The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

( 36 )


Emily Croy Barker's riveting debut is a must-read for fans of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic follows grad student Nora Fischer as she stumbles through a portal into a magical world. Having been transformed from drab to beautiful, Nora finds herself surrounded by glamorous friends. Life seems perfect. But then things take a terrible turn, and Nora must learn magic from a reclusive ally if she's any hope of survival.

See more details below
This Audiobook (CD) is Not Available through
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic: A Novel

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$9.99 price
This digital version does not exactly match the physical book displayed here.


Emily Croy Barker's riveting debut is a must-read for fans of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic follows grad student Nora Fischer as she stumbles through a portal into a magical world. Having been transformed from drab to beautiful, Nora finds herself surrounded by glamorous friends. Life seems perfect. But then things take a terrible turn, and Nora must learn magic from a reclusive ally if she's any hope of survival.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
Doctoral student Nora Fischer goes to a wedding one weekend and wanders off—right into the arms of a fairy queen in a different world altogether. Nora's life is transformed by beautiful glamours, until she realizes one day that things are not always as they seem with her new friends. She is rescued by a magician, Aruendiel, and lives with him at his modest castle, eventually learning magic from him as well. There is an obvious lead-in to a sequel, which could help explain the slow start and middle to the long novel. Nora spends time defending her intelligence, but said intelligence does not seem to crop up until near the end. However, she is a character worth following, and her relationship with Aruendiel is enticingly complicated. Narrator Alyssa Bresnahan presents a decent range of voices, and only the slightly too long pauses between tracks disrupt the flow of the story. VERDICT This is a good bet for fans of Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.—Samantha Matush, Clara B. Mounce P.L., Bryant, TX
Publishers Weekly
Nora Fischer has lost everything: dumped by her boyfriend, her dissertation going nowhere fast, her life an empty shell. She decides she needs an escape. In this ambitious, densely packed debut by journalist Barker, Nora finds that instead of getting a small break from normality, she has escaped into another world in which magic exists—and is not as cute and cuddly as she might have imagined. Though the story starts with a classic tale of unpleasant fairies working their will, it morphs into something deeper and more nuanced when Nora meets the magician Aruendiel. 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. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“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

Library Journal
Ever wanted to completely escape your life? Nora is a graduate student whose dissertation is stalled and whose boyfriend is getting married—to someone else. On a weekend getaway, Nora wanders off and accidentally slips through a portal into another world. At first it is fairy tale-like, but soon the darker side becomes apparent. How will this modern woman survive in a strange, magical world and will she be able to find her way home? VERDICT This is an intelligent, well-plotted fantasy set in a rich and complex world—a perfect escapist fantasy for a hot summer day. (LJ 7/13)
Kirkus Reviews
Debut novelist Barker turns in a pleasant if largely predictable fantasy yarn. Nora Fischer is a brilliant literary scholar, "one of the best close readers of poetry I've ever worked with," as her dissertation director tells her before dropping the big old but on her: but she doesn't deal with big questions, with postmodernism or subalternity or dialogic hegemony or...well, Nora gets the picture. Neither is Nora a slouch when, quite by happenstance it would seem, she wanders through a mysterious portal into the otherworld. Though she has magically become more beautiful, she fails to attract the physical yearnings of Oscar Wilde, though she exchanges some good words with him all the same--and, he reminds her, "appearances are the only true reality." Hmmm. No sooner are the words out than she is swept away by a handsome--well, prince, maybe, certainly VIP in this behind-the-mirror world--man (man?) who is very much something other than what he seems to be. Now Nora's got other things to worry about, like how not to turn into stone ("cream colored stone. Marble, maybe"). Helping her along is a gruff and grumpy sorcerer type named Aruendiel--he wouldn't be a sorcerer without a Welsh name, after all--who, though "a man of strong passions," as another denizen of the back of beyond puts it, can't be moved to make it a friends-with-benefits relationship. Will petrification ruin Nora's looks? Will she ever find her true love in the magic kingdom? Will she get back to real life in time to pay her tuition? Barker's pages tell all--and leave plenty of room for a sequel or even a series. Think of this book as Hermione Granger: The Grad School Years. An entertaining tale capably told.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781470364113
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 12/28/2013
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

After twenty years as a journalist, Emily Croy Barker had great fun turning her writing skills to fiction to produce The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, her first novel. A graduate of Harvard University, she is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine. She lives in New Jersey.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Much later, Nora would learn magic for dissolving glue or killing vermin swiftly and painlessly or barring mice from the house altogether, but that morning—the last normal morning, she later thought of it—as she padded into the kitchen in search of coffee, she was horribly at a loss when she saw the small brown mouse wriggling on the glue trap in front of the sink.

At the sight of Nora, the mouse froze for an instant, then tried to bolt, but only succeeded in gluing another paw to the sticky cardboard.

“Oh, crap,” Nora said aloud. “I can’t deal with this. Not on top of everything else.”

She was angrier at her roommate Dane, than at the mouse. Almost certainly he was the one who had set the trap, and then hadn’t had the decency to handle the result himself. Besides, the mouse problem was Dane’s fault in the first place. If he had not let Astrophel out—by accident, he claimed— Astrophel would not have attempted to cross six lanes of traffi c, and would still be alive and keeping the house mouse-free. The ashy remains of Nora’s cat now resided in a small cardboard box on Nora’s desk, and the mice had become a scrabbling, bold presence in the house.

She thought about simply letting the trapped mouse remain there for Dane to clean up, but she would have to step over it to fill the coffeepot, and what if the mouse got loose while she was still in the kitchen? Before she could lose her nerve, Nora picked up the glue trap with her thumb and forefinger, and moved toward the garbage can.

But the mouse was still alive. That was disturbing. After a second’s thought, Nora took a bottle of olive oil from the cabinet. The good stuff , Tuscan gold, encased in a tall bottle with a sprig of rosemary suspended inside, and she was fairly sure it belonged to Dane.

Outside, a block from her house, in a sliver of park, she carefully poured olive oil on the mouse and the glue board. The smell of the oil filled her nose; she was suddenly hungry. The mouse, its fur now sleek and dark with oil, rolled back and forth on the glue board. All at once it was loose. Nora jumped back, and the mouse scampered away, leaving shiny drops on the pine needles to mark its trail.

She walked back to the house thinking automatically that she had a good story for Adam, and then remembering that she wouldn’t be telling it to him.

On her way to the English department, she kept an eye out for him anyway. He was still in town, probably, unless he’d gotten an earlier flight. She might bump into him on campus. It would be awkward. Then maybe not so awkward. And he would realize what a terrible mistake he had made.

Instead, when someone spoke her name outside the department lounge, it was her adviser.

