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Light from Uncommon Stars

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An adventure set in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka's ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She's found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan's kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul's worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

372 pages, Hardcover

First published September 28, 2021

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About the author

Ryka Aoki

14 books1,038 followers
Ryka Aoki is a writer, performer, judo black belt, and professor of English at Santa Monica College.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,203 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 477 books403k followers
September 18, 2022
When was the last time I read a book this mind-blowingly original? Light from Uncommon Stars takes elements of different familiar story lines -- a deal with the Devil, aliens from outer space living among us, and the all-too-real struggles of a young trans woman trying to survive abuse and rejection -- and combines them into something completely new, jarring, unexpected and beautiful, much like the Bartók sonata around which the plot revolves.

Shizuka Satomi, once a brilliant violinist, now a feared and legendary violin teacher known as the Queen of Hell, has traded her soul to the Devil, but she has an escape clause: If she can deliver the souls of seven of her best students to her demon-in-charge Tremon Phillipe, Shizuka herself will be able to walk free. She has already delivered six souls. And now she thinks she has found the seventh . . .

Katrina Nguyen can no longer stand it at home. Her father gets drunk and hits her and her mother. Neither parent can accept the fact that Katrina is transgender. She scrapes together money for her hormonal treatments by doing porn chats online, putting up with 'clients' that call her a freak but also find her alluring, but what Katrina really wants is to play her violin to create beautiful music based on video game soundtracks. She's just afraid. If anyone sees her, will they accept her violin playing, or will they only see her appearance and hurl more hateful comments? Finally, Katrina takes her 'go bag' and escapes, riding the bus to L.A. to find someone she met once, who seemed supportive . . . She never dreams that she is about to find a teacher instead.

Lan Tran has brought her family to earth to escape the Endplague which is slowly destroying her home in the Galactic Empire. Disguised as human, the Tran family takes over Starrgate Donut and begins to find a place in their local community. Lan's mission is to build an actual star gate inside the giant donut sign on top of their shop, but when she meets an elegant woman who barges into the donut shop, desperate to use the restroom, the first glimmers of an impossible intergalactic romance begin to shine.

Can Shizuka and Lan find love amidst the twin threats of galactic plague and demonic contracts? Will Katrina really agree to trade her soul to realize her dreams? There are so many memorable characters in this novel. You will care about each and every one, beautifully rendered and fully human. It's a story about escaping your fate, making your place in a hostile world, and learning to find love among those who accept you. It's funny, heartfelt, haunting. It's also a quick read, because Aoki's chapters are real page turners! Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 151 books3,727 followers
October 3, 2020
I've been a fan of Ryka Aoki forever, so I was beyond excited to hear she'd written a novel that combines science fiction and fantasy, featuring a young trans girl protagonist. But wow. Light from Uncommon Stars is so much wilder and more beautiful and sweeter than I could ever have expected.

No spoilers here, but this book really captured what it's like to be a trans girl, especially one who's new in her transition, in a way that I'd never quite seen on paper before. I've read a TON of trans novels and short stories and memoirs, way more than most people, and I've never seen a trans story like this before. So many tiny details rang true, in ways that made me happy and some ways that broke my heart.

The important thing to know is that this book is incredibly soothing and kind and sweet and delightful, despite being very honest about the horrible shit that trans people have to deal with. Including intense stuff like sex work, worrying about where you're going to get hormones and spiro, trying to find a bathroom you can use without getting assaulted. Aoki's characters are flawed and capable of terrible mistakes, but also generous and nuturing, especially toward Katrina, the young trans runaway at the center of the story.

And a lot of the life of this book comes from Aoki's lush, gorgeous writing about food and music. This book WILL make you crave various foods, from donuts to Hainan Chicken, and will also fill you with an insatiable desire to listen to Bartók and Paganini and video-game music. That's the other thing: there's a sly thread running through this book about video-game music, and how it's just as valid a musical genre as "proper" classical music. Playing video-game music is sort of Katrina's superpower. Again, no spoilers. The main word that comes to mind for this book is "sensuous." Specifically, Aoki's lovely descriptions really brought my tastebuds and my eardrums to life.

Light from Uncommon Stars just swept me away with its beautiful story of friendship, love, and discovering the creative person you were meant to be. I fell in love with these characters, and I did not even realize how desperately I needed this offbeat trans coming-of-age story right now.
Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
206 reviews788 followers
October 5, 2021
Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews.

If only heart alone could make a novel great. If only positive themes of hope, transgender and queer identity, and acceptance were enough to lift a story to the skies.

Because if that were the case, Ryka Aoki’s sci-fi/fantasy novel, Light From Uncommon Stars, would soar to the universe and back. And my task as a book blogger would be considerably easier since I would not be writing this lukewarm review.

But other than making me hanker for donuts and regret giving up the violin in the fifth grade, the novel didn’t do much for me. Its heart and its hope simply weren’t enough to elevate it to excellence.

Katrina Nguyen, a queer trans woman, is a talented violinist who longs to be accepted by her family. After running away from home, she finds herself in a tough spot until she crosses paths with Shizuka Satomi, a famed (and cursed) violin teacher, and Lan Tran, a space alien donut-shop owner.

Sounds quirky, doesn’t it? It totally is – and the quirkiness is delightful. The novel is a joyous celebration of Asian Americans, queerness, space aliens, music, and yummy food.

But it has a lot going on. In addition to the aforementioned themes, Aoki tackles weightier topics like racism, transphobia, self-harm, rape, and abuse, and Light From Uncommon Stars suffers for the too-busy plot. Aoki is unable to devote adequate time and attention to these aspects of the story, resulting in a weak, thinly-stretched narrative and flat characters with minimal growth.

The biggest problem, though, is the novel’s unusual stylistic format. Aoki continually switches character perspective – and I don’t just mean from chapter to chapter. It’s more like, mid-scene and mid-conversation. Every five to ten paragraphs, the narrative is paused by a section break to allow for a perspective shift. It’s jarring, choppy, and distracting. And because I was constantly dropped in and out of the story, I was neither immersed in the narrative nor emotionally connected to the characters.

Light From Uncommon Stars is a novel I wish I would’ve loved. And while many of its elements are praiseworthy, more than anything, I found it tiring to read. I was relieved to be done with it.

Donut, anyone?

My sincerest appreciation to Ryka Aoki, Tor Books, and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own.

Bantering Books
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews153k followers
Want to read
September 25, 2021
"Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in Ryka Aoki's defiantly joyful adventure set in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts."

I have been most reliably informed that this book is gay and that it slaps, and I'm excited to read it!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
December 30, 2022
I really thought I was going to love this one. I really did. I mean, from the beginning I was lured into the expectation of quirky wonderfulness -- and once we learned that a spacefaring alien family took over an LA-area donut joint, I was quite excited.

“Here at Starrgate Donut, Lan and her family would safely wait out the fall of the Galactic Empire, continue their work, and live undisturbed, as long as—as Mr. Thamavuong stressed—they gave donuts to the police officers for free.”

And then that excitement petered out as adorable quirkiness gave way to perplexed irritation.

You see, this book is trying to go into several directions at once, and does not blend its disparate storylines well, resulting in quite a disjointed, scattered feel. It never integrates its fantasy storyline (a violin teacher selling the souls of her students to Hell to repay a debt) and science-fictional storyline (a space alien family in exile running a spaceship disguised as a donut shop), as well as its real-world storyline (a trans girl going through heaps of abuse and becoming a violinist). None of the stories get a good development, and all feel a bit too generic and superficial and, in case of science-fiction part, a bit too whimsily quirky, a la Becky Chambers tea-drinking aliens, but with donuts.

Not to mention that it would be helpful for me to care more about food or violins to enjoy this story.

I mean, food is great. I enjoy it when I eat it, sometimes more than I should (hey, its holidays, alright?) But here it seems like every page has mentions and descriptions of food, from donuts to steamed buns to a lyrical ode to Olive Garden eggplant parmigiana. It's as though a cookbook and a foodie blog had a baby, and that baby went to a buffet restaurant. And this is really distracting when I'm reading at midnight and my brain keeps being bombarded with thoughts of pork buns.

"It was breakfast. Astrid served cold cuts, crusty breads, semisoft cheeses, and a soft-boiled egg in an eggcup. She had never seen an eggcup."

Not to mention constant viewpoint changes, sometimes almost in the middle of the sentence, that after a while got annoying. I like multiple POVs, but keep it consistent at least for a page to keep the readers immersed.

Becky Chambers books kept coming to mind when I read this, but not as much the Wayfarer series (which I liked) but the later ones, the ones that hit the wrong notes for me -- the ones that focus on alien domesticity in the way that to me cross the line from delightful to boringly bland territory. (Or maybe that Cerulean Sea book by T.J. Klune?) Maybe I'm just not domestic enough, I don't know -- but my eyes started glazing over more than the donuts in the story.

The characters also rarely deviated from a thin whimsical archetype. They lack in personality beyond one or two defining traits. Something is missing for all of them, something that would allow me to connect with them on anything more than a very superficial level. Not to mention that there was really no need to introduce SF elements — aliens that are 100% human refugee allegory, and you’ll be forgiven to forget these are even aliens. Demon that nobody even blinks at. Teenage murder blink-and-you-miss-it subplot (murder that’s mostly glossed over because it was rage-kill of bigoted teens, so I suppose it’s okay???) Nobody spending more than a second contemplating the evilness of selling souls to hell because the violinist who does it was nice to our protagonist and is forming a relationship with the alien mother. A guy who misgenders our protagonist is killed via a hellish heart attack, but alien murdering teenager is given a pass later. The book that in the first few dozen pages deals with rape, sex work and domestic abuse just kinda optimistically skips over any uncomfortable parts later, and never actually conveying any sense of tension or danger.
“No, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to make donuts—but that didn’t mean being a rocket scientist didn’t help.”

