Cover Image: Stars and Smoke

Stars and Smoke

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Member Reviews

I adored this book! I loved Marie Lu's Legend series (and this is a great reminder to me to read her other series). I'm obsessed with Sydney & Winter and can't wait for book 2!

This was such a fun sci-fi novel. Often these dystopian novels can be great yet heavy and this was delightfully light while being action-packed.

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Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Press for letting me read this early.

You know when you consistently read an authors book and you’ve read everything that they have out. But the writing doesn’t change, the tropes are the same. This book was so frustrating, granted I know I’m not in the age demographic for this book and I know people will enjoy this but the writing was so cheesy and the main character was so flat and boring. I’m sorry an angsty teenage pop star? No thank you.

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Fun, action-packed and romantic. A totally enjoyable spy/celebrity book. It will have your heart pumping, swooning and stressed. Winter Young is the type of tortured celebrity that I melt over and Sydney is resilient as the come. Together these two make a great duo and I am excited to see what missions they will go on next. If you are looking for a fast paced YA romantic thriller with a main character that will remind you of a cast member from BTS then strap in for a great ride. A fun-tastic book!

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The plot of this book was actually really great and I was invested in it but I didn’t really feel for the characters. Them separately I think they were pretty good, Winter being my favorite. But them together I just thought “meh”. The writing is simple yet beautiful as always, that’s one thing I love about Marie Lu. Whenever I read one of her books I know I’ll enjoy that aspect of it.

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3.5-4 stars. It took me a little bit to get into to the story, but then I was hooked. This was a good solid read with a little of everything--action, betrayel, romance. The plot was intriguing and played out well. I enjoyed the main characters and the depth, and even growth we see in them. I was wishing for a little more "together time" for Winter and Sydney. The story wrapped up nicely and left me happily anticipating book 2.

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Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu, the first novel in a new series, is a thrilling, action-packed, young adult novel. It’s a Mission: Impossible meets Hannah Montana story in all the best ways possible.

Superstar Winter Young has been recruited by The Panacea Group to help collect evidence to put away a notorious and brutal smuggler. He’s been paired with the bristly Agent Sydney Cossette in accomplishing the covert ruse. What danger will they encounter along the way? Was it a terrible idea to enlist a superstar rookie?

This novel was a thrill of a ride that I couldn’t put down. It’s quick paced and intriguing that will keep you guessing. The characters are complex and I think it will be very interesting to see it unfold in future books. Lu writes from both Sydney and Winter’s point of views. She also utilizes flashbacks to slowly unwind their pasts, which I thought paired well with the plot. The seemingly inevitable romance storyline in the novel was a delightful slow-burn.

Overall, I give this ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Roaring Book Press (Macmillan) for providing this arc.

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Winter and Sydney 🤩
Honestly, I loved the concept for this book - the premise of a spyXpopstar was intriguing and I loved both of the main characters interactions with one another
The plot was great - the twists throughout the story shocked me!
However, I do feel as though the blurb was slightly misleading as Winter and Sydney clearly had tension with each other from the start 🤐
Overall an entertaining story, would recommend it to those that enjoy a fast-paced read

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Fun and quick YA read about celebrities and spies. Nothing about this book was surprising, but the ride was still entertaining. It's perfect for a low-stakes action read where you're fairly certain nothing too bad is going to happen -- that's the magic of YA, right?

The premise, pairing up a young spy with a teen idol, piqued my interest. I didn't see how that was really going to work with the story, but eventually it made sense. I loved the action sequences in this, especially toward the end, but the relationship between the two leads and all the band members were sorta so-so. I dunno, something about the interaction between all the characters felt off. Even the initial animosity between Sydney and Winter was both too cliched and resolved too easily. When their relationship started picking up steam, I wanted to shake them and yell, "Think about the mission!"

I don't want to spoil the ending, but I really like how it ended. The author could have gone the easy way with the ending, but I'm glad she didn't and that she ended it how she did. It felt more respectful to the characters.

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This was my first Marie Lu and I was not disappointed! The vibe of this book was definitely The Bodyguard by Katherine Center with spies, and I absolutely ate every second of it up. I enjoyed that the majority of the book was from Winter's pov and that Winter was the stereotypical annoying celebrities that I feel like a lot of books do at first, and Sydney was so funny. BUT THE PINNING FOR EACH OTHER OMG. What truly kills me is that I'm going to have to wait over a year for the sequel. Thank you so much Netgalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for an ARC copy in exchange of an honest review.