“Nora. I haven’t seen you all week.” Naomi smiled, showing an unnatural number of teeth. Nora braced herself, trying as always to find Naomi’s presence empowering instead of terrifying. Naomi was carrying her eight-month-old son in a sling on her chest: Last fall, in a single semester, she had produced both the baby and a book on sexual ambiguity in Dickens. Following Naomi into the lounge, Nora wiggled her fingers at the baby, who gave her a somber gaze out of bottomless dark blue eyes. “Where are the rest of the papers from your Gender and Genre section?” Naomi demanded. “I have only half of them.”

Nora unslung the backpack from her shoulder. “Here they are,” she said.

“I wish you’d finished them sooner. I want to look them over before I turn the grades in.”

“I’m sorry. I had to grade the Modern Drama exams, too. It’s been a busy week.”

“Yes, it has. That’s why I wanted to see those papers earlier.” Naomi leafed through her mail, flicking most of it into the trash and then sliding a thin envelope with Italian stamps into the lustrous leather jaws of her slim briefcase.

It was not the best time to bring up any kind of request, Nora saw, but she had no choice. “Actually, I wanted to mention,” she began, “I decided to apply for that travel fellowship, the Blum-Forsythe grant? I was wondering if you could write a recommendation for me.”

“I thought you weren’t going to apply for that. Can’t you ask Marlene to send out the recommendation that’s on file?”

“I realized there’s some work I could do at Cambridge.” The idea had come to Nora two nights before, as she lay awake at three a.m. The inspiration had less to do with John Donne, her thesis subject, than a sudden need to escape. “The form asks some questions that aren’t covered by the recommendation you wrote for me before. If you tweaked the old recommendation, it should be fine. It just has to be postmarked by Monday.”

Naomi pivoted, a wrinkle of annoyance visible between her strong brows. “You know, I’m boarding a plane Sunday to fl y to London. I don’t know if I’ll have time.”

“Oh,” Nora said awkwardly. “I didn’t realize you were leaving so soon.”

Naomi sighed and ran a hand through her hair, which was growing long, Nora noticed. Naomi usually had it cut on one of her frequent trips to Europe, one of the side benefits of having a boyfriend in London. “Come into my office, Nora. I want a word with you.”

As Nora lowered herself onto the steel- and-leather chair in front of Naomi’s desk, Naomi shut the office door. Nora’s stomach tensed. “I should tell you that if I do write you a new recommendation,” Naomi said, “I don’t know that I’d have anything very positive to add.”

Nora blinked. “Really?”

“I haven’t seen very much from you this year, just the one thesis chapter. It was fine, but you finished it back in November, and here it is May.”

“I wrote that Dickinson paper. ‘Wild Nights: The Erotics of Evasion.’ One of the journals was interested, so I’ve been revising—”

“It’s a good paper, and I’m sure you could publish it. But you shouldn’t be spending time trying to publish a paper so removed from your dissertation topic. I was hoping that I’d see at least one more chapter from you before the end of this school year.”

“Well, I’ve been working hard. I’m just not making much progress.” Nora paused, but Naomi said nothing, so she plunged on. “I’m starting to think—I’m just not sure I can say much that’s new about gender politics in Donne.”

“Nora, when you chose your topic, we discussed the pitfalls of writing about a canonical author like John Donne. It can be difficult to find unplowed ground.”

Hundreds of authors to write about, and yet it seemed that every single one had already been chewed over by packs of other hungry doctoral students. Even poets who had written only a handful of decent poems in their entire lives were the subject of lengthy, arcane, lovingly argued dissertations. And someone good, like Shakespeare or Brontë or Dickinson or Dickens—or Donne? They were mobbed by grad students and professors alike, like pop stars surrounded by screaming groupies.

“Yes, I know,” Nora said. “So I’m wondering whether it might be fruitful to look at another writer, too. I have some ideas about Donne and Dickinson, their comparative poetics, that I’d like to outline for you—”

Naomi held up her hand. “If you really want to write about Dickinson, the emphasis needs to be more American or early modern. Otherwise, you’ll get killed on the job market.”

“But I really am just—” Nora searched in vain for a way to describe the vast, barren desert of thesis research where she had been wandering without a compass. “Just stuck.”

The baby had been fidgeting inside the sling, his starfish arms and legs waving in the air. Now he opened his mouth and began to wail. Nora suppressed an urge to do the same.

“I need to feed him,” Naomi said, unsnapping the pouch, “and then I have a meeting with the dean, and then I’m going home to pack. So I’m sorry, I don’t have time to finish this conversation. We’ll talk after I get back in July.”

Nora nodded. “Sure.”

“If you want to e-mail me that Donne and Dickinson idea while I’m away, I’ll take a look at it.” She sounded less than enthusiastic about the prospect.

“Okay, I will. Thanks.” Nora stood up, picking up her backpack. “Enjoy London.”

Naomi looked up from behind her immaculate desktop. “Nora, I agreed to be your adviser because you’re very, very good—in some areas. You’re one of the best close readers of poetry I’ve ever worked with. You have a real knack for understanding the life of a poem. Fifty years ago, that would have gotten you a doctorate, a job, and tenure at any English department in the country. But today that’s not enough. You have to be able to address a big question—something to do with aesthetics, or colonialism, or philosophy—what it is doesn’t matter so much, but you need to play at that level. And that’s where you’re having problems.”

“I know, I know. Big questions aren’t my strong point.” In fact, Nora had plenty of questions, just less and less assurance that she could ever formulate answers to them. She added, a little desperately: “No ideas but in things.”

“Well, that has to change,” said Naomi, unbuttoning her linen blouse.

Nora closed the office door, but not before getting a glimpse of the baby’s mouth closing urgently on Naomi’s brown nipple.

Heading for the library, she checked her phone and found a message from her mother. “Nora, I was hoping you might be able to drive up this weekend. We’re going to the beach, and then to a fellowship dinner that you would really enjoy—”

She skipped to the next message, from her father’s number in New Jersey. Nora’s youngest sister’s voice, high and cheerful: “Hi, Nora, how are you? It’s me. Teacher shirk day, I have to go with Mom to her work, boring boring. I looked for those books of yours you said were in the attic, but I couldn’t find them. Do you know where else they might be? I need something to read. Bye.”

Ramona wasn’t looking hard enough. Nora could picture the box, left of the attic stairs, near EJ’s things. She was in the middle of leaving her own message when she walked smack into Farmer Dahmer, literally collided with him, right in front of the library.

Farmer Dahmer— as in Jeffrey—wasn’t his name, but almost everyone on campus, even the senior faculty, knew whom you were talking about if you mentioned Farmer Dahmer. He was a small man, around sixty, with a stiff, gray-brown beard like the wire pads used to scrub out sinks. He usually wore a faded plaid shirt, which Nora assumed was the origin of the agricultural portion of his nickname. Rumor had it that he was a superannuated grad student who had gone crazy after being unable to complete his thesis. Nora no longer found this story as amusing as she once had. He spent most of his days hanging around the library, where she had often seen him bent over a sheaf of papers in a carrel, swaying back and forth, mumbling to himself.

