doubting how perfect the song is, Sarem has reproduced those lyrics. Two full verses and a chorus. The most interesting part of this is that on the copyright page, it says these lyrics were used with permission. I was fully expecting to read “THE SONG WIDE OPEN SPACES ISN’T MINE IT WAS WRITTEN BY THE DIXIE CHICKS PLZ DON’T SUE.” So, there’s one thing this doesn’t have in common with fanfic, at least.
No truer words could be spoken as I headed for my own wide-open spaces out west. Even the “high stakes” reference was perfect, considering I was headed toward Las Vegas.
One way you can impress a reader is by subtly telling them straight out how clever you’re being like five times.
I had a long road ahead of me–and an even longer road when I got there–but it was what I knew I needed to do, without any doubt.
Oh, sweet. I really wanted to read a poorly written book with little to no conflict.
So, that’s chapter one of this nightmare show. Buckle up and keep checking Donaldson’s article at Pajiba, which is still being updated as this mind-blowing clusterfuck of incompetence develops.

108 Comments

  1. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    Don’t you just love when our Jenny gets inspired?
    (Insert evil, sadistic laugh)

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  2. Okay, so… There is a LOT more to be said about how awful this is, but… Am I alone in being MORE confused by how you pronounce “Lani,” thanks to the introduction?! Because “Laanee” in my head is “LAH-nee,” which doesn’t sound like “Annie with an L,” as Lani supposedly says it is, and yet later on, the writer of the intro says it’s not “Lan-ee,” which DOES sound like “Annie with an L” and WHY CAN’T I STOP FIXATING ON THIS??!!

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • RedHandedJill
      RedHandedJill

      Yes, and whenever I hear “Annie with an L,” my brain keeps thinking “Allie?”

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
    • Keaalu
      Keaalu

      No, that got me really confused as well. :\ (Admittedly, I was processing it as “LAR-nee” so I was wrong on all counts, I guess?) I never get on well with phonetic spellings. Reminds me of a time I read two authors complaining about a poem in the Harry Potter books, which confused them “because Ravenclaw and Griffindor don’t rhyme.” Eh? O_o

      August 31, 2017
      |Reply
  3. Allie
    Allie

    Wow, this is bad.

    Seeing as I believe “Mayberry” is a fictional version of Mt. Airy, NC… I’m pretty sure there are some beautiful people with ocassionally-dyed blond hair that live there. Zani would not look out of place from this description. I guess she meant they looked like they came out of the Andy Griffith Show, where I admit the characters had a different sense of fashion, seeing as they were filmed in the 1960s.

    Also, as someone who came of age in a small, provincial town, I don’t think she’s portraying it very authentically. Admittedly, all we’ve seen so far is her sweet house and vague descriptions of the maybe-homicidal-yet-super-admiring townsfolk.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      She is also ignoring the surprising Southern tolerance for eccentric characters as long as it all makes a good story. This phenomenon was described by Southern humorist Florence King and displayed in the incident of the Whitewater “Trekkie Juror.” The court initially the wondered if the prospective juror showed up for voir dire dressed in her Star Trek uniform to get out of jury duty, but found that she not only did wear it on a regular basis, but that folks at her job didn’t mind calling her “The Commander” per her request.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • Allie
        Allie

        That is a good point! I’ll give her that witchcraft can draw a little more of a negative reaction in the south than being a daily-cosplaying Trekkie, though :).

        I think she could have some people messing with her, if she were living openly as a witch. But I would expect the tenor to be more, “If I have to hear one more person earnestly share the gospel with me…” or “If I have to explain one more time that I don’t worship Satan…” rather than worrying about being burned at the stake.

        August 28, 2017
        |Reply
        • Mesa
          Mesa

          Not necessarily. Rootwork, conjure, and other forms of folk magic are well established traditions in parts of the south, most famously in the Appalachians, and considering that the main character’s ancestors supposedly made the town, whatever hoodoo they’re into should be well known and considered a local eccentricity rather than something new and suspicious.

          August 29, 2017
          |Reply
    • It is, indeed, a fictionalized version of Mt. Airy. And that town is exceedingly proud of it. I’ll be seeing a whole passels of cousins from there tonight, in fact. Their sense of fashion isn’t much different from mine, and I live in Seattle. I don’t think any of my cousins have Crayola streaks in their hair, but I’m pretty sure they exist there. Real-life Mayberry isn’t big, and it can be kind of surreal there (at least for me, as a disturbing number of people will know who I am based on my great-grandmother’s or grandmother’s maiden names), but they get cable tv and internet and Netflix just like everybody else, and it’s not that different from any small-to-medium-sized city elsewhere in the South.

      September 3, 2017
      |Reply
  4. Lynette Brock
    Lynette Brock

    I’m so aghast at the objectively horrid quality of the writing here that I’ll probably have more coherent criticism later. For now, I’ll just point out that the “turning point–a fork stuck in the road” line was probably not simply some barrel-scraping trite metaphor but an attempt to work in a Green Day lyric, because the kids still dig Green Day, amirite? I’M RELEVANT, DAMMIT.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • Rebecca
      Rebecca

      GAH. That’s horrible, and I actually enjoy Green Day.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
    • OH MY GOD YOU’RE TOTALLY RIGHT. i adore Green Day and i didn’t even catch that. in fact i think i was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor about all the other stuff.