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Marie Lu took a new change of pace with this new novel, and I enjoyed it!

This is a spy novel with a romance mixed into the mix. Winter is a dynamic character. He is a pop star known and loved across the world. He is intelligent, gorgeous, and a perfect spy. I wish there had been more development about him learning his spy skills, but alas, the plot had to keep moving.

Speaking of the plot, it was okay. This is why I gave it a 3 star review. I enjoyed the thoughts and ideas of this book more than the actual book itself. The characters were great! The idea and concept is great! It will be a fun and effective series for young adult readers as well as adults, but the plot was just okay. I think Lu incorporated too many background pieces into the novel. I see these playing out over a series of books, but the reveal and plot of this one had a lot to be desired.

The romance was also a little meh. It wasn't really a will they, won't they, but more of when will they? It was a little spicier most young adult novels, but it was also not very spicy in the romance genre sense of the term.

Ultimately, it was a great premise, but had a lot to be desired.

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I wanted to enjoy this but overall found the story, characters, and plot to be something not what I was longing for or one that I would pick back up.

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This is why I have read every single book that Marie Lu has written. They are all just so damn good.

Stars and Smoke is the spy thriller we all need right now. Pulse-pounding escape. Layered exploration of childhood and family trauma. That made me cry. On more than one occasion. And one of the scariest villains in YA lit. Right up there with King Lek. And so many plot twists. One I saw coming. One I *definitely* did not. Whoo boy.

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Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for the opportunity to review a digital copy of Stars and Smoke.
This was my first Marie Lu book, and I was interested in the summary after seeing it's a mix of The Hating Game and Mission Impossible. While I definitely got the Mission Impossible vibes while reading, unfortunately I don't see any similarities to The Hating Game...besides the 2 main characters working together loosely.
However, I did really enjoy the book and the Mission Impossible/secret agent vibes. Winter and Sydney/Ashley were complicated characters; I would not say they were likeable but they both had emotional backstories that drew me in and invested in them resolving their issues. I did not see all of the plot twists coming which I loved, but I guess looking back were kind of obvious. There was not a lot of romance to the story, and the characters do not have a HEA together, but the resolution was perfect and realistic.
I've seen there may be more books following Winter and Sydney on missions, and I would be interested in reading more, mainly for the mission than necessarily the characters.

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I just reviewed Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu. #StarsandSmoke #NetGalley

I really enjoyed this book, Marie Lu did a great job!

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**Review will be published March 23rd on my site and socials**


This wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The Hating Game tagline felt like a misnomer (so if someone can point out where that was, please let me know). But the Mission Impossible vibes were there at least! I like this trend of a more romantic comedy + suspense. It’s a mood I am here for.

There wasn’t as much romance as I was hoping for. Though the second half did a better job of adding to those elements. I would have loved to have seen them be able to connect more and not just about the job they were on. I liked both Sydney and Winter as standalone characters. There were some flashbacks that helped flesh out their personalities and I think there’s going to be some great development in book two for both of them.

The antagonist was painfully obvious so don’t expect to be surprised by necessarily that piece. Action wise, I definitely enjoyed those scenes. High intensity, not quite sure what was going to happen. Waiting for the next page kind of on edge.

I do have plans to read the next book and I’m curious to see what the next adventure will bring!

Overall audience notes:
- YA Contemporary Romantic Suspense
- Language: very little
- Romance: make-outs
- Violence: med-high
- Trigger/Content Warnings: near death experiences, gun violence, kidnapping, poisoning, loss of a parent

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An incredibly popular author but this book was accessible for those new to her work. Definitely YA Romance more than adult romance but there’s a need for stories like this

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Marie Lu’s spy romance is thrilling and impossible to put down!

Lu gets creative with “Stars and Smoke,” drawing inspiration from famous celebrity secret agents throughout American history. In her fictional world, Winter Young is a global pop phenomenon that has been breaking records left and right. His rising star status catches the eye of the Panacea group—a private company hired out by the CIA to infiltrate criminal tycoon Eli Morrison’s security. Sydney Cossette, Panacea’s youngest spy, is chosen to be Winter’s partner while he charm’s Morrison’s daughter at her birthday party. She reluctantly shows him the ropes while pretending to be his bodyguard. But when things go wrong and their target becomes the lesser of two evils, they realize that something far more sinister is at play.

