Cover Image: Payback's a Witch

Payback's a Witch

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Member Reviews

Witchy, fun, and full of perfect fall vibes. I liked the worldbuilding, the magic tournament, and all the characters, though I wish some relationships had been a bit more fleshed out.
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Thank you to berkley for an eARC of this in exchange for an honest review! 

Emmy Harlow left Thistle Grove years ago to live out her life after one of the town's most powerful witch's, Gareth Blackmore, breaks her heart. She's asked to return as Arbiter for this year's Gauntlet. Though she hasn't been in touch with her magic in years, she says yes. 

Only when she returns, she discovers Gareth broke her best friend, Lin's, heart and dark, sexy witch Talia. Together, they decide to get back at Gareth. 

I really loved this one! I loved the premise and the setting, and all those great witchy vibes. I really enjoyed the magic types, and how each of the founding families had different types of magic. I also loved the slow-burn, sexy romance between Emmy and Talia. The bi rep and the sapphic witchy feels were perfect heading into Fall! Cannot recommend this one enough!
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ARC received by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This book was nothing like I was expecting and I love it for that. There was magic, friendship, and a dash of romance to seal the deal. I really enjoyed the main two characters. I do wish we got to see more of the different people around the community. Especially, the best friend because we hear her story but don't really get to know her that well. The magical competitions were great and made me feel nostalgia for some odd reason. Maybe because it reminded me a little of Wizards of Waverly Place which I did enjoy as a teen. My one problem with this book is it felt a little too tied together perfectly at the end. Everything fell in place for the main character so well that it feels odd to me that there are going to be more books after this one. She felt a little too overpowered at the end that I am kind of at a loss at what could happen next. Though, I do want to see what happens so I am excited to get a new take on this world here soon.
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An absolutely perfect romcom. I love anything that has to do with witches, and I was obsessed with the founding families and systems of magic in place. The characters were coming right off the page for me, interesting and dynamic and all around delightful to read. I gobbled it down in one sitting. Payback's a Witch is the witchy, sapphic, revenge romcom I've been dreaming of!
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Absolutely made for atmospheric fall reading, this witchy book is absorbing and entertaining. Who would have thought a hotbed of magic exists in a tiny Illinois town? It's got some humor, some romance, and feels very millennial fall witch. I was so excited to discover that this is the first in a series as Thistle Grove is a town I'll want to return to.
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What a great read as we head into the autumn season. This easy romance gives serious Halloween vibes from the get go, The promise of living up to the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was slightly misplaced, but there is a definite air of Halloween at Thistle Grove. Witch families, revenge plots, and a touch of "queer" energy make this a romance for all tastes and a great pick for an easy fall read.
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Payback’s a Witch is a perfect fall romance to curl up with your choice of warm beverage and enjoy the magic of Thistle Grove.
Emmy, her bff Linden, and Talia are out for revenge after being screwed over by the same man: Gareth Blackmoore. Blackmoore dumped Emmy in high school because she wasn’t enough as a Harlow, and more recently Linden and Talia found out he was seeing them - and hiding the fact he was dating both of them- at the same time. 
I love Harper’s gift of describing the world around Emmy. The crisp, smoky feeling of fall, the intensity of the magical tournament that Emmy is the arbiter for, the dusty, magical feeling of Emmy’s family’s bookshop. 
The pace balances Emmy’s adjustment to the town, her role as arbiter, the pact, and reconnecting with her family and friends that she left behind while developing her romance with Talia. Once again the gift of description comes into play with their attraction to each other, as they start flirting and go from there. Emmy is supposed to leave in a month’s time and go back to Chicago, but can things be different now? Honestly, leaving the big city to come home to small town romances usually don’t work for me. But this one did in a big way, as it looked at the roles we play based on past and present. I’m intrigued by the world that Harper has built here, and looking forward to more in this setting, to see what else is going on.
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This is the perfect fall read. I literally wish I could crawl into the pages of this book because it would be absolute perfection. I really liked this book for its characters, its charm, and ultimately, its simplicity. 

The characters in this story are really well written. I enjoy the aspect of the women teaming up against a womanizing warlock, and of course two of them will catch feelings for each other during the take down. I love it! This book also brings a fantasy world to life BUT puts that setting into essentially small town America (ish). I like that aspect of the story a lot because it doesn't take a lot of complication and confusing world building to set the stage. That's where the simplicity of this book comes into play. This is essentially a revenge trope romance, and the world is pretty easy to jump into. I love that about a fantasy book, and this one delivers!

