Cover Image: Light From Uncommon Stars

Light From Uncommon Stars

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Member Reviews

This book had me hooked till the end however, the saccharine ending just didn't mesh with the tone of the rest of the book. I enjoyed the originality of the characters, I never knew what to expect next and the ability to blend reality with science fiction so well that I almost didn't notice was commendable.
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It's been a week and I'm still struggling to put how this book made me feel into words. Light From Uncommon Stars has all of my favorite things: completely transportive writing, complicated, messy characters, and pervasive hopefulness. 

Katrina in particular has been through a lot of trauma. Some of the abuse she's been able to escape by the book's beginning, and some of it she has to work through on page. As a trans woman, not every situation is safe for her and Aoki reminds us of that often — not without compassion, but she doesn't shy away from the reality either. Even still, there is an undercurrent of light throughout, soothing the aches as they come to pass. It's a visceral experience that I don't frequently encounter. 

And then there is Donut Lady and the Queen of Hell. These two women embody such different ideas of feminine strength. One, the dedicated mother, who has (literally) travelled across galaxies to protect her family. The other, an artist with such a pure devotion to music and its craft, that she sold her soul just to hold on to her abilities longer. 

Just talking about the characters and the basic set up here do nothing to communicate just how addictive and loving the writing is. If anything about the synopsis sounds interesting, do yourself a favor and just read a chapter or two to preview. I promise you'll be hooked by its brilliance.
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Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki is a poignant, heartfelt, and achingly beautiful love letter to music that follows the intersecting lives of three different characters.

- Lan Tran: a captain and an alien refugee operating a donut shop alongside her family.

- Katrina Nguyen : a trans youth who fled to LA with her violin in hopes of making a living for herself.

- A music teacher who, after making a deal with a demon, must deliver Hell 7 souls from music prodigies. Now she only needs one more, and she finds herself mysteriously drawn to both Katrina and strange noises coming from a doughnut shop …

I can see where the Terry Pratchett’s Good Omen comparison in the blurb comes from. This book is charmingly whimsical and zany, and yet, at times it’s also pensive as well and tackles heavy themes such as abuse.

There’s one subplot of the book I could have done without though. You might have guessed from the summary, but there’s A LOT going on in this book. (I mean, we’ve got aliens and a demon!)

While most of the story comes together and wraps up wonderfully by the end, there’s one huge can of worms that feels more like an unresolved afterthought. (view spoiler) For me, this didn’t add anything to the plot and seemed more of a distraction from an otherwise intimate story.

All and all, Light from Uncommon Stars is a queer, messy but beautiful story about three souls banding together and helping each other.
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If only heart alone could make a novel great. If only positive themes of hope, transgender and queer identity, and acceptance were enough to lift a story to the skies.

Because if that were the case, Ryka Aoki’s sci-fi/fantasy novel, "Light From Uncommon Stars," would soar to the universe and back. And my task as a book blogger would be considerably easier since I would not be writing this lukewarm review.

But other than making me hanker for donuts and regret giving up the violin in the fifth grade, the novel didn’t do much for me. Its heart and its hope simply weren’t enough to elevate it to excellence.

Katrina Nguyen, a queer trans woman, is a talented violinist who longs to be accepted by her family. After running away from home, she finds herself in a tough spot until she crosses paths with Shizuka Satomi, a famed (and cursed) violin teacher, and Lan Tran, a space alien donut-shop owner.

Sounds quirky, doesn’t it? It totally is – and the quirkiness is delightful. The novel is a joyous celebration of Asian Americans, queerness, space aliens, music, and yummy food.

But it has A LOT going on. In addition to the aforementioned themes, Aoki tackles weightier topics like racism, transphobia, self-harm, rape, and abuse, and "Light From Uncommon Stars" suffers for the too-busy plot. Aoki is unable to devote adequate time and attention to these aspects of the story, resulting in a weak, thinly-stretched narrative and flat characters with minimal growth.

