Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro
Well, it is different than a lot of Asaro's recent bloated Skolian series. It's not great however, and still features a lot of the same issues: over-extended family tree that needs to have the same exposition delivered across the book, similar exposition with the basic strategic politics and technology, the stock romance, the Rhon protagonist being kidnapped by the Traders. There's a real sense that this universe has been overused. What's new in this book is decently interesting, featuring Earth-based high-tech rock star antics. It's still a bit too predictible, with the protagonist being excellent in everything (music writing, music performance, dance, compassion, sex-appeal) and it all gets a bit too much.
Fundamentally what pushes this from a flawed but enjoyable story to a basically poor one is the romance and the worldbuidling. The first of these elements is far more subjective, and I just may not be the reader this book is being written for. I think there's still something lacking in the way the book sets things up. Perhaps it's tainted by seeing Asaro do this technique before, but should an effective romance really be this predictable? Should it be so obvious on the first meeting that the characters are going to end up together? Shouldn't the objections and hesitations of each character be done in a way with some real tension, so we can believe for at least a moment that the two wont wind up together?
The construction of the invented future seems more basically objectionable, largely because how conventional it is. There's a sprinkling of advanced technology but it seems that these elements and centuries of futuretime have made minimal change to daily life, nor has spreading into an interstellar federation and confronting two larger and more advanced meanacing power. Earth is depicted as insular and conservative to mindboggling extent, and that makes it almost a weakness that this book is set apart from the familiar locales of the series.
Better than: Seeds of Earth by Michael Colby
Worse than: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks