Book Review: He Started It by Samantha Downing @smariedowning @BerkleyPub

He Started It
Samantha Downing
Berkley, April 2021
ISBN 978-0-451-49176-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

From the twisted mind behind mega hit My Lovely Wife comes the story of a family—not unlike your own—just with a few more violent tendencies thrown in….

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory, a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.

Road trip! Those two words have differing connotations to many people but, to most of us, road trips from our past bring good memories, memories we like to savor. For me, they represent family vacations and occasional outings with college friends. There were also a few day trips with my best friend, sort of a high school Thelma and Louise kind of a thing…but without the cliff 😂

Such pleasant meanings don’t hold true for Beth, Portia and Eddie, though, as they’ve been coerced to take this particular road trip by greed and a demand from their deceased grandfather that they recreate a trek from years before. Trouble is, that long-ago journey wasn’t the nicest thing that ever happened to those kids and dear old Grandpa was the guy behind some very creepy pit stops. Now, if they want his millions, they have to recreate it and scatter his ashes but there are rules that have to be followed.

And then the REAL creepiness begins.

There are stories full of dark family secrets but Ms. Downing takes He Started It to a new level and I couldn’t help feeling truly sorry for the two spouses who had no idea what they were about to find out about the siblings and, of course, none of them could have expected the new craziness that was coming. I found myself enthralled with characters that I didn’t even like and had to keep reading to see what levels of awfulness they’d reach next. “Entertaining” is almost too mild a word to be used for this and, yet, it kind of fits if you’re entertained, as I am, by weirdly harrowing tales. If I have any quibbles at all, it’s because there’s more telling than showing here and that lessens the effect a bit, but I still recommend He Started It.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2021.

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“Wholly original. Scarily clever. Completely mesmerizing. You
will never look at family road trips the same way again.”
—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author

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Credit Jacqueline Dallimore

Samantha Downing currently lives in New Orleans, where
she is furiously typing away on her next thrilling book.
Website // Facebook // Goodreads

Book Review: Miss Julia Stands Her Ground by Ann B. Ross @penguinusa

Miss Julia Stands her Ground
Miss Julia #7
Ann B. Ross
Penguin Books, April 2007
ISBN 978-0-143-03855-9
Trade Paperback

There’s something compelling about a protagonist that is unlikeable—you wouldn’t want them as a friend but you have to admit they can go places where more polite and meek heroines may hang back. Olive Kitteridge is one such character; the reader wonders why her husband stays with her and doesn’t fault her son for cutting ties with her. MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin is another such character, a man-crazy busybody who insults her neighbors but is tolerated because she gives generously to village charities.

Miss Julia is a not-quite-genteel Southern widow. Her husband, Wesley Lloyd Springer, was a leading citizen and church member in their hometown, who died in the arms of his mistress, Hazel Marie. The young woman is a complete surprise to Miss Julia, who had been married for over forty years, as is Hazel Marie’s young son, who is the spitting image of Wesley Lloyd. The entire Springer estate was left to the boy, and Miss Julia had to fight to keep her house and an income.

How was Miss Julia to cope with the humiliation of her husband’s indiscretions coming to light? She invited Hazel Marie, a likable young woman with no fashion sense, and Little Lloyd to live with her. In this seventh book of the series, Hazel Marie’s ne’er do well uncle, Brother Vernon Puckett, announces that he is going to contest Little Lloyd’s inheritance, because Wesley Springer was not the boy’s father. Miss Julia is indignant, and plans to thwart Brother Vernon’s plans.

You wouldn’t want to have Miss Julia as a relative—she’d criticize your wardrobe, hairstyle, and manners. Ann B. Ross serves up a delightful story, one that promises an entertaining afternoon cozy read.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2021.