I think this would have been better if the science-fictional plot was removed and an editor would cut out about 80% of foodie stuff, leaving a lean novella that can hit hard. Focus on the trans experience and the violinist/demon soul trading and develop it deeper. Forgo the stargate donut science fiction that never feels real or anything besides unintentionally vaguely comical.

All in all, 2.5 stars, and my arteries will thank this book for putting me off donuts for a while.


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.6k followers
April 30, 2022
(3.25) I decided to pick up this book because I kept hearing it had similar vibes to Becky Chambers who I love.

While it did in the beginning, I wouldn't really compare them. I liked the focus on music, the trope of making a deal with a demon... but the whole alien portion felt pointless.

The ending kinda ruined it for me.
Profile Image for Shaun Hutchinson.
Author 25 books4,639 followers
October 17, 2021
This book was an unexpected treasure. I never expected a book about a soul-stealing violin teacher, a transgender violinist, and aliens running a donut shop to be so perfect, but it is. Everything in this book just works. The writing is gorgeous, the story is heartbreaking and hilarious, the characters are well-drawn and sneak into your heart, and the descriptions of food are divine. Seriously, this book is a love letter to transgender youth, violin music, and food.

Definitely a contender for my very favorite book of the year.
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,600 followers
January 10, 2022
Trigger Warnings: racism, racial slurs, homophobia, transphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, outing, dysphoria, bullying, sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, child abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism, self-harm, suicidal ideation, xenophobia, murder, war

I saw someone describe this book as Science Fantasy and that is so accurate.

We mainly follow three women, Shizuka Satomi who made a deal with the devil. She must deliver the souls of seven violin prodigies who are willing to trade their souls for success in exchange for her escaping damnation. At the start of the story, she has delivered six. We also follow Katrina, a young queer, Asian, transgender runaway who catches the ear of Shizuka with her wild talent. Shizuka feels that she might have found her last soul to sell. And lastly, Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four, AND she runs a donut shop. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, but Lan's kind smile and eyes just might redefine a soul's worth.

This book is so heartfelt and unique and quirky and humorous but also heartbreaking. I'm truly impressed with how much the author was able to pack into under 400 pages and do so with such grace and harmony.

The writing of this book was so raw and beautiful. It's simple, but that really allows the themes and characters to pack a punch. It's easy to read. The pacing is also great. I never felt bored or lost in the story. It was constantly moving forward and was never confusing, despite being an even mix of fantasy and science fiction.

I absolutely fell in love with the characters. I felt them. Katrina is growing up in a world that refused to see her as a woman. Lan is trying to navigate life on earth. Shizuka is learning the value of a soul. And there is another woman we're introduced to, Lucy, who is trying to find her place as a woman in her family's violin repair shop. Every single character in this is so distinct and well fleshed out and really comes to life in this story which makes for a very emotional read when the reader can be so well connected to the characters. And despite the fact that there are so many non-human characters, this book is deeply human.

I also really enjoyed how this book felt like a love letter. A love letter to Asian American culture, a love letter to the queer and trans communities, a love letter to the violin and music. Overall, this book was just beautiful and I cannot wait to read more from the author!
Profile Image for skauing.
50 reviews34 followers
January 13, 2022
I had to stop reading this at 80% because I just couldn't take it anymore. This is one of the most painful and unbearable reading experiences I've ever had and the thought of sticking with it for another hour just to finish makes my head hurt.

Things I liked: the cover is beautiful, and I cared about Katrina for maybe five or ten minutes at the beginning, before I slowly started loathing every second I spent reading...

The rest:

I honestly don't know where to start, so this is a rant review now I guess.

First, it was mindnumbingly boring, which is a feat considering how buckwild the premise is. You'd think a book about a trans teen finding confidence through music, with the help of a teacher who sold her soul to a demon and the daughter of an alien running a donut shop, would at least be interesting in a "what the fuck am I reading??" kind of way, but it's just unbearably dull.

