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Payback's a Witch

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper. Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn't been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tinies Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper. Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn't been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams. But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She's determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago. On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in? But most concerning of all: Why can't she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?


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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper. Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn't been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tinies Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper. Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn't been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams. But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She's determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago. On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in? But most concerning of all: Why can't she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

30 review for Payback's a Witch

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lex Kent

    4.25 Stars. I had so much fun with this! This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and I’m happy to say that it was just as good as I hoped. The vibe was The Other Woman/John Tucker Must Die with some the Goblet of Fire, but with sapphic adult witches. It was really enjoyable and a great read to get you in the mood for Halloween. I was really impressed by how good Harper’s writing was. Her style is very smooth and nice to read, plus her details are really on point. Not only do you know wh 4.25 Stars. I had so much fun with this! This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and I’m happy to say that it was just as good as I hoped. The vibe was The Other Woman/John Tucker Must Die with some the Goblet of Fire, but with sapphic adult witches. It was really enjoyable and a great read to get you in the mood for Halloween. I was really impressed by how good Harper’s writing was. Her style is very smooth and nice to read, plus her details are really on point. Not only do you know what this magical town run by witch’s looks like, but you even know what it smells like. It seems to me that authors don’t use taste and smell very often anymore, but Harper did and it just really brought this story to life. I live in New England, actually only a couple of hours from Salem, Mass., and I can’t tell you how magical the month of October is around here. The gorgeous colors of the leaves changing, the sunny days that are just cool enough to keep the bugs away, and the smells of pumpkins and apple cider in the air just makes it special around here. The way I feel about New England in the fall is the same way Harper described the town of Thistle Grove (minus the witchey magic of course) and I could not help but to fall in love with her setting. While this is her first book under Harper, it’s not a debut as she writes YA under Lana Popovic. I was really happy with the characters, especially the two main characters. This is first person, in the head of Emmy Harlow, but the other characters are so well done, especially Natalia Avramov, so that you feel like you know her and she even steals a bit of the spotlight from Harlow. Natalia has this really sexy presence, mix in some darker necromancer magic, and she just has a bit of a bad girl vibe, but with a heart of gold, that made her into a crush-on-able book character. I have to also mention that I was really happy with the romance. The characters have great chemistry and you just can’t help hoping they will somehow end up together. I was pleasantly surprised that while this book had a good romance, the magical fantasy parts were well done too. I find a lot of paranormal romances to either have too much romance and not enough paranormal, or the opposite. I think this book was perfectly balanced and that it will appeal to fans that love magical and paranormal books, but it will also work well for romance fans that are more dipping their toe into this category for Halloween reads. TLDR: I absolutely recommend this one to readers looking for good Halloween books. I think this book will have a wide appeal to many different readers and it was good fun too. I really enjoyed the writing and I hope Harper will write more sapphic stories, in the future, as I would love to read them. This was really enjoyable and I hope this will be out on audio as I think the writing style would transfer very well and I would definitely buy it. A copy was given to me for a review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    TW: ghost possession This is a book I almost didn’t read, because romance books that also have magic tend to be written in a way I don’t like. But I loved this! This is John Tucker Must Die meets the Tri-Wizard Tournament, set in a town that’s a mix of the vibes from Practical Magic and Halloweentown, AND featuring a romance between two bi women. It’s truly a delight.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This is the kind of book that you just sort of ache to step inside. I want to be thereeeeeee heeeeeelp. It's a PERFECT fall read you want to make sure you've got preordered now. This is the kind of book that you just sort of ache to step inside. I want to be thereeeeeee heeeeeelp. It's a PERFECT fall read you want to make sure you've got preordered now.

  4. 4 out of 5

    anna (½ of readsrainbow)

    rep: bi mc, Russian American bi li, Black side characters five reasons to read this book! rep: bi mc, Russian American bi li, Black side characters five reasons to read this book!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Miranda