The biggest problem, though, is the novel’s unusual stylistic format. Aoki continually switches character perspective – and I don’t just mean from chapter to chapter. It’s more like, mid-scene and mid-conversation. Every five to ten paragraphs, the narrative is paused by a section break to allow for a perspective shift. It’s jarring, choppy, and distracting. And because I was constantly dropped in and out of the story, I was neither immersed in the narrative nor emotionally connected to the characters.

"Light From Uncommon Stars" is a novel I wish I would’ve loved. And while many of its elements are praiseworthy, more than anything, I found it tiring to read. I was relieved to be done with it.

Donut, anyone?

My sincerest appreciation to Ryka Aoki, Tor Books, and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own.
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What does a book about a trans teen runaway trying to find safety in a world hostile to her existence, a book about a music virtuoso who sold their soul to the devil and is about to come to the end of their pact, and a book about alien refugees hiding among us as donut shop employees all have in common? Well, sometimes they have everything in common, because sometimes they are the same book, and on that note, let me introduce you to Ryka Aoki's Light From Uncommon Stars.

That trans teen runaway is Katrina Nguyen, who has left her abusive home and parents with nothing but the beloved violin that she can barely play. Katrina takes up an older queer friend's offer of a sofa to sleep on, only to find that said friend and his housemates are also abusive in a different way. Desperate and without anywhere else to go, Katrina finally gets a break when her violin practice (in a local part) comes to the attention of Shizuka Satomi, a notoriously selective violin teacher who only takes the best, though her pupils seem to both rise and fall with meteoric speed. Shizuka has just rejected the prodigy who everyone expected to become her seventh - and, to her, final - student. But something about Katrina - who is only doing basic exercises - captivates her, and she ends up offering Katrina both a place to stay and a formal violin teacher.

Unfortunately, as you might have gathered, Shizuka has a second agenda: after selling her own soul for talent and fame, she has renegotiated her debt from one soul to seven, and now she needs to find seven students who will make the same bargain as she did and are willing to accept the consequences. So far, she's justified luring six children into demonic pacts because they receive the benefits of fame and glory that they desperately want. But, from the outset, her relationship with Katrina seems to be on a different footing: here is a student who hasn't had any of the chances that her violinist peers take for granted, with the potential to outshine them all. What Shizuka offers, first and foremost, is safety. She doesn't understand Katrina's challenges or traumas, and she frequently fucks up when she makes assumptions about how the outside world will treat a non-passing trans teen girl, but she perseveres and spends a lot of time making Katrina feel comfortable and seen in a way that goes beyond bringing out her artistic talent. Shizuka's past is immensely problematic, and her conflicted intentions with Katrina equally so, but somehow through sheer force of characterisation, what could have been a predatory relationship becomes something much warmer, with far more room for mutual growth.

Rounding out the trio of protagonists is Shizuka's other chance encounter: this one with Lan Tran, donut shop owner and refugee starship captain (also, the ship is now the donut shop). Lan and her family are biding their time, using the onboard replicator to create donuts from the shop's original owners and trying to blend in to Californian life. Shizuka and Lan have an extremely adorable meet-cute over the need for a bathroom, and this quickly evolves into romantic feelings which are explored further over the course of the novel, through the many twists and turns of their lives. While Lan's story feels more peripheral to Katrina and Shizuka's dilemma, Aoki somehow weaves her intergalactic perspective, and the personalities and challenges of her children, into the fabric of the story in a way which just makes the whole blend work. (It also provides all the pieces for an excellent climax and a nice ending befitting the overall tone of the novel).

Now, I don't want to be out here still trying to make "hopepunk" happen when I think the genre community has decided it's not going to happen, but Light From Uncommon Stars seems to really fit what that genre tag is aiming for. It's a story where things are often bleak, and traumatic things happen (there is on-page rape,  multiple forms of abuse and transphobia, and a really unpleasant murder-disappearance involving some side characters) but the core relationships are about kindness and basic human (or alien) decency, and how people can try to uphold those values and carve out space for themselves to be. And that's a state that everyone deserves, whether you're an abuse survivor trying to catch a break or a parent worried about the decisions of your kids or even, maybe, someone who has got themselves into a sticky situation through past mistakes. Where Katrina and Lan and Shizuka - and many of the supporting characters - intersect is in learning how to move past survival and towards being able to create and share and be successful. It's a concept encapsulated in the descriptions of the Endplague, the catastrophic galactic event Lan and her family have run from, which is not a physical malady but something far more existential.