I also really enjoyed the witch lore that was part of the story, and I felt like this gave the plot a realism that other fantasy type books sometimes lack. Overall, this is a perfect Halloween read to sip some apple cider with!
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Emmy comes from a witch town. She ran away because she felt that her last name put a label on her that she didn't want. After her father sends her a guilt-laden letter, she comes home to arbitrate a witch tournament that decides who gets to be the next mayor. Her plans to play it cool are thrown out the window when she finds out that her ex was having sex with both her best friend and crush at the same time. Combined with her ex's family being in power for too long and they decide to team up to take him down.

I love this world, but I didn't love the romance. I prefer cute times and then sexy times. This book does the reverse. This is a shame because the romance is the only part of the book I didn't like. I liked all of the characters. I wanted to visit the town. Every time Emmy would talk about her love interest, Talia, I kept getting Dresden File flashbacks. I wished that Emmy would tell me why she liked Talia besides that Talia is the hottest thing ever hotted.

To add to my disappointment, the two-chapter sneak peek for the next book reads that the sexy will start before the cute. So no second book for me.

Review based on an advanced reader copy provided through Netgalley for an honest review.
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Honestly what a delightfully fun sort of spooky fall read. Witches, exes, a magic town, finding your place and realizing where and what makes something home? Sold. The main plotline is about a competition, and without getting into many details it's a really fun way of launching the story itself, which is a little bit revenge, a little bit romance. 

This story is magical realism, and it does magical realism well - Harper did an excellent job of including magic/witch lore and history, and I really liked how Harper brought together a bunch of different mythos' (Baba Yaga, Druid, le Fay) and I really love how she both built the lore up from the history/legend side and brought it into modern times. Generally this was really well written, and a really enjoyable fast paced dreams - kind of the witchy rom com we all live for, that tbh I can see working really well as a fall movie/tv short series. Really enjoyable, and can't wait for the next book in what's shaping up to be a really fun series. Preorder this one for sure.

ARC received from NetGalley
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Emmy Harlow is my new favorite character. Super cute and funny.
I can't wait to read more by Lana Harper.
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By summary alone, this book is 100% up my alley. Witches and the L-Word. Amazing. 

However, it just didn’t really live up to what I thought. It’s more like John Tucker Must Die with witches than anything, but that’s still a fun idea. I’m all for good bisexual representation, but I was a little disappointed that everyone is bisexual (or perhaps pansexual or queer or not into labels), but they are attracted to and sleep with both men and women and that all of this fuss is over a cis man. Ugh. 

Emmy Harlowe still being that upset after so long really rubbed me the wrong way. The standout character was Talia who I adored and definitely gave me Lena Luther vibes. Will hand this one to Supercorp fans and those that are looking for a wlw witch story, but I just couldn’t handle the mixture of all of that. I DNF at 50%. I’m aware that this will be up the alley for others though, but Emmy was just so annoying.
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Emmy Harlow left town as soon as she graduated from high school and has only been back to visit a few times since then, determined to live a magic-free life on her own terms in Chicago, after a painful breakup from an ill-advised secret romance with the Blackmoore family scion decimated her self-esteem. Now 26, Emmy has a job she adores, a mountain of student-loan debt, and a fierce desire to maintain her distance from everyone and everything she used to love. Enter The Gauntlet, a centuries-old tradition wherein the scions of the town's magical founding families compete once "every fifty years to determine which founding family got to preside over all things magical in Thistle Grove." The Harlow scion is the impartial Arbiter, and Emmy is the Harlow scion.

Her first night back in town, Emmy heads to a local bar and encounters her worst nightmare: Gareth Blackmoore and his drunk buddies. For his part, Gareth...absolutely doesn't recognize her and tries to hit on her, stunned that his pickup lines fail to impress. Natalia Avramov witnesses Emmy and Gareth's encounter and, to Emmy's shock, not only recognizes but actively remembers her from high school, though Talia was two years ahead. The women spend the rest of the evening drinking and bonding. The following morning, Emmy drags her pounding head to brunch with her BFF Linden Thorn and gets another shock: not only has Talia also had..."unfortunate relations" with Gareth, but he recently broke Lin's heart. Talia crashes their brunch to propose revenge: an unprecedented alliance between the Thorn scion (Lin's twin brother Rowan) and Avramov scion (Talia) against the Blackmoore scion (Gareth) at the upcoming Gauntlet. Though the challenges cannot be known in advance, plotting and planning provides ample time for sparks to fly between Talia and Emmy. Will those sparks be enough to rekindle Emmy's love for their town, or will they flame out as the Gauntlet ends?

