Cover Image: Stars and Smoke

Stars and Smoke

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Member Reviews

~stars and smoke review~

3.5/5

I love marie lu and this one sounded like it was gonna be fun! sometimes something silly and exciting like this is the perfect escape!

Pros:
+pop star shenanigans
+i’m actually such a sucker for the bodyguard trope
+silly “i’m a spy tshirt”
+queers!!!!
+i love imagining the performances i can somehow picture them exactly in my head
+lmao i did not see that coming bonus points for that
+they’re both lowkey obsessed with each other i kind of love it
+why do they keep staring at each other STOP THAT
+nursing the other back to health
+being able to tell it’s not the other person because of how they text
+i <3 WINTER
+what a tease i didn’t realize this was a series

Cons:
-i love enemies to lovers but only when they’re actually enemies. they can’t just be mean to each other for no reason.
-family trauma (hurts me too much)
-not the biggest fan of one of the plot twists

i will fully admit i had to put this down for a little bit because my last semester of college was intense for a second there, but i enjoyed this one! it was fun and i can see people enjoying winter and sydney. i think the next book will be fun too!

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Book Summary:

Winter Young is an international pop sensation – and that's not an exaggeration! His fans adore him, perhaps a little bit too much at times. His life is perfect, as far as his fans can tell. Yet his world is about to be thrown into the cause.

Enter Sydney Cossette. She's part of a covert ops team and will be infiltrating Winter's organization as his bodyguard. All because a crime boss' daughter is one of Winter's many adoring fans. Unfortunately, Winter and Sydney couldn't be more different, which will make things challenging...

My Review:

I have enjoyed Marie Lu's works in the past, so I didn't hesitate to dive into Stars and Smoke. As the first in a series go, this book isn't bad. It's sometimes a little on the nose, especially in the romance department. But really, that isn't a bad thing, especially if you're looking for a relaxing read!

I have to give credit, though; there is WAY more depth to Winter and Sydney's characters than one might think, especially based on the description of this book. It made the story more compelling, to say the least.

Oh! Let us not forget the action. Marie Lu is so good at portraying lots (and lots!) of action. So if you love action stories with a lot of flirting, Stars and Smoke is the perfect book.

Highlights:
First in a New Series
Enemies to Lovers
Fantasy & Romance

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Stars and Smoke was a fun book, and this adult even enjoyed diving in to read some YA fiction thanks to good storytelling and great characters.

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A fun adventure that young people will devour. It was perfect for reluctant readers and had diversity intertwined in such a natural way. I always love Marie’s writing and am excited for what is to come next for Winter and Sydney.

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"Many people were objectively gorgeous, but then there were those few, the stars with some undefinable quality so searingly bright that they birthed obsession. Once the world got a glimpse of them, it would move heaven and earth just to see them again."

"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."

Winter is a polished and amazingly gorgeous international pop star...with a very complicated family dynamic when the spotlight is off, leaving him yearning for something he cannot define, in spite of all his star power and perks. That is until the night he leaves a concert and ends up in the wrong car - or is it the right car? Until the night a top secret agency named Panacea wants to recruit him to run a mission to bring down a crime kingpin. All he has to do is accept a request to do a private concert for the kingpin's daughter's birthday extravaganza.

No problem so far. Until he gets paired with a prickly junior agent named Sydney for a partner. Sydney is convinced he'll be nothing but a burden, and that she doesn't have nearly enough time to train him properly before they go on their mission. Winter just has to prove her wrong. Especially once things start happening that quickly send their cut-and-dry mission spinning sideways.

This book is a fun little action romp with some romance on the side. I always enjoy Marie Lu's writing and she doesn't disappoint here. True to form, her prose is magical and expressive - just see the above quotes for examples. This is the first time I've seen Ms. Lu plunge into this particular genre, her previous efforts have been mostly sci fi.

I noticed that in spite of some action tropes and spy cliches, she seems like she really had fun writing this. It ran quite a bit like a movie. I can imagine the Mission: Impossible theme playing somewhere in the background while the author was writing (please tell me this is actually true.) There were a couple of twists and a few plot conveniences where I had to work to suspend my disbelief, but those bits aside, it was a fun book. I enjoyed it, and I imagine that, as it's the first book in a series, I'll be enjoying further missions with Winter and Sydney soon. Thank you to Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Roaring Book Press, and Netgalley for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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I love both spy books and the bodyguard trope, so mixing them both together in this book was **chefs kiss**. I loved how Sydney and Winter interacted together and how we also go both perspectives. While the plot twist was something I “seen” I also didn’t fully see it coming. I love Marie Lou’s writing and hopefully we get to see more of these characters going forward.

