Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Illuminate

ILLUMINATE (Gilded Wings #1)
Aimee Agresti
Paranormal Young Adult
514 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Available now
Received from publisher for review

THE STORY (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?

Illuminate is an exciting saga of a teen’s first taste of independence, her experience in the lap of luxury, and her discovery she may possess strength greater than she ever knew.

Illuminate has beautiful packaging, with a stunning cover and a strong premise combining to promise us an equally beautiful story full of danger and intrigue as well as a taste of heaven and hell. While Ms. Agresti is undoubtedly a talented writer with a flare for detailed descriptions, the story itself takes a great deal of time to really build, and we read page after page hoping for a snowball effect to kick in—wishing the quiet beginning would start to gain substance as the mystery of Lexington Hotel’s owners and staff unfolds, but instead we find the frozen flakes slip right through our fingers and prevent us from building anything greater than the sum of its individual parts. All the pieces of a fantastic story are present and accounted for, but somehow they don’t quite come completely together, our investment in Haven and her plight tangled up in a large number of words that don’t seem altogether vital or necessary to the progression of the plot as a whole.

Haven is a perfectly likable heroine, someone with a darkly mysterious past who strives to rise above her strange beginning and do everything in her power to carve out an existence that will make a difference in people’s lives. She seems so very normal and girl-next-door despite the supernatural element we know is going to make an appearance based on the synopsis, and while we can fully appreciate a young woman we can see ourselves meeting on the street in our reality, that normalcy in this particular case is part of what keeps us from fully connecting to her. She, Lance, and Lucian are all good and solid characters, however, they only inspire more vague generalizations and generic descriptors as there’s nothing about them that truly leaps from the page to grab our attention and brand our memories with their uniqueness. We enjoy them, but we don’t necessarily love them or spend quiet moments thinking about what’s in store for them moving forward.

Luckily for us, the final 150 pages make up for quite a bit of the lost time we spent in the preceding 350 pages, the tension palpable as Haven learns the extent of Aurelia’s nefarious plans for the hotel’s various guests, and what she must do to protect the unsuspecting victims. Finally our hearts start beating a little faster and that familiar itch begins at our fingertips, encouraging us to flip the pages faster so we can discover if good will conquer evil in this first installment. Those readers who loathe cliffhangers can breathe a sigh of relief when they reach the final page, as Ms. Agresti nicely concludes this first book while still leaving plenty for us to discover in the coming sequels. Overall, Illuminate is a bit of a slow read, making us wade through a lot of information to find the essential core bits we need to take with us as we move forward, but the end gives us what we’ve been searching for all along and leaves us with hope that we might not have to mine so hard for the flecks of gold in book two.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. Between you and Pushy who both found the beginning so slow and with all those unneccesary information, I think I will passs on this one... I love the whole idea and as you said the "package" but somehow I still have to read a review that truly wants me to pick it up :)

  2. 350 pages is a long time to read before you get to some action! I thought this one sounded really good, but I've been reading the same type of reviews as yours on it. Too bad! Beautifully written!


  3. Kudos! I probably wouldn't have stuck with it BUT I am an ender so I know what you mean about how the last 1/3 can really change your POV about a story. It is beautiful packaging though and I do love the premise! I am going to bet that book 2 won't suffer the slowness of the book 1.

  4. I adored Haven too! She was just one of those characters I could connect with from the get-go -- sweet, and smart, and a dreamer into photography! Just like you, I think that my biggest problem with this book was the slow pacing because that did take a while to get into. But to that other point, no way! I was completely Team Lance through and through -- there's just something charming about those slightly geeky, awkward, and totally sweet boys! Or maybe that's just me LOL x)

    Gorgeous honest review as always, Jenny! <3 If the next book is faster paced, I think we'll be all good! ;)

  5. Whew...Im glad this one turned out to be an ok read, Ive had it on TBR for a Melenia.....however taking a Melenia to get to the good stuff kinda bugs me....

    Lets talk about that cover...I think I need a dress like that and then Im going to wear it grocery shopping.....LOL

    and ps- sorry I had to delete my comment...I spelled a word wrong.....geez!

  6. Danny - It was definitely a slow read for me, it took a long time for things to actually start happening at the hotel and I felt it could have been shorter while keeping the core elements intact:)

    Heather - Yes. Yes it is. I did really like the premise and the action at the end when a long way toward satisfying me, the story just took a roundabout way of getting to that point:)

    Felicia - I know. The only review book I've ever DNF'd was the one we both did. Usually I always make it to the end:) This time I was really glad I did because I enjoyed it overall:)

    Mimi - I agree, I was rooting for Lance the whole way as well, but I was still waiting for him to really jump out at me. He was my favorite by the end though! And I have high hopes for the next book!

    Tina - I will wear that dress grocery shopping too. Complete with wing attachments:) I'll be interested to see what you think of this one!

