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Three middle-schoolers p0wn the superhero community — if you liked The Incredibles then this book is for you.


Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain

Curiosity Quills Press, 2014, 374 pages




Penelope Akk wants to be a superhero. She's got superhero parents. She's got the ultimate mad science power, filling her life with crazy gadgets even she doesn't understand. She has two super powered best friends. In middle school, the line between good and evil looks clear.

In real life, nothing is that clear. All it takes is one hero's sidekick picking a fight, and Penny and her friends are labeled supervillains. In the process, Penny learns a hard lesson about villainy: She's good at it.

Criminal masterminds, heroes in power armor, bottles of dragon blood, alien war drones, shape shifters and ghosts, no matter what the super powered world throws at her, Penny and her friends come out on top. They have to. If she can keep winning, maybe she can clear her name before her mom and dad find out.


A superhero novel for the true superhero fan. )

Verdict: A fun, light-hearted adventure for anyone who loves superhero comic books, especially those aimed at the younger set. Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain surprised me with how much I liked it; I plan to get the soon-to-be-published sequel as soon as it's out. 9/10.





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Supervillains save the world in a novel that almost achieves comic book scale.


Burn Baby Burn

Self-Published, 2011, 212 pages




Sundancer is a militant radical who channels the heat and light of the sun, capable of melting steel and vaporizing anyone who stands in her way. Pit Geek is seemingly immortal, able to survive any injury, but haunted by fragmented memories. Together, these supervillains launch a crime spree bold enough to threaten the world's economy.

To stop them, the government authorizes a new band of superheroes known as the Covenant to hunt down the menaces. Sundancer and Pit must learn to rely on one another as never before if they're to escape the heroes that hound them. When they finally run out of places to hide, can mankind survive the conflagration when Sundancer unleashes the full force of her solar powers?


Robots and Monkeys make everything better. )

Verdict: Burn Baby Burn is a stand-alone sequel that's better than the first book, and highly recommended for all superhero fans. While the writing remains a bit flat at times, and characterization is sometimes narrated rather than displayed, James Maxey has mastered the superhero genre, and is able to deliver a book that has all the best aspects of both novel and comic book. Aliens, robots, monkeys, and apocalyptic showdowns, and somehow it doesn't fall over into silliness. 8/10.

Also by James Maxey: My review of Nobody Gets the Girl.




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I'm not one of those prudes longing for a pristine, wholesome Golden Age of Comics when superheroes were morally unambiguous and nobody swore or died.

I liked it when superheroes first started getting a more "adult" treatment. Now there are numerous superhero novels. Like 'em or hate 'em, they have made it a distinct if niche sub-genre. Some authors treat the genre and its conventions at face value, others try to be subversive. But it's cool and interesting to explore questions like "What if Superman wasn't so nice?" or "How would the world really deal with superpowered people?"

I do, however, believe that the heart and soul of the superhero genre is heroes being heroic. And villains being villainous. And a generally optimistic tone in which we have reason to believe that Good will eventually triumph over Evil.

It's not terribly realistic, and it's not terribly nuanced, and a lot of people don't like superheroes, or think the whole idea is stupid, for precisely that reason. Fair enough. I don't get the appeal of paranormal romances or steampunk. We all like what we like. But I think what draws fans to the genre is the expectation of tales of heroism.

According to some, superheroes are modern myths retold, and there's some truth to that. But I think they are mostly power fantasies. Specifically, we look at a deeply dysfunctional broken world with mostly insoluble problems, injustice and atrocities that cannot be easily fixed with individual action, and imagine how satisfying it would be if we could just run around punching out bad guys.

Mix it up a bit with some moral dilemmas, the occasional "anti-hero," sure. I was as big a Wolverine fan as anyone, back when he first became the hot new icon that everyone copied and parodied. And while Alan Moore's Watchmen is an ugly, cynical deconstruction in a lot of ways, it's also clever and it respects the conventions it's deliberately breaking. And it was a limited, self-contained story, not an ongoing bloodbath in which all the tropes of superherodom were repeatedly shat upon.

