Published By: Oneworld
Released On: 02/03/2023
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.
Thanks to NetGalley and Oneworld for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.
I received an early copy of this book approximately 3 seconds after saying I was thinking of signing up for a writing course, so it felt like fate.
At first, I felt the book was flying by. For a debut novel, it felt really accomplished and I was absorbed.
I felt this book was a book of two halves…or 70/30. The first part was more about the women themselves at the retreat and the stories they were planning on writing. And if I’m honest, I would have gladly read a full book just about that.
But then it changes. I didn’t mind that as such, but it’s such a sudden change that I feels broken, it doesn’t flow well and you’re then brought out of the story. The second part also felt over the top and a bit fantastical.
Because it’s set in a writing retreat, and we hear snippets of the works written, it’s like Julia Bartz has had to come up with half a dozen separate books in one, which was impressive.
I did feel frustrated with it. I wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. Romance, supernatural, thriller, murder mystery. It was all a bit of a hodgepodge. An interesting hodgepodge, but a hodgepodge all the same (yes I am impressed that I managed to get the word hodgepodge into this review – 3 times!)
Bar two characters – who only appear once or twice – it is an all-female cast. They’re front and centre, but I can’t say any of them stood out. I liked the main character of Alex, she seemed to closest to an everyday character. Then you have Wren, who got on my nerves a bit, hiding behind her bratty attitude and butter-wouldn’t-melt persona. Roza is the author everyone is aspiring to be like, but she felt a bit flat. She wasn’t this completely otherworldly creature, or a full-out villain, or a friend. She sort of flitted from one to the other but never fully settled. Her assistant Yana is a bit one dimensional too. She did come into her own, but I felt to begin with she was meant to be this unsettling figure but it didn’t fully land. Chitra, the cook, I liked. There was clearly something going on with her under the surface but I felt she was innately likeable. Then you have the three other writers on the retreat: Poppy, Kiera and Taylor. I won’t say too much about their stories for fear of spoiling, but between the five of them, they worked well off each other.
It’s hard to say overall what my thoughts were. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Was it well written? In parts. Would I recommend it? I’m not sure. It wasn’t bad, so I should be recommending it, but I can’t give it a fully positive recommendation. It’s a confusing one. An original premise, a promising debut, but a story for each person to make their own mind up about.
The synopsis showed so much promise and promised a murder mystery, but it didn’t quite live up to it. And then it suddenly finished. You’re going through this up and down story, and then it’s done. I don’t usually do star ratings, but if I had to, I’d probably say this was a 2.5 out of 5, or a 5 out of 10. Not bad, but not great. It tried to be clever but felt a bit lost for me.