Book Review: The Secret of Dunhaven Castle by Nellie H. Steele @SDSXXTours

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The Secret of Dunhaven Castle
Cate Kensie Mysteries Book 1
by Nellie H. Steele
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon
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The Secret of Dunhaven Castle
A Cate Kensie Mystery Book 1
Nellie H. Steele
A Novel Idea Publishing, November 2019
ISBN 978-1951582029
Trade Paperback
How in the world could she now own a castle?
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Shy, introverted Dr. Cate Kensie never imagined that she would inherit a beautiful, and oddly quirky, castle nestled in the picturesque Scottish Highlands. Truthfully, she was sure that she didn’t have any family left after her parents died in a car accident several years before, but then she had gotten the phone call, and her entire world had turned upside down.
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That was when she discovered that she had family in Scotland, and her distant family member, Gertrude MacKenzie, had passed away, leaving her Dunhaven Castle and a golden timepiece with the mysterious phone call: ALWAYS KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR TIME.
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Soon after she leaves the only life she’s ever known in the US with her four-legged best friend, the adorable Riley, she quickly finds that owning this castle is not the fairytale she expected. Mysterious events occur that leave Cate wondering if her new home is haunted or if she’s losing her mind.
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Will Cate be able to unravel the mysteries of Dunhaven Castle before it’s too late? Or will the secrets be too much for Cate to handle?
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Find out if Cate can uncover the secrets her new home holds in The Secret of Dunhaven Castle!
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What little girl doesn’t dream of inheriting a castle and becoming nobility…and, for many, that dream never entirely dies even when we recognize the extreme unlikelihood such a thing will ever happen. So, it’s not surprising that Cate finds her inheritance from an unknown countess is hard to believe but, considering her floundering professorial career and her lack of ties in this country, moving to Scotland definitely has a certain appeal.
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Ms. Steele borrows elements from other novels and puts them to good use, things such as the will’s requirement that she must live in the castle in order to inherit and the atmosphere that goes along with an ancient building. Cate is confronted by a number of secrets, not the least of which is why the family name changed at some point and how the branches of the family became estranged. Her background as a history professor is helpful but even that isn’t much use when it comes to figuring out the mysteries of a very unusual watch.
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With attractive characters and an interesting plot, this is a nice beginning to an appealing series and, while it didn’t tax my brain too much, I enjoyed the journey with Cate and the adorable Riley and will look forward to the next books.
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Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.
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Murder at Dunhaven Castle
Cate Kensie Mysteries Book 2
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If you could go back in time and clear your family’s name, would you?
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Dr. Cate Kensie, now known as Lady Catherine Kensie, the mistress of Dunhaven Castle, still can’t believe her life. Somehow, moved to Scotland, inherited a castle that’s more than meets the eye, and is the proud–and sometimes reluctant– owner of an amazing family heirloom. But there’s a secret Cate must protect about her new life, a secret that no one but Jack Reid, the estate manager, knows of.
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As Cate learns more about her new home, she discovers that in 1856 there was a murder at Dunhaven and non-other than her own ancestor, Randolph MacKenzie, was accused and convicted of the crime. However, the more she learns about the murder at Dunhaven, the more confusing things become. All of the evidence is there, but the answers still don’t add up.
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Will Cate have the courage to dive into a centuries-old murder to clear her family’s name? Or will she find out the hard way that sometimes it’s best to leave the past in the past where it can’t hurt you?
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Find out in the nail-biting second installment of the Cate Kensie Mysteries series, Murder at Dunhaven Castle!
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Holiday Heist at Dunhaven Castle
Cate Kensie Mysteries Book 3
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Cate knew she had seen those jewels before.
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As her eyes scanned the newspaper article from 1925, she is shocked to read about the theft of two priceless necklaces from her family’s home. When Cate recognizes one of the stolen necklaces from when she traveled back in time to the year 1856 to solve a murder mystery, Cate knows there’s only one thing left for her to do. Despite the hectic holiday season approaching, complete with two grand holiday events, Cate must travel to 1925 and unravel the mystery surrounding the jewelry theft.
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However, things take an unexpected turn when she arrives. As Cate discovers more unanswered questions, she starts to wonder if there’s a piece to the puzzle she has yet to uncover.
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While Cate and estate manager, Jack, try to unravel the puzzle in the past, another mystery brews in the present for Cate. Strange and eerie nightmares centered around a bookcase in Dunhaven Castle’s library disrupt Cate’s sleep, rattling her mind even during her waking hours. She wonders if these are connected to the jewelry theft or if something darker lurks in Dunhaven’s halls.
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Can Cate solve the mysterious theft of her family’s jewelry? Will the bookcase hold the secrets to the past? If it does, will Cate be able to decipher the clues on its shelves? Or is there something more sinister at work in Dunhaven Castle?
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Find out if Cate has what it takes to solve the newest mysteries at Dunhaven Castle in Holiday Heist at Dunhaven Castle, book three of the riveting cozy mystery series Cate Kensie Mysteries.
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About the Author

Nellie H. Steele lives in the South Hills of Pittsburgh with her family and her many fur-babies. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys teaching Statistics at a local university or watching her dogs and cats play in the yard.
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Nellie is the author of the Cate Kensie Mystery Series, a cozy mystery series following the adventures of Dr. Catherine Kensie, a history professor turned Scottish Countess, and her beloved dog, Riley, as they navigate their new lives in their quirky Scottish highlands castle, solving mysteries along the way! She is the creator of the Shadow Slayers series, a suspenseful series with a supernatural twist! Follow the Shadow Slayers through time as they fight to banish darkness from the world. Nellie also writes an adventure series, Maggie Edwards Adventures. Follow Maggie Edwards as she travels the world solving mysteries and finding unique treasures!
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Giveaway

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!

