Cover Image: Stars and Smoke

Stars and Smoke

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Member Reviews

Loved this romance! It was such a fun ride and I absolutely loved the fact that Winter was the pop star and Sydney was the covert ops spy.
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Winter Young is the most famous pop star in the world, and Sydney Cossette is an undercover operative for a global spy network. Now the two of them are teamed up on a mission to discover just how corrupt businessman Eli Morrison is and how deep his crimes go. Morrison's daughter is the self-proclaimed number one fan of Winter Young, so when he is invited to a weeklong birthday celebration including him holding a private concert, Sydney becomes his new bodyguard, and the two set out to find out all that Morrison is hiding.

This is a fast paced, engaging read. I finished in just two days, and I nominated this book for the 2024 Texas TAYSHAS award list.
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Thank you to NetGalley, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Roaring Brook Press, and Marie Lu for the opportunity to read Stars and Smoke in exchange for an honest review.

Marie Lu does it again: she has an amazing craft for the young adult genre, but also a gift of writing across genres. She has fantasy, historical, dystopian, sci-fi, and with Stars and Smoke she brings us a brilliant spy thriller with a touch of romance.

The novel in a nutshell: Winter Young is an international popstar, his shows always consistently sold out. He is sought out by the Panacea Group, an organization similar to the CIA, to play at a major crime lord's daughter's birthday party (she's Winter's biggest fan). It's the perfect cover for Winter to be an unsuspected spy and get some dirt on the guy before his terror destroys the world (yes, what he intends is THAT BAD).

Sydney Cosette has worked for the Panacea Group for a few years. Her old life was nothing to comment on. She prides herself in being a top-tier spy, and her career is her world. Which is why she keeps a medical secret from her employers. Tasked to be Winter's bodyguard as the two tag-team seeking evidence on Eli Morrison, the disgruntled duo find more interest in each other's company than they expected.

With plot twists and turns like nothing else, Marie Lu once again crafts an amazing novel. The characters are interesting and well-developed, as usual, her craft is phenomenal, and Stars and Smoke is certainly an entertaining spy thriller (a genre of which I generally don't delve into, but hey, it's Marie Lu, so it's an auto-read for me!). Hey guess what? A second novel is in the works, but how can anyone possibly survive the wait for a sequel with this ending?! While I believe I saw somewhere that this is a planned duology, I do not know for sure. Either way, I can't wait for the next one!
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This is a great action/romance novel! It is the quintessential hate/love relationship with the glamour of rockstars and spies. I won't be buying it for my middle-school library, but if I taught in a high school it would definitely be on my list!
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Winter Young is drop-dead gorgeous and ridiculously talented in both singing and dancing. He went from mere high school student, the son of a single mother, to an international pop superstar in a few years’ time. He’s not even 20 yet. But even as he performs to sold-out crowds and has everything he could (supposedly) want, Winter feels unmoored. Something is missing.

Sydney Cossette came from a poor background in a tiny town and had few prospects. Until she was “discovered” by a secret agency that does covert ops around the world. Panacea takes on missions official government agencies can’t. Even at her young age, Sydney has seen a lot of action. She can be anyone, speak practically any language, win most fights. She sure doesn’t have time for romance.

Then Panacea brings in Winter to help with one operation. A major crime boss trafficking in dangerous materials is throwing a huge birthday party for his teen daughter. She’s a huge Winter Young fan. So Winter will perform a concert just for her (and 10,000 friends). And Winter and Sydney will work together to find incriminating information on the ruthless man during the big party week.

Sydney’s not impressed with Winter and his pretty face, fame, wealth and following. And Winter finds Sydney a tough nut to crack. But, of course, as they spend time together training and then performing their mission, they find much to admire in each other. Unfortunately, the danger they’re constantly in is not exactly a great opportunity for romance.

Stars and Smoke is an action-packed thriller that barely slows down. In the moments it does take short, quiet breaks, our protagonists get to know each other. They’re sweet times of connection and vulnerability making this a romance as well. Even amid all the action, there are plenty of opportunities for smoldering and flirting. OK, yes, it’s a great thrill ride that satisfies as an escapist pleasure. (And there will be more in the future!)
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I think Marie Lu, unfairly, suffers from the blinding success of Legend.  I keep expecting every succeeding novel to be just as good but they always come up a tiny bit short.  However, Stars and Smoke comes awfully close to the Legend trilogy.  The story is great, and character development, fine-tuned through flashbacks, is at the normal Lu level of excellence.  This is a nice fast read that most readers will be glad they picked up.
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This book took my be surprise! I love Marie Lu and will read anything she ever writes, because I love her style. This book is considered an enemies-to-lovers, and even though I don't usually enjoy romantic storylines, this one was done just right! There was not a ton of romance (thank the book gods) but there was just enough angst and interest to keep it good. The MC's were both interesting, a little better than real life, and they had layers. I need layers in my MCs or I feel they are too fake. The storyline was perfect to keep me turning those digital pages! It kept me interested and guessing and I just LOVE that. Thank you NetGalley for the e-book!
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This was a fun YA thriller/romance that got better as the book progressed!

