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Hero Is a Four Letter Word

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Good and Evil. Two sides of the same coin? Or something less defined, something more liminal? Entertaining and always thought-provoking, author J.M. Frey offers a collection of remarkable short stories that explore the grey area of the hero/villain dichotomy in this debut short story collection.

Heroes. Villains. Monsters. Fairy Tales. Myths. Legends.

Who is the good guy, who the bad, and who gets to decide which is which? After all, 'hero' is just another four letter word.

200 pages, Paperback

First published September 18, 2013

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About the author

J.M. Frey

28 books145 followers
Frey is an award-winning author and lapsed academic. She spent three years as the entertainment contributor on AMI Radio's Live From Studio 5 morning show, and was an occasional talking head in documentaries and on the SPACE Channel's premier chat show InnerSPACE. She holds a BA in Dramatic Literature and an MA in Communications Culture, and has lectured at conferences and conventions all around the world. Frey is also a professional voice actor, appearing in commercial jingles and animated television shows.

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5 stars
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15 (38%)
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6 (15%)
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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Kris.
9 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2013
One thing I never expected when I started on the path of becoming a published author was how many awesome relative unknowns I would meet. I fully expected to run into a whole gaggle of writers like myself; eager but clumsy and wanting desperately to see our words on paper if nowhere near good enough for that to happen. But those hidden gems, those diamonds that should be held up to the light for everyone to enjoy, that I didn't expect.

J.M. Frey is one of those diamonds and Hero Is A Four Letter Word a shining example of why.

The book is a collection of three of her shorts (stories that is). Two I've already read in previous anthologies, but it was indeed a pleasure to read them again. One of them, Maddening Science, has one of my favorite lines of all time: “Heroes can save the world. But villains can change it, Rachel.”

I still get goosebumps when I read that. It captures the essence of the superhero/villain paradigm with crystal clarity.

The other old tale is The Once and Now-ish King, a look at what would happen if King Arthur were resurrected fully aware in the body of an infant. It is wonderfully daft and fun.

The new story, Another Four Letter Word, is classic J.M. Frey. It has a distinct British flavor over top of a modern Canadian sensibility, both mixed together deliciously. It takes a very classic story archetype and twists it around. I don't want to give away spoilers, so let me just say that you will never look at fairy-tales quite the same after reading it.

Now all three of these stories sound fantastical and out there, but at their core they are all about people. This is what makes J.M. such a jewel and why she needs to be read by more people. The emotions the characters are raw and visceral, like an exposed nerve that someone keeps flicking. They inform and shape the stories as much as the outlandish ideas or classical mythologies that J.M. draws upon. They crackle and spark with anger and humor, with simple joys and complex passions.

J.M. Frey continues to surprise me. With each new story of her's I read I think there's no way she can exceed this, she's hit the top, but then she knocks it out of the park and I sit around stunned at what I just read. Pick up Hero Is A Four Letter Word and found out for yourself.
Profile Image for Devann.
2,433 reviews130 followers
December 26, 2017
I received a free copy of this book from StoryCartel in exchange for an honest review

This was a good short read. And although I think the 'theme' of the collection was maybe stretching it a little bit, I did enjoy all three of the stories so I don't mind so much that to me personally they didn't necessarily fit together. It was nice that they were all in different genres and had different tones though, I hate anthologies where you're basically reading the same thing over and over again so maybe it's really a good thing that they're so out there.

The Once And Now-ish King was a really funny short story about King Arthur being reborn as a baby but with all his memories from his life before. It was funny to see his family try to deal with bringing a talking baby home from the hospital and there were some other interesting twists on thing/people from Arthurian legends.

Just A Four Letter Word was probably my favorite out of the three was a really interesting Tam Lin retelling. I'm a sucker for anything involving faeries so it was right up my alley.

The Maddening Science took me awhile to get into and almost made me lower my rating to 3 stars. All I can say is to read it through til the very end because it doesn't turn out how you think it will. I was all ready to be upset thinking that the author included a ~poor misunderstood villain redemption story~ in this collection because that's like my least favorite trope ever [especially if it's a woman redeeming a man, which it a l w a y s is, ugh] but I actually ended up liking it by the end.
Profile Image for Madelon.
754 reviews10 followers
March 6, 2017
I have had the pleasure of reading the two books available in The Accidental Turn series, by J. M. Frey. An author's long works and short works often tend to be very different. I must say that the three shorter works contained in HERO IS A FOUR LETTER WORD, are true to her very unique voice.