Farmer Dahmer looked even more stunned than Nora at their collision, and for a moment she was afraid that he would topple over. “I’m so sorry,” she said, clutching his arm. “Are you all right? I can’t believe I didn’t see you. I’m really sorry.”

“Oh, it’s you,” he said to her, blinking his small eyes.

“Um, yes,” Nora said uncertainly. “It’s me, all right. Are you okay?”

With a jerk of his arm, he shook himself free of Nora’s grasp. “Oh, I’m fine. Thanks to you. I very much appreciate it.”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic. I really do apologize.”

“No, I blame my own carelessness. You see, I was very hungry, and when I smelled the peanut butter, I simply forgot to be cautious.”

She nodded, unable to think of a proper response.

Farmer Dahmer’s head swiveled from side to side, as though he were reading something in the figures of passing students or the grass and oak trees of the quad. Then he looked back at Nora. “I suppose you want the usual reward. Is three enough for you?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Don’t worry,” she said, shaking her head vigorously so that there would be no mistake. “I’m just happy to know that you’re okay.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” he said. “Let’s do the thing properly, shall we?” He squared his shoulders and gave her a brisk nod, then turned and marched away, disappearing around the side of the student union.

What a day, Nora thought, rubbing her head. She noticed for the first time the rich smell of olive oil mingled with rosemary hanging in the air. Hell, she must have spilled that stuff on her clothes this morning. She must reek. What had Naomi thought?

She went into the library and spent a few hours finishing up the Blum- Forsythe application. In the air-conditioned quiet of the stacks on the twelfth floor, where she had her carrel, the scent of olive oil and rosemary faded, much to her relief.

Heading home, she took the long way, past Adam’s favorite coffeehouse, the one where he used to hold his office hours when he was a teaching assistant because he couldn’t smoke in his assigned cubbyhole in the English department. Of course he was not sitting there now. Why would he be? Not running into him was a clear sign from the heavens that whatever had existed between her and Adam was over, finished for good, the invisible karmic connection between them severed and tied off forever.

She said aloud, but softly: “I wish I could see him again, though.”

Maggie picked her up at four for the drive to the wedding in the mountains. That was a relief. Someone to tell about this nightmare of a week.

“Oh, you’re kidding,” Maggie said, when Nora had gotten only partway into her story, as they shot into the I-40 traffic. “He flew all the way back here just to break up with you? And you really thought he was going to ask you to marry him. That’s so awful.”

“He said he had something big to tell me, and he wanted to tell me in person.”

“Well, that’s big.”

“And he is getting married. Just not to me,” Nora clarified.

“And who is this woman?”

“Another assistant professor there. An art historian. The French baroque—”

“Oh, God.”

“—and they got to be friends, and it was all very casual, and then they went away for the weekend, an art exhibition in New York—”

“You don’t just go away for the weekend with a casual friend!”

“I know,” Nora said miserably. “He told me all this right after I picked him up at the airport. He wouldn’t shut up about her. As though I cared. And then he apologized and said he’d been meaning to tell me, but he didn’t want to do it over the phone. And he said he had other friends in town to see. So that’s when I said, well, maybe you can stay with one of them. I haven’t seen him since.” Maggie nodded her approval, but Nora grimaced. “Well, I kept thinking I’d see him and somehow we’d work it out, but he hasn’t called, nothing.

“Oh, and then just to top it off,” she added, “this morning my adviser gave me the something-has-to-change talk. One step away from the what-are-you-still-doing-here talk. My career and my love life, both going up in flames.”

“Oh, honey.” Maggie leaned over suddenly to give Nora a hug. The car veered toward the median for an instant, which made the gesture less reassuring than she intended. “Well, fuck it. So what if grad school doesn’t work out? There are plenty of other options. You should open your own restaurant and be a celebrity chef. I mean it. That toffee soufflé you made, my God.”

Nora was silent, thinking again about her morning’s conversation with Naomi. Unofficial probation, that’s what she was on, even if Naomi hadn’t used those words. All at once she missed Adam more than ever. He had brilliant political instincts; he knew exactly how to soothe and beguile the most implacable thesis adviser. Nora wasn’t sure how she’d get by without Adam’s coaching, not to mention his protective aura. He’d been such a star in the department that some of his prestige had invisibly accrued to her, too. She wondered suddenly how far news of their breakup had spread. Did Naomi know? Yes, Nora thought, or she would have asked me about him this morning. She always did before.

“You sure you want to go to this thing?” Maggie was saying. “Weddings are no fun when you’re newly single, not by choice—that’s my experience.”

Nora shrugged. “It’s okay. How can I not go to Luca’s wedding, anyway?”

“Any chance that Adam will be there?”

“No, he’s flying back tonight. He wanted to spend the weekend with his fiancée.” Nora grimaced as she spoke the last word.

“Bastard. Well, maybe you’ll meet someone this weekend. And there’ll be lots to drink. Forget about Adam.”

“Just what I’m planning to do.”

Which made it all the more disconcerting, at the party following the rehearsal dinner, to turn and find Adam standing a few feet away. He had a beer in his hand, and he was having a desultory conversation with a couple of law students, friends of Maggie’s. He looked vaguely ill at ease even before he saw Nora.

“What are you doing here?” he asked her.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said. “I thought you were back in Chicago.”

He shook his head. “Couldn’t change my flight. I’m going back Sunday.”

“So you decided to come to this thing after all.”

“Well, yes. I was invited. Is that a problem?”

“No, I’m just surprised to see you here.”

“You shouldn’t be. I’ve known Chris and Luca a long time. About time they got married.” He took a swig of beer.

Nora bit her lip. “They started dating a month after we did.”

“Really? I thought they’d been together longer.”

“No, I remember. We saw them at that French movie, Amélie.”

“God, that was a terrible movie.”

“I liked it.”

“Really?” Nora knew the expression on his face well: Adam enjoying the sense of his own superior judgment. Other, more benighted people had always inspired that look—never her. Then he seemed to recollect himself: “Well, good for you. How are you doing?”

“Very well, thank you.”

“Good.” For an instant, his eyes practically shone with sincerity. “I’m glad. I was a little worried, you know, after the other night.”

Nora wanted to believe him. A man may smile and smile and be a villain. “No, you weren’t. You would have called me if you were.”

“I did call you. Couple of times.”

She shook her head. “I would have seen your number.”

They went around and around, until it emerged that Adam had dialed the wrong number, manually. He had a new phone, the kind that knew everything, but he had not bothered to enter her number.

“I see,” Nora said grimly. “Well, as you can tell, I’m just fine.”

“Good.” He started to turn away, then swung back. “You know, I still care about you.”

She closed her eyes for a moment. “I care about you, too.”

“You may not want to hear this right now, but I mean it in the best possible way, believe me. When Celeste and I get married this fall, I hope you can be there. I mean it. October sixteenth.”

A few days ago, waiting for Adam in the airport, Nora had been thinking about wedding dates, wondering if October would be too soon. It wasn’t as though she’d want a huge, elaborate wedding. “Thank you, Adam,” she said now, smiling, with as much dignity as she could muster. “That’s awfully”—she considered and rejected a number of words, settling for a relatively bland and obvious choice that she hoped would trouble Adam anyway—“stupid of you.”

She turned and plunged into the crowd. The party was a large, loose affair: It flowed through the house, which belonged to one of the bride’s relatives, and onto the rambling cedar decks wrapped around the outside. Plenty of room to retreat.

Nora refilled her wineglass, then topped it up again and again. The alcohol began to make her feel blurry as she drifted from one group to the next, never quite finding her way into the conversation. But the recollection of her encounter with Adam remained razor-sharp. She kept looking for him—to avoid him, she told herself. Once she looked up and saw him looking at her from across the deck. He turned away without acknowledging her.

They flee from me that sometime did me seek, she told herself. Ducking away, she found herself in a room where a cluster of partygoers were watching an old episode of The Avengers. She plunked herself on a couch— grateful for its solidity, although her surroundings continued to wobble slightly—and watched John Steed and Emma Peel battle evil, he in a morning coat, she in a catsuit, exchanging arch bons mots. Why can’t real love be debonair and fun? she wondered.

After a while, she noticed that the man in the chair next to her was looking at her more than at the television. He addressed an occasional remark to her, and laughed when she did. When someone turned the lights up for a moment, she saw that his eyes were a bright green, like traffic lights. She took it as a good omen. They kept talking after someone turned the TV off. His name was Dave, he was in the history department, but he wanted to know about her life outside of grad school. She told him about being a cook after college. An organic café with locally sourced, seasonal menus; Nora made it to sous-chef. “It was fun for a while. But, God, so much work.”

“I hear you,” he said. “I waited tables in college. Whenever I get fed up with sitting in a library, I make myself remember what it was like to be on my feet carrying trays until midnight. So you decided to do something more intellectually challenging, huh?”

“For some reason I thought that would be grad school.” He laughed at that, and they started kissing soon afterward. Dave’s lips were softer than she liked, but that was okay. It was the first time she had kissed someone else besides Adam in almost four years. She hoped hazily that he would come into the room and see her with Dave. Doing just fine, thank you.

Dave’s phone rang. The ring tone was Rod Stewart: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Dave jolted away from Nora. Putting the phone to his ear, he turned, moving toward the door, but Nora still heard more of the conversation than she wanted to.

“Your girlfriend?” she asked when he came back.

He nodded, looking uncomfortable. “Sorry, we just broke up. But she keeps calling me.”

Looking at him, Nora was fairly sure he wasn’t telling the whole truth to someone—Nora, his girlfriend, or himself. “Well, fuck,” she said, hitting the arm of the couch. “Call her back. She wants to talk to you.”

He made a face. “She’s just emotional.”

“Maybe she has a right to be.”

“Don’t be that way, Norma. It’s not that big a deal.”

Nora, and yes, it is a big deal.”

She had to wait around for a while until she could get a ride back to the house where she and Maggie were staying. That meant having to avoid both Adam and Dave. She skulked on the deck in the darkness with a Coke, pretending to look at the invisible view over the mountains.

Back in her room, Nora undressed quickly. In the mirror, she saw her brown roots were showing. On some women that was sexy. Nora was not one of them. She tried not to imagine what Celeste looked like.

October 16. How extraordinarily dense of Adam to invite her to the wedding. And Adam always so careful—even calculating—about everything he said. That was what really hurt. He wasn’t even trying. He had written her off .

She slid under the sheet. My life is a catastrophe, she thought, shutting her eyes.

Lately, for reassurance, Nora had taken to reminding herself of John Donne’s own checkered employment history—his unfinished legal training; the government job he was fired from; the long search for preferment— before he finally found success and security in holy orders. But even at the beginning he had been writing those intricate, intimate poems of passion and thought. Nora was almost thirty, and what did she have to show for herself?

Turning restlessly in bed, she thought: Naomi is right, I don’t fit in, I’m all wrong for this. I can’t do anything right. Well, maybe saving the life of that mouse today. And it’s probably already back in my kitchen, eating my food. I wish my life were different. I don’t care how.

She woke early, her mouth dry from all the alcohol she’d drunk the night before. In the other bed, Maggie was still asleep. Nora pulled on a T-shirt and jeans and went quietly out of the room.

The cabin that she and Maggie and four other wedding guests were renting for the weekend perched on the mountainside, at the end of a long gravel driveway lined with rhododendrons. She peered out of the living room window. It had rained during the night, but the sky was clear now. The wedding was not until five. People had talked about driving to Asheville for brunch. So far she was the only one up. Nora made herself some coffee and ate half a bagel, then stepped onto the deck outside. Chilly for May. She thought she might walk down to the road for some exercise, but then she noticed the trail leading up the mountain. She went back inside for a sweatshirt. Out of habit, she stopped by the bookshelf in the living room to see if there was a paperback that she could stuff into her pocket for emergencies—you never knew when you might need a book to entertain and comfort and distract you in the day’s empty places.

There was not much to choose from. She passed on the Robert Ludlum and a couple of the Dune books in favor of a yellowed paperback edition of Pride and Prejudice that had originally cost fifty cents. Privately Nora agreed with Charlotte Brontë that Jane Austen’s world was too manicured for sustained interest, but on the other hand you could always dip in and find something amusing on almost any page. Besides, she had to teach the novel in summer school next month.

No reason to leave a note. She would be back in half an hour. Nora went outside and started up the path. At first it tunneled through more rhododendrons, but the forest brightened when she reached a stand of hardwoods, skinny gray poles, newly leafed out. There was almost no undergrowth at this time of year, only dead leaves covering the ground as far as she could see.

After the novelty of walking somewhere that wasn’t a street or a campus path had worn off, Nora began to find the upward-sloping, dun-colored landscape monotonous. She was wondering whether to head back when suddenly the path leveled off and she stepped out of the woods onto grass.

A fragment of conversation from the party last night came back to her. So this was what Chris’s cousin meant by the Bald. The crown of the mountain was an immense green meadow. A few steps forward, and Nora had a 360-degree view of the undulating horizon, mountains rising in all directions.

