Audiobook Review: <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i>, Read by Kenneth Branagh Audiobook Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Read by Kenneth Branagh Danielle Prielipp Read Danielle Prielipp's review! Review: <i>Stealing Ghosts</i> by Lance Charnes Review: Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes David Cranmer Read David Cranmer's review! <i>Killin Pace</i>: Excerpt Killin Pace: Excerpt Douglas Schofield A high-octane, heart-pounding tale set in Everglades City, Florida, and Sicily, Italy. Review: <i>A Season to Lie</i> by Emily Littlejohn Review: A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn Amber Keller Read Amber Keller's review!
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Showing posts by: Ardi Alspach click to see Ardi Alspach's profile
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?]

May 15 2017 12:00pm

Review: HBO’s True Crime Documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest

If you’re looking for a quick bit of interesting true crime and don’t have time for the long docuseries that have become popular lately, look no further that HBO’s newest, Mommy Dead and Dearest, premiering tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

This new documentary focuses on the relationship between Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blancharde and the controversial psychological condition of Munchausen by proxy syndrome that led to Dee Dee’s murder.

On June 15, 2015, Dee Dee Blancharde was found murdered in her home in Springfield, Missouri, with no clues about who could have committed such a horrible crime. Worse yet, her wheelchair-bound daughter, Gypsy Rose, was missing. Shortly after the grisly discovery, a Facebook post on Dee Dee and Gypsy’s shared profile stating, “That Bitch is dead,” led investigators to Wisconsin where they found Gypsy living with her boyfriend, Nick Godejohn. What was most astonishing to the investigators, and to friends and family of the Blanchardes, is that Gypsy could walk without a problem.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Mommy Dead and Dearest...]

Apr 24 2017 12:00pm

Review: Ararat by Christopher Golden

Ararat by Christopher Golden is the heart-pounding tale of an adventure that goes wrong—on a biblical scale.

Personally, I can’t think of a more interesting mystery than an historical one—unsolved mysteries from our past tantalize as historians, scholars, scientists, and writers dig for clues and come up with plausible scenarios for what might have happened—and I think Biblical mysteries, most of all, are incredibly interesting. It’s where science and faith intersect for a common goal: to prove the existence of God. Chistopher Golden’s latest novel, Ararat, delves into the mystery of Noah’s Ark and puts a thrilling, and at times horrific, twist on the myth.

Adam and Meryam are an adventurous couple engaged to be married when they get word from their Turkish mountain friend, Feyiz, that an avalanche has uncovered a geologically impossible cave on Mount Ararat. Although scholars agree that the references to the “mountains of Ararat” in the Bible are not referring to the Ararat we know today, it has still been long speculated that this mountain in far eastern Turkey is the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.

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

Apr 20 2017 1:00pm

Review: Incendiary by Michael Cannell

Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell follows a serial bomber who stalked the streets of 1950s New York and details the race to catch him that would give birth to a new science called criminal profiling (available April 25, 2017).

The concept of criminal profiling is not new to those of us who read crime fiction or watch TV shows such as Law & Order and Criminal Minds, but I’m willing to bet that the landmark case that ushered forth criminal profiling as a new method of crime-solving is relatively unknown. Even more startling, given the ubiquity of the method, is how new it is. It wasn’t until 1956 that a psychiatrist provided the first “reverse psychology” profile using a combination of intuition and Freudian concepts that helped police pinpoint the suspect of a string of bombings after all other clues failed them.

In 1956, Elvis Presley was topping the charts, Eisenhower was President of the United States, Mickey Mantle was playing baseball for the New York Yankees, Nelson Mandela was arrested in South Africa, and my own mother had her first birthday. In the grand scheme of things, criminal profiling hasn’t been around that long. And it’s hard to imagine where we’d be today without it.

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

Apr 15 2017 12:00pm

Review: Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is a riveting psychological thriller and a haunting exploration of the fierce love between two sisters, the distortions of grief, and the terrifying power of the past. It is nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is up for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and what a well-deserved nomination indeed. Others have compared this novel to the wildly popular Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, and while there are some similarities—most particularly the unreliable narrator trope—its unique style of writing, which both obscures and reveals, creates its own path that sets it above others in an increasingly crowded field of psychological thrillers.

Our narrator Nora begins her story—told in close, first person present—by taking the train from London into the countryside to visit her sister, Rachel. Upon entering the house, however, she discovers the brutally murdered bodies of her sister and her sister’s dog. The imagery, some of the first we see in this novel, is disturbing and haunts both Nora and the reader throughout the rest of the book.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Under the Harrow...]

Mar 21 2017 12:00pm

Review: Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love is an astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman who combines the genius and ferocity of Lisbeth Salander with the ruthless ambition of Walter White.

Melissa Scrivner Love has written an absolutely remarkable and completely unforgettable heroine in Lola, the titular character of Love’s debut thriller. It should come as no surprise—given Love’s accomplishments in screenwriting for television shows like Life, CSI: Miami, and Person of Interest—that this novel is well-paced, expertly plotted, and cinematic in scope. There is nothing predictable here, as Lola fights for a place in the male-dominated gang culture of South Central LA.

There are only five living members of the Crenshaw Six, a new gang fighting for territory and respect. Pretty soon, they’ve caught the eye of a major drug cartel and are tasked with stealing from a rival cartel in order to prove their worth. We discover that Garcia, the gang’s supposed leader, is a front for the real leader of the Six—Lola. She’s a smart, inventive woman who has figured out how to lead a gang and gain respect for them not by using brute force, but by using cunning and men’s assumptions about a woman’s place in this society. She can go more places, hear more things, and spy on her rivals because they all have made the mistake of underestimating her. It’s brilliant.

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

Mar 16 2017 12:00pm

Q&A with Lyndsay Faye, Author of The Whole Art of Detection

Lyndsay Faye is the author of five critically acclaimed books: Dust and Shadow, about Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper; The Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel; Seven for a Secret; The Fatal Flame; and Jane Steele. Her latest work is a collection of short stories called The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, out this month.

[Read the full Q&A below!]