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Showing posts by: Ardi Alspach click to see Ardi Alspach's profile
Feb 15 2018 4:30pm

Waco: “Of Milk and Men” Episode Review

Episode 4 of Paramount’s six-part miniseries Waco has us deep into the siege. The ATF has withdrawn leadership, and the FBI has brought in a Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and negotiators. The relationships among Koresh, his right-hand man, Steve Schneider—adeptly portrayed by actor Paul Sparks (House of Cards, Boardwalk Empire)—and FBI Negotiator Gary Noesner have evolved over time as events escalate, but the main dynamic highlighted in “Of Milk and Men” is the one between Noesner and HRT command.

Before I get to the episode review, I want to return to the original source material for a bit: David Thibodeau’s memoir, Waco: A Survivor’s Story. Thibodeau sort of glosses over some of the events that take place in Episode 4—such as the milk delivery incident—but he does bring up some points about both the definition of a cult and what is legally considered a hostage barricade situation. He and his coauthor, Leon Whiteson, conducted meticulous research—all cited within the book—to support many of the claims Thibodeau makes throughout. In fact, the show seems to rely heavily on these primary sources, as well as Thibodeau and Noesner’s accounts, to piece together a balanced view of the siege at Mount Carmel.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of “Of Milk and Men”...]

Feb 8 2018 4:00pm

Waco: “Operation Showdown” Episode Review

The new Waco TV series is moving right along as it recounts the events in early 1993 that ultimately lead to the infamous 51-day standoff that the ATF and FBI had with David Koresh’s followers, whom we now refer to as the Branch Davidians. The standoff’s origins might be the most controversial and most questioned aspect of the events that transpired, as survivors from both sides tell different stories about how it all began. Episode 3, “Operation Showdown,” showcases the beginning of the power struggle between Koresh and FBI Negotiator Gary Noesner.

Those of us who are familiar with what happened at Mount Carmel have a lot of questions, and this show doesn’t seek to solve them. There are a lot of different sides here, and while David Thibodeau’s memoir shows Koresh in a sympathetic light, the ATF and FBI—still reeling from bad publicity as a result of their deadly errors at Ruby Ridge, ID—portray Koresh as a mentally ill and violently unstable person, perhaps in an attempt to save face when things go south in Texas.

[Can't get much further south...]

Feb 1 2018 4:00pm

Waco: “The Strangers Across the Street” Episode Review

Who was David Koresh? I think that’s probably the most important mystery that any media covering the tragic events that took place at Mount Carmel—10 miles outside of Waco, Texas—is attempting to solve. All we have left are the accounts of survivors and witnesses, translated most recently into Waco, a six-part miniseries from the Paramount Network.

Episode 2, “The Strangers Across the Street,” aired last night and most certainly made up for all that Episode 1 lacked. While, again, not strictly adherent to the source material, the spirit of conflict and complication was present, brilliantly portrayed by John Leguizamo as undercover Federal ATF agent Robert Rodriguez.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of “The Strangers Across the Street”...]

Jan 25 2018 4:30pm

Waco: “Visions and Omens” Episode Review

Cults, their followers, and their ultimate spectacular ends have captured public imagination for decades, but only one cult met their tragic end as publicly as David Koresh and his followers in Waco. April 19, 1993, is forever marked in history as one of the most spectacular failures of the FBI and ATF when the Branch Davidian compound known as Mount Carmel burned to the ground after a 51-day standoff. To mark the 25th anniversary of this event, the Paramount Network (formerly known as Spike TV) has developed a six-episode miniseries based on survivor David Thibodeau’s memoir, A Place Called Waco, and FBI hostage negotiator Gary Noesner’s memoir, Stalling for Time.

A Place Called Waco, re-released this month as Waco: A Survivor’s Story to coincide with the new show, was first published a scant 6 years after the siege at Waco came to an end. It gives remarkable insight into the daily operations of the cult as well as a sense of what David Koresh was like as a friend and religious leader. It’s important to note, however, that this memoir—as with all other media—is not without bias. This story is David Thibodeau’s truth as he remembers it and as he interpreted events at the time.