It is difficult to say which of the three I liked best, when all of them have their own singular slant on a legend, a myth and a modern-day super character.

J. M. Frey has made it to my list of 'must read' authors by virtue of her choice of storyline, marvelous use of language, and overall readability. It starts with the first chapter, and then the first page, so that by the time the first chapter glides into the second, I know this is a book that I must finish while savoring every nuance along the way.
Profile Image for Stefania.
276 reviews33 followers
February 27, 2017
Nowadays more then ever, the word "hero" has acquired an infinity of nuances that make it almost impossible to define. There isn't a shining knight saving the princess anymore. It's the era of young boys and girls, complex and predictable antiheroes, daily saviours such as fireman.
This is what this book, composed of three short stories, should be about. And I say should, because I couldn't really find a sort of clear thought regarding this topic. Or, at least, not what I was expecting by reading the plot.

> Short story 1
Set in the modern era, the main character is a baby. Not just one baby, but the reincarnation of King Arthur, who can already think and speak as an adult though being newborn, and remembers his past life. This could already be a reason for my puzzlement even without considering the re-embodiment of Merlin in a 14-year-old girl or the fact that Arthur is convinced that his mission is to win a football match, but this is not the real problem.
My real question is: what's the sense of all this? Which aspect of the alternative meaning of hero is considered? I'm still looking for an answer.

> Short story 2
This time there is the insert of supernatural elements such as Faes and the so called "Fae-touched". I enjoyed better the creepy atmosphere and the mysterious character of Liam, even though at the end I found his attitude rather despicable. If my interpretation is correct, this story analyses some moral issues about the decisions taken by the heroes: is it right to sacrifice some in order to save many?

> Short story 3
The only one set in a city (I suppose) with real and rather stereotypical heroes and villains. The main character, Rachel, is saved by a young man who was one of the most evil villains but was "reeducated". In order to save her life, Oliver is obliged to use some medicines that, if founded by the authority, will make him go to prison because he shouldn't still have them. This is why he decides to confine Rachel in his bunker. Setting and context weren't really clear, but I think that the author wanted to show how society puts indelidible labels on people that won't change even though that same person is not the same.

To sum up, I found the idea depicted in the plot really, really fascinating, but I couldn't find any correspondance in the book itself or just small and indirect hints that didn't show the complexity of the heroic figure.
Profile Image for Logan.
51 reviews15 followers
March 3, 2017
Hero is a Four Letter Word is a quick read (I finished it in two days reading only on my breaks and before work) that gives us a look at a hero, a villain and what I would probably call an anti-hero.
The first story, “The Once and Now-ish King” gives us a look at growing up as Arthur Pendragon in the current world and how his goal of uniting Britain had changed to something a little less life or death than the battlefield. The twist at the end of the story was something that I unfortunately had figured out after a couple of pages of the description, but it had me in stitches with the problems that Arthur went thru.
The second story, ”Just a Four Letter Word,” is a sad tale of love lost and regained thru a being who always seemed to be hanging around in the family photos and portraits, but never in the foreground. The twist came suddenly and left me wanting to read more of this story.
The final story, “The Maddening Science,” is the story of a former villain who had been reformed but finds himself thrust back into the hero versus villain scene following a girl being shot by him. In any other circumstance, it would have been a great love story, but he has to push all that aside and trust his instincts. The story was another one that left me wanting more.
I would definitely recommend this book for a quick read on the train or when you are wanting to kill some time. I hope that each of the second and third stories get a full novel, especially giving more of the villian’s backstory to bring it full circle as to why he did what he did at the end.


Profile Image for Anna Tan.
Author 24 books160 followers
March 11, 2017
Hero Is a Four Letter Word is a pretty short read, consisting of 3 short stories.

The first, The Once and Future King was a cute read, featuring a reborn Arthur Pendragon as a baby.

The second story, Another Four Letter Word was my favourite. It's a retelling of Tam Lin and has echoes of all the things I've ever loved from the Turn Series.