This book was great fun to read, especially the descriptions of how the magic felt as it roared through Emmy, and I really enjoyed the steamy romance between Talia and Emmy, though sometimes I wanted to remind them that relationships which last cannot be built from chemistry alone--feeling "at home" with your partner is far more important than flutters and zings. Reading Emmy's struggle with her quarter-life crisis made me grateful to be past that phase of life. So much angst and self-delusion, so much pointless resistance to that which feeds her soul. I also appreciated that for all the angst, sexuality was a non-issue. No one batted at eye at Emmy being bisexual or Talia having a strong preference for women, yet also having a foolish fling with a man after a bad breakup. Humans are humans, and heartbreak is heartbreak.

I look forward to book two in the series, which presumably will feature Rowan and Isidora. Perhaps the author will flesh out some unanswered world-building questions in that installment, such as how intermarriage between founding families affects magical abilities and bloodlines. Surely this has come up at some point in the past 300 years? They can't *all* have married "normies." Or along those same lines, how are family names passed down? Specifically, do men who marry into the founding families take their wives' last names? Is that how Emmy's grandmother was able to keep and pass on the Harlow name? Or Gareth's grandmother? These questions and others didn't keep me from enjoying the story, but they did make me stop and wonder.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways are both strong. There is a lot of swearing and drinking (I am seriously concerned for their livers!) but no violence. Tons of flirting, raging hormones, sexy thoughts and banter--in short, it's pretty steamy/spicy, but not especially explicit. The Gauntlet is reminiscent of the Triwizarding Tournament in Harry Potter.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eGalley ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!
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This was a delightfully readable book with a great "gilding of magic" on the ordinary everyday life. The characters and situations were compelling and believable and I had so much fun with this world.
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Payback's a Witch had me immediately with the title. It has a revenge-on-ex trope that's very reminiscent of John Tucker Must Die in THE BEST OF WAYS (being in the GAYEST of ways). Did you want John Tucker Must Die to be gay? Did you want it to be about gay witches? Well, YES. 

WHO WOULDN'T?

(maybe don't read this book if your answer is 'me')

It's a witch rom com just in time for the Halloween season, and it makes me wish I'd read it with a PSL in my hand while sitting on the porch of a Victorian house while overlooking my own hometown, which is sadly sans-magic but definitely has a few Gareth Blackmoores in it.
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Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper had me under its spell from the first page. Readers will love this book that has all the ingredients for the perfect spooky read: hexes, ancient grimoires, and ghostly spirits running amuck. 

Four main families run the magical town of Thistle Grove. There is the Harlow’s (the family of main character Emmy), the Thorn’s, the Blackmoore’s, and the Avramov’s. Despite being one of the founding families, the Harlow’s are relegated to the role of town historian. Their major role is to serve as the official master of ceremonies, or “arbiter” for the magical challenge known as the Gauntlet that decides which of the three other families will gain control over the town for the next 50 years. When Emmy comes back to fulfill tradition (despite turning her back on magic), she learns from her best friend Linden Thorn that ex-love Gareth Blackmoore has been two-timing her and Talia Avramov. The three witches team up to get revenge on Gareth and end his family’s unchallenged reign over the town. 

The sapphic romance between Talia and Emmy is the star of the show in this book, but I think that Emmy’s homecoming and the interactions between the four different families are just as integral. Sure, the Harlow’s don’t have flashy show-stopping magic like the other families, but they are just as important. There is a reason why they are a founding family, and you get to find that out in the book (no spoilers in the review!).  I would classify the relationship between Talia and Emmy as “slow burn” and given how much information the author introduces it doesn’t hit quite as hard as I would have liked. There is room to build and grow over the course of the series though. 

