Shake the Stars (ParisDude’s Review)

Title: Shake the Stars
Author: V.L. Locey
Publisher: Gone Writing Publishing
Release Date: July 10th 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 100,000 words approx.
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5


Spending time in the Poconos with his family was the last thing Dane Forrester wanted to do over the summer. He had dreams of spending his last break touring Europe and gathering story ideas for his upcoming creative writing classes before heading to college. Maybe even finding that elusive first love in a small café in Paris, or along the Rhine, or even in a sultry villa in Italy. But no, he was stuck at the Silver Fir Lodge with his family where his dreams of romance and passion would wither and die a slow painful death, or so he imagined.

When all seemed lost, the budding wordsmith is saved—in more than one sense—by Khalid Novak, a lifeguard at the lodge’s pool. Khalid is two years older, a bit more sophisticated, and the most incredibly alluring thing Dane has ever seen. The two young men find themselves joyously wound in a searing romance that teaches Dane that love can be wildly intense yet fleeting so one should revel in it when the discovery is made.

Can this summer romance survive the chill of autumn as well as the winds of time?

The plot is not excessively original but one that is interesting more often than not. In a nutshell, we get the story of a young first love (including the main character’s coming-out) that turns sour at one point, but might overcome any obstacles in the end. Dane Forrester, the book’s MC, has just finished high school and is forced to spend his summer holidays with his family in the Poconos (for those not familiar with the complete geography of the USA, it’s a hills-and-valleys region in northeastern Pennsylvania—it does sound amazingly beautiful, by the way). He meets Khalid Novak, an employee of the Silver Fir Lodge where Dane and family are staying. Khalid is an amazingly handsome and intriguing man, only two years his elder.

It’s love at first sight, but the problem is: Dane hasn’t come out to his exceedingly religious family. When their love affair is discovered, that triggers off a major family disaster, with his mother and younger brother supporting him unconditionnally, whilst his father rejects his son’s homosexuality. Luckily, Dane still has Khalid’s love, and their mutual promises to stay together till the end of their lives keep him going. But of course, life and fate don’t heed an eighteen-year-old’s wishes and promises. When Khalid’s father dies, the young man has to return to the UK, his home-country, whereas college starts for Dane. They slowly drift apart until the seemingly unavoidable break-up. But life and fate haven’t said their last word yet…

I have to admit this was a sweet read. The story is told from Dane’s point of view. The two main characters, Dane and Khalid, feel authentic, but only to a certain extent as far as Khalid is concerned.

Yes, alas, I do have some quibbles with this book. While the plot with its twists and turns keeps you going, no matter what (it is quite addictive, I daresay), I had a hard time believing certain details the author threw in. First of all, and please, dear US friends, don’t feel hurt, it was a wee bit too US-American for my taste. All that nigh zealous religiosity we Europeans associate with the USA (whether rightly or wrongly is neither here nor there) in the first half of the book was simply too much for me. I wanted to scream, “Khalid is a Muslim, ok, get over it!” Moreover, Khalid’s family is supposed to be of Serbian origin (they moved to the UK and then to the US). Why the author picked that nationality is anybody’s guess—only 3% of the Serbians are Muslims, after all. Khalid would have felt more authentic to me if he had been Bosnian, say, or Albanian. Then, his name. Khalid is an Arabian first name, not one frequently used in Turkey. But Serbian Muslims are Muslims because, to make a long History short, most of the Balkans were under Turkish rule for centuries, not under Arabian rule. So, Murat, Mehmet, Ali, Emre, you name it—I could have believed in it. Khalid just sounds like someone didn’t do their research. The same goes for Khalid’s family name, Novak, which is very widespread with Czechs and Slovaks, but not that much with the Southern Slavs (where it would rather be a first name, cf. Novak Djokovic, the Serbian #1 tennis player). And to me, Khalid was way too religious for the average European Muslim. I do know quite a lot of Muslims, most of them sound believers, and none of them follows the morning prayer on a daily basis. That’s why Khalid felt rather off to me (the fictional persona per se, not the character, who was adorable, strong yet vulnerable, tender yet manly).

So, Dane and his family as well as Khalid and his back-story came across as somewhat clumsy. And clumsy would also be the word I’d use to describe the writing style. It’s rather odd, because V.L. Locey does know how to write—most of the descriptions are to-the-point, some outright poetic. She knows how to use stylistic devices (metaphors and such), and she uses them very skilfully. But from time to time, there’s a cringe-worthy passage where I had to wonder why noone thought of editing it. Don’t get me started on the commas, the liberal use of the preposition “on” (to sip on a drink, to kiss on his lips, to quote but a few), or the very approximate French—when you add sentences in a foreign language, please make sure a native speaker proofreads and corrects them, because otherwise, they look ridiculous. With proper editing, the pace could have been improved as well. The first half felt almost longish, whereas the passage leading up to and following the break-off was a fast-forward that could have been fleshed out in order to give the reader a better feeling of what went wrong and why. All these things notwithstanding, the sweet (and at times bitter-sweet) plot won my heart in the end.

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Galley copy of Shake the Stars provided by the editor in exchange of an honest review.


Dieter, born and raised in Austria, studied Political Sciences in Vienna in the early 90s. He's living in Paris, France, with his boyfriend and working as a graphic designer. In his spare time, he loves to write, read, cook, take photos, and travel as often as possible. He’s already published two short-story collections as well as four poetry collections. His first murder mystery novel “The Stuffed Coffin” featuring Damien Drechsler and the dashing Greek student Nikos has been released on Jan. 6, 2019, and is available in English, French, and German. By the way, the French version "Le cercueil farci" has won the prestigious Prix du roman gay 2019 in the category murder mystery. Dieter runs a gay book reviews site in French and is also writing reviews for Gay Book Reviews under the pseudonym of ParisDude.