      August 30, 2017
      |Reply
  5. Cat
    Cat

    Holy crap, this is something I would’ve written when I was like in the 4th grade (also, as someone who wrote backwards in elementary school, I am annoyed that she’s trying to make it a super power). Good luck with this one.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  6. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    “her poor provincial town ”
    Good morning, Belle!

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      “where every day is like the one before”
      By golly, I’m beginning to see a pattern. The Mary Sue is actual a DISNEY PRINCESS.
      Who woulda thought?

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
  7. candy apple
    candy apple

    Yay! I’ve missed the Jealous Haters’ Book Club.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  8. Laina
    Laina

    “Why would I want to stand out? People who stand out get things thrown at them. People who stand out get called names and shoved into lockers. If the people who don’t stand out are too cowardly to do any of the previously mentioned options then they just awkwardly whisper about you–the people who do stand out–as you walk by.”

    YOU’RE IN YOUR 20S. STOP OBSESSING ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL.

    I can’t I already can’t. I’m not gonna survive this.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • Laina
      Laina

      And to beat this dead horse THIS IS NOT YA

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
    • Rebecca
      Rebecca

      Also, I’ve been the one who had things thrown at her, called names, shoved (though never into lockers…do people actually do that?), and it basically made me double down on my other-ness. Result: somewhat damaged, but quite well-adjusted adult, who is by most measures a success, and nicer than those coprolites I went to high school with, most of whom I think of once a year when I realize I’m getting close to my 20th reunion, to which I will not be going, so…

      TL;DR: write about being a teen if you must, but not like you would if you were still a teen, srsly.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        Unless you really ARE a teen like Anne Frank or the author of Go Ask Alice. But both of them were better writers than this fraud anyway.

        August 29, 2017
        |Reply
        • Rebecca
          Rebecca

          Word.

          August 29, 2017
          |Reply
        • Mike
          Mike

          The author of Go Ask Alice wasn’t actually a teen; it’s been revealed that it was written by an adult who never went through all the things in the book. It’s a work of fiction.

          August 30, 2017
          |Reply
          • ViolettaD
            ViolettaD

            Whoa, I read Alice when I was in Jr. High and totally believed it was real!
            Did some searching after I read your comment, and the woman was a therapist. If she didn’t get some of the material from an actual diary, she was at least listening to her clients. The book rings more true than much of the YA crap that is churned out these days.

            August 30, 2017
  9. Maggie
    Maggie

    I was reading this and thinking, this has all the signs of terrible fanfic. The only way it could be worse is if it was a song fic…and then it was.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  10. Kate
    Kate

    I’m so excited Jealous Hater’s Book Club is back! (Totally understand why you needed a break, but glad to see it back.)

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  11. RodeoBob
    RodeoBob

    a premiere magic show led by the infamous magician Charles Spellman.

    Somewhere in an early draft, that read as “infamous magician [ think up a sinister-sounding name here ]” I’m sure.

    Using Chaos magick, which is known for being unpredictable,

    Really? It’s not a good sign when the back cover treats the intended audience as morons, is it?

    “Using Fire magick, which is known for being burny…”

    “Using Water Magick, which is known for being wet…”

    “Using Pasta Magick, which is known for being starchy…”

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      Spellman? As in Sabrina Spellman?

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • Niki
        Niki

        I knew that sounded familiar!

        August 28, 2017
        |Reply
    • Amber Rose
      Amber Rose

      Lesser known facts: Pasta Magick also draws the eyes of the Flying Spaghetti Monster though, and requires a sacrifice of spaghetti and meatballs and a recitation of the holy hymn, On Top Of Spaghetti.

      But yeah, definitely a very starchy magick.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
  12. Jon
    Jon

    Call me pedantic but weren’t witches in English colonised areas more likely to be hanged than burnt?

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      Yes. One guy was crushed to death when he refused to enter a plea, but the condemned ones were hanged.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
    • Yeah I think there was maybe one(?) witch-burning in the part of America that became the US. It wasn’t an execution method that caught on.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • Jon
        Jon

        Curious to know more details.

        August 29, 2017
        |Reply
        • I remember reading something years ago, but I can’t seem to find it now. Apparently English law forbade burnings as a form of execution, so anyplace in America under that law wouldn’t have done it.

          August 29, 2017
          |Reply
          • Kieron
            Kieron

            Also burning is a really expensive way to kill someone so it was historically only pulled out under fairly extreme circumstances.

            (Like, we have Inquisitorial expense accounts from the Middle Ages and they almost never burned anyone but when they did it totally wiped out the budget. Being a woodcutter may not have been an especially lucrative job, but the firewood industry was pretty intense. I suspect middlemen of profiteering.)

            August 31, 2017
          • Tracy
            Tracy

            In burning, the cleanup is really messy.

            September 1, 2017
  13. Jane
    Jane

    I think the connection to Twilight is actually creepier than the one Fifty Shades has. This isn’t a story that’s based on a Twilight fanfic. I read an ARC of it before they were yanked from Netgalley. It’s really dull. Poor Jenny this is basically a “real person fic” fanfic that is mostly about the mundane backstage workings at a magic show with the crew and also at band venues with the crew/stage hands. It has magical incidences once in a great while but it reads very much like a contemporary adult romance (since Zani is 25 and her love interests are 30ish). It wouldn’t even qualify as New Adult.

