July 15, 2024

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Book Reviews, And Author Interviews

Maybe He Started It, Maybe He Didn’t. Best Believe That Samantha Downing Will Have Someone Finish It. And You Want To Be There For It.

Whoever he is that may have started it, best be sure that someone in this dysfunctional disaster of a family is going to finish it. Who lives? Who dies? Who tells the story? Only Samantha Downing knows that. READ THE BOOK.

He Started It By Samantha Downing

Everyone take a seat. I have a story to tell. I even have receipts to prove it except for my face. No one needs to see that mess. In the middle of my attempt to summarize, review, and not spoil He Started It by Samantha Downing. Damn, was I excited to spill the tea, because I really lost control of my faculties on the level of last summer, when I read Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle? You know, when I couldn’t put the Kindle down while falling asleep and was rudely woken up by it thwacking me in the nose as it dropped from my hand.

She started that.

I was so excited to write the review for He Started it that I got all comfortable in my lounge clothes (it was going to storm). OK. I lie. Like everyone else right now, I was in my lounge/pajama clothes, and I had just made this delicious fruit and vegetable shake. IT WAS GOING TO STORM, THOUGH. I didn’t lie about that.

He Started It By Samantha Downing

Yes. My Splinters of Scarlet Review is coming sometime tomorrow.

I sat down and began to spill the tea on Samantha Downing’s latest. Me being me and getting ahead of myself (did I mention the lounge clothes/pajamas were new), when I spill the tea…i-dont-always-spill-tea-but-when-i-do-i-spill-it-on-myself

Sadly, I can’t even blame the CNMCC. As you can see, Pavel is out cold in the background of the first picture.

Only it wasn’t tea. It was that shake. All over my face, my hair, and my new pajama/lounge pants. Yeah. Kimberly Belle and Samantha Downing. Between Dear Wife and He Started It, they are determined to break me.

They started that.

This is the only picture you are getting of me, because no one needs to see the disaster that was the neck, up.

Someday, ladies. Someday. I’m going to finish it.

Who Started It?

Look, You know what? Nothing good ever comes from me starting a sentence with “Look.”

I can admit that as of this summer, I have become complete trash for Adult Psychological Thrillers. I have absolutely not lost my love for Young Adult genres or Adult genres in other categories. I’m just stating this fact, officially. It started last summer. That bar was set damn high because of Turn of the Key, Dear Wife (my nose still hurts), and The Chain. Then I went back to my Young Adult fix until January, really. And shit got real fast. I don’t have time to list them all, but there was Kimberly Belle’s new one (I protected my nose) Stranger in the Lake, The Split by S.J. Bolton, Cut to the Bone by Ellis Cooper, and Christ on a crouton, of course, Robyn Harding’s The Swap. And those are leaving out some incredible titles.

He Started It By Samantha Downing

Thank you to Berkely and Edelweiss for an ARC in exchange for an honest review

There have also been some serious, what the devil in the blue dress moments (side-eyes The Guest List, Seven Lies and You Are Not Alone -not including the DNFs. To be fair,  You Are Not Alone wasn’t even salty. I was straight-up pissed). Because let’s be truthful. This genre goes one or two ways. It is fantastical, or it crashes and burns like Kanye West trying to get on the ballot in November. There is absolutely no middle ground. PLUS, it is only July 20th. There is a lot still to come (good and salty, I’m sure).

Between those two paragraphs (and a few I left out because no one needs me to list EVERY SINGLE TITLE– I have a whole category for that on this site), I think it is pretty obvious that I put the blunt in honest. If I’m going to be trash, it isn’t going to be for just any Psychological Thriller. I mean, we do have Hostile Vaginas and magic mushrooms to keep up with, here.

You are gonna appreciate all this later. It all lays down evidence that you have to trust my judgment here. There are so many damn spoilers I can’t talk about, so this should all go to my character as a reviewer. Well, except I’m going to give a big old break- I’ll put a music video to warn people because there is SOMETHING I have to say but for those who don’t want to read it– it isn’t a spoiler in terms of saying what happens but more of the structure of the end- but I’m sure some people won’t want to know so I’ll put a music video to give everyone time to walk away. You know I would NEVER EVER do that to anyone.

Family: The Ties That Bind And Gag

Erma Bombeck. I’ve mentioned before that I read her in elementary school. I still don’t know why Erma Bombeck was in an elementary school library or why they let a third grader check her books out without telling her parents. However, I’d submit for your examination that I was a perceptive child. I also offer for your consideration that Samantha Downing’s characters in He Started It may just be the only family more damaged than mine.

Then again, we were consistently flat broke. I mean so poor that we weren’t even poor. We were so poor that we couldn’t afford the “or” to finish the word poor. We drank out of the empty peanut butter jars because we couldn’t buy glasses. Had there been an inheritance to chase down across the country. Well, no. My Grandmother would have had the men play poker over it. OH shit, they’d pulled guns. So, OK. Damage is equal.

When a stripper (most think she’s a waitress), irresponsible playboy, and the middle child who starts the book saying she can’t be the heroine, but has a story to tell (see teaser Tuesday), hit the road?

Michael Che

Speaking of that glass in Michael Che’s hand? Calling Dr. Jack, Dr. Jack Daniel’s. Not that I blame them or anything. If (God Forbid, I mean I didn’t even go to my father’s funeral for this reason- they’d a-broke me), I had to drive across the country with my father’s side of the family? I’d catch the coronavirus instead to get out of. Don’t at me. I’m not lying. Downing never mentions the coronavirus in He Started It, so I suspect this wasn’t an option. Instead, they drink a lot. In the car, out of the car, in hotel bars. Again. Not a judgment call. No one ever drinks and drives—all grown adults. You do you.

