Cover Image: Payback's a Witch

Payback's a Witch

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

PAYBACK’S A WITCH is hilarious, whimsical, and tightly written. Immediately enchanted by Thistle Grove and Emmy’s world (and not to mention Talia, the sexy tundra wolf-esque love interest), it was impossibly to put this one down. A perfect autumnal read.
Was this review helpful?
This was such a fun romance for the Halloween season! The characters were well-written and the romance was a nice slow burn. I can't wait to read the sequel!
Was this review helpful?
Emmy Harlow has returned to her magical hometown of Thistle Grove after a nine-year, self-imposed exile. When Emmy left just after high school, she thought she would never return. As a part of one of the founding witch families of the town, Emmy felt confined by her family name, and a bad breakup in high school left her needing to forge a different path. But now her family has called her home for a once-every-50-years Thistle Grove tradition: a magical competition among the town’s four founding witch families to win the role of leadership and dominance. As the designated scion of the Harlow line, Emmy feels a responsibility to her family to come home and take on her responsibility as arbiter of the event.

The witches of Thistle Grove must remain connected to the town in order to keep their magic, so Emmy lost hers years ago. But when she returns home, Emmy feels that power come flooding back. She never thought she would miss the town, but reconnecting with her friends and family and magic reminds her how much she feels a bond to Thistle Grove and the people who live there. It also gives her a chance to run into Talia Avramov, a gorgeous witch from one of the other founding families. Emmy has long been drawn to Talia, but never thought she had a chance with her. But as they spend time together, it seems clear Talia is interested and the women begin to explore the relationship.

Emmy also learns that the very same guy who broke her heart years ago, Gareth Blackmoore, was also recently caught cheating on Emmy’s friend, Linden, and on Talia. Given that Gareth is competing for his family in the magical tournament, the women can’t help but wonder if there is a way to take him down a peg. The Blackmoores win almost every tournament, giving them power over the other families. They would love to turn the tables, particularly after how badly Gareth treated Emmy, Linden, and Talia. As arbiter, there are rules Emmy can’t and won’t break, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some room for creativity. As the women prepare to battle it out in the tournament, Emmy and Talia’s bond grows as well. But with Emmy planning to return to Chicago when the tournament is over, there may not be any chance for a future between her and Talia.

Payback’s a Witch is a lot of fun and drew me in right away. Emmy has a great voice as the POV character, with a humorous take on the town and its citizens. It sets the tone of the book right from the start — light, snarky, clever, and with enough seriousness to give weight to the story.

The world building is a lot of fun here, with the founding families competing in this every 50 year magical tournament for dominance. Harper does a great job developing these four witch families, giving them each some distinguishing traits that play out in their personalities and their magic. Talia’s family, for example, has a darker magic and they are skilled at speaking to the dead and connecting to the spirits, while Emmy’s family are the scholars and scribes. It is cleverly done, as it helps to distinguish the characters and their families and give readers an immediate sense of them. I loved the magical tournament and following along with the challenges was one of my favorite parts of the book. I would say the story gave me Harry Potter Tri-Wizard tournament vibes, plus a dash of the Mystic Falls founding families from Vampire Diaries. Not that I felt this story was derivative, but it had a lot of that same energy. I also really enjoyed learning more about Emmy’s magic (and following along as she learned more about it herself). So overall, lots of clever world building here and I really think the way Harper sets up these families and their unique styles works well for the story.

The conflicts here are two-fold, though they intertwine. First, we have the tournament and the women’s desire to see the Blackmoore’s winning streak ended, in part to get back at Gareth. And second, the question of what will happen with Emmy and Talia’s budding relationship when it is all over and she returns to Chicago. Emmy left nine years ago after Gareth broke her heart the summer before her senior year in high school. He made it clear that he didn’t want to pursue something long-term with a Harlow, as they have much less magic than the Blackmoores. It made Emmy want to break free of her town and her family name and rediscover herself. But it also meant she left Thistle Grove after graduating high school, never to return for nine years, or to even see her family in all that time. She still harbors anger at Gareth and that is only refueled upon returning home, especially after learning he hurt Linden, as well as Talia, with his cheating. So Gareth is the clear enemy here, as well as the Blackmoore family as a whole, given they have the most power and magical influence in town.