    I suspect the original story was literally posted in the bandom fanfiction section at Wattpad because the people who reacted to it first or noticed it first in their own set seem to be the fandom for “!00 Monkeys,” the band that Jackson Rathbone of Twilight was fronting because Lani was a hanger on there and a groupie (she claimed to be a full manager but apparently wasn’t anything as official seems to be the verdict there).

    https://twitter.com/JaysBabycakes73/status/901508437363879936

    But since that fandom reacted so vehemently back then, I do wonder if the original wattpad fic

    https://twitter.com/ivyquinnauthor/status/901539743044907008

    Was just literally labeled as a 100 Monkeys/Bandom specific subcategory. However, as you go along reading it, it becomes painfully, awkwardly obvious that she’s literally written Jackson Rathbone into the story. The second love interest is called Jackson (I am unsure if a last name is actually ever given), he has dark hair and plays in a band that Zani becomes friends with/starts hanging out backstage with.

    Basically, I suspect that this story is literally a fantasy of Lani Sarem’s to have Jackson Rathbone, whom she worked with in some capacity and was a groupie for IRL, actually in some form lusting after her. It’s inherently super creepy. Made creepier by the fact that a) Sarem didn’t even *change* the character’s name from Jackson and b) I think Rathbone is married and has a family by now. Super twisted stuff, ugh.
    **

    Another thing fascinating in all this is that she clearly had written this story (and this is a first draft if I’ve ever read it, and I doubt ANYONE edited it, yeah right) back in 2013, but that she’d clearly determined to publish and make it a thing back in April of 2016:

    https://twitter.com/HandbookMortals/status/722963079227662336

    Whichi somehow makes this like more galling. This is such a rushed, half-assed, lazy scheme, which good cause it got caught and exposed like it should have and, frankly, the NY Times needs to adjust its metrics (but probably never will). But if you had 16 months to plan this, you’d think you could like suck less at being the most obvious fake in history? Had time to commission a cover not ripping someone else off? Etc. It’s probably the worst part of this that if it wasn’t for the YA Detectives something so blatant a disrespectful and cynical cash grab/create a movie gambit would have knocked off THUG and displaced other authors. It’s just amazing how shoddily it was set up but *STILL* the NY Times didn’t do its homework or even double check, which is really annoying and messed up.
    ***

    Final thing is how painfully not a writer this woman is. (Which also makes me feel like super awkward cause I never thought this day would come, but I have to admit even E.L. James did technically write three books [Grey doesn’t count].) Sarem feels like she gave up barely after starting and was desperate to pad pad pad for word count. Also, when you see her at talks and panels hosted by Wizard World, you can see how uncomfortable she is talking about writing. She doesn’t know the genre she purports to be in, hasn’t done the reading, and looks lost talking about plotting and world building. It’s painful to watch:

    https://www.facebook.com/laniers/videos/10210281187122436/

    **

    I’m just glad the NY Times listened this time, but I’m still sorely disappointed that neither USA Today nor ABA have yet followed suit and taken back her ranking. She still introduces herself places as on the USA Today list, which, to be fair, is annoyingly true.

    Anyway, you’re doing a great job and keep it up!

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • Tracy
      Tracy

      Wonderful background on this. Thank you.

      September 1, 2017
      |Reply
    • captaingabbeh
      captaingabbeh

      Wow. And I thought I had seen some strange groupie antics.

      September 1, 2017
      |Reply
  14. Bookjunk
    Bookjunk

    Oh, Jealous Hater Jenny is one of my favourite Jennies. And this book and author deserve all the ridicule you decide to heap upon them.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  15. Oh I’ve missed this column. When this whole thing blew up, I was thinking about messaging you (I’ve been on a post-election hiatus because my anxiety can’t deal with it) and being like “UMM?”.

    On the Goodreads reviews, I found this 5 star by a random dude who probably came across this news and decided to be That Guy:

    “So – stay with me here…

    Enter an outsider who shows up on the ‘scenewith.. something that garners a lot of attention

    There’s a bunch of people on the internet who don’t think this person deserves the attention, so they do everything within their power to stop the outsider… The media, they buy into the Twittersphere and, ahead of properly-vetted information, attempt to bury a random element.

    All along, the above-noted ‘protectors’ of the status quo preferred to try to use power and influence over anything else, and it woulda worked, except they had no idea what they were actually attacking.

    I haven’t read the book either, folks. My review, like most of yours, is just self-serving nonsense with no purpose other than to take away from what someone else is doing without actually having to know what I’m talking about.

    I get it, though – Trolling is fun! Oh, and if you didn’t get it yet – like it or not, Trump won, sooo… best of luck, interkids.”

    K.

    There’s also a theory going around Tumblr that she’s the same person who wrote My Immortal. I haven’t seen anything to prove that other than it just sounds like something you’d get off Fanfiction.net back in 2001.

    I’ll keep my bag of popcorn idling.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • I am not a reader of fanfic, generally, and even *I* thought it sounded like “My Immortal”.

