Book Review: Occult Assassin #3: Spirit Breaker by William Massa

Spirit BreakerEach new title in William Massa’s Occult Assassin series expands its supernatural universe in new and exciting ways, without compromising the thrilling action sequences. Former Special Ops soldier Mark Talon uses his “particular set of skills” to terminate those who seek to bring Darkness into the world through occult means.

More and more, though, Talon is forced to take on supernatural menaces head on. When a 9mm round won’t stop the baddie, a demon-slayer blade, blessed Crucifix or even an electro-magnetic ghost-scrambling pulse rifle becomes the weapon of choice.

Damnation Code had a strange, malicious entity that used a cult and computer code to create a monstrous techno-human hybrid. In Apocalypse Soldier it was maniac bikers and demon possession. With Spirit Breaker, Talon goes high-tech ghost hunting to stop a bunch of crazed, skateboarding “Occupy” fanatics, their psychic “ectoplasm battery charging” leader, and a malevolent ghost that refuses to be evicted from an abandoned shopping mall.

The body count of anonymous evil-doers is high, as it should be in this genre, but like zombies, ghosts have a tendency to get back up and keep coming. At roughly 180 pages, Spirit Breaker is a very quick read, and priced accordingly.

When we last saw Talon in Apocalypse Soldier, he was precariously close to burnout. The brutal murder of his fiancee, his abrupt initiation to the war against other-worldly enemies, injuries and exhaustion have taken their toll. Massa gives him barely a chapter to recuperate after taking out a human sacrificing, Santa Muerte worshiping drug dealer, but it does the trick.

In no time at all Talon’s investigation of copycat murders of wealthy people brings him to the eerie condemned mall where the original killer met an untimely death. But sometimes dead things don’t want to stay dead, and the killer ghost is rebuilding an army of cast-offs and misfits who murder others to feed his energy field.

In each book, Talon gains an ally with a specialty. Most of them could return in future adventures, and it would be awesome to see a team-based effort at some point. This time around Talon works with a well-funded psychic investigator who has developed the Spirit Breaker, a combination of body armor, display helmet and the previously mentioned ghost-scrambling rifle. If an earthbound spirit is stuck and wants to move on, she’s ready to help. But if they are malingering spirits, well, let’s just say they’re given a little push into the light.

There’s actually some character development worked in and around the nearly non-stop action. Talon develops a sense of humor. More significantly, Casca, the brains and bankroll behind the Occult Assassin operation, insists on taking part in a mission and immediately falls for the temptation to use blood magic when the chips are down. Talon realizes that his friend, mentor and sponsor might someday cross the line to the dark side and become a target.

I can’t get enough of the Occult Assassin series. Fortunately, William Massa is cranking them out. There are two short story adventures available, and another novella in the works.

Book Review: ‘Desecration’ by J.F. Penn

DesecrationJoanna Penn is an extraordinarily productive entrepreneur, indie-author, blogger, podcaster, public speaker and more. Her effervescent personality manages to be both endearing and encouraging to other writers. Just the kind of person you’d love to have over for tea.

Then there’s the “dark side” of her character. Under the name J.F. Penn, she writes religious thrillers, and has also produced the “London Psychic” trilogy.

Desecration is the first book in the London Psychic trilogy, and it’s amazing. When Penn’s not plucking the reader’s heart strings like a mandolin, she’s grossing us out with medical/surgical gore, white-knuckling suspense, and intense psychological stress.

In other words, Desecration is a great read!

Penn
J.F. Penn

Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke has the most heart-wrenching of all possible back-stories. A single mom working a high stress job at all hours, she attempts to solve a brutal murder case while her beloved teenaged daughter, who suffers from a horrifically debilitating disease, gasps out her last painful breaths in a hospice.

Jamie’s unlikely and occasional ally is a gifted/cursed psychometrist (psychically picks up images from the past when touching objects) who has been traumatized by a childhood filled with verbal, physical and religious abuse. He’s the “London Psychic” of the subtitle, but his role takes a distant second place to Jamie’s nightmarish ordeal.

The book has elements of a police procedural, and Jamie is well aware when she is breaking protocol. It’s just that things become so personal and so out of hand so quickly, she must make extreme choices, and can’t wait for the bureaucracy to catch up. She’s really out on a limb for most of the book, though her partner does provide helpful backup and vital information.

Ultimately, this is a personal quest for Jamie as she faces not just the worst thing imaginable, but also unspeakable, unimaginable horrors related to corpse-stealing, human experimentation, the ongoing legacy of Nazi Dr. Mengele’s atrocities, conspiracies, human sacrifice and more.

