A promising but unrealized dystopian tale.



A speculative novel tells the story of a man and his unrequited crush who become survivors of an apocalyptic event.

Twenty-seven-year-old Chucho lives with his Uncle Rodrigo in Miami. Just a few months ago, Chucho was making good money writing for a fetish-porn website, but since it was shut down, he’s been forced to serve as a busboy at a local Brazilian steakhouse. He spends his shifts ogling the hostess, Shiraz Zirel, who will not give him the time of day. He’s just about given up hope that they will ever be together when, suddenly, everyone else disappears. Literally: “I woke up around 11 am on a Sunday, and the world was gone. Uncle Rodrigo was gone. My neighbors were gone. The streets were empty with cars strewn about in the middle of roads and in backyards.” Chucho explores the city, but can’t find another living soul. Then he goes to the restaurant to pick up his final check and finds none other than Shiraz: the girl of his dreams and the last woman in Miami. As it turns out, they’re not terribly compatible. After a lot of bickering, they decide to follow some mysterious blue lights in the sky down the coast, driving all the way to Key West. They’re just starting to get along when they run into another person and, oddly enough, it’s someone they know: Benito, a server from the steakhouse whom Shiraz used to hook up with. The information he has is even more astounding. The lights they have been seeing belong to a damaged flying saucer. But Chucho may not be able to fully trust Benito—or Shiraz—because both of them have a few secrets hidden in their pasts. Zablah’s (Ciao! Miami, 2006) prose is frequently lyrical, particularly his colorful descriptions of Chucho’s world. “At some point early on my parents turned into a radiant blur,” the protagonist reflects early in the tale, “kind of like a falling star your eyes are trying to focus in on while taking an evening hike in the Everglades. And the older I got, the more they faded.” But the dialogue is less endearing, as the three characters frequently engage in inane conversations overladen with distracting profanity and—in the case of the men—misogynistic language. Chucho is supposed to be 27, but his outlook on sex and relationships seems more akin to that of a 17-year-old. The novel is told in three parts, one each from the perspectives of Chucho, Shiraz, and Benito, and as the point of view shifts, new and illuminating information is provided. Even so, a great deal of material is repeated, and the story’s momentum stalls significantly when the narrator changes from Chucho to Shiraz. The book shows a lot of potential—the writing is sound, the setting is intriguing, and the author manages to make this familiar premise seem fresh. Unfortunately, the plot really breaks down at a certain point and never gets moving again.

A promising but unrealized dystopian tale.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014


Page Count: 222

Publisher: Tiny TOE Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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