Cover Image: Stars and Smoke

Stars and Smoke

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Member Reviews

Before I get into the review, a quick thank you to NetGalley and the publishers over at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for giving me access to this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Stars and Smoke is what I would call a spy novel.We follow International pop sensation Winter Young as he’s recruited by a secret agency to help bring down this world’s version of Jeff Bezos (but add some drug smuggling and human trafficking). We also follow Sydney Cossette who is a junior agent with this organization. We spend time in the limelight and in the shadows as they team up to save millions. Stars and Smoke comes out on March 28th and is available for preorder now.

I think I need to preface my review by saying that I really enjoyed this one. I think the 3.75 star rating might put some people off but it shouldn’t. I had a great time the whole time and it was so good. I think the reason for my rating is just that I felt like the story needed a little breathing room. We weren’t given enough time between major plot points for everything to really sink in. But I think this might just be a me thing. If I’m reading a good book, it’s almost never long enough for me. I loved that we really got to spend time in both Winter’s world of pop star fame and Sydney’s world of living in the shadows. We got a chance to peek through both of those windows and learn so much about who they are as people but also what their life is like. There’s also a great moment when Winter is meeting up with the agency to discuss the mission parameters and the secret levels of the building subvert the reader’s expectations. The HQ is in a hotel so it’s really fun to see secret rooms and secret floors. I also loved the spy tech they’re given for the mission and how they got it since they were traveling to the U.K. from the U.S. and had to deal with customs.

Like I said before, I think my only real problem here is not getting enough time between plot points. We didn’t get a chance for the consequences of the plot points to sink in. Also, some of the side characters felt a little flat without room to explore. In my opinion, I could have done with another 100 pages? Maybe more. Am I a spy novel girlie now? Is that what’s happening? Because I’m craving more of that from this author. Thankfully, this is the first in a series because I just want to follow Winter and Sydney on spy missions from now on. Overall, I think this is prime Marie Lu. She has fantastic world building and great execution. This novel is perfect for fans of her Warcross series, anyone who enjoys a good spy novel, or any YA/New Adult fan who wants to see a smattering of female body guard/male pop star romance.
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While this book had a unique premise and something different from my normal reads, I was hoping it would draw me in and be enjoyable. It ended up not being my cup of tea for several reasons but I can see how others would enjoy it. I also wanted more of a connection between Winter and Sydney since it was marketed as a romance. The action portions and plotting were good but I just wanted more conversation and development between those two to get me invested in the relationship. 

Romantic Content: Kisses, some innuendo/discussion of past relationships
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Thank you for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

listen… Marie Lu genuinely seems like a really great person… however her writing in this novel is so mediocre i cant believe how successful they are. as expected, this ‘adult debut’ is basically YA. the plot was so boring and soo meh. i don’t feel any kind of passionate hate toward this book like i do some of my other 1 star reads, but this was just such a waste of time…. yikes
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I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I enjoyed this book as it was a fun read but felt a little predictable in places.  I appreciated the fun and tried hard to ignore the insanity.
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Present time in America, Winter is a famous performer who is being recruited by the Panacea Agency to help take down a dangerous criminal, Eli Morrison. Eli has invited Winter to perform at his daughter Penelope’s birthday celebration in London. This is why Panacea wants Winter’s help, because he can infiltrate Eli’s life with little suspicion.
Sydney Cosette works for Panacea and poses as Winter’s bodyguard. The two seem to come from very different backgrounds but they discover they have commonalities. Winter and Sydney get hit with a few surprises on their mission and they’ll have to rely on their wits and trust each other to make it through alive.

Likes/dislikes: Winter and Sydney are interesting characters with unspoken depth. I like the mystery, action and setting of the story. I love the ending.

Mature Content: PG-13 for bisexual relationships mentioned, off-page kissing; sex alluded to by stating, “ended up in bed together”; drinking, transporting drugs, kissing.

Language: R for 49 swears and no f-bombs.

Violence: PG for kidnapping, killing mentioned, death by choking on a chemical weapon, hand to hand combat, shot in the chest. Sydney’s mother Killed by father in domestic abuse rage.