If you become squeamish around murky jars of mutated fetal specimens, watch out. It gets much, much worse. I couldn’t pull away. J.F. Penn puts the “gross” in “engrossing.”

Only by facing her darkest fears and deepest pain can Jamie hope to prevail against the perversion of human dignity, the obscenity of death and the nonchalant insanity of evil. We’re rooting for her all the way, and she metes out justice with broad strokes.

The character of the damaged psychic will no doubt be developed more fully in subsequent books.

This is Jamie’s story, through and through. And a thrilling story it is, too.

Book Review: Werewolves of Mass Destruction

Werewolves of Mass DestructionSo I was sitting in Taco Bell munching on a double decker taco, sipping a wild-cherry Pepsi and reading Joshua Unruh‘s Werewolves of Mass Destruction on my Kindle, when suddenly I had an epiphany.

It happened right about the time our hero Ajax Stewart took on a squadron of super-enhanced zombies that were equipped with jetpacks and cannons. Out-gunned and out-numbered, Ajax had nothing to rely on except his superior physique, genius mind, indomitable character and a mysterious bag of tricks.

In that moment I was a kid again, and my inner child was having a party. Sure, I probably shouldn’t be eating and drinking that stuff at my age, and certainly not owning up to it. And for sure I shouldn’t be reading pulpy “trash” like Werewolves of Mass Destruction. I could just hear some adult from my past wailing “It will ROT your BRAIN!”

Too bad. I was having fun. I was happy. Once in awhile, indulging in junk food is good for the soul. It’s even possible to rationalize that at least SOME of the ingredients are healthy, even though they probably aren’t.

Except Werewolves of Mass Destruction isn’t junk. The short story is very, very well written. At around 56 pages and priced at 99 cents (less than the cost of a Hershey bar), it’s action-packed, amazingly inventive action/fantasy with a retro vibe (think Doc Savage mashed up with a grown-up Tom Swift).

The author actually did some homework. Not just to bring a nearly-forgotten pulp genre up to 21st century standards, but in the world-building and the selection of character names. The story is loaded with Easter eggs.

Ajax Stewart rescues perky/plucky blogger Verity Sooth from a fireball-manifesting archdruid and his minions, disrupting their wicker man ceremony. (Incidentally, Burning Man was going on in the Nevada desert at the time of reading, so I’m not the only one with an “over-active imagination”. So there.)

The manly hero immediately tangles with an ax-wielding ogre, and before you can say “Thule Reich,” the duo are tracking down the infamous Nazi mad scientist/wizard Baron Totenkopf.

Cue super-enhanced zombies and jetpacks. The werewolves come later, and are kind of a let down, compared to the mad Baron, who inexplicably doesn’t crave “One Million Dollars,” or even world domination. He’s a maniac nihilist who plans to liquidate humanity altogether.

Yeah, he’s got to be stopped at all costs, and you can bank on Ajax Stewart being the only guy in the world who’s up for the task. With a little assist of course from Verity Sooth, who besides being plucky and perky, is also scrappy.

I’ve heard there’s a trend in fiction, especially blog-based fiction, of serializing stories into a meta-narrative. End a chapter on a cliff-hanger. Change settings and adversaries frequently. And make the action non-stop.

Werewolves of Mass Destruction isn’t a serial, but it could be, except that the transitions between scenes are nearly seamless. If this puppy is ever fleshed out into a full-length novel, that’s how it will be done. In its present form the story is lean, nimble and thrilling adventure/fantasy fiction.

I prefer my delicious, comforting, inexpensive junk food in small portions (no one wants a stomach ache, after all), and Werewolves of Mass Destruction fit the bill perfectly.

Non-Fiction Review: Side Hustle Blueprint: How to Make an Extra $1000 in 30 Days Without Leaving Your Day Job! by Lise Cartwright

I didn’t want to buy this book. I didn’t even want to read this book. I wanted to read the second book in the series: Side Hustle Blueprint: How to Make an Extra $1000 per month Writing eBooks!

Side Hustle BlueprintAfter all, that’s what I want to learn. I don’t need a get-rich-quick “telemarketing from home” or “flipping real estate” type pitch. It’s obvious that traditional publishing is collapsing, so if I want to see any of the books I plan to write get published, I’m going to have to go the indie-author, e-book route.

I get it, and frankly, the idea is exhilarating.

But I learned back in college that sometimes when you want to take an advanced or specialized course, you need the “prerequisite” class first.

Even though I’d already purchased the Kindle version of Writing eBooks, and was primed to jump right in, I went back and purchased the first one. The one with the “too good to be true” title.

I’m so glad I did!