She walked across the meadow, feeling her heart lift in spite of herself. Ye visions of the hills, and souls of lonely places. Nora found herself smiling. She had the absurd thought—she squelched it quickly—that she could bring Adam up here to show him this place.

Nora turned back when she reached the other side of the hilltop. It was going to rain again, she saw with regret; gray clouds were looming in the west. Otherwise, she would have been tempted to sit down and read for a while. She retraced her steps across the meadow. There was no sign of the trail where she thought it should be, but she reasoned that if she followed the edge of the woods, she was bound to come across the path, even if she had to circle the entire mountaintop.

The first raindrops hit her face as she walked along. Still no path. She walked faster. After a few minutes, she saw a gap in the trees and what looked like the beginnings of a path.

But was it the right one? There might be several paths. A disturbing thought crystallized: If she took the wrong trail down, she could wind up on the other side of the mountain, miles from where she wanted to be.

Oh, well, she thought as the rain began to pelt down, I can go a little way and see whether it looks familiar.

She started down the path. Had the trail been this slick, this steep before? Almost immediately she slipped and fell in a patch of cold mud. Her right ankle protested when she tried to get to her feet. Nora cursed herself. Accidents like this were precisely why she should have left a note at the cabin. Well, someone— Maggie, perhaps— would eventually notice if she didn’t show up for brunch or the wedding or the reception. After a minute, Nora tried again to stand, and this time she was able to pull herself upright. So far so good. The ankle was sore, but it would take her weight. Well, she thought, I wasn’t planning to do much dancing tonight anyway.

She found a stick to lean on, and began limping down the mountain. The forest here was full of spindly young trees like the ones that she had passed on the way up, but she couldn’t tell whether they were the same trees. It was darker here than on the mountaintop, and the woods were full of soft pattering noises, rain smacking leaves. After ten minutes of slow progress, Nora had to admit that she still had no clue as to whether she was on the right path or not.

She had just about decided to turn around and retreat when something ahead caught her eye. Instantly she knew that she had taken the wrong trail. I would have remembered that, she thought.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide


With her dissertation stalled and her ex-boyfriend engaged to another woman, Nora Fischer finds herself flailing. While suffering through a friend's wedding weekend, Nora wanders into the woods to clear her head and somehow discovers a portal that transports her away from her current misery into a world unlike anything she's known before.

There, Nora meets a mysterious and powerful woman named Ilissa and her suave son, Raclin. Nora is seduced by the excitement of this new realm, and she tumbles headlong into a passionate romance with Raclin. The wondrous veneer soon fades though, and Nora realizes she's not only caught in a strange, foreign land but she has been thrust into an age-old power struggle between Ilissa, Raclin and their nemesis, the magician Aruendiel.

When Nora finds her life in danger, it is Aruendiel who comes to her rescue and who reluctantly agrees to mentor her in the spells and magic that she'll need to survive in this new and perilous world. Despite Aruendiel's reclusive, acerbic nature, Nora begins growing closer to him. As her spell-casting skills grow, Nora encounters plenty of magical characters including a former witch-priestess-turned magician and her dangerous pet, a wizard with literary ambitions, and an ice demon whose deadly hunger is tamed only by poetry. As the land readies for war, Nora is alone at a crossroads with a decision to make: stay in this realm of magic or return to her own world?

Emily Croy Barker has written a richly imagined debut that is steeped in the literature of fantasy, fairy tale, and classic fiction. Readers will find all sorts of homages in The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic-from Beauty and the Beast, to Alice in Wonderland, to classic journeys to the underworld. And they will fall for Nora, who is indeed a thinking woman's heroine: smart, quirky, witty, and best of all, very real.


A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than twenty years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer. This is her first novel. She lives in New Jersey.


Which of the characters in The Thinking Woman's Guide To Real Magic did you most enjoy writing?

Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn't mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives. Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she's also honest-Faitoren can't tell lies-but at the same time, she's thoroughly deceitful.

Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?

You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started studying magic? Sadly, no.

There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way Aruendiel talks about other magicians-I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn't. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It's the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don't sell out.

I gave Nora some of my interests-a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking-although she's much better at both things than I am. She's also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took-going to grad school in English.

How did you invent the world in The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic? Did you make a map at any point?

To be honest, I didn't spend too much time trying to chart the world of the novel, at least not initially. I sketched some very rough maps of Aruendiel's castle and the land immediately surrounding it-the orchard, the river, the village, the forest-so that my characters wouldn't get lost as they went about their daily business. And I had a very general map in my head of the kingdom of Semr and the surrounding lands, but I didn't put it down on paper because I didn't want to be distracted from the real job at hand, trying to make this imaginary world come alive with words.

I spent more time thinking about the details of the world. What the landscape looks like, the trees, the hills, the geology. What sort of food people grow and eat. The weather. How society is organized politically. The technology-it seemed to me that if you have wizards and magicians to take care of various complicated or annoying tasks, and they're all doing the bidding of various kings or warlords, then you're probably not going to have much in the way of scientific or engineering advancement, certainly nothing that benefits the mass of people. So, horses for transportation; fire for warmth and light; goods made by hand by artisans, etc. Although I wasn't trying to write a medieval fantasy, I ended up with a world that I admit does have a medieval flavor.

Nora is swept away into a kind of too-good-to-be true existence, and even though a part of her knows it isn't right, she stays with Ilissa and Raclin until it's almost too late. Have you ever been in a similar situation (sans magic)?

Nothing as bad as what Nora goes through! Of course, we all have the capacity for self-delusion-in love, in work, in all kinds of things. Nora, though, gets in pretty deep. She's immersed in this wonderful dream, and then she doesn't want to give it up, even when Aruendiel tells her it's an illusion. What Nora experiences here is the dark side of imagination and fantasy-total separation from the real world, leading to a loss of self.

One of my friends who read the book saw the Faitoren enchantment as a metaphor for addiction. I didn't intend that consciously, but I thought that was a very interesting interpretation.

If you could have the ability to use magic in our world, would you want it?

Absolutely. Not necessarily for the sake of having magical powers-although I suppose you could get used to that-but for being able to relate to the world the way magicians do. It would be really cool to be able to walk in the woods the way Aruendiel does and have the trees recognize and greet you and perhaps even converse with you in a kind of silent, secret language.

How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?

I didn't work out any kind of comprehensive grammar or vocabulary for Ors, but I did think a lot about what kind of language it was and how it might be different from or similar to the languages of our world. For instance, we have lots of informal rules in English that tell you something about a speaker's social status or age or background. I'm thinking of things like the way teenagers will often use a rising inflection at the end of their sentences-so that everything sounds like a question? So in a society where women have a subordinate role, it seemed likely that the language that women speak might be slightly different grammatically from the language that men speak. Nora doesn't realize this until Aruentiel explains it to her, though. Then she's furious.