A little note on writing style. Aoki's style breaks scenes up into vignettes, putting in section breaks even when a scene carries on immediately afterwards with the same character, enforcing its emotional pauses and beats. It takes a bit of getting used to but it really underlines when something in a scene has changed the context or the world for the character experiencing it, forcing the audience pause with them as their reality adjusts itself and then pick back up where we left off. In other circumstances I could see myself finding this style difficult to get on with, but here it really, really works. I don't know why, but it's quirky and delightful without being intrusive, and something about it fits the style of Light From Uncommon Stars very well.

In short, this is a wonderfully quirky ensemble piece, with a character at its heart who deserves everything and is ultimately given... well, enough. Read it.
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Shizuka Satomi, a violin teacher known as the Queen of Hell, owes one more soul to demons due to an infernal bargain she struck. Young violinist Katrina Nguyen needs to escape her homelife, where her transness is rejected by her family, and to start anew, hopefully making videos with her music. And Lan Tran and her crew are striving to build a stargate—before the Galactic Empire falls to the Endplauge—while selling donuts at Starrgate Donuts in Los Angeles. Light from Uncommon Stars is the story of how these three women’s lives intersect, and is a novel filled to the brim with music so beautifully described, readers can almost hear it in the narrative.

Katrina opens the novel with her flight and her passion for music; Shizuka comes in quickly after with her soul-contract deadline and her desire to find one last musician to condemn to hell. When readers first encounter Lan and her alien crew, they may wonder how author Ryka Aoki can pull off a story that is at once soul-bargaining-with-demons and refugee-aliens-building-a-stargate. But as the story progresses, the themes and characters dovetail together so beautifully that readers will wonder how they ever doubted. 

Aoki explores what it means to be human, the nature of souls, and the importance of hope and love even in the face of what may seem hopeless, filling the novel with both good humor and acknowledgment of suffering. There is pain, and yet a sense that better things are to come. The love and care with which the characters imbue parts of their lives—whether it’s the music they play, the instruments they shape, or the food they create—gains a greater meaning by virtue of that love. The result is an incredibly powerful story of hope and redemption, of small voices shouting into dissonance and being heard.
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When she made a deal with a demon—harvest seven souls for Hell in order to save her own and win back her music—famed violinist Shizuka Satomi thought it would be a simple matter. After all, the competitive world of classical violin is nothing if not cutthroat. And her first six proteges were all eager to strike a deal, to give up their own souls for the chance at unrivaled greatness. But that was years ago. Shizuka’s running out of time to find her seventh soul…and the girl she does find is nothing like her previous students.

Katrina Nguyen has run away from an abusive home life. With her escape bag full of clothes, her hormones, and the one violin she has left, she makes her way to Evan’s house. But instead of the easy acceptance that kicked off her acquaintance with Evan at an LGBTQ group, she finds herself being used in all senses of the word. Katrina finds a bit of respite at a park teeming with families, sports enthusiasts, and ducks. She also meets a woman named Shizuka who, noticing Katrina’s violin case, offers to be Katrina’s teacher. That offer feels too good to be true. But time and again, Shizuka proves not only that her offer is genuine, but that she will be a staunch ally to a runaway transgender teen. Once Katrina gets settled and she finally has the chance to really play violin, she begins to feel comfortable in her own skin.

While Shizuka mentors Katrina, she also finds herself drawn into the orbit of a woman named Lan Tran. Lan is the owner of the local donut shop, the mother of four, and an alien. In fact, Lan chose this particular donut shop because it is located exactly where a level-five gamma ray is projected to hit earth in about 250 years. Time enough for Lan and her family to rig the giant concrete donut outside the shop with a stargate…provided she and her family-crew can get the stargate operational. Staying on task proves difficult when Lan is so distracted by a beautiful violin teacher who is driven by her own secrets.