I will admit, I do love the idea of these thwarted women working to get payback for the wrongs inflicted. And I love even more that as two of Gareth’s exes, Emmy and Talia end up together instead. There is kind of a delicious element to the fact that they find their happiness together after he hurt both of them. But I also had some issues I couldn’t totally put aside. First, I struggled with the fact that so much of Emmy’s life felt in reaction to Gareth. These women are all portrayed as strong and independent and forces to be reckoned with. Yet Emmy changed the course of her entire life, leaving the town that she loved, her family and friends, and losing her magic, all triggered because a guy dumped her the summer after 11th grade. She didn’t return for nine years (and honestly hadn’t planned to ever return) and never even saw her parents, who she loves and cares about, as she was trying to create distance from her old life. I’ll admit, it made me sad to see that so much of her life has been forged in reaction to a man, particularly given that they were just teenagers at the time. Yes, he was a jerk, but it felt like it gave Gareth so much power over her life, rather than Emmy having her own agency. The story does nod to the fact that Emmy felt other constraints due to her family’s reputation and history with the town, but really, the only thing that we hear about in any detail is the heartbreak from Gareth.

The women then turn around and try to ruin Gareth’s chances of winning the competition, partly because they hate him, and partly to take down his family. We learn that the winning family ends up with magical power and influence that helps them succeed, and that the Blackmoore’s businesses are thriving, while the other families are struggling. So the women justify their actions of trying to sabotage Gareth as evening the scales among the families. So instead of each trying to win on their own, they team up to basically stop him from winning. Part of the problem was it was never clear to me if winning the tournament in the past actually gave the Blackmoore’s an unfair advantage. It was also not clear that the Blackmoores were actually doing anything to intentionally harm these other families or businesses. I think if that had been more directly laid out, it would have felt less problematic. As it was, I actually felt bad for Gareth at at times watching them all work to sabotage him at this important event that had nothing to do with the personal relationships they had with him. So again, for these strong and powerful women, I struggled that so much was focused around this man. It just felt like he had too much emotional power and I wanted to see these women thrive on their own, not in reaction to Gareth.

Those issues aside, I really enjoyed this one. The world building was great, the characters engaging, and the tone just really sparked. I really liked Emmy as the POV character and she has a great narrative voice that works well for the story. We meet some great characters and learn a lot about this unusual town. I was really excited to learn that this is a series, and I definitely am looking forward to see what is next for Thistle Grove. If you enjoy magical worlds, strong female characters, and a bit of retribution for past wrongs, this one is worth your time.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Berkley Publishing Group & #NetGalley for giving me an advanced copy of Payback’s a Witch in exchange for an honest review!

3.5 ⭐️

Witch Emmy Harlow fled her home Thistlegrove after high school heartbreak, to forge her own path in Chicago. When she temporarily returns to act as arbiter in a traditional magic gauntlet - she rediscovers herself, her love for her hometown, and toils over whether the life she made without magic all on her own in Chicago would ever be enough.

This book is Halloweentown meets John Tucker Must Die, turned sapphic love story. It was a really fun and lighthearted read - great for those looking to get in the Autumnal / Halloween spirit. I loved the message that defining one’s self on your own terms does not mean you need to reject the people and places that shaped you.
Was this review helpful?
Oh my gosh my little gay heart is just a flutter! I loved this! The challenge, the plot, the setting it was all just so perfect. I love witchy books and I love lesbian books so witchy lesbian books always steal my heart and this one was no different. I actually read this book twice because I loved it so much. Do yourself a favor and read it. Its perfect for the Halloween season but its good anytime of year.
Was this review helpful?
This honestly has the perfect ~vibes ~ for this time of year. And the small town setting, filled with rich, complex history- and bringing in magical legacies was so perfect amd fun. My biggest disappointment was that I was mostly neutral on the romances, which was a shame, bit I thought all the characters were fun and fully realizes.
Was this review helpful?
Shelf Awareness for Readers "Gone Witching" column, Oct 12, 2021:

It's officially spooky season, and I, for one, am excited to celebrate the array of witchy books available. For nonfiction history buffs, look no further than Stacy Schiff's The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem (Back Bay Books, $19.99), which offers a comprehensive account of the Salem Witch Trials, starting with the convulsions of one young woman and resulting in the execution of more than a dozen men and women.