      Also I swear I’ve read the part about the “grass being greener but really it’s just astroturf” somewhere before. It was really familiar and it rang a bell that I can’t seem to locate in my brain.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • Kelley
        Kelley

        Sounds like a saying that I’ve heard before, too. And upon googling, I discover: “The Grass Isn’t Greener, It’s Only Astro-turf: A Coach’s Instruction Book” by Tony DeMao, 1994.

        August 28, 2017
        |Reply
    • A-G
      A-G

      Update: The author of “My Immortal” actually stepped forward and said she’s not Lani!! XD
      I wish I could post a link, but I only saw it for a quick moment. I’m sure it’ll make its rounds again.
      My Immortal author goes on to say, in a very adult tone, that she doesn’t have a lot of social media accounts, and that she’s not Lani despite the close descriptions. “Bad fiction tends to sound the same.”

      August 31, 2017
      |Reply
      • Akiva
        Akiva

        I doubt that the person who claimed to be the author of “My Immortal” is being truthful, either. Turns out the claimant ALSO has a book coming out soon, a fairly ridiculous-sounding memoir (faux-memoir? guess we’ll find out) about how she wrote My Immortal as part of a plot (not described) to find her little brother when they’d been separated by the foster care system. I read it as a cynical ploy to co-opt the coverage.

        Who first suggested that Lani was the author of “My Immortal” anyway? Was it… the person who was claiming to be the True Author of “My Immortal”?

        October 2, 2017
        |Reply
  16. RedHandedJill
    RedHandedJill

    I’m glad you’re doing Jealous Haters’ Book Club for this! It is very surprising that it’s not actually fanfiction, because everything about this book is so fanfictiony (self-insert character, looong descriptions of hair, music lyrics, everything about the dialogue, the obsession with physical appearance).

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  17. Mike
    Mike

    “Handbook for Mortals is the first book in the series of this […] series by author Lani Sarem.” So it’s a series o f series, then?

    “I rarely “love” a book. This is a book I loved.” Why is the word “love” in quotation marks? And only one time?

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  18. Loll
    Loll

    Goodness. I thought that this was going to be overly harsh. Some of the comments I saw in other places sounded a bit like they were nitpicking or overblown.

    I was so wrong.

    This is terrible. Terrible.

    Though I will say one thing: I get why, with a 25 y/o protagonist, this was YA’d. There is NO WAY a 25 y/o behaves that way. She’s behaving like she’s not quite 18. Or maybe a young 21-ish about to get out of college. But 25?!? No way. I’d forgotten she was that age as I read this.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • I mean, at 25 I already had a one-year-old child. And a marriage, but that didn’t make it to 26.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • Drea C
        Drea C

        It’s obviously so the author can play the character in the movie. She could (maybe) pass for 25-27, but definitely not 18-21. As for it being YA, idk??

        August 29, 2017
        |Reply
        • ViolettaD
          ViolettaD

          Can she act any better than she writes?

          August 29, 2017
          |Reply
        • Elisabeth
          Elisabeth

          I think the author could only pass for 25 with the aid of Photoshop. Her Twitter profile pic either was taken years ago or was heavily Photoshopped, because it looks nothing like how she looks in candid photos.

          August 30, 2017
          |Reply
  19. Raven
    Raven

    Eeugh, this book looks absolutely terrible. How on Earth did this chapter take so long to get to the point? Why do authors like this think we need to know every single solitary meandering thought that crosses their protagonists’ minds?

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  20. Torrin
    Torrin

    Hooo boy, this is even worse than I was expecting. On the one hand, I’m very sorry, Jenny. This is going to be a very tough slog. If you abandon this before it’s done, I will not hold it against you. On the other hand – Jealous Haters Book Club fills me with joy and Laaaaannnnnieieieieo deserves Mama Trout’s divine snark. Wheee!

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  21. What a nightmare. This reads as bad as My Immortal, minus the shite spelling. What’s the most disgusting though is how this author seems to be only in it for the fame and money.

    She’s just perpetuating the bad name that indy authors get. I almost can’t even care that it’s horrible writing. There’s tons of terrible stuff published, as much as there is good still in this world. What gets me is how she’s turning art, the writing of a story to explore themes and realities we live in, into a lime-light desperadoes dome, is infuriating.

    On the plus side, this is the first time I’ve come across your site in general (because evidently, despite being semi-around on the internet, I’m still too much of a shut in creative person). Will be sticking around for more!

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      Never read “My Immortal.” Is it worse than the legendary “Eye of Argon”? The author of that at least had the virtue of being painfully sincere.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
      • SJ Lang
        SJ Lang

        The snippets of My Immortal I’ve seen over the years makes Cassie Claire look Nobel worthy. With all the plagiarism included.

        August 28, 2017
        |Reply
        • ViolettaD
          ViolettaD

          Jesus wept.

          August 29, 2017
          |Reply
  22. Mae
    Mae

    Gods, that was painful. And the backstory is bizarre. Strangely, the backstory would make a better lifetime original movie than the actual book.

