Book Review – ‘Castor’ by Shaun Young

An excellent premise, action packed, but lacked a little something.

Castor Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 230

From Goodreads:

James Fisher’s memories of Earth are distant, replaced by the harsh realities of life on the planet Castor. As a “Half-Adapt,” James is one of many who were biologically engineered to survive conditions on Castor—and to labor for the benefit of the ruling class. Indentured to servitude, James has no way to defy or escape the severe caste system… until he meets Vidal Centa, his master’s nephew. The draw they feel toward each other is instant, powerful, and maybe even enough to move beyond the unyielding regulations of their society.


But not everyone blindly accepts the absolute power of the oligarchy. The Independence Society fights for freedom and equality, and since James shares in their ideals, he joins their ranks. Soon he’s faced with an impossible decision: continue the fight against the oppressors or choose the love of the young man who embodies everything the Society loathes. With a looming conflict threatening to tear the planet apart, James fears he cannot continue to fight if he wants to keep his relationship with Vidal.

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The concept of ‘Castor’ stood out to me most of all – colonising a new planet, refugees terraforming a poisonous atmosphere; and a protagonist coming to grips with his past, a revolution, and his attraction to another man. It had all the elements to make ‘Castor’ a momentous read. But sadly it fell short of a few of these marks.

I really enjoyed the characterisation of the protagonist James, though found the backward politics of Castor to be counter-intuitive for an evolved society. But it worked in giving a population of mostly blue collar men, adapted or half adapted to the toxic atmosphere, where it was all male bravado and hard yakka. It also helped to establish a class system on the planet. So the world building was heavily supported, intricate and logical. I do think it was missing all those elements of science fiction though. Bits of technology, a more prominent role of the gene tampering that was going on, the terraform process, and colonising of the planet. It was there, but only in a small dose. This story was more focused on James and the revolution against the dominate powers in charge.

Castor Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleSo while I applaud the structure and tone of the novel, the writing style felt a bit dry. There didn’t feel like there was enough angst between James and his love interest Vidal. There romantic interaction were few and brief on the discussion of emotion. I felt a little cheated out of the romance part of this story. Especially given the odds these two were facing – so much potential tension wasted. The writing style was all very masculine – brief, to the point, and full of action.

A lot of action. Things getting blown up, chase scenes, murders, subterfuge. The mechanics of this part of the story line were brilliant, and in my opinion, the saving grace of ‘Castor.’ The cast were believable and felt realistic. Castor is a hard place to live. I think a more emotional aspect of James’ building relationship would have balanced out all of the difficulty the pair of boys was facing.

So too with the description of the landscape – while I could imagine it fairly well, I don’t think Young spent enough time painting a picture of the environment. His writing style would be perfect of a terrestrial modern day thriller or adventure story, but in science fiction, you need to spend a bit more time world building – because everything is new and unfamiliar to the reader. Especially in an off-planet environment.

I liked James as a protagonist. He didn’t fall into the usual tropes. He was moralistic without being a rebel leader. Strong and intelligent. But there was a sense of vulnerability that held him back – let him take the knocks that were dealt out. His faults humanised him.

These traits were similar in Vidal. Though I felt he needed more personality, the two of these boys were really just trying to survive. They weren’t there for a cause. They just wanted to find a safe place to live and be together. That’s the story I wanted to resonate with a stronger note in ‘Castor.’

I have to applaud the concept of this novel. It felt unique. It wasn’t contrived or over written, and you definitely get a sense of a great future to come for this writer. ‘Castor’ is his first published novel, and I can only imagine what he can produce with more experience under his belt. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Young.

I would not recommend this for sci-fi buffs, there was an element of something missing, so too if you enjoy reading M/M romance. It has moments of both, but either not fully realised. But I do recommend this for its overall concept and execution. If you go into it realising this is a young author’s first swing at the genre, than you will be able to marvel at his strengths and forgive the weaknesses.

A shorter novel that took me a day to read with enticing cover art. The editing is on point, no grammatical or spelling errors. The font and formatting give an ease to the story. It never felt a chore to read. Harmony Ink are delivering some great products and I’m eager to see what this writer and publisher collaborate on next.

Overall feeling: Adventurous and action-packed, but slightly apathetic

Castor Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Castor Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Goodbye Paradise’ by Sarina Bowen

It felt like that inappropriate conversation you had at your last dinner party.

Godbye Paradise Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Contemporary, Romance, GLBT

No. of pages: 266

From Goodreads:

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world. 

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves. 

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires. 

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels? 

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This book was difficult and uncomfortable for me. Which feels hard to say because the narrative style and writing was quite pleasant. My discomfort came from the subject matter – a polygamy cult. Most of the time, anything I’ve read with a strong religious element is written so badly, and the prejudices that go along with their belief systems really gets my shackles up – so much that I usually toss (or throw) the book aside in frustration. But my biggest issue with ‘Goodbye Paradise’ was plausibility.

There were so many issues with poorly researched facts that I was grating my teeth through the entire novel. Men at the age of twenty, with a third grade education, isolated from the outside world would have a vastly different mindset to those of Caleb and Joshua. The lexicon they used was way off base. So too were a lot of their behaviours. The structure of the cult was on point, but the psychological ramifications of growing up in that environment were for the most part, completely ignored. Let alone introducing characters struggling with their sexual identity. In reality they would be seriously messed up.

Caleb and Joshua seemed to have everything so easy given their circumstances. So many missed opportunities to develop the characters and have them connect through these difficulties. I mean, the angst could have been off the charts. Instead, there was some fascination (in secret) followed by full on man-groping sex. The way it was written and presented made me lose all interest in seeing this couple together in an intimate way whatsoever. The language was rough and confronting. No romance. Though there were some occasional cuddly moments afterwards… but all that does not a memorable romance make.