Light From Uncommon Stars is an engrossing science fantasy title from author Ryka Aoki. The magic of this book is so difficult to capture in a summary. I absolutely want readers to know that Shizuka, Katrina, and Lan are the three main characters in this story, but they are surrounded by a delightfully varied cast of supporting characters. Shizuka, for example, has Astrid, her long-time housekeeper and Tremon, the demon with whom she has struck her demonic deal for souls. These two interact with Shizuka in ways that really made her pop as a character—someone unflappably sophisticated and perhaps something of an anti-hero. I loved falling in love with Shizuka, only to be torn over what she would ultimately decide to do about owing Hell one more soul—Katrina’s. Lan is also surrounded by her literal family-cum-starship crew. They have already mostly assimilated to life on earth, but I really enjoyed not being 100% sure if they were truly just an odd-ball family who got a kick out of calling industrial baking equipment “replicators” and called a recipe for a donut a “reference donut.” I also liked how their thread felt so closely intertwined with Shizuka’s, and later Katrina’s…but also so wholly separate with their own drama. And then, it all comes together so seamlessly in the end.

I thought the storytelling was simply marvelous. The book overall is broken down into months, then into chapters. Each chapter, however, is a series of short chunks that string together in a way that keeps every page interesting. The switches are well marked, while still maintaining excellent flow. Single scenes may start from Shizuka’s point of view until they reach a climax, then will shift to Katrina’s or vice versa. I loved how this developed the action from both perspectives. For me, this felt most often applied when something about Katrina’s identity as a transwoman was being brought to the fore. This was also the device that allowed me to fall for Shizuka. Despite knowing she was ostensibly only after Katrina’s soul, the storytelling really showed that Shizuka cared about Katrina.

This effect where we switch from one character’s point of view to another at crucial moments runs throughout the story. It’s equally successfully applied to the main romance in the book that unfolds between Lan and Shizuka. For me, this relationship was such a sweet and surprisingly awkward slow burn. I feel like it actually started out with insta-feelings, but Lan—being both an alien and the trained captain of a spaceship/brilliant scientist—is delightfully awkward. At first, she feels like she’s too…old, too much of a mother, too much of a ship commander, too needing to stay on task with the donut shop and building the stargate to even pursue Shizuka. Yet the two keep coming together. It’s not all roses and champagne, however. Aoki does a brilliant job showing how Lan unintentionally makes Shizuka feel like she’s inferior, then shows how they work through that. This pattern repeats when Lan tries to pull rank among her crew and it’s Shizuka who is able to make Lan see how damaging that attitude would be. And the loveliest part of all of it, for me at least, is how I finally felt like I got to read a romance where it wasn’t off-the-charts, panty-dropping physical attraction or the attractiveness of the characters that was driving the romance…but the strengths (and weaknesses) of the characters themselves.

Light From Uncommon Stars is a fantastic story. It features delightfully flawed characters that come together as an ensemble to tell an amazing story. As dissimilar as the individual parts sound—a demon hungry for souls, a damned violin teacher, a runaway trans girl, a donut lady from another galaxy, a cursed luthier—Aoki weaves these all together to marvelous effect. The characters grow as the story expands and builds. There is superb attention to detail with foreshadowing that neatly ties various, seemingly disparate elements of the story together. And the ending is so fantastically satisfying, both happy and bittersweet, it actually brought tears to my eyes. This is a must read for anyone!
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This book is hard for me to review, honestly. (Besides donuts?)

It's not something I would usually pick up or vibe with, but on a recommendation from TJ Klune, I decided to give it a go. 

A mix of sci-fi and fantasy, it touches on some heavy things (it really should have a CW in front), and was hard to read at many points. 

The synopsis:

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka's ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She's found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan's kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul's worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

I'm giving this book 4 stars because it really feels like an important book for the groups it represents, and has some really beautiful, transcendent writing. Even if it was a bit jarring and too out-there for me, I think this book has found it's true audience and will be enjoyed by many.

