A rewarding tesseract of a novel that doesn’t release its secrets easily.



A sci-fi debut about a boy who’s deathly afraid of water and the family who helps reconstruct his mind after a tragic accident.

Twelve-year-old Minnesota native Cessini Madden is brilliant, much like his father, Daniel, who’s a critical systems engineer. Unfortunately, the child has a condition called aquagenic urticaria, which makes his flesh break out in hives at the touch of water. He doesn’t make friends easily, but his dad, a widower, invites a woman named Robin and her young daughter, Meg, into their lives. As Daniel works in a data center, he allows the two preteens to develop their own projects in adjacent lab space; there, Cessini works to build a robot named Packet. While doing so, he grows increasingly anxious about the lab’s sprinkler system and finally decides to sabotage it—with traumatic results. Later, the mixed family moves to the beautiful Tasmanian island of Hobart. There, Daniel and Robin commence work at a place called DigiSci, and Cessini forces himself to confront his fear of water as dramatically as possible—by scaling a waterfall. The boy meets a tragic end, but author Wolf keeps the exact details secret throughout his fragmented, challenging narrative. When readers first meet the protagonist, for example, he’s an incomplete mind, experiencing a semblance of life via a computer program and believing himself to be the entity called Packet; it turns out that the boy Cessini has been dead for 10 years. Wolf alternates chapters in which Daniel, Robin, and Meg try to bring their loved one back toward humanity with ones in which Packet remembers Cessini’s life. The author steeps the tale in hard science and history, as when Daniel wants to administer an Enhanced Blackwell Inversion Test—a variation on the Turing Test, which attempts to gauge a machine’s similarity to a human. Often, the prose is loftily concise, as when Cessini says, “I want to be a computer. I need to be a human.” Yet a few scenes, including the data-center accident, drag with the weight of excessive detail. Overall, this uniquely structured story will most appeal to fans of dense, hard science fiction, artificial intelligence, and futurist literature.

A rewarding tesseract of a novel that doesn’t release its secrets easily.

Pub Date: March 25, 2015


Page Count: 326

Publisher: BentStrong Books

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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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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