Cover Image: Payback's a Witch

Payback's a Witch

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This book felt like sitting outside on an autumn day drinking apple cider with a friend. Easily one of my favorite romances in time for my favorite season. Emmy is supremely relatable. She’s funny and her goals of having a life away from Thistle Grove, even if it means giving up magic, are realistic (although I’d happily live there). 

Her and Talia are steamy. Right off the bat I was drawn to the “sexy tundra wolf.” Every scene with them was exciting. 

Harper does a masterful job of combining contemporary fantasy with romance. The writing is fantastic. The jokes, hilarious. The magic, enchanting and the romance swoony. I loved every second.
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4.25 Stars. Well, I came into this book thinking it would do a thing, and it did the thing very well. I had a lot of fun with this book. The characters are fun and endearing and I loved the lore that was set up for the story as well. It doesn't feel tacked on, and the world feels actually lived in. I always say this about paranormal romances: the worldbuilding, and its rules are just as important as the characters and the romance. Here the little witch village feels like it has it's own culture and you can understand some of the characters' motivations because the culture and traditions in of the town are important to the characters.

Harper takes the concept of witching houses who take on specific characteristics of their founders, but has way more fun with them. For example, our lead, Emmy Harlow, is from the weakest family, but they are just as important to the town as the corrupted Blackmoores (think Gryffindor but way more pretentious), the healer Thorns, or the very fun but mischievous Avramovs. The thorns are smarty pants healers but have bite (they like to enchant the flora around them and those plants can get violent). The Avramovs have the most fun personalities of the group as they pretty much live in both the living world and the dead. The Blackmoores, though from the golden house, are super smarmy because they are the most powerful, and are actually pretty corruptible.

Those are just some basic worldbuilding, and that Emmy and Talia are informed by that make their budding relationship so grounded, and the conflicts between them so real. Talia is just as defined as Emmy as well. In fact I think she's probably my favorite. On top of being just drop dead gorgeous with dark hair, elegant features and pale eyes, Talia is powerful but charming, and a secret romantic. She can get broody, but its because of very relatable reasons. In fact, what makes Emmy and Talia work so well is that their insecurities come from very similar places. I love that.

The thing that drops some of the enjoyment for me is that the Thorns are the only family that are mostly People of color, and they are the healers. They're super powerful in their own right, but that they are effectively regulated to light magic, and are only more powerful than the Harlows because of a technicality. They are important and Emmy's friendship with Linden Thorn is just as important to her as her feelings for Talia, but that they seem to be the only people of color in this town might irk readers. Linden is a sweet, but hurting soul, and I hope she gets more of a role in the next book, of which I will be reading when it comes out.

I love books like these: they revel in their fantasy elements just as much as their romances and relationship building. It's a perfect mix for me and Payback's a Witch does this almost perfectly. This one is probably going on my comfort read pile.
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“The night air gusted against my face, smelling like an absolute of fall; woodsmoke and dying leaves and the faintest bracing hint of future snow.” - Payback’s a Witch 

From the very first pages of Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper I was drawn into the mystical Halloween story that unfolds. Harper deftly creates an atmosphere full of the very best of October and if are looking for a witchy good romance that is also just an ode to October, Autumn and Halloween then this is your book.

Emmy Harlow returns to her magical hometown Thistle Grove, after a long absence stemming from a broken heart, to fulfill her familial duty to oversee the Gauntlet. Every 50 years, the founding families of Thistle Grove participate in a series of Gauntlet challenges to determine which witchy family will lead the town's magical community. While visiting home Emmy reconnects with her best friend, Lin Thorn and secretive Talia Avramov who have both been played and broken-hearted by town F-boy Gareth Blackmoore. The Blackmoore family has dominated the last few games and is posed to win again, however if the Harlows, Thorns, and Avramovs team up they might be able to upset the Blackmoores and get back at Gareth. Along the way, Emmy and Talia become more than friends as love works its magic.
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Emmy Harlow has not been home to Thistle Grove in almost a decade - this self-imposed exile has caused her to lose her magic. When she is summoned home to be the arbiters for the once in a generation spellcasting tournament that the other founding families (the Avramovs, the Blackmoores, and the Thorns) participate in - the Harlows have always only played referee. While Emmy is excited to spend time with her best friend Linden Thorn, she is not looking forward to seeing Gareth Blackmoore again. Emmy soon learns that Linden and Talia Avramov has also been burned by Gareth, and the three hatch a plan to get revenge on Gareth. However, the more time Emmy spends with Talia, the more time she wants to spend with her. 

