Member Reviews

Book Review of Stars and Smoke (Stars and Smoke #1) by Marie Lu

Cover Story: Who’s the Star?
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You x 2
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: Straight Up (With a Touch of Purple)
Bonus Factor: Representation
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Because It’s Lu

Cover Story: Who’s the Star?
The cover almost looks like a reversal of an early scene in the book in which Sydney walks past Winter’s picture on a billboard; this time she’s the one who looks glamorous and larger than life, and he’s the one caught in her orbit. It makes sense, since he’s the only one who admires her the same way the rest of the world admires him … Unless I’m just overthinking it.

The Deal:
Sydney Cossette, an operative of a private agency called the Panacea Group, is dismayed to find out her partner for her next job will be billionaire idol Winter Young. Since the daughter of notorious crime boss Eli Morrison is Winter’s biggest fan, the pop star is Panacea’s only chance at getting inside Morrison’s inner circle. Sydney, who’s had a rough life, is prepared to knock her famous new partner down a peg, but Winter is nowhere near as spoiled or shallow as she expected. Spotlights can hide the truth about someone as well as any agent’s cover story; also, it turns out, dancing and stage magic comes in surprisingly useful in the field … and did I mention they’re both attractive? Because of course they are.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You x 2
Sydney is smart, tough, undyingly loyal to the agency that saved her from an abusive childhood, and suspicious of everybody else. This makes her an ideal spy, but also very difficult to get along with. Winter, on the other hand, has enough charm and talent to make almost everybody like him. Underneath it all, though, he’s driven, restless, eager for a “thankless good deed” to give his privileged life purpose, and as lonely as she is, which is why they see through each other’s defenses so well.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Marie Lu is an expert at “enemies to lovers”, or “reluctant allies to lovers” in this case. Sparks fly, especially during Winter’s training sequences, where Sydney teaches him to get past an opponent’s guard and ends up lowering hers more than she intended.

Talky Talk: Straight Up (With a Touch of Purple)
Lu’s usually straightforward prose turns surprisingly poetic whenever she describes Winter, and the effect his looks and charisma have on the people around him. In the author’s note, she writes that his character was inspired by the band BTS, and that she’s a fan. Her admiration shows through very clearly in passages like these, in which Sydney watches Winter rehearsing:

There was no one else here, and yet, even now, he looked like a star, like he couldn’t help but burn so bright that even the air was drawn to him, that the moon yearned to illuminate him.

Sure, Sydney, if you say so.

Bonus Factor: Representation
Winter is Chinese-American, bisexual, and (rare for a male love interest in a romance novel) openly interested in things that are not considered traditionally masculine, like fashion and jewelry. He is also famous for drawing inspiration from his mixed heritage, combining different musical traditions and being fluent in English and Mandarin. The dancers he performs with (one of whom is his ex-boyfriend) include a Latino and a Black man; the three are close friends and take care of each other despite their high-pressure lifestyle. The director of Panacea is a Muslim hijabi woman; her group working alongside the CIA is never considered a problem, and her second-in-command, a white man, supports her wholeheartedly. (They have a “team mom and dad” vibe that makes me ship them.) Sydney is from a working-class background and has a lung condition, which she tries (unsuccessfully) to hide.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Sydney’s and Winter’s dads were both typical deadbeats, but while Sydney’s mother loved and encouraged her before she died, Winter’s mother sees his father in him. As if that’s not enough, Winter had an older brother, who was their mother’s favorite and died before the start of the story. Since then, Mrs. Young can barely look her surviving son in the eye, which is heartbreaking on far too many levels. Winter’s manager shows more concern for the boy’s welfare, and she’s the one getting paid.

Relationship Status: Because It’s Lu
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with Marie Lu’s books ever since the Legend series came out. With no sci-fi or fantasy elements, we don’t get to see as much of her world-building skills (although, this being a spy thriller, some of Panacea’s gadgets are pretty close to sci-fi territory). The romance is promising, though, especially since we know there’ll be time for it to develop further. As for the supporting characters, I’m looking forward to seeing more of them, such as Winter’s sweet ex-boyfriend or Sydney’s fatherly commander. And for pity’s sake, someone needs to grab Mrs. Young and drop her in the front row of Winter’s next concert. If ever a son needed his mother, this one does.

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I will preface this review by saying I am a huge fan of Marie Lu and how she weaves her stories with such compelling characters, complicated emotions and exciting adventures and situations. I loved this new series so much. Winter and Sydney were funny but also had their secrets. Even though the stakes were high in the book it didn’t feel like they were high and this book was just a delight to read. I am looking forward to reading more of their adventures!

