Monday, March 26, 2012

Illuminate, by Aimee Agresti- Debut Review

From Goodreads:
Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago—and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.
As Haven begins falling for Lucian, she discovers that these beautiful people are not quite what they seem. With the help of a mysterious book, she uncovers a network of secret passageways from the hotel’s jazz-age past that leads her to the heart of the evil agenda of Aurelia and company: they’re in the business of buying souls. Will they succeed in wooing Haven to join them in their recruitment efforts, or will she be able to thwart this devilish set’s plans to take the souls of her classmates on prom night at the hotel?

I'm a bit torn by this book.  There were parts I enjoyed, and parts Agresti just couldn't sell to me.  I really wanted to like it, but I felt like she kept throwing in scenes I couldn't believe her characters would go along with.  Since it's her debut effort, a healthy length and part one of a series I'm leaning towards forgiving her this once and seeing what happens in part two.  But another part of me screams "WHAT ABOUT THAT KISS SCENE!!" every time I think I'll give her another chance and it gives me pause.

So lets start with the basics.  Lance, Dante and Haven are supposed to be the three brightest, hardest working students at their high school.  So hard working, in fact, that all three of them have sacrificed all the fun of being a teenager for the rewards of being a super student when it comes to their future dream careers.  Now here's the not so believable part: they're offered a "prestigious" internship at a new hotel, and are pulled from school to go live/work there.  Months of classes missed, that they're presumably exempted from, no assignments or check ins with the high school, because apparently being a glorified hotel worker is a great experience for your college applications? Seriously? These kids are so neurotic everything is a math problem to them, but downloading photos, and delivering chocolates, or organising the library are adequate experiences to impress a college?

As characters I found Lance and Dante appealing, Haven was a bit less so, but I didn't dislike her, I just didn't love her.  Oddly, Lucian is one of my favorites (with Lance a close second), even though he's supposed to be the bad guy for the majority of the book.  I'm not sure I should have liked one of the bad guys more than the main, but alas! 

The next issue for me is the whole book/mentor set up.  It was just a bit too weird to have a book telling Haven what to do, and even weirder when she listens (even if begrudgingly).  I feel like the book should have been a real person, even some random homeless person Haven bumps into on one of her outings, rather than a book with writing that appears only when she needs it, and handily disappears whenever someone shows up at her room.  It felt like a cop-out to me.  Agresti needed a way to direct Haven, and the book really feels like her not being able to come up with a better, more plausible way.  Hey, I'm cool with all sorts of tools when it comes to paranormal or fantasy stories, but they still need to be plausible, and/or believable.

Finally, and I warn you this is ever so slightly spoilery-ish, the @##%%!! kiss scene.  I'd ploughed my way through 511 pages, I'd decided to turn a blind eye to the book/mentor and the total lack of education and just enjoy the ride when Agresti threw the strangest last minute curve ball I've ever read.  In the early days of Lucian's perusal of Haven, there's a kiss.  It's a momentous scene,  in the dark, and really the big impassioned moment of the book.  Except for one small comment about how a later kiss from Lucian isn't as earth shattering, there is no indication anything was not as it seemed.  Until page 507, when she's suddenly kissed by someone else and announces "it was you...". 
I was completely confused, it was who?
What did he do?
Until I read the rest of the explanation of how it wasn't Lucian who had kissed her in the dark at the moment.  That instead someone else had been stalking them, and although he hates Lucian and is trying to warn Haven off of him, chooses that moment of darkness to sweep in and passionately kiss her.  Knowing full well she wouldn't know it was him, and likely think it was Lucian.
I won't even begin to go into how out of character this whole act would be for this person you've been blithely following for 511 pages.  Or how his later actions don't even slightly hint that he's had this impassioned moment with Haven.  I was so staggered by this strange turn of events that it's literally all I could think about, whenever I thought about the book, for days after.  And it was irritated thinking, not misty eyed romantic thinking.

So my final word is this.  Illuminate has some intriguing moments, some decent characters and a premise I can see wanting to read more of, but be prepared for some story elements that don't fit and might actually aggravate you.  I can cut a debut some slack, she engrossed me enough that I didn't ditch the book, and it was lengthy, however, I'll be expecting a slightly better showing come book 2.  Give it a try, if for no other reason then so you can come back and dish with me over that totally weird kiss twist.

Illuminate, by Aimee Agresti
Published by Houghton Mifflin, March 6th, 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publishers
Buy Illuminate on Amazon


  1. Rhiannon, I have to say that reading this review must be more entertaining than reading the book. I love your take on the weird plot line. Really funny.

    1. hahhha, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm telling you the kiss twist is still blowing my mind!

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