    And for the love of all things holy, you don’t burn people for witchcraft, you hang them. The people that were burned were burned for heresy not witchcraft. And none were burned in the US.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  23. Sushi
    Sushi

    I used to be able to write perfectly backwards. Because I was originally left-handed and my school tried to force right-handedness on me and my poor, confused brain compensated by mirroring my words. It had bugger-all to do with dyslexia, and once I got the hand of writing with my right hand, it stopped happening.

    Also, good news – the book has been pulled from the NYT list and T.H.U.G. is back at number 1.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
  24. Jamie
    Jamie

    “Why fit in, when you were born to stand out” is literally a line from What A Girl Wants. I mean. Really.

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • SJ Lang
      SJ Lang

      Yep! Ian tells that to Daphne when she tries to change for her dad’s career.

      August 28, 2017
      |Reply
    • Lynette Brock
      Lynette Brock

      Googling it reveals a lot of Dr. Seuss motivational posters, although the quote seems to have been attributed to him, rather that written by him.

      I hate to say this (oh, who am I fooling, no I don’t; I’m ready for prime cattiness now) but I suspect that googling a LOT of phrases in this book are going to reveal their original primary sources. I don’t even think it can rightly be called plagiarism; I think it’s just a matter of this book being so hastily thrown together and so riddled with cliches that there’s simply not a single original thought in it.

      August 29, 2017
      |Reply
  25. falalala
    falalala

    YAY. I’ve been following this insane saga as it unfolds, and I kept thinking, “Oh man, I wish Jenny Trout was still doing her brilliant Jealous Hater recaps, because this seems like a perfect candidate for some well-deserved mockery.” I’m so happy you agree. 🙂

    Also, seriously, what is it with this sort of glorified bad fanfic (or regular, unpublished bad fanfic) and the compulsive need not only to include a lengthy “people say I’m beautiful, but I think I’m too conventionally attractive to be beautiful, tee hee” description of the Mary Sue, but to make sure the reader sees that description as soon as possible, usually before anything at all has actually happened? I have never paused during a good book and thought, “But wait! I can’t focus on this compelling story, because I have not yet been told whether this character has a thigh gap! I don’t even know what clothing brands she’s wearing at this precise moment! Oh, woe is me, for how can I feel fully immersed in this world without those critical details?” I will never understand why terrible writers always seem to be convinced that it’s much more important to tell readers all about every detail of the protagonist’s obvious-to-everyone-but-her beauty and fashion sense than to GET TO THE DAMN PLOT ALREADY.

    (Oh, and I think I may have to start keeping a list of “reasons the protagonist thinks she’s super-special and unique in bad stories,” because I find it endlessly amusing that the answer is always something as stupid as “she likes stormy weather.” Because no one else on Earth enjoys thunderstorms. Just Zade. Everywhere she goes, people point and whisper, “Look! It’s that beautiful, sweet, kind girl who (gasp!) LIKES THUNDERSTORMS! Have you ever heard of such a crazy thing? Let’s burn her at the stake!”)

    August 28, 2017
    |Reply
    • Jamoche
      Jamoche

      Teenagers writing “they say I’m pretty but I don’t believe it” Mary Sues can be forgiven; they’ve just had their body morph out from under them from gawky to adult, and their self image hasn’t caught up.

      Anyone post-adolesence is just trolling for compliments.

      September 7, 2017
      |Reply
  26. Neurite
    Neurite

    “My favorite high-waisted Levi’s dark denim skinny jeans–ripped in all the right places–made the swishing noise as I lifted my legs and my perfect flowy Lucky’s top that I wear far too often billowed around me. I rarely think this but I wish a photographer had taken my picture at that moment as the outfit and the background and I may have produced a cool-looking photo.”

    …that… that can’t really be an actual quote from the book, can it? This must be you parodying the writer’s style, right? Right?!

    ::boggles::

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
    • Cat
      Cat

      I’m sure knowing that the protagonist considers herself cute (with perfectly cut bangs) while the rest of the town thinks she is beautiful will add depth to Zani’s layered and profound thoughts later in the book.

      That really was such a painful snippet to read. I can’t believe no one edited out the part about a “cool-looking photo.” I mean, seriously? Do people actually think to themselves “Boy, I sure wish someone would take a picture of me right now because I bet it would look super”??????

      August 31, 2017
      |Reply
      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        I’m sure people all dressed up for a special whatever have occasionally thought, “Quick, capture this on film while it lasts! Preferably before the humidity hits my hair.” Maybe it’s more prevalent than that for those who’ve grown up in this world of selfies, self-styled Instagram “models,” and Reality “Stars.”
        Some Latina girls will get a modeling portfolio instead of the big party for their Quince’ (sweet 15, basically): shots on a veranda in a rented gown, sitting in a limo, etc. It’s their chance to feel like a star.
        I think what jars here is the false modesty.

