If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Have I mentioned what a pain in the butt reading with a cold can be? I have? Well, then this is just here to remind you that it is, indeed, a HUGE pain in the butt. Especially when you’re unsure if it’s allergies or a cold, and your body isn’t a big help. But that’s okay, because I had this fantastic book to keep me company.

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Title: If We Were Villains {352 pgs}

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Summary: {from Goodreads}

Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.

First off, that cover. I’ve been seeing it everywhere for the last couple of months {I follow the author on Tumblr, and everyone is pretty excited about this book} and I’m salivating just looking at it. Second of all, this is a story that English and drama majors both dream about, and M.L. Rio gives voice to all those dreams. Third of all, any book that has an atmosphere that reminds me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is sure to be one of my favorites for the rest of my life.

Let’s go back to 1997 and head to Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an alternative college where actors, philosophers, dancers, musicians, and a horde of other artists can grow to be their best selves. Oliver, James, Alexander, Richard, Wren, Filippa, and Meredith are in their final year, best of friends who speak in their own special language {mostly Shakespeare quotes}, yet they’ve grown accustomed to playing the same kinds of characters. When their worlds are shaken up a bit, these seven are thrown into chaos and must either learn to live with their lot or change the story.

So, we know from the very beginning that it’s 2007 and Oliver is being released from prison. For what, that’s not entirely clear. But he takes us back to his time at Dellecher, explaining his story to retired detective Joseph Colborne, the man who has been trying to figure out the true story of one night that changed the seven forever.

M.L. Rio gives us hints and teases about what happened that night, and the reader is usually left with this overwhelming sense of knowing what happened, but without actually knowing. I think I guessed the ending somewhere in the back middle, but I couldn’t believe it because I didn’t want to think that this character could be so…Not stupid, but so…good. The twists and turns are subtle, and you could miss them if you’re looking elsewhere.

Without spoiling too much, let’s say that this ending made me realize why some authors prefer not to write sequels. I guess that’s my way of saying I hope there isn’t a sequel to this, because the author gave us a good idea of where Oliver is going, but I like imagining him sitting somewhere sandy, happy and content, maybe with someone. But this ending {compared to the other ending; weird, but you’ll get it when you read it} was beautiful and hopeful, and it made mucking through the dark and dirty parts feel worth it. It was a smack in the face because I had not been expecting it, not after certain other things were revealed to Oliver {oh, how my heart broke for this poor man}.

I’d tell you to go out tomorrow and get yourself a copy, but I’m most likely going to be at the bookstore procuring my own copy, so I can just tell you there. Because you better be there, getting yourself a copy of this. It’s beautiful and dark and luscious and the characters are people you actually know, and it’s the book that made me fall back in love with Shakespeare, a man I’ve pretended to only be indifferent over for the last twenty-odd years. Maybe you should pick up a few of his plays, too, just to be safe.

Bookstores are dangerous.

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