I wasn’t going to request this, but Natalie at Berkley sent me an email about reading Payback’s a Witch. And y’all! I loved this. I’m really picky about sci-fi books - they just aren’t my really thing - but this was so good. It was fun, it was wicked, it was magical.

Thanks to @NetGalley and Berkley for my ARC! This is out October 5th, and you should get a copy.
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Payback’s a Witch starts with a premise like catnip to me: Three witches of Thistle Grove, including the recently returned prodigal daughter Emmy Harlow, decide to team up and conspire to get revenge on their mutual ex. Add in Talia, an ultra feminine goth love interest who oozes confidence, charm, and whose particular brand of magic is of darker shades, and I can safely say I had a solidly good time.

Thematically, Emmy’s journey reads a lot like new adult to me, so readers who enjoy that niche will find a lot to love. In addition to the main romantic focus, Emmy does a lot of self-discovery about herself and her magical heritage. The town of Thistle Grove has a great deal of charm as a magical locale, and the tournament that serves as the locus for aforementioned revenge on an ex was a nice plot device. And of course, Emmy and Talia are both bi, and we (and by we I mean me at least) love to see two bi leads.

A few minor critiques kept this from being a five star for me. Though I loved Talia, I felt the romance was rushed, especially towards the end. In addition, this is personal preference, but while there is absolutely a lot of sensuality in these pages, I would have loved a higher spice factor instead of fade-to-black sex scenes. Finally, though obviously Emmy and Talia are queer, the witchy culture of Thistle Grove seems oriented in ways that affirm the gender binary and to not have many other queer inhabitants outside of the leads, which I would have liked to see.

All in all, this was a fun, escapist read perfect for its October release date and the spooky season in general. Readers looking for a sapphic, charming, fast-paced romance full of magic for their cool autumn nights can look no further than Payback’s a Witch.

Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for an advance reader copy. All opinions are my own.
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Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review

I would recommend if you're looking for (SPOILERS)

-f/f paranormal romance
-elements of second chance
-friends to lovers
-a revenge scheme
-a competition to lead them all
-an appreciation for tattoos

This book was such an enjoyable read.  I loved the aspect of coming home after a long time, with the addition of witchcraft.  The conflict of family, obligation, and the tension of the past.  It was all done beautifully and not angsty but in an honest way.  

I found Emmy to be really relatable.  How her magic was described, as part of her, part of the land was truly beautiful, as was the writing in this book.  Each twist and turn was surprising and yet fit so perfectly.  A great Halloween read it was just fun.

Steam: 3
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~girl power is LITERAL
~real witches working for a witchy subscription box company
~sushi is sexy, sorry I don’t make the rules
~home is complicated
~one star for the astrology app

Not only am I a sucker for the kind of delightfully groan-worthy wordplay we get in the title, I’m also a huge fan of Harper’s YA books, written under the name Lana Popović. So when I heard she was writing an Adult fantasy – and that it was super queer! – I POUNCED.

And I was not disappointed in the slightest.

Emmy is from a family of weak witches – so weak that they don’t even get to compete in the every-50-years-tournament to determine which magical family gets the biggest slice of the magical cake for the next half-century. Instead, the Harlows are supposed to arbitrate, enforcing the rules and declaring the winner, while knowing that they’re never going to be the ones to wear the crown. It’s a seriously miserable set-up – I’m not sure I’d want to be a witch, part of the magical world, able to see and experience all the wonders of it…but not able to actually do magic myself. Emmy can light a candle or keep her hot chocolate hot, and that’s about it – and it’s not nothing! But when your fellow witches can do things like animate trees (the Thorn family) or summon the spirits of the dead (the Avramovs) or transmute matter (the gods’ damn Blackmoores)… That’s going to ache.

