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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Writing Retreat

By: Julia Bartz ISBN: 9781982199456

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: 02/21/2023

Format: Other

My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC)

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 female friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.

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My Review

Julia Bartz's psychological suspense debut, THE WRITING RETREAT, is one crazy wild ride, darkly satirical, and twisty, a book within a book with a spine-chilling Gothic/horror vibe!

Five writers, four weeks, a famous eccentric horror author, and a $1 million book deal for the fortunate winner —if they make it out alive.

A young aspiring novelist, Alex, is invited to an exclusive month-long writing retreat at the estate, Blackbriar in the Adirondacks. Home of the famous feminist horror writer Roza Vallo. A retreat that turns into a living nightmare. Wren, her former best friend and rival is also attending.

They must complete an entire novel (3,000 words a day to be critiqued) from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. Sounds great, right?

Determined to win— Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate. She begins a fictionalized account of the bizarre, unsolved deaths of Blackbriar’s builder and his occultist wife.

The mysterious, secluded creepy Gothic mansion has a history of being haunted. It is cold, snowing, set deep in the woods in a secluded area, making the setting very claustrophobic. There is a dark foreboding surrounded by great food, wine, and an extensive library. However, they are trapped with no Wi-Fi or cell service.

Combined with Roza's strange behavior (very eccentric), and all the while Alex is dealing with Wren's cruel mind games.

Then one of the writers vanishes during the blizzard snowstorm.—something sinister is going down, and time is running out. Will Alex be able to save herself and escape this nightmare? Nothing is as it appears. Full of fear, anxiety, and tension.

Hauntingly dark, unhinged, over-the-top, and full of dark secrets, this wild, the drama-filled tale is a cross between The Plot meets Please Join Us— with well-drawn characters, a darkly comical, wacky crazy debut filled with sex, horror, and madness.

I am looking forward to seeing what comes next. The author is the sister of the popular thriller author Andrea Bartz. Julia Bartz is one to watch. For fans of Ruth Ware, Lisa Jewell, and Riley Sager.

A special thank you to #Edelweiss #AtriaBooks for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: Feb 21, 2023

My Rating: 4 Stars


“Darkly satirical and action-packed, The Writing Retreat brings a breath of fresh air to the locked room mystery. . . . The writing is flawless and the plot adeptly woven. An absolutely splendid debut!”

-- Wendy Walker, nationally bestselling author of DON'T LOOK FOR ME

"The book's pacing—a slow roll of dread and horror—is exceptional . . . A perfect winter night's haunting."

― Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An audacious psychological thriller debut...Boldly drawn characters complement Bartz’s gleefully twisted plot....Sara Gran fans, take note."

― Publishers Weekly

“Stomach-clenchingly thrilling from beginning to end . . . Highly recommended for fans of authors like Ruth Ware and Riley Sager.”

― Booklist (starred review)

"Julia Bartz’s shrewd, suspenseful debut takes the typical writer’s anxieties and obsessions and transforms them into a pulse-pounding, impossible to put down thriller. THE WRITING RETREAT is bonkers in the best way, and it left me with a brutal case of author envy."

-- Layne Fargo, author of THEY NEVER LEARN

"A wild ride into the pressures of publishing that is equal parts nightmare and erotic fantasy as five would-be writers are pulled deeper into the secrets of Blackbriar and its inhabitants. In THE WRITING RETREAT, Julia Bartz captures the hunger to have our stories told and the desperate measures some will take to cut through the noise."

-- Jennifer Fawcett, author of BENEATH THE STAIRS

"THE WRITING RETREAT is a sexy, thrilling, compulsive mediation on art and competition amongst women who ought to be sisters, only something malignant gets in the way. I couldn't put it down."

-- Sarah Langan, award-winning author of GOOD NEIGHBORS

"THE WRITING RETREAT will keep you up all night with its intriguing premise and gasp-worthy twists. A suspenseful story of ambition and envy, friendship and survival, this novel asks how high a price will one pay to achieve their dreams. THE WRITING RETREAT is the very definition of a page turner, and a remarkable debut from a gifted writer."

-- Kirthana Ramisetti, author of GMA Book Club pick DAVA SHASTRI'S LAST DAY

"NIGHT FILM meets THE SECRET HISTORY in Julia Bartz’s bold, brilliant, and genuinely scary debut. THE WRITING RETREAT masterfully delivers everything thriller readers crave: palpable atmosphere, sinister characters, full-body chills, jaw-dropping twists, and stay-up-all-night suspense. I am obsessed with this book. I never wanted it to end."

-- Megan Collins, author of THE FAMILY PLOT

"THE WRITING RETREAT by Julia Bartz is a wild ride from page one. I’ve been on a good few writing retreats myself and thought I’d seen it all - I was wrong. Blending themes of friendship, ambition, creativity and courage, this thrill-packed story brims with secrets, intrigue and murder. Bartz wrangles tension of the highest order, and executes a fiercely original story with vigour and style. A five-star read that’s intelligent, accomplished and exciting. I dare you to put it down."

-- Janice Hallett, internationally bestselling author of THE TWYFORD CODE

About the Author

Photograph by Savannah Lauren

Julia Bartz is a Brooklyn-based writer and practicing therapist. Her fiction writing has appeared in The South Dakota Review, InDigest Magazine, and more. The Writing Retreat is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaBartz and Instagram at @JuliaBartz. READ MORE



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