There are a number of literary references in the novel-Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, William Carlos Williams, among others. Do you share some of Nora's favorite authors? What made you choose the authors you did?

Oh, yes, these are all favorites of mine, and in fact a few of them I like much more than Nora does. She's a little snobbish about Tolkien, for example, which I think reflects her grad school orientation.

Mostly I chose to quote lines of poetry that reflected Nora's thoughts and feelings; they were all from canonical English and American poems that she would have come across in her studies. She seems to be especially fond of Elizabethan and metaphysical poets-which makes sense, given that her thesis is on John Donne-but she also likes the early moderns: Dickinson, Williams, Stevens. Some of these quotations were scraps of poetry that I remembered myself, with varying degrees of clarity; others I came across as I was writing the novel and realized, aha, I can use this.

As I was trying to figure out which book Nora would translate for Aruendiel, I decided that Pride and Prejudice would be a good reference point for many readers. It also echoes some of the elements of Nora's relationship to Aruendiel without recapitulating it too closely.

Did any other book help to shape your novel?

Many books! Most of them were not models that I chose deliberately, but as I look back, I can see their influence in what I wrote. To single out a few: I believe it was Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that made me consider writing about magicians in the first place. J. K. Rowling showed me how to write fantasy with a little bit of irony and understated humor. And then I found myself thinking of Jane Eyre-which I must have read at least once a year when I was between the ages of twelve and twenty-as I wrote about Nora coming to live with Aruendiel, becoming his pupil, and finding herself more and more intrigued with this strange, complicated man.

You make an interesting distinction between wizards and magicians in this book. Which would you rather be?

A magician, definitely. I'm with Aruendiel-I wouldn't want to be dependent upon ghosts and demons for my magic.

The novel ends with a strong hint that Nora and Aruendiel's story will continue. Are you working on a sequel?

Yes, I'm about halfway through a first draft. We haven't heard the last of Nora and Aruendiel yet.

You've been a journalist for more than twenty years. How was the experience of writing a novel different from that of journalistic writing?

In some ways, writing a novel is very much the same as writing a magazine feature. The prose has to be taut and the story has to move at a good pace. It's helpful to have a definite point of view, intriguing characters, and of course a compelling narrative. What's different is that you have so much more freedom to invent, to go inside the heads of your characters, to be creative in how you use language. Also, it's really intoxicating to be able to write page after page of dialogue after having been restricted to quoting only what you can verify people said on a given occasion. These are all really powerful tools, and I had to spend a fair amount of time learning to use them correctly.


  • Nora proves particularly adept at magic. Is there something about her personality that makes her a good magician?
  • Would you rather be a wizard or a magician?
  • Aruendiel never tells Mrs. Toristel that he is her great-great-grandfather, though Nora urges him to. Nora never tells her, either. Did Nora do the right thing? Would you withhold a secret like that from a friend or family member?
  • When Aruendiel brings Massy's little girl back to life, he turns Massy into an apple tree so she can feed her children. Was this a fitting punishment for the woman?
  • After the ice demon has sucked Dorneng's soul, Nora takes care of him (though he has just tried to kill her) rather than abandon him. Would you do the same?
  • When Aruendiel is trapped by an invisible prison, Nora uses math to break the spell. Are math and science the equivalent of magic in our world?
  • Nora translates Pride and Prejudice into Ors. Discuss the role of the novels and poems that appear in this book. What do they mean to Nora?
  • When Aruendiel casts the observation spell, Nora is able to see her family. Would you stay in a magical world separated from your family physically if you could communicate with them through such a spell?
  • Did you want to know more about the mysterious Kavareen? Would you trust it?
  • If you were to learn real magic, who would you rather have as your teacher, Aruendiel or Hirizjahkinis? Why?
  • Does Aruendiel change over the course of the book? Has he learned anything from Nora by the end?
  • Were you rooting for Aruendiel and Nora to get together at the end? Or Nora and Perin?
  • At the end of the book Raclin's ring is still on Nora's finger. Do you think she will return to the world of magic?
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 36 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2013

    The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic Emily Croy Barker. ARC

    The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic Emily Croy Barker.

    ARC provided by Netgalley.

    I love books about magic, but as this is Emily's début novel I didn't know what to expect. Its been compared to Deborah Harness Witches trilogy which I love, so I put in my request. Started it yesterday and was engrossed and transported into a different world.
    It starts in a fairly conventional way, then Grad student Nora wanders off from a wedding party into a churchyard...and steps through into another dimension, populated with all sorts of folk including the Faitloren, a magical group who need her for a specific reason. There follows all sorts of adventures. Fabulous parties with amazing food and clothes, sunshine and sweetness everyday. Nora meets all sorts of people from history, goes all over the world in the blink of an eye and doesn't find anything strange about this, except occasionally a little voice in the back of her mind says “is this real”, but then Ilissa plans another party and the roundabout starts again. Once Raclin marries Nora then a different side to the group emerges, and she learns the truth about her friends but she's trapped.
    The story is full of kidnappings, rescues, escapes, magical creatures and dangerous undertakings. The magician Aruendiel has taken her in reluctantly, and over the following months she works in his household with his long time housekeeper. Slowly she persuades him to teach her magic, it takes up time but that’s something she has in abundance, not knowing when or if ever she can return home.
    The descriptions, first of the wonderful parties Ilissa has, and then of the castles and places Nora visits are wonderful. They really took me into a magical realm, where it seemed normal to heal by magic, to mend pots and things using magic, and to have transport made of sticks and feathers that could fly, doors in walls that were hidden and opened by witchcraft. The descriptions too of the differences between Wizards and Magicians and the spell books were fabulous. I felt as if I was there with Nora, learning as she learned, feeling all that she felt. Loved that, I like to get so absorbed in a story that I become part of it and swinging in the shade on my hammock in the garden yesterday that’s exactly what happened. I've always had a vivid imagination and enjoyed books about magic. As a child my mum used to try to persuade me to more practical books, rather than the fairies and magic I preferred, and I can recall a conversation with my father over why he couldn't buy me a magic wand for Christmas. “They're so expensive we couldn't afford to buy presents for anyone else” “but dad, I could just magic them” Logic of a child :) I was always being told off for having my head in the clouds, and getting board rubber thrown at me by teachers for daydreaming...well, fantasy was so much more interesting than the real world and still is to me at times....
    Anyway, back to the story, there were some things that didn't work so well for me. It took time for me to warm to Nora, at first she seems too anodyne, and I didn't ever really warm to her as a person, which made it hard for me to empathise with her. I felt a bit detached and need to be almost one with the main characters to feel and worry about them even though its fiction.... Then the world of Ilissa; I know Nora was under many spells but I think we needed to have that reinforced a few times, because I began to get impatient with her when she just accepted everything. This was explained much better later by Aruendiel, and I understood more but it could have put me off earlier as I was soo “Nora, get a grip girl!!” and of course later I learned why she couldn't, however if it wasn't a review book I may have given up then, and missed out on a magical treat. It is a long book, and I love long novels but there is a lot in it that tends to drag a little that maybe could have been tightened. I guess for me its because I’m always looking for the romance, this isn't marketed as a romance ( I think anyway ) but for some reason I expect one to develop. Maybe because of the one in the Harkness trilogy which is the cornerstone of those books. Anyway I was always looking for some developments between Nora and Arundiel – I suspect that he does want her but for whatever reason won't allow himself, and its clear Nora at times has feeling for him.
    The ending is somewhat opaque, it suggests to me that there will be another book and that may have the romance that I wanted but missed – who knows? I can't find any references that say there's a follow up, and this can easily be read as a stand alone but it just seems to me to hint at more to come – or perhaps its wishful thinking on my part, as I'd love Nora and Arundiel to get together and to be back in that magical world.
    Overall a good read, and at £3.99 for a massive 572 pages its a bargain on my VFM scale.
    Stars: four, I needed that romance :) and a little more explanation of Nora earlier, and to make her more likeable. That would have made this a five star read for me but then we all need different things and I'm sure for others Emily has got this spot on.