Will we ever really know what David Koresh was really like? Will we ever understand his motivations? And was he really receiving a message from God, or was he suffering from some kind of undiagnosed mental disorder? There’s a range of media that explores these questions, and we’ll be exploring a few of them here in a six-part series.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of the first episode of Waco!]

Jan 23 2018 3:00pm

Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series, where members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse.

Deanna Raybourn’s A Treacherous Curse is the third book in a series set in Victorian London that features the adventurous Veronica Speedwell and her compatriot Revelstoke “Stoker” Templeton-Vane. The two of them are tenuously affiliated with the British aristocracy but have fallen out of favor for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their very Bohemian approach to life. And though this novel is late in the series, Raybourn expertly weaves in details from the previous books so that a newcomer doesn’t feel lost, while someone familiar with the series doesn’t feel an interruption in action.

And boy is there plenty of action. The two of them are working diligently at their museum jobs for an eccentric aristocrat when they learn about a man who had disappeared from an archaeological dig in Egypt along with a precious diadem, the most important and most valuable object found at the dig. And he happens to be Stoker’s mortal enemy. The sordid details from Stoker’s past are brought to light in a very public way as Victoria does her best to save his reputation, find the missing man and diadem, and avoid treachery in all its forms.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of A Treacherous Curse...]

Dec 11 2017 3:00pm

Review: The Ninth Grave by Stefan Ahnhem

Would you kill for the one you love? That's the question that international bestseller Stefan Ahnhem's The Ninth Grave: A Fabian Risk Novel seeks to answer in this spine-tingling thriller set six months before the events in Victim Without a Face (available December 5, 2017).

The Ninth Grave, second in a new series by Swedish author Stefan Ahnhem, follows not one but two detectives in two countries on two cases—but the similarities end up being too striking to ignore as we follow each side of the story down a twisted and dark path to an astonishing conclusion.

Ahnhem is a gifted storyteller, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the complex whodunnit that’s actually set sixth months prior to his first novel featuring the same detective, Fabian Risk. It’s certainly not necessary to have read the first novel in order to understand and enjoy this second one, but I have a feeling that those who encounter this novel first will definitely be coming back for more.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of The Ninth Grave...]

Nov 7 2017 12:00pm

Review: Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson

Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson is the second book in the Jem Flockhart series, which is set in a crumbling Victorian asylum where a gruesome murder is committed and explores the early science of brain study while giving a chilling insight into an asylum's workings.

Last year, we were introduced to Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain in E. S. Thomson’s debut, Beloved Poison, and now our beloved cross-dressing apothecary detective is back in another character-driven historical mystery that’s so gritty, you’ll have to brush the soot off your stovepipe hat when you’re done. Dark Asylum proves that this series is a winner, and with characters like Jem and Will, readers are sure to keep coming back for more.

While you don’t have to read the first book in this series to follow the mystery here, I highly recommend you do so just to see the beautiful character development of Jem and the relationships she cultivates around her while attempting to disguise the truth of her sex. She passes as a male in order to freely navigate Victorian London and carry out her duties as the local apothecary, but once again, she and Will have become embroiled in a murder mystery—this time at Angel Meadow Asylum.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Dark Asylum...]

Nov 6 2017 11:00am

Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter is a gripping, tightly wound suspense novel about a woman forced to confront her past in the wake of small-town corruption (available November 7, 2017).

Krysten Ritter is an accomplished actress known for her roles in Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23, and most recently, Jessica Jones and The Defenders. With these kinds of acting credentials under her belt, it should come as no surprise that Ritter can handle the portrayal of complex characters and translate that skill into novel writing. Bonfire, Ritter’s debut novel, is a character-driven mystery set in a small Indiana town complete with big corporate conspiracy, painfully awkward high school reunions, and a heroine who’s battling against one of the most common problems women face: not being believed.

