Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

The Writing Retreat
by Julia Bartz
Published February 21, 2023 by Atria

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 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.

A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.

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4 Stars

Alex hasn't so much embraced her new loner life, rather than just given in to the failure she knows everyone smells on her. She and her best friend went through a horrible friend breakup and ever since success just hasn't been in her cards. She can't write, she can't connect with others, and her job is just something she does each day. An incredible, once in a lifetime chance to attend her favorite author's writing retreat brings back her spark and with it her former best friend, Wren, reenters her life. What should be an incredible opportunity to write again, find herself, and forge new bonds soon becomes a nightmare as strange things occur and one woman goes missing.

I am a big fan of authors who embrace the wild and obscene in their books, who can make totally unbelievable scenarios come to life. It's a fine line to walk, I know I am a hard reader to convince to suspend reality, but Julia Bartz did so quite well. A writing retreat, a reclusive author, and 5 young women desperate to become authors is entirely believable. A retreat going entirely off the rails? Also believable. The things that ultimately occur at this retreat? Truly unbelievable, except somehow I saw it playing out before my eyes on the pages and I was totally hooked. These women are desperate for success and once presented with author Roza Vallo's writing competition, they divide and it becomes girl eat girl as they vie for compliments and time with their favorite horror writer.

I enjoyed the concept, I love a good competition on a "deserted island" type setting, I just wish that the characters had been further fleshed out. Unfortunately, outside of Alex, the characters are fairly two dimensional and they never grow beyond that, with stilted dialogue and Alex's selfish inner monologue guiding our perspective. There's fantastic sociopolitical undertones to the novel, we just don't get enough time with those concepts to really develop any feeling about it. We know the women are different, it's mentioned, then brushed to the side. I would have loved to see this more fleshed out, to have extensive dialogue interaction between the characters, because ultimately we only care about Alex and even that's saying something.

The Writing Retreat was an excellent take on the stranded thriller storyline. While I wish it had a bit more fleshing out for the characters, I still enjoyed the read and found myself wanting to get back to my book as soon as possible each time I set it down. I think many readers will love this book and even relate to Alex's inner turmoil over her self worth and a friendship lost.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Voice Text Reviews

Well, I managed to fall on ice my very first week back in Canada, so reading and reviewing were not at the top of my priority. My arm was casted for two weeks, but I still have limited movement and some pain. I did a lot of listening in that time, but limited my reviews to voice text and I'll be sharing my brief 5 star reviews for both The Villa and All the Dangerous Things below!

Life lesson: wear cleats.

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Published January 3, 2023

5 stars

The Villa is a dual-timeline thriller set in a gorgeous, Italian villa that reads like a game of cat in mouse. Emily wants to reconnect with her best friend and write again, but the house with a history only 70’s artists could imagine has other plans for them. We’re taken back in time to a famous murder, with only the doting eyes of writer, Mari, to tell us the truth of one fateful summer in 1974. Friendships, romances, and secrets tumble together for both women in this intoxicating read.

It was the perfect thriller read for me, we all know I love a good vacation murder, but my love of old rock really solidified this for me. I know there’s a huge trend in stories about famous artists in the 60’s through 80’s, but you won’t hear me complaining. This is a book I could reread and not get bored of, as well as totally see being a hit for my family, friends, and book clubs.

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All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

Published January 10, 2023

5 stars

Stacy Willingham’s second novel, All the Dangerous Things, was such a phenomenal book. It was atmospheric, relatable, and terrifying all at once. The novel follows Isabelle Drake as she grapples with her past and her present following the kidnapping of her son. While it feels like the rest of the world, including her estranged husband, have moved on Isabelle turns to the true crime podcast hosts and their followers, to help her solve the case. Along the way, she examines her past and her own memories of the night Mason disappeared.

Stacy Willingham uses family secrets and the hard truths of motherhood to weave this haunting, unpredictable story. Twisted and full of suspense, All the Dangerous Things was an instant win for me, made even better by the excellent audio narration of Karissa Vacker.

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Friday, December 30, 2022

Where will 2023 take me next?

2022 was a whirlwind of adventure, both in my reading and in my personal life.

I didn’t meet my reading goal, but I sure had a good time trying.

I survived 45 thrillers, fell in love roughly fifty times, read over 30,000 pages, and DNFed a record 20 books.

I learned about honey bees, yelled at a whole lot of characters, found myself trapped on several islands, and challenged myself to read a non-fiction a month.

While the pages of my book took me to Cuba and London and countless city streets, in real life we traveled to Las Vegas, Mexico, Tennessee, and Canada.

I flew on over 40 planes, had my bags lost three times, found a favorite airport bookstore (Compass in SFO) and relocated to a tiny, rural town in northern British Columbia.

I read in planes, trains, boats, and taxis, at more than ten hotels, inside too many airport terminals, and sent my girlfriend, CeCe, countless crying selfies admitting to public book-induced tears.

I spent a lot of this year far away from family, friends, my love, and our dogs, but am learning to embrace and appreciate more the times we get to be together.