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To me this took awhile to pick up. I understand you want to make us know and love the characters but it took forever for actual spy things to happen. My favorite part was during their spy mission but the first half of the book took forever to get there. Ultimately I would read more in this world.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this one still. I liked it while I was reading it but I found it very forgettable. I did really like the characters and the story line.

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I have enjoyed most of Marie Lu's books and this one was no different. I can't wait until the second one comes out. I love the enemies to lovers trope and all the sass that happens between the characters. I also am a sucker for pop stars, so that was a plus too.

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I read this book almost a year ago and just realized I never wrote a review for it. So, here it goes.

I thought this book was delightful. It is action-packed and full of cute romance. And despite all the violence and action, I think this may be Marie Lu's most wholesome book yet.

Sydney was a great character, I liked that she was the tough one, the seasoned spy. While Winter was softer and sweeter, but i liked that he could also be tough when the situation demanded it.

The overall plot was fun, it kept me very entertained and on the edge of my seat. Some of the plot twists threw me for a loop, which doesn't happen very often.

Would recommend it if you like action film-like books, spy media, and k-pop.
I can´t wait to read the next one.

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I didn't love this one but I also didn't hate this one. However I'm not sure how I feel about this one.

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I definitely am biased towards anything Marie Lu writes because she’s one of my favourite authors. This one had a great premise and spies? Count me in! it was fun and entertaining and a definite must read!

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book, as this book has already been published, I will not share my review on Netgalley at this time.

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This was a fun take on the spy genre. The characters were interesting, the premise was fun. Stars & Smoke was a fun debut to a series and I look forward to more from Marie Liu.

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I can definitely see the audience for this, between the boy band references and the spy business. I think it'll booktalk super easily to the kids too, which is nice.

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Winter is a moody pop star who feels a calling to do more than entertain. Sydney has a foster child background who was recruited by the government, and has become an elite spy. As the government continues to try to ensnare billionaire businessman Eli Morrison and prove his shady dealings, they enlist Winter who will be performing at the tycoon's daughter's birthday party. Sydney and Winter do not mesh well at first, but later realize their adverse reaction to each other is hiding much different feelings.

Good YA action/adventure from a gifted author. This book is a great recommendation for library patrons looking for Ally Carter read alikes. Hopefully Marie Lu is intending a sequel; the story left the door open for one, and it would likely be a well followed series.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this read. All opinions are my own.
Marie Lu is a fan favorite for YA novels. Enemies to lovers mixed with a spy thriller where an international pop sensation has to help take down a crime boss. Realistic? Not hardly. Fun and entertaining? Absolutely! I also liked the trope reversal where a woman is the bodyguard and more competent at espionage.

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Marie Lu is the best! This was such a fun read!!! Thank you to the publisher and to NetGalley for the opportunity to read in exchange for a review!

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This was requested when I first found out about NetGalley and I had requested so many ARCs that I could not get to all of them before they were archived. I really wanted to get to this one, as it seemed interesting. If I can find this somewhere for a reasonable price, I will try to get it! I am giving this book three stars, as I don't want to give it a good or bad rating, since I did not get to it and we have to leave a star rating.

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This is another unsurprising winner from Lu, who does a great job of keeping readers on edges of their seat not only with the slow-burn of the enemies-to-lovers romance but also with the action and adventure of the overall narrative. Lu has excellent pacing in this book and creates well-rounded characters that we feel invested in. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one in the series!

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I enjoyed this read once it got going, but apparently the superstar storyline is not my bread and butter. However, Marie's writing style is still fantastic, so worth the read.

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This was a wild ride. For some reason I went into this book expecting some, and it was very different than I thought but in a good way. Very YA mission impossible. There's a lot of action and turns I wasn't expecting. Overall this was a fun read that I didn't want to put down.

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Stars and Smoke is an interesting cross between an action packed thriller with a Kpop romance. It is compelling in a very different way than Marie Lu’s recent titles. At the end, you are left wanting more!

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I love Marie Lu's books, and this is no exception. I was interested in seeing how she did with a new genre, and I am not disappointed. I felt like the characters were both very compelling in their own ways and that the pace was great for the story. The romance was well done. The only things that keep this from getting a 5 star rating is the gimmick-y nature of the perfect teen pop idol and scrappy street teen dynamics. It made parts of the story seem stereotypical instead of being a fully unique story. I am very much looking forward to the next installment of this series.

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