Lise CartwrightLise Cartwright has a friendly “voice,” and makes even the most daunting and terrifying (at least to a creative) tasks required to jump start a side business manageable. For those of us who aren’t natural entrepreneurs, but recognize freelancing and consulting are the future, Without Leaving Your Day Job is the place to begin.

At just around 118 pages (and priced accordingly), Without Leaving Your Day Job is quick, concise, non-threatening and actually fun to read. It’s not intimidating, and doesn’t assume you already know about launching businesses. There are loads of checklists and action plans. The information is summarized at the end of each chapter.

Best of all, Cartwright recognizes that those of us with day jobs need to ease in slowly, continue doing our breadwinning with integrity, but not dink around spinning our wheels and dreaming. The narrative fairly gushes with a spirit of generosity, reassurance, a recognition that more than the tantalizing “thousand a month”, what we really want is a shot at freedom and fulfillment, doing what we love.

Cartwright has actually created a hybrid between a feel-good self-help book and an introduction to creating a home business in the Cloud Age.

That’s the beauty of the book, along with gobs of links to free resources, and the plethora of checklists.

Cartwright guides prospective Side Hustlers along the path of discerning your best idea for a part time business, finding clients, creating a social media presence, pitches and proposals, interviewing, contracts, managing payments, time management, and more. She recognizes that too much information can be overwhelming, and that getting started on the right foot is more important than learning advanced concepts, practices and strategies. Those will come later, once the side hustle is up and running and begins to grow.

This book is a classic case of showing me that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but needed to know.

It’s all good. So now I’m ready for Lise Cartwright’s primer on writing and publishing ebooks!

Review: ‘Occult Assassin,’ action-packed supernatural shoot-em-up by William Massa

William Massa’s haunted hit-man Frank Talon is really coming into his own with his third adventure “Occult Assassin: Apocalypse Soldier.” The former Delta operative has finally acknowledged the presence of objectivelyOccultAssassin demonic evil, but his modus operandi is still to eliminate with extreme prejudice those who choose to ally themselves with dark forces. This time out Talon is tasked with rescuing a formerly possessed damsel in distress from becoming re-possessed, this time seven-fold. There’s a nearly endless supply of nameless, faceless bad guys to take out, but one thing I love about this series is that the hero doesn’t just charge in with guns blazing. He makes plans, has contingency plans, knows when to request backup, and when he pulls the trigger, it’s just one more step in a process. There are scenes of stealth, an extended chase scene, and a siege on a remote desert monastery. Another strong point in this (hopefully) ongoing series is how Talon wrestles with his own demons, even when taking down the minions of others. His primary ally is resourceful as always, and three new characters could certainly show up again in later installments. Occult Assassin has all the elements of a Mack Bolan/Executioner action/adventure, but with a supernatural/horror twist. Can’t wait for the next one!

Check it out at Amazon.

Book Review: ‘On Her Majesty’s Behalf’ by Joseph Nassise

On Her Majesty's BehalfProlific genre writer Joseph Nassise brings the determined and resourceful Major “Madman” Burke back for more pulse-pounding, white-knuckling, military/horror action in “On Her Majesty’s Behalf,” Book 2 in The Great Undead War series.

The novel is available for pre-order in both paperback (HarperCollins Publishers) and Kindle editions, and will be released December 2, 2014.

The thriller takes place in a Steampunk-inspired, war-torn Europe during WWI. The Germans have developed a horrific poison gas that reanimates the dead, transforming them into slow, ravenous zombies called “shamblers.”

Things got a lot worse at the end of the first book, “By the Blood of Heroes,” when a refined corpse gas was released during the bombing of London. The city is now in ruins and infested with roaming bands of faster, smarter, more lethal zombie “shredders.”

A week after the fall of London, Burke and his squad are ordered to infiltrate the ruined city by submarine and extract high-profile survivors. Naturally, things go wrong at every turn, requiring quick thinking, extreme violence and the occasional sacrifice. As the complications and challenges mount and the rescue team suffers losses, Burke must face an even more dangerous enemy, with a heart-wrenchingly familiar face.

The action is non-stop, and there are plenty of cool Steampunk references, involving clockwork mechanisms, quirky weapons and devices, mad scientists, and more.

The reader is treated to a tour of London, albeit now a wasteland, with major scenes occurring at Buckingham Palace, Bedlam Hospital, the British Museum, Tower of London, Kensington Park, and more. Nassise’s descriptions are terse but helpful, giving the reader the lay of the land, and setting up action sequences.

There’s a lot of stealth and fleeing involved, but when his back is against the wall, no one can deliver shock and awe like Major “Madman” Burke, who favors using a Thompson Submachine Gun with a drum magazine.