I'm not usually one for "rules" in art but this book is a prime example of how sometimes there's a reason we have them. Show, don't tell is a great one!
I don't know what's special about Katrina, or what Lan sees in Shizuka, or why any of them care about anything or anyone. I'm being told constantly that Katrina is amazing, somehow, in some vague way, and Lan and Shizuka are totally in love, but nothing on the page every backs any of it up and I can't actually see or feel any of it at all. This book is filled with long, detailed descriptions of food (smells, tastes, textures, ingredients, origins, all of it) and so much violin and music talk that it borders on incomprehensible for someone who isn't a musician/violinist. I wish at least some of it had been spent developing the characters or their relationships at all.
So all that that, combined with the fact that the POV changes several times per page, randomly and without warning, made me feel very, very removed from every single character and event. Show me why I should care.

Another problem is the characters and how they interact. They all just accept things way too easily and never process or react to what's happening.

Katrina's character ended up bothering me the most, I think. Maybe she has a last-minute realization that she's not a freak and a burden somewhere in the last few pages, I wouldn't know, but every single thought she has over the course of the whole story is about how miserable she is and how much she hates herself. It may be a realistic depiction of trauma, things take time and recovery isn't linear, but from a book I just want something to happen. She doesn't change one way or the other or develop in any direction, she's completely and utterly stagnant and it was just frustrating to read. Almost 300 pages in she was the exact same person as on page 1.

I don't even know how to describe my next issue, but the writing just dissolved into borderline nonsense at times. I had to reread entire pages because I had difficulty processing what the text was trying to say. It got worse the further I got into the book but at some point my brain started leaking out of my ears so maybe random paragraph breaks and double spaces (don't even get me started on this honestly......), POV shifts at the speed of light, contextless flashbacks and dream sequences jumping out at you without warning and reading about the perfect chewiness of noodles AGAIN for several sentences just feels normal and okay to other people.

I honestly hated this book. There are others I hate more, nothing in this was personally offensive to me or anything so it's got that going for it at least, but I really can't remember the last time I felt so fucking miserable reading something. Early on I told people that it probably would have been better if this was three different books, or a storyline had been cut, or whatever, but I'm not sure anything could have saved this for me anymore. Every single thing, from the tone to the structure and formatting to the characters, is just terrible.

What an utterly miserable way to start off my reading year.........
Profile Image for danerys.
451 reviews219 followers
February 26, 2022
astoundingly beautiful. l 96%

first of all, listen to this quote:

”Listen to me. Listen to me now. For if this dogwood bow can force beauty upon you, then I shall shove every part of myself into that beauty. I shall make you feel all the joy, the terror in loving who you are. The audience might have wanted to turn away, but the cursed bow rendered them helpless. Katrina played a love song smashed against a wall, a dream for a child left beaten in their bed. As Aubergine wailed in Katrina’s hands, there was more shifting, more confusion, as the ciaccona held them, aroused them, touched their secrets, made them ache for the happy ending to come. But instead, silence. Because too many stories end unfinished. Because that’s all that freaks like us get.”

let that settle in. keep in mind that this book is written in third person omniscient, and the effect of it suddenly switching to first person during this scene is powerful, chilling, and beautiful.


this book feels like reading a book with tea on a cold winter’s day.

this book feels like eating donuts with your crush.

this book feels like playing an instrument and it actually sounding good for once.

this book feels like watching baby animals play together.

this book feels like learning to love yourself through all of the hatred in this world.

this book feels like hugging your best friend.

this book feels like being lost and then being found.

this book feels like saving galaxies and having fun doing it.

this book feels like warm ramen after a cold hike.

this book feels like shining stars and swirling galaxies and beautiful sounds.

this book was absolutely radiant.


5 stars


✔︎ trans mc
✔︎ queer asian-american mc
✔︎ queer mc

tw for transphobia, deadnaming, parental abuse, rape, sexual assault, etc
Profile Image for Ellie.
575 reviews2,120 followers
Want to read
June 4, 2021
"cursed violins", "Faustian bargains", "donuts", "trans girl protagonist", "sapphic"

[absolutely smashes 'want to read' button repeatedly]
Profile Image for hiba.
240 reviews329 followers
May 23, 2022
i'm torn over this book because there are some genuinely beautiful moments in here - but it was also an extremely frustrating reading experience.

what i loved: the concept is pretty creative and bold so kudos to the author for that. i also appreciated how the story felt like a love letter to asian american culture. my favorite character by far was katrina - i loved seeing her arc, how she painfully but surely grew into herself, how her journey to fully accept herself paralleled with her learning the violin, how she realized she's more than trans and queer but that being trans and queer are also what make her beautiful.

unfortunately, i have some major gripes with the story - mainly its strange narrative structure and writing choices that didn't work for me at all. i don't mind multi-POV stories and POV changes but this was a little absurd - we had constant and relentless POV changes that would come every few paragraphs. POVs would switch so abruptly mid-scene that i would have to go back and check to see what the hell i'm reading. because of this, most of the scenes and character interactions felt incomplete. every time i started settling into a scene and getting the feel for a character, i'd be cut off and shoved into a new scene. so even though this is a fairly short book, it took me forever to get through.