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A good stand alone action/romance by Marie Lu is something I’ll never say no to. And neither will my students, so I’m glad this story was met up to my hopes and expectations. Yes, the story was somewhat predictable but in the best of ways. I kept reading with a sense of just knowing I’d be satisfied at the end. Nicely developed characters and an action packed plot made for a great weekend read.

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This was really enjoyable! I was a little hesitant in the beginning as I wasn't sure it was really for me, but the story sucked me in from the very first page. The plot was great and the characters enjoyable. I'm excited for the next installment!

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First, let me say that I love this author's stories. This is a bit different but equally as entertaining. The author combines the world of spies and covert operations with super stardom. Take the most unlikely character, a pop star, and ask him to help with a dangerous operation. Add in a bit of romance and danger to create a story that will keep you reading. I will be recommending it. Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Winter Young is an international pop star, selling out stadiums to rabid fans. Sydney Cossette is the youngest spy to join a covert ops group, with no time for romance. But a major crime boss gifts his daughter a private concert with Winter for her birthday, Sydney becomes Winter's bodyguard so she can investigate the organization. Winter is now the newest spy recruit, but Sydney is unaffected by his charms. Or is she?

This book is billed as Kingsman crossed with the Bodyguard, and we have our moments with the experimental spy gear early in the story as well. Winter has his own moments where you feel sorry for him: his older brother died years ago, his mother can barely look at him, and he has the love and admiration of fans but no real close friendships. Sydney had opted to join the group to get out of her small town, the alcoholic father who had been abusive, and the dying mother. Both are highly competent nineteen-year-olds, and the moments of physical attraction are eclipsed by the seriousness of the job: the man they're looking to investigate trafficks in weapons, people, and all kinds of illegal goods, and may be shipping a material that would make an incredibly dangerous bomb that could wipe out Europe. Definitely the high stakes worthy of a spy novel.

Winter has his own powers of observation, which had been honed from being ostracized when young as well as being a star that had been attacked in the past. He isn't the shallow musician type, and I really liked the chapters from his POV. He was all in and eager to help. Sydney is prickly and harder to get to know, which is very deliberate on her part. Even so, I didn't feel too distant in her part of the book at all. We had enough twists along the way, with the mission getting compromised and people not being exactly who we thought they were. I don't want to spoil it, but it's such a fun ride to get through, I kept reading while trying to move around the house doing something else at the same time because I had to know what happened next.

Marie Lu has written many fun and engaging series, and this book is no different. I hope we see more of the Panacea group, and that this is the start of a new series.

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Title: Stars and Smoke #1
By: Marie Lu

Genre:
YA Teen Fiction/Spy Thriller
Romance

Recommended Ages:
8th grade-adult

Red Flags:
murder, violence, loss

Summary:
Winter Young, is a nineteen year old, pop star living life in the lime light. He is abducted after a concert, and asked to go undercover to assist taking down one of the world’s biggest tycoons. Apparently, the tycoon’s daughter Penelope is a huge fan. Reluctantly, Winter knows he needs to live a more purposeful life, and feels this situation could meet his current needs. Enters Sydney Cossette, Winter’s undercover body guard from the Panacea Group. This top secret mission is exactly what Sydney is waiting for, however, the friendship with Winter is not on her radar.

Review:
This is my first novel by Marie Lu. I am not a huge science fiction fan, and tried her other novels several times. For this reason, I was a little reluctant to read this novel. I really enjoyed it though, with the young adult twists and unexpected turns throughout the novel. I believe teens today would love this read based on the hype of a super star and the suspense Lu’s build in her main characters. The story takes an unexpected twist and although it was slightly predictable after, I think my students would love it! I did listen to the audio version, and the narrator does a beautiful job!

Thank you to Marie Lu, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Roaring Book Press, and Netgalley for the Advanced Reader Copy for free. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

#reluctantreaderreads
#marielu
#netgalley #roaringbookpress
#starsandsmoke #macmillanchildrenspublishing

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Teens will eat this up, I think, and I understand why!

Fantastic concept, an engaging premise, but I do personally feel like Marie Lu has always lacked skill when it comes to her prose. However, I believe more people feel the opposite of this, so I feel it's likely a personal preference. At points, given the premise, there was a lack of action, but I did feel like that was made up with character work (though I did feel the romance was underdeveloped.) Ultimately, this was fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Marie Lu does next!