A big thank you to Tor and NetGalley for the ebook in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
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This was… interesting. In a good way! It made me really think, and required brain power, which is probably why I didn’t know what was happening half the time – I really shouldn’t have read this at 1am for like four nights in a row hahaha.

Light From Uncommon Stars is a stunning novel. It’s brutal (I mean it when I say check the triggers), and it discusses incredibly powerful subjects – transphobia, familial love, souls, and how much we will risk for our passion. From the very beginning, Light From Uncommon Stars accosted me with abuse, misgendering, porn, sexual assault, rape and so much more – and at first, I really wasn’t prepared. But as I continued reading, I grew to appreciate the author’s brutal writing style more and more, until I was completely invested in this enriching and bold sci-fi/fantasy novel, rich with outer space adventures, aliens, demons, soul-selling and so much more.

“Yet, this student, this human being, had been forsaken not for ambition, nor revenge, nor even love, but for merely existing? Who needs the Devil when people can create a hell like this themselves?”
(This quote may not be in the published version of this novel, it was copied from the advanced reader’s copy.)

This is a story ripe with hate, and cruelty, and abuse of all kinds. It hits hard, and it leaves a mark. One of our protagonists, Katrina, is a queer transgender runaway – and her life is not easy. Not in the slightest. But this story is also one of love and hope and the dream of a better world, and Katrina’s growth and development displays this in an absolutely gorgeous way. Her passion for the violin, her fear of the world but her desperation to be free – Ryka Aoki has turned all these emotions into a powerful performance, and I loved watching it happen.

“Tomorrow is tomorrow. Over there is over there. And here and now is not a bad place and time to be, especially when so much of the unknown is beautiful.”
(This quote may not be in the published version of this novel, it was copied from the advanced reader’s copy.)

Ryka Aoki’s writing style is magical and captivating, and though I found this story very confusing at times – very. confusing. – I still loved reading the way she’d crafted each sentence. Each character was so very human – metaphorically – and whether they were plum-coloured, Vietnamese or someone who’d been dooming people’s souls for years, I loved learning about each character and watching them grow. And grow they did. No character was perfect, and they made mistakes – big ones, the kind that happen in real life but tend to be brushed over in books to be replaced with dramatic missions to save the world – and then learnt from these mistakes. The sapphic romance was so sweet, and I thought the ending was absolutely touching. We also got the POVs of some of the side characters, and I loved their little storylines as well, as they learnt about how food is better when baked with love, and how maybe family – though they may try to protect you – aren’t always right.

This book also had a measure of humour, which I really appreciated, as it offset the serious themes really well.

“These are aubergines? Miss Satomi—my violin is named… Eggplant?”
(This quote may not be in the published version of this novel, it was copied from the advanced reader’s copy.)

All in all, I really enjoyed Light From Uncommon Stars, and my only complaint is that I was often confused – possibly my fault though, maybe I should have slept instead of reading this in the early hours of the morning haha. Ryka Aoki’s writing is powerful and magical, and I look forward to reading more of her work! The queer and trans rep was superb, and I have only the highest respect for someone who manages to tie so many vastly different themes into one book. Thank you so much to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC copy provided in exchange for an honest review ❤.
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This fantasy/science fiction/something special whips up a story with demons, aliens, and musical prodigies all while centering queer identities and people of color. It tackles transphobia and racism with a donut in one hand and a violin in the other. This is also why I found myself desperately contemplating where one can find donuts, intergalactic or otherwise, in the dead of night.

Katrina is the student in our master and apprentice duo. A trans Asian American girl, she has experienced much hatred and struggle in her life: from body dysmorphia to misgendering, from racism to dangerous sex work situations, and from a family that harms her to "friends" in the queer community that use her. Our master violinist is Shizuka Satomi, a teacher with a hellish contract that has led her to sacrifice six former students' souls. Only one more will release her own soul and music from their contractual prison. And she's drawn to Katrina's music, the last of her prodigy pupils.

