The Slow Burn: April & Oliver by Tess Callahan

My sister has been studying abroad in Morocco this last semester. Though she’s never really dated a man before (her previous relationships have been with women), she’s fallen in love with a beautiful Arab man. Since they are living in a Muslim society,  PDA is highly frowned upon. Male visitors are not allowed in her dorm. They have little opportunity for more than holding hands and stolen goodbye kisses. She has found that this makes each touch all the more special, and without the emphasis on the physical, they’re intellectual and emotional relationship has become even more intense. The longing, the tension of wanting and not having, is its own reward.

Even though erotica is all the rage in the news, as the media seems to revel in the shock that women enjoy reading and writing about sex, I still think there is something to be said for the slow burn. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with titillating sex scenes in books, and even occasionally enjoy a steamy read, the sexiest book I’ve read recently contained  nothing more than a chaste kiss between the title characters.

Best friends since childhood, the sexual tension between April and Oliver has always been palpable. Years after being completely inseparable, they become strangers, but the wildly different paths of their lives cross once again with the sudden death of April’s brother. Oliver, the responsible, newly engaged law student finds himself drawn more than ever to the reckless, mystifying April – and cracks begin to appear in his carefully constructed life. Even as Oliver attempts to “save” his childhood friend from her grief, her menacing boyfriend and herself, it soon becomes apparent that Oliver has some secrets of his own–secrets he hasn’t shared with anyone, even his fiancee. But April knows, and her reappearance in his life derails him. Is it really April’s life that is unraveling, or is it his own? The answer awaits at the end of a downward spiral…towards salvation.

I devoured this book on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It had everything I look for in a story—gripping characters and beautiful, lyrical prose. I read all sorts of books across all genres, but this is definitely my favorite kind, the kind I will reread over and over again.

April & Oliver is so much more than a love story. It’s about family. It’s about friendship. It’s about life. Each character, even the minor ones, are rendered with painstaking detail that makes them come alive. They feel like people you know. Oliver’s fiance, his brother, April’s asshole boyfriends and wise grandmother, are all fully developed people on their own, and their interactions and relationships with the main characters add to our understanding of them.

The story isn’t a straight, linear plot, but a story told in the present with frequent flashbacks that don’t slow down the story, as backstory has a tendency to do. They add a rich, deep texture to the narrative. The transitions are effortless, and particularly inspiring to me because I’m trying something similar with my WIP.

I wouldn’t recommend this story to those who favor light, plot driven chick-lit with happy endings. But if you appreciate deep characterization and that ache of an uncertain, unresolved ending that will echo for several days after reading, this book is for you. Tess Callahan has captured my heart and soul, and I only hope she continues to write more novels. She understands how to create compelling sexual tension better than any other writer I know. Sometimes it is the absence of what we want—that gut-wrenching longing—is more satisfying than consummation of desire.

What’s the sexiest book you’ve read recently?

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One thought on “The Slow Burn: April & Oliver by Tess Callahan

  1. Just as violence can be heightened by showing aftermath in characters, their decisions and reactions, so can the erotic. How a character treats their new lover the next morning is far more telling than the act itself which when shown is little more than a cheap trick and diminishes the story overall.

    Movies are the same. The director/screenwriter may hem and haw about the “art” of sensuality, it’s rarely more than a business decision to appeal to the male market.

    Like you mention in this post, tension is the key. Whether in love or war, the tension generates interest.

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