Which brings me to the "Free Comic Book Day" issue of DC's The New 52 Future's End:

Future's End

Basically, the whole issue is a bloodbath in which all the DC heroes are hacked apart and assimilated by some Borg-like Big Bad who's taken over the world. Bruce Wayne, mortally wounded after having his arm graphically chopped off, sends his protege back in time to fix it.

First of all, Marvel has already done this. Repeatedly. It was even made into the most recent X-Men movie.

Once again, DC is trying to capture what has been a winning formula for Marvel without any sense of what makes it winning. Some people did not like the "Days of Future Past" or "Age of Apocalypse" storylines in the old X-Men. They were kind of grimdark. I liked them, but in the 80s and 90s when they were first published, Marvel was experimenting with their most popular and contemporary heroes, and they did, unfortunately, then go through a long dark period of X-Force, X-Factor, X-cetera, and the completely worthless character Cable. I know this legacy is still around, but notice the winning Marvel movies, even Days of Future Past, were "darkness before the dawn," not darkness all the way through.

I assume that DC, also, intends for "Future's End" to end with the heroes victoriously hitting the reset button. But everything I have seen in their new line indicates that they're just kind of clueless about what draws readers to superhero comics.

"Free Comic Book Day" is supposed to attract new readers to the genre. So what the hell makes DC think the best way to do that is by putting Wonder Woman's head on a spike?

New 52 Future's End Cover
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Book three in the zombie apocalypse-superhero mashup.


Ex-Communication

Broadway Books, 2013, 352 pages




"All of us try to cheat death. I was just better prepared to do it than most folks." In the years since the wave of living death swept the globe, St George and his fellow heroes haven't just kept Los Angeles' last humans alive - they've created a real community, a bustling town that's spreading beyond its original walls and swelling with new refugees. But now one of the heroes, perhaps the most powerful among them, seems to be losing his mind. The implacable enemy known as Legion has found terrifying new ways of using zombies as pawns in his attacks. And outside the Mount, something ancient and monstrous is hell-bent on revenge. As Peter Clines weaves these elements together in yet another masterful, shocking climax, St. George, Stealth, Captain Freedom, and the rest of the heroes find that even in a city overrun by millions of ex-humans... there's more than one way to come back from the dead.


And now... wizards and demon lords. )

Verdict: Zombie/Superhero novel should tell you all you need to know. If you like those things, then start with the first book in the series; Ex-Communication is a decent third installment.

Also by Peter Clines: My reviews of Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, and 14.




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A superhero trilogy fizzles into the sunset.


Heroes Lost and Found

Samhain Publishing, 2012, 325 pages




Jo Tanis is still recovering from her near-death experience in Las Vegas when she receives a mysterious postcard from Harris Limox, who claims to have a promising lead on the whereabouts of the Controller. Over her boyfriend/guardian Hunter's objections, she sets off to a sleepy Oregon town to ferret out the truth.

The Controller is more than just a disgruntled super. He's a rogue Guardian who was presumed dead and is now armed with a slew of high-tech hardware that not only makes him physically superior to the supers—and therefore almost impossible to destroy—he's got the ability to detonate the implants in the back of all supers' necks.

In Oregon, Jo meets a surviving Alpha super, Kit Masters, whose wild plan to capture the Controller could put an entire town of innocents at risk. But instead of successfully talking her former idol out of his disastrous bid to regain former glory, Jo finds herself betrayed and trapped in her worst nightmare.

Fight her former teammates, or die.


Melodramatic quirks and trite superhero tropes do not always translate well on the page. )

Verdict: For superhero fans, this trilogy is a moderately entertaining series with a variety of supers and lots of fights, decent characters, mediocre writing, and a good start at worldbuilding, but Heroes Lost and Found is a bit of a flop at the finish. Your enjoyment will depend largely on your love-of-all-things-superhero to dislike-of-romance-masquerading-as-superhero-fiction ratio.

