Category Archives: Book Reviews

Where Are The Sales?

I just received the annual report from WordPress with the 2015 statistics for seductivepeach.com. Over the course of the past year, the blog was viewed in 71 countries around the world, a fact that both surprises and delights me. So, as 2015 ends and 2016 begins (I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve), I want to thank everyone for their support and interest in my ramblings and rantings.

Having expressed my thanks, I still want to ask a question to which I probably won’t get an answer. With so many readers in so many countries, how come I sold so few of my two books in 2015?

Zendoscopy is the sometimes hilarious, sometimes wrenching story of Sherman, a somewhat square peg of a kid coming of age in the round hole of his 1950s and ‘60s Southern California world. The book has received excellent reviews (check them out on Amazon.com), and I’ve done book signings and taken ads during the year. Yet, still, very few sales. If you haven’t read (bought!) the book, please consider doing so as we enter 2016. And if you like it, please write a review on Amazon.com or any other online site that accepts reviews. And tell your friends about it, too!

Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe , my other book, was published back in 2004. It, too received favorable reviews but has sold many copies. It’s a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories written over a period of years when, in my former (I’m retired) career as a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, I needed to kill time in the hospital waiting for women in labor to deliver their babies. It’s a fun read if you’re into those genres, and I hope you’ll consider getting a copy in the year to come.

Both books are available in hardcover and e-book formats, so take your choice. You’ll find the hardcover (trade paperback) versions of each on any of many online sites, and the e-book on Amazon.com. I recommend buying from Amazon.com and posting reviews there. Of course, if you live in Southern California and buy the hardcopy version, I’d be glad to autograph it for you.

Finally, the not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy should be ready sometime in 2016. Several of the characters from Zendoscopy appear in the new book, but the story is totally new. If you’d like to find out more about Effie Mae, Larry, Saltzman, and Consuela, you’ll certainly want to pick up the new book when it arrives. I’ll be announcing its title a little later in 2016, so keep watching the blog or check me out on Facebook.

In the meantime, have a safe, happy, and healthy new year, and let’s all hope that in 2016 we’ll begin to see a more peaceful and tolerant world. And that goes for the behavior in Congress, as well!

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Upcoming Zendoscopy Signing

On Saturday, 11/21 from 10 AM to 1 PM , I will be participating in a local authors’ fair at the Peninsula Center branch of the Palos Verdes Library, located at 701 Silver Spur Road, Rolling Hills Estates (main entrance located on Deep Valley Drive).

I will be signing my book, Zendoscopy, so if you don’t have a copy and can stop by, please do so. I’d love to sign a copy for you! Even if you already do have a copy, bring it and I’ll sign it for you.

Here’s the full text of the book’s review by B. Case, a top 500 reviewer for Amazon.com:

5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, warm, and wonderful, December 26, 2014

“Zendoscopy,” by J. Allan Wolf, is a fictional memoir that tries to be both emotionally honest and delightfully hilarious. It succeeds admirably at both. I haven’t enjoyed a work quite like this since I read David Niven’s autobiography, “Moon’s a Balloon” some 42 years ago. That bestseller captured the essence of the famous English actor’s sparkling personality mostly through a collection of outlandish (but narrowly true-to-life) tales. It’s the same with this book. It’s the personality of author that shines through loud and clear out of the pure joy of the reading experience.

“Zendoscopy” defies categorization. I called it a fictional memoir because it reminded me of Niven’s autobiography. But I could just have easily have said that it was a character study, a coming-of-age-novel, or a collection of linked stories. Whatever it is, in summary, it covers the early life of a geeky, insecure, and bright young man named Sherman Alt. The stories start with his birth in a hospital where a plumber’s plunge serves a vital role. It ends with Alt as a medical doctor with a wife, a home, and a major plumbing problem. In between are many stories that help describe what it was like to grow up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The stories cover a broad range from serious to slapstick. It’s a work full of wry humor, ironic circumstances, and somewhat exaggerated tales. Many of the stories have to do with the main character’s adventures and misadventures with the opposite sex.

On a serious note, the book covers the journey of one man toward self-acceptance and the deep psychological reward of a validated life. It’s impressive the way the author pulls off this serious theme from a book that is mostly light and brilliantly funny.

Wolf’s prose is rich and polished. He keeps his readers engaged by focusing almost entirely on action and dialog rather than weighing down any particular piece with too much descriptive prose. Most of his character development takes place through authentic action and dialog. As a result, these secondary characters flash to life off the page.