Other than a couple of notable exceptions, Burke’s squad is mostly forgettable and the losses by attrition are felt primarily as a reduction in crucial firepower. Each is given an ethnic identity and a skill, much like figures in a board or video game. Nevertheless, they stay in the background, for the most part. The “mechanical genius” is reduced to picking locks, and the linguist discovers that shredders just aren’t speaking his, or anyone else’s language. The reader identifies with Burke, all the way.

Several of the supporting characters are well developed, however. Burke’s fighter pilot half brother makes a welcome appearance, and the ruthless undead Baron von Richthofen has a few scenes. Burke’s trench buddy Charlie returns as well, but not in a good way. There’s also a spunky young, trouser-wearing woman to rescue.

There is one scene that is glaringly absent, involving the aftermath of a siege under the British Museum. The consequences of that encounter are best NOT left to the imagination. There’s also a MacGuffin subplot involving the retrieval of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone that seems superfluous.

Even so, the suspense and action, which is the whole point of the series, are non-stop. Burke is continuously surrounded and outnumbered by superior enemy forces. The relentless and remorseless shredders, numbering in the thousands, are faster, stronger, feel no pain or fatigue, and possess more acute senses than the living. Also, they hunt in packs. There are a few late-arriving Nazi-like undead super soldiers, but they don’t seem to be much deadlier than the shredders, except that they are capable of shooting guns and following orders.

At times I felt like I was playing a game like Castle Wolfenstein, moving through various levels and locations, mowing down a horde of hostile enemies, and leading up to the inevitable showdown with the boss.

“On Her Majesty’s Behalf” takes the Great Undead War out of the trenches and into new and hostile territory.

This is a worthy and fully entertaining follow up to the first book, and sets the stage for Book 3.

BOOK REVIEW: The Templar Chronicles Book Five: “Judgment Day” by Joseph Nassise

Judgment Day Nassise

“Judgment Day” is the fifth book in the Templar Chronicles series. These really aren’t “standalone” stories, so you’ll want to start with the first one “The Heretic,” and read them in order.

Once I get hold of one of Nassise’s books, I can’t put it down. The main plot of the series is continuous through the books, though there are side adventures, minor villains and plot complications in each story.

The main story arc concerns Cade Williams, a Commander in the reactivated and well-armed Templar Knights special ops division, tasked by the Vatican with fighting supernatural threats. Except for one earlier character, Williams is unique in that he has supernatural gifts, and a compelling interest in destroying The Adversary, a fallen angel who disfigured Williams and may or may not have killed his wife.

Though the story arc is far from finished, and this fifth book ends with a tantalizing teaser for the sixth, it does have some measure of resolution.

The Templar Chronicles has strong plotting, lots of action, but very few fully-developed characters. “Judgment Day” does continue the welcome development of Cade’s primary ally Sergeant Riley, who really came into his own in Book Four: “Infernal Games.” The character of Cade Williams is driven by tremendous passion and suffering, a mixture of guilt and hunger for revenge, so much so that he nearly loses the reader’s sympathy as he goes along burning bridges, betraying friendships, using people and breaking laws right and left to achieve his end. He is on an all-consuming quest, and the cost to his position, friendships and very soul are the stuff of tragedy.

In “Judgment Day,” many questions are answered, origins are revealed, and The Adversary’s ultimate doomsday plan is exposed. Nassise has been building up for this showdown for the whole series, and he doesn’t disappoint.

One of my earlier complaints was that the Templar Knights, armed with the latest in military hardware, are ill-equipped to fight magical and supernatural beings. I’m reminded of John Carpenter’s “Vampires,” where the team fires countless bullets at the vampires, knowing they’ll have no effect. The Templar Knights are often overwhelmed and outclassed, even against hordes of zombies. Finally, in “Judgment Day,” Williams begins to learn to use his gifts/curse, and arms himself appropriately.

“Judgment Day” is good, solid, urban fantasy/action/horror. Personally, I’d welcome more exploration of the Catholic elements, which remain mostly just a convenient part of the background scenery. I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be clergy of some kind overseeing the Order.

Nassise may not yet be on a par with the likes of Jim Butcher in terms of handling subplots and multiple supporting and minor characters, but Nassise is a talented writer, consistently penning thoroughly entertaining, emotionally charged and engaging action stories. The e-book version of “Judgment Day,” like the others in the series, could have benefited from one more proof, as there are minor but annoying typos in nearly every chapter.

Nassise has also written a couple of short stories that take place in the Templar Chronicles universe that are also well worth reading. He has a couple of other series running, including the Jeremiah Hunt trilogy, and the Great Undead War series.

CLICK HERE for a link to Joseph Nassise’s author page on Amazon.