What We’re Reading – Southie Edition

Hi readers!  I figured I’d get two more wintery books before the warm weather hits!  Enjoy!

Book 1:
The Overnight Guest

By Heather Gudenkauf

If you had to pick up one last wintry, nonstop, heart attack-type thriller, I highly recommend this one.  I read it with my breakfast, I read on the #9 bus, I read it in the bathtub, I read it walking the dog – I just couldn’t put it down.  Every chapter was a cliffhanger and every time you think you know what’s going on, but you’re probably wrong.

Now as someone who watches every single Netflix crime documentary, Law and Order, and Criminal Minds series- hearing that the main character was a crime writer named Wylie who shacks up in an old house in the middle of nowhere to write her next story, I knew that she’d be the one in the center of a story.   In the middle of a brutal snowstorm, Wylie steps outside and finds a child nearly frozen to the ground in the snow.

This isn’t the first time the house has been at the center of strange circumstances. It was the scene of a horrific crime years ago, where two best friends snuck out in the middle of the night and only one returned home.  Familiar bodies continue to pile up and still, no one in the community can figure out where the little girl went.  Wylie’s mind continues to flip-flop between the previous incident and the situation right at her feet.  Is there a connection? 

We begin to pull ourselves along three threads – three different stories intertwined into one – Today, the past and the in-between.  For some readers, I can see why it’s a bit confusing at parts to keep track.  But once it makes sense, IT MAKES SENSE.  I don’t want to say too much for this review, because I don’t want to give away any hints.  This one is stressful, but you’ll love it!

Book 2:
The Writing Retreat

By Julia Bartz

This book grabbed me for two reasons.  First, I’m obsessed with the cover.  I love the black and white against the forest, with the bright neon title on top.  The turned page at the corner, perfect!  Yes, I judge books by their covers and first impressions always grab me.  Second, the last name “Bartz” stuck out to me because I’d read her sister, Andrea Bartz’s thriller – We Were Never Here – which I also enjoyed.  So, sister writers?  Let’s go!

Writers have always been a twisted bunch, eh?  Where do they get their ideas?  Haven’t writers gone mad? How do they pace themselves?  Know what they want to write about?  Is an idea ever really unique?  Bartz uses these questions to guide her novel.  

At the start, we meet low-level writers, the ones who aren’t full-time and still need another job to support their lives.  They’re dying to write the next big thing, and all idolize Roza Vallo – a well-known author with multiple books that tiptoe around the gothic horror line.   She’s a bit mysterious, with spare interviews held throughout the years giving small hints about her life.  Roza holds a contest where the winners are allowed to attend a “Writing Retreat” in her upstate New York mansion.  She acts as a guide, searching for her newest muse, well as a confidant to her next gen-writers.  She often asks them in private meetings about conflict in their lives and their personal family histories.  She always seems to be fishing for inspiration for her next story.  But the writing group doesn’t seem to mind,  they know that this is the opportunity that can propel them to the next level.  The main character, Alex, is one of those writers who idolizes Vallo and is ecstatic to learn that a last-minute spot has opened up with her name on it.

Upon arrival at the historical home, Alex learns that it will only be a small group, but still one that includes her ex-best friend and roommate.  Roza immediately pits all of the women against each other – having them critique each others’ stories and give judgments behind the scenes.  Each woman looks at each other as a friend, but more so- the competition.  To continue this journey under Roza’s mentorship, they must churn out 3000 words by a nightly deadline to continue.  The stress of pumping out new chapters plus the following:  hidden passageways, creepy support staff, secret moaning lovers, psychedelic drugs, and plenty of wine.  

Overall, I enjoyed this one – I loved the idea of women getting together to share their stories and get feedback.  I love the idea of a famous writer being their center – who they all want to impress and the competition piece between them.  You’d hope they’d all sit and be supportive – but it’s not Disney World folks, it’s real life – and when there’s fame online, you know it’s going to get dirty.  One side note is that there’s an odd supernatural thread running throughout the book.  It’s necessary, but still, a bit awkward… but doesn’t take away from the fact that I enjoyed the story and kept wanting to go back to see what happened next.  I finished this one in just a couple of days!

If you got this far, thank you!  Let us know what you think via the comments on @caughtinsouthie or catch me at @glossinbossin / @josiegl on Instagram.

One Comment

  1. mplo March 10, 2023 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    Hmmmmm! Sounds like an interesting book!

Leave A Comment