Our final main perspective is Lan's. Hers is a refugee story on an intergalactic scale. She brought her family to Earth, a backwater planet, against all odds, to escape a collapsing empire. Now, the family business has shifted from war and survival to donut-making. Plus, Lan finds herself smitten with Shizuka even though she can't fathom the other woman's preoccupation with the trivialities of music and souls.

To me, this book was about the triumph of art for the human condition, whether it is video game music or a lovingly made baked good. It draws our eye to art's transportative, emotive power. My favorite aspect of the story was the found family. The development of these bonds is deep and heart-wrenching rather than some of the more cutesy iterations of the trope. I think this approach is more meaningful and lifelike because of it. Also, I recommend listening to Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin during the relevant final chapters for a fully multisensory experience.

This landed a bit too far into literary territory for my tastes, but I appreciated the raw storytelling and the carefully crafted meaning of the book. This is also a great opportunity to support a trans author telling a sometimes soul-crushing but ultimately hopeful story about a trans woman finding her way. It's a powerful read.
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Light From Uncommon Stars is a journey to be savored, like a perfect cup of tea or a stirring performance. As a reader who tends to rush through books, this one set a slower tempo that required me to calm down and get immersed in the story. There's so many things to love: the wonderfully drawn characters, the mouth-watering descriptions of food (if you don't come out of this craving donuts I don't know think we read the same book), the delightful blend of sci-fi with everyday life, and the vibrant diversity and representation. And while I don't know much about classical music or violin, that didn't prevent me from fully enjoying the story. When I started this book I was curious about how the stories of Katrina, Lan, and Shizuka would intersect and become a cohesive whole and watching it all come together was so satisfying. This book is very beautiful but it is painful at times, particularly the harassment and hate that Katrina faces as a trans woman of color. Katrina's story got to me the most and I was encouraged by the love and support she finds, and in the way she grows. 

Unique, lovely, moving, and hopeful!
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How does one encapsulate the feeling of music in mere words? Because this was… music. At times unfamiliar, discordant, stuttering and surging in turn, the melody began to take shape between meals shared and lessons given, resolving in a resounding, affirming swell of “you are beautiful and worthy of happiness” and “I know this journey too” and “home is where you make it” and “you are loved, loved, loved.” I had to sit a moment in silence at the end—just to listen to the echos rippling through my soul—before I could give this one its standing ovation.
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Girls surviving is my brand. Ryka Aoki brings me that in the rawest and sweetest form–a story about a trans girl with scars. It’s about the power of found family, with the absolute loveliest and space-tastic sapphic mommas you’ll ever read. It’s bittersweet but also has that feeling of losing yourself in an old romantic bookstore.

The premise to Light From Uncommon Stars seemed absolutely wild to me. That Tor published this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The weird and fresh science fiction belongs to them more than any other speculative imprint. It does feel like Tor says yes to every original idea and manages to make it marketable when most publishers wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. The Queen of Hell, a Faustian bargain, a trans runaway with dreams of classical music, alien asylum seekers, aliens making donuts.

I’m just a gay reader dragged into the water towards the beautiful sirens.

That siren appears to be Ryka Aoki.

Katrina Nguyen, a young trans woman, ran away from her abusive home and into the hands of toxic gays. If there’s one thing she can put her hope in, it’s her violin. But when the one person in San Gabriel Valley that gave her a safe place tries to sell her only solace on this earth, she flees for another path. Every place shows her transphobia, violence, and abuse. Like many trans women, she has few resources and fewer options for supporting herself. Ryka Aoki depicts a very real and unflinching portrayal of trans experiences with sex work.

Returning to the U.S., Satomi looks for her last and 7th soul. Every one of her six students rose to fame with a sudden tragic fall into the pits of hell. Yet Shizuka Satomi stays ageless. Just one step closer to her freedom. After grabbing some perfectly designed donuts from Starrgate donuts, Satomi happens upon her next student. Katrina, playing on her violin, captures the ear of the famed violin teacher. She finds a home like no other.

