Book Reviews

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

Another NetGalley pick for the win! I love the opportunity to read new authors, so I was super excited to see The Writing Retreat as Julia Batz’s debut novel. It has all the promise of some of the best thrillers, so what’s not to enjoy?

The Story

The Plot meets Please Join Us in this psychological suspense debut about a young author at an exclusive writer’s retreat that descends into a nightmare.

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.

A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.

My Thoughts

For starters, this is an impressive debut novel. I believe Julia Bartz will have a nice career ahead of her.

Now, would I classify The Writing Retreat as “unputdownable”? No. The beginning dragged for me, and then the ending dragged somehow too. Also, I felt there were too many lesbian sex scenes. Granted, there were two (maybe three?), but they were basically back-to-back. I also don’t feel they added anything to the book. It wasn’t like to characters finally coming together or working to get something out of the other. It was just incredibly random.

One other issue I had with The Writing Retreat: The characters were neither believable nor likable. They all felt like surface characters. Truthfully, they felt like an amateur writer still trying to get her feet under her, which is ironic since it’s a book about amateur writers trying to get their feet under them.

I feel like I’ve been ragging on the book a bit. Honestly, it was a good book. Solid premise and a very interesting twist. A bit like one of those closed-door mysteries. Like I said, I think Julia Bartz can do more and has a bright future ahead of her.

The Writing Retreat is available wherever you buy books on February 21, 2023.

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