    Considering that I got to 48% of Payback's a Witch, I probably should have finished it, but... honestly, I was bored. The technical aspect of the writing was fine, and the characters had pretty strong, distinct voices, but the pacing was all over place. Harper seemed to have trouble juggling all the different parts of the plot and figuring out how to have things move in a way that made sense. The character's plot to get back at the man who hurt them made very little sense, and would have been ea Considering that I got to 48% of Payback's a Witch, I probably should have finished it, but... honestly, I was bored. The technical aspect of the writing was fine, and the characters had pretty strong, distinct voices, but the pacing was all over place. Harper seemed to have trouble juggling all the different parts of the plot and figuring out how to have things move in a way that made sense. The character's plot to get back at the man who hurt them made very little sense, and would have been easy to foil in real life. I wasn't overly into the relationship between Talia and Emmy, either, as I didn't see much to support their relationship other than mutual lust-at-first-sight. That may be some reader's cup of tea, but it isn't mine, unfortunately. Also, this is maybe a stupid quibble when Payback's a Witch is meant to be a fun rom-com that you don't think about too much, but I was a bit bothered by the history of Thistle Grove. The novel states that the four founders of the town gravitated to the area because the land "had an abundance of magic". The land that, by the by, is in America. So... what about the Native Americans who were there first? Were they using that land for anything? Or was it just happily empty of people and waiting for a bunch of colonizers to come take it? Looking at the reviews, it seems I'm in the minority as far as Payback's a Witch goes, so YMMV. It just wasn't for me. See more of my reviews at Red Hat Cat Reviews! I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nomadic Reader (Baba Yaga)

    Remember your high school crush? The one who broke you heart for the first time. The one who stood you up, cheated on you, or ghosted you for no apparent reason. Remember the hours you spent crying, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking you would never fall in love again? Now, imagine basing all your life decisions on that guy. Leaving your hometown, cutting ties with your friends and family, and disappearing for nearly a decade, just to make sure you don’t accidentally bump into the fuckboy you br Remember your high school crush? The one who broke you heart for the first time. The one who stood you up, cheated on you, or ghosted you for no apparent reason. Remember the hours you spent crying, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking you would never fall in love again? Now, imagine basing all your life decisions on that guy. Leaving your hometown, cutting ties with your friends and family, and disappearing for nearly a decade, just to make sure you don’t accidentally bump into the fuckboy you briefly dated in junior year. That would be a ridiculous overreaction, wouldn’t it? Well, not if you’re the protagonist of this book. At the ripe age of twenty-six, she’s still obsessed with her high school boyfriend to the point that she refuses to visit her parents for fear of being in the same town as him. She also holds a major, and frankly overblown, grudge against him. In the hands of a more skilful writer, this could have been a great premise for a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator; instead, we got a romantic comedy that also tries to be a Sabrina-meets-Goblet-of-Fire contemporary fantasy. My number one issue with this book is that it attempts to do too many things at once. It’s a romance with very little romance (and no chemistry whatsoever); a fantasy with a flimsy fantasy plot that is taken straight out of Harry Potter; and a sapphic love story that spends too much time focusing on mediocre men. This is Harper’s first adult novel, and you can tell she struggled with both tone and characterization. Emmy comes across as very unsympathetic: she’s childish, selfish, and petty in a way no real life woman would get away with. The revenge plot could be fun if set in a high school, but I just can’t believe three grown adults would waste their time making elaborate plans to get back at a guy whose worst sin was being a mildly shitty boyfriend. The dialogue also felt very YA, and not in a good way. I cringed at the constant use of social media slang and at the forced banter between the characters. Call me old fashioned, but I can’t stand authors who use hashtags and internet acronyms in their prose, especially when they also try to counter-balance the juvenile language by dropping f-bombs every other line. The setting was quite charming, and I enjoyed the overarching theme of family love and rediscovering your roots; but everything else — from the lackluster romance, to the cartoonish villains, to the convenient final resolution — I found deeply disappointing. Oh, and Delilah should have been the heroine instead of Emmy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    megs_bookrack

    PAYBACK'S A WITCH is available now!!! Original: ARC received!!! Thank you so much, Berkley! This sounds glorious and just like something I will adore. Excited to get to it soon! PAYBACK'S A WITCH is available now!!! Original: ARC received!!! Thank you so much, Berkley! This sounds glorious and just like something I will adore. Excited to get to it soon!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Helen Power