also because of the structure, pretty much all the characters felt underdeveloped (except for katrina and shizuka). i wish this story was just about katrina and her journey with shizuka - i didn't care for the other storylines and i hated that they interrupted katrina's scenes.

lan and her family, for instance, felt so disconnected from the rest of the book. they had so many complicated things going on, like the struggle of being immigrants (from space) and trying to be a real family but thanks to the story structure, we were only given bits and pieces instead of the real depth their issues deserved.

overall, while i'm disappointed i didn't like this book as much as i wanted to, i'd still recommend it for katrina alone - and i think this author definitely has a lot of potential.

cws: racism, transphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, homophobic slurs, mentions of rape, on page sexual assault

rep: chinese/vietnamese/mexican trans queer mc, japanese sapphic mc, vietnamese sapphic mc
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone (on hiatus).
1,501 reviews202 followers
September 2, 2022
A lesbian alien space captain who runs a donut shop on earth whilst her and her family build a stargate disguised as a huge donut.

A violin teacher who has made a deal with the devil in which she will deliver him seven delicious souls whose tortured despair he can feed on for all eternity. She only needs one more.

A transgender girl who feels like she doesn't deserve to be seen but can make her cheap violin sing so beautifully it stops people in their tracks.

I expected quite a crazy ride but instead got a tender and hopeful exploration of finding meaning, joy and a sense of belonging. I felt a lot of emotions as our main characters struggled on their separate journeys. Katrina never felt like she belonged with the family who purported to love her but wouldn't accept her. Shizuka is fixated on her goal to play the violin again and be idolised at prestigious concerts despite the dark deeds she will have to do on the road to achieving this goal. Lan is so preoccupied with preparing for the future that she forgets to feel the joy and love around her in the present. When their journeys intertwined music spilled off the pages and I became quite starry eyed.

A lot of people will find this book long and boring with changes of narration that will make your head spin. I get it.

I, however, found it to be a gloriously gentle and lyrical study of love and sacrifice with descriptions of violin music and food that had me transfixed. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Profile Image for CW ✨.
644 reviews1,696 followers
August 15, 2021
Defiant, affirming, and so tender. Light from Uncommon Stars is a soft and brutally honest SFF about three broken women, whose destinies collide and find belonging and connection with one another.

- Follows three women: Katrina, a trans runaway violinist; Shizuka, a Japanese violin teacher who made a deal with the demon to sacrifice seven violin souls to Hell, and is now looking for her final soul; and Lan, a retired space captain and interstellar refugee who opens a donut shop.
- This was a gorgeous and genuine tribute to violin and music. How this story portrays and depicts playing the violin and the wider violin community - and all its flaws - is probably one of the best depictions I've ever, ever read.
- Though the story is incredibly hopeful and soft, it's also brutally honest about trauma and pain. It explores anti-trans experiences, fetishism of trans people, sex work as a trans woman, and parental abuse.
- But from that trauma and hurt springs healing and affirmation... which is absolutely what this story is.
- I loved the blend of contemporary elements, romantic elements (a sapphic romance!), science-fiction elements and even fabulism. It's absolutely stunning and intertwines so well with one another.
- I loved this with my whole heart. This book made me crave donuts.

Content warning: anti-trans experience and sentiment, racism, parental physical abuse, deadnaming, war themes.

I received a digital advanced reader's copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Trike.
1,466 reviews152 followers
January 3, 2023
Fantasy and Science Fiction don’t mix. I don’t know why people keep trying to force it. Stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

This is the most bonkers mashup of sci-fi and supernatural I’ve encountered outside of comic books. On the one hand we have a cursed violinist who is charged with delivering seven souls to Hell. On the other we have extraterrestrials masquerading as humans on the run from an evil empire and an encroaching existential catastrophe who are, get this, running a donut shop. The blurb calls this “Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”, but that’s inaccurate. It’s actually closer to the Ralph Macchio movie Crossroads cross-bred with the secret aliens of Men In Black. (Although all those books and movies are better than this.) Musicians selling their souls to the devil and aliens like Gary Seven from Star Trek.

I got the impression Aoki is mocking all of these things rather than having fun with them, but who knows. The only thing that doesn’t come across as jejune is the treatment of the trans character Christina. I guess all of the goofy sci-fi demon stuff is meant to be metaphor for something, but it doesn’t hold together, because the actual story devolves into a “have your cake and eat it too” situation.

I did this one in audiobook because that’s what came up in the library first, and I wish I hadn’t. The narrator is borderline monotone, basically doing ASMR, which I can’t stand. I know some people find it soothing but to me it’s aggravating.