Ethnicity:  The ethnicity of the main character is Chinese American, other characters are Black, white, brown-skinned, mixed.
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When a covert agency needs someone to infiltrate a rich heiress's birthday party, they turn to her favorite pop star, Winter Young. Along with teenage bodyguard Sydney, Winter infiltrates the party, and the pair quickly find themselves in over their heads. Equal parts spy thriller and forced-proximity/hate-to-love romance, Stars and Smoke is a delight from start to finish. Fans of BTS and similar acts will love the behind-the-scenes accounts of Winter's life as a worldwide pop sensation. Sydney is a dynamic heroine - savvy and smart, and determined to complete assignment, whatever it takes. This is one mission you will want to accept.
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Thank you so much to Roaring Brook Press for the eARC! I ate this book up like there was no tomorrow and Marie Lu DELIVERED. I really enjoyed her first series, Legend, a lot, so I was excited to see where this would go. And this book was so GOOD. Like I genuinely cannot express how much I loved this and did not disappoint. 

The plot was so exciting and I was on the edge of seat with wanting to see what would happen next. It was thrilling, addicting, and incredibly unforgettable. And anytime I thought I knew what would happen, TURNS OUT I DIDN’T. There were a bunch of twists that I certainly didn’t expect and I could not put the book down at all. 

I absolutely adored the characters, and I think it’s what I enjoyed most about this book. Both Winter and Sydney were such well-written and fleshed out characters, and I found myself instantly able to click and connect with them. ESPECIALLY Winter, like oh my god, I felt every single one of his struggles so deeply, AND MY HEART COULDN’T HANDLE IT. I also loved the way both Winter and Sydney worked together and their character dynamics were perfectly in sync (and SO funny). 

AND THE ROMANCE. I was squealing, screeching, screaming and kicking my feet in the air because it was SO CUTE. Both Winter and Sydney had incredible chemistry and lots of tension and they were perfect for each other. For me, the biggest indicator of a good romance is the way the two people help each other grow and form a deeper emotional connection. And Marie Lu ATE. Both Sydney and Winter grew so much learning from each other, and I adored them. 

All in all, I loved this book so so much and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to read this early. 5/5 stars for sure and I highly recommend!! STARS AND SMOKE releases in bookstores MARCH 28!
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Stars and Smoke had all of Marie Lu's charm and wit but lacked the plot and worldbuilding that drew me into her other books.

Summary of the book: When a mob boss invites Winter, a rising pop star, to perform a private concert for his daughter, a secret organization sees the chance. They approach Winter with an offer: help uncover evidence of the boss's crimes and Winter will gain information about his brother. Sydney, a loner agent well known for her skills with languages, is sent to pose as Winter's bodyguard and help expose the crime ring. Nothing goes to plan, and they both end up getting a lot more than they bargained for.

Winter and Sydney were both likable on their own, but the enemies-to-lovers felt forced. Syndey judged Winter unfairly and he naturally was defensive after that. Since there was no reason for their tension, the "enemies" part was corny and superficial for what were two great characters. They were starting to form mutual respect and trust for each other when we jumped into a make-out scene. A slow burn or friends-to-lovers would have been more natural in the plot line.

The plot really shows that this is Lu's first time in the thriller genre. The story was very average, and all of the betrayals and twists I could have seen coming blindfolded. I did love her creativity with the different spy gadgets she made, but that was all in terms of worldbuilding. In her fantasy novels, her extremely detailed world-building lent itself to crazier plot lines, and without that combination, everything was exceedingly average.

It was not a bad read, I just can't connect that the same author who wrote Kingdom of Back wrote this as well.

As always, a huge thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan's publishing group for the advanced copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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A fun, fast paced read featuring a rivals to lovers romance between a pop star and his undercover spy bodyguard. Winter Young is asked to help with a mission to bring down the crime boss father of one his biggest fans, and Sydney is his assigned partner in super secret spying. Overall, a cute story with some tender moments and a surprising twist. Excited to see where the series leads!
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I loved this sexy, silly, thriller. Not quite a enemies to lovers romance, and not quite an action packed adventure, this story of secret spy meets lovelorn superstar was a fun romp for a good weekend adventure read.
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Not quite my cup of tea, but I could totally see it being someone else's.