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Another pet hate – especially in romance novels with erotic content, is partners calling each other ‘baby.’ It’s just a thing which is a personal trigger of gagging noises… so it was just another thing working against me liking ‘Goodbye Paradise.’

Caleb and Joshua didn’t even have troubles to overcome in the real world all too much. Not over having grown up in a cult, not over having practically no education, and not over their self-tortured homosexuality. Even their attraction with each other was met with little self-flagellation.

I picked this book up after a rave review from a book reviewer I follow, and even after I bought it and read the blurb warning lights went off *trigger warning* this sounds like religious zealots, oppressed homosexuality and explicit sex scenes. This trope has been overdone. A little. But on the faith of a fellow lover of this genre I dived in. It’s a short book anyway, so it wouldn’t take up too much of my time.

The sex scenes did not feel titillating at all. It was all swearing and wham-bam-thank-you-man. Little build up, practically zero foreplay, a brief description of all the important bits, then a short dalliance in the afterglow. For a couple of bible bashed repressed young men, it felt totally out of character. I like my sex scenes to mean something to the plot, and to the characters. I need an emotional connection to find the scene rich and engrossing. Otherwise it comes off as insincere and smutty. ‘Goodbye Paradise’ was just on the wrong side of the line between the two.

So, I couldn’t get past the plausibility of the story to enjoy much else. Salina’s writing is lovely, but am hesitant to try any other one of her titles given the lack of character development, build-up of tension, and the abrupt, couth sex scenes. I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone – there are so many better written novellas out there. Maybe I’d revisit this author again after she has cut her teeth on many more releases.

I didn’t get the complexity of plot or storyline either that I was hoping for – the blurb of the novel just about summarises the entire book. This was highly predictable with no surprises.

The last 20% of the book was fantastic – the pacing spot on, the plot twist and tension practically created a mini novel within this one. This last section is ‘Goodbye Paradise’s’ saving grace. I’d love to rate it higher, but looking at it as a whole, and what is already on the market, I’m sticking to my guns.

One little factoid – Sarina had previously released this book in 2015 under the pen name Nealy Wagner and it was titled ‘In Front of God and Everyone.’

Overall feeling: I wanted to love this, but I just can’t

Goodbye Paradise Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Goodbye Paradise Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Telling Jase’ by Penny Wilder

Interesting and sexy, but not fully realised.

Telling Jase Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Contemporary, LGBT

No. of pages: 35

From Goodreads:

Sean Taggert has been in love with his best friend and former college roommate Jase Shaw for the last two years and nine months. He’s never told Jase how he feels, though. There were always other people in the way. Up until six months ago, Jase was shacked up with his cheating college boyfriend Marcus. Up until last night, Sean was engaged to the mother of his two-year old child, Cody. Cody may have been the result of a drunken one-night stand, but Sean would do anything for his son, including marry a woman he doesn’t love. But when Sean’s fiancée Lisa, calls him from her New York vacation to say that she’s left him and Cody for good, Sean calls Jase, the only person he knows who can get him though this. Now that they are both free, maybe it’s finally time for Sean to tell Jase how he really feels.

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I love getting recommendations from other bloggers, so when Kara Skinner @ Lover’s Quarrel sung praises about ‘Telling Jase’ I went and got my copy right away.

This was titillating, but also awful. It hit many triggers that I absolutely loathe in contemporary short stories. Also, calling people ‘Babe’ or ‘baby’ makes me cringe, that and a few other words had me wanting to bang my head against the wall when combined with all the other factors I’m about to list.

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The whole instant attraction thing –  the protagonists’ romantic relationship was introduced that way, and then went back and contradicted itself. Also the coming out aspect of it was written for maximum drama and minimum realism. Well… the whole tone of the book was exactly that. Lots of bang for your buck (pun intended) but little authenticity.

There were so many facts that were overlooked, ignored, or simply not researched. I understand these novellas are a complete guilty pleasure: read for the angst and highlights of intense relationships, but I need a solid believable storyline, a build-up, and backstory. I want to live in the character and feel their motivations. Grow as they develop, so when we get to the pay-off or climax (pun not intended this time) it means something and has all the pieces clicking into place… and ‘Telling Jase’ did not do that for me.

The two-year-old Cody was unlike any two-year-old I’ve ever known – underdeveloped, quiet, well behaved, and seemed to need little looking after or attention. In real life, children of this age are loud and all-consuming, they don’t sleep through the night and Carers are a delusional mess half the time. Kids are a beautiful miracle, but the early years are a struggle, especially for a sole parent to handle.

Our protagonist and father, Sean, kept falling asleep exhausted from his emotional dilemma, but not from all the attention on his child? Erm…

And Jase all of a sudden is Superdad… not to mention how he and Sean skip through so many massive developmental milestones in relationships and get straight to the old happy married couple stage after one conversation.

I want to enjoy this book for what it is. A fun steamy story about a single dad in love with his best friend, but the practical side of my brain won’t let it be. And though the sex scene was erotic, it felt obviously written from a woman’s perspective on what she thinks man on man sex is like. I felt a little more research could have been done to make it outstanding.

I really liked Penny Wilder’s writing style, she painted great scenes that I could see in my head clearly. I’d love to read something from her that was fully realised instead of a novella. I can almost taste her potential to create a best seller.

These types of stories are so short and predictable, so I didn’t get any surprises. But one would have been nice. Additionally, when a story is reduced to a few scenes, it’s hard to comment on plot or character development. I do like reading these on occasion as a guilty pleasure, but as I’m moving forward in my writing career, I’m increasingly becoming dissatisfied. I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone I know. Sorry ☹

Overall feeling: Awkward

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.