In Book Reviews, Fantasy

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Author: Emily Croy Barker
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ARC
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Recommended Reading: AGE+ 17+



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OVERALL THOUGHTS: The author creates a whole fantasy world with magic and dangers and interesting characters.  The book is a bit lengthy at 576 pages, because the author takes her time showing you her world and introducing you to her characters.  I wanted to love this book.  All the right elements were there, magic, a smart heroin, castles and a dark and moody magician.  The truth is, it always left me wanting a bit more, and not in the “I can’t wait to turn the next page! Why can’t I read any faster!?!” kind of way.  I could have used more romance, more action, more….pizzazz.  The book is well put together and not a boring read, but it will not go into my favorites pile.

[note color=”#f6d684″]SYNOPSIS: 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. (Goodreads)


THE LOWDOWN: The story opens up by introducing you to the heroine, Nora.  She is a smart Ph.D. student in English literature and she is having a rough go of it.  Her professional life and personal life is not going well.  She is then swept off into a magical world where she is the bell of the ball and every day is a party.   As the reader, it is obvious that Nora is being enchanted and that the things that are happening to her are not real, or at least not to be trusted.   Meanwhile, the smart brave heroine that we were just getting to know turns into a pretty girl with a brain like a cabbage.  For far too many pages we have to watch her stumble through this dream world where things get worse and worse.

Nora finally comes to her senses, she is rescued from her enchantment, and things get more interesting.  We are introduced to this medieval style world where there is magic but no running water.  Our smart heroine that has spent about a decade in higher education is now illiterate, because she doesn’t know how to read or write in the strange language of this world.  Nora is enterprising though, and works hard at menial labor around the castle while teaching herself how to read and write.  Eventually, a magician, Aruendiel, dains to train her in magic.  We get to watch her struggle to learn the trade and follow along while she and Aruendiel go through some adventures.

As an intelligent woman, I could relate to Nora on many levels.  I enjoyed all the literary references sprinkled throughout the book. Though, I’m not well versed enough in poetry to truly appreciate the poems Nora seemed to work into every day conversation.  I was frustrated along with Nora when she came up against a road block simply because she was a woman in a chauvinistic society.  I was horrified by the idea that someone who loved books and words would be thrust into a world where she had neither to comfort her. However, having a relatable heroine is all well and good but, for me, the villain was not quite evil enough and the hero, Aruendiel, was not quite good enough.

The ending was a bit flat. There were questions that were never answered.  I want to know the answers and yet I think that those answers would not make this into an awesome story. Good fantasy should sweep you away in someone else’s fantastical imagination. The book was well put together.  There was definitely fantasy, it was definitely full of magic, but I was never swept away.

FINAL THOUGHTSThe book is not great but it is pretty entertaining.  I recommend it as a good read for the coming long fall/winter nights.

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