Maybe it would be better not to have magic at all, and nine years ago, that’s more or less what Emmy decided – she left Thistle Grove to go to college and has barely been back since, which means that her magic (which is tied to her hometown) has faded away to nothing. But on the other hand, she has a job she loves and gets to live in a big city, which has all kinds of things a teeny tiny town like Thistle Grove does not. And she gets to live in a world where her worth is defined by her skills and abilities as a human being – not her lack of them as a witch.

But she does come back to play Arbiter for this generation’s magical tournament – mostly because of some (I think unintentional?) emotional blackmail. And when she does, she discovers that the dickhead who broke her heart and her self-worth, Gareth – the catalyst for her leaving Thistle Grove – has also screwed with her best friend, Linden, in her absence. And with Talia, the terrifyingly wonderful scion of the town’s borderline-dark-magic witch family.

So the three of them hatch a plot to take him down.

Except it’s actually more complicated than that. Gareth is another witch, the scion of the Blackmoore witch family who keep winning the tournament and therefore have had more power than anyone else for centuries. And he’s a dick. But there’s more at stake than some broken hearts and hurt pride; the Blackmoores have been throwing their weight around, and now they’re – deliberately or not – crushing the stores and other businesses of the other families. They need someone else to win the tournament, to try and restore some balance to all this, and keep the other families from going under.

And still, Emmy, Linden and Talia accept the fact that they probably can’t outright defeat Gareth. He’s just too strong a witch. But damn it, they’re still going to try, and maybe they can at least leave him with some egg on his face.

I went into this book expecting it, but the first thing that struck me about Payback’s a Witch when I started reading was the beautiful descriptions. The gorgeously descriptive prose that is her signature as Popović is on full display here in her first novel as Harper, and I mention this not just because pretty prose is my Thing, but because Harper is one of the only authors I know who manages to pull off descriptive prose and first-person narration. Usually it sounds weird if your main character is going around speaking poetry as they describe the scene, but Harper makes it work, and she makes it work so well. It’s a careful balance – too much, and the first-person narration no longer sounds like a real human being speaking, but too little and the prose gets too plain – but Harper nails it, and I’m so happy because not only is it lovely to read, it also adds another layer of depth to Emmy. Harper uses the extra-pretty descriptions to underline Emmy’s love for her home of Thistle Grove, all the things she’s missed, everything that is genuinely special and magical about the town and its inhabitants. It means that we, the reader, are fully aware that Emmy’s not sure she wants to leave again long before she admits it to herself. It’s a really clever bit of showing-not-telling!

Besides, you really can’t blame Emmy for waxing a bit poetic – Parker has created the most enchanting possible setting in Thistle Grove. Honestly, this is as much a love story between Emmy and her hometown as it is a love story about Emmy and Talia – and I can promise you’ll be rooting for both romances!

Above Hallows Hill, the unlikely little mountain the town huddled up against, a crescent moon hung like a freshly whetted sickle. Waning crescent, my witch brain whispered, already churning up the spells best cast in this phase. Its silhouette looked like it could carve glass, impossibly perfect and precise, the kind of moon you’d see in a dream. The constellations that surrounded it like a milky spill of jewels were arranged the same as on the other side of the town line but better somehow, more intentional, clear-cut and brilliant as a mosaic set with precious gems. So enticing that they made me want to pull the car over and tumble out, head hinged back and jaw agape, just to watch them glitter.

This fucking town. Always so damn extra.

But we like extra in our magical towns, Emmy!

