Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Nora Fischer wants a new life.  Any will do really. She just wants things to be different and she doesn’t really care how…just different. Well you know what they say….be careful what you wish for because you just may get it.

Nora is crashing and burning on her English thesis and post graduate work, her serious boyfriend just broke it off with her to marry someone else and suddenly this plain Jane finds herself at her friends wedding forced into an awkward social situation with her ex.

She just needs to take a little breather before the wedding. She wakes up one morning to go for a brisk walk in the countryside to regroup and maybe do a little reading. Grabbing a beat up copy of Pride and Prejudice, she sets off in the morning mist and disappears.

She happens to stumble upon a little graveyard in the hills and somehow ends up in a parallel world where she meets Ilissa, a beautiful fairy who is practically royalty. Ilissa’s world is full of beauty, extravagant parties, and love. She introduces Nora to her son Raclin who is the perfect prince charming.

Nora can’t help but fall in love with him even though she hardly knows him. But there is a nagging voice in the back of her head that keeps telling her this is all too good to be true. What does she really know about Raclin after all? How can she love him when she doesn’t really know him?

Suddenly things begin to lose their luster and Nora begins to wonder if this is all real or if she was under some kind of spell…but before she can decide she loses interest in this and finds herself hopelessly in love with Raclin. One day she happens to wander too far from Ilissa’s home and is captured by the wizard Aruendiel who informs her that Ilissa has put her under some extremely potent enchantments. He removes some of the spells and gives her a feather and tells her if she needs help, he will come for her.

When she returns to  Ilissa’s home she slowly begins to see things for what they really are and becomes frightened. Aruendiel comes to rescue her but she soon finds out that he isn’t a knight in shining armor either….in fact he murdered his wife if rumors are to be believed and he is anything but charming….but she is willing to take her chances with him rather than stay in the fairy realm. Aruendiel helps nurse her back to health and removes the enchantments that Ilssia has cast on her but for Aruendiel, Nora is a problem. She is trapped in his world and she clearly doesn’t belong. He soon regrets helping her since she will likely be more trouble than she is worth. But could there be a glimmer of hope that these two vastly different beings and unlikely match, might be able to heal the wounds of their pasts and find a future together?

This book reminds me of a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. If you are a fan of the All Soul’s Trilogy then you will probably like this novel.

Typically, I prefer my para-romance novels with vampires….normally I don’t have any interest in para-romance novels that have fairies, wizards, or witches in them but that seems to be all the rage right now so I figured I would give it a go and see what all the fuss is about. I loved how Barker used magic in this novel…it wasn’t overly done. It blended into the background and fabric of the novel without over powering it.  I liked that the characters didn’t use magic to make things ‘easy’….that was my biggest concern about novels using things like magic, fairies, witches etc. I was pleased that it wasn’t the focus of the novel.

For me personally….I struggled with Nora’s character in the beginning. I found her too whiney and forlorn the first half of the novel. It was frustrating because she had so much potential and spunk that the audience would get a glimpse of but then her ‘funk’ was so over powering that I almost forgot she had that spunky side. Some of the things she would say would make me laugh out loud one minute and then she would be back in her depression feeling sorry for herself. It wasn’t until about half way through the novel that she began to really develop and come a live for me. As a reader that was hard for me to get through because she was the main character and was the POV for the entire novel for the most part.

I also found myself wondering if this novel could have been shorter. There were things that I thought could have been left out. There was a lot of attention to detail which normally I like but then not enough detail about certain things. For example, there was a lot of description and build up about Ilissa’s house and her parties, but then it kind of glossed over Nora’s real life boyfriend and their relationship which I thought was important in the beginning. I never got the feeling that Nora was too broken up over losing him so at times in the story later one when she mentioned him and how she felt I was questioning how sincere she was being.

It took me a little bit to get orientated in the novel especially since it’s a parallel/alternate universe and the story took a while to develop. It wasn’t until almost half way through that things started picking up and becoming more interesting for me.

That said,  I did enjoy the second half of the novel. Maybe if some things could be edited out or revised then it would have flowed a little better. Eventually Nora’s character grew on me and I was exciting with the direction of the novel. This book has a lot of potential and there is a lot to enjoy. I still prefer my para-romances with vampires but I can see how a magical world such as this could easily ensnare and enchant readers.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

  • Hardcover, 576 pages
  • Published August 1st 2013 by Pamela Dorman Books
  • ISBN 0670023663 (ISBN13: 9780670023660)
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5

Genre: Fantasy, speculative fiction, pararomance

Memorable lines/quotes: 

A man may smile and smile and be a villain.

When you find your true love all the other men don’t matter anymore.

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