Not Your Backup

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

Once again I am a million and a half years late to the game. I blame it all on library school. This was such a refreshing read after slogging through long text books. The writing was once again fast paced and something I enjoy from this author. I went into this book not quite sure about how it would be to see the relationship from a different side after Bell's book. It ended up being well done and not feeling very odd to me at all. I enjoyed seeing everyone from Emma's point of view. All in all i really enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next one in the series.
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I've been a fan of the Sidekick Squad since the first book, so getting to read this third part was exciting! 

Following Emma this time, the book focuses mainly on her relationship with Bells and not having powers and being in the Squad/Resistance. I appreciate having a book with an ace protagonist, I think it was great how they dealt with it and how Emma questions it. It's amazing, and I'm glad this book exists because it's a much needed thing.
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It's hard not to love this series more and more with each installment, but here we are. It's fast paced, its funny and just a feel good series. And what made this book so special to me was Emma, who I was excited to follow after learning she was ace. And as an a-spec reader, it felt SO GOOD seeing ace rep done well and the aromantic representation?? Specifically the questioning rep?? Felt so personal to me. The conversations she had about it and the message that "you're valid" just, hit me differently.
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This book was light, easy and fun - a good read for middle grade readers. But a good pick up for adults as well. it explores its themes very well and I enjoyed reading this.
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If you’ve been following my blog for a couple years you know how much I adore THE SIDEKICK SQUAD, I started up loving Not you Sidekick and then fell more in love with this series through Bells’ perspective in Not your Villain. So imagine my delight when I got accepted to be part of the blog tour for Not you Backup, the next installment I’ve been eagerly waiting on for the past two years, especially since we discover at the end of the second book that Emma, the main character in this one, is aroace questioning.

The writing is simple (in a good way), flows very smoothly and matches the fun but still serious tone of the book perfectly, just like with its predecessors. Although I must say that with each book, I’ve loved Lee’s writing a bit more, so this one was my favourite in that aspect. Not your Backup picks up right after the events of Not your Villain with Emma & our superheros regrouping in a safe house and trying to get as many people to join the resistance as they can, from Emma’s perspective of course, and what makes her different is that whereas our two previous protagonists have powers, Emma is absolutely and completely normal.

And…I loved that. It was really refreshing to see that even without having any extraordinary abilities, Emma was irreplaceable for the team. This books shows that anyone can make a change if only they put their mind to it. Emma is a born leader, strong, fierce, outspoken and not afraid to take charge and tell people who needs to do what, and make them listen to her without them feeling like she’s bossing them around. Like any good leader really. In the past two books, we see Emma as this super popular, confident and bubbly latinx girl who is smart, charismatic, flirty and can make friends easily. But in this book that’s all about her, we see that there’s more to her than what meets the eye, a whole other side of her that is mostly inside her brain. She’s a perfectionist who’s quite hard on herself and absolutely hates failure. But what makes up a non negligible part of this book is the fact that she’s aroace questioning.

And as an aromantic spectrum person, I found that exploration incredibly well done. Granted, I haven’t read many books with aromantic representation, but out of the few I’ve read, this one was the closest to my own experiences and thought processes. Not a perfect match, but the questioning part was spot on. I saw so much of the girl I was a couple years ago in Emma, the girl who didn’t really feel comfortable in romantic relationships, like an ill fitting jacket (a comparison made in the book as well), the girl who wondered more than once if anything was wrong with her because I just couldn’t make myself stay feel comfortable and stay long in relationships because they became at some point things I dreaded.

I’m getting a bit personal but all of this to say that Emma was, in many ways, me. And I will forever cherish this book for that. I cannot speak on the ace representation but it was handled in the same ways the aro rep was so I’m assuming it’s great as well. Because it not only allowed Emma to explore her feelings and orientation, it also made space for people across the aroace spectrum to feel seen and welcome through a conversation Emma has with Bells’ brother, the gist of which was that no matter where you are in the spectrum you’re valid.

