Review by Kayleigh

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Series Name: The Witches of Thistle Grove #1

“Talia and I smiled at each other over their bickering. She reached under the bar to thread her fingers lightly through mine, my skin sparking to life at her touch like tinder. Apparently my abrupt-onset depression wasn’t so complete that it could muffle even this, this fire that flared between us so reliably.”

Lana Harper has written a sexy sapphic romp about witches out for revenge set in the most perfect autumnal town that made me yearn for long walks through crunchy leaves with a cup of apple cider in my hand. I loved this book!

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? 

I’ve been so happy with the amount of witchy Halloween holiday romances that have been published this fall. And I have to say, I think Lana Harper has written my ideal Halloween witchy romance with a rocking plot. We have four founding witch families that compete for power and prestige every 50 years. We have three witches each burnt by the town’s playboy witch who thinks he’s above reproach. And then we have the most delightful main character Emmy Harlow: a witch who’s run away from her hometown and her power after heartbreak. 

Emmy is smart and ambitious and has moved to Chicago to prove to herself that she is more than a weak-powered witch locked into her small town. The only problem is that magical power wanes if a witch spends too long away from Thistle Grove. Emmy has to acclimatize to her magic returning to her as she’s home for four weeks to arbitrate the once-in-a-generational competition that declares one founding witch family member to be the most powerful and prestigious witch for the next fifty years. I loved reading about her struggle with returning to her small town from the big city. It’s been nine years since she left and she hasn’t been home a lot. Throughout the book, Emmy struggles with her own identity: who is she and where does she want to spend her time? Is returning home a failure or a sign of growth? 

And let’s talk about home. In Thistle Grove, Lana has written the most perfect witchy town. I was sad when the book was finished because it meant I no longer was spending time there, however I was delighted to realize this is the first in a series. It’s clear that Lana spent a lot of time worldbuilding – there’s a deep level of magical history and a clear magical system in the book. I know this book is listed as a rom com, but I would consider it a contemporary urban fantasy romance. 

Okay and let’s talk about the romance. Emmy and Talia went to high school together but weren’t really friends. Emmy was younger and didn’t think anyone as cool as Talia would be interested in her. Fast-forward nine years and the two reunite over their shared hatred of Gareth Blackmoore – the sexiest, wealthiest witch of their generation who has no apparent morals or kindness. Talia is a delightful dark and sexy witch who can commune with the dead as well as bake a delicious cake. She’s happy with her life in Thistle Grove and doesn’t understand why Emmy would ever want to leave. Despite their differences and their focus on the competition, Emmy and Talia find themselves slowly falling for each other. Their slow growing tumble into love runs parallel to Emmy rediscovering her love of her hometown and her own magical powers. Their relationship is steamy and powerful because they work on balancing each other and respecting each other. It’s a mature and well-balanced relationship that I delighted in watching blossom. 

Payback’s a Witch is a terrific fall read that made me laugh, cry and cheer for Emmy as she discovers who she is meant to be.

 Thank you to Berkley for the ARC in exchange  for an honest review.