Katrina is an abuse survivor trying to piece herself together. Dynamic, magical, complicated, and a total sweetheart, I fell hard for Katrina. She’s one of the most vibrant and scabs-on-your-knees raw characters I’ve read in a long time. Abuse is a part of her. That’s one thing that made me sink into her. I utterly refused to leave her and would cry any time she left me. Abuse survivors are the ones I love most. For the firey rage and claws for a world that burned us from the start but also for the soft exterior we all seem to present, even with all our different experiences.

All the characters felt fun and interesting. All of them had such carefully chosen details that made me interested in knowing more about them. One such character and relationship I became enthralled with is that of Lan Tran. A spaceship captain and mother of four, she runs a perfect little donut shop (and a slow burn romance with Shizuka on the side).

Ryka Aoki treated me like I arrived just in time for a strawberry milkshake—a quaint invitation to a world of compassionate and sparkling souls.

In such a horrible world, I see a story about choosing to own the scars and still be loved. What I loved most is this: it’s a love story about non-humans taking in a magical girl, healing their trauma with queer joy, and bags stuffed with donuts. Okay, I can’t get over the food. It is necessary that authors feed me their wonderful queer SciFi novels with fatty foods from now on. The food, the donuts, love amidst all the despair—It was such a magical place to be.
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I want to bottle this book up into a room spray for whenever I need like, a sugar rush emotional happiness boost. LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS is sci-fi with some fantasy with some magical realism all mushed together and it is everything I never knew I needed. It took me all of 20 pages before I was enamored with Aoki's writing style. Within the chapters, we had these short little POV bursts that ranged from a sentence to a paragraph to a couple of pages and moved seamlessly through the characters. I'm sure you're reading that and thinking "nah, that sounds chaotic", I would have thought so too! But Aoki must have sold their soul because it works so well, fits the tone of the book and the characters into the style, and was never once confusing. 

Besides flawless writing, this book made me want to eat everything it ever talked about from giant donuts to roasted duck. Food was so central for all these characters and their relationships to their community and themselves. Even a trip to dinner had a side story about the past of the community and you could just feel the love there. The same care also applied to discussing music. The core of this plot was around a violin teacher and her student and themes around the power of music in people's lives was constant and evolving. My favorite sections were when Katrina played her violin or the smell or taste of food invoked a strong memory from the characters. It was beautiful and really felt like the book was a love note to the things that bring us joy and love and emotions outside of the NOW. Which, isn't that what we all really need right now?

And finally, this book tackles some heavy issues around acceptance about who you are and some of the darker sides of many people. Katrina is trans and a big part of her journey is overcoming the trauma of emotional and physical abuse from her parents and people she considered friends and also the subtle microaggressions and deadnaming/mis-pronouning that occurs daily. Moments of her having to gear herself up and put on her thick skin to do something as simple as pick up dinner. 

There are definitely some moments of transphobia, homophobia, rape, and abuse (off-page) that occur and it should be read with care, 

I was only halfway through when I knew this is a book I wanted on my bookshelf and to be able to loan out to friends so put in my pre-order without even finishing (and let me tell you THAT ENDING *chef kiss* I think I made a good call)
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This is a really great book. Usually, I find it really easy to pick out what I liked about a book but this one is tricky. It's just such a great story... epic. It's filled with love, hope and made me think. Really, It kind of defies description. Would highly recommend this one!
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I’ve been sitting on my review for Light from Uncommon Stars forever, and I think I’m throwing in the towel on finding words that appropriately express how much of an impact this novel had on me. A sweeping, immaculately structured story about art, hope, family, love, and the poignancy of daring to imagine a better future, all wrapped up in a genre-defying blend of sci-fi and fantasy. Not just a favourite of 2021 for me but an all time favourite, too.