Now I want to talk about the one thing that bugged me about the book, and that unfortunately made it my least favourite in the series (still pretty good though, OKAY? READ THE SERIES!). It’s the fact that this very much felt like a filler book. It had a good start and a phenomenal ending but the middle of it just…dragged for me, and not much happened through it. Which is understandable because Emma is kind if shut out but that doesn’t make for the most entertaining reading material, especially with how fast paced the two previous installments were, it was quite a drastic change. There was a lot of waiting around, driving long distances and trying to get people to agree on a plan in this book.

That being said, the discussions on socio-political issues were better than ever. I know I was just complaining but I really liked seeing the Resistance grow and gain more ground even while they struggle and hit some road blocks. I loved the continuing discussion on good vs evil that started in Not Your Villain. And I also loved seeing how easily governments can twist the truth, or hide, or manipulating to fit their agenda and still look innocent to the public eye. Because that’s kinda terrifying and happening in quite a few places around the world as we speak, and how even though a majority pick up on that manipulation, not everyone does and those people who keep believing in corrupt people in power can stir trouble.

We didn’t see much of the other characters since they were separated more often than not, besides Bells. Who’s forever the national treasure he was set up to be in the previous book. He loves and supports Emma so unconditionally and just wants her to be happy and safe and AAAHHH! He’s so amazing. Still my favourite character in the series. I also want to mention something, without wanting to be presumptuous, Abby, who was the love interest in Not you Sidekick and will be the main character in Not you Hero (the 4th book) seems to be going through a manic episode. The word in never used as no one really knows what going on with her, but all the signs are there and I’m fairly curious to how that will play out and be handled in the book that’s all about her.

This series is so so good and so so diverse and rich and timely while still being fun, funny and quick to read, and on the lighter sci-fi side. So I’d recommend anyone who’s looking for that to read it. And I honestly cannot wait to continue on with it ESPECIALLY WITH HOW THIS ONE ENDED!!
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Another great entry in the Sidekick Squad series. With the odds stacked against our heroes, they still fight for what's right.
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Really liked this book! It's a nice, light read. It's not only great for middle school readers but for older readers too
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This entire series is a gift, and this third volume hits close to home for me, as it is the first time I have seen characters discuss queerplatonic relationships. With the background of superpower shenanigans and everlasting friendship, the protagonist leads her heart and her Resistance the best she can.
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Really enjoyable and easy read, great for middle school, nice to see diversity in younger books. I loved how fast paced it was,.
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Great continuation of a great series. Love the characters and the conflicts. The  inclusionary nature of the characters throughout this series is refreshing and this author was doing that before anyone else. Kudos!
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IN SUMMARY: A solid improvement over the other SIDEKICK SQUAD books, NOT YOUR BACKUP details Emma Robledo's antics as a ordinary human in an extraordinary world. A diverse, fun, and vibrant novel.


Emma is a compelling narrator. I enjoyed her voice, her thoughts, her arc. Everything. I may be biased given I identify on the a-spectrum myself, but her questioning in regards to her identity is done thoroughly and with care, so I'm glad that it was just the fact that Emma wasn't given enough space to elaborate on her identity was the sole cause of the iffy ace/aro rep of NOT YOUR VILLAIN.

It was also nice to see the relationships between Emma and the other characters expanded, despite Jess and Abby being absent for most of this adventure. I particularly liked Emma and Bells exploring their relationship/ romance with one another. It ended nicely as well, tying into Emma's internal character development.

Being an ARC, I can't comment on minor mistakes that will (hopefully) be fixed by publishing, but I can comment on the strange OTT style of the writing. In NOT YOUR SIDEKICK and NOT YOUR VILLAIN, it seemed like the prose was janky and incoherent at times, but now it's too much, too nit-picky about everything. There's a constant repetition of Emma's name when a simple she will do, for example.