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The first book in the Royal Blood trilogy introduces Evan Bright, the illegitimate American daughter of Britain's King Alexander. After being expelled from her ninth boarding school for setting it on fire, the king's personal secretary spirits her away to Windsor Castle, where her half sister and stepmother greet her with cold shoulders. Evan wants to go home to her mother Laura, who is schizophrenic, but because of the disease, Evan is not allowed to live with her. Her 18th birthday, when she can make her own decisions, is only a month away. But during her time in England, Evan is assaulted by Jasper Cunningham who ends up murdered with Evan being the prime suspect She and the king's nephew Kit attempt to clear her name. Readers who enjoy everything royal will find this a unique take on the genre.

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Trigger Warnings: gun violence, blood, injury, chronic illness, off-page death of a sibling and parent, murder.

Nineteen-year-old Winter Young is the biggest pop star in the world, but ever since his brother died in the Peace Corps, he's wondered if what he does, performing and making music, is actually meaningful. Enter Panacea, a hidden spy organization that essentially carries out the CIA's dirty work. After yet another sold-out concert, Panacea kidnaps Winter and offers him the chance to make a difference: infiltrate the home of the CIA's most wanted man, under the guise of performing for his daughter's birthday. They pair him with Sydney Cossette, the youngest and most proficient spy Panacea has. The two don't exactly get along, but as their mission progresses and hidden plans come to light, they find themselves drifting closer and closer.

Let me start off by saying: everything is simply better when there are queer characters. Romance isn't really the point of this book, since it is first and foremost a spy thriller, but Winter being bisexual and a side character being lesbian literally made me so happy. Proof that queer representation doesn't have to be huge and will still positively impact readers.

Moving on to the plot and characters themselves: I absolutely loved both. Winter and Sydney are beautifully fleshed out, and though I figured out the plot twist a little early, it was still very interesting. There were some parts where I had to suspend my disbelief a little, but I didn't even mind so much because the twists and pay-offs were so engaging. (I did stay up late to finish this book when I had a test the next day, if that counts for anything.) The energy of this book is so similar to Carmen Sandiego (the Netflix animated version) and it felt like such a love letter to YA spy thrillers despite the more mature content.

If you like spy thrillers, I highly HIGHLY recommend this book. The energy was so good and I never wanted it to end.

Thank you NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press for an eARC of this book, all opinions are my own.

(P.S. Don't think I didn't miss that reference to Jimin's Lie during Winter's birthday performance... I know exactly what you are, Marie Lu....)

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Thank you to NetGalley and Marie Lu for sharing an eARC of Stars and Smoke for an honest review! This turned out to be one of my favorite reads of 2023 so far!

Uh, hello?? BTS-level superstar gets recruited by a top secret, underground spy organization to help topple a crooked billionaire who is funneling chemical weapons to terrorist cells??? Yes, you read that right. Stars and Smoke follows Winter Young, an international superstar, and Sydney Cosette, a secret agent for special-ops group. Winter is recruited by Sydney's organization to help infiltrate a billionaire's underground business of selling chemical weapons to terrorists. Much to Sydney's initial dismay, Winter is paired with her for this mission. From there, lots of tension and smoldering ensues

Stars and Smoke was such a fun read and had lots of the tropes I enjoy -- enemies to (star-crossed) lovers, witty banter, high stakes, and emotional undercurrents that make this book hard to forget. I am so in love with Winter and Sydney and can't wait to see what happens in future books! I highly recommend this book to anyone look for a fun read that you can fly through!

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Stars and Smoke was such a wild ride and impossible to put down!

Winter is a pop star that ends up being recruited to help with a spy mission run by the Panacea group to thwart an international sell to the highest bidder plan.

Sydney is one of the operatives for Panacea and becomes Winter's bodyguard so they can schmooze their way in to get the info needed.

Winter and Sydney made a great pair. Lots of tension between them, but also a lot of respect. They're able to get into their roles and begin to infiltrate the Morrison family, through the daughter, Penelope. I thought the story and action were great and even though I was pretty sure who the mastermind was (and I was right) it didn't take away from the enjoyment of the journey.

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A pop star teams up with a spy to go undercover on a secret mission. This premise was intriguing, and since Marie Lu is an auto-read author for me, I had to read this.

I really liked reading about Winter's pop star background and fictional lifestyle. I also loved the Asian representation, and I think the closest real-life counterpart for Winter would be K-pop idols (people are obsessed!)