Edit: updated spoiler section.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,972 followers
December 4, 2021
This was surprisingly good. I wouldn't really call it a Good Omens replacement or a cookie-cutter Chambers, but here's something about it that was uncommonly good: it takes three wildly different genre scenarios and successfully blends them together in a way that REALLY shouldn't work but DOES.

Three characters, three wildly different situations. Katrina Nguyen is a transgender violin prodigy that takes a ton of hits in the tale, really describing a ton of prejudice and hate while also being picked out of a crowd for her talent, and then is groomed for the same.

Shizuka Satomi is the brilliant violin teacher who helps her, but she is cursed by a demon. She is forced to allow a demon to take the souls of her students.

And then there is Lan Tran, a donut shop owner who also happens to be a refugee from a vast alien galactic war with her ship and crew hiding out on Earth. She happens to fall in love with Shizuka.

I personally loved all the plot points surrounding the violins, from playing to fixing them up to everything.

But I also thought Katrina's plot arc was kinda cringe. I know it's supposed to make us feel loads of pity but it just went on and on, a total victim mindset which was even more cringe when we see how Shizuka just capitalized on it, luring her in with all the nice stuff and support while Katrina's past just predicted her future.

Fortunately, the writing was interesting enough that it didn't ruin the novel for me. The rest dovetailed nicely together, especially the almost out-of-nowhere inclusion of a true outsider (alien) being absurdly grateful for and learning to recapture the joy of living (with donuts) without fear.

All three characters were pretty great counterpoints to each other.

This is a book that happens to be greater than the sum of its parts. I had some smaller issues here and there and there wasn't nearly as much humor in this as I could have expected from the comps in the blurb, but on its own, the whole novel did add up to a lot more than its smaller pieces.

I was more than satisfied.
Profile Image for gauri.
181 reviews399 followers
March 20, 2022
so delicate. so raw. brutally honest and so soft. a brilliant story about three women navigating through their identity and life <3

thank you tor and netgalley for the arc!

original: "made a deal with the devil" smashes to read button
Profile Image for Ellis.
1,210 reviews136 followers
October 18, 2021
This book has a lot of heart but almost no tension, the food descriptions are lush and decadent and there's probably no way to read it and not have an intense craving for a donut and that's nice, but there are several bursts of intense violence that sort of come out of nowhere and there's also way too much going on. My interest waned when the focus was on the space alien family who'd escaped an intergalactic war and ran a donut shop while also building a star gate or the violin repairing woman who came from a long line of sexist violin repairing men and suffered from feelings of inadequacy as a result, because I was much more interested in the trans violin prodigy who was maybe going to sell her soul to a demon and her cursed teacher, and I wish Aoki had chosen one path to tread rather than combining multiple story lines.
Profile Image for Danika at The Lesbrary.
522 reviews1,286 followers
January 27, 2022
I loved this book, but it’s such a tricky, contradictory one to recommend. It’s about aliens and demons and curses, but it’s also a grounded, realistic character study. It’s hopeful and comforting, but it also contains abuse, bigotry, and a lot of brutal descriptions of transmisogyny. This disparate parts combine into a heartachingly affective story, but do be prepared to be reading about both the kindness and the cruelty of humanity.

Despite the high concepts and fantastical elements, this isn’t an action-packed story. It’s character driven. It’s about Katrina finding her place in the world and deciding what she wants to do. It’s about her processing living in a world that is hostile to her, and forming her own sense of identity despite that. She finds meaning in her art, even when that’s recording video game soundtracks and posting them anonymously online. She learns from Shizuka how to find just one friendly face in a crowd while performing. And eventually, she finds her anger and is able to channel it into her art. Then there’s Shizuka, grappling with what she’s done and whether she’s willing to do it again or be pulled into hell in a matter of months. And Lan, who can’t quite convince herself she’s safe, and so is always working, preparing, and keeping ready for the other shoe to drop.

This is gorgeous, multifaceted story that I bounced between wanting to read cover to cover in one sitting and setting aside for weeks because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to dive back into it. While it took me a bit to finish, I’m glad I started the year off with this one. It’s exactly the kind of challenging, hopeful, and unexpected story I want to read a lot more of, and it’s a definite 5 stars.

Full review at the Lesbrary.
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,559 reviews2,312 followers
August 1, 2021
Light From Uncommon Stars
by Ryka Aoki

Well, this was one peculiar book and I like peculiar! It had space people, a demon, cursed objects, a trans on the run, a pair of women who fall in love, and donuts! But there was also violent abuse, sexual assault, rape, racism, aggression towards LGBTQ groups, and more. This is a bold book that takes on abuse, sexual assault, Trans and gay issues, and racism against Asians. I think maybe it just had too much in it or needed editing.

