Title: From Bad to Cursed (The Witches of Thistle Grove #2)
Author: Lana Harper
Publication date: May 17, 2022
One Sentence Summary: When a Thorn witch is badly hurt by an Avramov curse at the beginning of the town’s Beltane celebrations, wild child Isidora Avramov is teamed up with the achingly good Rowan Thorn to investigate, but their intense attraction to each other could be a stumbling block.
From Bad to Cursed is the second in the Witches of Thistle Grove series featuring the witches of the four founding witch families of Thistle Grove. It broadens the world and adds to the history of the Midwestern town. This book focuses on Issa Avramov and Rowan Thorn, whose opposite magics sound like they shouldn’t work well together, but these two, who also have a history that made them loathe each other, are just meant to be. Their romance was sweet and fun, but it really speaks to what an amazing person Rowan is. But the mystery didn’t necessarily take a backseat to the romance. It was present throughout and, while not twisty and layered, had a nice progression that had the characters exploring family and town history. The magic, mystery, and romance all worked really well together and I found this to be a fun witchy, non-Halloween read.
Beltane is approaching, and the four witch families of Thistle Grove, a small witchy town in Illinois, are preparing. It starts with a competition to select the May Queen who will lead their events up to Beltane and the town’s Flower Moon Festival. But, when Holly Thorn, because Thorns with their life magic always become the May Queen, is hit by a curse that affects her magic, suspicion automatically falls on the Avramovs and their necromantic magic as the curse was one of theirs.
To find out what happened, Rowan Thorn, scion of the Thorn family, and Isidora Avramov, the wild child in the Avramov family who also has a history with Rowan, are teamed up. With mutual loathing, they agree to set aside their differences to find out who cursed Holly and to keep anyone else from being hurt, but there’s a fine line between love and hate.
From Bad to Cursed is the second in the Witches of Thistle Grove series and is set a few months after the events of the first book, Payback’s a Witch. Where the first book focused on the romance between Emmy Harlowe and Talia Avramov, this one focuses on Issa Avramov, Talia’s younger sister, and Rowan Thorn. Since the first book was light on the revenge and heavy on the romance, I expected this one to be light on the mystery and heavy on the romance. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the elements were very well balanced. The mystery, fantasy, and romance blended together perfectly, none overtaking the story and all somehow contributing to a fascinating story of family and feuds. This was a very fun witchy read that is perfect for spring.
First of all, it was wonderful to get back to Thistle Grove. A small Midwestern town full of witches and no-magical people, called normies, it felt warm and fun, and I loved reading about how the glamour spells all over the place kept the normies and visitors from realizing there’s real magic all around them. It’s such a simple fix for the problem of how to blend magical and non-magical people, and I really enjoyed reading about how it worked as magic is happening all over town right in front of the normies. But I really love that the town embraces all things witchy, from the stores and their offerings to the entertainment provided as well as the very witchy decoration and atmosphere in a certain bar. It was a lot of fun and I love how everyone there just embraces all things magical, even if they don’t know it’s actually real there. It was so nice to explore Thistle Grove again and get to see more of The Bitters, where the Avramovs live, and the Honeycake Orchards, where the Thorns live. Thistle Grove really comes alive in my mind and I really like how homey and fun it feels. But my favorite part was discovering more of the history of Thistle Grove and the founding families. Since the Avramovs are at the center of suspicion, we really get to know more of their family.
From Bad to Cursed is focused on Issa and Rowan and their unlikely romance. Issa is a thrill seeking, demon summoning sorceress who loves her family’s necromantic magic and is used to being surrounded by shades. She doesn’t take much stock in following the rules, but struggles against the role her family has put her in in their family business. She and her cousin run the haunted house and she’s in charge of designing the costumes and stories, but she would much prefer designing clothes. Then there’s Rowan with his powerful life magic who has a strong empathetic bond with his family and follows the rules as much as Issa is interested in breaking them. They’re complete opposites, but tension hums between them. I really liked that they felt natural together, that I could actually believe their romance. There was a good deal of maturity to their evolving relationship and a great deal of acceptance and understanding of each other as people and as witches with opposite magics. I was surprised by how much I loved them together, and how the romance just didn’t completely overtake the story, but was woven into the mystery really well.
From Bad to Cursed features the mystery of who is targeting the Thorn family, and Issa’s intention of clearing her family from suspicion. As a mystery, it did leave some things to be desired. It felt more linear than twisty and turny as I’ve come to expect mysteries to be. There were definitely a couple of layers put in that Issa and Rowan had to investigate, but, with the Beltane events and the romance woven in alongside it, it wasn’t the sole focus so wasn’t as twisty and layered as it could have been. Still, it was fun to read and to follow along. Issa and Rowan followed the clues, agreeing to interview everyone the case led them to. I liked that it was very present throughout the story, and that Issa and Rowan continued to have to work together even when things got a little awkward between them.
What I loved best about this book was the underlying softness to the whole story. Since Issa is the one telling the story, there’s every opportunity for it to be a little wild and a little prickly. But Issa is just as conflicted as any other young adult and Rowan, being a few years older and more settled, becomes something of an anchor for her. There’s something very calm and soothing about his magic and his family as a whole. It paired perfectly with the spring season, but also offered everything Issa needed. I loved everything about the Thorn family and the gentle love they spread not just within their family but to all who needed it was really lovely. The story ended up having a very soft undertone, one that did have it’s prickly points, but the Thorn family was overall just so lovely that it felt like it bled into all other aspects of the story.
From Bad to Cursed perfectly balanced the magic, the mystery, and the romance for me. I loved how well each element blended with the others, and I really liked how the ending linked back to the first book, so I’m interested to see if anything from this book might make an appearance in the next book. But my favorite part was seeing just how normal Issa is. Just like many young adults, she’s struggling to find her place, struggling to please her mother and family even when her heart is somewhere else. It was fantastic how it was woven in, both being a feature of the story without becoming a main point.
From Bad to Cursed was a really fun read. It felt witchy without feeling like a Halloween read. It really highlighted how magic and witches are for more than just Halloween and fall. Some of the spring events sounded like a lot of fun, and the food all sounded really good as well. I loved that everything in this story felt like it came alive to me and that the characters felt consistent and never acted out of character. It was just well-balanced to me and I adored Issa and Rowan.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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