Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars
Narrator: Walker Williams
Length: 9 hours, 11 minutes
Nate Reese and David Gardener are professors at the University of Virginia. David is a very popular history professor and Nate is newer on staff and works with the theater program. The men met when Nate was working on a history documentary, and now Nate and David live together as romantic partners. Things are going great between them until Nate gets involved in a violent campus incident by stepping in to help a female student who is being attacked. The event spurs Nate on to want to do more about sexual assault and violence on campus and he becomes active in the End Assault group that is fighting for more university action in the situation. However, school officials are not interested in taking further steps, creating a conflict that David fears will lead to repercussions for Nate’s job. David is a man who does not like conflict, and so he encourages Nate to back off the project. As the weeks and months go by, David and Nate find themselves more and more at an impasse, their once solid relationship beginning to crumble under the conflict.
Colin Campbell is a campus police officer who often investigates assault cases. He feels passionate about helping the victims of assault and takes his work seriously. When Colin meets the new Title IX coordinator on campus, Joshua Abrams, he immediately connects with the man. As they work together, the interest between them grows and soon the men are acting on their attraction. Colin is very clear from the start that he doesn’t do relationships, and that things between him and Josh can be only friends with benefits. But as they spend more time together, Josh realizes that he can’t be casual where Colin is concerned. His heart is already way too involved and he knows the only way to protect it is keep some distance. When the men find themselves fighting over a case, Josh realizes he may be better off leaving the area and getting some space.
As David and Nate find themselves drifting apart, they must decide if the love between them is enough to see them through the conflict. The men want to be together, but they have to figure out how to get past their differences. For his part, as Colin tries to adjust to life without Joshua, he begins to realize what a mistake it was letting the man go. Now he has to decide if it is worth opening up his heart and sharing his past with the man he has grown to love, in hopes he can win him back into his life.
Love’s Magic has a really unique set up as it combines the stories of two couples and weaves them together over the course of the book. I was impressed by the way Janice Jarrell manages to build these two storylines and nicely develop each of them, while still blending them throughout the book. It can sometimes be hard with four main characters to keep everything straight, but I never felt lost or confused as to which couple was the focus or where we were in the story. I think the way the author balances the two storylines works well too, as David and Nate’s journey takes prominence through the earlier parts of the book and then more focus shifts to Joshua and Colin. I do think some more overlap in storylines would have been nice, however. The men meet as Colin is the cop who investigates the attack where Nate is injured. They have a couple of casual interactions over the middle of the book, and Colin also helps out by working security during the End Assault rally. But there isn’t much plot crossover after the initial meeting, and the guys becoming friends sort of felt crammed in to the story (I don’t want to spoil anything, but at the end of the book these guys present as WAY closer than makes sense given the actual amount of interaction they have in the story).
I found myself enjoying Colin and Joshua’s journey the most out of the two. The guys have an instant connection and lots of heat between them. Colin has a rough situation in his past that has made him wary of opening himself up too much, and he tries to keep his distance, but the connection between him and Joshua is too strong. However, while Josh falls for Colin, Colin is still trying to keep things casual, and Joshua knows he can’t go on loving a man who won’t return his feelings. It takes some time and distance, but Colin comes to realize how much he really loves Josh in return and sets out to get him back. I liked both of these men and was rooting for them to make it work. Their storyline feels like it takes up less of the book, but I could understand both men and liked them together. I did have a few hurdles however, specifically with how these guys are portrayed. Colin is Irish in background and we are constantly being told throughout the story just how Irish he is; it is used to describe him countless times throughout the book, to the point that it felt totally excessive. Then we have Joshua, who is Jewish, and that also feels constantly mentioned for no real reason other than to point out he is Jewish. For example, Colin will think of Joshua as “this quiet Jewish man” or “this gentle Jewish man.” The fact that he is Jewish is virtually irrelevant to the story or Joshua’s character, with the exception of one scene where he is praying. The differences in their religion and cultural background are never a conflict in the story, or even really addressed. So I found it weird and awkward that it is mentioned so frequently in the story, to the point of distraction.