    5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    Must Read!

    I loved this book! Hands down one of the best things I've read this past year! I couldnt put it down!
    If you love The Magicians, The Discovery of Witches, & Harry Potter you will love this too!
    I can it wait for the sequel!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 17, 2013

    Loved story line , pace, and characters. Hope there is #2 in th

    Loved story line , pace, and characters. Hope there is #2 in the pipeline.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2014


    Why would I have to read this book now after all the very long reviews full of plot spoilers. Iaccidentally read one and now know the whole story. So I shall look elsewhere for a fantasy story where I won't find reviews that tell me everything!!

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2013


    I loved this book, it is so creative and captivating. I didnt want it to end, I hope she writes a sequel!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2013

    Crafty girl

    More please!!! Loved it, couldn't put it down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 8, 2013

    Involved--But Worth It.

    Involved--But Worth It. This is a novel which is going to take a chunk of time to read; it's involved and extremely detailed. However, those are not bad elements. This is a wonderfully imaginative novel--so much so it is rather mind boggling. Tipping her hat to everything from 'Alice in Wonderland' to Harry Potter, Narnia, and Tolkien, Barker has crafted an incredible epic starring a Ph.D. candidate whose life is a mess. Nora's boyfriend has dumped her; her dissertation is stalled; her cat has bee run over--and all she wishes is that her life was different. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Stumbling into another world, one dominated by magic and wizardry, Nora is forced to come of age. While this will keep you up to the wee hours, it is not necessarily a quick read; Barker's world is dense. There are endless characters and plotlines--to the point they are sometimes hard to keep straight. While the author's place and character names are extremely creative, they are also extremely hard to pronounce at times. While we learn endless details about this magical world and how its people live, its societies operate (sexism runs rampant), there are definitely chunks that drag; it could use some editing. And while there are those that keep insisting upon comparing this to the 'Discovery of Witches' trilogy--I really do not see it except for the idea of 'young woman immersed in magical world.' This is beautifully written, starkly/wildly original with a heroine who, while not always totally likeable, is given a true arc of character development. Barker makes not only Nora a real person but this incredible world real as well. I have NEVER found that in either of the 'All Souls' novels. Additionally, the romance here is tension-filled, understated, and smacks of a real relationship. Those readers looking for the ridiculous (and icky) over the top sexual fantasies of a 'Twilight' or 'All Souls'--between beyond gorgeous people--need not look here. This is a romance between two very physically and emotionally damaged people that is more a meeting of the minds than of the bodies. Also--anyone looking for neatly tied up plotlines will be disappointed; I cannot help but think there has to be a sequel here. Several characters' fates are left uncertain; Nora's final choices seem rushed, and that relationship with her mentor, Arundiel, seems to have unfinished business. What I like most about this is that the title really is true--this IS a thinking woman's novel full of fantastic worlds, beautiful writing, all sorts of literary allusion...a really amazing debut that I really hope has a follow up.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2014

    This book drags on and on...

    Starting out with a great premise, I got sucked in and couldn't wait to find out what would happen with the main character. Sadly, things took a dark and ridiculous turn and now she's on a seemingly never-ending journey that is boring me to tears. I forced myself to read on... And on... And on... Never to be rewarded. I had high hopes for this book but am sorely disappointed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Think back to the first book that transported you on a journey t

    Think back to the first book that transported you on a journey to elsewhere: not a rapid movement, but a gentle realization that the world in the book is all around you.  For me that was Through the Looking Glass. I found much of the same wonder and enjoyment in this book: a subtle return to those moments when reading where all outside influences cease to exist, and hours pass before they return. 

    Emily Croy Barker uses a smooth and beautifully descriptive writing style, to craft this story that incorporates references to classics, poetry and poets and the age-old battle of dark versus light.  It is not a quick read at over five hundred pages, but a thoroughly charming one.

    Nora is a grad student, stuck on her thesis and recently single. She hates her life at the moment, her self-esteems is shot, and she wants nothing more than to escape: from the sympathetic looks, the abominable men, her own feelings of failure and those few extra pounds that never seem to go away. And escape she does: an early morning wander in the woods leads to an old cemetery with a poem that attracts her. Lacking paper to write it down, she memorizes it, speaks it aloud and moments later, her world changes. 

    From here we are brought into a world of the impossible and improbable: where healing is by magic, clothes and people are always beautiful, the sun always shines and the most important event on the calendar is the day’s entertainment.  Using time-periods that are iconic in their shapes, feel and essence to readers, Barker manages to use that sense to define fashion, style and furnishings with a nod to those eras: the 20’s, the 60’s, Elizabethan and Georgian and Victorian.  There were moments early on when Nora’s complacency with the scene changes and situation made her difficult to understand, while some piece of the reader knows that she is under a spell, a bit of reinforcement of Ilissa’s power and influence on her memory and questioning earlier would have made it easier to understand her apparent passivity. 

    Aruendiel, however, was far more solid in his consistency and behavior, preferring the term ‘magician’ to ‘wizard’, although their capabilities are similar: in this world wizards tend to use their skills on a whim, to suit their current fancy.  And Nora had been spelled, several times over, which presented a severe risk to her own mental health and safety.  Nora shows her tendency to gravitate toward more ‘alpha’ and knowing personalities in her growing feelings for him: even as he must teach her to survive a return to Ilissa and eventually back to her own world. 