As for the meaning of the unusual title, “Zendoscopy,” trust that there’s a gratifying explanation at the end of the last story. And, yes, it’s tied together with further revelations about the honorable, rational, and world-loving character of Sherman Alt.

Naturally, the perfect audience for this book would be other bright, geeky men who grew up in the same time period (i.e., Baby Boomers in their mid-60s). But I am sure the many universal themes in this book can resonate nicely with a much broader range of readers. As far as humorous anecdotal story collections go, this book gets an easy five stars in my rating scheme. It’s brilliantly written and had me smiling almost constantly and laughing out loud a number of times.”

   So, plan to attend if you can. If you can’t, you can still get hard copy from Amazon.com or the e-book format for Kindle. The book is also available from multiple other online sellers.

Book Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a difficult book to describe. At least, I find it so, even if other reviewers have not seemed to have any problem characterizing it. Furthermore, the book seems to have polarized reviewers and, I would presume by extension, readers as well. Let me, therefore, state where I come down on it up front: I really enjoyed it, even though I did find it occasionally unfocused and digressive.

So, what is The Night Circus? Well, it’s part fantasy, part romance, part mystery, and a curious mix of adult, and young adult fiction. The story’s main protagonists are two individuals innocently bound into competition with one another, one by his guardian and one by her father, in early childhood. The venue for their competition becomes a circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, but one unlike any conventional circus. The competitors are at the outset unaware of each other’s identity, and the circus, beyond some of its basic physical characteristics, is mostly created, energized, and sustained through the magical abilities of the two competitors. The circus only opens at night, and its movements from venue to venue are not published or advertised. Only certain followers, self-described rêveurs, receive enough information to follow it wherever it goes; the remainder of the public is simply surprised by any local appearance.

To describe specifics of the multifaceted plot would be to spoil much of the fun that’s to be had as the reader becomes progressively more deeply involved in what develops into a complex set of events with many interacting characters.

From the outset, the writing takes on a somewhat mysterious, almost Gothic tone which inconsistently appears throughout the book. Somewhere about three quarters of the way through, the writing takes an unexpectedly and unabashedly romantic turn which I found a bit jarring but, in reality, not altogether inappropriate to the overall tone of the tale. The specific scene in which this occurs never sinks to the level of bodice ripper, but little is left to the imagination during the brief and isolated episode.

Toward the end, I found a chapter or two to be somewhat digressive from the slowly developed but ultimately linear stream of the tale, and it seemed as if perhaps Ms. Morgenstern felt that the story needed some additional padding, although it’s unclear why she should have felt so given the 400 page length of the book and extreme detail in the book’s every scene and set piece.

As an absorbing, escapist read, The Night Circus certainly fills the bill despite its few shortcomings and, as I noted, one or two editing misses. You may find, as did I, that you wonder why you can’t seem to put it down even as you question why you’re spending the time to read it in the first place.

Bottom Line: Worthy escapist fare.

Book Review: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

As far back as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed stories of the supernatural. This, in spite of my firmly established identity as a secular humanist/freethinker/atheist – take your choice of terms, although I think one can parse them quite well and all apply to me. But that’s the subject of some other blog entry I’ll do one of these days. The point now is that I love to read stories of the supernatural.

I should digress for a moment and distinguish “supernatural” from “horror”. In my youth, we often saw considerable overlap between the two. These days, “horror” tends to equate with mass murder, gore, and torture. Frankly, current horror fiction of this type interests me not at all. I don’t mind a bit of it creeping into stories of the supernatural, but chainsaw massacres simply don’t interest me very much.

All of this brings me to the sorts of supernatural stories I like. When I was a kid, I loved an anthology called Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts, written for a youth audience and chock full of, well, ghosts. When my daughters were young, I made an annual event of reading one of the stories in the book to them every Halloween: “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall”, by John Kendrick Bangs. The girls loved the story, which of course had a creepy ghost, but no horror in the vein of, say, Nightmare on Elm Street.

My love of supernatural stories has remained ardent over the years, and when Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, appeared, I devoured it. Later, I hated Stanley Kubrick’s movie, with Jack Nicholson’s hammy performance. Somehow, the movie simply couldn’t compare to the mental images conjured in me by the book.

As King, himself has said, it became almost imperative for him to write a sequel to The Shining, one that told the story of Danny Torrance, the son who possessed the powers described as “the shining”. But the need for King to write the sequel arose from far more than just the need to tell Danny’s story.