That said, a huge improvement from the first two books overall. It's almost like they read my reviews and took on board everything I said, lol.

It wasn't without it's flaws, however. As usual, some things just happen to go the right way for our intrepid hero Emma. She gets imprisoned by a bad guy in this one, right? Good thing her door guard is so incompetent he'll forget he left Emma's dinner tray behind so she can knock him out with it! They're surrounded by evil robots? Good thing Abby just happens to have an EMP in her pocket! Lost in a snowy wasteland searching for a person no one else has found in a hundred years? Good thing Emma stumbles across her almost immediately!

I just wanted to roll my eyes. Victories aren't earned if they're just handed to the protagonist. There is no struggles or smarts coming into play to overcome the obstacle.

WILL I READ ON? Yes! I'm hyped for NOT YOUR HERO next year! Also, calling it: the cover is a shade of blue.
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5 reasons why I love the Sidekick Squad series

The political system

I’m always a sucker for a good political system in a book/series, but if a book has a corrupt political systems and people have to overthrow it I’m there for it all the way. I know we’ve had a lot of this in the The Hunger Games and The Divergent days, but I can truly never get enough of it, because there’s so many ways you can go with it, and The Sidekick Squad definitely has a unique approach.

The way that it involved the superheroes and villains, the league… I was HOOKED. 

The characters

The characters in the Not Your Sidekick series are all my babies. They’re so wonderful and I love being able to spend some time in their head, and then seeing them from another character’s POV in another book. I just… I’m trying to find words to describe how much or even why I love them so much but I don’t think I have words that do them justice. I just love them. A whole lot.

The relationships

The romantic relationships in this series are extremely cute and will leave you swooning for days, but something that I especially love are the friendships. I love a good friendship group, and the sidekick squad is definitely that. They’re extremely supportive, loving, have a lot of fun together, and truly want the best for each other and are constantly looking out for each other. They’re like a little found family, which is my favorite trope of all time so of course I loved this, too.

The unapologetic queerness

Jess from Not Your Sidekick is bisexual, Bells from Not Your Villain is a trans guy, and Emma from Not Your Backup is aroace. Besides this, there are lots of other side characters who are queer, and in this world it’s the most normal thing ever, which made me so happy. Every time someone casually mentioned “my wife” or “my dads” my heart soared a little.

And besides the fact that I love how subtle but out there some of the queerness is, I also love how the representation of the queerness of the main characters is handled. I can’t speak on Bell’s representation, but I absolutely loved the bi rep in Not Your Sidekick, and the aroace rep in Nor Your Backup is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s nuanced, and it’s one of the first books I’ve read that acknowledges that sexual and romantic attraction are separate things, and also mentions queerplatonic relationships!

The world

Besides the fact that the world is incredibly queer, there’s many other things to love about it! The world is set in the future and all of the little technological advances are fascinating, I loved reading about the new cities and the unmaintained areas (especially in Not Your Backup, when they were roadtripping through huge parts of it and came across old abandoned towns) and I especially love the idea of the (this might be a spoiler, oops) illegal underground farming.
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This series has some of the best diversity and representation I’ve ever read, but unfortunately, this was my least favorite installment. I just felt like the plot was all over the place - particularly in the last third,
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Absolutely loved this book! It has queer rep for ace/questioning aro and I related to Emma so much in terms of her sexuality. And like I adore the Sidekick Squad. They're all fun and amazing and strong and passionate. I love how Emma doesn't let the fact that she doesn't have powers like her friends put her down, because she's still amazing and badass and an extraordinary leader and strategist. 

The pacing of this book at times was a little slow, but all the fun banter and the sweet moments between Emma and her friends was worth it. The crew is finally getting somewhere with the resistance and I love how far the story has progressed from the first book, especially finding out some things that were left unanswered in the first two books.

