Review of "With You Always" by Rena Olsen

Monday, August 27, 2018
Today I’m reviewing With You Always, a psychological thriller by Rena Olsen. If you haven't already, check out my interview with the author on Aug. 15 to learn more about what inspired Rena’s idea for the book!

From the author of The Girl Before comes a tense and incisive work of psychological suspense that examines how easy it is to fall into the wrong relationship...and how impossible it can be to leave.

In the wake of a painful breakup and struggling to prove herself at work, Julia feels adrift. When Bryce blows into her life, he seems like the perfect anchor. Handsome, charming, secure, and confident, Bryce brings out the best in Julia, sweeping her off her feet with attention and affection while grounding her with his certainty and faith. Together they embark on a path guided by the principles of his family and their church, each step a paving stone leading to happily ever after.

But this is no fairy tale.

Step by step, one small concession leading to another, Julia is slowly isolated from her job, her friends, and her family, until she comes to find that her dream come true is a cage. Then one day everything changes...and Julia is faced with no choice but to find a way out.

About Rena:
Rena Olsen is the author of The Girl Before, a Booklist top mystery debut of 2016. Olsen grew up moving around every few years, following her minister father from church to church, and her exposure to so many different people and environments sparked an interest in human nature. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in marriage and family therapy. A licensed therapist, she works in Des Moines, Iowa.

Find Rena online:
Twitter: @originallyrena
Instagram: @rosmiles


When I first heard the premise of this book, I knew I’d better clear my calendar for a few days because once I started, I would not be able to stop.  I was right,  finding myself getting up earlier in the mornings so I could squeeze in a chapter or two before work, and reaching for it the second I walked through the door in the evenings.

The teaser paragraph on the opening pages intrigued me even further, and continued to unfold throughout the course of the book, providing an unexpected twist I didn’t see coming at the end.

The protagonist, Julia, is a relatable character who is simply trying to move forward after a painful break-up and make strides in her professional career. From the second Julia meets the handsome and charming Bryce Covington at a chance meeting outside her office, you know he’s too good to be true. But the author takes her time peeling away at the layers that make up Bryce, from the chapters interspersed that tell of his troubled childhood to the way he is “rescued” by the pastor of his church, a man who has grown to control every aspect of Bryce’s life, including his job, his relationships, and the way in which he practices his faith. Yes, he sweeps Julia off her feet, despite the doubts and concerns of those closest to her, but the way he showers her with attention and makes her the center of his universe prevents her from seeing Bryce for who he really is—a controlling man who will eventually separate her from her job, her friends, her loving family, and the ability to do anything independently.

If you’ve ever wondered how someone can fall into a trap of a controlling, emotionally-abusive relationship, Rena Olsen does an excellent job of providing a blueprint. It doesn’t happen all at once, but step by step, and day by day. It starts off with telling someone what they can and can’t wear (because you only have their best interests at heart!) telling them who they can’t spend time with, where they can work, and in this case, what church rituals they can and can’t participate in. The character of the Reverend provides an added sinister plot line, and made me want to throw the book across the room more than a few times.

As I flipped the pages on the final chapters, I found my heart racing and mind spinning with scenarios of how the book could possibly end. That, in my opinion, is an example of great planning and writing. Kudos to Rena Olsen on a suspenseful thriller that left me with a book hangover for days after.

With You Always is now available on Amazon.

About the reviewer:
Renee Roberson is an award-winning journalist who also works a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. Her short story, “The Polaroid,” received first place in the thriller category of the 2017 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women” received an honorable mention in the 2018 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest in the Young Adult category. Learn more about Renee at


Angela Mackintosh said...

Excellent review, Renee! I'm so intrigued after reading your review. You're right, these types of abusive relationships don't happen all at once, or else we'd run! I'm so curious about the reverend plot line and the ending. Was it a twist ending? I love those and try to do that every time I write fiction. It's not easy.

Thanks for this! I will definitely check out Rena's book. :)

Margo Dill said...

I am really interested in this book—I’m working on a novel where the main character is involved with a narcissist for years and my critique group will say: i just don’t get how she can still put up with this. So I would like to read other books with similar dysfunctional relationships to learn how to build my characters.

Renee Roberson said...

Yes, I'd say it was a twist ending! The plot line with the church adds a very interesting dynamic to the whole story. It's not your ordinary church, if you know what I mean, and some reviewers likened it to something you would see with a mega church or something like Scientology.

I'm happy to send the book your way if you want to check it out! Pay it forward and all that. Just e-mail me your address and I can put it in the mail to you.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--This is not normally the kind of book I read, but I do like reading something that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Rena's book sounds like one I need to check out.

And by the way, that cover is one of the most intriguing covers I've seen in a long time. From your review, it looks like a cover that matches the story.

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