Sunday, March 25, 2012

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti (5/5 stars)

Title: Illuminate
Author: Aimee Agresti
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Date Published: 06 March 2012
Genre: Fantasy
Hardcover: 534 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars

"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? "

Haven, with two other students from her school, were chosen for an internship at the rebuilt Lexington Hotel, the hotel name made infamous when Al Capone made it his gangland headquarters in 1928. The new Lexington Hotel promises sin, luxury, and glamour under Aurelia Brown's administration, the enigmatic hotel owner, who has decided to mentor Haven herself. Aurelia manages the hotel with her second in command, the mysterious Lucian who has Haven's heart fluttering, and The Outfit, the staff of the hotel, all looking like models, all hollow inside. However, things are not what they seem and soon Haven finds herself lost in the intoxicating mysteries surrounding these seemingly perfect beings. 

Illuminate is filled with stunning visual imagery. My favorite place in the hotel would have to be the private dining room, Alcatraz, where you could get any food your heart desires, a cage you wouldn't want to leave. The dance floor atop a tower surrounded by a ring of fire in the bar comes to a close second. This and its unique angel mythology about angels in training put smack in the middle of temptation and evil, trying to earn their wings, has got me hooked from page one and even if the book is long, the story didn't drag at all.

A superb protagonist with an equally diabolically superb antagonist. 

Haven Terra is quiet, diligent, and down to earth. And what I love most about her is how she isn't like others who want instant fame, power, and money. She knows hard work will take her to where she wants to be someday. Her resilience is admirable. 

Aurelia Brown's character deserves a slow clap, right after a, "die already b----!" in the end! She's beautiful, seductive, and successful. She wants everything and if she has to sell her soul, leave the man she loves, who is still obviously very much in love with her, and commit every sin in the book, then she'll do it without batting an eyelash. There are moments we catch Aurelia when she is most vulnerable, in a note to a man from her old life, and when she let Haven to, to convince Haven to join The Outfit. Then the moment is gone and she's back to being ruthless, murdering that man, threatening to kill Haven if she doesn't join The Outfit, back to being in control. And all these glimpses of her vulnerability and ruthlessness makes her fascinating.

Agresti's characters have depth and they have so many facets to them, like Haven, who has always been on the straight and narrow. Mysterious messages written for her in a book tells her she has to sneak in and explore hidden passageways, eavesdrop, and steal some food. You wouldn't think she has it in her to do all of these but she will surprise you. And even Calliope, a member of The Outfit who has run away, isn't going down without flair and drama. I guess the only character that didn't impress me was Dante, he's the textbook gay best friend prodigy sous chef who you go to for fashion advice and hair fixes.

Caught in the middle.

It's hard for me to choose a team for Haven's love interest and this hasn't happened to me before! IN THE RED CORNER... Lucian can make your knees weak with his model good looks and a smile that spells danger! Author Aimee Agresti has already revealed that we get more Lucian in the next book! Read my interview with her for more insider info on Illuminate! He has so much internal turmoil, and Haven brings him back, his real self back, and that power over someone is seductive. His sacrifice in the end is a scene that plays in my mind over and over again. I'm very excited to know why Lucian sold his soul! While IN THE BLUE CORNER... is Lance, geeky cute Lance. One of his moments with Haven that I like is when he takes off his shirt and Haven can't help but notice his hot bod! He can win Haven with his sincerity, intense eyes and his passion packed kisses! Both deeply care for Haven and would do anything to protect her. How can anyone choose?? 

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