The final story, Maddening Science, felt rather meh in comparison, playing on superhero/supervillain tropes. It's good on its own, I suppose, but after reading the first two, it didn't capture me much.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via Story Cartel
Profile Image for Julie.
65 reviews
March 10, 2017
This collection of three short stories is entertaining and funny. One tells of the return of King Arthur, one focuses on a washed-out supervillain confronting his past, and the other... well, I don't want to spoil the twist, so I'll just say it's not all it appears to be.
Sometimes, it's easy to become over-focused on thrilling sagas and tense epics and forget that fantasy can be fun. These stories are quick, light-hearted reads for those times you just need something different.
I received a free ebook from Story Cartel.
Profile Image for Yoanna.
111 reviews14 followers
March 7, 2017
I got this book in exchange for my honest review.

I did enjoy this little collection. As for each story:

"The Once And Now-ish King". I was... underwhelmed. There wasn't much of a point to it IMO and I kept getting flashes of Family Guy's Dewey (rarely is an association with that show a good thing in my book).

"Just A Four Letter Word" was interesting and well written. It had a lot of story in it and a lot of mythical elements that I appreciated. The MC was lacking at times but my main complaint would be that it felt a little stretched in the middle. All in all, it was a pleasurable read.

Lastly, "The Maddening Science" was my personal favourite. I enjoyed the layers the author had put into it and the internal struggles he'd managed to include in such a short work. The fact that it had superheroes/villains in it might have tipped the balance.
February 22, 2017
"Hero is a Four Letter Word" is a series of three short stories. The first story, "The Once and Now-ish King," is a hilarious twist on what is would be like for King Arthur to be a newborn in today's world.
The second story, "Just a Four Letter Word," is about Tam Lin, a man who centuries ago was cursed by a Fae Queen to live forever in order to produce heirs that she would take from him. However, when he meets Jannet, the next descendant with whom him he will produce heirs with, he finds that she might be his answer to end his curse. The third story, "Maddening Science," is about the reformed villian, the Professor, and his encounter with a women whose mother had him put in jail. He learns that this women, Rachael, has been stalking him and has developed an infatuation with him. As good as it might seem to keep Rachael and form a relationship with her, he realizes he is still a villian and Rachael has no place in his life.
683 reviews9 followers
April 19, 2016
Hero Is a Four-Letter Word is a short collection of short stories on the themes of heroes, villains and superpowers, good and evil, written by J. M. Frey, previously published in other anthologies and now available via Tapas.

These are not your typical hero stories. Each of the five stories collected here is an unusual take on the themes, looking at extraordinary people and our reactions to them in unexpected ways.

Tackling the subject in a humorous vein, Once and Now-ish King features the second coming of Arthur and his knights - but there's some way to go before they are ready to save Albion once more.

Another Four Letter Word, my favourite story in this collection, is a modern re-working of the Tam Lin ballads. Will Jennet of Carterhaugh save Tam Lin once more, or will the Faerie Queen's curse descend on the world?

Maddening Science is a look at what comes after the hero and villain stories are over, when a former supervillain, out of prison and retired, is forced to confront his history in the person of a young woman only he can save.

Two, Three, Four, Five tells the story of a woman worried about her super-powered lover, with a bit of a twist.

On His Bday isn't about superheroes so much as about someone born with a strange and deadly ability, and how he comes to make use of it. Is this the banality of evil, or simply an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift surviving as best he can?

All in all, a delightful group of visions.
Profile Image for Christina Boulard.
199 reviews25 followers
September 16, 2013
HERO is a Four Letter Word is a collection of three short stories.
In the first story--which is the weakest of the three--King Arthur is reborn.
I can't say much without spoiling it, but this one was a bit too weird, even for me. It was amusing, yes...but just a bit too odd and out-there.

The second story was right up my alley, and very familiar.
You ST:TNG fans will remember the episode where Dr. Crusher's Grandmother dies, right?
This story was so similar to that episode...but it had fae! I love me some fae. ;)

The third story was definitely my favourite.
Being a former City of Heroes player--a superhero MMO that shut down just about a year ago now (and that I will miss until the day I die), this one hit close to home.
It's about a former supervillain, who is doing his best to try to live a normal life, who unknowingly meets his stalker and saves her life.

