LGTBQI+ · Paranormal · Romance

Review: Payback’s a Witch

Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Page Count: 352
Publication: October 2021
Series: Thistle Grover Witches #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Library Journal, BookPage, and Kirkus)

I continue on with my witchy books! It’s the spoopy season so shoot me.

Full of sass, sexy, and humour, Payback’s a Witch tickled me from both ends and I mean that in a very good way. The writing was slow at first and after the rush of The Ex Hex, that could be understandable. The Ex Hex throws you headlong into the story and there are no actions spared

Not so much with Payback’s a Witch and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We meet Emmy Harlow as she comes back to town for once in a generation tournament between the four witch families in Thistle Grove after a self-imposed exile in Chicago. In Chicago, she has not only become what she believes is herself but also her magic has waned and doesn’t fuck with her life like it does in Thistle Grove. But once she finds out that the man-boy who broke her heart has also broken the heart of two other witchy friends, hell is about to get loose.

But I must discuss what most reviews seem to want to not discuss: the hot sex, slow, and steamy build of a sexy relationship between Emmy and Talia. Harper builds this delicious slow and sexy world between Emmy and Talia that you can feel the spark from the page. You want to be either Emmy or Talia (it doesn’t matter much who) and be a part of that coupling. You do, you really do.

I’m not sure why the queer romance between Emmy and Talia is rarely mentioned in reviews as the book has gotten starred reviews around the publishing world. It’s not gratuitous. Emmy doesn’t come back to Thistle Grove “OH HOO I IZ A LESBIAN” and Talia isn’t stereotyped either. They are just hot (and fall in love) with each other and that’s what most important. I’m so, so thrilled that while we’re not given much of Emmy’s past relationships and that falling for a girl was just as natural as drinking coffee. Representation is important.

I also really liked how the world felt real. The witchy behaviour and the paranormal lives didn’t feel artificial or over the top. That’s always a concern for me when I read paranormal books that the world isn’t believable. Does magic exist? Sure, why not. There is no real reason why it can’t exist. There is so much about our world we have yet to understand or seems magical so that if people can cast spells and make inanimate things talk, why not?

From Bad to Cursed, book #2 in the Thistle Grove Witches series, comes out in May 2022 and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty impatient. I read the first chapter and I was like, “Goddammit!” when the sample ended. I hope to god the ARC shows up on Netgalley or there will be hell to pay.

The tl;dr: Read it. Read it for the fun. Read it for the HEA (which Harper dangles at first in front of us). Read it for the romance. Just read it.

Mystery · Paranormal

Review: Tomes Scones and Crones

Title: Tomes Scones and Crones
Author: Colleen Gleason
Page Count: 298
Publication: October 2021
Series: Three Tomes Bookshop #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

As it is the spooky season, my foray into reading witchy books continues.

I read Gleason’s The Clockwork Scarab (the series where Sherlock Holmes’ niece and Bram Stoker’s sister solve crimes), and I recall really liking it but I never went forth to read the sequels. I think most of you reading this get it: too many books and not enough time. By happenstance, an author friend who happens to be friends with Gleason promoted Tomes Scones and Crones on Facebook and once I recognised the name AND that Gleason is a Michigan girl, I got my hands on an arc.

Which brings us to Tomes Scones and Crones which throws in some Macbeth witchy delight coupled with a magical bookshop in an adorable village with adorable villagers along with the hunky police detective located in N. Michigan with an over the hill (48!) librarian as the protagonist. At first thought:The Scottish play is great! I’m an over 40 librarian! I spend half a year living in a small village in N. Michigan. Is Gleason in my brain!?

Maybe.

Tomes Scones and Crones has a lot going on: it’s got a group of punky crone witches, fictional characters that come to life, an adorable village, a beyond dream of a bookshop, a villain that isn’t really scary, and new friends. The premise is great but the execution of some of it not so much.

First, there is the main character who is the over the hill librarian. Gleason was either writing tongue in cheek, which could be a possibility, or she really believed this archetype of a librarian was the real deal. Not gonna lie, sometimes I wanted to shake her because her attitude towards being a librarian was not what 21st century library science is about and it is TOTALLY OKAY TO EAT AND DRINK WHILE READING IN A LIBRARY! Most libraries allow snack and closed drinks to be near books. Second, the reason how Jaqueline lost her job is also a bit sketch and wouldn’t fly in 2021s sensibilities even though the book was written in the 2020s and not the 1950s. Sometimes it was hard to tell. Third, the mystery wasn’t really satisfying. And the throw in of another character acting a part of the plot felt a bit gratuitous and half-haphazard as if Gleason came up to a point and needed some filler for the story.

You may be thinking, is there anything to like about this book? Of course! The punky crone witches are a lot of fun, the bookstore premise sounded amazing, and the new burgeoning relationship between Jacqueline and her new friends seemed real. I loved how Gleason stylized the yoga instructor and the baker as real people and not characters. The flirt flirt romance with the Thor like police detective wasn’t so bad either.