The second thing that struck me wasn’t so much the characters themselves – although they’re fabulous – as it was the way they interact. I don’t know how to phrase it: I want to say, all the characters act and treat each other like real, mature adults. There’s no contrived, manufactured drama; the characters are open and honest with each other, and treat each other with refreshing respect. Drama and angst come from actual issues, not people keeping secrets they shouldn’t or not being truthful. One of my favourite examples of this was when Emmy and her mother finally talk about why Emmy left Thistle Grove; it’s not an easy conversation for either of them, but it’s a necessary one, and one where they both respect the other’s perspective and own up to their mistakes, or to what they could have done better.

And I just feel like we don’t get that kind of character interaction very often, where everyone involved is a gods’ damn grown-up and acts like it. Of course there are still upsets and drama, but no one’s acting like an idiot child about it (well, except Gareth, but we’re not counting him). The character dynamics are just so healthy, and Parker proves that you can have that without it making a boring story. I love it!

My horoscope app had not seen fit to warn me of this incoming emotional reckoning–one star.

Speaking of, the story itself is a really great combination of action, romance, and soft, quieter moments of introspection or relationship development; the kind of indulgent slice-of-life scenes that get cut from most stories because they’re not cinematic. Parker doesn’t go too heavy on the worldbuilding, and while normally I love super-intricate, detailed worldbuilding, the simplicity of it here suits the tone of the book. Payback’s a Witch is not brainless, but it’s still fun – not the kind of fantasy that demands a lot of hard work from the reader, but still with more thoughtfulness and meat to it than your typical beach read. Not that you couldn’t take Payback with you to the beach – in fact it’s hard to think of a situation where this book wouldn’t fit. Cosy curl-up read? Check. Something to read on the plane or bus? Perf. Need a distraction when you’re feeling low or in pain? Stress-tested and passed with flying broomsticks colors!

Payback’s a Witch is a book with so much heart. It’s about heritage and home and defining who you are; it’s about figuring out what matters most to you, what’s important enough to hold on to and what you should let go. It’s about looking your choices – and the reasons you made them – right in the face; it’s about being honest with yourself and the people you love. It’s about all kinds of love and how much they all matter; familial, friendship, romance.

Talia; the twisty paradox of her, like some captivating Gordion knot I was still struggling to comprehend. The ferocious girl who growled at pumpkin fiends as she stalked her way into battle, and also baked babkas to show people she loved how much she cared. The girl who embraced darkness, tended and cared for the phantoms who lived within it, while shedding such a scintillating light that it was damn near impossible to look away from her.

And if it needs specific mentioning? The romance is just yummy. I’d like to be more eloquent, but honestly, that really is the perfect word for it. Talia brings the bad-girl vibes to the table, then surprises us with her soft streak, and even I, who usually skip right over sex scenes, have to admit that these ones sizzle. Emmy and Talia have delicious chemistry, but I also appreciated how the sex and love aren’t interchangeable here; the romantic component of their relationship develops more slowly, and there’s no nonsense about them being each other’s One True Love after a few searing sexcapades. It’s going to make real work, and they know that. Like I said above: everyone’s a grown-up here.

Which is not to say there’s no butterflies in Emmy’s stomach.

“Oh, do get a grip, Harlow,” I muttered to myself, as I wriggled into yet another pair of pants. “You’re getting sushi, not eloping with her into the underworld.”

Characters who talk, act and feel like real people; chocolate-dipped romance; and a magical tournament. What more could you possibly ask for from a witchy October read?

It should tell you plenty that having gotten to read this book early, I’ve already preordered the sequel. You should definitely nab a copy of Payback when it comes out on the 5th!
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A lovely light read!

An independent young witch returns to her hometown, and bands together with two other women scorned by the same man to exact their revenge. 

