The Nightmare Man by J.H. Markert

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: January 10th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Fiction, Adult, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Mystery Thriller, Crime, Writing, Books about Writing, Holiday, Halloween

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

T. Kingfisher meets Cassandra Khaw in a chilling horror novel that illustrates the fine line between humanity and monstrosity.

Blackwood mansion looms, surrounded by nightmare pines, atop the hill over the small town of New Haven. Ben Bookman, bestselling novelist and heir to the Blackwood estate, spent a weekend at the ancestral home to finish writing his latest horror novel, The Scarecrow. Now, on the eve of the book’s release, the terrible story within begins to unfold in real life.

Detective Mills arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder: a family butchered and bundled inside cocoons stitched from corn husks, and hung from the rafters of a barn, eerily mirroring the opening of Bookman’s latest novel. When another family is killed in a similar manner, Mills, along with his daughter, rookie detective Samantha Blue, is determined to find the link to the book—and the killer—before the story reaches its chilling climax.

As the series of “Scarecrow crimes” continues to mirror the book, Ben quickly becomes the prime suspect. He can’t remember much from the night he finished writing the novel, but he knows he wrote it in The Atrium, his grandfather’s forbidden room full of numbered books. Thousands of books. Books without words.

As Ben digs deep into Blackwood’s history he learns he may have triggered a release of something trapped long ago—and it won’t stop with the horrors buried within the pages of his book.

First Line:

Detective Winchester Mills smelled the Petersons’ barn before he saw it.

The Nightmare Man by J.H. Markert

Horror is one of my favorite genres to read. I love getting scared just from reading a book. Of course, that does backfire on me when I read these books alone and before bed. But that is something I have learned to deal with over the years. So, when I got the invite to review The Nightmare Man, I jumped on it. I am glad that I did because this book was creepy and scary at the same time.

The Nightmare Man had an exciting plotline. Ben Bookman (don’t you love his name!!) is signing books at his local Barnes and Noble when a local farmer approaches him, accuses him of stealing his nightmare, and commits suicide. Meanwhile, Detective Winchester Mills and his estranged daughter, Detective Samantha Blue, are investigating a series of murders identical to the last book Ben has written. This investigation sets into motion a series of events that cause Ben to question his sanity. It also strains an already rocky relationship between Detective Mills and his daughter to the breaking point. But, it also reveals a common source. All murderers had been treated at the Asylum that Ben’s grandfather founded. And there are ties to the disappearance of Ben’s younger brother, Devon, years earlier. How is everything tied together? Why has to crime rate gone up so much in recent years? And why can’t Ben remember the night his grandfather took him into the room with the tree? How does that tie into Devon’s disappearance? And what about the books? What is so special about them? Everything is answered in the jaw-dropping ending.

The Nightmare Man is a fast-paced book in the creepy town of Crooked Tree. I missed where this book should be set (if it was even mentioned). But, if I had to guess, I would assume it was one of the mid-western states.

I loved the characters in this book. Every single one of them, except for Ben’s daughter, was damaged in some way. Also, the main characters (Ben and Detective Mills) are unreliable narrators, with Ben being more unpredictable than the Detective. That added to the general air of confusion going on in the book. I LOVED it!!

  • Ben—I initially didn’t like him and believed he could have done the murders. His marriage was on the rocks, with him thinking that his wife (who was pregnant) was cheating on him, and to add a cherry on top, he was the prime suspect in the murders of a family in Crooked Tree. Years earlier, he was also a suspect in his brother’s disappearance, but Detective Mills couldn’t make anything stick. When he finished his last book, he was on a coke and booze binge and couldn’t remember what happened at Blackstone that weekend. By the end of the book, my view of him did 180. Things were revealed that made me do a double take.
  • Detective Mills—Again, this was another character that I initially didn’t like. He was gruff, a functioning alcoholic, and had a history of abuse toward his daughter. But, he was also pitiful. The love of his life died before him, his relationship with his daughter deteriorated after he hurt one of his grandsons, and he kept having nightmares. He was one hundred percent gunning for Ben for the murders in the barn, but he was also savvy enough to know that something wasn’t right. There was a neat twist in his plotline that didn’t make sense at first. But, at the end of the book, it did, and in a way, he did redeem himself.

