Cover Image: The Writing Retreat

The Writing Retreat

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Member Reviews

I loved the concept of this book. What is more creepy than being locked away in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers, where anything can happen? I love a secluded cabin/old house/creepy mansion story, so I was sucked right in immediately, and the start of this book provided the build-up and setting perfectly, even if it was a slow-paced start. I did find some of the jumping back-and-forth annoying (you'll understand when you read it) and you definitely had to suspend belief at times, but overall it was a solid little twisty thriller.

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to check it out!

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This is tense, gripping and completely addictive. I have felt as though I have been watching the events of this one play out. This is realistic and believable, guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of the reader.

This has been completely unpredictable and been a book I have devoured. I literally thought I had this figured out then BANG, a twist thrown in that completely pulls the floor from under you.

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"Your narcissism really knows no bounds"

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  Rozo 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 behaviour. Wren's cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realises that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she must discover the truth - or suffer the same fate. 

A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of female relationships and fame. 

"It is what it is"
(This line from the epilogue does a good job of summing the book up)

(Not that I made it that far - I read it in someone else's review and would like to congratulate them for making it to the end - well done)

I thought I was going to really like this book, I love stories about writing, the writing process and authors, but unfortunately, this book wasn't for me and I DNF'd at 69% - which is quite appropriate for this book! 

I didn't get into the story easily but after a while, the pace evened out and I started to enjoy reading. The atmospheric setting of Roza's house was good (i love an isolated, snowy and creepy setting) the characters were fine to start with, but after a while, they became annoying, repetitive, boring and one-dimensional, but the worst part of the story was definitely Roza! Initially, I was intrigued - she was a strong, unapologetic woman who kept the writers on their toes, but as the story went on, things just got weirder and weirder... I'm no prude, but the amount of sex and sexually related behaviour etc was just boring and off-putting after a while, not to mention the drugging of women's drinks which seemed to be casually thrown in there as if it's ok because a woman was the perpetrator. 

I hate giving bad reviews, I can imagine how hard it is to write a book but this one totally missed the mark for me, which is a shame because everything was there to make a fantastic book but the author just didn't pull it off! It is her debut, so hopefully, the next one will be a hit! It won't put me off reading her future work and I can see that there are people out there who loved it - unfortunately, I'm not one of them!

My thanks to the author and HQ Digital for my advance copy to read and review via Netgalley. Out now!!

Two lonely stars

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A small group of young female writers are invited to an exclusive writing retreat at an isolated estate by feminist horror author Roza Vallo, competing to win a publishing deal. A dream come true for the aspiring authors, until it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems.

The Writing Retreat had me guessing from start to finish. Whilst questions were answered, another would pop up to confuse matters even more. I found it a little slow to begin with, but I think this matched Alex and her thoughts and feelings with the situation, when gained confidence in herself and her writing skills, her inner monologue changed but so did the pacing of the book. I also loved how clues were woven into the storyline, setting up plot twists, expertly hidden and unsuspecting.

Unsure who to trust when Alex doubts everyone, this tense and atmospheric read has you guessing at everything. With explorations into friendships, race and sexuality this thrilling read was a true rollercoaster ride.

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If the blurb sounds somewhat dark, it is because this is a dark story. Very dark. If I had to summarize the plot in one sentence I would say: All is fair when the goal is hitting the top spot on the bestsellers’ lists. But that statement may not be strong enough to convey what takes place on these pages.

Take five young writers desperate for their big break, add one bestselling mentor and put them together in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere for a month. The idea is that they each write a book from scratch during those four weeks. The means of keeping the writers on target are, how shall I put it, unconventional. But the promised reward to the person who produces the best story is huge, so whatever reservations our main character and narrator Kate might have are pushed to the back of her mind as she and the others dedicate their time to producing 3000 words every day to be judged by the fabulous Raz.

And that is more or less all I can tell you about the plot without spoiling the story. What I can say is that the story slowly but steadily gets darker, creepier, and more mysterious. While it becomes obvious that things are probably not exactly what they appear to be very early on, the full extent of the darkness doesn’t become clear until much further on. What’s more, it isn’t always clear whether or not we are dealing with something supernatural. Is Kate imagining things or are otherworldly powers (also) at play?

Kate, when the story starts, has issues and is very insecure. This state of mind is made worse by the fact that Wren, who used to be her best friend until they had a nasty falling out is also one of the contestants. But when one of the competing authors disappears, most other concerns take a back seat and Kate finds herself relying on strengths and qualities she didn't know she possessed.

In fact, this is as much a story about learning to have confidence in yourself and trusting your instincts and abilities as it is a cautionary tale asking the characters how much of themselves they are willing to sacrifice in return for fame. Overall, this was a thrilling but not always comfortable ride.

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This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2023, and it lived up to it! I couldn’t recommend this more! Go grab a copy now and settle in for a wonderful evening in
Thankyou to the publisher for the arc!!

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I was expecting to be giving this book 5 stars for the first 50 or 60%, the setting was really intriguing. Young writers being picked by a reclusive author to join their writing retreat which is of course in the middle of nowhere with no phone service - sounds amazing.