    TLDR: I recommend this book to those who want a descriptive, modern story of witchcraft with phenomenal worldbuilding. ~Full Review~ Payback’s a Witch is a romantic fantasy with delightful worldbuilding of the ethereal quality. The novel follows Emmy as she returns home and comes to terms with who she is and where she comes from. Emmy is an intriguing, multi-layered character, who at times is quite frustrating, but she remains relatable throughout. The writing style is the prim TLDR: I recommend this book to those who want a descriptive, modern story of witchcraft with phenomenal worldbuilding. ~Full Review~ Payback’s a Witch is a romantic fantasy with delightful worldbuilding of the ethereal quality. The novel follows Emmy as she returns home and comes to terms with who she is and where she comes from. Emmy is an intriguing, multi-layered character, who at times is quite frustrating, but she remains relatable throughout. The writing style is the primary focal point of this novel. The book is chock-full of clever lines and insightful remarks about the world that the author has created. The prose is heavily laden with worldbuilding and imagery. The book uses flowery, at times old-fashioned syntax, but it’s nicely paired with modern expressions, such as “nasty woman” and talks of being “chaotically neutral”. Unfortunately, Emmy’s witty internal observations and beautifully implemented flashbacks do come at the expense of pacing, and the read is quite slow and heavy with description. This book is definitely for those who read for language and setting. Because of the focus on language, the worldbuilding is phenomenal. I would say that it even rivals that of Harry Potter, with the way that magic works and the little idiosyncrasies that are explained throughout the book. There’s an intricate complexity to the magic described that shows the author put a lot of time and effort into constructing this fantastical world. The book is rife with magical history, for the town and the founding families. Magic is in the air, along with a hint of sexual tension. The romantic chemistry between Emmy and Talia is cute, but it takes a backseat to everything else that’s going on in the book. I would almost say that this is a fantasy novel with a romance subplot. While the romance plotline does follow your typical romance story arc, it’s overshadowed both in quality and in amount of time spent on the main plotline, which reminded me a lot of the Triwizard tournament in Harry Potter (in a good way!) I recommend this book to those who want a descriptive, modern story of witchcraft with phenomenal worldbuilding. *Thank you to Netgalley and the author for the ebook to review* This review appeared first on https://powerlibrarian.wordpress.com/ Book Blog | Instagram | TikTok | Website | Twitter My 2021 Reading Challenge

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Remarkablylisa)

    3.5 stars! I really liked the witchy vibes and atomphere of this book. I also thought the romance was slow burn and super beautiful.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Proffitt

    I had a complicated time with this story for two reasons. The first is that Emmy gives so much power to the idiot Gareth. Yeah, he's a complete douche canoe and should be shunned by anybody with taste and/or standards. But the story completely ignores that Emmy's actions all flow from the assumption that he was right. Which makes her like a lot of victims of exploitative manipulation, frankly, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable. Indeed, her whole life in however many years it has be I had a complicated time with this story for two reasons. The first is that Emmy gives so much power to the idiot Gareth. Yeah, he's a complete douche canoe and should be shunned by anybody with taste and/or standards. But the story completely ignores that Emmy's actions all flow from the assumption that he was right. Which makes her like a lot of victims of exploitative manipulation, frankly, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable. Indeed, her whole life in however many years it has been, the life she can't wait to return to, is predicated on his worldview being both accurate and valid. And it doesn't help that the core conceit of the three conspirators forming a bond is that all three of them fell for Gareth-the-pustule. This is not a way to convey that they are smart, capable women who deserve sympathy and support. Heck, Linden fell in love with the compost heap despite knowing what he'd done to Emmy. Which means that every time she is referred to as Emmy's bestie I sneered, just a little bit. This is not the action of a best friend. The second reason is a ton more subtle. I kept getting the feeling that everything was ramped into crystal hues. Like, lots of adverbs and adjectives and sense descriptors. This was a real advantage as the story dips into the magical world of Thistle Grove. The magical elements and effects were vivid and engaging and as lovely as they were atmospheric. And I really regret that I learned the author has written YA because it made me aware that this makes it feel a bit like it was written for that genre, only with adults and sex and careers and stuff. This is a completely unfair feeling because Emmy isn't a YA heroine (despite the above concern) and the story has a lot of layered emotional depth. And one of the great strengths of the story is the emotional arc as Emmy learns the pain her actions have caused others and how being too oriented to her pain has made her wound people she loves and who love her. I loved many of the interactions with her parents and friends. I loved watching her come into herself as she eventually worked free of the delusion she had accepted from the snot-rag ex. And I haven't even gotten to her relationship with Talia, yet. I loved that Talia had her own complexity, as well. Her family is descended from Baba Yaga and Harper chose to lean into the necromantic as their gift's focus. So Talia's magic is inherently creepy and Talia embraces that aspect. Only. Harper shows how she engages with the dread and darkness with compassion and understanding and even love. So yeah, Emmy and Talia have all the exciting chemistry that pulls them together initially. But it was easy to see why Emmy would engage emotionally, as well, as she got to see Talia's soft center emerge. So in all, I found this very engaging. It's a solid four stars of entertainment, despite having a plot built around revenge against the dopiest cardboard villain and his dopey cardboard family. Seriously, the small-town witch haven just really worked for me and I'm glad I gave this story a shot. A note about Steamy: There's a single explicit sex scene so this is low on my steam tolerance. Frankly, I don't remember it very well, so I'm going to call it gratuitous.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maddie | bookish.pgh

    Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper. Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the opportunity to read and review an advanced readers copy of this book. This in no way affects my review, all opinions are my own. I'm feeling a little conflicted about this book. To start, I thought the premise and setting of this story was incredible. It was giving me all of the spooky, witchy, fall vibes that I crave this time of year. The des Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper. Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the opportunity to read and review an advanced readers copy of this book. This in no way affects my review, all opinions are my own. I'm feeling a little conflicted about this book. To start, I thought the premise and setting of this story was incredible. It was giving me all of the spooky, witchy, fall vibes that I crave this time of year. The descriptions of Thistle Grove were enchanting and really made me feel like I was in a Salem-esque magical town. I was so excited for the magical tournament and thought the trials were creative and interesting. Sadly this book just felt so slow to me. At about the halfway mark I wasn't really excited to pick it up anymore. Luckily it picked back up again towards the end, but the focus on small details outside of the competition left me feeling uninterested in the story and the characters' relationships. I wish the romance aspect was a little stronger so that I at least felt invested in Emmy and Talia, but even their romance fell a little flat. I still feel like others might enjoy this one, but unfortunately it wasn't really for me. I did appreciate the spookiness of it overall and think that future books in this series could have potential with the strong setting of Thistle Grove.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

    Witches, exes, a magical town, a competition, and falling in love with someone you knew in your childhood. That's the combination of everything that appears in Payback's a Witch. This book was delightful. Our main character Emmy teams up with her best friend Lin and a girl from her town named Talia to team up and get back at their mutual ex. The storyline that takes the mainstage of this book is the compeition that is being conducted. It was a fun storyline. The setting wasn't as visual as I wou Witches, exes, a magical town, a competition, and falling in love with someone you knew in your childhood. That's the combination of everything that appears in Payback's a Witch. This book was delightful. Our main character Emmy teams up with her best friend Lin and a girl from her town named Talia to team up and get back at their mutual ex. The storyline that takes the mainstage of this book is the compeition that is being conducted. It was a fun storyline. The setting wasn't as visual as I would've liked, save for a few scenes. The trope of a town that is magical but with spells to prevent outsiders from seeing those aspects existed though there wasn't really much on why magic was hidden at all. It was pretty simple worldbuilding for the most part. Although the mythology around the town and the three main families was done pretty well. The fantasy was pretty straightforward but in a good way. I personally do prefer simple magic systems. This book also included in the concept of people who marry witches becoming witches themsleves which I don't think I've seen much, if at all. So I enjoyed that concept. The romance wasn't a big part but I liked it a lot. It felt pretty natrual. All in all, I found this to be a good read and can see this being a good halloween book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Marsh

    I wanted to like this, but I couldn't get past the wordiness. If it was more about Emmy and Talia and the gauntlet and less about descriptions, I would have given this 5 stars. I wanted to like this, but I couldn't get past the wordiness. If it was more about Emmy and Talia and the gauntlet and less about descriptions, I would have given this 5 stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I am cursed to be disappointed by this year's crop of autumnal witchy romances, it seems. All of them have been varying shades of "meh". It's also the third time or so this fall where I've thought a book had distinctly YA vibes, and learned that the author is making their adult debut after previously writing YA. There's nothing wrong with YA, or authors transitioning to writing adult fiction, but these books (this one included) felt like YA: But With Steam and it hasn't worked for me. This book c I am cursed to be disappointed by this year's crop of autumnal witchy romances, it seems. All of them have been varying shades of "meh". It's also the third time or so this fall where I've thought a book had distinctly YA vibes, and learned that the author is making their adult debut after previously writing YA. There's nothing wrong with YA, or authors transitioning to writing adult fiction, but these books (this one included) felt like YA: But With Steam and it hasn't worked for me. This book centres on a town that has four founding members (two male, two female), whose descendants form factions with magical affinities and colour branding. There are the Nature Magic Ones, the Vaguely Slavic Ones with Sexy Necromancy Magic, the Boring Bookkeeper Ones, and the... Ones Who Are Good at Everything... and Own Property... and Are Entitled Assholes and Everyone Hates Them? You might even say they are... ambitious and cunning. Anyway. The main plot of the story surrounds this competition where the heirs from three of the families compete in three rounds of magical skill-testing for honour and glory or something (the nerd from the fourth house gets to be the referee because they are Not Like the Other Witches). The competition has a name that I've already forgotten, so let's call it the Tri-Witch Tournament. (Millennial fantasy writers find another point of reference, I beg). This is the kind of book where the author has a thesaurus, and by god they're going to use it. Every noun is paired with an adjective, and every verb has an adverb (tons of them are alliterative to boot). I mean, why write "musical" when you could say "mellifluous"? Why use "gloomy" when "sepulchral" will do? Why would you have hair circling someone's head "like a crown" when "like a corona" is so much timelier? Who doesn't know immediately what imagery "Her pale eyes glittered like something out of a Billie Eilish song" is meant to evoke? The worldbuilding may be slightly suspect and the prose purple, but at least those elements have some attention to detail and thought behind them. Harper approaches everything else in this book with the energy of a vague wave you might give a former classmate whose name you don't quite remember (Kristin? Kirsten?) when you pass them in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. I didn't feel any attachment to the characters, and there isn't any real sense of tension or conflict throughout the story. I knew more about what everything smelled like and what everyone was wearing than I understood about any character's inner life. Also, I'm tagging this as romance—because that's how it's marketed—but it only qualifies by a hair. I wouldn't say the romance between Emmy and Talia drives the story, and though they a cute together there isn't a lot of there there other than mutual attraction and lust. It was a significant bummer as I was looking forward to a sapphic witch romance this October. Alas.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anniek