The Nightmare Man fits perfectly into the horror genre. The author did a great job thinking up new spins on old fears turned nightmares. I will never look again at scarecrows or the Tooth Fairy the same way. His spin on those (and others) was enough to cause me not to sleep at night. I will never get the visual image of a woman pulling teeth out of a young kid’s mouth and laughing out of my head.

There were two significant storylines in The Nightmare Man. The one with Ben, his demons, his family, and what happened that weekend at Blackstone. The other one was the investigation of the murders, Detective Mills’s relationship with Blue, and the past cases in which he made arrests. Everything is tied together at the end. And after they are tied together, the author throws in a couple of twists that made me question everything I had read.

There are trigger warnings in The Nightmare Man. They are mental illness (and how it was portrayed in the book), drugs, alcohol, torture of children, torture of imprisoned people (in the Asylum), cutting, and implied grooming of a child.

The end of The Nightmare Man was utter chaos. There was so much revealed that it was almost too much to unpack. I had to reread the ending three times to understand what had happened. There were a couple of twists that took me by surprise. There was also a death that I wasn’t expecting. I liked the epilogue, and from the final lines of that, I got the vibe that there may be a sequel. You can’t end a book the way the author did, and there not be a sequel!!

I would recommend The Nightmare Man to anyone over 21. There is explicit violence, explicit language, and moderate sexual situations. See also my trigger warnings.

If you enjoyed reading The Nightmare Man, you will enjoy reading this books:

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

The Dead Girls Club: A Novel by [Walters, Damien Angelica]

3 Stars

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: December 10th, 2019

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Where you can find The Dead Girls Club: Barnes and Noble | Amazon | BookBub

Book Synopsis:

A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay. 

First Line:

There’s nothing special about the envelope.

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

My Review:

When I read the blurb for The Dead Girls Club, I was intrigued. I loved the idea that the blurb presented. While I did like the book, I found it confusing to read at times.

The Dead Girls Club is split into two storylines. Now and Then. The author did identify when it was Now or Then’s chapters. I am not a massive fan of dual storylines, but in this case, it was needed. I do wish that the book started with a Then chapter because I was a little confused about the necklace and why it scared Heather so bad.

Even though the book had dual storylines, the author was able to keep the flow of the story going. There were parts of the book, though, where the plotline lagged. That happened mainly towards the end of the book.

I do wish that the Red Witch was more of a presence in the book. That story wasn’t even introduced until the middle of the book. It wasn’t mentioned regularly until the last half of the book. It was the whole reason why I read the book.

I didn’t like Heather in either storyline. In the Now storyline, she was becoming unhinged. At first, I got why she was so freaked out about the necklace. Then she became obsessed. She started cyberstalking/stalking people. She wasn’t focusing on her job. I will say that I wasn’t surprised when everything imploded. The same goes for her behavior in the Then chapters. I will say that Becca knew how to manipulate Heather into doing what she wanted, and Heather didn’t fail to deliver.

I did feel bad for Becca. How horrible was her life that she needed to make up stories? And to alienate the only person who truly understood what was going on? As weird as this sounds, I do wish a couple of chapters had been written from Becca’s perspective. That way, I could have gotten a better handle on what was going through her head. I also couldn’t believe that any observant adult would notice the bruises and everything else that was going on with her.

I am going to age myself here, but I was the same age as Heather and Becca were in The Dead Girls Club. Just reading some of the things that they did, the music they listened too, and the clothing they wore sent me back to that time. Like Heather and Becca, I was interested in some of the same things they were. One memorable time of reciting “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” and using the Ouija board is seared into my brain. But it ended when our parents found out, and we all got into trouble. No one dies (well, one girl was convinced Bloody Mary showed up and scratched her legs up), and we all grew up to be who we are today.

There were two big plot twists in The Dead Girls Club. I didn’t see either of them coming. Honestly, there was a point in the book where I did think the same thing as Heather. Then, when it was revealed, I was stunned. But, I was even more shocked by what was revealed towards the end of the book. It came out of nowhere. I had to put the book down and say, “Are you flipping kidding me???

I would give The Dead Girls Club an Adult rating. There is sex. There is language. There is violence. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.

I am on the fence if I would reread The Dead Girls Club. I am also on the fence if I would recommend it to family and friends.