I LOVED the incorporation of witchy lore and legend in the book. Harper used history as a foundation for her story and put her unique spin on things. Certain families claim ancestry from famous witches of history (i.e. the Blackmoore's are descendants of Morgan le Fay), and they lean very heavily into that (to the point of it being excessive). Morgana is a common feature of witch stories, but I was more intrigued by the references to Baba Yaga. She’s a very memorable part of Eastern European stories, but there has never been “one” true version so there are always twists and turns when she or her descendants are involved. This translates to her descendants, the Avramov clan, who quickly became my favorite family in the story.  

In future books of the series, I hope that the author does a story featuring Isidora Avramov and Rowan Thorn. She hinted that something happened between them but didn’t specify what and I NEED TO KNOW MORE. The only bad part about reading an early copy of a book is that it takes that much longer to get the next installment of the story, so I’m going to have a while to wait before all my questions are answered.
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"Payback's a Witch" by Lana Harper is a quick and funny magical romp. As the main character, Emmeline (Emmy) Harlow, struggles with returning to her small but enchanting home town thanks to a jerk who broke her heart, readers catch glimpses of a larger lore — the town's founding families and the tournament she has to arbitrate. When Emmy agrees to help her best friend, Linden Thorn, and the mysterious cool girl, Talia Avramov, get revenge on the same jerk who went on to break their hearts (or ding their pride), witchy shenanigans ensue. 

For anyone looking for a more supernatural version of "Gilmore Girls" or a queerer version of "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina," this novel hits a sweet spot. Although the plot mostly picks up pace in the third half, the budding romance and witchy connection between Emmy and Talia is sure to satisfy any Gen Z or millennial readers who grew up watching "Practical Magic" and "The Craft." Harper's world-building ability shines through Thistle Grove's small town feel, kitschy local businesses, and the founding families' different interpretations of their magical powers. Themed drinks, challenging riddles, and mentions of gentrification further demonstrate the author's ability to create a place that feels real enough to allow you to sink into its unrealness. 

The premise of "Payback's a Witch" is Gareth Blackmoore, aforementioned jerk, getting his comeuppance. But the ending may leave some wishing for a more compelling adversary for our leading women to plot against. His motives are shallow, which may perfectly reflect his own shallowness, but the brief flashbacks to his heart-breaking or unfaithful actions almost leave you wishing a prequel.  Since the novel is meant to be the first in a series by Harper, maybe we'll see the whole Blackmoore clan reckon with the consequences of their power grab in Thistle Grove more thoroughly in future installments.
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What a cute, charming and perfect novel to give you all the Fall vibes you’ll ever need! This was such an easy escape and delight to read. I love the magical world the author created and the detail to description was perfect! It’s the adult version of Sabrina that we all needed in our lives! A little slow to start for me, but overall completely worth the read! 

Thank you to Berkley Books and NetGalley for this digital ARC!
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I normally stay within my contemporary romcom and realistic fiction/mystery bubble, but I picked this one up on a whim. And, boy, am I glad I did! I LOVED it! 

Four families founded the witch town of Thistle Grove: the Harlow's, the Thorn's, the Avramov's, and the Blackthorne's. Emmy Harlow, after a bad breakup with the Blackthorne heir apparent, escaped the town to Chicago and hadn't been back for nine years. But returning for the ultimate battle among the houses that only takes place every 50 years, she discovers that she's not the only woman scorned by Gareth Blackthorne. So Emmy and the other ladies scheme to take Gareth down a peg and regain some power for the other houses. In the process, Emmy starts to develop feelings for Talia Avramov and wonder if staying in Thistle Grove may be the right move after all. 

The romance is not central to this story, but I think romance lovers (like myself) can appreciate it, especially for those looking for a queer romance in a supportive community. But the central story ARC in this book is taking Gareth down. It's John Tucker Must Die meets Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I was so invested in the competition, I almost forgot that I was there for a paranormal romcom. 

I am so excited to see this looks like the first book in a series and can't wait to read more! I hope Linden, Emmy's BFF, and Linder's brother Rowan, each get their own happy endings!

Thanks to Berkley for my eARC! All thoughts and opinions are my own.

5 stars - 9/10
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What a gem of a book! I loved the author's YA WICKED LIKE A WILDFIRE duology, and was delighted to find the same lush prose and complicated, thoughtful characters here. I felt so immersed in the world of Thistle Grove, and adored watching Emmy grapple with her feelings for Talia as well as her own history with this town and the person she has become since she left it. This book made me long for fall, hay mazes, warm apple cider, and spending time with childhood friends.
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