Abby Williams is an environmental lawyer working in Chicago when a compelling case crosses her desk and sends her back to her hometown of Barrens, Indiana. Painful memories of her past begin to resurface as she runs into some familiar faces and checks out old haunts.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Bonfire...]

Oct 19 2017 2:00pm

Review: Madness Treads Lightly by Polina Dashkova

Madness Treads Lightly by Polina Dashkova is a Russian mystery where only three people can connect a present-day murderer to a serial killer who, fourteen years ago, terrorized a small Siberian town—and one of them is already dead.

Polina Dashkova, dubbed Russia’s Queen of Crime, first published Madness Treads Lightly in Russian in 1998. This edition was translated by Marian Schwartz, which I found surprising given Dashkova’s work as a translator herself. I’m not entirely sure that the translator served this book well, as Russian naming conventions were preserved, which can be a bit confusing to an American audience and contributed to my inability to become immersed in the story right away. But regardless of that, once I became accustomed, I found the story interesting, if standard, for a thriller.

The novel takes place in two time periods and two locations. Lena Polyanskaya is our protagonist, a young mother living in Moscow in 1996 who edits a prominent magazine and is married to a high-ranking police officer. She soon learns that an old friend of hers, Mitya, has died of suspected suicide, but she finds it all suspicious even though Mitya’s sister, Olga, has accepted it without question. But the further Lena digs, the more she feels that Mitya’s death was no accident and might, in fact, be somehow connected to a string of murders that happened in Siberia in the 1980s.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Madness Treads Lightly...]

Sep 21 2017 11:00am

Review: The Last Chicago Boss: My Life with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club by Peter “Big Pete" James with Kerrie Droban

The Last Chicago Boss: My Life with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club by Peter “Big Pete” James is a startling and unprecedented expose into the inner workings of the Outlaw Nation from the unique perspective of its renowned leader, all brought to life through never-before-revealed interviews, police files, wiretaps, recordings, and trial transcripts.

The Last Chicago Boss surprised me. To be honest, I’m not sure what I expected from the memoir of the ex-boss of one of those most notorious motorcycle clubs in the country, but this insider’s view of a tribe of people often feared and shunned by the general public reveals that, while some of the stereotypes of motorcycle gangs have a foundation in truth, there’s a lot more there than meets the eye.

Peter “Big Pete” James is a legend in the international motorcycle community. At the age of 45, he joined the Outlaws with the intention of being Boss of Chicago—but he didn’t stop there. Big Pete details in his memoir how he not only built up the Outlaws as the most badass and elite motorcycle clubs in Chicago but how he also created the Confederation of Clubs (CoC) to unite all kinds of clubs under his command.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of The Last Chicago Boss...]

Sep 19 2017 11:00am

Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda is a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage … or a life.

Four paragraphs into Kaira Rouda’s Best Day Ever and I’ve learned that our protagonist, Paul Strom, is a grade-A asshole. So why do I want to keep reading his story? It’s intriguing, at first, that the author would make that choice—to immediately alert the reader that we’re not going to like this guy. But I had to find out what she had in store for us next.

Paul and his wife, Mia, are getting ready to go on a weekend trip to their lake house. It’s just the two of them for the first time since they’ve had kids, and according to Paul, it’s going to be the best day ever. He has lots of plans. And they are all a surprise. But as the trip continues, tension mounts. Mia is ruining everything. I mean, how dare she question Paul. He’s right about everything. He’s in charge. It’s all going to be perfect, just like their perfect little family.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Best Day Ever...]

Sep 8 2017 11:00am

Review: The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble

The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble is a debut novel aboard a pirate ship in 1722 and the first in the new Spider John Mysteries series.