$25 Amazon

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Book Review: Who Rescued Who by Victoria Schade—and a Giveaway! @VictoriaSchade @BerkleyPub

Who Rescued Who
Victoria Schade
Berkley, March 2020
ISBN 978-0-593-09883-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Where can you turn when the world turns against you? When Elizabeth Barnes’ life fell apart she never imagined that she’d be rescued by a new friend on four paws.

The plan was simple: Elizabeth would ignore the fact that she was unjustly fired from her dream job, fly across the pond to settle an unexpected inheritance in her father’s home country and quickly return to reclaim her position among the Silicon Valley elite.

But when Elizabeth stumbles upon an abandoned puppy, she’s shocked to realize that her brief trip to England might turn into an extended stay. Her strict itinerary is upended completely by the pup’s dogged devotion, and soon the loveable puppy helps her to connect with a tight-knit community of new friends on two legs and four, from the aunt and uncle she didn’t know existed, to a grumpy coffee shop owner to two very opinionated sheep. Along the way Elizabeth is confronted by long-kept family secrets, hard truths about her former life and a new romance that might lead her to question everything she knows about love. Because sometimes rescue magic happens on both ends of the leash.

Just a couple of months ago, a story about someone who rescues a pet would have been very heartwarming, of course, a feel-good tale to pass a few hours of comfortable reading. That’s all true with Who Rescued Who but life today gives it a whole new meaning and, while I’m sure there are other newly-released animal rescue books, this is the one that came to my attention and I’m SO glad it did.

Besides the obvious attraction of a cute puppy, Ms. Schade has created a really good tale full of what makes family and friends mean so much to us and we’re treated to a bit of mystery, romance and family secrets along the way. Bess is an especially appealing protagonist, one we can really sympathize with when she’s faced with more than her share of angst-causing adversity and the people and animals, especially Georgina, that soon surround her are just as engaging. I loved watching Bess come to terms with the past and learn to be the person she’s meant to be. Perhaps best of all, we get to escape our current health/economic/political crisis for just a little while and, these days, that’s a very good thing. Ms. Schade and her publisher had no way of knowing how timely this would be but we readers surely do benefit from serendipity.

We’re a household of four rescues, including three cats and one dog, and the pup on the cover of this book reminds me of our Rosie even though they don’t look at all alike. What they do have in common is an intense stare, as though they don’t want to miss even a nanosecond of their humans’ attention. Rescues KNOW they’ve found a forever home and love their people just as much in return, certainly more than some humans do. If you can, please consider rescuing a critter—of any kind—and help out an overwhelmed shelter at the same time, won’t you? 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance
reading copy
of Who Rescued Who,

leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn on
Sunday evening, April
19th.
Open to residents
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Book Review: Skeletons in the Attic by Judy Penz Sheluk @JudyPenzSheluk @AnAudiobookworm

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Title: Skeletons in the Attic
Series: A Marketville Mystery #1
Author: Judy Penz Sheluk
Narrator: Claira Jordyn
Publication Date: July 31, 2017

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Skeletons in the Attic
A Marketville Mystery #1
Judy Penz Sheluk
Narrated by Claira Jordyn
Judy Penz Sheluk, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there.

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville – a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a 30-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic? Find out.

Callie and her dad got on just fine without her mother, who disappeared when Callie was a young child, and she’s going to miss her dad now that he’s passed. It’s odd that he left her a house she didn’t know existed, odder still that the will requires that she live there for a year to get the rest of her inheritance. It’s not a tremendous amount of money but she’ll get half of it to live on for the year and then she can sell the house if she wants to. The most surprising provision is that she must investigate her mother’s murder…but Callie had never been told that her mother was murdered.

