Member Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group / Roaring Brook Press for an eARC!

The first thing to draw my eye to this novel was the cover. It's gorgeous, and I rarely love covers that have character art. Told in alternating POVs, Winter Young and Sydney Cossette are nearly opposite in every way. Winter is an international idol, think BTS but solo. As for Sydney, well she doesn't exist. No, literally, she can't exist. As a spy for an off-the-books agency that handles what the CIA can't, Sydney is like smoke in the wind. They also have that grumpy/sunshine trope going for them, and I absolutely loved Winter's antics throughout the book.

This was a nice departure from what I've been reading lately, (a lot of fantasy). If I didn't have to go to work, I would have read this in one sitting! This was a fun and fast-paced read into the world of espionage and into the life of a celebrity. And though I had to suspend disbelief, I liked how this novel showcased these vastly different worlds, and allowed the characters to step into opposite worlds too. Winter is recruited by this secret agency in order to get closer to a crime boss of the most heinous nature. Sydney trains Winter in a week, (again suspend disbelief) and acts as his bodyguard in order for the two to gather evidence to finally put away the bag guy. Unfortunately, things do NOT go as planned, and Winter and Sydney have to see this through, even if it kills them.

The later half of this book is non-stop, and I could not put it down! I personally saw the twist coming, but I thought it was well done and still gave me that edge-of-my-seat thrill. There were a couple of times I didn't know if the characters were going to make it (but did they make it? ~Evil laugh~)

Though this does not affect my rating at all, it is advertised as enemies-to-lovers but that is really not the case here. Sure, they don't like each other at first, actually Winter really annoys Sydney, but they are on the same side the whole time. I think we need to come up with a new trope name for this. Adversary-to-lover? Annoyance-to-lover? Haters-to-lovers? Someone help me!

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This book has all the excitement of an action-packed spy thriller with all the tension of a will-they-won’t-they forbidden romance. It’s basically a cross between Gallagher Girls and Chuck with a dash of Big Hero 6’s emotional arc.

But it also falls short of expectation. While all the elements make for a fun story, it’s super unrealistic and predictable. Sydney is supposed to be this prolific spy, but she continually is the one making mistakes that land her and Winter in trouble. Winter, who is a superstar with like one week of spy training, happens to always know exactly how to fix every situation and is really good at everything instantly. The plot twists aren’t very plot twist-y and it takes a while to get things moving and then everything seems to happen all at once.

This book might have been a little more realistic and had room to go further with everything if Marie Lu would have taken the jump from YA to adult and aged up the characters five years. It does not make sense for a secret spy agency to put minors in danger, no matter if they’re trained or superstars or what. It’s just not realistic, and everything that happens is handled very poorly by the agency. It's a wonder they are still able to operate at the end of the story.

If you want to read something that’s fun and a little edgy with spy hijinks and a tension-driven, insta-love romance and predictable-but-who-cares-this-is-exciting plot twists, then this book is it. I just expected something a little better, a little more from Marie Lu after all these years.

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📖ARC Review: This was a really fun read perfect for just escaping reality for a little while. Marie Lu is such a good YA writer because she keeps it so simple. If you liked any of her other books than I think you would like this one. It was pretty fast paced and even though I’ve not been in the mood to read lately this one was really entertaining! The characters don’t really have distinguishing personalities, but the plot was really fun. Also, if you are one of those people who get annoyed at books marketed as “enemies to lovers” when they aren’t this is your warning that the characters were never actually enemies. Overall, a fun and entertaining book that I would definitely recommend for younger audiences📖🤍

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I really flew through this one. If you're looking for an action-packed read with some romantic elements, I recommend this book. Marie Lu really knows how to pace a book, and she makes her characters interesting. Winter Young is more than just your average pop star. Lu does a great job of giving him depth, introducing us to his mother, telling us about his deceased brother who he really looked up to, and showing us how fame can be difficult. She also goes into a lot of detail about what it takes to put on a performance, so music fans will really enjoy that element of the book. You have to suspend your disbelief for a bit to really buy that a pop star can become a world-class spy in a matter of weeks, but it's pretty easy to do because the spy world is well built. It seems like this will be the first in the series, and I look forward to Lu building on the main female character, Sydney, more. She's prickly and has a history of theft. She's been through some trauma in her childhood, and it takes her a while to open up to anyone. In the end, you really root for her and for Winter. I look forward to seeing where their relationship goes in the next book(s).

Thank you NetGalley for the digital ARC of this book.

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As I have come to expect from Marie Lu:
* Action-packed!
* Intriguing characters!