        August 31, 2017
        |Reply
        • ViolettaD
          ViolettaD

          Speaking of false modesty, here’s an example of how to do it RIGHT. Colette’s “Claudine at School” has a scene where the heroine, a rather snotty schoolgirl who’s quite satisfied with her appearance, handles school exams with some pompous administrators:
          * * *
          Though full, the playground was more silent than this morning and their lordships were keeping us waiting again! I went off by myself into the walled garden: I sat down under the clematis, in the shade, and I dosed my eyes, drunk with drowsiness. . . .
          There were shouts and calls: ‘’Claudine! Claudine!” I started up, only half-awake for I had been well and truly asleep, to find myself faced with Luce, looking terrified as she shook me to my feet and dragged me along with her. “But you’re crazy! But you don’t know what’s happening! My dear, we went in a quartet of an hour ago! They’ve Rotated the synopsis of the essay and then at last Marie Belhomme and I plucked up courage to say you weren’t there . . . they looked for you . . . Mademoiselle Sergent’s out in the fields — and I thought maybe you were strolling about here. . . . My dear, you aren’t half going to catch it, up there!”
          I dashed up the staircase, Luce after me: a mild hullabaloo arose at my entrance and their Lordships, red from a prolonged luncheon, turned towards me:
          “You had forgotten all about it. Mademoiselle? Where were you?” It was Roubaud who had spoken to me, half amiable, half thoroughly nasty.
          “I was in the garden over there. I was having a siesta.” A pane of the open window showed me my dim reflection; I had mauve clematis petals in my hair, leaves on my frock, a little green insect and a lady-bird on my shoulder; my hair was in wild disarray. . . . The general effect was not unattractive. … At least, I could only presume so, for their Lordship considered me at length and Rauband asked me point-blank:
          “You don’t know a picture called Primavera, by Botticelli?”
          Aha! I was expecting that.
          “Yes, I do. Sir. . . . I’ve been told that already.”
          I had cut the compliment off short and he pinched his lips with annoyance. The black-coated men laughed among themselves; I went to my place, escorted by these reassuring words mumbled by Salle, a worthy man, although he was too short-sighted to recognise me, poor fellow: “In any case, you’re not late. Copy the synopsis written on the blackboard, your companions have not begun yet.” There, there, he needn’t have been frightened— I wasn’t going to scold him!

          * * *
          BTW, Claudine loves her “poor provincial town,” and is rather disappointed by Paris when she finally goes there.

          August 31, 2017
          |Reply
        • Cat
          Cat

          I understand wanting a picture for a special occasion but hadn’t considered the instagram models and selfie-lovers. Girl is in her favorite clothes, the top being one she wears all the time apparently and she wants someone to take a picture of her because it would be cool? Is that how people are now? If so, I recant my snark because I’m clearly just behind the times.

          I agree about the false modesty. They think I’m beautiful but I think I’m average, even if I do have perfectly cut bangs (ridic but perfectly cut bangs just jars me for some reason) and my outfit is so amazeballs that I’d love for a photographer to take a picture because I bet it would look cool. Pick a lane Zani.

          August 31, 2017
          |Reply
  27. So like Annie but with an L..so lnnie. Am I doing it right? I properly lost my shit at the one direction song!
    This was time well spent. Unlike poor Jenny having to read this shenanigans. Thanks Jenny. You deserve a cold one for allowing through that.

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
  28. Avalon
    Avalon

    Thank you Jenny for going through this and saving the rest of us from having to do so.

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
  29. Nico Murray
    Nico Murray

    On one hand I think it’s not unusual to game a rankings list in the media. I’ve known bands to do it, until billboard changed their tracking method ( come on, unknown goff band bumping Beyonce off the top of the singles chart? Totally a coordinated effort I watched play out.)

    And to be fair, wattpad doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a repository for original short fic, or fanfic, because they seem to heavily promote the latter now. They’re local to me. I could probably go to their next open house networking event and ask. Rather tempted, some days.

    But the worst for me: it’s a big joking slap in the face to all the writers I know doing relatively passable, solid fiction original work who can’t /won’t game the system, who do their work honestly. ( And here I admit my sense of ethics will keep me poor.)

    I’m delighted the whole mess came down like a proverbial house of cards, with such swiftness, but I’m astounded at the breadth of players, willing and unwitting that helped it unfold in the first place.

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
  30. eric t
    eric t

    This is my first visit to this site,i found my way here via a tweet from lindsay ellis. This was a damn funny read,I’ll definitely be checking out more of your writing.

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
  31. Maranda
    Maranda

    “it was once the Tennessee state capital before Andrew Jackson changed it.”

    This is the part I got stuck on. I live in the “town” that was the capital of Tennessee before Nashville. It’s a large, and growing larger, city with a major college, 10 K-8 schools, 4 middle schools, and 3 High schools. A major company has a factory here, traffic is a nightmare, we have 2 malls and, unfortunately, 4 Walmarts.

    Unless this story takes place 100 years ago, there is no way this city could be called a “quiet village”. The author apparently not only wrote crap, she also failed to do her research.

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
    • Lynne
      Lynne

      I went and looked it up (I live in Nashville so that caught my eye). Kingston, which is down I-40 past Crossville, was the state capital for 1 day but it was in 1807 and I don’t think Jackson had anything to do with that. Knoxville and Murfreesboro were also the capital at other times as you’re obviously aware. Why she felt the need to change Kingston to Centertown, I have no idea.

      August 30, 2017
      |Reply
  32. eselle28
    eselle28

    Someone with a talent for writing different voices could have done something pretty interesting with that chapter. What if the clash between the narrator’s negative assessment of her town and the bits about how the neighbors think she’s d sweet was so great that the reader slowly realized the second set of thoughts were implanted by the mother? That would even allow for some of the “you don’t know you’re beautiful” stuff, because that seems like the kind if thing a loving parent with no respect for a child’s autonomy would leave in her brain. Obviously, this isn’t that kind of book.