HERO is a short book that makes a great afternoon read. I definitely recommend it to you grownups who enjoy genre or romance.
- See more at: http://justagirlgeek.blogspot.ca/2013...
Profile Image for Corrina.
146 reviews9 followers
April 10, 2014
Read my full review at wadingthroughbooks.wordpress.com!

As usual, Frey runs the full emotional gauntlet from laughter to heartbreak, with stops along the way at bitterness, regret, anger, determination, desire, and absurdity. Fans of rewritten myths and legends, both ancient and modern, will love her twist on feats of derring-do and what the heroes are really thinking behind their posing and finger-wagging at villains and exclamations of “You can’t do that! That’s naughty!”

Heroes are born to be extraordinary. But these heroes are all the more extraordinary because they insist on being Destiny’s partner, not her pawn.
Profile Image for Rei ⭐ [TrulyBooked].
400 reviews25 followers
March 12, 2017
The battle between good and evil is so familiar to us in fiction that we don’t often think to question it. Nobody doubts the evil of an empire garbed in black, or a super villain who looks like the devil and wants to control the world, but if good versus evil is an idea that’s simple and clear, J.M. Frey seeks to muddy the waters. In Hero Is A Four Letter Word, Frey walks the boundary line between hero and villain with three fresh and inventive short stories. Full disclosure, I received a review copy of this short story collection from Story Cartel in return for an unbiased review.

“The Once and Now-ish King” begins when the reincarnated soul of King Arthur realizes that he’s a baby now. Despite having the mind of the adult that he was when he died, he’s trapped in a baby’s body and at the mercy of his parents.

Continuing with mythology, “Just A Four Letter Word” explores the legend of Tam Lin and what happens when fairy tales collide with reality. Jennet lives alone in her family’s house after her father dies and works to convert her family home into an inn as a last ditch attempt to save it. The last thing that Jennet needs is a strange young man sniffing around the woods behind her house who seems to be attracted to her, but the fates have other ideas.

With the onslaught of superhero focused media lately, “The Maddening Science” seems more timely than ever. In order to save the life of a woman who’s been shot, a reformed supervillain will need to commit a crime. Should he just let her die? He could stay free if she died, hidden away from the world that hated him so much, and continue to live his life as he always had. Or he could save her, and turn his life upside down in the process.

I was pleasantly surprised when I finished Hero Is A Four Letter Word. The stories never overstayed their welcome, but their universes were rich enough that I could have read a novel of each story. While I had picked up the novel expecting the battling of villains and the epic struggle of the good against the bad, each story could boil down to defining boundaries and consent.

Where does the boundary lie between duty for one’s family and self-preservation? Does it matter if bad things happen with the best of intentions? If saving yourself means irrevocably changing the life of another, where do you draw the line?

Delighting in the murkiness of the waters that we brave each and every day, J.M. Frey creates worlds where the answer to those questions aren’t necessarily easy or ones that we might agree with. The benefit of distance allows us to make the judgments that we might not be able to otherwise.

Well-written and carefully conceived, these narratives are perfect for both for people who are looking for a good story and who don’t need everything neatly tied into a bow. What should be despicable can seem reasonable and what should feel triumphant can be marred by the knowledge of what came before.

Read more reviews like this at Truly Booked.
Profile Image for Hollyann.
48 reviews12 followers
March 11, 2017
(I received an ebook copy in exchange for an honest review.)

The Once and Now-ish King
An interesting idea, but it isn't really a story. It's bits and pieces of the beginning of baby Arthur's new life, with references to Arthurian mythology, including Mordred and Merlin, but I didn't feel satisfied by the end.

Another Four-Letter Word
This was my favorite of the stories. A fully-developed fantasy short with a nice mystery and a cute romance. I appreciate this story giving Jennet autonomy and self-awareness. Liam doesn't save the day; Jennet is the hero and in her own right, no less.

Maddening Science
I didn't like this one much either. An interesting concept, I suppose, but in stark comparison to the last story, the women are treated very poorly. Rachel is objectified and defined by her youth and youthful defiance. The unnamed superhero is referred to only by sexist epithets. And it wasn't very satisfying, perhaps because of the length. It could have been a much more fleshed-out story, but I was disappointed.
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