Alice Hoffman's Magic Lessons (Simon & Schuster, $17) also transports readers back to 17th-century Salem, offering an expanded history of the Owens family that stars in her popular novel Practical Magic (Berkley, $17) and its more modern-day prequel, The Rules of Magic (Simon & Schuster, $16.99).

Nearby Lowell, Mass., provides the setting for C.S. Malerich's The Factory Witches of Lowell (Tordotcom, $14.99), which imbues women on strike in the small mill town with a bit of strength in witchcraft. Danvers, Mass.--where the accusations originated that kicked off the Salem Witch Trials--also serves as the setting for Quan Barry's excellent We Ride Upon Sticks (Vintage, $16.95), as the 1989 Danvers High School field hockey team taps into darker powers to secure a state championship.

That's not to say New England has the corner on witch trial histories: Rivka Galchen draws on historical accounts from Württemberg, Germany, in Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), which our reviewer called "a vibrant, provocative story" with a "decidedly modern tone."

Never one to miss a good contemporary romance (or a punny title), I gobbled up Lana Harper's Payback's a Witch (Berkley, $16), a queer revenge-gone-magic tale of a handful of witches out to take down the magical bro who's hurt them each in turn. Here's to the magic of the season!
Was this review helpful?
This is such a fantastic book to read in autumn. It was extremely immersive and the atmosphere that Harper creates is extremely unique and enthralling, I honestly couldn't put it down and didn't want to! After reading so many horror books in October, some that were quite boring, I loved throwing myself into this witchy tale. I tend to find it difficult to really love characters but I had no problem falling in love with these ones, the whole cast felt real and fleshed out. I'd highly recommend this to anyone looking for the perfect fall book.
Was this review helpful?
Emmy returns home to  take up the mantle of Arbiter of the Gauntlet, a generational challenge for the witch families that rule her small, perfect town in Illinois.  Her plan is to get in and out of the town as quickly as possible with as little contact as possible with the boy who dumped her in high school.  Her plans immediately hit a snag as she is pulled back into her family and the drama of the town.  Think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but as a romcom for adults.  Fun and fast.
Was this review helpful?
Payback’s a Witch was once of the most anticipated books for me. I am not sure how to explain how I feel about it. I know that we are in an era in which authors want to include more diverse characters and that is truly beautiful. However, when the characters identify as LGBTQ, sometimes it feels like the author is holding back. Meaning, if the main characters were male and female, authors tend to unleash like a volcano all the sexual tension that has been brewing. So why not do the same for two girls or two guys? If we are trying to highlight and promote diversity, why are we holding back? This book had me captivated within the first few pages, but I slowly lost interest when it was taking forever for anything to happen. This was more of a cute story, not steamy and that is okay, but I still felt like the author was playing it safe between Talia  and Emmy.
Was this review helpful?
4.25/5 stars

*Thanks to NetGalley for sending an eARC and to Berkeley for sending me a finished copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*

Emmy Harlow left Thistle Grove far behind, or at least that's what she thought. But, in one last trip to preform the family duty of overseeing a witch competition, she is forced to confront the reasons she left in the first place, as well as a possible new reason to stay. 

SAPPHIC WITCHES...that's the only description I really needed to convince me to pick up this book, and it delivered. This NA paranormal low fantasy is romantic, fun, and very appropriate for spooky season. 

First off, I adored the romance plotline. It is well developed, but definitely not slowburn. Both Emmy and Talia are such dynamic and relatable characters (I literally adore Talia), and they have really great chemistry. I also love the revenge plotline 

The plot is pretty well developed, thought there were some things I wished were explained a little more thoroughly. However, this is a series, so I can cut some slack on all of that, as more could be brought up in the next book. The pacing, on the other hand, was done very well in my opinion.