    If you read one witchy book this spooky season, make it this one! This was such a well written, atmospheric read, with amazing world building. There were all these details about the town that really built the scene and made it so easy to visualize. It was impossible not to love the main character, who had so much depth to her. Aside from this being a romance, it's also about whether or not you can grow into your full potential if everyone who's known you your whole life has boxed you in with thei If you read one witchy book this spooky season, make it this one! This was such a well written, atmospheric read, with amazing world building. There were all these details about the town that really built the scene and made it so easy to visualize. It was impossible not to love the main character, who had so much depth to her. Aside from this being a romance, it's also about whether or not you can grow into your full potential if everyone who's known you your whole life has boxed you in with their ideas of who you are and should be, which I found really relatable. But the romance. Omg, the romance! I loved this sapphic romance SO much!! I could really feel the chemistry between them, and there was this scene which was basically like "show me all of your tattoos and explain them", and just... Yeah, you should probably just read this!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Natasha Ngan

    A perfect autumnal bubblebath of a book, full of withchy-ness, familial and friendship bonds, cosy small-town vibes, and a dash of spice. I can't wait to sink into the magic of Thistle Grove again! A perfect autumnal bubblebath of a book, full of withchy-ness, familial and friendship bonds, cosy small-town vibes, and a dash of spice. I can't wait to sink into the magic of Thistle Grove again!

  17. 5 out of 5

    rachel ☾

    ...about three scorned witches who make a vengeance pact to take down the asshole warlock who broke their hearts at different times... only two of them fall for each other instead. There’s queer witches kissing (quite a lot), a spellcasting competition, a magical town (with excellent seasonal cocktails), and all the Halloween vibes in the world sign me up Blog • Trigger Warning Database • Twitter • Instagram ...about three scorned witches who make a vengeance pact to take down the asshole warlock who broke their hearts at different times... only two of them fall for each other instead. There’s queer witches kissing (quite a lot), a spellcasting competition, a magical town (with excellent seasonal cocktails), and all the Halloween vibes in the world sign me up Blog • Trigger Warning Database • Twitter • Instagram

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    This is a must read in October it is a sapphic, witchy tournament, romcom.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I might have given this five stars if I'd had a hard copy, and if the author hadn't kept mentioning the characters' perfume and what they smelled like (authors, don't do this!!!). Anyway I'm terrible at eARCS as it turns out, but this was otherwise great. Supremely fun witchy read. I loved so much about this book, not least the actual writing. Maybe other people won't find it as funny as I did, but I actually laughed out loud at many bits of narrative and dialogue. Most lighthearted romances are I might have given this five stars if I'd had a hard copy, and if the author hadn't kept mentioning the characters' perfume and what they smelled like (authors, don't do this!!!). Anyway I'm terrible at eARCS as it turns out, but this was otherwise great. Supremely fun witchy read. I loved so much about this book, not least the actual writing. Maybe other people won't find it as funny as I did, but I actually laughed out loud at many bits of narrative and dialogue. Most lighthearted romances aren't actually funny, but this one is. I also loved the worldbuilding so much. Harper clearly put a lot of thought into the plot and the worldbuilding for such a fun, fluffy story, and I very much appreciated that. Usually with these books the magic is an afterthought and the romance is the focus, but here it's the opposite. This book centers on a witchy tournament that's held every fifty years in the witchy town of Thistle Grove, which was founded by four powerful witch families. Whoever wins the tournament gets to be the sort of witch mayor for the next fifty years. Our main character, Emmy Harlow, has been gone from her hometown for about nine years because of a terrible breakup with town heartthrob (and scion of one of the four families) Gareth Blackmoore, but she is drawn back because as the scion of the Harlow family, it's her job to be magical arbiter for the tournament (and her parents miss her a lot, which is adorable). Practically as soon as she's back in town she accidentally runs into both Gareth (who doesn't even recognize her) and the scion of the Avramov family, Talia, who is extremely hot and funny and extremely available. When she learns that Gareth has fucked with both Talia and Emmy's best friend Linden, they hatch plans to make sure anyone but Gareth wins the tournament. Plus there is smooching. This was cozy and funny and charming, and I want to live in Thistle Grove, even if I don't have powers. At the moment, this is the frontrunner of all my witchy seasonal reads, and it would take quite a bit to unseat it from that position. I'm going to buy a hard copy of this today. [4.5 stars]