And it was until the last 30% or so which just veered off into 'a bit much' territory. I went from being fully invested to finding it a bit too crazy. A shame because I was expecting to love it.

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This review contains spoilers.

I.. what? Was I given a different book? Reading the synopsis, I expected to have some build up at the retreat, everyone settling in thinking all is well then BAM someone dies, nobody knows what happened but oh no we still need to write but also figure out why the women are dying... instead... literally nothing happens for over half the book??
No seriously. We spend a good 60% of the book just settling in to the retreat, everyone writing, nothing going on and then one of them goes missing. They don't actually know if she's dead. SPOILER AHEAD


She isn't dead. She's in a cell in the basement. The girls know this. So no? The women don't start dying?? Literally all the action and thrill is in the last 15% of the book, but by that point, I hadn't been sold a farfetched extravagant thriller. I'd been sold some slow, literary book. I wasn't down for it after it being so dragged out.

I know I read an arc, so there would potentially have still been edits, but it was interesting to me that the latter half of the book, when the pacing picked up, so did all the typos. It's like the first half was over edited and over polished and the end rushed. It could've been so so good but it was just... eek. to me.
The inclusion of excerpts from Alex's manuscript really don't need to be included in my opinion. I skipped the second last one as it just didn't add to the story for me at all.

This was a slog for me to get through and I'm so disappointed. I absolutely believe had this been described differently I could have enjoyed it but it really didn't work for me.

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The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz
Publication date: 2 March 2023
⭐️⭐️ 2 stars
Thank you to NetGalley and Oneworld Publications for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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.
But then the women begin to die.
Oh, where do I start with this one?
I was intrigued by the premise: a charismatic writer, a secluded mansion, and what sounded like a "closed room" mystery.
And I was still intrigued when the five women arrived at Roza's mansion; there was a deep sense of discomfort, not helped by the fact that our main character, Alex, is a rather unreliable narrator.

But this book got worse as it went along. It was difficult to believe the characters were grown women as they ended up being whiny and annoying; the plot got completely over the top and ridiculous, everything bar the kitchen sink was thrown at it and even a robust suspension of disbelief couldn't save that one!
I talked about how I detest a moustache-twirling villain in my previous review, and, oh boy, was that cliché served up in spades here!
Even the use of the book within a book trope, which I normally like, was just pretty weak in the context of this story.
And the ending was so predictable, I had nothing left in me but to roll my eyes.

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I’ve been moving away from thrillers more recently, finding that none of them really wow me anymore – or maybe I’ve just read too many and can predict everything coming.

That said, The Writing Retreat intrigued me – a competition, isolated setting, mysterious deaths, sounds like a solid premise.

Essentially I liked the idea but unfortunately found the execution to be lacking, and this falls into the category of ‘just ok’ for me.

Like I said, the premise was solid and even as we got reveals and layers I was still invested, however, this was all kind of negated by the characters who are basically cartoons which then completely detracts from the sinister feeling that the isolated setting and plot had been building. Like I cannot get over how bizarre some of the characters’ actions and dialogue were, and not in a creepy ‘something’s not right’ way but instead in a ‘I belong on a Saturday morning cartoon’ way.

There were also a couple of plot holes which took away from the story and it just made it feel like the process had been rushed resulting in some sloppy mistakes, which again detracted from the really solid premise. (Though I appreciate that the copy I read was an e-arc and therefore not the final version, so some of these points may have been changed going into the final book)

Unless of course the writing style is supposed to emulate that of the characters in the book as they endeavour to write an entire novel from scratch in a limited time period. But, as a reader, I don’t want to read rushed writing.

I think I’d still consider picking up future stories from Julia Bartz. I liked the premise, there were some solid reveals and I don’t think the story fell into the trap of becoming convoluted as many thrillers and mysteries often do as they try to make the story more layered and complicated. That said, this felt like a debut, but that isn’t a bad thing as I think the ideas and premise were solid and it just needed a bit of refining when it came to the execution.

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This book certainly was a rollercoaster of a read. I was swept along not knowing where it was going most of the time there were so many twists and turns. I absolutely loved it.

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This is a sort of Marmite story: you either love or hate it. I was in the middle as I think there's a lot of potential in the concept of the retreat, the horror writer and the closed circle.
I found it entertaining even if it required a lot of suspension of belief and Alex was a bit whiny.
Some twists surprised me, some other were unexpected.
I'm curious about the author's future books as I appreciated the storytelling.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine

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💭 ᴍʏ ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛꜱ:
This is such a bingeable read. I was hooked from the start. It gripped me so easily. I adored the writing style. Finished it in 24hrs. It’s an edge of the seat kind of book. I do have to say the storyline is a bit confusing at times as the novel Alex’s writing is fusing with the plot. But it didn’t bother me too much. I suspected some of the plots but they were still really good! The ending wrapped it all up nicely, although maybe a bit too quickly.