As Callie follows one thread after another, some taking her deep into the past, unexpected questions arise that could lead to answers she doesn’t want. Could her dad’s 30-story fall on a construction site have any connection? Why do her grandparents hold such animosity towards her when she obviously couldn’t have been the cause of all the trouble so many years ago? How does Misty Rivers, who calls herself a psychic, fit into this mess and, most of all, is Callie’s mother really dead? Callie’s lucky to have a new friend, Chantelle, and neighbor Royce for support and to help her get to the truth.

Claira Jordyn narrates with a very pleasing tone and she does most voices quite well. I did think there was not enough emotion or energy; it was more as though she was reading out loud without any kind of performance. Having said that, I’d be happy to listen to her again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

About the Author

Judy Penz Sheluk is the Amazon international bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mystery and Marketville Mystery series. Her short stories can be found in several collections, including Live Free or Tri and The Best Laid Plans, which she edited. Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsInstagram

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About the Narrator

Claira Jordyn is an on-camera and voice over actress based in New York City. She can most recently be heard on a variety of television and radio commercials encouraging you to ski in Colorado, shop at Old Navy and also to try a particularly popular makeup brand this holiday season. She can also be heard reading countless books including Opaque, The Endless Horizons Sagas and an upcoming retelling of children’s fairytales. She lives just north of New York with her husband and super mutt Junebug, loves telling stories for a living and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do that every day.

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

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Enter here.

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Book Review: Ray vs The Meaning of Life by Michael F. Stewart

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Title: Ray vs The Meaning of Life
Author: Michael F. Stewart
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound

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Ray vs The Meaning of Life
Michael F. Stewart
The Publishing House, May 2018
ISBN
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Grandma’s Last Will and Testament names Ray to inherit the trailer park. It’s a million-dollar estate with one hitch: to prove he’s not as aimless as he seems, Ray must discover the meaning of life by the end of the month. (She left the answer in an envelope.) If he fails, the camp goes to his estranged family.

How does anyone find the meaning of life while running a park full of misfit miners, would-be truck racers, and one demanding little girl? There’s a bear too. A grizzly. Maybe that’ll help?

TIMELY CRYOGENICS—DON’T MISS A BEAT. NOW ON ANDROID!

Barely into the second chapter, I knew I was in for a real treat and that I was going to love spending time with Ray and his trailer camp neighbors…and, well, Grandma, even if she is dead in very unfortunate circumstances. Grandma may have bitten the dust, so to speak, but she ain’t done yet, not by a long shot. Her frozen brain is plugged in and stuffed into a 12-foot fiberglass replica of herself in younger days and she has plans for her future.

Ray knew his mom and his sister, Crystal, could very well do without him but he—and they—certainly didn’t expect what Grandma had done in her will. Mom had been looking forward to a million dollar inheritance but Grandma went and left the camp to Ray IF he can pull off a miracle in one short month. Of course, nobody thinks he can do it.

And the clock starts counting down.

Even the sourtempered and greedy mom is a character to remember and Grandma is a total hoot; thrown into a hilarious and charming tale, every player has an important part to play. I have to say this is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while and I adore how Mr. Stewart has “the meaning of life” as the Holy Grail in the story, a focus adult readers will enjoy every bit as much as young adults and might even learn a thing or two. With all the humor, Ray and everyone else have to contemplate all kinds of serious topics, like grief and love and the pitfalls and pleasures of growing up. In the end, Ray vs The Meaning of Life is all about finding ourselves and making the changes in our lives that will bring us to a place of personal peace and it’s going right on my list of best books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

About the Author

Michael F. Stewart embraces all forms of storytelling. In 2009, he created Bully For You for Scholastic Canada, a fully functioning social media platform with an embedded interactive story. He’s written graphic novels for Rubicon Publishing’s Boldprint series, illustrated early readers and novellas for Pearson (coming in 2019!), non fiction texts on Corruption and Children’s Rights; he even tried to convince the world that we needed a location based storytelling app with augmented reality (NARR8R)-we still do! He’s written adult horror, sci-fi, urban fantasy, and adventure. He’s even written books you’ll never find. But nothing is ever wasted. His most recent book, Counting Wolves, a contemporary YA, was named to Kirkus Reviews “Best Books of 2017” list. The Boy Who Swallows Flies (2018) won Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award, and the Assured Destruction Series won The Creation of Stories: Best YA Award at the Toronto International Book Fair. In 2016, Michael was selected to join the CFC/Entertainment One TV Adaptation Lab. Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s Writer in Residence and runs free writing workshops. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Author links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Review: An Unconventional Mr. Peadlebody by D.L. Gardner

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