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    I almost didn't try this gay-friendly story of a witch returning home to her tiny witchy town to serve as referee for the big every-fifty-year competition that decides the prominent clan until next round. I really hated the premise of Bewitched the TV show when I was a kid--the idea that Samantha could only marry the dork (I agreed with the mother-in-law about Darren) if she gave up her magic and tried to conform to bland white middle-class Americana of the time, which even when I was living it h I almost didn't try this gay-friendly story of a witch returning home to her tiny witchy town to serve as referee for the big every-fifty-year competition that decides the prominent clan until next round. I really hated the premise of Bewitched the TV show when I was a kid--the idea that Samantha could only marry the dork (I agreed with the mother-in-law about Darren) if she gave up her magic and tried to conform to bland white middle-class Americana of the time, which even when I was living it had all the attraction of pasteurized cheese-food. Well, it was the early sixties, and conformity was the thing then. Anyway, I liked the show when magic was the main element, and the same happened here. I chose the book because how often do you get a rom-com with witches AND F/F? And the romance was worth it--Talia the hot Goth witch was fantastic. I fell in love with her coolth myself. It did take a while for the book to get going, as there seemed to be a lot of apologia to get past along the lines of "Oh poor me, I don't have much magic so I'll move to mundane and give up what little I have." Blech. But once we got past that, I really liked Emmy. She's smart and ambitious, and when she gives in to the referee magic, she was awesome. Thistle Grove was a delight in itself. I enjoyed the magical history and how the magic works. Set against this terrific backdrop the book grabbed me, as we watch Talia and Emmy draw toward one another as the tension of the competition heightens. Watching Emmy come into her own in love and magic made me glad I'd persisted. Copy provided by NetGalley

  21. 4 out of 5

    emily

    this is the PERFECT book for halloween!! this was such an enjoyable read! the sapphic romance was absolutely adorable and the witchy vibes were so fun. also this book was so funny omg. the writing in this was also beautiful, the descriptions were always so vivid. this felt like autumn in book form, it was amazing. the setting was definitely one of my favorite aspects. also, the ending was so satisfying and cute!! it was a pleasure to read about such lovable and relatable characters. i highly re this is the PERFECT book for halloween!! this was such an enjoyable read! the sapphic romance was absolutely adorable and the witchy vibes were so fun. also this book was so funny omg. the writing in this was also beautiful, the descriptions were always so vivid. this felt like autumn in book form, it was amazing. the setting was definitely one of my favorite aspects. also, the ending was so satisfying and cute!! it was a pleasure to read about such lovable and relatable characters. i highly recommend this book and all of its halloween vibes!! funny, cute, and exciting, definitely check this one out! 4.5 stars :) thank you netgalley for providing me with an arc in exchange for an honest review!

  22. 5 out of 5

    charlotte,

    too much man. five reasons you should read this book. Rep: bi mc, bi li, Black side characters too much man. five reasons you should read this book. Rep: bi mc, bi li, Black side characters

