Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz
Published by Atria Books on February 21, 2023
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Amazon, Audible, Libro.fm, Barnes & Noble
Alex has all but given up on her dreams of becoming a published author when she receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo. Even the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend and current rival, is attending doesn’t dampen her excitement.
But when the attendees arrive, Roza drops a bombshell—they must all complete an entire novel from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a life-changing seven-figure publishing deal. Determined to win this seemingly impossible contest, Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate, including Roza’s erratic behavior, Wren’s cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realizes that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she’s desperate to discover the truth and save herself.
The Writing Retreat has gotten a lot of advance buzz in my circles so I was thrilled to get to read it. It’s about an invitation only retreat for a month long writing session at a famous author’s home. Our main point of view, Alex, has been suffering writer’s block since the fight with her best friend of many years, Wren. They both want to be authors and work at other jobs, who also love Roza, the famous author. The retreat is supposed to be for female writers in their twenties and they are both 30.
When a mutual writing friend, connects them with Roza’s agent, they both end up being invited at the last minute. Alex is nervous for many reasons. She’s worried about seeing Wren, her writer’s block and yet delighted to see and know Roza more. I won’t spoil the story, but I got feelings that were a cross between Mean Girls and Lord of the Flies, with a shadow of And Then There Were None. The situation and the writing demands and the personalities were all intense.
The retreat started out exciting and a bit competitive, with the women getting to know each other and working on interesting stories. There were excerpts of Alex’s story which related to an old tale around the previous owner’s of Roza’s home. I have to say I skimmed the snippets as I found them kind of boring. The actual events though were a bit terrifying and devolved into survival mode.
I enjoyed reading and it reminds me of a personality test which has everyone with modes for regular circumstances and under stress. The four modes were Controlling / Taking, Supporting /Giving, Adapting/Dealing and Conserving / Holding. For example, someone might ordinarily be Controlling / Taking but under stress they become Adapting / Dealing. Anyway, it was fascinating to see the women shift to different styles with their stress levels, and also become focused on what truly mattered rather than petty squabbles.
The things the women learn about each other and their situation are shocking. What twists! I found the conclusion to be a little sad but satisfying.
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