Originally posted on Leah’s Books.
The Writing Retreat
- Author: Julia Bartz
- Genre: Mystery/Thriller
- Publication Date: February 21, 2023
- Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
CONTENT WARNING: blood, murder, gore, panic attack, bullying, toxic friendship, drugging, homophobia, suicide
A book deal to die for.
Five attendees are selected for a month-long writing retreat at the remote estate of Roza Vallo, the controversial high priestess of feminist horror. Alex, a struggling writer, is thrilled.
Upon arrival, they discover they must complete an entire novel from scratch, and the best one will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. Alex’s long-extinguished dream now seems within reach.
But then the women begin to die.
Trapped, terrified yet still desperately writing, it is clear there is more than a publishing deal at stake at Blackbriar Estate. Alex must confront her own demons – and finish her novel – to save herself.
This unhinged, propulsive, claustrophobic closed-door thriller will pull you in and spit you out…
I have had my eye on this book since before it came out, and my library hold took forever to come in. Fortunately, it arrived when I had just finished an ebook, so I was able to jump right into this book.
It starts out by introducing us to Alex, who works in publishing and has dreams of becoming a published author. Alex has struggled with writer’s block for the last year, since a breakup with her best friend, and anyone who has gone through this knows how difficult it is to lose a best friend. In some cases, it’s even harder than a boyfriend, especially when it’s a childhood friend, like the situation between Alex and Wren.
But when Alex’s reclusive and mysterious idol, author Roza Vallo, hosts a month-long writers retreat, and Alex is one of the women chosen to attend, she drops everything to go. However, she realizes that Wren is also going to be there, in addition to three other women.
Bartz does a fantastic job of letting us get to know the five women in attendance at the writing retreat, even if we don’t really get to know Roza and Yana too well, and those were the most fascinating characters to me. The women quickly realize that things aren’t going to be easy or relaxing, as they’re thrust into a NaNo type situation, where they have to submit a set number of words each day and will workshop together.
There is one character who is Black, and the author does make some effort towards social commentary in her story. While there’s the start of some discussion about race, it doesn’t really go anywhere and is quickly shifted to lighter topics. In addition, there’s some talk about feminism, and that part resonated a bit:
“Where did one’s power lie in a world that stripped it from you, over and over again? How could we reclaim it when the dominant forces dangled it above our heads, shouting: Only the strong survive?”
The pacing felt off to me. Everything seems normal-ish, if not a bit strange, up until nearly the halfway mark. Things moved slow, and despite having a lot of time to get to know the characters, it didn’t feel like much was going on. The pace picked up a lot in the second half of the story, and kept speeding up towards the end of the book.
Once things got moving, it quickly got over the top. I didn’t necessarily mind that, seeing as how this book kind of straddled the mystery/suspense and horror genres. I did like seeing how the characters connected with each other, and how paranoia can easily pop up in a stressful situation, as well as watching the writing process come together. Overall, I did enjoy the book, although the beginning was a bit too slow for my liking.
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