For a book about spies, I thought there would be a little more action. A lot of the book was introducing different characters and showing their backgrounds, so I found the pacing slow. The main part of the mission was really executed in the last 25% of the book. I also found it difficult to suspend disbelief for a lot of the plot points, and didn't feel invested in the romance. While I probably will pick up the sequel to see what Winter's next mission will be, this is definitely not my favorite book by Marie Lu.

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I've been trying to love this book, but I can't do it. It's a basic paint-by-numbers spy story - there are a few interesting twists here and there, but not enough to sustain my interest. It is generally well thought out with characters that seem unique on paper, but I think that's the problem. It is such an averagely competent book that does nothing new with all the potential it has.

The characters are fine. The premise is fine. Everything is just fine, but it's not enough. I couldn't get attached to any of the characters, let alone the protagonists. I will say this - if you have never read a YA book with a strong female protagonist, you will love Sydney. If you have, she is entirely forgettable. And I would say that tracks with the rest of the book. If you have never read a book about a celebrity with hidden insecurities, you will love Winter... etc. I really wish there was more done with the main antagonist at least. There were a lot of opportunities to create sympathy for the antagonist (foils!!) or at least complexity, and while I could understand them on some level, it wasn't really enough to get me emotionally invested. For how much I felt like nothing happened, I still felt like we didn't get a proper resolution for half of the plot threads introduced.

It's not a bad book, technically. But I personally was not interested in it at all, and I was expecting a lot more depth than I got. It's an alright spy adventure and it reads like it's for a much younger audience than it seems to be marketed towards, so this could definitely work as a lower-age YA book.

(Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!)

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Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu is another amazing book from Marie Lu! She always hits it out of the park and the story is amazing!

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I was trying to think of which of my March ARCs I should read before I start my April ARCs, and I decided on this book, feeling like I needed something fun and purely escapist as a palate cleanser before I started a pretty thriller-heavy month for me. Plus, I’ve never read a Marie Lu book before (I know, late to the game, right?) and I just wanted to give her writing a try, even though I know this isn’t her usual game.

While not perfect, this book is a ton of fun! Is it absolutely over-the-top ridonkulous? Yes, yes it is! Is it, as described inside, Kingsmen meets The Bodyguard? It totally is! Do I care about how much I had to suspend my disbelief? Heck-to-the-NO!

Marie Lu is an admitted fan of BTS, and when I sent my bestie (who is also a BTS fan) the summary of this book, my bestie said, “OMG I know exactly who she based Winter Young on!”. I could only laugh, because I am an occasional BTS listener and don’t know the difference between any of them. Winter Young, the male protagonist in this book, may be a pop superstar on par with the Taylor Swift’s of the world in this book in terms of stardom, but he’s much poorer in terms of family and the people who truly know him and love him. His brother died when he was a kid, his dad didn’t want him, and his mother hasn’t been able to really look at him or be around him since his brother passed. The three people closest to him, his manager and two main backup dancers, don’t even know about his brother. So really, no one truly knows him completely.

If you know me and have read a good deal of my reviews, then you know how much I love female spies and assassins. Our female protagonist is Sydney Cossette (also known as The Jackal), who works for The Panacea Group, the secret black ops company who recruits Winter for a secret mission to help take down one of the richest men in the world by having him perform at his daughter’s massive, private birthday gala while Sydney does her dirty work behind the scenes. She’s to pose as Winter’s bodyguard while Winter gets to know and distracts the birthday girl. Sydney was recruited by The Panacea Group at 15 when one of their agents was accompanying the CIA on a recruitment mission at her high school. The CIA couldn’t use her, but she was perfect for The Panacea Group. Eager to escape her nightmare life in her small town, Sydney left that day to become an international spy and never looked back. She feels alone too, clinging to her handler almost like he’s her father and keeping a great deal of secrets. (And can I just tell you how tickled I was that the girl from the poor side of the tracks had the last name Cossette? Shout out to Les Mis fans.)

Beyond these two protagonists, this book is like a popcorn movie hyped up on coffee, fandom, BAMF females, pretty boys, shiny toys, and glittering fun. It’s a quick, page-turning read that might actually make a solid movie or animated film. If you just want some escapism in a world less ordinary, pick it up!

I was provided a copy of this title by NetGalley and the author. All views, ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone. Thank you.

File Under: Contemporary Romance/YA Romance/YA Fiction/Book Series/Coming of Age/Espionage Thriller/LGBTQ Friendly/YA Book Series/YA Drama/YA Mystery/YA Suspense/YA Thriller

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