As those who’ve read (or seen) The Shining know, Danny and his mother survived the explosion and fire that destroyed the Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep picks up the story with Danny, now going by Dan, as a grown man, still haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook and deeply alcoholic. As King writes the story, one cannot help but get the impression that Dan is a clear reflection of his own alcoholism, and that writing in extensive detail about it offered him a powerful emotional catharsis. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. As the writer of a fictional work, Zendoscopy, myself, I know that certain aspects of my own character and history (the latter used only as the kernel for some of the tales in the book that take off into large scale fictional riffs) are projected into Sherman, the book’s protagonist. I have every reason to believe that King has done the same with Dan. The descriptions of his alcohol abuse cut simply too close to the bone to be other than based upon actual experience.

The story, itself, concerns not only Dan’s entry into recovery, but his involvement with a young adolescent girl, Abra, also possessing the shining. She reaches out to Dan for help when she becomes aware that a group of vampire-like (but different) monsters calling themselves the “True Knot” have captured and murdered a young boy in order to steal his “steam”, an essence the members of the group require to maintain their immortality. The leader of the True Knot becomes aware of Abra’s existence, and becomes fanatically dedicated to capturing her to harvest her “steam”. There is an additional reason that the True Knot needs Abra, but to reveal this here would be to spoil the reader’s fun, so I’ll refrain. Once the basic setup is created, the remainder of the book is devoted to how Dan and a few allies come to Abra’s aid and face the True Knot.

Is Doctor Sleep as good a story and novel as The Shining. I’d rather suggest that it’s a different animal. In The Shining, Dan’s father goes mad in a haunted hotel where he’s been hired as the winter caretaker. There is no haunting in Dr Sleep, and the evil is material rather than strictly supernatural. Somewhat paradoxically, there is much more reliance upon the shining in Doctor Sleep than in The Shining. The sequel also reveals a significant coincidence with respect to a certain family relationship which initially suggested to me that King had “jumped the shark”. With continued reading, however, the coincidence is somewhat explained in terms that allowed me to accept it, but it still seemed somewhat contrived.

All in all, Doctor Sleep is an enjoyable read. Suspend your disbelief, recognize King’s skillful writing style, and have fun. Doctor Sleep won’t change your life, but will entertain you.

Recommendation: A pretty good read, but it won’t change your life.

Book Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

How much do you value your privacy? Not just in public. I mean your private privacy: what you do in your own home, your medical records, your phone conversations. How much of yourself do you share on social networks? Would you be willing to see everything you write in Facebook on billboard next to the San Diego Freeway? Do you care about any of this? Regardless of the degree of your concern, you should probably read The Circle by Dave Eggers. It’s 1984 projected into the cyber-corporate age, and it’s terrifying.

Mae Holland is an attractive young woman, bright but with low self-esteem who, dying on the vine in a going-nowhere job, accepts the help of her best friend, Annie, and is hired to work for a rapidly developing internet services company called “The Circle”. Almost immediately upon her arrival, she proves herself extraordinarily adept and susceptible to the company philosophy and, as we quickly learn, the ultimate goals of The Circle. These goals extend far beyond being a mere internet products and services provider, the company seeking to insinuate itself into just about every aspect of people’s lives.

As Mae drinks glass after glass of the company Kool-Aid, she assumes a greater and greater role in supporting the company mission and even in setting priorities and goals. All of this leads to greater and greater progress toward a terrifying, many tentacled expansion of the company’s reach.

In the past, I’ve read only very few books that sucked me in so completely that I couldn’t stop reading. Uncharacteristically for me, then, toward the end of The Circle I found myself unable to tear away from the description of rapid acceleration toward an ultimately defining crisis. As the book sped toward its climax, I found my heart pounding over the shocking expression of what can happen when all personal boundaries fall, and when there is no escape.

If you are someone who posts personal information on social media, who needs to feel connected all the time, then The Circle should be required reading for you. If, as I am, you’re concerned over increasing invasions of our privacy, then you will find that The Circle only reaffirms your worries over where we’re headed.

If Edward Snowden pried open a door, The Circle blows through it full bore. It may be fiction, but it’s absolutely frightening.

Best Review Yet

As an end of the year surprise, Zendoscopy has received a wonderful review from an Amazon.com top 500 reviewer, B. Case. Here is what she said:

“Zendoscopy,” by J. Allan Wolf, is a fictional memoir that tries to be both emotionally honest and delightfully hilarious. It succeeds admirable at both. I haven’t enjoyed a work quite like this since I read David Niven’s autobiography, “Moon’s a Balloon” some 42 years ago. That bestseller captured the essence of the famous English actor’s sparkling personality mostly through a collection of outlandish (but narrowly true-to-life) tales. It’s the same with this book. It’s the personality of author that shines through loud and clear out of the pure joy of the reading experience.

