Book Review: The Occupation of Joe

Book review alert (insert alarm noise and picture a siren flashing)! This one was called The Occupation of Joe by Bill Baynes. It was a short book at only around 115 pages. and I flew through it (read it in one day :)).

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Synopsis: Tokyo, 1945. A Japanese boy too old for his years, a survivor of the American firebombing, dares to cross the wasteland where he saw thousands burn to death, and approach the occupying forces to get food for his family. A young Navy lieutenant, proud of the Allied victory but appalled by the devastation he sees across the city, cares enough to help. As post-war pressures mount between the two cultures, he becomes entangled in the lives of the boy, his infant sister, and his beautiful mother.

I actually read this book in one sitting. The story was very fluent and would switch between the two main characters, Joe and Isamu.

Isamu is a young boy of 12 and he is trying to help his family survive after the Americans firebombed his village by foraging for food and materials to trade. He uses his skills as an actor to fool Joe into giving him some money in exchange for his expertise with the locals in the area.

Joe is the Communication Officer on his ship and his job is to decode messages in Morse code. He takes a liking to the boy and brings him sandwiches to eat each day when he visits inland.

The characters are well rounded and the author makes it very easy to understand the language barrier between the Joe and the boy. They use a lot of hand signals and motions to try and make sense of each other and the author gives a detailed description of what the hand motions are. This really helps the reader picture how they surpass their differences to work together.

It was easy to read and the author kept me entertained enough to finish it on the same day I started it.

SPOILER (Skip this part if you intend to read it)

I can’t believe he just dies in the end. He tries to protect the boy by roughing up the gang that bullied him and gets stabbed so much that he doesn’t even make it back to the ship and ends up dying in the snow. The people even start ransacking his body before he is even dead. And then it is just over. The ending really took me by surprise.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Wars or historical fiction. The author definitely did their research on the subject before writing a story about it.

Book Rating: 4/5

You can find this book on Amazon and Goodreads! Or if you want to talk to the author, check out his website!

Disclaimer: This book was sent to us in physical format to read and give an honest review.


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Book Review: Fred’s Funeral

New book review! This one was called Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day. It was a quick read at only 114 pages but oh so interesting 🙂 The author even sent me a bookmark which was quite a nice little surprise when I opened up the book and it was tucked in there.

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Synopsis: Only at his funeral, does a family come to know a long-neglected and shell-shocked soldier from WWI. Based on a true story. It’s 1986. Fred Sadler has just died of old age. Seventy years after he marched off to WWI.

As his ghost hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home where he’s died, Fred listens in dismay as the arrangement of his funeral falls to his loathed sister-in-law, Viola.

Fred’s ghost follows his family, eavesdropping on his own funeral, and agonizing over his inability to set the record straight.

Did old Uncle Fred really suffer from shell shock? Why did his family lock him away in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Couldn’t they have done more for him?

Fred remembers his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital. But his memories clash with Viola’s version as the family gathers one rainy October night to pay their respects.

This book was fantastic! I loved it. It was so cool to see the perspective of a ghost looking down on his own funeral and know what he was thinking. Poor Fred had such a hard life.

He was in the war and when he got back from the war, he was experiencing PTSD but this wasn’t even a thing yet so everyone called it Shellshock. He was constantly in and out of a home for the mentally ill because no one could diagnose his disorder and just assumed he was crazy. The poor guy eventually gave up on escaping the home and just accepted what everyone was telling him (that he was crazy).

The book went back and forth between the present where the family is all together reminiscing about Fred’s life and the past where Fred’s memories take place. It was set in Ontario, Canada and it was really cool for me as a Canadian because I knew of all the places and locations mentioned in the book. I have swam in Lake Simcoe multiple times so I can relate 🙂

There was one part of the book I was not fond of. It was a little traumatizing, to be honest. They have a kitten that kept showing up on the property and the kids loved playing with it when it was there so the father put it in a box then put a pipe into it and connected the other end of the pipe to the car exhaust to kill the kitten (not in front of the children but still). I realize this may have been something that people did back in the day (its the first time I have encountered it) but I would not be ok with this at any time in my life. All part of the story though, which was a very quick and enjoyable read for me!