Sydney Cossette is Panacea's youngest spy. She has a tough exterior - she's had to, given her life - and she wants to be the best spy the agency has. She considers her handlers as the closest thing she has to parents. She is not happy that her next mission will be with Winter Young.

Winter is a pop superstar, with all of the charm and good looks that come with that territory. But he's also a very smart guy who also hasn't had the best home life. Panacea recruits him because their target, Eli Morrison, has a daughter Penelope who is obsessed with him.

Eli Morrison contacts Winter with an offer he can't refuse, to perform at Penelope's 19th birthday, an exclusive event that Panacea couldn't get an invitation to without Winter. Sydney poses as Winter's bodyguard for the weekend and hopes to use the event to get the logs and records from Morrison's business. The records they are seeking will show how Morrison's company is shipping a biologic weapon that kills people quickly with a vapor. With the records, they can stop the shipment and save the world.

The book starts off slow and at first, and feels formulaic. The sensitive rock star, the jaded young agent who won't let anyone close to her, the sparks that fly when they have to spend time together, how they grudgingly earn each other's respect... I've read this story before.

But once I got into the meat of the book, the fact that it was formulaic wasn't as much of an issue. The action is so good you forget you've read this story before, and you can't stop turning the pages!

I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the sequel(s). Thanks to Netgalley for an advance copy of this book.
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Really cute and fun story!

At first, the age of the characters (and the plot) seemed silly. But if you get past that, it’s well worth the read. 

I love that it’s fast paced and doesn’t end with a cliffhanger.
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Marie Lu continues to hand us some great books. This one really had me chugging along. I couldn't put it down.
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I received this and as an eARC to read for free in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, and Roaring Brook Press for giving me access.

Marie Lu is one of my go to authors, I'll read anything that she writes. When I saw that Stars and Smoke was up for request, I knew that I had to try to get it. 

Singer turned spy turned possible love interest? Yes please. Stars and Smoke was completely different from the YA fantasy that I am used to, but it was a refreshing change. My only complaint (and yes, I have one) is that the beginning was so slow, it took me a whole to get into it. Could it have been because I anticipated something more action packed up front? Maybe. But overall, S&S will leave you wanting more and apparently there will be more! This time I will be ready.
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Wow, i am obsessed!!! This book was so much fun. it was action packed, exciting and had me unable to put it down! I loved the dual POV and loved the twists throughout the book! My jaw was on the floor for parts! I really enjoyed Sydney and Winter's relationship. They were so fun together and it was fun to get to know them. The end had me smiling and i hope we see more of them in the future!
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This book was an interesting blend of 007 Jr. and a enemies to lovers trope. Winter was very believable as the pop star as was Sydney as the Jr. secret agent.  Although the story was engaging and kept my inteeest, at times I had to suspend my disbelief to really connect with the text. Overall, I would give the book 3.5 stars and I would recommend it to younger readers.
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was excited about reading this book by Marie Lu, it’s like reading the plot line for a tv series. It is an action-packed book. The characters are developed and Marie shares much information about them. I just feel like it was missing something. It is enjoyable and a wild ride for readers.
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I listened to the audiobook. The narrator was very good. The story was fun and full of action. I really enjoyed the characters and hope this is the start of a new series.
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A pop star and a spy pair up against a menacing crime boss in this thrilling series starter.

19-year-old Chinese American popstar Winter Young is a global sensation with struggles of his own. Approached by a spy agency to help take down a target during a private concert abroad, Winter is thrust into an unfamiliar world teeming with high-tech gadgets and dangerous liaisons. There, he meets Sydney Cosette—a talented covert agent whose no-nonsense, often-brash attitude collides with his own demeanor.

Their upbringings and dispositions are wildly divergent, but the pair’s chemistry burns up the pages as they work to infiltrate the inner circle of the nefarious syndicate. Sydney’s own trauma has shaped who she’s become, and amidst the chaos of their situation, they forge an unexpected connection.