I can't wait for the next book, it'll be in Abby's point of view, which I definitely interested in reading about. She's been acting a little different in Not Your Backup and I'm interested in possibly finding out why.
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Among other things, the Sidekick Squad series delves into the question of what makes one a hero. Emma’s story provides a fresh perspective because unlike the previous protagonists and POV characters in the series, Jess and Bells, Emma does not have meta-human superpowers. Despite attempts by others to keep her on the sidelines and in the background, Emma is determined to do as much as she can to contribute to the Resistance and be a leader in her own right. The obstacles she faces both external and internal in striving toward this goal create a compelling, character-driven narrative.

For me, Not Your Backup strikes a great balance between bigger picture conflict and themes and the personal, individual story of a character who at the end of the day is just a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world and in the web of relationships surrounding her. The larger-than-life aspects of the story are grounded by Emma’s very human struggles with perfectionism, self-confidence, negotiation of agency in an environment where she has less power, and sorting out what she wants from her interpersonal relationships, particularly her new role as Bells’ girlfriend.

To comment more on that last bit: Emma is specifically questioning her place on the asexual and aromantic spectrums and the implications of her relationship with Bells and how it has changed now that they are dating. As an aroace-spec reader, I found the depictions of her struggles relatable and affirming and was particularly excited to see the word “queerplatonic” used explicitly in the text. I think one of the best things about Not Your Backup is that it provided Emma with a supportive environment to question and explore her feelings of/about attraction. The author is careful with not reinforcing notions of a-spec people as a monolith but rather highlighting the diversity of experiences in the community. Moreover, consent and boundaries are respected at every turn in Emma’s relationship with Bells, something that is so important and sadly not as prominent/normalized in YA as it should be.

To summarize, Not Your Backup is a book that I wish teen me had, not only because Emma’s perfectionism is so relatable but also because it likely would have helped teen me realize I was on the aroace spectrum and made me feel less alone and broken for not experiencing attraction the same way other people did.
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Content Warnings for review: discusses internalized aro spec and ace spec antagonism

Note: I'm reviewing this in conjunction with Purple day for #PrideLibrary19. This book was part of my #PrideLibrary19 TBR and I'm reviewing it on Purple day because it has a gorgeous purple cover! Here is my other Purple day post.

Not Your Backup is the third installment in a queer YA superhero series that I adore, and I think it might be my favorite. It has a lovely aroace questioning arc that runs parallel to the resist the corrupt government arc, and resolves to a queerplatonic relationship with the person who started out as the MC's boyfriend. It's about friendship, identity, finding your place in activist movement, and it's such a hopeful book to have right now in 2019. 

Unlike book 2, this starts where the last book left off and doesn't repeat anything from the prior book from Emma's POV. Instead, we begin with an action sequence, where the Resistance is on a mission that Emma planned. This is a great way to introduce the characters, and as someone who has not yet finished book 2, I didn't feel like I was missing much at all. It does spoil book 1 and 2, so it's probably best to read them in order, but I do think that if that doesn't bother you, its fairly simple to pick up what's going on without that context. 

This centers Emma, who is not a meta-human (superhero), and her struggles to find a place within the resistance movement, both with her peers who are metahumans and also among metahuman adults. It shows her grappling with the fact that her talents lend themselves to planning and being in charge, while most metahuman adults think she has no place in the movement and some take her ideas and present them as their own. It's such a perfect thing for a YA to be grappling with, especially in this historical moment, and I thought her arc around this was very well done. I especially appreciated watching her engage with the adults in the longstanding underground movement, and how she makes some mistakes that are pretty classic for newer activists in the process. Emma is not perfect, she's also inexperienced, and she has limits to her capacity, all of which frustrate her to no end. What resonated the most for me as a reader thinking about my own self as teen was the way it was so hard to get adults to listen to her and take her seriously. I know some readers were frustrated by the way the story had less action than the other books in some ways, because of this aspect of Emma's reality, but I actually thought it worked really well, and was an important story to tell. I was engaged enough that I got frustrated with her at all the ways she was left out of things.

