Howdy, readers! Did you know that you can listen to these recaps as audiobooks? Beneath The Hat is producing an ongoing audio serial of these recaps, complete with dramatic readings of the excerpts. You can listen to Handbook For Mortals AND Fifty Shades Of Grey here! She also writes Paranormal Contemporary Romance as Kate Davidson, and her first novel, Animal Instinct is out now!
Part two of our adventure finds us at Fashion Show Mall. No, that’s not a name Sarem made up. The shopping mall on the Las Vegas strip is actually called “Fashion Show Mall.” I can see where you might have thought that, though, since the name of the place is like one of those weird dress up games for your phone.
Lazi is at a dress shop she describes as “a very ‘girlie’ kid of dress shop,” but she’s forgiven for doing this “girlie” activity because it’s so she can attract the attention of a guy.
It’s only okay when she does it.
I normally hate shopping, but all of a sudden after last night under that rainy awning it felt even more important that I look really hot for the band’s show.
The awning wasn’t rainy. The weather was rainy. The awning was the part that was dry.
Mac and Jackson would both be there and as much as my ride in the rian had confused me, I knew at the least I needed to show up looking as desireable as possible.
Consider, if you will, what her opinion would be of any other woman having this thought process. Imagine, gentle reader, the bounty of misogynistic delights we could splendor in for all of our earthy days if only it were Sofia or Mel trying on dresses to impress two dudes.
The worst thing was that I did like them both–and that meant that at the moment there was no clear answer for me.
How to write a love triangle (easy method):
- Create a self-insert character for the boys to fight over.
- Create two hot guys. Only one of them needs a personality. The other can just be, idk, in a band or foreign or something.
- Tell the reader how confused your self-insert is. Showing her actually having feelings for both guys isn’t necessary.
Because that’s what’s what’s happening here, dear reader. Jackson doesn’t have a personality, and we’ve seen only passing interaction between him and Lorna. Still, Sarem sees that the appeal in a good love triangle is the emotional tug-of-war, so she tells us, hey, by the way, this character is totally feeling this thing. The fact that she can’t produce anything in the narrative to back up those feelings is inconsequential.
A few days earlier, I would have said Jackson, for sure, but that kiss in the rain. . . that kiss had, well, electric chemistry that I’d never felt before.
The kiss caused a chemical reaction that created electrons and then the electrons moved. Really moved.
What gets me about this “love triangle” is that at this point, there’s no clear indication that Jackson is serious about a relationship with her or anything. He invited her to watch his band play and kissed her on the cheek. He hasn’t asked her out, they see each other only in passing. Mac goes to lunch with her, they’ve had what passes for meaningful conversation in this book, and they kissed under an awning during a rainstorm. Oh, and they also had a conversation that kind of made it sound like Zard was going to start dating him, what with her asking him if he wanted to “play with fire” over his not dating performers rule. But now she’s going to start chasing Jackson because we’re only 35% into this book and there’s no other plot so far besides who she is or isn’t going to fuck.
There’s a salesperson helping Lizzie pick out a dress. Let’s stop in and check out how she’s described:
Maggie was pretty with blonde hair–and seemed unnaturally cheery.
Even though she was sugary sweet she did seem to give me her honest opinions about how I looked in each of the dresses I tried on.
Here’s another common theme in empty wish-fulfillment stories. There can be nice women, but they can never be major characters (most often, they should be in a position of servitude to the self-insert), and even their good qualities have to be described as negative. Maggie the sales associate can’t just be cheery, she has to be “unnaturally” so. She can’t just be sweet, she has to be “sugary”. There is only room for one perfect female in these books.
Though Zerg hates shopping, she tries on approximately twenty-three dresses before she gets to the one she really wants:
The first two she didn’t like, and the next two I tried on didn’t feel comfortable once I was in them. The material on one of them was scratchy and then the fifthy one didn’t sit right. I kept trying to smooth out the sides of the dress but it just kept pulling–and it also showed a lot of cleavage. I kept staring at myself trying to decide if it was too much cleavage while Maggie ran and grabbed two more that she said I would look drop-dead gorgeous in, saying that she had finally figured out what type of dress I would look the best in based on my body type.
“This porridge is too scratchy,” said Multi-Huedilocks. “This porridge shows too much cleavage.”
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.
As per the rule of the self-insert, those right places are what she has curves in.
I had a fun brown leather jacket and heeled low-cut leather boots that would offset the black dress nicely and it make it look slightly more casual, though the dress on its own with some nice heels would have looked pretty dressed up.
So, is the dress blue or black? I could see making this continuity error between scenes, but those two excerpts are part of the same paragraph. Although to be fair, a lot of stuff in this book is part of the same paragraph. Still, why didn’t one of the three highly paid editors who worked on this catch it?
Part of looking cool, as we all know, means looking like you haven’t tried too hard.
This is the second time Zed has mentioned not trying too hard in a scene where she’s tried on something like eight dresses.