  7. Wow, it takes 350 pgs to actually get a plot going? I don't think I had hold out for that long. I am interested in the premise though so I'm gong to put this one lower on my tbr pile and wait and see what the second book brings.

  8. Hmmm, yeah...I don't know if I want to spend my time reading all that only for it to pay off in the last quarter of the book. I love the way you describe that it has all the elements but doesn't quite come together. A lot of books are like that and I can't articualte why or what I need, but it's obvious something is missing.

  9. I've been curious about this one for a while now, but have read quite a few mixed reviews about it. The cover really is gorgeous. Too bad the story has such a slow start.

  10. I think there are only so many books I can handle that only pay off in the last part of the book (Some Girls Bite was like that for me originally), and they're usually mysteries (or Some Girls Bite, heh)rather than YA.

  11. The premise to this sounds so good, but I don't know if could stick it out with it being so slow at the beginning, I would be tempted to flick through to the last 150 pages! But it's good to know this book doesn't end with an awkward cliffhanger. Great review Jenny! :)

  12. Still with the dresses, I guess they are here to stay then. Like UF covers with swords ;)

  13. Ive read so many mediocre reviews for this one that I pretty much decided it wasn't one I would put my time into. But I'm glad you enjoyed the last bit at least. Its hard when a book hooks you toward the end cause you often are left with a good feeling and it can be hard to remember the trouble you had in the beginning. So I'm grateful you covered your initial feelings in your review.

  14. It was a very slow start but I felt liek to end made up for some of that. Still, I want to read the second book to see where it goes.

  15. Rummanah - It doesn't take the full 350 to get going, things definitely happen in those pages, the action just doesn't really pick up until the last third. It's a very gradual story - things happen slowly and carefully.

    Pam - All the pieces were there you know? I liked all of them, but they didn't quite combine the way I'd hoped. I'm still looking forward to the next one though:)

    Christy - The cover is stunning, one of my favorites:)

    Amanda - It kept me interested enough to keep going, I just wish it had been about 100 pages shorter and we'd gotten to the conclusion a bit quicker.

    Jasprit - I knew there was potential for awesomeness, so that' kept me reading. I really enjoyed the end, so hopefully the next book is a little more to the point.

    Linda - Yep:)

    Candace - I agree, it's easy to overlook a slow beginning when you reach an action packed end, but this beginning lasted for the length of most other YA books, so I felt it needed to be mentioned:)

  16. Savy - I do as well. The ending really saved it for me:)

  17. I still have this one staring at me on my shelf--need to read it! Even though it sounds kind of slow at the beginning, at least there's a great last bit to make the whole thing worth it.

  18. I have this one as well. Have not gotten to it, yet. I can easily forgive a slow start if it picks up and ends well with no cliffhanger. Big bonus points for that. I detest cliffhangers. That makes my day to hear that this one is without one and has good writing :)

  19. LOL! The "the final 150 pages make up for quite a bit of the lost time" bit totally make me snort. IDKW, I mean you're always so graceful with your words, and this review is a refection of that, but that line just sounded so frank. Zahida must be rubbing off on you. No, wait, what am I saying? This is SS, after all. :)

    Ignore me. It's the end of a long work day and I think I'm looking for anything to make me laugh.

    I knew there was a reason why I was avoiding this book. Like Felicia, I probably would not have been able to stick with it till the end. And knowing that I hate to DNF books, I think it's best if I just don't attempt it.

  20. I'm glad you stuck with it and it paid off. Sometimes it just works. However, I think I'll shelve this one for now. I'll wait to see what you think of the sequels. It may then really pay off then.

  21. Lol at Missie's comment.

    Jenny, I have this one for review and part of why I haven't gotten started on it is because of its slow beginning. I'm in a mini reading slump and I really don't want to have to read 350 pages before I get to the good stuff! The book sitting on my shelf just looks so big! Thanks for letting me know though that if and when I get around to reading this one, the end will make up for everything.

  22. You reviewed this book perfectly ! This book has some amazing smaller parts but for some reason it just doesn't come together. . . it doesn't help that it is so long.

    1. I agree with yours. And the image cover is very attractive, especially her sad eyes.

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  23. Great review, Jenny! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was really excited about this one when it first started to circulate, but for some reason I'm not really anymore. o: It just sounds a bit too meh for me, I guess! Still, I AM intrigued... LOL. I guess time will tell if I decide to pick it up! :)

  24. Sounds like it ends stronger than it began, which is always a good thing. Nice honest review :)

  25. Fab review, I agree that the packaging is fantastic. I've never read any of these before but the cover and blurb made me seriously consider purchase several times. Even though it picks up 2/3 of the way through, I think I'll skip this one, thanks for your thoughts on it!

  26. I started to read this and loved the concept. But then I lost interest. I'll try to read again because you said it definitely gets better. I do love the cover!

  27. 100% agree with your review! The last portion of the book was the best part of the book.