The Retreat
by Jill E. Ficks Friedman
Stratton Press Publishing

"'We listen, we observe, and we try to gently steer the individuals we gather to resolution of their problems. Not on a grand scale, but the results can be grand.’"

Eight Los Angeles women receive a vacation offer they can’t refuse and take off for a relaxing spa retreat to their north in quiet and luxurious Santa Barbara. They don’t realize that their caring and hospitable hostesses are actually supernatural beings—witches, angels, fairies, or some other unnamed category of magical creature—who travel incognito in the bodies of recently deceased women and who can manipulate situations and objects with even less effort than a Bewitched-like twitch of the nose. These spirits have organized the retreat and seek to be helpful in relieving and supporting the women through their various everyday challenges, in order that each guest may find peace and purpose in their hectic lives.

Vacation retreats are popular and often effective storytelling devices. From the classic The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim to movies like Couples Retreat and Dirty Dancing, writers take characters away from home, put them in a controlled setting with a built-in timeline, and let the action unfold. Here, the addition of mysterious, puppeteer-like hostesses adds an unexpected dimension to the familiar setup. As in any such story, problems will emerge, and lives will change, but with quirky fairy godmothers on the job, the potential for redemption and resolution is exponential.

This is a busy book. With five hostesses and eight guests, plus a peripheral reference to family members and loved ones, the population is crowded. Due to this, the author’s thoughtful cast chart at the beginning is an effective and essential tool for frequent reference. The action moves too quickly between characters for readers to gain deep intimacy with anyone, but the ensemble makes for a friendly and bustling crowd of realistically drawn and relatable women juggling all that women juggle and seeking paths to meaning once they get back home to Los Angeles.

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