I got to watch as friends who rarely read started picking up books, happily discovering that my Bookstagram page isn’t just for book friends, but for all friends.

It was a full year, with ups and downs, and I’m taking its lessons with me into 2023.


Who knows what 2023 will deliver me, but I’m excited for this next journey. CeCe and I already have our next two trips booked, so don’t worry, there’ll be more airplane reading and tears to come!

0/100 📚 starts January 1

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Widowmaker by Hannah Morrissey

The Widowmaker
by Hannah Morrissey
Series Black Harbor (#2)
Published December 6, 2022 by Minotaur Books

A wealthy family shrouded in scandal; a detective tasked with solving an impossible cold case; and a woman with a dark past collide in Hannah Morrissey's stunning new Black Harbor mystery, The Widowmaker.

Ever since business mogul Clive Reynolds disappeared twenty years ago, the name "Reynolds" has become synonymous with "murder" and "mystery." And now, lured by a cryptic note, down-on-her-luck photographer Morgan Mori returns home to Black Harbor and into the web of their family secrets and double lives. The same night she photographs the Reynolds holiday get-together, Morgan becomes witness to a homicide of a cop that triggers the discovery of a long-buried clue.

This could finally be the thing to crack open the chilling cold case, and Investigator Ryan Hudson has a chance to prove himself as lead detective. If only he could stop letting his need to solve his partner's recent murder distract him. But as Morgan exposes her own dark demons, could her sordid history be the key to unlocking more than one mystery?

4 Stars

The Widowmaker is the second in the Black Harbor series by Hannah Morrissey, but it is a standalone entirely. Beyond the setting, The Widowmaker is entirely unique as it follows photographer Morgan Mori and Detective Ryan Hudson, separately, as their lives intertwine when two investigations Hudson is involved in collide. Morgan has finished photographing the famous Reynold's family Christmas pictures when she witnesses the murder of Officer Garrison at a gas station. As the sole witness there's no one else who knows Garrison's final words to Morgan. Hudson is placed on a cold case involving the Reynolds' to keep him away from the investigation into his former partner's death. Somehow Morgan is the key to both cases and it'll take a skeleton key to open her up.

Written like a psychological thriller with police procedural touches, The Widowmaker is an incredibly interesting and unique read. While I didn't love the audio, I was totally enthralled with the story and desperate to know what would come next. It heavily features a past storyline, that of Morgan's youth, and it's as dark as they come. This could feel like a heavy read for some, but it's totally rewarding when you reach closure as well. I never truly connected with the characters, but rather felt like I was watching a movie play out in my head and if I could have finished it in two hours I would have. It's addicting. A solid second go at thriller writing from Morrissey and a new dark read for my shelves and yours.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman

The Family Game 
by Catherine Steadman
Published October 18, 2022 by Ballantine Books

A rich, eccentric family. A time-honored tradition. Or a lethal game of survival? One woman finds out what it really takes to join the 1% in this riveting psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Something in the Water, Mr. Nobody, and The Disappearing Act.

Harry is a novelist on the brink of stardom; Edward, her husband-to-be, is seemingly perfect. In love and freshly engaged, their bliss is interrupted by the reemergence of the Holbecks, Edward's eminent family and the embodiment of American old money. For years, they've dominated headlines and pulled society's strings, and Edward left them all behind to forge his own path. But there are eyes and ears everywhere. It was only a matter of time before they were pulled back in . . .

After all, even though he's long severed ties with his family, Edward is set to inherit it all. Harriet is drawn to the glamour and sophistication of the Holbecks, who seem to welcome her with open arms, but everything changes when she meets Robert, the inescapably magnetic head of the family. At their first meeting, Robert slips Harry a cassette tape, revealing a shocking confession which sets the inevitable game in motion.

What is it about Harry that made him give her that tape? A thing that has the power to destroy everything? As she ramps up her quest for the truth, she must endure the Holbecks' savage Christmas traditions all the while knowing that losing this game could be deadly.

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4 Stars

Horrifying, absurd, and an absolute good time. The Family Game is Catherine Steadman's fictional take on rich in-laws and the games they play. We've all heard of the in-laws who don't welcome in new partners very easily and believe in good family names, but the Holbecks take it a step further. They seem to love their son and brother, Edward's, new fiancee, Harry, but lurking behind their closed doors are a series of tests. Presented as games, Harry must use her thriller writing skills and adept survival techniques to survive the Holbeck's games that teeter on the edge of life or death.

You've got to suspend your reality a bit, but once you do, The Family Game is a darn good, addictive read. It feels wordy at first, with full descriptions that don't seem to jive with the story at first, but after completing the read I feel like Steadman was giving us time to breathe before the novel took off at lightspeed. With complex characters, a well-developed plot, and twists you cannot possibly see coming, The Family Game is an over-the-top fictional thriller that is impossible to put down. Steadman pulled out all the stops for this novel, capturing all your usual character tropes and plot points that drive a thriller, while blending in a horror storyline that seeps in slowly and then takes over. Unpredictable and as wild as a circus, The Family Game took me by surprise and is totally worth the read.

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