Thursday, March 08, 2012

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti

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?

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It started out kind of slow and bumpy, not really feeling different from other YA stories out there. But, as the story progressed, my interest level cranked up notch after notch after notch. Especially with all the references to Capone and Chicago’s history.

I’m a Chicagoan, so I’m a sucker for any book set in this city. Some disappoint, but others, like this one, get it (more or less) right. The story takes place in The Lexington Hotel which, in reality, was torn down in the eighties. But, in Haven’s world, it’s been restored and reopened under new management. The hotel’s nightclub is called The Vault, named after the actual vault in the basement that supposedly belonged to Capone. The Outfit refers to the Capone’s gang, which grew after his incarceration and spread across the country. And, there is a private dining room called Alcatraz, where Capone served some of his time, complete with a jail cell and everything. I found all of this fascinating, and even did some more reading on the history of my own city. :)

Anyway, back to Haven… I wasn’t all that taken with her in the beginning of the story. She didn’t seem unique, and the gay-best-friend-thing has been done to death. But she grew on me. The more I got to know her, the more I liked her: her work ethic, desire to help others, sweetness, nervousness, desire to please, her driving need to be the best she can be. These are all wonderful traits and I really connected with her through them. The more I read about her, the more I wanted to read about her. Note: she is kind of a goody-two-shoes, so if that’s not your thing then you might not like her as much. But I found her personality to be refreshing.

I absolutely loved the romance. I can’t stand instalove, or love triangles, and this book has neither. She is swept off her feet by the charming, swoon-worthy hot guy, but then she gets to know him and her feelings change. Then, she grows to care for the nice guy. Yay! There aren’t many YA books that do this, and I commend the author for it. It’s not hot and steamy, but it is realistic. And awesome. Oh, and there’s no contrived tension because one person kept some information from the other person, or because one person misunderstood the other and then stomped off before an explanation is given. Fantastic!

There’s just one piece of information we get at the end that seems completely out of character for Lance, but, given the fabulousness of everything else between them, I could overlook it.

There were a couple things, though, that I wish had been better. The first was that Haven didn’t visit Joan very much. They live too close for this. I actually would have found it more believable if Haven would have moved to Chicago from another city, and then she’d have been trapped at the hotel because she wouldn’t know anyone or anything else. But Joan is only an hour away, so I can’t see her not going to visit.

In that same vein, the passage of time felt clunky during parts of the story. This, in turn, made the pacing feel off—but this was mostly toward the beginning. As we get closer to the end, things pick up and there are fewer clunky passages. The ending was fast and fun, but it was also predictable because we figured out what Haven was about halfway through the book, but it seemed to take her a lot longer. I would have liked to see higher stakes toward the end, involving both Haven and her loved ones, and then no one would have been able to tear the book from my white-knuckled fingers. :)

Even with the flaws, though, I still enjoyed this book immensely and am looking forward to the next one.

For a chance to win an ARC of this book, go here and fill out the form. Good luck!


Katja Weinert said...

Thanks for the great review, it sounds like a decent read and I'm pretty curious to read about a goody two shoes MC, cause we don't get many of them in YA. I think we do get the downtrodden, but not necessarily the people pleasers :-)

Kiersi said...

I may just have to pick this up myself. Your link to the ARC doesn't work, though :(

Tabitha said...

K.R. - yeah, there are very few goody-two-shoes in YA, and I really enjoyed reading about Haven. :) She's just your typical teen: not oppressed and not worshipped. She's just trying to get through it all, like most teens. :) I really liked her.

Kiersi - huh, that's strange. I just tried the link and it worked. Perhaps there was a blip in the internet. :) Would you mind trying it again, just to be sure?

Lena1xoxo said...

Thanks for the honest review. I couldn't get into this one, but maybe I should give it another go. I hate insta-love and love triangles as well, so I'm glad to hear you really enjoyed the romance. :-)

Tabitha said...

I wasn't all that impressed with the beginning, but the more I read the more I liked it. I think it was around the 70-page-mark that I started to get into it, and then I didn't want to put it down.

Kelly Hashway said...

Great review. I'm going to have to check this one out.