Book Reviews

Book Review: The Writing Retreat

By Julia Bartz

Publication Date:  February 21, 2023

320 Pages

This is the second novel I’ve read in the past three months with essentially the same plot line.  A woman is accepted into a group with a mentor/benefactor that will make her dreams come true.  She’s in competition with other women but it soon becomes clear that the mentor/benefactor does not have her best interests at heart (to put it mildly), and death becomes a more probable outcome than her dream coming true.  The other novel I’m referring to is The House of Hunger, although the details and genre of that novel were wildly different.  Personally, I liked The Writing Retreat more.

Here are the details to fill in the plot:  Alex’s life has hit a low.  She’s been dumped by her best friend (Wren), her anxiety is peaking, and while trying to celebrate the publication of another friend’s book, she’s depressed that her own writing has hit a block.  Then she’s accepted into legendary horror writer Roza Vallo’s writing retreat, a coveted spot that almost ensures publication.  The first hitch is that Wren is also accepted into the retreat.  The second is that Roza’s intentions are not altruistic, and Alex might not make it out of the house alive, much less with a publishing deal under her belt.

“The Writing Retreat” interpreted by Wombo Dream

To tell you more would be to give out spoilers, and this is a book worth reading.  The cast is large, every woman has her own baggage, and it’s impossible to tell who is telling the truth and who has ulterior motives.  Despite this being a thriller, the focus stays firmly on Alex and her own issues.  Not only on her history Wren and what happened between them, but also going back to events that affected Alex when she was a child. Tossed in the middle of all that, the author explores themes of competition, race, friendship, and sexuality.  There’s a lot going on in this book.  Let’s add in the fact it’s essentially a locked room mystery, with the occupants of the retreat sheltered away miles from the nearest neighbor and, of course, snowed in.

A few things didn’t quite click with me, which I can’t go into detail because – spoilers – but it’s mostly nitpicky stuff that possibly no one else would think twice about.  I would have liked a little more angst from Alex toward the end, and the wrap up flowed a bit too seamlessly for my tastes, but overall, definitely worth the read.

3.75/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing the ARC ebook.  I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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