Cover Image: Payback's a Witch

Payback's a Witch

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

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
Was this review helpful?
Emmy Harlow is my new favorite character. Super cute and funny.
I can't wait to read more by Lana Harper.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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!
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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. 


(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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
"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.
Was this review helpful?

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!
Was this review helpful?
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
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
Giving me that supernatural WB network flashback, this book was made for October, curling up with a good cup of tea or coffee and devouring this book! If you liked Practical Magic or Charmed, highly recommend!
Was this review helpful?
Really enjoyed this book! It’s like a queer, magical John Tucker Must Die, and it’s so much fun. I also liked the friendships and family relationships.
Was this review helpful?
This cover is beautiful and the blurb really sells the premise. I think it may sell well during spooky season for these reasons alone. It will appeal to those looking for something for the Autumn/ October season but don’t want something scary. 

Unfortunately this book fell flat for me. I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters. They all seemed underdeveloped and with a first person POV that makes for a very boring read.  It also made it difficult to root for any of them. Their motives were quite one dimensional and I couldn’t muster any interest. 

I also found there was much too much emphasis on how beautiful they all were……like ad nauseam. I grew tired of it very early on in the book.
Was this review helpful?
When Emmy travels back to her hometown of Thistle Grove, it's not for nostalgia or catching up with family and friends, it's to fulfill a centuries-old obligation set in place by four founding families, hers included. It's her turn to don the mantle of responsibility, even though she turned her back on everything that Thistle Grove meant to her, both good and bad, before moving to Chicago and abandoning the magic that runs through her veins, compliments of the town and it's proximity to an innate magical source. But the past really can influence the future, as old memories and regrets resurface and new friendships and alliances form, Emmy will have to choose - grab what she wants with both hands or choose a different fate. 

This is a wonderful, easy read, perfect for someone who needs a little magic in their life. The small town drama and need to find acceptance plays very well against the power coursing through the magical families. The banter and spite are delicious tangents to this fun, magical romp!
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this halloween-y witchy story! I loved the revenge and competition involved in it. There was quite a bit of background and history information given quickly, but that makes this story more complex than other contemporary romance novels (what I mostly read). This was an awesome book to lead into fall and I'll definitely be recommending it  to people this Fall/Halloween!
Was this review helpful?
Rather than the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word, I think this is better described as John Tucker Must Die with some solid queer energy. And witches, of course. Also like...some Triwizard Tournament similarities. Queer-John-Tucker-Must-<s>Die</s>-Cry-by-witchcraft-and-poor-wizardly-sportmanship-in-a-three-witch-three-challenge-tournament-thing. That's a mouthful. 

Payback's a Witch focuses on the town of Thistle Grove--a hidden town known for it's schticky fall season and, unknown to the general public, actual magic. Emmy Harlow left town after she graduated, knowing that the longer she was away from Thistle Grove, her magic would fade. Out of familial duty, Emmy returns to her childhood town to act as arbiter (referee) of the spell-casting tournament between the other three magical families: the Blackmoores, the Thorns, and the Avramovs. Emmy's plan is to complete the tournament, maybe gain some moral high ground on the guy that broke her heart, and head right back out of town. But those plans hit a snag when she feels a spark with the devastatingly attractive scion of the Avramov family: Talia.

This was generally a fun read! There's lots of girl power, the feminism is palpable. The writing style is quirky, filled with expletives, and there are lots of fun jokes: 

 "Kind of hard to duck a centuries-old magical obligation. Could I really have been sure I wouldn't have turned into a hedgehog for flouting yet ways of old?"
She chuckled, taking a sip. "Not-impossible-though-fairly-unlikely-hedgehogification aside..." 

My only real complaint is that there is *soooooooooo* much that happens. We're given all kinds of history, geography, ways to magick, centuries old rivalries, and the unraveling rules of the tournament that will soon take place among other things. There was just a bit too much outside plot for me to keep straight in a relatively short book. I understand that a sequel is in the works, and I have high hopes that it will tie together a few of the points that I'm left unclear of.

Overall, I enjoyed this! I'll be interested in reading what else Lana Harper writes. 

**I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher!
Was this review helpful?
Pour yourself a mug of hot cider and curl up for a cozy Halloween romance, with a side of witchy revenge plots.

The world-building, pacing, steam factor, and characterization are all on point. It’s a really nicely put together book!

One thing I particularly like—and that we almost never get to see in F/F romances—is that several characters are bisexual or pansexual (nobody uses a label), but without any angst about it; it’s just a fact about them, like hair color, that nobody really questions or remarks upon. Actually, a lot more time is spent remarking on haircuts than classifying anyone’s sexual orientation.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this one! It kinda had this Harry Potter and the goblet of fire feeling to it with the tournament the families competed in. There is also a great little love story thrown in.
Was this review helpful?
Nice little payback story and coming into one's own power. I also like that the girls banded together to reach a common goal.
Was this review helpful?