March 7, 2023

REVIEW Back in a Spell (The Witches of Thistle Grove #3) by Lana Harper

Back in a Spell (The Witches of Thistle Grove #3) by Lana Harper
Rating: 3 Stars
Release Date: January 3, 2023
Format: Audiobook (Borrowed from Library)
Publisher: Berkley 

Nineve Blackmoore, or Nina, has been out of sorts ever since her fiance broke things off about a year ago. In an effort to cheer her up and get her back to normal, her best friend suggests she go on another date; no strings attached, with someone she’d never normally consider, just to get back in the swing of things. Enter Morty Gutierrez, the non-binary owner of The Shamrock Cauldron. Things end up going haywire on the first date though, and Nina and Morty are forced to work together to figure out why Nina’s magic has suddenly started to go haywire and what they’re going to do with their budding witch bond. 

I absolutely loved Lana Harper’s first two books in The Witches of Thistle Grove series, Payback’s a Witch and From Bad to Cursed. I had high hopes for Back in a Spell. It’s the first book in the series to feature a Blackmoore front and center, the romance is pansexual, and the love interest is non-binary. The book was an interesting and engaging read, but there were a couple of issues that prevented me from giving the book a full five stars. 

First of all, there were a lot of things happening all at once. A large chunk of the story focuses on Nina’s self-discovery and breaking away from the toxicity of her family, but the actual interactions with her abusive mother and grandmother are fairly limited. I felt I was missing a lot of context as a reader. As a result of the missing context, the victory and the growth Nina achieves at the end of the story don’t feel as earned. There was also a lot of development for the worldbuilding of Thistle Grove and its magic - some of the references the author brought in were really cool, and sent me down a rabbit hole of internet searches and extra reading. Sadly, I think the reveals lost a lot of their potential impact with all the other stuff going on since readers didn’t have a chance to just sit and absorb them. Finally, there’s the romance with Morty - somehow Nina’s brother Gareth got more on page time than the actual love interest. When Morty was on the page, the lust between the two was evident but other relationship aspects felt unauthentic. For example, I can get behind instant love/lust but I didn’t really get why Morty went from zero to sixty with their opinion on Nina’s family. 

One specific aspect of Morty and Nina’s relationship I wanted to touch on was the non-binary representation (which I think a lot of other readers and reviewers have noted as well). This was seemingly a big aspect of the marketing surrounding the book, and the author makes a point of including a moment where Morty shares their pronouns (he/they) early on in the story. However, from that moment on it seems like everyone only uses he or other masculine descriptions for Morty. It was almost like the fact that Morty is non-binary stops being a thing from that moment on. The execution of this particular plot point left a lot to be desired. 

Back in a Spell is an enjoyable witchy read, with some highlights like the new witchy lore being introduced and Nina’s journey of self-discovery. However, readers looking for a paranormal romance similar to the first two books might be better off waiting for the next installment, In Charm’s Way, which seems to tease a new twist to all the happenings in Thistle Grove. 

About the Book

An awkward first date leads to a sparkling romance between one of the most powerful witches in town and a magical newbie in this rom-com by Lana Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Payback’s a Witch.

Even though she won’t deny her love for pretty (and pricey) things, Nineve Blackmoore is almost painfully down-to-earth and sensible by Blackmoore standards. But after a year of nursing a broken heart inflicted by the fiancĂ©e who all but ditched her at the altar, the powerful witch is sick of feeling low and is ready to try something drastically different: a dating app.

At her best friend’s urging, Nina goes on a date with Morty Gutierrez, the nonbinary, offbeat soul of spontaneity and co-owner of the Shamrock Cauldron. Their date goes about as well as can be expected of most online dates—awkward and terrible. To make matters worse, once Morty discovers Nina’s last name, he’s far from a fan; it turns out that the Blackmoores have been bullishly trying to buy the Shamrock out from under Morty and his family.

But when Morty begins developing magical powers—something that usually only happens to committed romantic partners once they officially join a founding family—at the same time that Nina’s own magic surges beyond her control, Nina must manage Morty’s rude awakening to the hidden magical world, uncover its cause, and face the intensity of their own burgeoning connection. But what happens when that connection is tied to Nina’s power surge, a power she’s finding nearly as addictive as Morty’s presence in her life

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About the Author

Lana studied psychology and literature at Yale University and law at Boston University. She is a graduate of the Emerson College publishing and writing program and the author of YA novels Wicked Like a WildfireFierce Like a FirestormBlood Countess, the forthcoming Poison Priestess, and the forthcoming adult rom-com, Payback's A Witch, from Berkley Books (10/5/21). Lana was born in Serbia and lived in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania before moving to the United States. She lives in Chicago with her family.

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