Despite the fact that the main characters are both 19, this book definitely leans far more YA than NA in terms of tone and maturity of the characters. As you can imagine, it has an inherently Wattpad-y feel to it, and you definitely need to be prepared to suspend a lot of disbelief in regards to the overall premise and its execution. However, it has plenty of fun moments, and clearly gave Marie Lu liberty to write out her wildest dreams of what could be achieved with unlimited money and next generation spy technology. 

Admittedly, I think the plot itself was stronger than the romance was. To me, I just couldn't see what was supposedly drawing Winter and Sydney to one another outside of a mutual admiration for the other's competence. Considering they've both had lives that have led them to meet a lot of other interesting and successful people, I just wasn't convinced there was anything between them that made the other so unlike anyone else they'd ever met— no matter how many times it was stated that they couldn't stop thinking about one another.

I did appreciate the various diversity rep we got in this book, though! We got to have Winter just casually be bi (or pan) without anyone making a big deal of it, there were several queer side characters, and most of the named characters were BIPOC. 

I was mainly interested in reading this book solely on the basis of my undying loyalty to Marie Lu. I think that if the premise sounds interesting to you, and you're prepared for some Wattpad-ish levels of absurdity, you should give it a try!
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*4.25 stars*
First and foremost, this was a really fun book! The characters were fun and easy to root for, and were well fleshed out. The plot was exciting and full of action and delightfully twisty and turny. I found myself holding my breath at several moments wondering what would happen next. 
I also think this book would make a really good action movie! 
My biggest issues and the reason it didn't get a full five stars were that the romance was a little too insta-love for my liking, and some of the gadgets/ technologies were a bit too convenient. However, these things are easy to overlook and are really a matter of personal taste. The characters are so well developed and the things they go through make sense for their arcs and for their romance. And the gadgets are a bit unbelievable, but they make the plot more fun (and I think would translate well on the screen).
All in all, I definitely recommend this book if you're a fan of action movies and romances!
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I love Marie Lu and was so excited to see that she had come out with a romance novel! Especially since we all know her for her Sci-Fi! 

Fun concept of a pop star becoming a spy and him falling for his body guard. All of the characters were so snarky while still being relatable. This was a quick read and fast paced. I was able to read it all in one sitting! 

I hope she writes more romance novels because this was such a treat!
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I didn’t like the writing style and I find it slow and I didn’t like the characters . I will try and read more of her works ,I’m sure there are best books of hers !
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Winter Young is an international pop sensation. Everyone across the world knows his name. But then why does he always feel so lonely? He thought star power was the answer, but it doesn't seem to be combating the loneliess. On the opposite end, Sydney Cossette is a Panacea agent, a covert spy unit. Someone who's comfortable being on her own.

When the two are paired together to take down a major crime boss, at first, it doesn't seem like they'll get along. In order to infiltrate a private concert, Sydney acts as his bodyguard. And maybe, just maybe, there's more to Winter Young than meets the eye. And even Sydney isn't immune to his charms.

Thanks to Macmillan Children's and NetGalley for an advanced copy of Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu to review! It's Marie Lu, so I knew that I was in for a treat. I always know I can expect action with a side of romance with any of her books!

This is being advertised as enemies to lovers, which I wouldn't quite say fits the central romance. Since Winter and Sydney aren't exactly enemies. And they're not really rivals? More like--unwilling co-workers turned lovers. Is that a thing? Either way, I loved their evolving romance and the chemistry between them was well done. I also can't think of that many spy novels written specifically for older teens, so this is a great addition!

The pacing of this book was spot on. With Marie Lu, you can always expect something fast-paced that is going to keep you on your toes the whole time. This book is no different! Perhaps it isn't my favorite book of hers, but I can see it bringing a lot of new fans her way. Especially with all of the comp titles this one is given. There are a lot of big names there, too!