🤓 ʀᴇᴀᴅ ɪꜰ ʏᴏᴜ ʟɪᴋᴇ:
Edge of the Seat Thriller
Remote and isolated location
Books about writers
Short chapters

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.

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Thank you Netgalley and Magpie Books for this eCopy to review

I really enjoyed parts 1-3, the feeling of suspense and things not quite right was excellent. I loved the character descriptions and the settings. However, once the body count started rising in part 4 I found it so unbelievable that it put me off and there were a few twists too many by the end.

We follow Alex an aspiring writer who manages to get a spot on a writing retreat with her favourite author Roza. However, her ex-best friend also gets a spot leading to lots of awkward situations. I enjoyed unravelling what happened in Alex's and Wren's friendship.

It's a shame the ending was so confusing, drawn out as it would have been excellent otherwise

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The premise of this novel had me from the start but don’t underestimate the writing - it’s cleverer than your average whodunnit, and the characters are more believable. I raced through it in no time.

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<i>The Writing Retreat</i> is a crazy read. It may not be believable or a book that left me feeling amazed, but is definitely good fun!

We follow Alex, who - along with four other girls - gets a place on a month-long writing retreat with famous author Roza, who also happens to be Alex's idol. Once there, it soon becomes clear that this is not going to be a relaxing retreat but rather Roza expects everyone there to churn out thousands of words a day, or else be asked to leave. And the frantic pace soon turns into something darker...

I don't want to give too much away about this book but I will say, if you like your psychological thrillers to be largely believable, this might be a stretch too far. If you're prepared to suspend your disbelief, <i>The Writing Retreat</i> is good fun and builds the tension as we, the readers, start to uncover what's really going on along with the writers.

The characters are quite annoying at times and the dialogue often made me feel like they were younger than they were supposed to be. However, Julia Bartz does a good job of making you wonder who you can trust, echoing the seeds of doubt planted among the writers as they realise not everyone at the retreat is exactly who they say they are.

The book moves along at a fairly steady pace until the last third where things suddenly ramp up to frenzied heights. I found myself getting a bit bored with the book extracts, and caring less and less about what happened to the characters as the book went on, so by the ending I felt a bit indifferent. But, regardless, I enjoyed the ride!

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A dark and suspenseful psychological thriller with an atmospheric Gothic setting, complicated characters and plenty of twists.

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A renowned author, Roza Vallo, hosts a writer’s retreat for a hand picked number of struggling writers with a publishing deal as a prize. Alex, a long time fan of Vallo, is thrilled to get an invite. However, there are 2 major issues with this: she has had writer’s block with a year , and her ex-best friend Wren, will also be there.

Great premise for a book-a book within a book. The characters and dynamics between them are interesting but that’s where it ends.

Bartz seemed to want to add as many themes as possible (LGBTQ+, supernatural, historic, feminism, erotic, race etc.) but did not stick with any consistent themes for the characters. It was a bit messy and chaotic, just like the protagonist.
The plot became unbelievable and somewhat strange at times.
A good idea but a bit disappointing.

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I hate to leave a 1 star review but this book was awful *in my opinion*.

This is not a thriller in any sense of the word. It's actually more targeted at the young adult readership, judging by how the women interact, talk and behave. So I suspect this will annoy many readers looking for an adult crime thriller. The constant sex scenes were so cringeworthy my other half asked if I was okay while reading them because of the look on my face!
Not one redeeming character and no mystery as the culprit was obvious from very early on, which always spoils a book for me.
Sounds obvious but perhaps marketing the book in the correct category (young adult) would help reader expectations and attract the kind of readers this book is looking for?

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I think that I am about two decades too old for this story! The premise of THE WRITING RETREAT immediately appealed to me – I love stories about writers and the “book within a book” theme, especially if it also contains a remote, atmospheric setting. Bartz’s novel has all that, plus some intriguing friendship dynamics that most of us will be able to relate to, because who hasn’t ever had a fallout with a best friend and had to suffer the heartbreak and awkward moments that follow. I was fully engaged in the story up to the moment the group of young writers were pitched against one another, each trying to write the story that would catch Roza Vallo’s eye and land them a publishing deal.

Then things started going wrong for me. Even before the story took a turn into the realm of the unbelievable, I felt that Alex as a main character was inconsistent and quite frankly a mess! In fact, the whole group of women acted like a bunch of boarding school teenagers rather than the almost-30’s they were described as. I am neither a fan of the “I was drugged so I acted out of character” theme that excused some of the bizarre behaviour, nor of explicit sex scenes thrown in just for – what exactly? Shock value? At times I felt like the author was trying too hard to include multiple themes (feminism, LBGTQ, peer pressure, friendship issues, supernatural themes, etc) without properly including them into her characterisations and storyline. The “book within a book” also didn’t fit in with the main story and distracted from the trying-to-be-claustrophobic atmosphere rather than add to it.

I conclude this review by conceding that I am probably not the right audience for this novel, because from the halfway point onwards it was just a struggle to stay connected. I am definitely an outlier here, so if you find the premise as intriguing as I did, give it a go and make up your own mind.

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