Maggie got chatty as she rang up my purchase, obviously feeling we had bonded. “This looked great on you,” she said as she scanned the tag. “Got a hot date, or something?”
Ah, yes. The deep, compelling bond that fosters flattering the customer to fill the silence as their credit card processes. I believe that’s called “being at work” but that doesn’t stop Zani from telling Maggie The Saleslady all of her personal business about having to choose between two guys. And to be honest, when I used to work retail, this would have been a much more interesting conversation with a customer than “I need an anniversary present for my wife. She’s about your size.”
For being the chatty one, Maggie doesn’t get much of a chance to talk in this conversation:
“Yeah, it’s definitely a little strange. But they both know of the other and seem to be okay with it, at least for now, so . . . .” I shrugged. “I honestly like them both.” I realized how crazy that sounded when I actually said it out loud, though, and realized I should start figuring my relationships out.
But do you have a relationship with Jackson? He’s your coworker and he invited you to come see his band. He’s flirted with you a little bit. That’s all. You have arguably more of a relationship with Mac, and even that was just a kiss.
“Be sure to come back and let me know what happens!” she called from behind the register.
No sales associate ever cares about what happens to you once the receipt is in your hand. This is possibly the single most unrealistic line in the entire book.
Zadi doesn’t like to shop, remember, because it’s girlie (and all things girlie are anathema) but she continues to shop even after finding the dress.
After all, my closets were pretty bare, since I hadn’t brought very much from home. I wandered around and ended up buying a few other key items. A couple of pairs of nice Levi’s denim jeans and the matching denim jacket.
Flag on the play. Denim on denim is not for beginners. The fact that you bought matching denim means you’re not ready, acolyte.
As I made my way up through the main section of the mall, I saw two vaguely familiar looking figures walking toward me.
Never in the history of understatement has someone so understated something as Lani Sarem did in this line.
Because the two “vaguely familiar looking” people?
Carrot Top and Wayne Newton grinned when they saw me, and I couldn’t help but let a smile spread across my own face as I stopped to greet them.
Imagine. Imagine the nerve. Imagine the self-aggrandizement. The unabashed lack of shame. The gall. The outrageous gall of it all, to write your self-insert character not recognizing Wayne Newton and Carrot Top, while they instantly recognize your avatar. I can’t get past this. I just cannot get past this. Wayne Newton and Carrot Top, both of them staples of the Las Vegas strip, both of them with dedicated fanbases who have been faithful for decades that will travel to Las Vegas specifically to see their shows, immediately recognize and are happy to see a woman who just arrived in town a few weeks ago and performs an illusion in someone else’s act–not even her own act–but she doesn’t recognize them.
She didn’t recognize them.
They recognized her.
They’re living legends of Vegas entertainment but.
“Hey, guys,” I said, still chuckling. “I have to say you two are the last people I would think I’d see walking through a mall together.”
“Carrot Top and Wayne Newton walked into a mall” is the set up for a bad joke. Which makes this an extra bad cameo.
“We had to do a charity event here today,” Wayne said, shrugging. “We just finished.”
So, you’re telling me that after a scheduled and publicized appearance, these two guys are just strolling through the mall to head back to their cars?
They’re working, so they probably have an entourage of professionals with them. At the very least, their managers. I’m sure they have some kind of security, either their own or people from the mall, to keep them from being mobbed by fans. And they would probably be exiting through a staff door to avoid people.
“We just had someone come up to Wayne and ask him when he started dating Reba McEntire,” Carrot Top said, pointing at himself.
You really stole a joke from Carrot Top and put it in your book. You stole a joke from Carrot Top and somehow made it worse. You really did that.
I mean, granted, it’s better than his “shake weight for Asian men” joke. A lot of Carrot Top’s material is…not super.
“You guys coming to the premiere in a few weeks?” I asked, brushing a strand of hair from my forehead.
Wait, what? What premiere? This is the first we’re hearing of a premiere of any kind. The show is already open. She’s already performing in it. It’s not dark and getting an overhaul or anything that we know of. Why is stuff always happening in this book without us being previously aware of it? We, the reader, need to be let in on this kind of shit.
But of course, Wayne Newton and Carrot Top are definitely going to be there for Lani’s important post-debut debut or something.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Wayne said, and I detected the genuineness in his voice. “Besides, you know Scott will show up anywhere with a red carpet.” He rolled his eyes. “Including the opening of an envelope.”
That’s not how that joke works.
Envelopes don’t have red carpets. That joke makes no sense. And if you’re going to make a red carpet joke and you’ve got Carrot Top standing right there…it writes itself, god damnit.
Zardon doesn’t know who Scott is.
“My mom didn’t name me ‘Carrot Top,’ you know,” he quipped, just as Wayne was gesturing with a thumb to point at him.
Zandi apparently already knows them, so why is she just now finding out Carrot Top’s real name? It feels like the conversation was put in there to show us that Sarem really knows her Las Vegas celebrities and they’re all on this chummy first name basis, but it’s not like his name is a state secret. He’s literally credited as “Scott ‘Carrot Top’ Thompson” on IMDB.
