Cover Image: Light From Uncommon Stars

Light From Uncommon Stars

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Member Reviews

First, I would like to thank NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. It was really cool to feel a part of the publishing industry, even if it's just as a mere reviewer.

Light From Uncommon Stars is, in plain and simple terms, a love letter to music. And violin. It presents itself in modern terms, championing gender identity and racial equality as it goes, with a sprinkling of supernatural and science fiction features; but it is, in and of itself, a love letter to music.

Katrina Nguyen is a gifted violinist. Shizuka Satomi is a gifted violin teacher. It's a match made in Heaven. Or Hell, more like. You see, Shizuka has made a deal with the devil, and must deliver the souls of seven violin prodigies if she wants to keep hers from damnation. She's already provided Hell with six of her students, and Katrina is to be the seventh. But, many donuts, video game songs and conversations about Galactic battles and plagues later, what seems like a straight forward transaction might look a bit different.

Before I say anything else: this book is beautifully written. The prose is lyrical and evocative, and it drips with love and emotion, specially when discussing music. Many times I found myself longingly looking towards my own violin, itching to reach out and play it even when busy with work, and many more I caught my wrist moving as if holding a bow. Ms. Aoki's writing did that. Her obvious love and admiration for music did that. I'm happy I read it for that reason alone.

But then, this is a two star review. And that is because, sadly, the story fell somewhat flat for me. The plot was at times both too busy, and too empty. It felt like it was trying too many things at the same time for no good reason, mixing too many genres, twisting too many knots. The blurb claimed this book was a wonderfully weird medley of aliens, demons and violinists, and yet, the end result, in my opinion, provided a tangled mess that often left me wondering what the whole point of it all was.

There were too many storylines. The aliens and their donut shop were, again, in my opinion, an unnecessary plot device that added a degree of ridiculousness to a book that seemed to take itself too seriously for it to have been intentional. I saw no payoff that justified it, and it made me feel a little betrayed that I had spent so long with characters that could have just as easily been from a different state, instead of a different galaxy, and the consequences would have been the same.

And for the plot lines that were more grounded and developed, like Shizuka's deal with the devil, the stakes were low and soft. I never felt the sense of peril one expects from such a deal, and as such the conflict didn't seem very... conflicting. The main villain was more of a recurring character that would occasionally shake his head disapprovingly, and so the fight to keep Katrina's soul became more of a brisk walk in the park than an uphill battle.

The weight of this novel was shouldered by Katrina's struggle with her own gender identity and, once again, by Ms. Aoki's love of music. And that in and of itself, is fine by me. Those two aspects by themselves, paired with Ms. Aoki's beautiful writing, would have made a 5 star book for me, one I would be happy to re-read. Sadly, they were encumbered by an overachieving plot of galactic proportions.

But if that's something that appeals to you, which judging by the overwhelming love for this book here on Goodreads, then please read this book. It will enchant you.
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This book was not at all what I was expecting. I was mildly interested in the premise of a soul stealing violin teacher, and then all of a sudden Ryka Aoki throws in a family of donut making aliens, as if that is the most natural thing in the world, and I loved it. I legitimately had to pick up my phone and skip back a couple of minutes in the audiobook to make sure that I hadn’t missed something, but this stark contrast of dark demons and purple aliens made for a fabulous and entirely unique novel.

Seriously though, Light from Uncommon Stars was incredible. I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to listen to an ARC of the audiobook through Netgalley. The book delves into some really deep questions about what it takes to create something, whether that something is music or food. Until reading this book I had never considered how both good food, and good music have the ability to make you feel emotions in the same way. It was fascinating to watch the way that the Tran family's journey to discover how to make a great donut paralleled Katrina’s Journey to becoming a talented violinist. And I was constantly hungry while reading because there were so many delicious meals described. 

Ryka Aoki also did a fabulous job of helping the reader understand the difficulties that Katrina Nguyen faces as a trans woman trying to navigate the world. There are really no punches held. You see exactly what Katrina has to do to survive and how her experiences make the world seem like a harsh and unforgiving place. I desperately wanted to give this character a hug and tell her that not everyone in the world is cruel and hateful towards trans individuals. But it did what all great books should do, which is give their readers a new perspective to look at the world through. 

