The Barter

The Barter by Siobhan Adcock


I could not put down this creepy ghost story. The narrative is split between two mothers, one in the present, and one about 100 years ago (who becomes the ghost). I related so hard to Bridget, the contemporary stay-at-home mom: the subtle competition with her mom friends, the mindlessness and boredom, her fierce protectiveness toward her baby daughter. ‘Mommy wars’ tension seethes underneath every interaction she has with another woman, including her own mother. Rebecca, the turn of the century farm wife, was somewhat stranger. Through the stories of her older relative, Frau, mythical/fairy tale elements enter the story and lead directly to its horror. The title comes from Rebecca’s birth: while in labor, her mother was asked if she would trade an hour of her life, and an hour of her daughter’s, for both their survival. Of course, there’s a catch. Both Rebecca and Bridget have significant marriage problems. Bridget’s are fairly typical: her husband works too much and is never home, they don’t appreciate each other or connect as they used to. I found it harder to relate to the Rebecca’s marriage issues because they’re caused by extreme sexual repression and the husband’s complete refusal to engage in honest discussion. This is the kind of book I’m not sure I’ll be able to get out of my head. The feeling of being stalked and watched in your own house, of your child not being safe–that is real terror.

Publish and Perish

Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror by James Hynes


This volume of three linked stories brings together academic settings and characters with creepy, fantastic events. In the first story, a cat threatens to reveal the affair jeopardizing the marriage of his owners, a pair of young PhDs separated by jobs at different schools. In the second, a disgraced anthropologist investigates a stone circle and participates in an ancient ritual. (This one reminded me somewhat of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”) In the last story, which ties a couple connecting threads to the other two, a young professor gets cursed by a misogynistic old-guard academic who wants to plagiarize her work.

The academic setting creates some great moments of humor. I really enjoyed the chapter titles of Paul’s proposed volume of scholarship and the crazy conference scene. The intellectual pretensions of the characters and the pettiness and obscurity of their scholastic concerns create a fascinating contrast with the life-or-death situations that confront them. In a way, though, the “publish or perish” urgency is exactly what brings out the worst in the bad characters, especially when paired with misogyny. For example, Paul, the philandering husband, is fooling around because his pride is suffering to watch his career flounder while his wife’s takes off. But if anything, the academia depicted here is a lot less cutthroat and savage than reality. No one mentions student loans, for example. And there are characters here who have a chance at tenure before age 30, for God’s sake. What a dream.


Deadline by Mira Grant


Deadline is second in the Newsflesh trilogy, which is about intrepid bloggers uncovering the conspiracy behind the zombie apocalypse. The previous book, Feed, has a sad and shocking ending, which leads to the narrator, Shaun, behaving erratically and suffering from delusions in this novel. The action is nonstop, as Shaun and his crew travel from Oakland to Portland to Memphis and back to Portland, dodging zombies and tornadoes and security forces. Things get bad and then worse, as the Second Rising rages and the information the team exposes endangers them all. A bit of romance is introduced in this sequel. There’s a great twist ending too. I recommend these books for anyone who likes zombies and suspense tinged with humor.


Feed by Mira Grant

Feed is the first of the Newsflesh trilogy, which is about zombies. I like reading horror much more than I like watching it in movies or TV, but David has gotten me hooked on zombies, thanks to Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead. This series is a unique entry in the genre, one that uses well-established tropes but provides a slightly new take on many of them.

This series is set in 2040, years after the first outbreaks. The first outbreaks were caused by scientists trying to cure cancer and the common cold. They succeeded, but the viruses they were using as vaccines interacted with each other, creating a supervirus that caused the dead to reanimate. All the living are carriers of a dormant form of the virus and convert immediately upon death, even if they weren’t bitten. This seems a logical and rational way to explain something totally crazy, right? The science behind these explanations seemed plausible enough, and all of this world-building seemed necessary to make the later action make sense.

Feed isn’t about zombies just shambling around pointlessly: as in all good science fiction, the zombies are just a means of creating more dramatic situations and choices for characters to be faced with. The characters in this case are Georgia and Shaun, a brother/sister blogger team that becomes attached to a political campaign. There are a series of outbreaks on the campaign trail that are revealed to have been caused by sabotage and betrayal. The journalists have a mystery to solve, and though it is fairly obvious that the outbreaks are not accidents and who is responsible for them, it holds attention and does a good job of driving the plot.

The best thing about this book is its portrayal of a passionate journalist devoted to the truth. It shows the election process as something full of intrigue, drama, and even hope. Obviously, the zombie-free nature of real life politics makes it much less interesting, but the book doesn’t glamorize zombies at all. But showing the political process as something that incredibly cool young characters are immersed in, showing policy as consequential and fraught with moral dilemnas, can only be a good thing. I think the book could even inspire young readers to get interested in politics, as well as science.

The relationship between Georgia and Shaun is the book’s core. It’s rare to see such devoted, even passionate brother/sister relationships in fiction. The tragedy that befalls them at the end is moving, and feels both surprising and inevitable.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Deadline!