One of my all time favorite series is the Legend series, so I'm always thrilled to dive into another one of Marie Lu's worlds with her characters that draw you in and make you feel alongside them. Stars and Smoke did not disappoint.

Fans of K-Pop, BTS or boy bands in general will especially enjoy this one as the male lead is inspired by/fits in beautifully with that fandom. But even if you aren't a fan of those things, there is lots to love about this book and its mysterious and dangerous mission.

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I really wanted to love this book more, because I enjoyed Marie Lu's other books so much, but this one kind of fell short for me. I think it's because it's outside of her normal genre, so I was expecting things that weren't there. But, I also couldn't relate to any of the MC's and found myself getting bored at times.

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I love that this is very much Marie Lu without being her general science fiction. But there's a style and world building and character arc to her books that ooze delight, seriousness, and entertainment.

Meeting Winter, a famous singer superstar who has a sad story of his brother dying in the Peace Corps but gets recruited by a secret operative group to get close to a man whose daughter wants him to sing at her birthday party in order to take him down. The setup builds perfectly and the build toward Sydney (the young woman charged with being his "bodyguard" for the infiltration who works for the secret organization) and Winter's relationship is expected and oh, so necessary! It's like a prose version of Spy x Family and I was a fan. I'm not going to break down doors for the second, but I likely will continue with the series. Very recommendable.

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I enjoyed this YA Adventure/Romance, but considered it more of an adult read.

Winter Young is a 19-year-old mega star (think Justin Beiber at his height), and Sydney Cossette is a 19-year-old spy looking to rise in the covert world of secret agents. They are tasked with gathering evidence on a major crime boss who hires Winter to perform at his daughter’s 19th birthday party in London (that’s a lot of 19s! ha, ha)

Lots of action, adventure and slow-burn attraction ensue, and we also glimpse parts of their personal lives that are similar to each other in some respects. I enjoyed the banter and liked both mains. To me, the 19-year-old spy part (she started training at 17) was stretching it a bit, and I found the denouement action a little too over-the-top. But I still enjoyed it. And that cover?! Absolutely stunning and just how I pictured Winter and Sydney.

My thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Roaring Brook Press for providing the free early arc of Stars and Smoke for review. The opinions are strictly my own.

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Winter is a pop star with the world at his feet. Sydney was a penniless orphan who joined a secret undercover agency. When the agency needs to access the inner workings of a billionaire who is guilty of illegal trafficking, the agency uses the pair of them. Winter agrees to perform at the billionaire's daughter's birthday party, and Sydney will act as his bodyguard. Of course things do not go as planned. Teens will love this James Bond type action story. I received this as a prepub from net galley and am under no pressure for a positive interview.

Ramona Thompson

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I lived everything g about this story! An unlikely spy teamed up with a spy to save the world. Ms. Lu crafted another wonderful story and I can't wait to see what other adventures Winter and Sydney embark on!

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This was fun!! Very James Bond meets like... Barbie: Princess and the Popstar haha. A pop star gets recruited to become a spy. While on a special mission, she starts to fall for his bodyguard and vice versa. What is there not to love??

I have previously loved Marie Lu's YA books, so I was thrilled when I got approved for a copy of Stars and Smoke, and I was super excited to see how her storytelling might change or evolve with a book set more in the NA age range.

Ultimately, I think this very much still read like a YA novel. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, Marie Lu is the queen of YA fantasy/dystopian storytelling. But for being a NA novel, these characters read surprisingly young. I don't know if it was the dialogue or just the descriptions, but they felt very young. Overall, I was still very invested in this story, and had a lot of fun reading it, and would be excited to read more set in this universe.

Stars and Smoke is set to be published on March 28, 2023. Thank you to Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Roaring Brook Press, NetGalley and the author for the advanced copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Winter Young is a international pop star, and a covert branch of the government thinks he's their perfect in to get intel on a international shipping magnate (read smuggler). Sydney Cossette is a spy with Pancea and ordered to work with Winter to get him ready for his mission.

I really liked the idea of this story. Using a pop start to complete a secret mission because of his access is interesting and cool, but some of his other character traits fell a little short for me. Winter is still struggling with his brothers death and feeling like he's never good enough, and while we get some closure on that I really wanted more or for Winter to decide to continue to talk to some kind of professional about that.