Katrina is a trans that left her abusive home with her violin. She meets a teacher that is famous for her violin. (And all her previous students dying!) She agrees to teach her. That teacher meets a space woman that runs a donut shop. That donut shop's daughter is really a hologram that is made from the essence of a miscarriage and a computer program. These are some of the strange characters in the story!

The story is okay but dwells way to much on Katrina's feeling of inadequacy. The book TELLS us repeatedly! I felt like it was covered extensively on each page! It doesn't show us! This is the way of the whole book.

I don't regret reading the book but I feel someone READ me a folktale. I didn't feel like I was immersed in a book. I didn't really feel connected to any of the characters. I had no emotions throughout except disgust at times. To me, this was not a normal TOR book. TOR has always been my go-to Publisher for great books!

I want to thank the publisher and NetGalley for letting me read this strange book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,461 reviews8,567 followers
November 18, 2022
A book with great heart even though the execution did not wow me. I loved the representation of a young Asian trans girl, Katrina Nguyen, who runs away from her biological family and finds acceptance, support, and love from her chosen family. Seeing an older person unconditionally accept Katrina felt powerful, and the overall happy ending of this novel is a welcome change from LGBTQ+ stories that often end in tragedy.

I unfortunately just didn’t love the writing style of this book. The perspective/narrator often changed in the middle of scenes and conversations and left me wanting a more consistent throughline. The science fiction elements felt both confusing and too convenient for my tastes. I found it difficult to feel invested in these characters beyond my appreciation of how they represented trans and queer liberation and joy. While I didn’t love Light from Uncommon Stars I hope it helps usher in more trans POC narratives.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,133 followers
February 9, 2022
DNF of the "it's not you, it's me" variety. This deals with some pretty hard topics (especially the isolation and pain of trans girls in a shitty unaccepting world) not to mention the whole "selling souls to hell" aspect, but it's basically a very whimsical story in feel and much of the tone, and whimsy is really not my thing. I can see why others adore it, just not for me. Read as part of the "randos rec me 12 books" challenge.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
540 reviews124 followers
March 3, 2022
I mostly loved it. The San Gabriel Valley setting is inspired, and the identity politics were nuanced and thoughtful, driven by little living details. I had the stomach flu while reading this and I STILL wanted to eat so many of the foods! The violin focus was lovely too.

There were a few nitpicky little things I didn't like, such as a constant underpinning of mindless meaningless consumerism and a section that's bizarrely pro-Olive Garden. Also the sci fi elements stay really generic and never quite worked for me.

But the overall book is wonderful.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,420 reviews392 followers
October 18, 2021
Oh my heart. My heart.

Or maybe my soul? I dunno, but this book has shattered and healed and shattered something again and then healed it once more.

Full review on my blog, The Suspected Bibliophile (live October 21, 2021)

Trigger Warnings (not complete): racism, homophobia, transphobia, slut-shaming, sexual assault, rape, deadnaming, misgendering

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Profile Image for C.L. Clark.
Author 19 books1,111 followers
February 24, 2022
Holy shit, that was amazing. Definitely didn’t spend the last hour and a half of listening crying, nope.

I especially loved the omniscient style, it was one of the best parts about it—showing all of the interconnections between people, as well as just being done so masterfully. A veritable symphony.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,133 reviews1,395 followers
May 3, 2022
This is an incredible story, with meticulously weaved threads of multiple plotlines, endearing and complex characters, a unique mix of genres, fun world-building, and sensory prose that delights equally in food and music. It's part trans girl musician runaway tale, part alien escape and adventure in disguise on earth, part older Asian women sapphic love story, and part Faustian epic about selling your soul for musical success. Its tone is overall joyful and hopeful, despite being very upfront about the transmisogyny Katrina (the young runaway musician) faces. The twists and turns of the plot consistently surprised and delighted me.

Essentially, it is the story of Katrina Nguyen running away from home to LA. There, she happens to meet Shizuka Satomi, a renowned violin teacher, in a city park. Shizuka has made a deal with the devil long ago to deliver seven souls to Hell. Her six previous students all sold their souls. But time is running out on her contract to deliver the last soul. Enter Katrina. But also: enter Lan Tran, who appears to be a mere "donut lady" at a family-run donut shop but is actually an alien and captain of a ship that escaped her galaxy's pending doom with her family. Lan and Shizuka have an instant spark. Is it possible for Shizuka and Katrina to escape damnation and for these two lovebirds to live happily ever after?

In addition to these three fascinating ladies, there are a lot of wonderful secondary characters, including Shizuka's delightfully unflappable Swiss housekeeper Astrid; a master violin repairwoman Lucia Matea, who has inherited her family's gift with violins despite not being a son; a demon that pops in and out to hurry Shizuka along while gobbling up earth food; and Shirley, Lan's loyal and all too human AI daughter.