    This book is a wander to the end, throughout the story we are really given few clues to time passing, much like Nora’s inability to solidly define how long she had been away from her own world and life. These allows and insists that the reader simply drink in the moments and descriptions, and enjoy the slow unfurling of the plot: use their instincts as each new character is introduced to determine if they are friend or foe, and see if Nora really is able to find her way home. Not as action packed as some high fantasy stories I have read, there is forward progress with each chapter as we learn more, see more and watch Nora navigate this new and different world that is full of the impossible. 

    If you want a directly forward moving story, loaded with action and dramatic spell-offs: this is not the book for you.  However, if you want a gentle moving story that is filled with beauty and description, a unique look at magic and its use, and a main character that has issues that many can relate to in their own lives: this is the book for you. 

    I received an eBook from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 11, 2014

    more from this reviewer


    When I was sent THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC for review, I was excited to read it. I thought it was going to be like Deborah Harkness’ debut novel. Unfortunately, I found THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC paled in comparison. Nora Fischer is in danger of losing her career over her stalled dissertation and her love life is in shambles. When she wanders off, she ends up in an entirely new realm. She meets Ilissa and her beautiful son, Raclin, along with all of Ilissa’s subjects. Caught up in beautiful dresses, lavish parties, and a whirlwind romance, Nora is blind to what is really occurring around her. When the fantasy shatters, Nora is rescued by Aruendiel, a magician, and learns the world she’s living in is nothing like it seems. It was odd to me how Nora, a Ph.D. student in literature wasn’t astute enough to recognize Ilissa and her ilk for their true natures when the voice inside her told her something was wrong. Nora seems resigned to her new life at Aruendiel’s castle, helping the house matron, and barely seeing the magician. Once Nora finally convinces him to teach her magic (which was hard to do since in this realm women are not held in high esteem), it gets a little more interesting. The tempo of the story is slow and is overall too long of a book. It took me a while to get through THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC because of this and because of how frustrating Nora is as a character. There wasn’t any character I really was drawn to or sympathized with in this entire story. I wish the author the best, but I may not be reading any more of her books.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2014

    This book was horribly hard to get through. I wish I could give

    This book was horribly hard to get through. I wish I could give negative stars. I got it because I kept seeing it compared to Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, which I loved. The only thing this book has in common with the All Souls Trilogy is that there is magic in both of them.
    The first half of the book took much too long. The main characters stupidity throughout was so aggravating. And the title… the main character is clearly not a thinking woman. Don’t waste your time on this one, it’s not worth it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 9, 2014

    Absolute MUST Read

    If you have a penchant for the fantastic and incredibly well-done worldbuilding, then you absolutely must read Emily Croy Barker's "The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic." I haven't been so transported by a book since the Potter series, and I turned the final page with the same sense of excitement and horror. Thrill for the wild and wonderful ride I'd just been on, and terror at the prospect of not being able to go again until the next book. Barker's mastery of the written world will leave you certain that magic exists, and she's the greatest witch of them all. I can't wait for the next installment!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 7, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Nora Fischer has just been dropped by her boyfriend and her Supe

    Nora Fischer has just been dropped by her boyfriend and her Supervisor has informed her that her slowness with her dissertation writing is proving to be a problem that might mean she’ll be out of the program.  All in all, she’s in a bad place, unable to be inspired to do the requisite research and writing and in a surrealistic way unable to accept that her former lover has dumped her.  So she decides she needs a break and sets off to a friend’s wedding.  One day she decides to take a walk, one that will change her life forever!
    For Nora has literally walked into another world, time and place!  Ilyssa becomes Nora’s mentor, guiding her with gifts of dress, makeup, and introductions to the “partying” crowd who share love and fun indiscriminately.  In time Nora can hardly believe she was the troubled woman of before as now she sees herself in an entirely new way – beautiful, smart, and loving life!  Ilyssa’s son Raclin is an artful, teasing and seductive lover with whom Nora becomes obsessed!  It all seems too good to be true and so it is – after their wedding, Nora begins to realize that something is dreadfully wrong.  Raclin has no time for her and disappears for days, eventually telling her that now she is pregnant, he will have very little time for her.  Now Nora begins to realize something is dreadfully wrong and that these people are far from human and are her sinister imprisoners.  One ray of hope appears in the magician Aruendiel who will rescue Nora, albeit reluctantly!
    Nora longs to return to her own life but must learn the magic she abhors in order to go home. This portion tends to slow down and drag a bit but she will learn what she needs to, to a certain degree.  The relationship between Aruendiel and Nora seems to be of growing attraction the never really evolves to reality for some unspoken reason.  However, the last portion of the story picks up the pace with a few unexpected and stunning turn of events, leading this reviewer to believe there will definitely be a follow-up to his intriguing novel.
    There are allusions to Pride and Prejudice, Game of Thrones, Alice in Wonderland and a few other vaguely veiled connections.  I’m not sure these work so well but they perhaps increase the tension-filled plot.  The origins and purpose of the enemy are slowly and even lately provided, which is interesting to a point but then inches into frustration.  Standard formulaic fare or a new addition to the Harkness, Potter, Martin-style fiction – you the reader must decide!
    Interesting, Ms. Baker! 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 15, 2014

    Great start to a new series

    I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the rest of the series. No, it's not Harry Potter and it's not The Magicians, but if you like those sorts of books, you might enjoy this book as well.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 23, 2014

    LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. I like the stubborn/strong woman, t

    LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. I like the stubborn/strong woman, that also has a softer side. Loved the characters, good use of magic and spells, and really hoping she writes another. Wish she had titled it differently though, I can never recall the damn name when recommending it to others.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2013


    An interesting plot line with a comforting ending. Will there be a Volume 2?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 18, 2013

    When I first began reading I thought I'd made a big mistake by p

    When I first began reading I thought I'd made a big mistake by purchasing this book, because the first part of the story was very wierd and disjointed, although I was happy the author pretty much jumped right in to the action. After reading further, I understood why the beginning was so odd. In the beginning, I did not care for Nora at all, thinking her shallow and, quite frankly, an air-headed bimbo. Once I got to know her and her story, I became rather fond of her and found myself in admiration of her courage and determination. She ends up having more integrity than I ever thought her capable of and thought she was missing in the beginning. I found I could relate to her plight. (I don't want to go in to too much detail or it will spoil the story for new readers.) I honestly can't wait for the next book. As soon as I finish this review, I'm going to see if it is out yet.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 15, 2013

    Really loved this book. Hope there's a sequel.

    Really loved this book. Hope there's a sequel.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2013

    When can i get the sequel

    Loved it!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2013

    Another series?

    While I really enjoyed this book, it's obvious it was written as a first title in a series. I'm a little tired of series, and may not have started it had I known. I'm already waiting on 3 new titles in book series. Seems since Harry Potter, this is the strategy for many authors.

    But it is a good story. Good vs Evil, magic, romance--it's all in there. Entertaining but not deep. Good for a weekend read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)