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The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

A superb premise! A retreat for writers held by a famous author in her renovated old mansion. What’s not to love? When Alex receives the golden ticket – an invitation to horror writer Roza Vallo’s month-long escape to her remote estate – she hopes it will put an end to her year-long writer’s block. Unfortunately, there are a few unexpected glitches thrown into the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Alex’s ex-best friend turned nemesis, Wren, is also invited. One of the five guests will be the recipient of a million-dollar publishing contract. To remain at the retreat, the daily word count of 3000 must be adhered to. 

Talk about pressure. I loved the concept which, being a writer myself, came across as horrific on its own. Make the word count or leave, your hopes for publication down the drain. Added to that is the eerie atmosphere – no internet or cell reception, a snowstorm trapping eight women in a purported haunted house, hallucinogenic drugs, and enough secrets to write several best sellers. A locked-room thriller trapping the body and mind within its evil. 

Although it took me a while to get into the book, once the plot turns started they didn’t let up. Like bullets from a machine gun, the twists kept coming. I found myself going from lukewarm at the start to reading furiously once I got past the middle. I wasn’t able to connect with Alex, though, and found her to be too wishy-washy, still struggling to find her identity at age thirty, and not particularly a likeable person. The interweaving of the novel she was writing within the novel itself didn’t appeal to me, as the secondary story of the mansion’s past seemed irrelevant to me apart from adding to the gothic feel. There may have been a better way to create that dark, forbidding atmosphere.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read. Fans of thriller and suspense novels will love Roza’s gothic mansion and its history, palpable in the walls. Keep the lights on and don’t read alone!

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