Audiobook, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz @juliabartz @grshalan @SimonAudio

the setup…
Alex is a thirty-year old woman living in New York and working for an educational publishing company. What she really wants to be is a writer and was on track with pursuing that dream until her friendship with Wren, her roommate and writing partner, fractured horribly. Since then, she’s suffered from writing block and separation from all of their mutual friends. It’s when she decides to attend a book release party for one of those former friends that her life seems to turn around. That interaction leads to an invitation to attend a coveted month-long writing retreat with author Roza Vallo, a feminist horror writer who happens to be Alex’s idol. The one downside…Wren is also one of the participants.

the heart of the story…
It’s an oddity that may be meaningless but Roza is the only character in this story with a given last name and she happens to be the most enigmatic one, too. Alex is the narrator so everything is from her point of view. As soon as she arrives at Blackbriar Estate, the site of the retreat in the New York Adirondacks, I sensed the creepiness of the setting and easily bought into the sinister history of the house maybe resurrecting itself into the present. I felt the bogeyman around every corner and knew that at some point, everyone in the story could be a potential suspect for something. For most of the book, I was utterly hooked, with my imagination running amok. But near the end, things took a turn into the absurd and it became difficult to accept some of the over-the-top occurrences.

the narration…
I very much enjoyed the performance as Shalan added to the mystique and bizarre nature of the story. She nailed Roza, too, perfecting not only her Hungarian accent but all the things that made her difficult to read. I’m glad I chose the audio version.

the bottom line…
I have such mixed feelings about this book, which felt brilliant until the last 20% of the story. The outcome was well designed but the final journey there seemed to undermine what preceded it and followed with the ending. I’m still glad I read it because locked room mysteries always present interesting challenges and this one exceptional. There were other themes presented that defined Alex and her conflict with Wren, which I found meaty, complex and relevant. You should definitely judge for yourself and I highly recommend the audiobook.

Book Info

  • Release Date: February 21, 2023
  • Narrator: Gail Shalan
  • Audio Length: 11 hours, 30 minutes
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio


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(Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for my complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.)

17 thoughts on “The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz @juliabartz @grshalan @SimonAudio”

  1. It was certainly crazy. I didn’t enjoy the history of the house story Alex was writing and skimmed those parts somewhat, being more interest in the present. It perhaps veered a bit into horror rather than the mystery thriller I usually read. It was fun to read though.

    Anne – Books of My Heart

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right about it drifting into the horror zone, Anne. I wanted it to stay in the psychological thriller lane. I paid attention to Alex’s book because it was instructive about the present reality. It was a highly interesting story up to the crazy!


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