The Writing Retreat

Julia Bartz

Quick Synopsis

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.

Publisher’s Synopsis

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.

Book Review

I knew I had to read The Writing Retreat after seeing it compared to The Plot, which I loved, and multiple rave reviews from friends with similar book preferences. Whatever I expected, it was not this. The Writing Retreat is nothing if not a wild ride.

The Writing Retreat is the story of a group of aspiring female authors who are invited by a famous feminist horror novelist to a month-long retreat at her secluded Upstate mansion. Little does the group know that the retreat is also a competition for a seven-figure book deal, if they can meet the novelist’s outsized expectations.

It has taken me a few days to write a review, because I struggled to dissect what I really felt about this book. I opened The Writing Retreat with few expectations and not having read the full synopsis, which is not unusual for me. I think that it is important to not have a set of expectations going into this novel as it is surely something other than what you think.

The Writing Retreat is an enthralling debut thriller that weaves in elements of horror and the paranormal. While the synopsis makes it sound like a cozy mystery, you should be prepared for an unconventional, outré story instead.

The Writing Retreat is, without a doubt, a bingeable book that I read in one evening. Despite seeing one twist coming, I could not have predicted the ending or what happened along the way. This novel is absolutely over the top. I say that with affection having enjoyed the fun ride, but it is also a statement of caution if that is not something you like.

I was all in on the story until the climax. I can not quite put my finger on what did not work after, but there was something about the resolution that prevents me from rating The Writing Retreat higher. It may have been that the pace fluctuated in the third act and lost a bit of momentum. Or because Bartz threw a LOT at readers, and it may have just been too much for one story.

Where I feel like the book was lacking was the characters. While the characters had interesting premises, they were rather flat and filled cliched roles. I was able to distinguish between them based upon their names, their novels-in-progress, and other surface-level details. However, the only character with a personality was the famed novelist. Otherwise, the retreat attendees acted a bit like teenagers. I can see some readers finding them unlikeable. Personally, I was ambivalent.

I have seen reviews call The Writing Retreat feminist, but I struggle to see that. What this book does have is sexually explicit scenes and descriptions along with themes of LGBTQIA+ self-discovery and empowerment. Also be forewarned that the first line is “Fuck this!” While I am open to pretty much everything, I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Overall, I enjoyed The Writing Retreat and thought it was a solid debut novel. If you love an unhinged book, this is definitely one to read.


Overall Rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 3 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Character Development

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Writing Retreat



Publication Date
February 21, 2023


Storygraph Rating
3.64 stars

Goodreads Rating
3.63 stars

Buy Now

Note: I received an e-galley of this book from its publisher, Emily Bestler Books. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.

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