Also includes:  a magical competition (a la Harry Potter) + steamy scenes of romance (LQBTQ).
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It is getting to be that time of year so a lesbian witch romance sounded pretty good. I wasn't sure what to expect with this one but I really enjoyed it. First of all never break the hearts of three witches. There will be payback. I enjoy a romance when the person comes back to their small town after being gone for years and they have to face their demons. So four witch families started the town of Thistle Grove and every fifty years the town holds a game and the winner rules the town for the next fifty years. This is the perfect time to get back at Gareth and his family who always win. There were several twists I did not see coming and I always enjoy that in my books.
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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.
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After Blood Countess, a YA historical horror fantasy novel, Lana Harper makes her adult debut with Payback’s A Witch, a charming and sweet novel ideal for the upcoming spooky season!

Emmy Harlow, a young witch, comes back to her magical hometown, Thistle Grove, 10 years after she left with a broken heart to start a magicless life in Chicago. She’s back to play the role of the Arbiter in the witch tournament that takes place every 50 years between the four founding families of Thistle Grove to find out who will preside over all magical matters in the town. However, this year’s competition will look a little different. Emmy’s bestfriend Linden Thorn, and another girl from town, Talia Avramov, propose a plan to her to get back at their mutual ex, Gareth Blackmore. The competition takes place between Gareth, Talia, and Linden’s twin brother Rowan, and whilst being the Arbiter, Emmy must remain impartial, she agrees to help however best she can. In the meantime, Emmy and Talia are drawn to each other.

With relatable characters, a fun storyline, and some angsty romance, Payback’s A Witch  will enchant you from the very first page. Even though the romance does play a big role in the story, it’s actually the witch tournament that becomes the center of this book, and the other subplots are just intertwined with it and help develop certain events in the story. The tournament itself spans over the course of a few days and it is actually so fun to read about.

The fantasy elements of the novel were actually very interesting. A magical town that hides its actual magic elements to tourists where its founding families each have a specific power? Sign us up. And even though the magic system was basic, that’s what made it shine—it’s straight to the point and easy to understand. And the story behind the founding families and the town itself was really well written as well and it’s cool that mythology was included in it (with mentions of figures like Morgane le Fay or Baba Yaga). There really is a lot to discover and a few well kept secrets to unravel as Emmy learns during her stay. The first half of the book sets up all this backstory and setting and it will keep you glued to the page! The descriptions are beautifully written, you can definitely feel the autumn and witch vibes of this town. As for the rest of the book, there are some minor criticisms, but they really do not make the book any less enjoyable. And this is only book one so it’s a really good start to a series!

In terms of the romance, it was refreshing to see that it avoids queer rom-com stereotypes, the relationship between Emmy and Talia feels very natural, with ups and downs and it also doesn’t feel too fast nor too slow. It really has a great development. There’s also quite a bit of angst but it’s well balanced with other tender moments and don’t we all love a bit of angst and slow burn!

There’s another type of romance as well in the book and it’s the love the witches have for their small hometown. Emmy however, had lost this spark, not feeling good enough in a town where she’s part of the apparently less powerful family. When she left, she lost all her powers (it happens if you leave Thistle Grove) but now that she’s returned, she begins to get them back and not only that but she also starts to find herself again and realise some harsh truths as well. A conversation Emmy has with her grandma is particularly touching.

All in all, when you close the book, you’ll want to live in the bewitching town that is Thistle Grove. But since it’s only the first of the series, it’s good to know that readers will have the chance to revisit this magical autumnal town and its lovable characters when book two is released! Charming, sweet, and magical, Payback’s A Witch is the perfect book to enjoy on a cosy autumn night.
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Great vibes, fun plot, compelling town. I really enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to the next books set in Thistle's Grove.
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4.5 stars

Thank you so much to Berkley and NetGalley for supplying me with an ARC of this wonderful book :)

What a sweet little rom-com! I can see this very quickly becoming a book I come back to during spooky season when I need a break from horror but don’t want to leave behind those fall vibes!

Spooky autumnal atmosphere, generational witches, magical tournaments, wlw romance, revenge plots against jagbag exes, what more could I ask for?

