Review by Kayleigh

Series Name: Thistle Grove #3 

“You’re talking about me like I’m some archaeological dig, Jess, and we’re troweling for ancient potsherds of joy. What if there’s no zest to unearth? What if I’m just a barren wasteland?” I drop my chin, the familiar hateful well of tears pressing against my eyes. I was so damn sick of crying at the slightest provocation, like some weepy damsel stuck in a mire of never-ending distress, but I’d apparently won the sob lottery. Team #LeakyLife over here. “Permanently broken?”

Back In A Spell continues the popular Thistle Grove series with a focus on family, responsibility, and asks what makes a villain? 

 Even though she won’t deny her love for pretty (and pricey) things, Nineve Blackmoore is almost painfully down-to-earth and sensible by Blackmoore standards. But after a year of nursing a broken heart inflicted by the fiancée who all but ditched her at the altar, the powerful witch is sick of feeling low and is ready to try something drastically different: a dating app.

At her best friend’s urging, Nina goes on a date with Morty Gutierrez, the nonbinary, offbeat soul of spontaneity and co-owner of the Shamrock Cauldron. Their date goes about as well as can be expected of most online dates—awkward and terrible. To make matters worse, once Morty discovers Nina’s last name, he’s far from a fan; it turns out that the Blackmoores have been bullishly trying to buy the Shamrock out from under Morty and his family.

But when Morty begins developing magical powers—something that usually only happens to committed romantic partners once they officially join a founding family—at the same time that Nina’s own magic surges beyond her control, Nina must manage Morty’s rude awakening to the hidden magical world, uncover its cause, and face the intensity of their own burgeoning connection. But what happens when that connection is tied to Nina’s power surge, a power she’s finding nearly as addictive as Morty’s presence in her life?

It’s no secret that I love Lana Harper’s Thistle Grove series, filled with paranormal romance, fascinating small-town relationships, and just enough quirk to keep it entertaining. Back In A Spell is a satisfying third book in the series – all of these books can be read as standalone as they focus on different people in the town. Still, I recommend you read them as a whole because you’ll understand some interpersonal relationships and town politics better. This book focuses on Nina Blackmoore – one of the families of, well, villains in the past books. I wasn’t convinced Lana would make me like Nina, but she managed to charm me into admiring and rooting for her.

In this book, Nina is trying to rebuild her life after her fiance ends things before her wedding. It’s been a year, and Nina can’t seem to move on. Nina is uptight, a perfectionist, and is worried she’ll never be loved. She’s also super loyal to her family and her best friend, is a hard worker, and wants to find happiness. Her best friend encourages her to go on a date with someone who’s hot but totally not her type. Morty is sexy and sleek, like a cat. He’s not a polished playboy or girl like Nina used to date. And it turns out their families have been feuding thanks to Nina’s family trying to pressure Morty into selling his business and building so they can expand. Let’s say first impressions don’t go well. Both of them, frankly, seemed unlikeable and closed-minded. I wasn’t sure that I would easily buy into their relationship at first. When a wish goes awry, and Nina and Morty are suddenly magically joined, then we get to see the true them: geeky, earnest and vulnerable on Nina’s side; Patient, supportive and charming on Morty’s. This couple fought for their relationship, and I liked it. This book was a bit spicier than the others in the series, which suited their characters.

We only get Nina’s point of view, and this is one of those books where I would have loved to have the other main characters’ views as well. There are a lot of layers to Morty and a lot going on under the surface, which I think letting readers see a bit more would have helped him flesh out a little faster. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Morty by the end, but seeing more of his motivation would have probably got me cheering for him faster.

In the Blackmoore family, we see a typical power-hungry, bad-guy dynasty. The whole family just seems selfish and focused on making sure they succeed no matter at what cost to others. It’s really hard to find empathy for them. In fact, Nina’s main journey in the book, other than figuring out where her new powers suddenly came from and why she’s linked to Morty magically, is deciding her path: will she fall in line with her family and choose a path of darkness and morally gray behaviour? Or will her path be filled with light? Morty actually calls her a supervillain a few times throughout the story, at times jokingly and at times seriously. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed spending time with a character who was kind of one of the bad guys, to begin with. Nina’s redemption arc was super satisfying throughout the story.

The one area that I wanted more in was the final arc of Nina’s family. Through the story, we learn more of the why’s behind the Blackmoore family’s behaviour and understand a bit better about Nina and her two brothers’ behaviour throughout the series. However, her parents and grandparents have been pretty emotionally and verbally abusive to her, and while Nina realizes it and realizes what she needs to do to protect herself, we don’t get to see the fallout of her powerful decisions. I’m assuming Lana is setting up a storyline for the brothers as well, so perhaps we will see it in one of their stories, but I would have really liked to see that loop closed for Nina on the page.

Thank you to Berkley for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.