Julia Hawthorne has had just one serious relationship in her life, and it didn’t end well. Rather than seeking out romance, Julia turns her focus towards her work, putting in long hours as an aspiring graphic designer. That all changes the first time she meets Bryce Covington, which happens by chance, and is immediately sweet on him.
It all starts with physical attraction. Julia notes how handsome Bryce is. She also admires that he’s a successful attorney and a man of faith. Eventually, the two begin dating seriously, and to Julia’s delight, Bryce reciprocates those feelings. As they grow closer, Bryce even asks her to meet his reverend and his wife, Nancy, whom he loves like parents and credits with raising him even though they aren’t really his parents. Through it all, only Kate, Julia’s sister, questions Bryce’s motives and even his personality. Noting that nobody can be that perfect, she suspects something else, but Julia turns a blind eye, falling deeper and deeper into love.
As the plot unfolds, Julia begins attending Church of Life with Bryce and is embraced by the members and church family. The two marry, kicking off what is supposed to be their happily ever after. . . and then the truth slowly starts to come out.
Bryce isn’t perfect at all. Neither is the church. Bryce has a temper and is prone to violence. The church body invites Julia to the Gathering, a weird tradition where churchgoers speak in tongues and try to talk to God. Soon, Julia realizes the more she becomes the wife that Bryce and the church expect her to be, the more of herself she’s forced to give up until she’s nearly completely isolated from everyone and everything she used to know. By the time she realizes what’s really going on, and is ready to do something about it, there’s no easy way out. In fact, there may be no way out at all.
Olsen’s debut, The Girl Before, was a riveting suspense thriller that started fast and never let up. Here, Olsen takes a small step backward with her sophomore novel, if only because it doesn’t deliver the same pulse-pounding suspense that she flashed before. Julia isn’t nearly as fleshed out as her last protagonist, and the story develops slower. While the concept is timely and relevant, especially with the #MeToo movement, the plot is a touch shallow, and readers may struggle to relate to and embrace Julia, which makes the hell she goes through less impactful overall. All that said, the final act ramps things up and shows what Olsen can do, making her a name to watch moving forward.
Though a little uneven and not as fast-paced as readers may expect, Rena Olsen’s With You Always packs a meaningful, important message . . . and serves as a powerful warning in today’s world.
Author: Rena Olsen
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.