Lu goes to great lengths to immerse the reader in the high stakes environment associated with the Panacea group, which I appreciated. She creates cool gadgets for her characters, going into detail about what role they play in their mission, and walks the reader through Winter and Sydney’s necessary training.

I also absolutely loved being able to read from alternating perspectives! Winter and Sydney’s backstories made my heart ache, though I should have anticipated the feeling because Lu’s words often bring tears to my eyes. In Winter’s case, all he wants is to be loved after living his whole life believing that he is unwanted. Sydney wants to put the years of abuse behind her and find the place where she belongs. Both characters seemed to be lost souls unsure of their place in the world until they met each other. I loved watching the two barely tolerate each other at the beginning of the novel, bickering the first chance they could get. However, the more they fought, the harder they fell for each other and their forbidden romance tugged at my heartstrings.

I cannot wait for Sydney and Winter to reunite in the next serial standalone!

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ML is the queen of YA sci-fi. So when I saw that this was a NA bodyguard romance book, I was surprised. Excited because I love ML's storytelling, but still surprised because it's totally different than what she normally does.

And that difference is noticeable from the very first page. However, it is still very much quintessential ML storytelling. The characters have that charming snark to them, the plot is imaginative and fast-paced, and the writing itself is bingeable.

My only critique would be the overall vibe/feel of the book. Even though the characters are old enough for this to be categorised as NA, there is still a strong YA feel to the story. Not quite juvenile, but definitely younger than what I would have expected for this kind of story. But it makes me excited to see ML branch out more and I hope she eventually makes that full leap into adult.

So overall, this is quite a fun start to what I think will become an adorably action-packed series!

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Marie Lu has written many genre-changing novels and her voice is one I will always trust.

Stars and Smoke is different than any of her other works, but if you’re looking for a comparison, Warcross would be the closest.

Winter Young is the biggest pop star in the world, and he is as smart as he is talented. He puts on a perfect show but has a lot of tragedy and pain in his past.

Sydney Cossette came from Nowheresville, USA and was only too eager to leave her dead-end town after her mother’s sickness and eventual passing. When she was recruited by Panacea, a secret agency that handles the jobs the CIA and MI6 can’t legally deal with, she jumped on the opportunity.

Winter and Sydney are brought together on a mission where she must pose as his bodyguard so they can attempt to take down a very powerful, very dangerous man named Eli Morrison.

Lu’s writing drew me in from the first page and this story was a fun change of pace from the fantasy and contemporary romance novels I’ve been reading. It was predictable at times, but the characters endeared themselves to me and kept me reading.

Thank you to NetGalley for an eARC, definitely check this one out when it releases on March 28, 2023!

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Marie Lu hits it out of the park once again, readers!

I'll dive right in:

The plot:

Are you a sucker for a good bodyguard love story?

Me too.

Sydney is a new member of a covert government operations unit that is tracking a wealthy businessman who may or may not be one of the world's top criminals. The Panacea Group recruits a well-known pop star named Winter Young who is being paid to play at the tycoon's daughter's birthday party in London in order to obtain evidence of his illicit behavior. Sydney's responsibility is to act as Winter's bodyguard and make sure everything goes as planned.

The characters:

I imagined Winter's face as Kun from WayV and you can't do a thing about it. He's beautiful and talented and haunted by the death of his brother. He loves what he does but always feels as though he's not doing enough in his life to make it worthy. I admired his bravery, generosity, and cinnamon roll persona.

Sydney's grit and intelligence make her the ideal equalizer. Her only family members are people she works with. She doesn't enjoy "babysitting" a haughty pop star. She had only ever experienced loss and struggled to reach where she was, so she does not perceive Winter, who appears to have it easy, to be in the same situation.

They both discover things about each other that surprise them.

Overall thoughts:

This book kept me on the edge of my seat. I did not see much of The Hating Game comp because a lot of the misdirected hate came mostly from Sydney. I can see a lot of The Bodyguard, though, which I loved. This isn't a real enemies-to-lovers story or a hate-to-love in a sense. The romance was organic and sweet.

I loved it. I love the cover. I cannot wait to own a copy for myself.

This book goes to show you that no matter what genre Marie Lu writes, she's going to hit it out of the park.

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