Monday, February 27, 2023

Rapid Review: The Troop

 The Troop by Nick Cutter

I was warned. I was told it was true horror. And I will concur that it most certainly is. 

Basic premise is: a group of five stereotypical scouts and their scoutmaster head off to an island for a traditional weekend camping trip.  Not long after arriving, an unexpected visitor arrives by boat. The man is extremely gaunt, seems completely out of sorts, and is raving on and on about being hungry.  Scoutmaster Tim, whose day job is a town doctor, follows his Hippocrates Oath and sets out to help, which in doing so, opens up a whole great big can of worms. No, really. No….LITERALLY. 

Think of the most awful, most horrific scenario you can imagine. Are you picturing it? Now multiply that times ten. Or maybe a hundred.  Cutter spares nothing, digging into the horror and throwing it all over you like projectile vomiting.  You will not be able to tread lightly here. Be brave. 

What I loved most about this book was the depth of descriptions, from the scouts themselves to the abject horror that permeates almost every page.  You truly care about the scouts and their “predicament “. (Well, except one and you will know which one once you read.) You want them to be able to escape their inevitable, terrifying deaths. And I’m not giving anything away by saying there is death—this is a horror novel after all.  

After dealing with a pandemic these last three years perhaps it was the wrong (or maybe totally the right?) time to read this one. But if you think we’re just dealing with some coughs and a few face masks you’re fooling yourself. 

💥A word or two of caution: PLEASE be aware there is some triggering animal abuse described within, and it really put me off. I had to set the book down and decide if I wanted to continue. I did however, finish and enjoy The Troop.  But damn….this is a 100 percent HORROR novel. 

Now excuse me while I go take a shower and then look at pictures of kittens for a few days. 😸

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Rapid Review: We Were Never Here

 We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz 

I grabbed this book as one my extra selections for BOTM last month and was immediately immersed in the story of Emily and Kristen, best friends since college and world travelers.  On a trip to Chile the two BFF’s—admittedly more like sisters—run into trouble when Kristen takes a backpacker to her hotel and he attacks her. Emily comes into the room and sees Paulo dead and Kristen completely out of sorts, spouting out that she had to kill him in self defense. 

What makes the circumstances even more surreal is the fact that last year’s girls trip to Cambodia was eerily similar when Emily was assaulted and her attacker ended up dead too.  How is it possible this could happen twice?? 

After burying the crime (literally), the two head to their separate lives—Kristen in Sydney and Emily thousands of miles away in Milwaukee. 

Emily tries to put the crime out of her head and go on with her life, which includes new boyfriend Aaron and her decent job at a pet food upstart, but the tragic last night in Chile keep haunting her. Texts from Kristen are vague and she acts as though all is fine, which bothers Emily even more.  

When information regarding Kristen’s past starts to surface, Emily has to push back thoughts that perhaps she doesn’t know her best friend as well as she thought. And when Kristen suddenly appears on her doorstep and continues to acclimate back into her life—almost relentlessly—the story takes a few twists and turns that kept me guessing! 

I loved this story of two best friends and a hidden crime (or two!) that they are both trying to deal with.  Emily appears to be the protagonist here but there were times I had to sit back and think…wait a minute….am I sure she’s on the up and up?  

This was my first book by this author, I’ll definitely check out her others. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Rapid Review: The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

An intriguing first novel with a premise any rabid reader will find hard to resist. 

Alex is a 30 year old who has been down on her luck—a job she is just going through the motions for, a love life that is unsatisfying, and a year long, very spiteful estrangement from her best friend. When connections work miracles and get her a chance to be one of five lucky participants in a writer’s retreat at none other than Alex’s favorite author, she surprises herself by writing her way into the gig. 

Once at the famed home of wildly successful novelist Roza, all is not as it seems, for Blackbriar Estate holds secrets of its own. With  gourmet food and wine comes secret passageways and questionable “games”. Most surprising though is when Roza springs a big catch on the five lucky writers: during the month long retreat each of them has to produce an entire novel.  Besides the unlikeliness of that feat, Alex finds herself woefully dismayed to learn her ex-BFF Wren is one of the other four attendees. 

But dealing with Wren and their painful memories is really the least of her problems. When one of the others goes missing and staff at the house are acting odd, Alex and Wren find themselves in a battle for not just publication but for their very lives. 

This entire novel essentially takes place in one location, which is something I love in a good mystery/thriller.  Alex is a likable protagonist and though the book does leak into the outlandish at times, it’s a fun read—and quick read.  I could see this adapted into a movie with strong female leads, would be amazing. 

Looking forward to more from this author. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Dark Arts: Laurie Lipton

Last Night I Dreamt I Murdered Mommy

~by Marie Robinson

 I’ve been a fan of Laurie Lipton’s artwork for a while now. It all started with her piece entitled, “Last Night I Dreamt I Murdered Mommy”, which instantly struck me (I think you can see why) and stuck with me ever since. In times when I have forgotten her name but sought out her art, I would search for the title of this work.

Stranger in the Woods
However, up until now, I really didn’t know much about her, beyond her drawings which are often very dark and, to some, disturbing. I was revisiting her artwork the other day and I found that a short documentary had been done about her by a filmmaker named James Scott. The film is called Love Bite (which is also the name of one of Lipton’s drawings), and it’s about thirty minutes long and available for free on Vimeo. Watching it, I fell even deeper in love with not only Laurie Lipton’s artwork, but also her, as an artist.

Lipton works in one medium, and one medium only: black and white pencil drawings. She says that black and white, “is the color of ghosts [...], old television shows, memories, old family photographs, past, [...] longing, [and] thought.”


There are many statements in her art about family, technology, and industrial society. Death is widely featured, often as a physical presence.

 You may find many of her portrayals of children and their parents to be frightening, or maybe even upsetting; but these are not cheap visuals intended only to shock. These images are a reflection of very real trauma personally suffered by the artist. “There’s a very hurt child in all my work,” Lipton says in the documentary.


However, she goes on that although she is sorry that her younger self and her mother had to suffer as a result of a traumatic experience, she is now grateful for it, because it has defined her as an artist. “You never know what kind of gift comes out of suffering.”

I’ve included below the link to watch the film Love Bite, and to Laurie Lipton’s website.

Watch Love Bite:

Laurie Lipton’s website:

Tuesday, February 7, 2023


 The Haunting of Willow Creek by Sara Crocoll Smith 

In what can be accurately described as “southern gothic”, The Haunting of Willow Creek is the second book by this author that I’ve read. Her first, The Haunting of Orchard Hill, was one of my favorites that I’d read last year. 

In Willow Creek, we meet Birdie, an aspiring photographer invited to an artist’s retreat’s alongside four other talented artisans.

 Willow Creek mansion is your typical southern estate but has a particularly unsettling haunting associated with it. Birdie and her new friends come across all manner of sinister occurrences that test their sanity and make them question whether it is worth solving the underlying mystery—for not just their livelihoods but their very lives are at stake under the majestic willows that line the property and hold secrets ghastly enough to scare even the most strong-willed of inhabitants.

Crocoll Smith has such a stylish way with words. 

Her descriptions of places and characters bring you right inside the story.  While I did think her first book was a bit more intimate and haunting, this tale of friendship overcoming evil is still right in my wheelhouse. Anyone with a keen interest in malevolent ghosts, southern gothic settings and beautiful prose will find something to enjoy here. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Sunday Bloody Sunday