    I notice there’s no father mentioned, so that Spellnan guy is totally her dad, right?

    August 29, 2017
    |Reply
    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      I’ve edited your comment for clarity:
      Someone with a talent for writing…could have done something pretty interesting with that [entire book].

      August 29, 2017
      |Reply
    • RodeoBob
      RodeoBob

      Yeah, for a minute there I was thinking “Hey, I wonder if her dad was also ( ugh ) Magicked into staying away” because then you could introduce a father figure who has no memory of the protagonist, or have a father who has an outright aversion to his own child, or any number of other interesting reveals. Is absent-dad a bad guy who needed to be kept away, or is ( ugh ) Magick mom really a whole lot worse than we thought originally?

      Then I realized I probably just put more thought into it than the author did.

      Also, the superfluous ‘k’ at the end of magic will never not be awful.

      August 29, 2017
      |Reply
      • Rebecca
        Rebecca

        Fuck that superfluous ‘k.’

        August 30, 2017
        |Reply
        • Spockchick
          Spockchick

          Except I am rather fond Of Septimus Heap which uses Magik and the series is great.

          September 3, 2017
          |Reply
  33. El
    El

    Very thankful you chose to take this scam-fic on, Jenny.

    Regarding Zane’s “dyslexia”: writing full sentences in backwards order is at times how DC’s comic’s Zatanna performs magic. Say Zatanna were putting an end to Lani’s villiany, she could be written as casting “truth the tell and scam this stop!” as opposed to “hturt eht llet dna macs siht pots!” or even “pots siht macs dna llet eht hturt!” My point being Lani probably got the idea from Zatanna then had the gall to portray it as a fun and quirky disability she glosses over the hardship of and totally benefits from.

    August 30, 2017
    |Reply
  34. Paul Amirault
    Paul Amirault

    Thank you, Jenny, for your screamingly-funny takedown of this dreadful book. Like you, I gave in to curiosity and downloaded the sample, but my eyes were basically rolling the whole way through so I ended up skimming it. However, I did notice one other spectacular fail. In her epigraph, Sarem uses a quote from “Twilight”–but doesn’t bother spell-checking Stephenie Meyer’s name. Ouch!

    August 30, 2017
    |Reply
  35. River
    River

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for bringing back the Jealous Hater posts. This is book that well deserves your rapier wit and cutting tongue. Give ’em hell lady, give ’em hell.

    August 31, 2017
    |Reply
  36. Tania
    Tania

    Fun fact: my baby sister is dyslexic, and she would write things in mirror image without realizing it was wrong throughout grade one. She only did the occasional letter after they got her help for it. We didn’t know it worked that way either until we got mad at the teacher for marking her answers wrong because they were mirrored but correct.

    August 31, 2017
    |Reply
  37. WS
    WS

    I’d just like to point out that that photo of Lani that Jenny posted? It’s a headshot. And not just any headshot: one where the actress is looking up at the camera instead of keeping it at eye level.

    The looking-up-at-the-camera headshot is one of those no-nos for actors who want to be hired, because a headshot is meant to look exactly like you – like be the most polished version of you, but don’t pick a pose that changes the look of your features, bc then you’ll have wasted everyone’s time if casting calls you in and is like “…you don’t actually look like this.” Well, everyone knows that a picture taken from above is going to alter the look of your features. That’s why people take them that way. Any casting department attached to a production that attracts actors instead of having to take whatever they can get (and that’s a low fucking bar lmao) will be like “lol fuck off” seeing that and never call you in, because why would you take a second glance if you can see from somebody’s headshot thumbnail that they won’t even show you what they look like?

    So…you’re kinda shooting yourself in the foot there, Lani.

    August 31, 2017
    |Reply
    • WS
      WS

      (There are exceptions to this rule, but I would definitely not call Lani’s shot one of them)

      August 31, 2017
      |Reply
    • I’m not the best at spotting digitally altered pictures, but to me, it looks kinda wavy around that space behind her back. Amiright?

      September 8, 2017
      |Reply
  38. The premise of the book reminds me of “Beautiful Creatures”, which I did not enjoy, nor did I finish.

    Also, THANK YOU (!!!!) for this bit of hilarity, because I’ve been dealing with Tropical Storm Harvey since Friday and I needed a mental break.

    August 31, 2017
    |Reply
    • Jane
      Jane

      People are describing this as Beautiful Creatures + Showgirls

      September 3, 2017
      |Reply
  39. Myra
    Myra

    This reads like stories my sister wrote in school, except she didn’t use song lyrics or lines from movies. And she was ten.

    August 31, 2017
    |Reply
  40. Carley
    Carley

    “(yeah, me neither)” Jenny never fails to crack my shit up.

    September 1, 2017
    |Reply
  41. Jen K
    Jen K

    Also being pendantic here. They have owned the house for 150 years and you say it’s a Tara from Gone with the Wind rip off – does the character describe it as a copy of Tara, because the movie came out in 1939, and the book only a few years before that … so not 150 years old. Just curious if this is lack of fact checking/understanding how time works or lack of creativity on the author’s part (ie did the author use the words Tara or did the description just sound like it had been ripped out of Gone with the Wind).

