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STARS AND SMOKE

From the Stars and Smoke series , Vol. 1

An engrossing thriller that centers the characters at its heart.

Two 19-year-olds endeavor to bring down an evil villain—and resist their draw to one another—in this romantic thriller.

International superstar Winter Young is bewildered when Panacea, a secret organization with ties to the CIA, briefly abducts him following one of his concerts and suggests that he should work for them as they attempt to infiltrate the shadowy empire of an ultrawealthy tycoon who is poised to unleash a deadly new chemical agent on the world. The shipping magnate’s daughter is a huge fan of Winter’s, and a private concert for her birthday gives him the perfect cover. Winter is further taken aback when he’s introduced to Sydney Cossette, the young Panacea agent who will pose as his bodyguard during the operation, finding her abrasive and surly. Lu vividly sketches a high-stakes world in which the glitz of money and power forms a nicely juxtaposed background for curmudgeonly Sydney, whose traumatic background provides ample character motivation, and likable Winter, whose kind decency is of as much import as the sometimes-gushing descriptions of his beauty and grace. Tech gadgetry and well-paced action sequences will keep readers engaged, and while it’s never really in doubt that the pair are attracted to each other, their volley of insults and awkwardness is clever and fun. Winter is Chinese American and has previously had a relationship with another guy; Sydney is cued White, and diversity is woven into the large supporting cast.

An engrossing thriller that centers the characters at its heart. (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 28, 2023

ISBN: 9781250852816

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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POWERLESS

From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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