Monthly Archives: April 2011

SICK, by Brett Battles: a book review

Those of you who know me also know I love a good conspiracy. Wrap one up in a fast-paced action-packed thriller and I’m a goner. Brett Battles has written such a book: SICK. That’s not “sick” as in depraved or gruesome, but sick as in a swiftly spreading and relentlessly lethal flu virus.

I loved this book. I don’t say that often — and not just because very few people care what I think about the books I’ve read — simply because it’s rare for me to discover a book I think deserves unqualified praise. This one does. I stayed up very very late two nights in a row last weekend, reading an advance copy of this ebook. If you love thrillers, I wouldn’t advise starting this one on a night when lack of sleep is going to be an issue the next day.

This is the first book I’ve read from Brett Battles, though I can’t imagine why, as it’s certainly not the first he’s written. I’ll be remedying that oversight in the near future. I love it when I find a terrific new-to-me writer and they have a backlist for me to devour in my spare time. What? You scoff? Yes, I have a wee bit of spare time. Even I need to take an occasional break and just read.

I’m not much for writing reviews and probably I’m going about it all wrong by not detailing the plot [you can read the synopsis (and buy it!) here at Amazon, and the gripping first few lines here at Murderati], but below is the review I’ll be posting at Amazon. As soon as I remember how that all works over there:

Brett Battles’ novel SICK starts with a gut punch to the vulnerability of anyone who has ever loved someone and feared losing them. Then it throws in dark hints of a highly organized conspiracy perpetrated by an apparently well-funded group masquerading as an entity of the government.

Next thing you know, it has wrapped a strong hand around the back of your neck and is whispering harsh and urgent in your ear, “Go. Run. You fail to keep up, you so much as stumble, we all die.” Then it throws you off the edge of a cliff, ratcheting up your paranoia and adrenaline in a race to the finish.

I love it when that happens. Well, in a book anyway.

SICK is an edge of your seat thrill ride with well-developed characters and a compelling storyline, detailed by the workings of a marvelously fertile and wickedly inventive imagination. With SICK, Battles has written one of the best thrillers of the year.

A word of caution to those who like a story where all the threads are wrapped up in a neat pretty package at the end: This book is the first in a series. There are a few things left unresolved here, some questions left unanswered. Which only makes me that much more impatient for the next book, already an auto-buy. Luckily for us (and for him), Battles writes fast.


Filed under book reviews

Drinking games and other stiff shots

I’ve got my head down in what I hope are final edits and it’s possible I might not be posting over here at all lately if it weren’t for that Random Blog Topic Generator Known As Chuck Wendig. If you’re feeling appreciative of these short bursts of creative nonsense, go read his blog. Better still, go buy his new book, Irregular Creatures. I’ve haven’t read it yet but it’s loaded onto my kindle and I have a feeling it’s one of the weirdest and most intriguing compilations of short fiction ever known to man or beast. Just a hunch.

This week’s flash fiction challenge was to write a 500-word story with the title, but not necessarily the topic, being the name of a cocktail:

Tom Collins

“Most of us claimed we never saw it coming, but then most of us were bald-faced liars. We were young and so very full of ourselves, that summer. The summer old Ms. Farley finally went to meet her maker and a new family moved to town, settling into her narrow two-story house as if there were no such things as ghosts. But it wasn’t ghosts killed that boy. It was us.”

The woman paused and focused her rheumy eyes on the eager young man taking notes. “You bring it?”

He nodded and reached down into his backpack. “Wait,” she said, casting a furtive look around the industrial fluorescent-lit common area. “These people are determined we’ll die bored and healthy. Okay, give.”

He did and she tucked the giant-size bag of M&Ms under the blanket covering her lap. She settled into contemplative silence and he prompted her, “Thomas Collins?”

“Tom Collins. Who the hell names their boy after a sweet fruity cocktail? Might as well have called him Mimosa. Tom was different in a way that fit his namesake. Sweet and fruity. We’d never seen the like, so of course we mocked it. Oh, we were cruel, make no mistake.”

“He was gay?”

“I don’t imagine even Tom knew the answer to that, but he might as well have been, far as we were concerned. We judged and convicted him of being ‘different’ and punished him with all the heady righteous certainty of youth. Drunk on our own power, we were, like a beautiful young girl seducing her first married man.”

“You were young–”

“No. Don’t excuse it. You want to tell this story, you tell the truth. We were vicious predators, defending our insecurities. Tom was an easy target, with his awkward manner and coke bottle glasses. We looked at his hesitant limping gait and uncombed hair and two ratty changes of clothing and saw everything we feared. We saw our own potential for vulnerability and we destroyed it. Destroyed him.”

“Police report called it suicide.”

“Report,” she scoffed. “Does the report say how his parents barely spoke English? That they couldn’t afford new clothes or shoes that fit? Does it say anything at all about struggle and sacrifice and suffering? Or does it just list facts?”

The reporter glanced away and back, had no answer.

“Yes, Tom hung himself. But first he took off his shoes. Those are the facts I live with.”

With that, the old woman set her mouth in a hard thin line and turned to look out the window. The interview was at an end.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said as he packed up his notes. “Enjoy your chocolate.”

“Chocolate.” Her tone was impatient, dismissive. “Can’t stand the damned stuff.”

He watched as she maneuvered her wheelchair from the room. If he hadn’t been paying attention, he’d have missed the hand-off to the man with uncombed hair slapping down trembling cards in a disordered game of solitaire at the far table.


Tom Collins Recipe, the posting of which garners mysterious specious bonus points (valid at some future date for merchandise not yet invented)

2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp superfine sugar
3 oz club soda
1 maraschino cherry
1 slice orange
In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine the gin, lemon juice, and sugar. Shake well. Strain into a collins glass almost filled with ice cubes. Add the club soda. Stir and garnish with the cherry and the orange slice.


Note: I don’t like sweet drinks, but even if I did, that episode back in high school involving too much gin and lemonade on an empty stomach in a very short period of time pretty much guar-an-damn-tees I’ll never drink gin again. Ever.


Filed under just for fun