Speaking of the coronavirus. I have another good reason for you to read He Started It. Right now, how many of you are DYING to see family, go on a road trip? YOU’LL NEVER WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN. You will fear being trapped in the car staring, with these people you think would never hurt you, but who the hell knows. How well does anyone know their family? I mean, think about it. They are related to you after all, how good could they be? Plus, there are scary people on the road, hotels, and shady tourist spots dedicated to Bonnie and Clyde (yeah. that’s true).

You Have To Be This Level Of Crazy To Get On This Ride

Once they are all locked in that car, that is it. Full stop. This isn’t the holidays where you can pretend to sleep off the turkey, run out and slam the door shut or make like you have food poisoning. If anyone decides to wait until everyone is out on route one, in West Bubble Fuckk to mention sone horrendous event from the past?! There is no hiding from that, now. Nope. It is either drop and roll at 80 miles an hour, or you deal with whatever bombshell Katie-Kaboom just dropped on everyone’s head. Because that happens a lot, these siblings are cross texting to each other, to their spouses. Who is lying to who and about what?

They can’t even get it straight about whether or not a black truck is following them when they all know full tilt that there is a damn black truck following them. I mean if playing games was an Olympic sport. Wait. Well, it was, actually. Dad used Risk as a nightly way to teach them life skills. That should tell you a lot, right there. I mean, get your armies together, form alliances, and take each other out. Then turn on your allies. GREAT!

Avengers Civil War

Then there is Beth (the middle child and narrator). She is the only character I’m going to focus on because, again, spoilers. I’m already afraid this might be a little too much, but she is the narrator, so it is essential to have an idea. I promise this is as general as it can be.

The eternal ping-pong match that goes on in her head has to be exhausting. I’ll take “you aren’t paranoid if they are talking about you” for $1000, Alex. In a very <ahem> recent book, I raged about this being annoying. But that was because it was written so poorly. Downing does a fantastic job. Beth is a hot freaking mess, and it freaked me out. Although I have to say that while Beth gave me the creeps, I would not ever have thought she was capable of <insert shake spilling all over me and now I have to take a shower, and this will be later than I told Kimberly and Samantha on Twitter- sorry but not>. I mean, there isn’t even any point in telling her to check herself before she wrecks herself. She has already wrecked, gotten the repairs, in time for this road trip so she can total out, grandly.


Her secrets have secrets, and then her truths have secrets only because we don’t know she’s telling the truth to begin with, and that is one hell of a set-up on Downing’s part. Should I break that down again? Samantha Downing uses Beth to keep secrets, to keep secrets within secrets, and to be a red-herring of truth all at once. And I promise you that she does it with such deceptive precision that even with my warning? You will never see it coming. As I type this, my jaw dropped open, again thinking about two different enormous pieces. And my brain is reeling from the rest.

Also, I should mention that as most know, whether Adult or Young Adult? I am trash for unreliable narrators. He Started It has so many unreliable narrators that I started to wonder if I could rely on the fact that I was even reading a book. Maybe I took the blue pill?! All I knew is this was me, yet again.

Pace And Tone

Downing sets-up a dynamic in He Started It that is uniquely intricate. This insanity, the fun in dysfunctional is all set on the open roads of America, but the feeling Downing conveys makes it very hard to breathe. It is claustrophobic for the characters and as you move through the plot, for the readers as well. Surprisingly, there are bits here and there where you even get small hints of sibling intimacy, and you think, oh well, there is something here. And it settles you down into a rhythm. But not a sentence or paragraph later, Downing drops a master class on the

Writing Guide: How To Write An Effective Plot Twist

And just when you think, but no, it can’t be… IT IS.  BUT WAIT! There’s more. No. Seriously. Like right up tooooooooooooooo HERE. The end. Like the very, very, very VERY, end.

It doesn’t stop. And the closer He Started It gets to the end, the crazier it gets. Like Downing at some point said, fuck it. I’ve already made them scream, yell, and throw things. I might as well just break them.

She broke me. She did that.

I'm Broke Good Place

Non-Spoiler/Summary/Hot Takes

  1. As I said, this book picks up, and it just doesn’t stop. I read it in a few hours, one sitting.
  2. The narration from Beth’s point of view is fantastic, as is how Downing uses her. And to that point.
  3. The structure of He Started It, which I really can’t get into, at all, but hopefully? If Downing reads this? She will understand what structure/spoiler I mean when I

jennifer lopez standing ovation

  1. I never had one of those moments of – when you figure out what the title means until He Started It. I thought I knew, and then I KNEW. AND NOW I GET IT! WOW.

Willie Nelson Seems Fitting, Yes?

OK, here is the warning for those of you that don’t want to hear my short, brief thought about how the ending is structured. I’m not going to say what happens, just the structure and my opinion of said structure. However, I know many won’t want to hear that. I implore to go read all the other linked reviews above, subscribe, and comment below if you are going to stop here. If you are going to continue, please do the same when you are done.






He Started It By Samantha Downing- Ending Structure Spoiler (not really)


OK – so here’s the deal. He Started It, like Wilder Girls By Rory Power (and other novels I can’t quite think of at the moment), has a pretty open ending. Now, do I want every book I read to have this kind of structure? Of course not. However, like Wilder Girls, I think it works, and Downing does a fantastic job in the context of what happens. Overkill of this structure would be too much.

It also comes down to execution. With those two points in mind, I like the idea of having to decide, deduce, or imagine it for myself. The execution is there, and I believe Wilder Girls is the last book I read that followed this idea. Plus, I was in such shock from everything else happening that I don’t know how much more I could have handled! Downing probably did the only merciful thing she could.


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