The publisher touts Steve Goble’s debut novel, The Bloody Black Flag, as “Agatha Christie meets Patrick O’Brian,” and it couldn’t have been a more apt description. The book felt a lot like Murder on the Orient Express but on a pirate ship traveling the high seas between the American colonies and Jamaica.

It begins with Spider John Rush and his friend Ezra fleeing from the law, straight to the waiting arms of Addison, a pirate recruiter for a ship called Plymouth Dream. While the two of them dream of a settled life on shore, circumstances have required them to become pirates once again. They figure a risky pirate’s life on this one last voyage is better than hanging now for the current crime they stand accused of. Unfortunately, Plymouth Dream’s captain, William Barlow, is more of a nightmare, with rules that are harsher than most and an itchy trigger finger to boot. 

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of The Bloody Black Flag...]

Sep 6 2017 1:00pm

Review: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land is a dark, compelling, voice-driven debut psychological suspense thriller.

Take a visual tour of Good Me Bad Me with GIFnotes!

Everywhere you look, it seems there’s a new psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator written by a female author taking the world by storm. Who’s going to be the next Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins or Ruth Ware? Ali Land, that’s who. The trope might be getting tired at this point, but not in the capable hands of Land, whose phenomenal debut novel, Good Me Bad Me, relies on her background as a child and adolescent mental health nurse to very good effect.

The story is narrated by 15-year-old Milly, once known as Annie, who's the daughter of a serial killer. The narration itself is a blend of stream of consciousness that seems to come from directly inside Milly’s brain and a more traditional recounting of events with dialogue tags to orient us in the conversations. It can be confusing to read this style at first, but the unbalanced nature of this narration adds so much to the plot.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Good Me Bad Me...]

Aug 29 2017 10:00am

Review: Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller

Based on a real-life event, Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel Fast Falls the Night takes place in a single 24-hour period, unfurling against the backdrop of a shattering personal revelation that will change Bell’s life forever.

Julia Keller has written a perfectly heartbreaking tale of a small town in West Virginia rocked by an unusually high number of heroin overdoses in a 24-hour period. Some overdoses result in death, but all have an everlasting impact on the people of the town.

If by some miracle this woman lived, she would, Danny knew, be doing this again another night, in another dirty bathroom. Again and again. And so would all the others. Rinse and repeat. It wasn’t worthy of anybody’s grief. Nothing was ever going to change. There was nothing special about any of this, Danny told himself; there was nothing special about this woman, or about this night.

He was wrong.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Fast Falls the Night...]

Aug 17 2017 2:00pm

Review: Best Intentions by Erika Raskin

Best Intentions: A Novel by Erika RaskinBest Intentions by Erika Raskin is a captivating domestic suspense novel that weaves together high-stakes hospital politics, the pressures of family life, and the consequences of trying to do the right thing, particularly in a city with a history as fraught as Richmond's.

Erika Raskin’s sophomore effort, Best Intentions, is a fast-paced, chilling story about family, motherhood, and the failure of a marriage. The novel begins at the end and at the beginning. It’s a first-person narrative told by Marti Trailor, and the first thing we know about her is she’s entangled in a murder trial. The second thing we know about her is that she’s the loving mother of three children and the wife of a successful OB-GYN in Richmond, Virginia. What we don’t know is the full truth, which lies between the two narratives as the story unfolds. We’re going from future to past in one timeline and from past to future in the other. 

It may sound confusing, but it isn’t. As these two stories are told by Marti in parallel, there’s a sense of foreboding because we don’t yet know what happened at the point where these two timelines connect. It’s a beautifully executed plot device that is extremely effective because of the stark contrast between the two. In one timeline, we know Marti has been accused of murder. In the other, she’s a loving mother and frustrated wife. Completely relatable to the core as she constantly worries about the attractive young nurses at her husband’s job, among other things. Marti is an extremely likable character, and I found her humor despite her troubles endearing:

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Best Intentions...]