She then congratulates him on his “comedian of the decade” award, and he plugs his show. Like, no, really, he says:
“Come by the Luxor and see me anytime.”
I’m surprised the ebook doesn’t have a link to buy tickets.
Then she hugs them and walks away, thus ending the most painful cameo I’ve ever seen. And I watch Spice World a lot.
Zani goes to the parking garage:
I set my bags down for a second to try to remember where I had parked my care. My mind can drift quickly and all of a sudden I had forgotten about my car and had started worrying again about Jackson and Mac. I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I didn’t see a very odd-looking girl walking directly up to me until she had stopped in front of me, blocking my light.
Correction: Zani goes to the parking garage and stands around waiting for the secondary plot to arrive.
“I know what you are,” she said in a low but confident tone.
So, finally, 36% into the book, Lani’s paranormal powers are becoming a part of the plot and not just a convenient device.
Time for a flattering/not-flattering description of the scary new girl:
She had striking features: sharp cheekbones, bright eyes, wild hair–she was attractive, but was also odd in a way that had nothing to do with her looks. Something about her radiated strangeness.
Ludo thinks the girl recognizes her from the show, but ho ho, she actually knows that Zood is a witch.
“You know why guys fawn over you, and some girls can’t stand you?” she continued as I gathered up my bags.
Because she’s a self-insert in a clumsily-executed wish-fulfillment story?
She grinned, but not kindly. “They don’t know what it is, but I do. You shield yourself better…but then again, it’s so strong.” She raised her eyebrows with a look of amazement on her face. “Do you even know how powerful you are?”
Not only is Larnum-and-Zailey a witch, she’s a sexually magnetic witch with incredible powers that leave other witches in awe. I mean, what would be the point of even writing a book about your perfect fantasy life if you didn’t make yourself the best at everything?
The parking garage chick tells Zippy that she wants to test all that raw, untapped power or something.
She raised her hands to her head and closed her eyes. She was silent for a moment, and then she thrust her hands toward me. Suddenly, I was slammed back against the wall of the building with what felt like enough force to ground a plane. I grimaced in pain. I could feel bruises already rippling on the back of my head, spine, and arms.
At least you’ll match that black-and-blue dress you just bought.
Rippling is such a weird description for bruising.
“Come on, girl! Show me what you can do!” she yelled–something like a mix of anger and glee in her voice.
So basically, this is the Faith Lehane knock-off antagonist.
My body was still pressed against the wall. It felt like I was being held in place by hurricane force winds. I screwed my eyes shut, fighting against the excruciating pain to bring my arms together in front of me. My back was still locked to the wall, but at least I was now able to bring my hands together. I cupped them into a sphere and shoved them in the direction of the girl, who stood watching with an egocentric smirk.
Yup, definitely Faith Lehane.
Colored sparks of light shot forward from between my palms, sending the girl flying backward and slamming her into the garage wall. Strips of tinted fire marked the ground, showing the path the sparks had taken to hit her.
It’s like some unholy mashup of:
The girl gets up and tells Zing that she’s so amazing for being able to do all of this magic without any training (self-inserts are always naturally good at being special) then says “I’ll see you around.”
A bright orange Lamborghini, gleaming in the dying sunlight, pulled up to the side of the garage where she was standing.
Wait, witches get Lamborghinis? I need to rewatch The Craft and really take some fucking notes.
“Hey, Zade!” came a chirpy little voice, and I jumped. A familiar person was walking up to me, smiling widely. I was still so in shcok over what had happened that it didn’t really click who it was until I felt Lil wrap herself around me in a warm, gentle hug.
What is this reoccurring nonsense where Zam will see someone she knows and think of them as a familiar person? If you’re walking down the street and see Doug from work walking toward you, you don’t think in your head, “Ah, there is a familiar person.” You think, “Shit, there’s Doug. From work.” There’s no need to build suspense over running into someone, unless that someone in Hannibal Lecter.
Lil asks Zit if everything is okay, and she’s like, yeah, I’m fine.
“Hey, uh…Did you see anything–unusual–when you walked up?”
Unusual like unnecessary em-dashes, or unusual like Carrot Top and Wayne Newton hanging out at the mall together?
Lil didn’t see anything, and Zindy basically says malls overwhelm her so her mind is playing tricks on her. She makes the excuse that she has to run to Sally Beauty Supply to get hair color (no, really) and takes off to her car.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl in the not-so-subtle Lambo.
Is there a “subtle” Lambo?
Who was she? How did she know my name? Why did she attack me?
And, most importantly, how did she know about my magick.
Every time you spell magick with a k, a fairy DIES.
Now, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this girl in the Lamborghini, who should be a major part of the plot? Well, 98% into the book, another character tells Lindsey that they should definitely look into finding out who that girl was. So, just in case you were going, “At least there’s an antagonist now,” don’t get too excited. The next chapter is right back to the love triangle.