Roland “Ro” Gray is a witch and he loves his dog, Birch Bark, or BB for short. Ro will do whatever it takes to give his companion a forever home—if only Ro could find a forever home for himself. He lost his parents at an early age, then aged out of the foster care system. Now, for the last ten years, Ro’s been trying to find a coven of witches to call his own. No matter where he turns, however, the very people that are supposed to understand him and his magic keep rejecting him. His latest coven is no exception and he’d rather brave a winter night near Ottawa than stay where he is no longer welcome.
The bitter Canadian winter, however, forces Ro to rethink living in his car—even temporarily. Luckily, he finds a very affordable room a short drive away. Even better, the house is in good repair and no one immediately notices (or at least mentions) anything odd about Ro or his wonky magic. He’s not too sure the homeowner, a man named Miller Moore, really cares much for Ro, though. That could make things awkward. Still, the longer Ro stays, the more comfortable he becomes. Until one of his housemates brings a guest over who almost immediately draws attention to Ro’s off-kilter magic. But Miller offers the best balm: friendship and, just maybe, something a little more.
Must Love Dogs… and Magic by Jenn Burke is a novella set in contemporary Canada. Set during deep winter and featuring a strong hurt/comfort thread between Ro and Miller, I thought this was a great, cozy, little read. It’s also a quick one; I knocked this out in a single afternoon. The perfect little mid-week escape. Burke does a wonderful job balancing the need to explain how magic fits into this world and affects the characters’ lives without bogging the story down with mountains of minutiae. I also thought the depth of the characters matched the shorter story format well; we get more than mere avatars for a stock character, but not so nuanced I couldn’t read them. Ro clearly has trust issues and closes himself off emotionally from others, always expecting the worst. Miller discovers the depth of his love for all of his found family, despite difficulties communicating with other humans. Each man had distinct idiosyncrasies that, for me at least, made it compelling to watch them come together. At the same time, Ro finally begins to cope with his magic.
The story goes a bit beyond a simple get together for Ro and Miller, too. The main conflict arises from a classic miscommunication when Ro overhears something Miller says. Of course, this happens soon after Ro and Miller confess their feelings, so it’s a double whammy for Ro who feels like he’s lost a place he finally thought he could call home and a man he thought he could share it with. In other words, there is a hot delicious minute of angst.
My only issue is that the “book ends” of the story at the beginning and ending did not seem clearly connected to the main story. It features Ro calling into a podcast, hoping someone out in podcast land might be able to help him understand why his magic had made him so unpalatable to other witches. I appreciate the symmetry of beginning with a call to the podcast and ending with one…I just wasn’t sure what connection that podcast had with the rest of the story. [Note from Jay: This story was originally part of the Heart2Heart anthology, volume 4 that features stories where listeners call into the Heart2Heart podcast. It has now been republished as its own story, but that is why it has the podcast format.]
Overall, I think Must Love Dogs… and Magic is a great little read for anyone looking to kill a few hours. Fans of paranormal (witches and magic) stories, or sweet romances with a touch of spice will surely enjoy this book. Readers who enjoy watching characters discover their found family or themes of finding where you fit in the world will also probably want to pick this up.