Aug 2 2017 12:00pm

Review: Love Me to Death by Allison Brennan

Love Me to Death by Allison Brennan is the first novel in the Lucy Kincaid series, which begins six years after Lucy's attack as she struggles with PTSD and pursues a role fighting sexual predators for the FBI.

Allison Brennan, a New York Times bestselling author of many romantic suspense novels, first introduced the world to her character Lucy Kincaid in the third novel of her No Evil Trilogy, Fear No Evil. Though she was just a side character there, Brennan knew that Lucy’s unique story deserved its own telling, and three years later, readers were reunited with Lucy in the first novel of the Lucy Kincaid series, Love Me To Death. Though the events from Fear No Evil irrevocably shape the person Lucy was to become, there’s no need to read that novel before diving into Love Me To Death.

For a police procedural, this particular novel begins Lucy’s journey in an interesting place. Lucy isn’t yet law enforcement, though she’s surrounded by relatives who are either involved in private investigation or the FBI.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Love Me to Death...]

Jul 6 2017 3:30pm

Beyond Reasonable Doubt: “Murder in Vegas” Episode Review

The final episode of Beyond Reasonable Doubt, “Murder in Vegas,” will be airing this Sunday, July 9th at 8 pm ET/PT. Are you ready? Buckle up, because this is yet another thrilling inside look into a high-profile murder case that used a new scientific technique to help solve the case.

This time, we’re in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1995. Detective Phil Ramos of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police tells us about the murder of Ron Rudin, the first high-profile murder case the department had ever seen. He was the detective assigned to the case after a particularly gruesome discovery of charred bones was called in by a hiker out in the Nevada desert.

[Read more about “Murder in Vegas”!]

Jun 29 2017 3:30pm

Beyond Reasonable Doubt: “The Atlanta Bombings” Episode Review

The bombings in Atlanta, GA—starting with the most publicized bombing at Centennial Park during the Summer Olympics—hold a special fascination for me. It might hit closer to home than the average viewer because of how it affected family friends during the manhunt for the bomber. But before I get to that, let’s begin at the beginning.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt’s next episode, “The Atlanta Bombings,” airs Sunday, July 2nd at 8 pm ET/PT. It covers the investigation from beginning to end, detailing how they gathered evidence and developed brand new technology to help capture their suspect.

[Read more about “The Atlanta Bombings”...]

Jun 22 2017 3:30pm

Beyond Reasonable Doubt: “The Murdered Bride” Episode Review

HLN, a channel affiliated with CNN, has released their first acquired produced content (Nutopia) in Beyond Reasonable Doubt, and true crime fans should rejoice at this news! The first three episodes in this six-part series have already aired and are available On Demand. The next episode, “The Murdered Bride,” airs on HLN on June 25th at 8 pm ET/PT, and it’s definitely not too late to start watching.

Each episode in this series is an in-depth look into one high-profile case from the past century that remained unsolved until advances in forensic science and technology shed new light on old evidence. In “The Murdered Bride,” it was advances in DNA profiling that turned things around. The investigators were heading in one direction when the search came to a dead end. Evidence was lacking, and there were no clear suspects in the 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen.

[Learn more about Beyond Reasonable Doubt...]

May 25 2017 3:30pm

Review: Netflix’s True Crime Documentary The Keepers

The story begins with two retired women who come together to try to solve the 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, their former high school teacher. It sounds like the premise of a cute cozy mystery, but this story is anything but cozy. It’s a tale of abuse, pedophilia, cover-ups by the Catholic Church, and forbidden love, as this explosive documentary uncovers layer after layer of secrets across seven episodes.

The first episode introduces us to the facts of the case. It’s a chilling overview of an unsolved murder of a Catholic nun in a small town outside of Baltimore, Maryland. The physical evidence was almost non-existent at the time, and the two women—Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, former classmates at Archbishop Keough High School—attempt to find out what happened to their beloved teacher.

[Who killed Sister Cathy?]