I think this is the start of a new series, so be on the lookout for more adventures from Sydney and Winter in the future!
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Stars and Smoke is an absolute whirlwind of an adventure! I’ve always loved Marie Lu’s innovative concepts and Stars and Smoke is no exception. Lu does an exceptional job fusing multiple genres (spy thriller, action-adventure, bodyguard romance) to create a breath of fresh air in the upper-YA cannon, a space I’ve begun to feel is demanding increasingly unique concepts amidst the threat of over-saturation. The writing style is very fluid and streamlined, making the book wildly bingeable and the entire reading experience very exciting; this entire book read very much like a cinematic spy movie à-la Mission: Impossible.

Marie Lu’s characters and their relationships have always been her strength and Winter and Sydney are no exception. Their chemistry was palpable, but Lu did a great job of developing their emotional bond following their initial physical attraction. Their romance was well-paced and developed naturally, especially as they learned to trust and open up to each other. Lu deftly handles both MC’s traumas, providing nuance I rarely see given genre conventions. I was glad to see the way she subverts traditional family troubles and childhood trauma—Lu sheds some much-needed light on various types of relationships and disorders I rarely see represented. I also really enjoyed the supporting cast and their easy diversity, especially the relationship between Sauda and Niall. None of the characters fall into archetypes even though it’s easy to since spy thrillers are choked with them.

The only thing that made this a 4.5 star read is the third act. The pacing was good for a majority of the story, but the third act and denouement felt a bit rushed, especially once the hidden antagonist’s identity crystallized. The final battle was well-paced as the emotional arcs climaxed, but the fallout and resolution fell slightly short of my expectations. Everything wrapped up a bit too nicely, including how easily the ramifications that came from Sydney and Winter’s mission concluded. I did, however, appreciate that Lu chose to conclude the book the way she did, hinting at further adventures while maintaining the feeling of a standalone.

Overall, Stars and Smoke was a fantastic escapist read. Marie Lu continues to reach new heights, and I’m looking forward to reading more about Winter and Sydney’s adventures!

4.5 stars
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I love Marie Lu and this was an interesting foray for her!  It's got her signature amazing action scenes and she does a good job developing the characters.  I didn't even look to see what it was about (I saw "Marie Lu" and was like YES PLEASE) so I was surprised when it was a cheesy/campy spy novel of sorts with a BIG romantic thread.  And the thing is, spy novels aren't generally my thing. In this one, it kind of felt like nothing happened until the last fifth of the book and then the action hit and it was awesome, but way too short.  And the romance didn't do it for me, but that's pretty standard.  So yeah, it wasn't for me, but I think it's probably a good next step for folks ready to graduate from the Spy School series to YA.
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This was a really solid YA romance/enemies to lovers  novel! The premise is really fun and cool. Marie Lu is an amazing storyteller and it shows with how well she can write different tropes and genres. 
This novel was a little too YA for my taste, however I will absolutely be purchasing this for my high school library. 
Can’t wait for the rest of the series!!
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One is never too old to read the Lu’s books. And I can’t ever seem to be egging tired of them. This was such a marvellous read. It had me engaged throughout, I loved the MCs and more than that the elements that were used. Although, it was a low in the beginning, but the pacing picks up pretty well, and the word building was top notch too. Overall i really enjoyed it
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Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for the copy of Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu. I love YA books and Marie Lu is one of my favorite YA authors. If you think you don’t like YA books, try hers, I think Lu’s appeal to all ages because of her crisp writing and her fascinating characters. Winter Young is a superstar! A billionaire hires him to perform at Penelope’s birthday and Sydney, an undercover spy, is hired to be Winter’s bodyguard.  Sydney’s real job is to infiltrate the billionaire's criminal organization. I really loved the insight into Winter's life, both professional and personal. His backstory was really well thought out and made him feel realistic. The story was well-paced and if you love action the end was action-packed! I’m not a fan of romance, but there wasn’t an annoying amount so I didn't mind. 
I am already anticipating the next book about Winter and Sydney. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5.
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