Also by Sheryl Nantus: My reviews of Blaze of Glory and Heroes Without, Monsters Within.




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Contains (a partial list): 1930s noir superheroes, samurai battle armor, magical ninjas, Lovecraftian monsters, and zeppelin pirates


Warbound

Baen, 2013, 448 pages




Only a handful of people in the world know that mankind's magic comes from a living creature, and it is a refugee from another universe. The Power showed up here in the 1850s because it was running from something. Now it is 1933, and the Power's hiding place has been discovered by a killer. It is a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. Earth is next.

Former private eye Jake Sullivan knows the score. The problem is, hardly anyone believes him. The world's most capable Active, Faye Vierra, could back him up, but she is hiding from forces that think she is too dangerous to live. So Jake has put together a ragtag crew of airship pirates and Grimnoir knights - and set out on a suicide mission to stop the predator before it is too late.


It is what it is, and it's kind of awesome. )

Verdict: This book is cheesy big guns blazing noir superhero action, and I loved it. The author is doing nothing more and nothing less than entertaining his audience. Is it deep? Is it literary? Is it a classic of the genre? No. But would I read another Grimnoir series? Absolutely.

Also by Larry Correia: My reviews of Hard Magic and Spellbound.




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In the second book in the Grimnoir Chronicles, the U.S. government is the enemy and the author gets his digs in on FDR.


Spellbound

Baen, 2011, 448 pages




Dark fantasy goes hardboiled in Book II of the hard-hitting Grimnoir Chronicles by the New York Times best-selling creator of Monster Hunter International. The Grimnoir Society’s mission is to protect people with magic, and they’ve done so—successfully and in secret—since the mysterious arrival of the Power in the 1850s, but when a magical assassin makes an attempt on the life of President Franklin Roosevelt, the crime is pinned on the Grimnoir. The knights must become fugitives while they attempt to discover who framed them. Things go from bad to worse when Jake Sullivan, former P.I. and knight of the Grimnoir, receives a telephone call from a dead man—a man he helped kill. Turns out the Power jumped universes because it was fleeing from a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. That predator has just landed on Earth.


Correia's allegories are none too subtle, nor is his writing, but this is still damn entertaining. )

Verdict: An entertaining action adventure with pulp sci-fi robots and evil super-powered samurai against hard-boiled American wizard-superheroes. This is not a deep series, but it's much more entertaining than all that alt-Victoriana steampunk crap.

Also by Larry Correia: My review of Hard Magic.




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Captain America The Winter Soldier

Captain America was never my favorite Marvel hero, but he is an archetype, and there is something endearing about a guy who still runs around wearing a flag. Still, he hasn't aged well. He's an eternal Boy Scout, like Superman (who also used to be much more blatantly pro-America), and his costume is almost as embarrassing as Wonder Woman's.

In the comics, that is. In the movies, damned if they didn't manage to pull off just the right combination of earnest, sincere heroism and bad-assitude. Cap looks like a soldier, acts like a soldier, and being frozen since the 40s, manages to act like a man out of time while being savvy and smart enough to do his best to catch up. The first Captain America was my second favorite among all the recent Marvel movies, just behind The Avengers and narrowly edging out Iron Man and Thor. I like heroes who are genuinely heroic without being saps (something several Superman movies have failed to pull off). And yeah, I like harkening back to an era when you could be patriotic without ambivalence.

So anyway, The Winter Soldier did not disappoint. Although the true identity of the main villain should have surprised no one over the age of 10, and there were some rather silly Tropish moments that didn't execute as well on film as they do in comics (seriously, the Villanous Monologue where the super-smart evil genius tells you all his plans before he gon' blow you up, 'cause that always works? Or packing an elevator with a bunch of thugs to beat up Captain fucking America, because yeah, that will totally work too), it was gloriously full of city-razing special effects and high-speed superhuman martial arts smackdowns, and a plot no more silly than anything else based on a comic book. It's not a character-redefining movie, nor did it have the genius and the humor of The Avengers, but it was satisfying, and it managed to keep Captain America believably heroic without either ignoring or denying his essential Americanness.