I don’t have much to say about the audiobook itself. It was read in a very soothing calm tone, which worked well for certain parts of the book, but in others it felt a little incongruous with what was happening in the story. This is a small quibble though, overall the narrator had a great voice and the book worked well read out loud.
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It's really hard to describe this book. There were comparisons to Good Omens, but I don't really see it. There are a few funny lines and it's a little irreverent, but it's a totally different tone. Katrina is a very modern girl with very modern problem. It's hard to say if she's realistic as she lives a very niche life. The Queen of Hell was a very confusing character, I guess the moral of her story is that love can change a person for the better? I would have loved more character. I want an entire book written about the Stargate Donuts family. I want to know more about their history, they were the most interesting characters. This really deserves to be a trilogy - book 1 about the aliens, book two about the Queen of Hell and this as book 3.
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In this #OwnVoices novel, Katrina Nguyen is a transgender teen on the run from her abusive father. Shizuka Satomi is a famed violin instructor recruiting her next soul for hell. Lan Tran is a donut shop owner, starship captain, intergalactic refugee, and mother of four. It's hard to believe the lives of these three women will come to intersect, but the author makes this unlikely story work quite well, while integrating themes of identity, found family and immigration. I picked up this audiobook partly because I thought it would be a bit more science fiction-y than it actually turned out to be. I found the pace a tad slow in places, but the characters were compelling and I was moved by Katrina's story. I think music lovers (especially those who listen to or play violin) will especially enjoy this book.
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A donut shop, a cursed violinist searching for souls, a woman finding her way away from an abusive home, a violin maker, oh and Aliens. There’s a lot to unpack here! Sci-if books typically are not my preferred genre, but I must say, I deeply enjoyed this story. Often times poignant and moving, the overarching themes of this book far transcend a sci-fi generalization. Light From Uncommon Stars explores the concepts of family, the value of life, culture, and what it invariably means to be human… albeit in a very interesting way.
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Light from uncommon stars is beautifully poetic and so breathtaking. From donut shops to queer alien relationships, this book shot straight to my heart. This book features a young trans character and combines fantasy and sci fi quite brilliantly
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This book is a lot. It has deals with demons, a transgender protagonist, sentient AI, space travel, and LOTS of classical music. I can see how some people will LOVE this story but for me it felt like it took on a little too much at times. That being said there is a lot to love; tons of badass femme characters, a doughnut shop, great narration, and lots of warmth and humor to balance the gravity of the conflicts. Ultimately it’s message is about what makes a life worth living and that I can get behind. 

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this ALC.
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I don't have much to say it was okay it was very interesting, to say the least, I loved the queen of hell
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4.5 stars

CW: transphobia, misgendering, dead-naming 

I really enjoyed this book!  It has a unique premise, and it’s not often (ever?) that I read a sci-fi book with aliens in it that doesn’t take place in space.
The characters were lovely and even though I know nothing about violins, I didn’t have to in order to understand what was happening in the story.  I even YouTubed Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin!
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This is a book that, without a doubt, makes the reader (or in my case listener) think. The story is overall stunning, touching on topics such as acceptance, love, souls and how far one is willing to risk to achieve their goals. Confusing at times, the elements of this story come together at the climax to leave the reader with a powerful message and questions to consider.

Light From Uncommon Stars is a book where potential readers definitely need to be mindful of the trigger warnings, since there is transphobia, assault, abuse and other hard topics shown from the very beginning of the novel and readers should be prepared for that. The story is told through a brutal writing style, which serves the story well, but may be too much for some readers. The more I listened to the audiobook, the more I appreciated this style because, while not always easy, it was a decision the author was fully committed to. I found myself completely invested in this engaging sci-fi epic with Faustian undertones. While this was not quite the novel I expected it to be, and it may not be the book for everyone, I'm in awe of the beautiful, brutal writing.
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This beautiful book works well even though its premise is a mix-match of science fiction and demon lore. 

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with a demon. Seven violin souls in exchange for hers.

Lan Tran is hiding on our planet while running a donut shop with her four children. 

Katrina Nguyen is a trans who ran away from home to live her life. She's also a violin progeny.

All together, they form a bond to protect each other from the ugly transphobe and racist world.

Warning: this book doesn't shy away from transphobia and racist words. People can be very nasty, and Katrina desperately needs someone in her corner. The beginning is harrowing to read regarding Katrina. She's alone and homeless. Her path isn't easy even when she meets Shizuka and Lan, but there is a softness around their group when they all meet and create a found family. This book feels comforting no matter how mean other people treat Katrina because she has so much support surrounding her. Honesty, I would have liked her to go to a therapist because her self-doubt wouldn't go away by itself.

Even though Lan and Shizuka are charming together, they still have room to grow as individuals and as a couple. They push each other to be better people. The slight problem with Lan and Shizuka is that their chapters usually go into great detail with the descriptions of food. Of course, doughnuts are the most usual food that gets described in epic detail. So have an iron will on your stomach, or else you'll be hungry for half the book.