Thank you to Tor Books and NetGalley for an advance reader copy. All opinions are my own.
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Shizuka Satomi must deliver seven souls to hell after making a deal with the devil long ago. She has already given six souls to hell. Virtuoso violinists exchanged their souls for successful musical careers and fame. If Shizuka does not deliver the seventh soul, her soul will go to hell. A runaway trans young woman named Katrina Nguyen becomes her last student. Meanwhile, Captain Lan Tran arrives on Earth with her family escaping a Galactic War and the Endplague. Music, love, and family bring these three women together in a story about unique characters finding themselves and redemption in unexpected places.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki is a story like none other. It integrates violins, music competitions, extraterrestrial beings, a demon, deals with the devil, queer relationships, abuse, and new family ties. The structure of the novel is not ordinary either. Moments and events occur in a few paragraphs separated from other sections. The setting and characters do not necessarily change in the following section, which visually interrupts the reading. .

Aoki succeeds at making the reader put themselves in Katrina’s shoes and feel for her. She is a trans young woman running away from abuse and leading a harsh life without a home. Some abuse and sexual scenes, however, are hard to read. For some readers, it might be challenging to identify with Katrina’s choices relating to sex work. Overall, the novel is about beautiful music, new beginnings, and finding a new family, which are uplifting subjects. But there is a darkness to it, too, that suddenly strikes the pages and feels uneasy.
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On this episode of Everything is Canon, Steve talks to author Ryka Aoki all about her brand new book, Light From Uncommon Stars which is described as, “Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.”

In what is truly one of the most theme heavy and astonishing books you’ll read this year, Light From Uncommon Stars is incredibly hard to pin down. It subverts traditional storytelling in the best way and handily toils in unconventionality, so much in fact I don’t know if any other book this year will stick with you the same way. With a top to bottom superb cast of characters, vitally important and tight messaging, and converging plotlines that will make your head spin, Light From Uncommon Stars definitely lives up to its name.

Steve and Ryka talk about her many skills and passions, her humanitarian work, loads of violin talk, Light From Uncommon Stars of course, and much, much more.

For the full interview, click the link below...
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I struggled with this one. I loved seeing Katrina blossom but also still struggle with identity, her body, how she is perceived, what she "deserves" - it kept her grounded and complex and dimensional, even as she enters into a world that is so much more complicated than one might imagine. As a former musician myself, I also really appreciated the way music and instruments were described throughout.

However... It felt like the plot wasn't going anywhere. The other characters felt very opaque to me. And the consequences for both action and inaction just didn't feel real. I kept waiting for the big moment when things would start to go wrong, but it never really happened.

I know people will read this book and feel seen, but for me it just... Took too long
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Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by NetGalley, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.

Honestly, I'm at a loss for words. Ryka Aoki used the English language so brilliantly that there are no words left that are worthy to describe LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS.

This is a novel about women from all walks of life. About what the world puts them through, what the world expects of them, and the pressures that they put on themselves. It's a novel about living as your true self, of accepting your true self. It's a novel about love and friendship and found families. It's a novel about music and ambition. And it's a novel about food. Oh the food... don't read this on an empty stomach. Aoki's writing style is magical, readers will get swept up in the imagery and the emotion of it all.

Shizuka Satomi may have made a deal with a demon for fame. Shizuka Satomi may have agreed upon delivering 7 souls to Hell to save her own. But there's far more to Shizuka Satomi's story than that. 

Katrina Nguyen is a transgender runaway who has been horribly abused by their family and community. They've been abused by most of the world, yet they keep fighting for a place in this world. Katrina's story is brutal to read, but I feel like it's SUCH an important story to be heard (say it louder for the folx in the back that are the ones that really need to listen to experiences like Katrina's). 

Lan Tran and her family aren't exactly human... and their purchase of a donut shop had some ulterior motives. But it's through that donut shop that Lan is forced to come to terms with humanity and the purpose of life.

Then there's Astrid and Lucy. So many women are given space to tell their story within Aoki's pages. And each story beautifully weaves through the others. 

Sure there are deals with the devil for one's soul, there are beings from outer space. But really this novel is about humanity, about life, about acceptance. And maybe a little bit about how music can have the power to save us all.

LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS was a unique reading experience I won't soon forget. I look forward to reading whatever Aoki writes next and this will easily become a novel that I suggest to readers far and wide.
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