I would recommend this book to all the Canadian readers out there. It is a good wholesome Canadian book about the life and struggles of a man who survived the war and dealt with the aftermath as a PTSD victim without being properly diagnosed.

I even put my new Canada mug in the picture that I just got from Indigo because the book had such a Canadian theme!

Book Rating: 4/5

You can find the book on Amazon and Goodreads!

Disclaimer: This book was sent to us by the author in physical format to read and give an honest review.

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Book Review: Booth by Jason Pellegrini

We have a very in-depth review for you guys from an addition to the BreakevenBooks team. Our new reviewer Chris Connors decided to take on Booth by Jason Pellegrini.

Synopsis: At dawn, on the day of his execution, Joseph Bateman finds himself reflecting on his life, one filled with poor decisions and evil people. Even his lifelong best friend played a pivotal role in earning Joseph his seat on death row. A phenomenon occurs as the electricity meant to kill Joseph is sent through him, and his essence is ripped from the body he has known his entire life and thrown into a new one. Only the body he now inhabits isn’t new at all; it is the body of a person who lived over a hundred years before Joseph’s birth. Now living in an unfamiliar era of history and trapped inside a foreign body, Joseph learns he has been sent back for a reason: to earn redemption for his damned soul and to find a sense of peace he has never known. All he needs to do to get there is to prevent one of history’s most infamous murders.

The book blurb captured my imagination right away. Obviously, Joseph William Bateman’s redemption is hinged on stopping John Wilkes Booth—note the initials of both names– from killing Abraham Lincoln, but since Booth did kill Lincoln does this mean Joseph didn’t get redemption? Is there an alternate timeline involved? Was redemption in an unexpected form, maybe a surprise twist? I looked forward to seeing how Pellegrini dealt with this.

The first half of the book starts out with Joseph on death row contemplating how he got there, and the writing in the first few chapters pulls you right into the story.

Murdering one man did not get him to where he was in life (although he’d soon learn he was actually very wrong about that). A long series of unfortunate events had landed him on Death Row. So Joseph Bateman, in the closing hour of his life, chose to reflect.

The small details about his early love for jelly beans (his mother called him Joey Beans), the description of their taste and what jelly beans meant to Joseph are well-crafted, putting you in touch with the child whose imagination helped him escape a bad parental situation by turning the Moon into a giant sweet sugary jellybean that was slowly eaten away only to return anew. Through these chapters, we see how childhood and young adulthood events shaped Joseph’s life and led him to the electric chair.

As Joseph grows older we see him fighting to be nothing like his abusive father, fighting to get away and become his own man, to live happily ever after with his early childhood best friend and later his lover. You feel for Joseph knowing, like Romeo and Juliet, that his dreams will not come true and he is his father’s son, but you still root for him hoping it’ll somehow work out despite him being a few hours from his execution.

It is a great start and whatever Pellegrini did for these first few chapters needs to be applied to the other chapters because the rest of the book seems clunky by comparison. His use of long and short sentences that pull the reader into the story, in the beginning, fades away as the chapters continue; much of the sentence structure is the same type with little variation, and the compelling rhythm is lost.

Subtlety is not put to good use in this book. We’re whacked over the head with the obvious on numerous occasions. Considering Joseph is on death row at the start of the book then foreshadowing his fate with statements like “…just one more step on the path that would lead Joseph to death row” over and over seems a bit of overkill (so to speak).