That said, one cannot help noticing how very global the movie is, heroes and villains alike. This is the post-9/11 era, and it's hard to pull off unironic patriotism, especially of the "America, fuck yeah!" variety. Especially when foreign box office makes up so much of a movie's receipts. Hence while Captain America is still Captain America, he really doesn't talk a lot about America per se, except in a rather wistful past tense. S.H.I.E.L.D. is apparently an international organization (despite pretty much every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent we've seen being an American) taking its orders from the "World Security Council."

I enjoyed Winter Soldier quite a bit, and am happy that they've been able to update Cap (as well as a few other B-listers).

Cap and the Falcon

Batroc

I did catch the namedropping of Stephen Strange, though, which makes me wonder when Dr. Strange will get his own movie?
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Hard-boiled magical superheroes vs. the Japanese Imperium's war-dirigibles in an alternate 1933.


Hard Magic

Baen, 2011, 423 pages




Jake Sullivan is a licensed private eye with a seriously hardboiled attitude. He also possesses raw magical talent and the ability to make objects in his vicinity light as a feather or as heavy as depleted uranium, all with a magical thought. It's no wonder the G-men turn to Jake when they need someone to go after a suspected killer who has been knocking off banks in a magic-enhanced crime spree.

Problems arise when Jake discovers the bad girl behind the robberies is an old friend, and he happens to know her magic is just as powerful as his. And the Feds have plunged Jake into a secret battle between powerful cartels of magic-users - a cartel whose ruthless leaders have decided that Jake is far too dangerous to live.


Mislabeled! This ain't urban fantasy and it ain't steampunk, but it's hella fun. )

Verdict: Larry Correia is obviously a big dorky aficionado of guns, B-movies, superheroes, and "America fuck yeah!" politics. He's packed Hard Magic full of enough tropes to power an alternate Marvel Universe, and yes, I could tell he was thinking in movie frames when he wrote his action scenes. Don't be misled by the title or the cover: Hard Magic is more "pulp-era X-Men vs. a Japanese Magneto" than it is urban fantasy, noir, or steampunk. There's world-saving to be done, and this is the first start of a series I've read in a while that really makes me want to read the next book.




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Man of Steel

Well, this was not the worst Superman movie ever, but it was not the best.

First of all, I don't know why every superhero has to be "rebooted," origin story and all, every 10-20 years. We all know the Superman story. I'd rather see a movie that does something interesting with him, with the assumption that we all know who he is and what he does, than yet another iteration of death-of-Krypton, donning-the-cape, etc. I mean, James Bond didn't need to be rebooted for almost 50 years. Nobody needs James Bond explained in the first hour of the movie before you get to the plot.

So anyway, in this version, they play up Superman's loneliness and alienation from his adopted planet. They kill Pa Kent in a sequence I found particularly hard to believe (I'm sorry, Clark would never let someone die, especially not his father, to protect his secret identity!), and then General Zod arrives from the Phantom Zone to wreak a huge special effects budget on Earth.

Holy crap, Amy Adams is a lousy actress. Lois Lane almost seemed to be reading from cue cards. And chemistry? Forget about it.

The action sequences were impressive, though I thought the visuals borrowed too much from Alien and Independence Day. I can't recall many other movies with such blatant product placement, though, including the U.S. military.

The ending also annoyed me. Okay, you want to break over 60 years of Superman tradition by having him kill the bad guy? You should at least respect the canon and show it to be something more wrenching than his angst over being the last Kryptonian.

I understand there is a Superman-Wonder Woman movie in the works. I await it with mixed feelings - it might be good, but it has the potential to be very, very bad.
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Not everyone can be Dr. Doom. Or even the Crimson Dynamo.