Sydney on the other hand ran away from home and its her language skills that got her there. All she wants is to be a full fledged spy but she can't outrun her own feelings on inadequacy and grief over her mother dying.
This was pitched in the synopsis as an enemies to lovers and I really don't think that is the vibe. Winter and Sydney are so similar that they can't really be enemies and we don't get to see them really admit or commit on their feelings in a resolved way. All that being said, if there is going to be a sequel I will definitely be coming back to hear more about Sydney and Winter's adventures.

This smoldering enemies-to-lovers novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu puts a superstar global phenomenon and a hotshot young spy on a collision course with danger – and Cupid’s arrow – in an electric new series perfect for fans of Emily Henry and Nicola Yoon.

Meet Winter Young – International pop sensation, 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.

Meet Sydney Cossette – Part of an elite covert ops 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.

When a major crime boss gifts his daughter a private concert with Winter for her birthday, 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 . . .

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This one was too YA for me. I liked the author's Warcross series but I wonder if I would like her other work.

The author describes this one as "Kingsman meets The Bodyguard" and that's pretty accurate. I don't know much about K-Pop or the boy band scene and that might have kept me from attaching too.

I think the problem was that I could not believe in or like either protagonist. Winter Young (what a name) is a poor little rich boy. His older brother is gone and he feels like he's just a disappointment to his mom as her only remaining child. This international superstar closes flower shops so he can hand select the tulips that he thinks his mom will like the most (tulips are her favorite flower) so that he can bring her a bouquet every time he leaves for a tour stop. His mom only likes unwrinkled money bills, so when she got stuck in Paris that one time because all she could get was wrinkled money, he personally flew in his private jet to bring her fresh bills so that she could get out of that rough predicament.(Yes, this really happens in the book.) But she just doesn't love him the way she loves his dead brother (who Winter also idolizes). Plus he is incredibly beautiful and the hottest guy ever, so smart that he can flawlessly imitate how to take down a person with a knife after seeing it once, worked his way from backup dancer to his own solo brand, took hiphop and tap lessons and even spent six months in Russia learning ballet all while writing his own songs that no one can resist, all before the age of nineteen. I just can't anymore.

Sydney the bodyguard. She's a natural polylinguist, can kill you with a piece of paper, but doesn't trust anyone because she comes from a Hard Life (her mother died when she was a young teen). She also is nineteen. She can steal the earrings out of your ears. I just didn't like her.

So, the Kingsman style secret agency with James Bond technology needs Winter's help to infiltrate a very very VIP party in order to get evidence on the bad guy who is throwing it. The James Bond technology idea sounded cool but nothing much really comes of all the gadgets. Winter and Sydney of course can't resist each other even if they don't like each other at first.

This would probably have worked well as a movie when you could just spin along through all the pretty people, settings and glittery technology and romance. There was too much time in this book for me to notice the silliness. The plot is pretty easy to predit, which again wouldn't be too bad in a two hour movie but drags in a book. I don't feel the need to go any further with this series.

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5⭐️ 13+
Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review! This is a spoiler free review!
Holy cow. This book is one of my favorite Marie Lu books for all time. I waited a week to review this because I just needed to let it sit for a while and make sure I wasn’t just obsessed with it because of a book hangover. Nope. It’s just that good. I’m already obsessed and I’m sure this is just the beginning for the series. I’ve read the Legend series (all 4) and The Young Elites (3), and Skyhunter is currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. So you can definitely say I’m well versed in her books and I’ve got the credentials for this review.
This book was PHENOMENAL. The romance, the plot, the twists, the world building, it was all *chefs kiss* fantastic. This book does end on a slight* cliffhanger but I do believe it wraps up well enough to be a stand alone! The only downside is I’m going to have to wait even longer for book 2!
Sydney and Winter have the best dynamic between all of her characters so far. I know, that’s a bold statement, but if you were a fan of Legend and/or Day and June, this is for you. It’s like Day and June in an alternate reality of sorts, where the same characteristics are there, but some are switched between the two. Sydney is this grumpy, genius secret agent that is insanely talented and worked so hard to get where she is today. I think that’s part of the reason Winter and Sydney connected so well. Winter is all smiles and jokes, crazy famous, handsome, and talented as a product of how hard he worked. The chemistry and tentative friendship and trusting between the two are amazing. Sydney and Winter are 100% reverse grumpy sunshine and I was obsessed. It was written so well that it never got annoying, overdone, or boring as that frequently happens during tropey books.
Speaking of tropes, this book is jam packed full of them. They were all done so masterfully that it was executed well without coming off as cheesy or overdone. A few of which (without giving spoilers) are: hurt/comfort, SPIES/ secret identities, masquerade ball (and awesome costumes), training scenes, fake dating, knife to throat, etc. I’m sure there’s many more I’m missing and will remember later. 😂
Guys- the masquerade ball. UGGGGGGGGGGGG! Winter’s reaction to seeing her- That’s all I can say without spoiling it.
And second, my FAVORITE scene of the book; hurt comfort. I absolutely LOVE a good hurt comfort, and this book stacks up HIGH on the list of favorites. I really can’t explain more about the scene without spoilers but- y’all will have to trust me on this one when I say it’s fantastic. Every part about this scene. Before it. During. After. Both of their reactions. Their reactions to each other’s reactions. This- this is probably top 3 hurt comfort scenes ever in my book and- Just go read it.
This books ending- action packed and heart breaking. It’s a Marie Lu book guys, come on. I should have known that tears would be shed. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as the end of Champion for anyone wondering. But now that I’m thinking, I am worried about that in the future 😟 (please let them be happy!)
Now- to the negatives of this book. I’ll be honest, there weren’t many, but there were some. First, the modern references. There were not many, and in fact very few, but it made me cringe a little every time. Second, the beginning of the book. It seemed a little slow at the start and it felt like the first 100 pages were slower. Everything that happened then was talked about later and could have been integrated better.
And lastly and most important negative of the review: the ARC did not include book 2.
I can not wait for the next book to come out! Whether or not you’ve read all of Marie Lu’s books or none, I definitely recommend this book. It’s great for all ages, and pretty easy to get into, as well as incredibly diverse! Even though I’ve already read it, I will be reread my ARC and likely buying a physical copy for my shelf when it comes out.
I definitely recommend this book if you’ve liked/read any of the following books: Six of Crows, Shatter Me, Legend, Renegades, or Cinder.