**I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book**

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Little Darlings

4 Stars

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: May 10th, 2019

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Where you can find Little Darlings: Barnes and Noble | Amazon

Goodreads synopsis:

“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman andGrimms’ Fairy Tales.

Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some of our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

My review:

Laura swears that she was attacked in her hospital room, shortly after the birth of her twins. She is written off as a tired, new mother when the police are involved. Her husband and the doctors think that she is imagining things. When she gets home, things start to get worse. She starts seeing that woman outside of her house. Again, she is written off as being a tired new mother. Then she takes the twins out for a walk in a park. Where they disappear. The twins are found shortly after being reported missing. But Laura swears that there is something different about them. She needs to bring her boys back. How is she going to do that? Are the myths and legends about changelings to be believed? Or is Laura suffering from a form of postpartum psychosis?

I couldn’t wait to read Little Darlings. From the reviews that I have read, the book was going to be fantastic. So, when I finally got around to reading, I was excited. Little Darlings has earned every bit of praise that has been thrown its way. When a book has me wondering which end is up, it is good!!

I wish that I hadn’t put it off. This book is that good. It is also super creepy. The bit of folklore that the author chose to put at the beginning of each chapter only added to the supernaturalness of the book. I loved it!!

What I also liked is that I didn’t know what was true. Was everything that Laura was experiencing real or in her head? That is what I loved the most about this book. The author did a great job of putting up both sides. And then she does a fantastic job of letting you make your own conclusion at the end of the book. Like I mentioned above, I love it when a book can keep me guessing about what actually happened. Even after it was over.

The end of Little Darlings sent a chill up my spine. Not going to get into it but let’s say that enough doubt is cast that I wondered what happened. The epilogue (well, I wouldn’t quite call it that) was what made me think. It also made me sit and think for a while after I finished the book.

I gave Little Darlings a 4-star rating. This was a creepy book to read. The characters were relatable. The plotlines were fast paced and well written.

I would give Little Darlings an Adult rating. There is no sex. There is violence. There is language. There are triggers. They would be postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, and cheating. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.

I would reread Little Darlings. I would also recommend this book to family and friends.

I would like to thank Crooked Lane Books for allowing me to read and review Little Darlings.

All opinions stated in this review of Little Darlings are mine.

**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**

Have you read Little Darlings?

Love it? 

Hate it?

Meh about it?

Let me know!!!

The Hangman’s Secret (Victorian Mystery: Book 3) by Laura Joh Rowland

The Hangman's Secret (Victorian Mystery, #3)

3 Stars 

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: January 8th, 2019

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Victorian Mystery

The Ripper’s Shadow—Book 1

A Mortal Likeness—Book 2

The Hangman’s Secret—Book 3

Where you can find The Hangman’s Secret: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Goodreads synopsis:

From award-winning author Laura Joh Rowland, a story about the darkness that lurks within and the deadly secrets that beg to be revealed.

Intrepid photographer Sarah Bain and her motley crew of friends are back to hunt criminals in the dark, seedy underbelly of Victorian London, but little do they know, the darkness may lurk closer than they first divined.

Photographer Sarah Bain and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and sometimes street urchin Mick O’Reilly are private detectives with a new gig—photographing crime scenes for London’s Daily World newspaper. The Daily World is the latest business venture of their sole client, Sir Gerald Mariner, a fabulously wealthy and powerful banker. 

One cold, snowy January morning, Sarah, Hugh, and Mick are summoned to the goriest crime scene they’ve ever encountered. A pub owner named Harry Warbrick has been found hanged and decapitated amid evidence of foul play. His murder becomes a sensation because he was England’s top hangman and he’s met the same fate that he inflicted on hundreds of criminals. 

Sir Gerald announces that the Daily World—meaning Sarah and her friends—will investigate and solve Harry Warbrick’s murder before the police do. The contest pits Sarah against the man she loves, Police Constable Barrett. She and her friends discover a connection between Harry Warbrick’s murder and the most notorious criminal he ever executed—Amelia Carlisle, the “Baby-Butcher,” who murdered hundreds of infants placed in her care. 

Something happened at Amelia’s execution. The Official Secrets Act forbids the seven witnesses present to divulge any information about it. But Harry had a bad habit of leaking tips to the press. Sarah and her friends suspect that one of the other witnesses killed Harry to prevent him from revealing a secret related to the execution. What is the secret, and who hanged the hangman?