The storyline with David and Nate was harder for me to warm to, mostly because I never feel like we are given enough background into David’s character to understand his objections to Nate’s involvement in the rally. We are told David doesn’t like conflict, but that just wasn’t enough information for me to understand why he is willing to fight Nate tooth and nail to keep him from getting involved in the End Assault movement. We are told there are reasons he behaves this way, but its never really explained what they are. So David just comes across like a jerk to me. He knows that Nate was stabbed and almost killed and needs an emotional outlet by getting involved in the End Assault cause. And not only is David unwilling to help, he is actively trying to get Nate to stop being involved himself and it just left me feeling annoyed at him. Then, one therapy appointment is enough to turn it all around and the guys go from about to break up over this, to suddenly having everything perfect between them. I just couldn’t fully invest in this storyline because I found David so difficult to like and to understand.
There were also elements to the story that just didn’t come together for me, as I just couldn’t buy into them. For example, when Joshua leaves, Colin tracks him down by getting a friend of a friend who works for the IRS to find him in their records. Of course, Joshua has no job yet, so why his tax paperwork would already have a new address, who knows. But Colin is a police officer. He couldn’t find Colin himself? Or hire a private investigator? Instead, he gets the IRS to illegally track him down? I also found a lot of the university politics confusing. Nate and David work in different departments, but somehow David influenced Nate’s department chair to hire him, causing conflict between them. I’m not clear why David would even have any sway there, aside from the fact that David seems to be this campus superstar who is so important, everything he does is apparently news. But the biggest issue for me is not understanding why the university is refusing to hold hearings or take action to help prevent sexual assault. First, I found it strange that Jarrell sets this at the real University of Virginia, then portrays the administration as doing everything possible to thwart efforts to end campus assault. They come off as horrible, cruel people who only care about themselves and the university’s reputation at the expense of their students, something I can’t imagine the real UVA folks are too thrilled about. But more importantly, I was never clear WHY they were so adamant. Why are they all awful and don’t care about their students? Why is the administration so against this? It is never really explained, leaving them sort of these artificial bad guys for no real reason.
I listened to this in audio with Walker Williams as narrator. Williams has a pleasant voice and the pacing of the story mostly works. I found his cadence sort of difficult however; Williams has a tendency to speak in bursts of words and the pauses don’t necessarily line up with natural breaks in the sentences. This led to some awkward phrasing and strange emphasis at times, and just overall made it hard to listen to. His speaking voice felt slow and choppy. I also found the character voices a little too similar, though obviously having to voice four main characters is a challenge. Williams also speaks with a very calm, almost placid voice, as if he is soothing someone. So there were times when this was a perfect fit, but others where the tone just didn’t mesh with what is going on. For example, during a scene of rough, intense sex, the soft tone felt totally wrong.
A few more things. First, the professor with whom David and Nate have some conflict is given this overly nasal, almost robotic voice that just screams “bad guy.” He doesn’t sound like anyone else in the story and his voice is so over-the-top, it’s almost absurd. Also, this is a small thing, but the book is set in Charlottesville, VA, and with the exception of one throwaway side character, no one has a regional accent. Maybe some of the faculty would be transplants, but at least some of the characters should have spoken with the accent of the area. And finally, and this is absolutely not the fault of the narrator, but there are times when Colin sings where instead Williams speaks the lyrics. I don’t expect my narrators to be able to sing in the books, so I totally give a pass here, but it was awkward and jarring each time it happened. I know this all sounds like a lot of nitpicks, but overall I would say the listening experience was satisfactory. I am not sure I would seek out more of Williams’ work, but I wouldn’t avoid him either. It just didn’t all click for me.
Overall, I found this a generally pleasant story, but there were too many issues to make it fully satisfying for me. I appreciated the way Jarrell blends the two storylines and there is a lot of sweetness here for readers who really enjoy lots of heartwarming language and story elements. I am not sure I am invested enough to continue the series, but if the story sounds appealing, I think a lot of readers will find it a good fit.