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

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

Like I said before, I think my only real problem here is not getting enough time between plot points. We didn’t get a chance for the consequences of the plot points to sink in. Also, some of the side characters felt a little flat without room to explore. In my opinion, I could have done with another 100 pages? Maybe more. Am I a spy novel girlie now? Is that what’s happening? Because I’m craving more of that from this author. Thankfully, this is the first in a series because I just want to follow Winter and Sydney on spy missions from now on. Overall, I think this is prime Marie Lu. She has fantastic world building and great execution. This novel is perfect for fans of her Warcross series, anyone who enjoys a good spy novel, or any YA/New Adult fan who wants to see a smattering of female body guard/male pop star romance.

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While this book had a unique premise and something different from my normal reads, I was hoping it would draw me in and be enjoyable. It ended up not being my cup of tea for several reasons but I can see how others would enjoy it. I also wanted more of a connection between Winter and Sydney since it was marketed as a romance. The action portions and plotting were good but I just wanted more conversation and development between those two to get me invested in the relationship.

Romantic Content: Kisses, some innuendo/discussion of past relationships

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Thank you for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

listen… Marie Lu genuinely seems like a really great person… however her writing in this novel is so mediocre i cant believe how successful they are. as expected, this ‘adult debut’ is basically YA. the plot was so boring and soo meh. i don’t feel any kind of passionate hate toward this book like i do some of my other 1 star reads, but this was just such a waste of time…. yikes

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I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I enjoyed this book as it was a fun read but felt a little predictable in places. I appreciated the fun and tried hard to ignore the insanity.

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Present time in America, Winter is a famous performer who is being recruited by the Panacea Agency to help take down a dangerous criminal, Eli Morrison. Eli has invited Winter to perform at his daughter Penelope’s birthday celebration in London. This is why Panacea wants Winter’s help, because he can infiltrate Eli’s life with little suspicion.
Sydney Cosette works for Panacea and poses as Winter’s bodyguard. The two seem to come from very different backgrounds but they discover they have commonalities. Winter and Sydney get hit with a few surprises on their mission and they’ll have to rely on their wits and trust each other to make it through alive.

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

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

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

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

Ethnicity: The ethnicity of the main character is Chinese American, other characters are Black, white, brown-skinned, mixed.

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When a covert agency needs someone to infiltrate a rich heiress's birthday party, they turn to her favorite pop star, Winter Young. Along with teenage bodyguard Sydney, Winter infiltrates the party, and the pair quickly find themselves in over their heads. Equal parts spy thriller and forced-proximity/hate-to-love romance, Stars and Smoke is a delight from start to finish. Fans of BTS and similar acts will love the behind-the-scenes accounts of Winter's life as a worldwide pop sensation. Sydney is a dynamic heroine - savvy and smart, and determined to complete assignment, whatever it takes. This is one mission you will want to accept.

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