My review:

When I first read the blurb for The Hangman’s Secret, I was undecided if I wanted to read this book or not. While I like mysteries, I have to be in the right mood to read them. But, seeing that the book was set in one of my favorite time periods (The Victorian Era), I decided to take a chance on reading it. While I am glad I took the chance on reading it, I was unimpressed with the book. It didn’t surprise me or astonish me. I was a little disappointed in it.

The plot for The Hangman’s Secret was a good one. Sarah and her friends are dispatched to a crime scene by the paper’s owner, Sir Gerald Mariner. There has been a gruesome murder. Sarah, a crime scene photographer, arrives on the scene to find out that the victim was a hangman. Pushed into solving this murder before the police, Sarah finds out that the victim was the hangman for a notorious baby murderer. She also finds out that something happened at that hanging. Whatever that was, someone was willing to kill the people who were at the hanging to keep them quiet. Can she solve it? Or will her reputation, her relationship, and friendships be ruined? Also, will she be able to finally track down her father? Or will she discover something about her past?

While I enjoyed reading The Hangman’s Secret, I felt that it dragged in spots. Mainly in the middle. I was mentally urging the characters to do something to bring the plot out of its lag. Which happened but I almost DNF’d the book before it happened. Also, the beginning was slow. There was too much time discussing the characters backgrounds and storylines from the earlier books. I am here to read this book, not to read about Sarah, Mick and Hugh’s adventures with Jack the Ripper and kidnappers. If that could be cut back a bit, the beginning wouldn’t be so slow.

Sarah bothered me. Because this is Victorian England, I get that she should have been a little reserved. But she wasn’t. She was determined to be an independent woman. Which was unheard of in those days. She was the one that Sir Gerald talked to when he wanted something done. She was the one that took on the job of finding her father. She called the shots in her relationship. It was unheard of in those days for a woman to have as much power as she did. I hate to say this (because I am all about girl power) but I wished she was more like women of that era. Because it was not realistic the way she was.

I liked the mystery angle of the book. The author did a great job at keeping the identity of the killer hidden until the end of the book. I did think it was going to be one person and I was surprised at who it was. I did feel that all the red herrings and false leads weren’t needed. The whole Cross angle of the mystery didn’t do it for me. It actually made me aggravated that one person could be so nasty. As for the mystery of Sarah’s father, it was well done. But there were more questions than answers.

The romance between Bennett and Sarah screamed of dysfunction and took away from the story. While I appreciated that Sarah had someone to love her, I didn’t like that it became a focal point in the plotline towards the end. I also didn’t like how Sarah was judged on her looks. It wasn’t even other people, she put herself down.

The author tied the storylines up nicely at the end of the book. I thought that the ending went on a little longer than I thought. There was no big twist. I also had questions about DCI Reid. Where did he go? There was no mention about him at the end of the book. Seeing that he was Bennett and Sarah’s nemesis, I would have thought there would have been a mention about it. I did like that the author left enough room for another book.

What I liked about The Hangman’s Secret:

  1. The plotline. I enjoyed it
  2. Being set in Victorian England
  3. The end of the book

What I disliked about The Hangman’s Secret:

  1. It dragged in spots and was slow to start
  2. Sarah. She didn’t match the stereotype of women of that era
  3. Sarah and Bennett’s romance

I gave The Hangman’s Secret a 3-star rating. The plotline and the mystery angle of the book was enjoyable to read. I also liked how the book was ended. But, the story was slow to start and the plotline lagged in spots. Also, I didn’t think that Sarah fit the stereotype of women of that era. I also thought that Sarah and Bennett’s romance was dysfunctional and brought no added depth to the story.

I would give The Hangman’s Secret an Adult rating. There is sex but it is not graphic. There is violence, sometimes graphic. There is no language. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.

I am on the fence if I would reread The Hangman’s Secret. I am also on the fence if I would recommend this book to family and friends.

I would like to thank Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review The Hangman’s Secret.

All opinions stated in the review of The Hangman’s Secret are mine.

