Desert Isle Keeper
With You Always
Rena Olsen’s début novel, The Girl Before, was one of my favorite mysteries of 2017, so I’m sure you can imagine how delighted I was to learn she had a new book coming out. It was something I knew I had to read, so when I saw that With You Always was available for review, I snapped it up as quickly as I could.
Julia is finding life to be a bit of a struggle. She just went through an extremely painful breakup, and she doesn’t feel her job is the best fit for her. She has a great support system made up of her parents, sister, and a group of friends she made in college, and yet, she feels strangely alone.
A chance meeting with Bryce changes everything. He’s unbelievably good-looking, charming, confident, and he seems interested in her. One date leads to two then three, and before long, Julia is convinced she’s met the one man who can make her life good again.
Bryce is a very religious man, and for Julia – who has never considered herself to be particularly spiritual – this is a difficult thing. Bryce wants to be with someone who shares his faith, so Julia needs to figure her own beliefs out quickly. Fortunately, Bryce is part of a close-knit church community, and Julia is immediately welcomed into their fold. It doesn’t take long for her to feel that the church is the answer to everything that’s gone wrong in her life, and she becomes a willing participant in their services.
Unfortunately, Julia’s family and friends don’t seem nearly as enamored of Bryce as she is, and Julia begins to feel torn between them and the man she loves. She wants the people in her life to warm up to Bryce, but when that doesn’t happen, she starts to distance herself from them, figuring Bryce and the church are all the support she really needs. Bryce is incredibly supportive of her choice, and Julia becomes even more dependent on him than she was before.
I could tell right away that something wasn’t quite right about Bryce, because he seemed a little too polished and perfect to be real. I wanted Julia to pick up on these things as well, but she’s completely under his spell. At first, I held out hope that her sister or one of her friends could talk some sense into her, but it soon became obvious that Bryce intended to isolate Julia from everyone and everything that wasn’t directly related to himself or the church. It was extremely difficult to watch Julia fall into Bryce’s trap.
Domestic abuse is a huge part of this story, so readers who are triggered by this will most likely want to give it a pass. There’s some physical and sexual abuse, but Bryce relies most heavily on emotional abuse and manipulation. He convinces Julia to doubt everything about herself, and it doesn’t take long for her to be completely cowed by him. Ms. Olsen’s descriptions of the abuse Julia suffers feels completely real. In fact, I had to put the book down a few times to give myself a break from all the emotions the story brought up.
About halfway through, I became pretty sure I knew the direction the story would take. Everything seemed to point to one specific ending, and I was a little disappointed that I figured things out so quickly. However, as I continued reading, it became apparent that I’d been completely incorrect about almost everything. The plot didn’t go where I thought it would; things happened that I never saw coming.
I want to make it clear that this is not a mystery in the traditional sense in that we know who the bad guys are right from the start. Even so, I was gripped as I watched Julia figure out what was going on, and I loved every minute I spent with these characters.
I could go on and on about the excellence of this novel, but I’ll spare you more of my rhapsodizing and just urge you to pick With You Always up at your earliest convenience. I’m sure you won’t regret it.