My one real issue with the book is that some of the internal monologue felt like it was trying to hard to be 'gen Z,' and it really wasn't. For example, some of the references felt awkward and out of place, and Emmy uses hashtags in her thought process unironically. This threw me off for a bit, so it took me a minute to get into the book, but I absolutely devoured the last bit of it in like two days. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, and I'm definitely requesting an ARC of book two once thats announced.
Was this review helpful?
Honestly, this was cute as shit and just made me happy. After a couple of books putting me into slumps these past few months, this paranormal sapphic romance was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits. I found the writing in this to be really well done as you completely understand the magical town of Thistle Grove and how ancestry plays a big role into the story. I never found myself confused or questioning the worldbuilding. While this book, at its core is primarily a romance, the magic made sense and felt as though it could happen in some town perfectly automnal town (you know, like Halloweentown). I really enjoyed the characters in the book, they all felt like real people who make questionable and stupid mistakes that made a lot of sense. The third act argument that always happens in romances was obviously ridiculous and (I felt) came out of nowhere, but it just led to a pretty fun ending that resulted in the main character finding herself and developing the confidence she needed to be her own person, so you know what whatever! Let the ladies fight if it means the ladies will be in love. (Also, Talia is the necromancer woman of my DREAMS and I completely understand how Emmy fell in love with her so quickly.)
Was this review helpful?

Payback's a Witch was an entertaining queer paranormal romance. The characters were my favorite part of this story. Emmy isn't perfect, and when she returns to her hometown she has to face her reasons for running and staying away. Her friends and family loved her unconditionally, and I appreciated that she acknowledges how her actions affected them. I was completely invested in the slow burn, steamy romance between her and Talia. Talia was such a strong and fascinating character and I really loved her! The plot itself was entertaining: three female witches joining forces to knock the male witch who scorned them down a peg. However, it seemed to really dragged at times and I found myself skimming to get to the exciting parts.

Overall Payback's a Witch was a great for the fall season with a bisexual rep, an F/F romance, witches, magic, friendship, and family.
Was this review helpful?
This story was delightful. I’ve been reading a lot of gloomier books because I love them but I needed a little break from the bleak and I’m so glad this one caught my eye. I thought it was the perfect mix of a developing romance, a character struggling to put aside past hurts and figure things out, a long-overdue revenge plan and also a fun witchy adventure. All great things. All done just right! This is one of those magical books featuring such a well-drawn warm and cozy setting you might want to move into the book and never leave.

Emmy fled her beloved magic filled hometown of Thistle Grove after her heart was shattered by a callous man and she never looked back. But now she’s been called back to fulfill something called the Gauntlet which is basically a magical-filled event that the four founding families participate in every fifty years. The winning family receives a LOT of power and of course the same family has been winning for far too many years and is using their power to take control of the town as power hungry villains will do. Villainous villains, all of them!

That’s the bones of the tale and I found it all enjoyable. There’s a good amount of time spent on friendships, family, new romances and the fun revenge plot line against the town heartbreaker Gareth Blackmoore. He of the power hungry Blackmoore’s. The brazen fool has spurned not only Emmy but her best-friend and even one of the town’s darker magic badasses, Talia, and they are not suffering his bullshittery any longer. During their planning and researching and bonding over their mutual disdain for Gareth, Emmy and Talia become more than friends but they have a lot of things to figure out here. The romance is a little angsty but it never gets out of control.

I thought Payback’s A Witch was an amusing, breezy tale with luscious fall atmosphere and just enough adventure for me. Admittedly I’m not a huge fan of too much action/adventure so if you have similar tastes you’ll likely enjoy this one as much as I did. I’m looking forward to the next one! Maybe I’ll even keep up with a series for once in my life 🙀
Was this review helpful?
Really torn on this one.

A good portion of it was charming, with funny and sometimes dark humor/dialogue. The poetic and lyrical writing worked for me on some passages but was a bit much on others. What lost me was the heavy usage of colloquialisms, the very current slang, and cultural references that will easily be stale in a year or two.