  23. 5 out of 5

    Debra Akins

    This book was alright, but I really wanted to love it. I mean c’mon.. a sapphic witchy revenge romance? YES! I was thrilled for this ARC for my spooky season vibes. I hate to say that I struggled getting through this because I kept putting it down out of lack of investment. A lot of the writing style / verbiage just wasn’t it for me. The pacing of the plot seemed to drag on. There were a lot of repetitive fluff parts that could’ve not been in the book and I don’t think it would’ve changed it. I This book was alright, but I really wanted to love it. I mean c’mon.. a sapphic witchy revenge romance? YES! I was thrilled for this ARC for my spooky season vibes. I hate to say that I struggled getting through this because I kept putting it down out of lack of investment. A lot of the writing style / verbiage just wasn’t it for me. The pacing of the plot seemed to drag on. There were a lot of repetitive fluff parts that could’ve not been in the book and I don’t think it would’ve changed it. I can’t stand when things feel over explained via dialogue between characters rather than internal monologues. It’s marketed as a romcom, but I wanted more for the the romantic plot-line for Emmy and Talia. I was so, so excited for a sapphic witchy romance and that’s been the major selling point of this book. These things took away so much of my yearning to love this book. I know this is the beginning of a series, so I’m not going to give up on the rest because I love everything about the idea of this story. Thank you to NetGalley and Avon Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    3 stars You can read all of my reviews at Nerd Girl Loves Books. This was a fun contemporary fantasy romance about witches in a small Illinois town vying to win a spellcasting tournament among the town's founder families. Emmy Harlow is a witch with very little powers who left her small witchy town of Thistle Grove, Illinois to make her way in Chicago. Although she's been gone for 9 years, she relents to her parent's wishes and returns to town to fulfill her family's duty to be the arbiter of the 3 stars You can read all of my reviews at Nerd Girl Loves Books. This was a fun contemporary fantasy romance about witches in a small Illinois town vying to win a spellcasting tournament among the town's founder families. Emmy Harlow is a witch with very little powers who left her small witchy town of Thistle Grove, Illinois to make her way in Chicago. Although she's been gone for 9 years, she relents to her parent's wishes and returns to town to fulfill her family's duty to be the arbiter of the spellcasting tournament. Once in town, she's confronted with Gareth, the boy that broke her heart and caused her to leave town, but also meets Talia, a powerful bad-ass witch who is fresh off a break-up with Gareth as well. Three founder families vie for the spellcaster crown. Emmy's best friend Linden belongs to one family, Talia belongs to the second family, and Gareth belongs to the third family. Talia and Linden's family decide to band together to defeat Gareth. Emmy must remain neutral in the tournament, despite the growing attraction between her and Talia. This was a fun book about Emmy's journey to make peace with herself and her hometown. The author does a pretty good job of depicting Emmy's struggle, especially when she has to confront harsh truths about her role in deciding to run away from her problems. The supporting characters weren't fleshed out too much and were there mainly to react to Emmy. The story was pretty typical scorned girls get revenge on mean boy, but it was fun to see how the author got there. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group. All opinions are my own.

  25. 5 out of 5

    WhiskeyintheJar

    I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. 3.5 stars Every fifty years the four founding families of Thistle Grove must hold the Gauntlet, a tourney to determine the founding family that will preside over all things magical in the town. For three hundred years the Blackmoores have only lost once but there is a mutiny brewing. Emmy Harlow left town nine years ago with a broken heart but as the Harlow scio I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. 3.5 stars Every fifty years the four founding families of Thistle Grove must hold the Gauntlet, a tourney to determine the founding family that will preside over all things magical in the town. For three hundred years the Blackmoores have only lost once but there is a mutiny brewing. Emmy Harlow left town nine years ago with a broken heart but as the Harlow scion (heir) she must be the Arbiter for the Gauntlet. Gareth Blackmoore---my first love, my most humiliating and heart-crushing breakup, and the reason I abandoned an entire life---genuinely did not remember me. The delightfully titled Payback's a Witch is a magical realism story that introduces readers to a world they are going to fall in love with. At times overly descriptive with some pacing problems, it nevertheless pulled me into this world and I didn't want to leave. As the first in the series, a lot of the first half is setting up the Thistle Grove world as told through our narrator, Emmy Harlow. The four founding families are the Harlows, Thorns, Avramovs, and Blackmoores. The Harlows are the least powerful with the Blackmoores having the most power and are slowly but surely building a tourist empire that is choking the life out of the other families businesses. In highschool Emmy had a romance with Gareth Blackmoore but he broke it off alluding that Emmy wasn't good enough, which had her leaving town and creating a life in Chicago where she feels she has more agency and power as more than just the bottom of the rung Harlow. However, once the witches leave Thistle Grove, their power immediately starts to lessen until it disappears. She tipped her sleek head toward me, lazy grin glinting like a blade's edge. “Enter the final member of our vengeance coven.” When Emmy meets up with her bestfriend Linden Thorn, she finds out that Linden had a romance with Gareth but found out he was two-timing her with Talia Avramov. Linden and Talia come to Emmy with an idea to have the Thorns and Avramovs band together during the Gauntlet to make sure Gareth and the Blackmoores don't win again. Emmy as the arbiter wears a magical cloak that ensures there is no cheating and she is wary of the idea but when she learns that Gareth not only cheated on Linden but that his family is bankrupting the other families, she's in. The first half gives us the backstory, setting, and plot, which was a lot but the easy flow of the writing and the enjoyment of the world will keep you reading. Four witches founded Thistle Grove, and its power was meant to be shared equitably between their families---not hoarded by one family year after year, until they eclipsed the others into irrelevancy. The middle is where the pacing problems started to happen for me. We get the first gauntlet challenge but then have to wait until the latter second half to get the second and third challenges, delaying events that are pretty central to the plot and taking away some of the excitement and momentum. While we're waiting for the Gauntlet competitions, the story gives us more world setting and a very slow burn romance between Emmy and Talia. I liked these two together and you can see the attraction between them but there is a lot to be introduced to in this first story, so their romance doesn't hit as hard. Me and Talia Avramov, like some rare magic I could never have foreseen, even if I had her scrying gift. One of my favorite things the author did was include and incorporate magic and witch lore and history. It's mentioned and talked about at times how the four families are descended from such figures as Baba Yaga, Druids, and Morgan le Fay. This homage and nod to the, kind of, ancestors to this story was wonderful; it build and borrows but still is original. Some of the character relationships felt skimped on in favor of world building but I still felt I got to know and become interested in everyone. Thistle Grove was a big vibrant world but the story felt slow at times. Hopefully, with the foundation this first in the series has laid out for us, the next will be able to deepen relationships and trim some of the descriptive tangents that slowed the pace. I'm hoping the next features our one with nature Rowan Thorn and Isidora Avramov, a witch not afraid of a little hex, and we learn about what happened in the past to make these two so wary of each other.

