Category Archives: book reviews

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.

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Things that go bump (and gush blood) in the night

A post in which I offer up that rare and elusive thing:  a book review.

DRACULAS

A Novel by Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn (aka JA Konrath), Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson

If you don’t like books with terror and blood and gore and violence and dark irreverent humour and taut seamless writing, this book is not for you. Honestly? It’s not for me either. This will not come as a surprise revelation to regular readers of this blog. I don’t usually read horror fiction. I don’t enjoy being terrorized. I’ve raised two kids to quasi-adulthood — I don’t need more fear in my life or another reason to lie awake in bed at night, worrying.

But when Konrath(Kilborn) said he and three of his writer friends had written a book about vampires, who are usually amusing or sparkly or just plain ridiculous rather than scary — um, vampires that is, not his writer friends — I thought, hey, how bad could it be?

I seriously underestimated these guys.

Easy to do, since I don’t read horror and had never heard of these other people. Um, well sure, of course I’d heard their names. Ahem. Of course I had. But I thought maybe I recognized them from the FBI’s Most Wanted List or something. The awesome cover wasn’t much help, even with proper punctuation added:

“Crouch, Kilborn. DRACULAS! Strand Wilson.”

Turns out they’re all talented writers and the cover copy is a listing of last names and not a cryptic directive to Kilborn about how to survive the vampire apocalypse. Who knew.

But I digress.

One of the reasons I don’t read horror is that my slightly warped writer’s imagination tends to take up where the book leaves off. And then I have nightmares. Well, let me tell you, there’s no worry of that happening here because this book never leaves off.

Others have summarized the plot elsewhere so I won’t do that, but I will say that the resurrection of an ancient skull with the still-potent power to create “draculas” however many centuries later is a unique and brilliant premise. The resultant frenetic replication of the “vampire virus” feels a bit like being caught up in a psychedelic blood-drenched petri dish run amok, but then I suspect horror fiction tends to be like that.

Even so, I was delighted by the brief flashes of humour. I wasn’t expecting that in a horror novel. I’m not familiar enough with it to be sure, but even much of the over-the-top gore felt like a tongue in cheek (or what was left of those body parts) tribute to the genre.

There were some tender moments, like this one:

Mortimer rolled on top of her, like a lover, blood and saliva dripping onto Jenny’s face and neck. She reached up to push him away, but as terror-stricken as she was, Jenny couldn’t bring herself to touch him.

Quite a touching scene. Without actually, you know, touching.

And then there were the balloon animals. So wrong. So horribly hilariously wrong. And that whole kangaroo thing. Words fail me.

The use of multiple point-of-view characters should have made this a confusing read. Instead, it serves to increase the tension, making you worry about which of them will survive. You’ll be surprised by who doesn’t. And who does.

I’m conflicted about how many stars to give this book. I don’t enjoy horror and so I can’t say I “liked” it. But I do appreciate a well-written book that does exactly what it’s supposed to do, even if I plan to never read another horror novel, ever again. DRACULAS delivers on its promise. I’m giving it five rather bloody stars. And I’ll be sleeping with the lights on for a while.

Once it releases on October 19, you can buy DRACULAS here. It’s only $2.99 and hey, what’s a few nights lost sleep.

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