Review based on an advanced reader copy provided through Netgalley for an honest review.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher I was able to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
***
I got this book as an audio. Cindy Kay, the narrator, had such a lovely voice and it added to the lyrical way the story was written. I felt so drawn in and hated when I had to pause the book and was taken away from it all.
Light From Uncommon Stars  was so painful and beautiful and I never wanted it to end. It is a story of identity, legacy, and moving on and forward.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with a demon and to keep her soul she must entice seven violin prodigies into giving up theirs for success, she has already delivered six and is on the hunt for her last student. Katrina Nguyen is a runaway from a family that won’t accept her as who she is, female. When her violen playing catches the ear of Shizuka they form an unlikely bond as Shizuka trains Katrina’s playing into the skilled player she can tell she is and will become, and Katrina begins to find peace in herself and who she is in the safety of Shizuka’s home. 
Meanwhile the local donut shop is home to a family of intergalactic space refugees. Lan Tran the retired starship captain and mother of four brought her family to earth to escape the war that has been ravaging her empire and when she meets Shizuka over coffee and donuts another bond is formed as the two find peace in each other and the company and talks they share.
This book was so beautiful, I cried and I laughed. I cried the most over Katrina, for every one step she made forward there was always another step or two back but her resiliency and strength, along with the amazing support group she found in Shizuka’s home, helped her find her footing and her journey was so achingly beautiful. I cried the most over her but she was such an amazing character, I loved her. Shizuka’s eyes being opened to how the world has changed since her original deal was also fun to watch, she’s been a part of the world without really being a part of it for awhile now so her seeing the world that Katrina introduced her to was fun, having to change her opinion on violin and music and what makes a good artist or a good song. Lan I think I wished I’d gotten a little more of just her because I feel I know Shizuka and Katrina really well but not Lan. Not really. Shizuka and Lan’s relationship was so sweet, watching them get closer over feeding ducks and meals shared and just, this book has pretty much bumped all my other “I think this is my favorite book of the year” claims and taken the number one spot.
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People have tried comparing this to other books but this book is legitimately like nothing that I’ve ever read. Often people lump fantasy and sci-fi books together in the same category even tho the genres are completely different. This book takes sci-fi and fantasy and juxtaposes them in such a way that it’s a bit like a modern art: clashing colors and shapes which seem to make no sense but somehow work together to create something beautiful. 

I loved the characters, flaws and all. The friendships and and romantic entanglements, and aspects of found family really come together to tell a truly unique story. 

If you ever thought of pairing an alien with the queen of hell both helping a young trans music prodigy sell her soul, well this is your book. And if you’ve NEVER thought of it…this could still be your book.
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This book has much sorrow as well as much joy.  Katrina has been abused because she is transgender and she longs for love and acceptance.  Shizuka has made a deal with a demon to provide him with talented violinists and she thinks that Katrina can fit the bill as her last student. And Lan, an alien who is running a donut shop while trying to save her family, and possibly the universe, falls in love with Shizuka. Can they help one another and banish their demons?
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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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The only comparison I see between Good Omens (which I've read twice so far) and Light From Uncommon Stars is that there are demon characters in both—several (and more prominent) in the former; one (of minimal importance, overall) in the latter. As for Light From Uncommon Stars being a "defiantly joyful adventure," I'm afraid I have to take exception to that, too. There is little humor or happiness in the book (put a pin in this statement for a moment). Instead, there is racism, oppression, misogyny, and abuse. This is particularly true for Katrina, who is misgendered, deadnamed, assaulted, and more.

The book jumps willy-nilly from one character and topic to another. At the same time, there isn't a lot of movement in the story. It felt particularly and painfully long in that very little actually happens.

Light From Uncommon Stars is not without merit. There's a heavily female cast of characters—in addition to those highlighted in the publisher's summary, there's a female assistant/housekeeper to Ms. Satomi who is a real gem; a violin master builder/repairer from a line of (male) masters; and two of Ms. Tran's children, who are smart and warm. Several close/warm relationships form during the story, across generations and backgrounds. The book celebrates music (particularly but not exclusively violin) and food. It is in the relationships, music, and food that satisfaction and happiness can be found.

While this wasn't a stunner for me, it might be for you.

Content warnings (incomplete): racism, transphobia, sexual assault, violence.

[3-]

Thank you, NetGalley, Macmillan Audio, and Tor Books, for the audio ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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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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I used to work at a donut shop, but unfortunately I never fell in love with the Queen of Hell on the job.

Going into this book, I wasn't sure what to expect. This story has a lot going for it: violins, donuts, space aliens, deals with a demon. Two sapphic Asian MCs and a trans woman MC. There are many supernatural and sci-fi elements going on in this story, yet... it feels normal within the context of the book? The fantastical elements of the story are not at the forefront, but they play a huge part in the narrative and the characters' motivations. Lan is an extra terrestrial, yet she is so believably human; she's only trying to save her family. Shizuka is collecting souls to send to Hell, yet she's caring, curious, and so connected to nature.