  26. 4 out of 5

    kaitlyn

    thank you netgalley, berkley publishing, and lana harper for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! i absolutely LOVED this book and it's the perfect witchy romance for halloween! this book is about emmy, a witch who moved away from her hometown of thistle grove, causing her to lose much of her magical abilities. this move had quite a bit to do with gareth, her past love interest, who has caused much trouble in the town while she was gone. we get to see her reunite with her best fr thank you netgalley, berkley publishing, and lana harper for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! i absolutely LOVED this book and it's the perfect witchy romance for halloween! this book is about emmy, a witch who moved away from her hometown of thistle grove, causing her to lose much of her magical abilities. this move had quite a bit to do with gareth, her past love interest, who has caused much trouble in the town while she was gone. we get to see her reunite with her best friend and talia, an old acquaintance, as they plan to get revenge on gareth. this revenge has to do with a spellcasting tournament between the three most powerful families in town. while presiding over this, emmy realizes what she missed about thistle grove and begins growing into her powers and falling for talia. i loved the setting; thistle grove is truly the perfect spooky town that i wish i could visit. i also loved the slow-burn romance between emmy and talia. the romance felt very real and the two characters had great chemistry. i highly recommend this one, especially for fall! 5/5 stars for this witchy read that deserves so much more hype.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Blake

    The witchy rom of my dreams, basically.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    DNF @ 22% I had been looking forward to reading this, but sadly it just didn't work for me. It really does just feel like a re-hash of Sabrina, in particular it feels very similar to the recent Netflix adaptation. I was also very underwhelmed by the romance content. The main character and the love interest are both bi which is very cool, however the extent of the romance content so far essentially boils down to "Wow, she has a nice garnet necklace. Omg am I in love with her???". Not interesting a DNF @ 22% I had been looking forward to reading this, but sadly it just didn't work for me. It really does just feel like a re-hash of Sabrina, in particular it feels very similar to the recent Netflix adaptation. I was also very underwhelmed by the romance content. The main character and the love interest are both bi which is very cool, however the extent of the romance content so far essentially boils down to "Wow, she has a nice garnet necklace. Omg am I in love with her???". Not interesting at all to me. Couldn't face finishing this and I certainly can't imagine this being a whole trilogy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    keira

    this is halloween and autumn and gay and so vibey and i loved it

  30. 4 out of 5

    aarya

    2021 Fall Bingo (#FallInLoveBingo🍂): Astrology 3.5 stars Easily the best of this fall’s witchy rom-com slate. I super liked the magical tournament aspect. I had a couple quibbles/questions about the worldbuilding but overall appreciated that it wasn’t hollow or surface-level, which is all I ask for. Re: the romance… hmm. I liked both MCs but felt something was lacking. Maybe it was the single POV? Too much focus on Asshole Gareth? I don’t know. But I definitely think this is worth a read and 2021 Fall Bingo (#FallInLoveBingo🍂): Astrology 3.5 stars Easily the best of this fall’s witchy rom-com slate. I super liked the magical tournament aspect. I had a couple quibbles/questions about the worldbuilding but overall appreciated that it wasn’t hollow or surface-level, which is all I ask for. Re: the romance… hmm. I liked both MCs but felt something was lacking. Maybe it was the single POV? Too much focus on Asshole Gareth? I don’t know. But I definitely think this is worth a read and I’ll try the second installment in the series. Disclaimer: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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