Confessions of a D-List Supervillain

CreateSpace (self-published), 2011, 164 pages




"Being a supervillain means never having to say you’re sorry - unless it’s to the judge or the parole board. Even then, you don’t really have to. It’s not like it’s going to change the outcome or anything." Those are the words of Calvin Matthew Stringel, better known as Mechani-Cal. He’s a down-on-his-luck armored villain. Follow his exploits as he gets swept up in a world domination scheme gone wrong and ends up working for these weak willed, mercy loving heroes. Immerse yourself in epic battles and see what it’s like to be an outsider looking in at a world that few have ever experienced. Climb into Cal’s battlesuit and join him on his journey. Will he avoid selling out his principles for a paycheck and a pardon? Can he resist the camaraderie of being on a super team? Does he fall prey to the ample charms of the beautiful Olympian Aphrodite? How will he survive the jealous schemes of Ultraweapon, who wears armor so powerful it makes Cal’s look like a museum piece?

See the world of “righteous do-gooders” through the eyes of someone who doesn’t particularly care for them. Revel in his sarcasm and hang on for one wild ride! Just remember: losing an argument with a group of rioters isn’t a good excuse to start lobbing tear gas indiscriminately at them. You’ve only got so many rounds and it’s going to be a long day, so make sure you get as many as possible with each one.


A non-Gary Stu wish-fulfillment fantasy. )

Verdict: Self-published. Superhero novel. I have not always had success with that combination. But this one works. It's short, action-packed, true to the genre, and strikes the right balance of humor and sincerity. Confessions of a D-List Supervillain is nothing new or brilliant, but it's fun for those who like superhero novels.




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Thor: The Dark World

Actually saw this in the theater. I think I liked it better than the first movie, which was a surprise. It's rather remarkable how well Marvel has done pulling B- and C-list villains out of its archives as movie Big Bads.

Best parts: Loki's banter, and London getting trashed. (Why does it always have to be New York?)

Worst parts: No way do I buy Natalie Portman as a PhD astrophysicist. And if you keep slapping gods, sweetie, sooner or later one of them is going to slap you back. Also, there seems to be a biiiig unexplained plot hole at the end, which I guess will be addressed in the next movie?

Wait for the very, very end of the credits - the audience that waited for the first easter egg and left missed the second.
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Superheroes are the bad guys in Brandon Sanderson's rewrite of Mistborn.


Steelheart

Delacorte, 2013, 384 pages




Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed.

And he wants revenge.


Brandon Sanderson writes entertaining Brandon Sanderson fanfic. )

Verdict: Steelheart was a fun read. Brandon Sanderson doing superheroes will appeal to you if you like superheroes and/or Brandon Sanderson and are willing to overlook the limitations of both. It is not his best work, nor is it his worst, and likewise it's neither the best nor the worst superhero novel I've ever read (I have read quite a few).

Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, and The Way of Kings.




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A girly YA romance pretending to be a superhero novel.


One

Createspace/self-published, 2013, ~ 76,000 words




When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak. It makes you a One. Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly - too bad all she can do is hover. If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub's research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances. Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they're not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they're busy falling for each other. Merrin's mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub's internship short list, but as she gets closer to the life she always wanted, she discovers that the Hub's purpose is more sinister than it has always seemed. Now it's up to her to decide if it's more important to fly solo, or to save everything - and everyone - she loves.


I was willing to give a self-published superhero novel a chance, but I got kissy-kissy-woo-woo. )

Verdict: For a self-published novel, One is not bad. It's not great, but I've read worse that was professionally published, so if the cover appeals to you, it's worth a few bucks. Be aware, however, that the cover is telling you exactly what you're going to get: a floaty girl in a YA romance. I wanted a superhero novel, and this is as much a superhero novel as Twilight is a vampire novel.




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Nobody is a hero. Nobody gets the girl. Nobody saves the world.


Nobody Gets the Girl

Phobos Books, 2003, 244 pages




Richard Rogers was an ordinary man until the super-genius Dr. Nicolas Knowbokov built his time machine. On the machine's maiden voyage, Dr. Knowbokov accidentally changes history so that Richard is never born. Now trapped in a world that has no memory of him, Richard is an invisible, intangible ghost to everyone but Dr. Knowbokov and the scientist's two superheroine daughters, Rail Blade and the Thrill.

