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The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Emily Croy Barker
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to survive

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

For lovers of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series (The Magicians and The Magician King) and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Dumped by her boyfriend and dissed by her academic advisor, disconsolate graduate student Nora Fischer wanders off a beaten mountain path smack-dab into a parallel universe seemingly populated by glamorous refugees from a Fellini film. Every night is party night for the suddenly and inexplicably gorgeous Nora, who is the unwitting victim of numerous spells cast by Ilissa, her mentor/captor and the undisputed leader of the glamorous gang. Married off to Ilissa’s son, who harbors a brutally dark secret, she realizes too late that all is not as it seems beneath the shining veneer of her new world. Making her escape with the aid of an enigmatic wizard who tutors her in magic, she becomes increasingly drawn to him and faces a tough choice when an opportunity to slip back through the portal to her former life presents itself. This dark fairy tale has plenty of curb appeal for a wide range of fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans. --Margaret Flanagan


“Centered on more adult concerns than the Harry Potter books, Barker’s debut is full of allusions to dark fairy tales and literary romances.  If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.”
People Magazine

"A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters distinguish The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy, Emily Croy Barker’s delightful debut will sweep readers into another world. Fun, seductive, and utterly engrossing, this wonderful tale of magic and adventure is a perfect escape from humdrum reality."
Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy

"To read The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is to enter a lush, fantastical dream filled with beauty and strangeness, love and cruelty, playfulness and gravitas. Emily Barker has crafted a wholly imaginative and witty debut novel that is unlike any I've read. Mind candy for those of us raised on Harry Potters!"
Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

“Think of this book as Hermione Granger: The Grad School Years. An entertaining tale capably told.”

“Barker weaves together classic fantasy and romantic elements (including shout-outs to Pride and Prejudice and hints of Wuthering Heights) to produce a well-rounded, smooth, and subtle tale.”
Publishers Weekly

"Like in Harkness’s work, as the novel closes, Barker leaves Nora poised on the brink of a decision that could lead to another adventure. This reviewer can’t wait. . . . Readers who love magical fantasy adventures with strong female protagonists will enjoy Barker’s novel. And fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians may also want to try this.
Library Journal

"This dark fairy tale has plenty of curb appeal for a wide range of fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans."

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is a medieval fairy tale with a deliciously dark twist . . . a thoroughly enchanting read. . . . Barker has spun a clever, lush yarn that is uniquely its own.”

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic embraces many of the things that make portal stories so perennial, with just enough twists that it seems to be in conversation with some of its forebears . . . and . . . suggest[s] deeper issues of power and gender waiting to be explored.”

"Emily Croy Barker has written a sophisticated fairy tale that has one foot through the looking glass and the other squarely planted in the real world. Both classic and wholly original, The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is an imaginative synthesis of the stories that delighted us as children and the novels that inspired us as adults."
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street

“'I wish my life were different. I don’t care how.' So begins perpetual grad student and recently jilted Nora Fischer’s grand adventure into a wonderfully imaginative world of illusion and real magic that reveals the importance of a curious and open mind, learning and love. Author Emily Croy Barker has great fun toying with our ever-shifting notions of work, beauty, belonging, and reality—creating a delightful book for anyone longing to escape the everyday (and who isn’t?!)."
Karen Engelmann, author of The Stockholm Octavo

“A clever and scrumptious debut fantasy, the kind you happily disappear into for days.”
—Kelly Link

author of Magic for Beginners

Product Details

  • File Size: 3438 KB
  • Print Length: 577 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (August 1, 2013)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0074VTHMK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,840 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is The Book You Want to Read Next, Trust Me August 1, 2013
I read all kinds of books, including the classics. When it comes to reading page-turners, I like them to be well-written as well.

This book is one of those, like Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches, where you won't feel like an idiot once you've stayed up all night reading, because the author is clever and intelligent and the story and characters suck you right in.
The conceit is more Alice in Wonderland than Harry Potter, but for grown-ups. The lead character is a graduate student in literature who accidentally wanders into a magic kingdom. It seems pretty heavenly at first, but it soon becomes clear that appearances are deceiving and that she is a prisoner. The only way she can escape is to learn magic herself.

It's an old saw, to be sure, but a book of this kind only succeeds if the unreal world feels real while you're reading, and this one is so deeply imagined and occupied by such quirky dark characters, that I bought it completely.
This book was a pure joy to read, and I can hardly wait for the sequel, which is said to be in the works.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 2 Stars: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic September 14, 2013
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker looked like an excellent choice for me on the surface. I'm in graduate school, so a character dealing with similar issues sounded perfect. I always love a good fantasy, so another book in that genre was nothing to worry about. However, I ended up with a character that I could not identify with at all and a story that made me yawn more than want to continue. I haven't actually read A Discovery of Witches, so I don't know if the comparison is accurate, but I sincerely hope it isn't.
Note: I received an eARC of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Some things might be different in the final copy.