    September 1, 2017
    |Reply
  42. Vivacia K. Ahwen
    Vivacia K. Ahwen

    Something caught my eye in Zade –er, Lani– ‘s interview. It just sounded an awful lot like someone we’ve heard far too much from, lately. So let’s do a little editing, here. VERY little….

    She believes The Times caved to social media pressure. “My personal opinion: I’m a first time author; I did some great numbers,” Sarem says. “They put me on the list. The list is curated. They didn’t have to put me on the list despite how many books I sold. When these people made a big issue, they were like, ‘This is too much effort.’ ”

    Now check this out….

    He believes The Times caved to social media pressure. “My personal opinion: I’m a first time president; I did some great numbers,’ Trump says. ‘They put me in the office. The election wasn’t rigged. They didn’t have to put me in the office despite how many fans voted for me. When the liberal fake news made a big issue, the Failing New York Times were like, ‘This is too much effort.’”

    September 2, 2017
    |Reply
    • Spockchick
      Spockchick

      OMFG that is scary!

      September 3, 2017
      |Reply
      • Vivacia K. Ahwen
        Vivacia K. Ahwen

        Right? Totally worked with very little tweaking. When I read her “defense,” it was in The Donald’s voice.

        September 5, 2017
        |Reply
        • Valiere
          Valiere

          Rofl. I did the exact same thing.

          September 15, 2017
          |Reply
  43. Stella Kennedy
    Stella Kennedy

    First time visitor. Found this through a link from Clara on Twitter. I’m enjoying all the commentary on Handbook much more than just about any other current scandal out there. Keep up the good cause! (And I’m sorry you have to suffer through the awful writing!)

    September 2, 2017
    |Reply
  44. Couldn’t pry myself from this article. Hilarious!

    September 3, 2017
    |Reply
  45. Rhiannon
    Rhiannon

    Finally reading this now! Glad Hate U Give got back to No. 1.
    Another thing I noticed – I looked at her IMDb page and all the photos of her on it seem to be selfies. Who does that?!

    September 3, 2017
    |Reply
  46. Crystal M
    Crystal M

    Arrrrrrg. This is awful that I wouldn’t have even finished the prologue. This reads like some middle school kid rambling in her diary.

    September 4, 2017
    |Reply
  47. Artemis
    Artemis

    The quotes from the foreword about this nonsense being inspired by a particular actor is reminding me so much of Say Goodbye to Hollywood. Actually, like, everything about that foreword is so weirdly reminiscent of Say Goodbye to Hollywood. It’s so appropriate that it’s featured here.

    September 4, 2017
    |Reply
  48. TayciBear
    TayciBear

    First I am so glad Jealous Hater Book Club is back.

    Second the more I lesrn about you the more I love you. I read tarot cards too.

    Third this book is so awful and boring that Apolonia looks like Shakespeare.

    Fourth I’ve never heard of My Immortal and now I’m reading it. At least its funny in a bad way. This is just bad.

    September 15, 2017
    |Reply
  49. Jenna
    Jenna

    Reading your review…and the sample I downloaded from Amazon, the first thought that ran through my mind (after “this is horrible”) was “has she never heard the words ‘show, don’t tell?'” Isn’t that like the number one rule of writing?

    There’s bad writing and then there’s this book…which really is in a league of its own. I thought “Fifty Shades of Gray” was bad, but this was awful. I’m still surprised this book ever got published, least of all by a new publisher looking to make a name for themselves in publishing. GeekNation is now on my “don’t buy” list.

    September 21, 2017
    |Reply
  50. Rob
    Rob

    So, this might have already been mentioned, I know the Mayberry thing was. Anyway, as someone who actually grew up in Tennessee and knows that we’ve only had four capitals (Knoxville, Nashville, Kingston for a day, and Murfreesboro), that Knoxville and Nashville are, and have always been, major cities while Murfreesboro and Kingston are a little more rural but definitely not just backwater towns, it irritates the crap out of me that she failed to do even a modicum of research on the state. Andrew Jackson never served on our legislature or as governor (he was Attorney General, then in the US Senate, then President) so he wouldn’t have been responsible for any of the times we moved the state capitol.

    The other part of this is the house, if it was an antique manor, would have had stone steps and a stone porch, so she wouldn’t have been running down wooden ones. Also the whole Mayberry thing is just insulting, we have major cities here and while there are some rural communities, the ones that don’t look like a major city tend to give off more of a “Hills Have Eyes” vibe than Mayberry. Not to mention that as someone said, she would not have been “burned as a witch”, just lectured everyday about how she needs to accept Jesus as her personal savior.

    So while they’re kind of irrelevant given the rest of the writing, it does annoy me when an author can’t even take the time to google a state before setting a part of their book in it. I mean, she seems to just be pulling out every southern stereotype she can (except for having a town that is just all cousins because of inbreeding, so….small miracles?)

    September 21, 2017
    |Reply
  51. […] you want to know more about the writing without actually reading it you can head to Jenny Trout, she’s always entertaining. This time Trout shows excerpts from the book and talks about why […]

    October 27, 2017
    |Reply

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