“Zendoscopy” defies categorization. I called it a fictional memoir because it reminded me of Niven’s autobiography. But I could just have easily have said that it was a character study, a coming-of-age-novel, or a collection of linked stories. Whatever it is, in summary, it covers the early life of a geeky, insecure, and bright young man named Sherman Alt. The stories start with his birth in a hospital where a plumber’s plunge serves a vital role. It ends with Alt as a medical doctor with a wife, a home, and a major plumbing problem. In between are many stories that help describe what it was like to grow up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The stories cover a broad range from serious to slapstick. It’s a work full of wry humor, ironic circumstances, and somewhat exaggerated tales. Many of the stories have to do with the main character’s adventures and misadventures with the opposite sex.

On a serious note, the book covers the journey of one man toward self-acceptance and the deep psychological reward of a validated life. It’s impressive the way the author pulls off this serious theme from a book that is mostly light and brilliantly funny.

Wolf’s prose is rich and polished. He keeps his readers engaged by focusing almost entirely on action and dialog rather than weighing down any particular piece with too much descriptive prose. Most of his character development takes place through authentic action and dialog. As a result, these secondary characters flash to life off the page.

As for the meaning of the unusual title, “Zendoscopy,” trust that there’s a gratifying explanation at the end of the last story. And, yes, it’s tied together with further revelations about the honorable, rational, and world-loving character of Sherman Alt.

Naturally, the perfect audience for this book would be other bright, geeky men who grew up in the same time period (i.e., Baby Boomers in their mid-60s). But I am sure the many universal themes in this book can resonate nicely with a much broader range of readers. As far as humorous anecdotal story collections go, this book gets an easy five stars in my rating scheme. It’s brilliantly written and had me smiling almost constantly and laughing out loud a number of times.

My sincere thanks to B. Case for her kind words. As my regular readers know, one of the recurrent themes of this blog is the difficulty we self-published authors face in getting any recognition and publicity. An endorsement like this one from an Amazon Top 500 reviewer provides the author with a sense of validation and, specifically, is tremendously encouraging for me as I embark upon my next novel.

Happy new year to all, and for all those like me who write for the love of it while still hoping for an audience, keep on writing!

Kick Off the New Year with a Pair of Good Reads

Didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays? How about a book? Or two? Here’s what Kirkus Reviews had to say about Zendoscopy:

In this memoirlike novel, a self-described nerd fond of ham radio and the accordion comes of age in the 1950s and ’60s. This second book by Wolf (Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, 2004) is not exactly a memoir. These loosely connected anecdotes follow Wolf’s narrator, Sherman Alt, through childhood and adolescence in Southern California before he attends medical school in New York City. Readers will easily identify with the trials and tribulations recounted here, from bullies and hideous acne to ballroom dance lessons, a momentous game of spin the bottle and fraternity high jinks. Most notably, readers witness Sherman’s protracted quest to lose his virginity; when he finally achieves his goal, he gets more than he bargained for. While the themes presented here may seem ordinary, the details are vivid and memorable, with amusing descriptions of his romantic, social and medical misadventures. After a long night of white wine and cheese fondue during his travels abroad in Europe, Sherman notes that he proceeded to “barf until my testicles were left dangling from my nostrils.” However, this book isn’t all fun and games, as a more pensive undercurrent runs through the collection. Sherman experiences the early loss of a childhood companion, a strained relationship with his father and the feeling of alienation caused by his avowed atheism, components that are nicely tied together in the final chapter. The prologue and the epilogue, full of tongue-in-cheek wordplay and parenthetical asides and written explicitly in Wolf’s voice, represent perhaps the least effective portions of the text. Wolf maybe felt the need to contextualize his tales by invoking the big picture and pondering theories of the universe’s origin; readers might appreciate the effort and the content but not necessarily the result or style. A respectable batch of entertaining anecdotes, mostly bawdy and occasionally moving, mixed with moments of human connection and philosophical musing.

    And are you fed up to your eyeballs with the environmental arrogance of today’s Republicans? Do you wish that, somehow, you could bypass this period of earth’s degradation by traveling into a pristine future? Then how about checking out “Spacebraid” in Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe?

Either book would make a good read and (in hard copy) look good on your bookshelf. So, get the new year off to a good start with a couple of good books. Both are available in hard copy or on Kindle.