I wish I could say it held my interest enough to be a quick read but I had to force myself to stay with it after the halfway mark where I hit a major slow point. Once I made it to the last quarter of the book the pace picked up again and I enjoyed the ending.
Was this review helpful?
Payback's a Witch is the book to read this Halloween that will give you a lovely atmospheric read with ghosts, necromancy and a spellcasting tournament but will also give you that sapphic romance you have been craving.

Right from the start I was hooked by our introduction to your main character Emmy. Emmy returns back to Thistle Grove after a long absence after a romance gone bad. As she returns she realizes that she wasn't the only one he's played and with the upcoming spellcasting tournament that is held between the witch families of town every 50 years or so, it shows the best opportunity to get back at him.

Now that in itself isn't what grabbed me of course. It sounds like a very basic something but that is not this book. Emmy ran from a bad romance as she likes to say but it was much more than that. It was what gave her the final push with her low insecurities with her powers. And as she returns she has to challenge that side of her choice. And find out what she really finds worthwhile.

There is also a lot of history in Thistle Grove where we get hints of through the elders of each family as the tournament continues. Each family has their own strength and their own place in town. But with one family always winning the tournament there is a focus of power on one end. It doesn't feel right to the next generation.

Emmy, despite why she ran, is a very kick ass lady. She cares about her friends but has been putting up a wall. Enter Talia who starts poking her walls. Talia is a mysterious lady to many as is her whole family, but she is genuinely a gentle soul. When they both run into each other again sparks start flying. Their romance felt so very real and the chemistry was flying of the page from the very start. The bond between them was something that build up throughout the book and there was no talking of loving each other forever but giving each other a chance at a serious relationship. I liked that a lot.

Next to these two ladies I just really appreciated all the side characters. Rowan and Lindin, Talia's and Emmy's family. And just the whole mood of this book.
Was this review helpful?
"Payback's A Witch" is a fun and quirky LGBTQ+ witchy book for fans of The L Word and Practical Magic. Families in the town of Thistle Grove compete in challenges for control of the town's magic. This read is definitely recommended for any witchy book fans out there!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Berkely and NetGalley for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

What a fun read for October! It's got hot witches of all kinds, a fun triwizard tournement-esque series of challenges, and some romance with a side of self-discovery for the mid/late twenty-year-old. So much fun!

Emmy Harlow is a member of one of the families that occupy Thistle Grove. She's not very powerful -- no one in her family is -- but she has to come back to participate in some arcane ritual game. So she returns to the town where she felt caged, and where she had her heart shattered. Teen years, am I right? So, there are lots of shenanigans, lots of fun characters, and some steamy stuff with oh-so-hot Talia Avramov. Swoon. 

So, I loved it! Loved the games, loved the lore, loved the families, the romance, the drama. But I honestly just wanted MORE of all of it. More about the creepy family founders, more about the powers everyone has, more of all of Emmy's friends. More of a panic about her life! I want existential dread, people! But if you want a light-hearted romantic spooky edgy romp, here you go. 

4 stars.
Was this review helpful?

This was such a magical, beautifully written contemporary. Without a doubt, Lana Harper is an amazing writer. The prose, world building, descriptions, and character development absolutely took me away to this magical town. This is one of those stories were the world and setting is so real, it feels like it's own character. 

Unfortunately what kept me from falling head over heels in love with this romance, was the little emphasis on the romance itself. Especially since I absolutely ADORED the moments we got with them. 

This book has a huge emphasis on Emmy's personal journey. She is struggling to find her own place in the world against the pull toward the home town she doesn't want to love. This story is very much about her self-acceptance of her magic, family, and place in town while not giving up what she wants and loves. And I loved all of those elements. 

But I guess I just had different expectations for this story. As much as I loved the contemporary aspects, I wanted more time with the romance. Emmy and Talia had such good on page chemistry, but I felt as through there was just so little of it. I wanted more! I wanted more one on one moments where they got to know each other and explore their feelings beyond attraction. 

Overall, this was a stunningly written contemporary novel, with lush descriptions, and intricately developed magic system with a sweet, but not forefront, romance. I do 100% plan to read the sequel to this! I liked the little intro we got to the next couple and I can't wait to read their story.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book SO MUCH and am already just waiting for the next one in this series! Cute, queer, witchy, romance, what's not to love!
Was this review helpful?