**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**

Sister of Mine by Laurie Petrou

3.5 Stars

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: August 7th, 2018

Genre: Thriller, suspense, mystery

Where you can find Sister of Mine: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Book Synopsis (from Amazon):

Penny and Hattie are sisters in a small town, bound tight to the point of knots. They share a secret they cannot escape, even while it pulls them apart. One night, a match is lit, and Penny’s terrible husband is killed – a marriage going up in flames, and offering the potential of a new life. The sisters retreat into their family home – a house of secrets and memories – and try to live in the shadow of what they put in motion. But Penny’s husband is not the only thing they are hiding, from the outside world and from each other. Under a cloud of long-held resentments, sibling rivalry, and debts unpaid, the bonds of sisterhood begin to crack. How long will Penny and Hattie demand the unthinkable of each other? How often will they say, “You owe me,” and when will it ever be enough? 

My review:

Image result for house on fire gif

Sister of Mine had a complex plotline. Penny and Hattie are sisters who are living in a small town. They closer than close due to a secret that they share. That secret is a drain on their relationship. Their relationship, strained, gets more strained when Jameson comes into the picture. When Penny does the unthinkable one drunken night, that the bond breaks. Hattie descends into mental illness to escape and Penny is left picking up the pieces. But, when the police look into Penny’s husband death, new questions arise. What happened that night? And who lit the match? The answers to those questions test the remaining strands of Penny and Hattie’s bond.

Image result for sister gif

I didn’t like Penny during the first half of the book. She rubbed me the wrong way. Her lack of grief over her husband’s death struck me as odd. Even with the explanation of what he did to her, she came across as flat. Almost emotionless when retelling it. It rubbed me the wrong way. So, when she stepped away to allow Hattie to have her relationship with Jameson, I was a little skeptical. The last half of the book, though, my dislike turned into begrudging admiration. She came back to pick up the pieces when Hattie came apart.

Image result for lost her damn mind gif

I felt bad for Hattie. Up until Penny went to school, she had to deal with Penny telling her how she was to blame for her father leaving. Then she was to blame for their mother dying. No wonder she had mental health issues!!! But my pity for her evaporated in the middle of the book. At that point, she lost her damn mind. She made poor decisions and those decisions affected everyone around her.

The mystery angle of the book was fantastically written. As was the suspense.

I did have an issue with the dropped storylines. Mainly the one about Penny and Hattie’s father. There was no closure. I was left wondering what happened to him.

Image result for surprise gif

I am not going to get into the rest of the book. I will say that I was surprised by the huge twist at the end of the book. I was thinking one thing and was left with a huge WTF moment when the secret was revealed. I was also surprised by what that person did and where they ended up.

What I liked about Sister of Mine:

A) Penny and Hattie’s relationship

B) The mystery angle of the book

C) the twist at the end of the book

What I disliked about Sister of Mine:

A) Penny and Hattie’s relationship

B) Hattie losing her damn mind the last half of the book

C) Dropped storylines

I gave Sister of Mine a rating of 3.5 stars. I didn’t like Penny and Hattie’s relationship. I also didn’t like Hattie losing her damn mind in the middle of the book. But, what I didn’t like was the dropped/unfinished storylines. That is why Sister of Mine got a 3.5  instead of a 5-star rating. I did like Penny and Hattie’s relationship at the beginning of the book. The relationship after their childhood but before Jameson. I also loved the mystery angle of the book. Which goes with the huge twist at the end of the book.

I gave Sister of Mine an Adult rating. There is sex but not explicit. There is violence. There is language. I would suggest that no one under the age of 21 read this book.

I am on the fence about rereading Sister of Mine. I am also on the fence about recommending it to family and friends.

I would like to thank Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review Sister of Mine.

All opinions stated in this review of Sister of Mine are mine.

**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

Lies She Told by [Holahan, Cate]

Title: Lies She Told

Author: Cate Holahan

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: September 12th, 2017

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Number of pages: 288

POV: Alternating 1st person

Where you can find Lies She Told: Barnes and Nobles | Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

Sometimes the truth is darker than fiction.

Liza Jones has thirty days to write the thriller that could put her back on the bestseller list. In the meantime, she’s struggling to start a family with her husband, who is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. With stresses weighing down in both her professional and her personal life, Liza escapes into writing her latest heroine.

Beth is a new mother who suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home alone providing for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, Beth sets out to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes it, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the river.

Then the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the Hudson and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including herself. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

Continue reading “Lies She Told by Cate Holahan”