Taken as a whole, the book IS a fun frothy and quick read and while Gleason has many books under her belt, I’m giving her some leeway on this series because it is a new series and she’s still ironing the kinks out. I do recall that with The Clockwork Scarab, I remember feeling a bit “quois?” about some of the scenes but I loved the idea so much I stopped overthinking and let it just go.

I’ll do the same for the Three Tomes Bookshop series as book two is coming out in the spring. There is a wonderful world to play in, like I said, Gleason has set up some great building blocks now it is only time before she truly shines.

Paranormal · Romance

Review: The Ex Hex

Title: The Ex Hex
Author: Erin Sterling (Rachel Hawkins)
Page Count: 320
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(More serious reviews: Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Not to be confused with the band Ex Hex.)

Reading this book has been a blur.

First, I’ve been following Rachel Hawkins / Erin Sterling on Twitter for some time so I have must have read something by her to follow her and her tweets are entertaining. (Also, this is how I follow most authors and journalists and then discover later on I cannot remember how I found them. This is not Hawkins (nee Sterling).)

Second, I saw The Ex Hex tweet promoted by another author that Hawkins (nee Sterling) maybe retweeted? Or I saw it in the wild? Nevertheless, when I read the description, I knew this book had to be mine.

(BTW, I am the proud owner of having library cards through three different systems and the average wait time is about 12 weeks per system.)

Paranormal romances can go in a variety of different ways: some bad (I’m looking at you Laurell K Hamilton and Stephenie Meyer) or good (hello J.R. Ward and Charlaine Harris). There really is no defining rule of what makes a great or awful story. You want charisma and heat between the characters, a fetching storyline that isn’t so up in itself you need note cards and sharpies to keep track, and a believable world.

This is why I love The Ex Hex. It’s got a pinch of Practical Magic mixed in with some Sabrina the Teenage Witch with the fun of Bewitched and a bit like Harry Potter but when Hawkins (nee Sterling) described it as “Hocus Pocus (But They F***),” which you know, is what sold me.

I’m a sucker for cozy romances – like cozy mysteries but with more skin and sex and less Jessica Fletcher. Hell, anything cozy. One day I want to own a bookstore in the Cotswolds with a sexy man at my beck and call while I solve mysteries in my free time. Alas, that is not to be but with books, I can be anywhere and do anything I want.

This is where The Ex Hex comes in. A fun romp of a witch who after a bad breakup, preforms what she doesn’t think is a spell but is a spell on the ex she has just dumped. Nearly a decade later, they are thrown back together when he comes back to Graves Glen, GA for Founder’s Day to give a speech and all that rot. But the curse is real! And Rhys is fucked and not really in a good way (well, he and Vivi do get it on considerably but that is later in the story). They must lift a curse and do it by the end of Halloween. Oh no! How will they survive?

The Ex Hex made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I wanted nothing more to snuggle up on a hot cocoa by my side as I read. I could feel the whispering of fall at the back of my neck as I took in this charming story. My basic bitch was coming out in full force and look, I’m a basic bitch and this fills all the notches.

This book isn’t about a girl not understanding who she is, Vivi knows exactly who she is, or that she’s an underdog, she isn’t. It does fall in with a second time around romance trope which is fine when done well and here it is. The sex scenes build and it’s not gratuitous, which is a relief. Rhys isn’t a superhero coming to swoop in to save the day or a bad boy except Rhys has very good hair that does That Thing which makes VIvi swoon. They are just two normal people crushing on each other hard and have a task to complete.

The ending is nice and tidy (mostly) and the couple gets their HEA. The only thing I would ding this book on is that while Hawkins (nee Sterling) does a great job of blending in Rhys’ Welshness with Vivi’s southern charm, there isn’t enough of a backstory as to WHY his ancestor left Wales and came to America and that is very relevant to the story as the relationship between the two families, Rhys’ and Vivi’s, goes way back since the time of the town’s founding. So, why did Penhallow leave Wales? Why is Rhys’ father a dick? What’s up with Wells and Bowen? And what about Gwyn and Aunt Elaine? Hawkins (nee Sterling) has created a believable world where she can play around with the other characters. She gave them relatable and whole lives that intersect with Vivi and Rhys and are formed and not cookie cutter cut outs. Hawkins (nee Sterling) has written across many genres but I get the feeling here, and I’m probably not wrong, she had a lot of fun with this story and that there is much more in the world of Graves Glen in the future.

I also give points towards Hawkins (nee Sterling) using Welsh/British-isms (torch for flashlight; mate instead of dude). It is what has struck me about this book is she also pays attention to the culture she’s writing about and not just winging it.

Let’s cut to the chase: So dear reader, if you want a fast, fun, sassy, and enjoyable read with believable characters and setting, pick up The Ex Hex. I read the first half in one sitting before bed one night and I would have gone on if I hadn’t had to work in the morning. If that doesn’t sell you, you have a rotten and cold heart compatible with Rhys’ father Simon (the dick).