The Writing Retreat

S. & S. Audio. Feb. 2023. 11:30 hrs. ISBN 9781797151762. $23.99. M
Alex, an aspiring novelist who has suffered from writer’s block for the past year, is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to spend a month at the home of mega-famous horror author Roza Vallo and participate in a writing retreat. But this isn’t an ordinary retreat; instead, Alex will compete with four other women writers to see who can produce the best manuscript, which will then be published with all of Roza’s support. Things quickly go from unsettling to dangerous, and soon Alex and the other writers are just hoping to make it out alive. While Bartz’s fast-paced debut provides plenty of thrills, listeners may tire of the trope-heavy plot, complete with a snowstorm stranding the participants, friends-turned-enemies forced together, and a dream sequence that isn’t revealed until the next chapter. Additionally, sex scenes seem out of place, and the paranormal elements distract more than they add. Narrator Gail Shalan provides a strong performance, sustaining a suspenseful pace and providing a satisfying range of emotions. Even so, her narration could have benefitted from more distinct characterizations to better differentiate the characters.
VERDICT Despite the abundance of well-worn tropes, this solid thriller should appeal to fans of Ruth Ware and J.P. Delaney.
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