Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review: The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

by Julia Bartz
Release Date: February 21, 2023
2023 Aria/Emily Bestler Books
Kindle Edition; 313 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982199456
Audiobook: B0B51Z1HG9
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Five attendees are selected for a month-long writing retreat at the remote estate of Roza Vallo, the controversial high priestess of feminist horror. Alex, a struggling writer, is thrilled.

Upon arrival, they discover they must complete an entire novel from scratch, and the best one will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. Alex’s long-extinguished dream now seems within reach.

But then the women begin to die.

My Thoughts
The Writing Retreat had a neat premise whereby five women (why just women?) are selected to stay for a month-long writing retreat hosted by an award-winning author. I anticipated a book about rivalries, exploring book writing, female drama, etc..., but this was not that. Instead, we set foot into something completely different, and while I normally wouldn't have minded, it did not work for me.
First of all, I could not develop any empathy or sympathy for the MC. Alex was constantly whining about everything, complaining about everything, and wouldn't take responsibility for any of her actions, including all the past ones we learned about.  And all because she was maybe confused about her sexuality? Sorry, doesn't give one a pass for poor and sulky behaviour.  I did like how she was suffering from writer's block and would have liked to have that theme explored a bit more rather than solved the way it did. I just didn't buy into why she started writing again.
And Roza, what's up with her? Why do we always have to treat horror writers as such eerie characters? This bought right into the typical stereotype and I wasn't buying into it. You've got this famous writer who has all of these character quirks (ok, I forgive those as who doesn't have them), but to give your writers LSD and to mock them in a very hurtful way thinking the person will tap into their emotions so they can writer better is not something we want to encourage as a positive thing.  And don't even get me started on the hallucinations and sexual encounters, not knowing whether you've actually had sex or if the encounter was a dream.  

I was actually hoping for a cut-throat writing competition, but that's not what the plot was about.  There were some interesting moments in the first half as I learned about the various contestants and about the house, but all the characters seemed to be full of angst, and the MC was the most annoying one of all, constantly whining about how no one likes her and no one wants to hang around her, talking about how she needs to get the women on her side first, as if they are in freaking high school.  The story asks the reader to overlook too many things and I just can't do that when you have to do it all the time throughout the book. So, the story starts to go downhill about halfway through and that's pretty much where you lost me.  

The Writing Retreat was a more superficial book as both the story line and the characters never really showed any depth. The MC's struggles with both her writing and her sexuality were shallow and mad her character come across as whiny rather than someone who is truly struggling.  The other reveals were not that much better, as the author makes use of a lot of stereotypes and a lot of tropes to create drama and angst and it comes across as campy.  I wish I could have liked this book better than I did as the premise was interesting, but unfortunately, I just couldn't warm up to the characters or the story line.