My favorite part of the story, however, was Emma slowly exploring aro spec and ace spec identity, as she tried to figure herself out and decide what she wanted her relationship with Bells to be. I loved that he was supportive of her taking her time to figure it out, and I especially appreciated that she had someone else who was on the aro and ace spectrums to talk it over with. I liked that all of this exploration took place within a society that was generally accepting of ace spec and aro spec identities, that these things were part of school curriculum and general knowledge. It was such a relief to get to imagine that kind of world, and to witness Emma's moments of internalized aro spec and ace spec antagonism from that context. As someone who myself has recently had a lengthy slow questioning around my own ace spec and aro spec identities, I really loved that Emma had all this support and wasn't rushed through things. Her questioning process resonated a lot for me, and I especially appreciated that it was taking place while she was dating someone, and that he was supportive, as I know that this kind of questioning while in a relationship can feel fraught and loaded. I was so happy to see that the relationship resolves to a queerplatonic one; it made me really happy to see that named on the page and spelled out super clearly. 

It was really refreshing to read a story from the POV of a character who was dating a trans teen boy, where his transness was literally not an issue at all. As a trans reader, it felt really good to read that kind of incidental representation. It made me want to circle back and finish Not Your Villain (which I paused in reading for my own reasons, not because of the book), so I am adding it back to my TBR. I am also really looking forward to reading the next installment in the series; there is clearly more story here before the series arc is resolved, and I'm excited for it.

This book left me feeling hopeful in so many ways, and I'm so glad I read it this week. These books are really great, and I am so grateful that they exist. I cannot even describe how much it would have meant to me to read this series--and especially this book--as a teenager. (I didn't really learn about ace spec and aro spec identities until I was in my 40s!)


Latinx aroace questioning teen girl MC.
Black trans teen boy secondary character.
Chinese-Vietnamese biracial bisexual girl secondary character.
Queer girl secondary character with trauma.
Chinese-Vietnamese biracial bisexual woman author.
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)

Hand to hand fighting. Kidnapping. Car crash. Involuntary drugging. Off page minor character death. Explosions. Natural disaster. Fire. References to non-consensual medical testing and procedures. Internalized queer antagonism as part of an ace spec and aro spec questioning arc. Characters have trauma from events in prior books; one of the secondary characters is dealing with substantial trauma symptoms.


Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
I have had some contact with the author on Twitter.
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I loved the diversity and the banter between the characters. Emma, especially, was my favorite and I could see a lot of myself in her. The plot did drag on for quite a bit, which is why I DNFed it when I was halfway through. I do think that I will check out the earlier books in this series, though.
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actual rating: 3.5

As with the second book in this series, I just felt that this book moved a little bit slower than I would have liked [although at least here we don't spend a third of the book doing a recap, which I why I rounded up instead of down]. I guess I just feel like the characters should have made more progress at this point [something that Emma and I seem to have in common], but I suppose it kind of makes sense for the first three books to take their time a bit more and focus on the POV characters over plot development. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty that is happening here, but I am kind of wondering where it's all going and how long the whole series will be. I did absolutely love the frank discussion of Emma being aro/ace and all the different ways she could adapt that label though. I am aro/ace myself and you very rarely see characters in fiction that are both [most seem to just be ace], so it always makes me happy to see such a cool character that uses that label.
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Ever since I heard about an ongoing young adult series that's unapologetically diverse—that featured superheroes being the villains of the story—I knew that this would be some of the most beloved books I'd come across. After reading and loving the first two novels and seeing a chance of being able to promote the third and get to read it in advance, I all but rushed to sign up for CW's blog tour.  

In C.B. Lee's latest addition to the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Backup, the story centers around Emma Robledo, the only one in their group who doesn't have any superpowers. She doesn't have Jess' keen sense of direction, or Bells' ability to shapeshift, but she's every bit of a formidable fighter as they are. Perhaps even more.