There were so many things I absolutely adored about this book. The world-building was absolutely magnificent and the generational witches combined with the magical tournament especially reminded me of a cross between Halloweentown and Harry Potter - minus the transphobia - in the absolute best way! I found myself screaming “I wish I could live there!” in nearly every scene, from the party in the woods, to Emmy’s dad’s bookstore. I was absolutely enchanted by the town of Thistle Grove and its lore and the families that inhabit it. Every single character felt so thought out and there was still so much room left for growth in the future books in the series. I almost wish we could get a book that takes us back in time to see some of the older generations of the town, kind of like in Return to Halloween town. (Maybe we could see some more of Savannah Harlow?)

The romance aspect was SCRUMPTIOUS and I found myself falling for Talia even harder than perhaps even Emmy did. The pacing was so well-done and I felt as though it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the story too much, serving its fraction of the narrative well. Just the perfect balance of sexy and sweet.

My favorite aspect of the story had to be the revenge plot. It was so much fun, and I actually wish we had gotten to see a little bit more of Gareth being psychological tortured by Emmy and Talia and Linden. By the end, I felt as though he was just kind of an angry nuisance and though I understand that he is not the center of the book, I just would have loved a little bit more comeuppance for him. Just as a treat.

The only thing that really irked me was that sometimes the modern colloquialisms in this book felt a little mindlessly used. I understand the reasoning for their existence in that they needed to be used to show some contrast between Emmy’s life outside of Thistle Grove and inside of it, as well as grounding this story as something more in the realm of magical realism and making Emmy feel more like a part of our world. However, I felt as though some of the vernacular was used inaccurately or without acknowledgement of its cultural context. For example: the word “stan” was used very out of nowhere, and felt sandwiched in there for the sake of relatability. And it is certainly not a word used to describe someone’s relationship to their own family, it’s more detached. This could also be applied to the way that the Black characters spoke, which was often frilled with Black Twitter vernacular, and in a way that just didn’t sit right. Certainly not bad enough to be a huge red flag for this book, but something that deserved some criticism.
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This was an okay romance. However, it didn't capture my full attention at times, and felt laborious to read in others. 

I enjoyed the representation in the book., but because of what I mentioned earlier, this was a tepid read .
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Do you wish you could read a super sapphic Goblet of Fire? Because you totally can now. This is really fun, a little silly, and totally worth devouring in one sitting.
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I absolutely loved this one. Full review to come on, I will post the link when it gets published. John Tucker Must Die meets Practical Magic meets queer love story and female friendship. The perfect Halloween read.
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A compiling tale of revenge with a Percy Jackson / Harry Potter kind of vibe. 

I absolutely love the concept of a magical witch games. It fulfils all those childhood fantasies about winning the Olympics with my secret magic powers, but I digress. The aspect of revenge thrown into the mix gave the story depth and wanting. I was drawn into the girl click ready to give Gareth Blackmoore exactly what he deserved. It was glorious.

At times though, the story was bogged down by to much focus on the most mundane attributes. It made for slow reading. Still, I was out for blood and Gareth was in my targets. I had to know what was going to happen.

This was a fun read that filled my day with joy and absolute satisfaction. A good read for a spooky autumn day. 

My review will be live on my blog Book Confessions on 10-5-21.
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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 :)
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I really enjoyed this book, I feel like it's perfect for the spooky Halloween season, thanks to all of the witchy vibes. Set in Thistle Grove, a town governated by witches, this book follows the story of Emmy Harlow and her old and new friends. If you like the competition trope in your reads, you're going to enjoy this one! Oh, and it's also an LGBTQ+ book - with a great relationship between ouyr main character, Emmy, and the gorgeous Talia Avramov.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC which I received in exchange for an honest review! 

Okay! So as soon as I heard about this book, I knew it was for me. LGBTQ+ witches in a wizarding tournament setting? I was sold! I am happy to say this book did not disappoint at me at all. I loved the characters, the slow magical town setting, and all of the family history that was a major part of the story.

This is a perfect for the fall and witchy season or for all of us individuals that love witch books year round.
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