Marie Lu delivers a story replete with thrills, poignancy, and humor. Its fast pace and action-packed scenes make it impossible not to devour. The romance didn’t feel overwhelming, and rather added emotional depth to balance with the ratcheting tension of the spy narrative.  ‘The Hating Game meets Mission Impossible’ is an accurate way to depict this propulsive, high-stakes caper that’s particularly fun for us fangirls to read.
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I'm going to have to give it a 2nd re-read just to verify where I stand on this book. I'll come back later
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Stars and Smoke, by author Marie Lu, is the first installment in the authors Stars and Smoke series. This is a series that alternates between two entirely different characters, from a variety of backgrounds. One is world famous, the other is a secret agent for the Panacea Group who are thrown together to help bring down one of the most dangerous men in the world: Eli Morrison. This book has forced proximity, fake dating and some hints of enemies to lovers tropes. It also has a few transcripted dialogues between two covert agents, Sauda and Niall, that gives the reader some additional background.

Winter Young is one of the most famous superstars in the world, with a voice like velvet and looks that could kill. His star power has smashed records, selling out stadiums from LA to London. His rabid fans would move heaven and earth for even a glimpse of him – just imagine what they’d do to become his latest fling. After being kidnapped, temporarily by Sauda Nazari of Panacea Group, he is told that because of his status, he is needed for a mission that could save the world and save millions of lives. He also learns a secret about his brother who allegedly died while part of the Peace Corps.

Sydney Cossette is part of an elite covert ops group known as Panacea Group. Sydney joined their ranks as their youngest spy with plans to become the best agent they’ve ever had. An ice queen with moves as dangerous as her comebacks, Sydney picks up languages just as quickly as she breaks hearts. She's fiery, no-nonsense, and has zero time for romance – especially with a shameless flirt more used to serving sass than taking orders.  Sydney has to stay in the shadow as Winter is aim to live in the spotlight. Even though they achieve to complete their mission, how could they stay away from each other against all odds?

When Eli Morrison gifts his daughter Penelope with a private concert with Winter for her birthday in London, Sydney and Winter's lives suddenly collide. Tasked with infiltrating the crime organization’s inner circle, Sydney is assigned as Winter's bodyguard with Winter tapped to join her on the mission of a lifetime as a new spy recruit. Sydney may be the only person alive impervious to Winter's charms, but as their mission brings them closer, she’s forced to admit that there's more to Winter Young than just a handsome face.

Winter is a character who has had a heavy weight put on his soldiers. First, his brother dies, then his mother acts as though Winter doesn't exist. Winter chooses to put all his energy into his music and his performances, and that's why he's a character you can root for. Sydney basically lost everything before the age of 16. She was recruited at a young age, she quickly picks up on languages which allows her to fit in anywhere she goes, she's made mistakes, but she refuses to let those mistakes and her past from dragging her down from being the best agent she can be even if that means losing her heart to Winter. 

This story could easily have been a standalone, and I would not have minded. However, I do think there is more to the Winter and Sydney connection that needs more adventures. One can call this K-Pop meets Mission Impossible. While this book has been labeled as young adult, the two main characters are at least 19, including Winter's back up dancers, as well as Winter's handler Claire who is as much of a mother to Winter, than his own.
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"Stars and Smoke" by Marie Lu is an exhilarating young adult spy thriller that is sure to captivate readers from start to finish. Set in a world of high-stakes espionage and international intrigue, this book follows an emotionally guarded, up-and-coming secret agent named Sydney and global pop-superstar Winter Young as they are forced to team up to take down a criminal tycoon and stop a plot that would endanger the fate of the entire world. 

Lu's writing style is top-notch, with fast-paced action, clever twists, and a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The characters are well-developed, and the electric enemies-to-lovers tension between Sydney and Winter is intoxicating!

Overall, "Stars and Smoke" is a thrilling and delightfully satisfying read that will leave you eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series. I highly recommend it to fans of spy thrillers and anyone who loves a great romance wrapped up in fast-paced adventure!
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Lu has written a number of outstanding novels for young adults. Her latest is a contemporary story of a young rock star who’s recruited to help a secret organization take down a criminal. Winter Young is the hot young celebrity who gets invited to perform at the birthday party of a criminal’s daughter. It’s an opportunity for authorities to gain access to the elusive crook. An attractive young spy named Sydney has been paired with Winter to help with the mission. She accompanies the rocker under the pretense of being his bodyguard.

Winter and Sydney get ensnared in a snafu that puts their lives at risk. They will need to use all their skills and expertise to get out alive. Tensions rise as the plot races forward with the pair facing increased jeopardy.

Lu’s character of Winter is robust and shining. He’s beyond impeccable, almost too good to be true. Sydney is more of a mystery and her spy skills are incredible for a teen. But part of the fun is having teens outwit, outmaneuver and circumvent more mature adversaries.

Quite unlike Lu’s outstanding Legend series, this new venture should appeal to readers who enjoy Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Hawthorne Brothers books.
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