The descriptions of the abuse his father metes out on his mother are cartoonishly over-the-top. He doesn’t just rape, kick and beat her, but also brings home his gambling buddies to rape her. I worked as a Direct Care Worker for 8 years with youth in the justice system and on the streets and I know these things happen. What makes the book scenario so unbelievable is that 1) the father doesn’t abuse the kids (an abusive man doesn’t make that distinction), and 2) the mother stays with him despite all this.
There are women who will stay with abusive men till she’s killed. However, Joseph’s mom, Emily Bateman, is portrayed as a saint, a good woman, a great mother. You don’t have those qualities and still, put up with such violence and torture for many years. The women who do stay around to be tortured are often so damaged they’re not capable of being good and kind on a long-term or even regular basis.

In this case, I think Pellegrini could have written less while implying more horror without bludgeoning the reader with the abuse. The father could have been given more of a dimensional character to help us see why Emily didn’t leave him. That being said there are still well-written gems popping out in these sections like how Joseph runs out into the yard to find his sister during a particularly horrible beating of their mother; they end up cuddled together in the trunk of an old car comforting one another. Quite
touching, well done.

So Joseph’s reflections– not reminiscences, he tells us (another nice bit of writing detail that makes Joseph a real flesh-and-blood character)—proceed in a chronological order till his execution. The second half of the book deals with Joseph’s death and the transferal of his soul into the late 1800s where he is expected to stop an assassination. I was looking forward to this half of the book.

We meet up with a mysterious figure (the man with eyes) who Joseph has unknowingly met a few times before. This is his guide, called J, a 2,000-year-old soul who betrayed a friend, whose own path to redemption comes from helping others find their redemption (J’s actual name isn’t given, but it’s obvious). Given J’s behavior though I suspect he won’t be finding his own redemption anytime soon. He tells Joseph a few times to watch out for Booth, that Booth will do anything to stop him. However, none of that is true (no spoilers so I can’t elaborate). His early cryptic statements aren’t helpful. He tells Joseph the walls will fall and Joseph will see (I was hoping J would say, “Shaka, when the walls fell; Sokath, his eyes open”, but I guess 2,000-year-old souls don’t keep up with pop culture references).

There’s also a scene where J kills someone by twisting a knife into their stomach and letting them bleed out so the soul can be set free to embark upon a task. Yes, it was necessary, but what happened to a warm bath, a nice bottle of wine, and slitting your wrists? Or a bullet? J will never get redemption if he keeps this up.

This second half of the book is the weakest section. We’re told many times (again) that Joseph is an expert on Booth so knows all of Booth’s movements before and after the assassination. The whole section reads like it was taken from a history book without any fleshing out of characters: he went there, then he saw this, then he did that, next he rode here, he met a doctor, he left a doctor. Bizarrely Joseph re-enacts all of Booth’s movements for the silliest of reasons. If you’re going to change history why not do everything different?

Perhaps a way to improve both sections is to alternate the chapters. Instead of a long chronological recounting of Joseph’s childhood followed by a chronological accounting of his actions in the 1800s, it could be possible to jump back and forth. You end one chapter of Joseph’s childhood wanting to know what happened next, but first you have to read a chapter of him in the past (which when it ends you want to know what happens next, but your next chapter is back to the childhood). It would build and maintain suspense, keep the reader turning pages, make thematic connections between the past and present, and slowly let the story unravel rather than laying everything down in plain sight. It would make us feel we’re traveling between times as the author could add flesh and detail to both worlds.

Fortunately, Pellegrini pulls it back together for the final act. I don’t want to give spoilers, but he delivers an ending and an epilogue worthy of the hopes I had for the book when I first read the blurb. I thought I knew where he was going, and I was partly right, but he still surprised me.

Overall, I liked the concept. It is fairly original. There is some good writing in the book, and an editor would help the author bring that quality writing to the sections that were lacking. I suspect Jason Pellegrini is still on the steep learning curve of writing and will improve immensely with practice. He’s shown he can write well. Now he just needs to do it consistently. I look forward to reading his future books.

Book Rating: 3.75/5

And that is our wonderful review by Chris Connors!

Disclaimer: This book was sent to Breakeven Books by the author Jason Pellegrini for an honest review.