Assigned the codename Nobody, Richard becomes the world's ultimate spy, invisibly battling the super-powered terrorist army run by the mysterious mastermind Rex Monday. The fate of the free world is at stake as the superhuman battles escalate, wiping entire cities from the map, threatening the survival of all mankind.

Who can save us from the looming apocalypse? Nobody!


Gleefully rolling in superhero tropes. Three parts awesome, one part flat. )

Verdict: You can't ask much more from a superhero story than that it be fun and not terribly, terribly stupid. Nobody Gets the Girl is fun and (for the genre) fairly intelligent. The writing will not blow you away, but any superhero fan should find it enjoyable, and I liked it enough to put the sequel on my TBR list, even though it looks like the next book is a self-published effort.




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An alt-history in which demons and supermen threaten Mutually Assured Destruction.


The Coldest War

Tor, 2012, 352 pages




Someone is killing Britain's warlocks.

Twenty-two years after the Second World War, a precarious balance of power maintains the peace between Great Britain and the USSR. For decades, the warlocks have been all that stand between the British Empire and the Soviet Union-- a vast domain stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the English Channel. But now each death is another blow to Britain's security.

Meanwhile, a brother and sister escape from a top-secret research facility deep behind the Iron Curtain. Once subjects of a twisted Nazi experiment to imbue ordinary humans with extraordinary abilities, then prisoners of war in the vast Soviet effort to reverse engineer the Nazi technology, they head for England.

Because that's where former spy Raybould Marsh lives. And Gretel, the mad seer, has plans for him.

As Marsh is drawn back into the world of Milkweed, he discovers that Britain's darkest acts didn't end with the war. And as he strives to protect Queen and country, he's forced to confront his own willingness to accept victory at any cost.


The sequel to Bitter Seeds fast-forwards from World War II to the Cold War. )

Verdict: A great sequel, and a book that makes me eager to finish the trilogy. Mixing superpowers, magic, and alternate history in a very grim world of 1963, The Coldest War is a fast-paced bombshell of an adventure not afraid to threaten to destroy the world.

Also by Ian Tregillis: My review of Bitter Seeds.




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Canadian superheroes engaged in rampant hijinks in Vegas.


Heroes Without, Monsters Within

Samhain Publishing, 2012, approx. 80,000 words.




Fight alone, die alone.

Blaze of Glory, Book 2

In the weeks since Jo “Surf” Tanis and her rough-and-tumble band of super-powered actors broke free of the government-sponsored superhero show, they’re all still dealing with the aftershock of adjusting to this thing called reality.

It doesn’t get much more real than a mission to dig survivors out of what’s left of Erie, PA, after a mysterious earthquake. A trembler that powerful is as out of place as Jo feels as the de-facto leader of the troupe. Not to mention the soul-shaking feelings she has for Hunter, a team member whose past as an Agency Guardian casts a heavy shadow over any possible relationship.

It seems one of the supers, an earth-warper named Ground Pounder, has gone rogue, using his freedom from the Agency’s brand of virtual slavery to put the “villain” back in supervillain. Failure to find him before any more innocent bystanders are hurt means the team could be back under the Agency’s thumb.

It’s a burden that doesn’t rest easy on Jo’s shoulders...especially when the man who’s invaded her heart is caught in the crossfire.


Sexxytimes and superheroes... a slightly uneven romp straddling silly and SRS BZNSS. )

Verdict: Heroes Without, Monsters Within is nothing more than what it pretends to be, which is a light-hearted fan-friendly romp. For superhero fans, this is a fun book, particularly if you like a side of romance. If superheroes aren't your thing, then you may not be able to read past the essentially silly premise enough to enjoy the story. Sheryl Nantus is not wicked clever nor a lyrical wordsmith, but I find her to be a very readable author, and frankly better than a lot of writers with much bigger books from much bigger publishers.

Also by Sheryl Nantus: My review of Blaze of Glory.




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