Not Your Backup picks up after the events of Not Your Villain, where the rest of the real heroes of the story regroup in a safe house while trying to gather more people to their cause. 

Surprisingly, this book took the longest in the series for me to actually want to pick up. I felt hesitant to read it because Emma's characterization felt flat for me in the other books—she really did feel like a backup—but after seeing the title for this, I knew I had to get my hands on NYB. Fortunately for me, it threw all my expectations in the water and gave me a glimpse of the world of the Sidekick Squad from the point of view of a character who did not have any sort of power, in addition to her complexity. C.B. Lee's writing is the best it's ever been, and the world-building showed in Not Your Backup places an emphasis on that.  

The writing is so beautifully simple. It's easy and fast to read, and it flows really smoothly, while still matching the fun and light-hearted tone of the book even as it tackles heavy topics like Emma's sexuality (aroace questioning!!!!!!!) and her feeling of being inadequate to the team just because she has no powers. Not Your Backup showed that even without any superpowers or special abilities, Emma was still irreplaceable for the team. She's determined, passionate and fierce, and having no powers did not change any of that for her. 

I can't say much about how well the rep was done, but the fact that so many reviewers who are aromantic have said that it was close to their own experiences. This is the first book I've read with aroace representation, and I certainly hope it won't be the last. There is a special scene in the book where Emma talks with Bells' brother, about being confused with her sexuality, and while bits of the conversation sounded like it was picked up from a dictionary, I can't deny that it wasn't a well-written scene. As a reader, it was easy for me to see the effort that the author took to make readers across the whole spectrum welcome. Not Your Backup is a novel full of adventure, excitement, EXPLOSIONS, betrayals and especially soft moments with each character. It's filled with character-driven moments that can make your heart clench. 

I think the only issue (not that big of a deal, honestly) is the fact that the middle part just dragged. Not much happened (which really makes sense because our narrator wasn't welcomed and was intentionally being left out) which made her a less entertaining narrator to me as a reader. There was a lot of action, yes, but it pales in comparison to what occurred in Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain. That being said, the political and social spheres of this book were better than ever, and I feel so so so blessed to have a book like this exist the same time I'm living.

The whole Sidekick Squad series is an amazing gift to the universe. It's about a group of diverse individuals, all driven in their own way, working to fight a corrupt government. What more could you ask for?
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Not Your Backup is the third book in the Sidekick Squad series and it is honestly probably my favorite of them all.

Not Your Backup CoverEmma Robledo has a few more responsibilities that the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front. (Goodreads)


I received an eARC of Not Your Backup courtesy of The Quiet Pond’s book tour in exchange for an honest review.
Not Your Backup need trigger warnings for internal shame about asexual and aromantic questioning, science-fiction violence, government tracking and discussion of non-consensual medical experiments.

I listened to the first two books on audio, which I highly recommend. When I heard that Lee was getting into aromantic and asexual rep, I knew I needed to get in on the ground floor for this one. And wow, did she do a super job. (Pun intended. You’re welcome.)

Not Your Backup is a much quieter novel than Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain, despite the fact that it is still action packed. It’s all about Emma Robledo figuring out who she is, where she belongs in the resistance, and in her own skin. She doesn’t have superpowers at all, but she is a brilliant strategist. However, many of the older folks in this novel don’t take her seriously because she has no powers.

This, along with struggling to understand and categorize her relationship with her best friend and boyfriend Bells, leads to a lot of internal struggle for Emma while they’re trying to save the world from an evil government.

Speaking of the aromantic and asexual representation, can I just say I absolutely loved how it was handled? The practice of having someone else who identifies similarly on the page talk to our main character and helping her figure it out? I loved it so much. It’s something that we get to see a lot with other queer characters, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it for ace folks.

I can’t wait for Not Your Hero, even though I know it’ll be a long time coming. In the meantime, you need to pick up a copy of Not Your Backup as soon as you can. You can do that through Amazon, Indiebound or The Book Depository.
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