The magic system in The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is actually quite interesting. During the info dumps, it is explained that a magic user has to have a deep understanding of the object/element they are working with in order to perform magic. For example, in order to repair a broken bowl, Nora must deeply connect with the broken pieces and pull on the pieces' desire to be whole again. This was cool, too bad we didn't get to use it in many fun ways.
As a graduate student, I could identify with a couple of moments in Nora's life and there are fun literary references for book geeks, so that was cool when it happened.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real magic appears to be long just for the sake of being long. It so easily could have been cut down by a couple hundred pages and told the same story.
There is a horrendous lack of action in The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. Nora makes very few conscious decisions to act, and instead is generally reacting and discussing events.
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38 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Four Books in One... None of Them Related. October 6, 2013
Poor Nora! Her boyfriend has unceremoniously dumped her, work as a graduate student is going poorly, and her boss has put Nora on notice that unless there are significant improvements in her work product, Nora will be 'kaput' in her department. A sad start for our not-so-intrepid heroine. In fact, a SLOW start. Nora manages to find a hole in space and time and blunders into another world. Being lost and looking for directions, Nora discovers a fantastic, chic, entertaining world filled with equally fantastic, chic, and entertaining people. People who seem to change clothes at will, beautify themselves and Nora on a whim, and generally party 24/7. At this point, I was wondering why Nora, as a literature major (an expert in memorizing poetry) didn't start thinking about the fae... La Belle Dame sans Merci... Darby O'Gill and the Little People, for goodness sake! But, sadly, no. She bloops along believing everything and everyone. Nora is boring. It goes badly for her. Very badly. (END OF URBAN FANTASY/HORROR NOVEL) Luckily, she is rescued, eventually, by a cranky, scarred magician (don't call him a wizard!). Now begins her long, long days of life as a drudge/guest with said magician-- and she continues to be weak, pathetic, and boring. She describes her daily life in great detail. Lots of pot cleaning and sheep shearing. The magician has little truck with her until she manages to convince him to teach her magic. (END HISTORICAL TIME-TRAVEL NOVEL) The book continues, switching from a fantasy adventure (Nora begins to show a bit of spunk, the best section of the whole book is where she boldly trades pot-mending services to the villagers for mundane items in order to ultimately trade for a new pair of boots. Read more ›
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "The Thinking Woman" Isn't Well Thought Out May 8, 2014
Originally posted on The Canon! [...]

The gorgeous book cover strikes again: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic was beautiful on the outside and overwhelmingly underwhelming within the covers. Get some popcorn. We might be here a while.

I went into this book with a little bit of a misconception: I believed the protagonist would be a thinking woman. Strangely enough, English doctoral student Nora is anything but. She is stuck in a rut in her dissertation, her love life (her boyfriend ran off to marry some other woman) and she is thoroughly intimidated by her doctoral adviser, Naomi. Nora, essentially, has no backbone; she keeps this passive attitude throughout the story, letting the overworked plot pull her in every direction without showing an ounce of personality.

Aruendiel, the magician that saves her life, has a bit more personality, but it is shown more often than not that women should stay in their place (shown in his attitude not only toward Nora, but Mrs. T, his housekeeper, as well as his fellow magician Hirizjahkinis (try to say that three times fast). He has a sort of charm in a gruff, cranky way, but it was overshadowed for me by his past (which could be considered a spoiler, so I won't go into detail. For those who have read this: seriously? That's a plot twist?).

Ilissa was appropriately evil and her son, Raclin - Nora's 'fairy' prince - had all the creep factors: as soon as his character appeared in the scene, the hairs on the back on my neck stood up. There wasn't enough plot or character development to fully understand any of these characters, beyond their basic motivations.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were great, they were well explained. The details of how magic worked were great, you almost felt like you were being taught. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Fiona
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Nice book.
Published 5 days ago by Len van Kerkhof
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Great read
Published 10 days ago by Sgosven
4.0 out of 5 stars clever story line; not a read once a month ...
clever story line; not a read once a month classic, but enjoyable. Would take along on a vacation, or plane trip.
Published 11 days ago by Jean Jendras
2.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre, but pleasant enough.
It's an easy enough read, I never felt like I couldn't keep reading it, but it's just... uneven. There's very rarely anything happening. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Marie-sofie Karlsson
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of potential
Well, that was unexpected. A lot of potential but needed some trimming. Really wished Nora would have kicked Aruendiel’s arse for his not “women’s work” attitude.
Published 17 days ago by Mary@BookSwarm
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Can't wait for the sequel
Published 20 days ago by ROBIN O'BRIEN
5.0 out of 5 stars I really loved this book
I really loved this book. I couldn't put it down. It was so entertaining and I flew through all 600 pages in a few days! She is a very competent writer, and it was super enjoyable. Read more
Published 1 month ago by julies
1.0 out of 5 stars Too expensive for first book
Way too expensive on Kindle for a first book of an author. Who is she kidding?
Published 1 month ago by Daniel Nylen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very fun book! A nice and refreshingly different entertaining diversion.
Published 1 month ago by Ellen L
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