The prose in this book is also remarkable. I'm not usually one to comment on the use of language in contemporary novels, I really just like a good story and unless the the writing is particularly bad, I don't pay much attention to it. However, Aoki is particularly gifted in her use of prose in supporting the narrative. I don't know much about violin, but I could practically hear the characters play.

This book has a lot of love woven into it. This is an OwnVoice narrative, and although there are some stereotypes portrayed by some characters, the work was done to subvert them as well and create full-fledged, multidimensional characters.

This book has a surprisingly wholesome tone considering some of the very dark subject material throughout. I really enjoyed the style of the book, and it felt unique in a lot of ways. I fully recommend this book, especially fans of sci-fi. I read an ebook version in conjunction with the audiobook. I liked the narrator of the audiobook fine, but I personally preferred reading the ebook for this novel.

As always, check content warnings.

Thank you, NetGalley, for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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<b>CW: racism, xenophobia, transphobia, parental abuse, anxiety and panic attacks</b> 

It’s probably more of a 4.5.

This is another book which wasn’t at all on my radar but then I read some reviews and  immediately felt like this was something I couldn’t miss. And I was so right. 

The first thing I have to say is that this felt like something I’ve never read before. The way the author blends fantasy and sci-fi with raw humanity is masterful and I was left in awe. The writing in this book is exquisite, with every feeling that the author describes digging deep into our souls and leaving an indelible impression on me. The prose is raw and unflinching, and I did feel extremely sad and scared and so many other things at many points, but it was the quiet and sweet moments that make this one special. The book is also peppered with subtle commentary about the importance of found family and community - especially for queer people; the grief of displacement as well as the joy of finding a new home; and the myriad ways in which music enriches our lives. 

But despite the world here spanning a galactic empire mired in a war as well as a devil trying to take back souls to hell, the backbone of this story are music and food. I have always loved singing and listening to music since childhood, but I hardly have any detailed knowledge about instruments, especially nothing about western classical music. But the way the author describes each tone in the music being played, the differences and the charms of each classical piece, the way the music deeply affects the player as well as the listener - all this just touched my heart. And the food …. that was just something. The day that I started listening to this wonderful audiobook, I also started a diet and fitness program due to which there are very few foods I’m allowed to eat. And this book just happens to be filled page after page with mouthwatering and delectable food descriptions and the sweet and savory smells and flavors. Im pretty unfamiliar with most Asian cuisine but I could still feel how delicious the items being talked about are. But the ones that left me craving and very frustrated were donuts, Cinnabon’s cinnamon rolls and just any form of bread - because not only can I not eat them during this diet period, my mom would never let me touch any of them as long as I’m still stuck here at home. 

The ensemble cast is just brilliant in this book. Katrina is a young trans girl runaway who is escaping her abusive home and struggling to make a new life. Her parts were very difficult to read initially because there were some graphic descriptions of physical abuse as well as her struggle to survive in a new place with very few resources, while also beating herself up about being a freak and not being normal. Her only solace in these tough times is her self taught violin which gives some escape from the harsh real world. All that changes when she is taken in by the legendary violin teacher Shizuka, who sees her as a beautiful soul capable of producing enchanting music and doesn’t care about her body or gender. Together with Shizuka’s housekeeper Astrid, they both give Katrina the home she doesn’t have, the space to feel safe enough to explore her love for the violin as well as a future as a musician, and lots of delicious food to sustain her. 

And then there’s Lan and her family of unique beings. She may be a starship captain doubling as the owner of a donut shop, but she is also a mother and a woman with desires. Her developing relationship with Shizuka is a sweet slow burn, with two women who have been alone for a long while realizing that having someone along the journey of life is not such a bad thing. Lan’s children and aunt are also a bunch of interesting people with different personalities, trying to navigate life away from home on a new planet, discovering more about this world which maybe behind them in technology but is vibrant and full of amazing people, but also full of hatred towards the people whom anyone perceives as the other. 

In the end, this might have been a bit harsh and angsty and heartbreaking at times, but it’s also a beautiful story of broken people coming together to make a wonderful life for themselves, creating new experiences and sharing their joy with everyone around them. It’s a story of hope and family and community, as well as how important a part music and food play in enriching our bodies and souls. It’s also an excellently narrated audiobook and I’m glad I got to listen to it.
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This book is brilliant and gorgeous and haunting. My partner happened to overhear three sentences from another room and immediately pre-ordered it. I’ve been playing my viola and listening to more classical music even though it’s been 15 years since I last played. Everyone who loves sci-fi should read this one. I’m so happy to see Ryka Aoki’s work at Tor. Everyone has been sleeping on her for years and I’m so excited this comes out tomorrow so I can yell louder.
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