I loved this! Recommended in audiobook format narrated by Cindy Kay.
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
360 reviews195 followers
June 22, 2022
I picked up this book completely on a whim. It was on sale, the preview pulled me in, and my friends were talking about it, so – why not? Why not try and see? And for once, I don’t regret experimenting. While maybe not technically perfect, it’s one of those books I couldn’t stop reading and reading whenever I picked it up.
The NetherTale offered a scenario where a player would rescue people from Hell—yet not hurt anyone at all. Might one live that way? Until recently, Shizuka would have dismissed the suggestion as naïve, a fantasy of the weak and sheltered, those who had never fought or known loss. But nothing in Katrina’s background suggested she was weak or sheltered. As for loss? Her music did not lie. She was fighting with an abandon that only came from loss.
Katrina Nguyen is a runaway, escaping her transphobic, abusive family. Her untrained but clearly talented playing catches the ear of Shizuka Satomi, a violin teacher who has to deliver a seventh soul to Hell to save her own. In addition, their story intertwines with that of Lan Tran, an alien who escaped war on her home world with her family and opened a donut shop.

The story’s main issue is obvious from a mile off: the tonal dissonance. Especially in the beginning, switching from the POV of Katrina, who escapes her terrible family, only to land with a “friend” who goes on and on about queer rights and veganism but keeps making racist jokes, breaks her violin, forcefully kisses her, and generally treats her like shit (not to mention the danger of sex work she does to get money), to Lan’s quirky, lighthearted POV focused on making the perfect donut and awkwardly flirting with Shizuka…well, it’s jarring to say the least.

Nevertheless, I found myself enchanted. Despite the rocky beginning, it gets a lot better as Katrina accepts Shizuka’s offer and lands in a safer, more supportive environment. It doesn’t magically become a light book when the tonal dissonance mostly goes away – there’s still transphobia and racism and strangers being shitty and lots of trauma – but there’s also found family and Katrina slowly gaining confidence and starting to find her own voice. I’m not generally a very emotional reader, but the sections when Katrina performs got to me. Shizuka, for all her deal with Hell, is very caring, and if you suspect she’ll have a hard time with it, you’d be right.

Another thing I must mention is the setting. It’s very Asian-American and all the food mentioned sounds delicious. And then there is Lan’s donut shop with all its donuts. I heard that reading this book will make you crave donuts, and it’s correct. Don’t read while hungry. Though even reading while full won’t help you escape the donut cravings. Just cave in and get some in advance 😂🍩

In the end, Light from Uncommon Stars might not be a book where all the elements fit well together, it might be trying to do a little too much at the same time, but it’s compelling and genuine and full of heart. And to me, that was quite enough. Recommended. Along with donuts.

Enjoyment: 5/5
Execution: 3.5/5

Recommended to: music nerds, foodies, if heavy but ultimately hopeful is up your alley, anyone looking for something very queer and Asian-American
Not recommended to: anyone unprepared to crave donuts, those who’d have issues with the tonal dissonance at the start, also heed the content warnings

Content warnings: abuse, sexual assault and harassment, MC forced into sex work, transphobia and racism (including slurs), self-harm

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,047 reviews3,455 followers
September 19, 2021
"Defiantly joyful" is a good word for this book- a story that looks unflinchingly at the harsh realities that many trans youth face, all the while weaving a hopeful tale about love, music, found family, and mouthwatering food. It's character driven science fiction peppered with Faustian bargains, cursed violins, and aliens who run a donut shop. There's a lot happening here but somehow it manages to fit together in a beautiful tapestry.

Katrina Wen is a trans runaway and a gifted violin prodigy using sex work to survive and hopefully afford more hormones. She's early in her transition, dealing with hate and violence, living in fear, even in places that should have been safe.

Her life changes when she meets Shizuka Satomi- an infamous violinist who offers to become her teacher. But Satomi has made a deal with the devil to deliver the souls of her students to hell. And yet...she shows kindness to Katrina and in turn Katrina begins to worm her way into her heart.

Meanwhile in a donut shop and alien family is in hiding, using replicators to make donuts that never quite have that taste of home. And when Satomi happens into the store, she and the Lan (matriarch of the alien family) are immediately attracted to each other.

Like I said, there's a lot happening here but it's a surprisingly quiet, beautiful story that is raw and vulnerable in presenting the experience of being a young trans woman. And it's clear the author knows and loves music. Permeating the book is a passion for the violin, and equally a passion for food with descriptions that will probably make you hungry!

At first I didn't love the audio narration because it didn't always echo the more silly and lighthearted tone of some scenes, but eventually I really fell in love with it because it really gets across the emotional depth. I received an audio review copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Note that this book does include semi-graphic scenes of sexual assault, slurs, dead-naming, etc.
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