Illuminate (Gilded Wings Series #1)

( 29 )

Overview

Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything changes when she is
awarded a prestigious internship at a posh Chicago hotel under the watchful eyes of a
group of gorgeous strangers: the powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her
...
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Illuminate (Gilded Wings Series #1)

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Overview

Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything changes when she is
awarded a prestigious internship at a posh Chicago hotel under the watchful eyes of a
group of gorgeous strangers: the 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 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?
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Agresti’s debut novel (first in a projected trilogy) is a tense tale of angels, devils, and the cult of celebrity that is let down somewhat by an unrealistic setup, paranormal elements aside. Nerdy Haven Terra is suffering through her junior year of high school when she and two other high-achieving students are picked for a prestigious internship, living and working at a newly reopened luxury hotel in Chicago. The teens are repeatedly told that this is their chance to make connections with the rich and powerful, but Haven suspects the staff is hiding something sinister, a theory confirmed by a magical book that warns her of danger and tells her that she’s in training for a greater purpose. When Haven figures out she and her friends are being groomed in a plot to collect souls, the race is on to save all three of them. The internship premise is pure wish fulfillment, and some characters, such as Haven’s gay best friend Dante, are painted very broadly. Still, Agresti’s story accelerates to an exciting climax, and the blossoming romance is sweet and satisfying. Ages 12–up. Agent: Stéphanie Abou, Foundry Literary + Media. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

• "Smart, well-crafted and sophisticated; without a doubt, this belongs on the top of the stack of the current crop of angel books. More, please!"
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Part The Picture of Dorian Gray, part The Devil Wears Prada, this original and engrossing story will keep surprising readers right up to the thrilling climax."
Josephine Angelini, author of Starcrossed

"Haven is a character who will definitely surprise you—in the best way possible. Mysterious and deliciously creepy, Agresti's debut will keep you turning pages until the explosive climax."
Cara Lynn Shultz, author of Spellbound

"Agresti's story accelerates to an exciting climax, and the blossoming romance is sweet and satisfying."
Publisher's Weekly

"Move over, Twilight!"
US Weekly

"Equal parts romantic and mysterious, and will keep you itching for the next installment!"
Seventeen.com

"Such an enchanting book and we can’t wait to read more in the Gilded Wings series. While the cover reels you in (How could it not? It’s so pretty!), the words inside keep you reading. There’s angels, mystery, beauty . . . which all rolled up into one, makes it magical."
Just Jared Jr.

Kirkus Reviews
A shy, geeky girl finds herself fighting actual devils in this classy first installment in a new angel series. It may be a debut, but from the first paragraph readers will feel they are in the hands of a confident, professional writer. Though lengthy, the plot wastes no space. Out of the blue, Haven learns that she has won an internship at Chicago's hottest new hotel, where she'll go to live. With her best friend, Dante, and Lance, the third intern, Haven moves into the hotel on her 16th birthday. She works directly for ultra-glamorous Aurelia Brown, owner of the hotel, and Haven quickly discerns that something isn't right. Eventually she'll find out that Aurelia intends to steal souls, including Haven's. Agresti builds suspicion deftly and slowly, keeping readers turning pages as her story grows. A mysterious book gives Haven strange instructions to follow, but why? How do angels become involved in the story? Who might be in danger? She falls for him, but can Haven trust Lucian, Aurelia's assistant? The author draws her characters distinctly, making readers care about Dante even though he remains offstage for most of the book. Smart, well-crafted and sophisticated; without a doubt, this belongs on the top of the stack of the current crop of angel books. More, please! (Paranormal suspense. 12 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Shy and smart, 16-year-old Haven is thrilled when she and her BFF, Dante, and another classmate, Lance, are granted internships at a swank Chicago hotel. At first, the students are impressed by the hotel's owner, Aurelia; her right-hand man, Lucian; and their stunning staff, the Outfit. Soon though, tingling scars, a mysterious notebook, and tell-tale nightmares clue in Haven and Lance to their budding roles as angels, and Aurelia's and Lucian's true identities as aides to Satan, who plan to steal hundreds of souls on prom night. Using the Lexington Hotel where Al Capone stayed as the setting, Agresti creates a vivid environment rich with Capone lore, complete with a 1920s-themed party, hidden passageways, and a subterranean vault. Adding a spooky factor is a motif of incremental inner rot, à la Dorian Gray, reflected in photographs of Aurelia and the Outfit. While Haven is a likable, engaging protagonist, her lack of common sense is unbelievable. At the first hint of demonism and mortal peril (and that's well before she discovers she is an angel), why doesn't she just go home? Why does she so blindly obey the instructions, however dangerous or weird, of the anonymously written notebook? Another weak link is the lack of a convincing antithesis to the evil that Aurelia and company have in spades. Haven and her friends are not religious or spiritual. They do not meditate or pray. God is never mentioned. They are nice people but are lackluster candidates for carrying the banner for all that is righteous.—Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Library, NC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547626147
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Series: Gilded Wings Series , #1
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 424,371
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Aimee Agresti is an entertainment journalist and author. As a staff writer for Us Weekly magazine, she interviewed many celebrities and penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. In addition to Us, her work has appeared in People, the Washington Post, Mademoiselle, and the New York Observer. Illuminate is her first novel for teens. She lives in Washington, D.C. Visit her website at www.aimeeagresti.com.
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Read an Excerpt

1

A Rare Opportunity

Up until that point, English class had been unremarkable. We were halfway through The Picture of Dorian Gray. Mrs. Harris, with her voluminous behind precariously perched on the front of her strained wooden desk, scanned the room searching for flickers of comprehension—or, at the very least, consciousness—in a sea of clueless faces. I slid ever so slightly down in my seat, letting my long wispy hair, still damp from my morning encounter with winter’s sloppy-wet sleet, fall around the sides of my face: trying to hide. I’ve never much been one for participation. I generally know the answers—I just don’t appreciate the attention that comes from knowing them. Answer correctly and you have further cemented your reputation as a brainy, hopeless outcast. Answer incorrectly, and not only are you considered a bookish nerd, but now you’re even bad at that. It was a lose/lose situation. So I read ahead in the book, tuning her out, glancing up every now and then to the clock above the chalkboard or to the windows where blustery, chalk-white skies hung over another frigid January day. Evanston, Illinois, and the tundra that was the greater Chicago area would likely look this way until April, but it never bothered me so much. I liked the way that braving its wind-whipping wrath could make a person, even someone as easily tossed around as me, feel stronger.

"So let’s talk about the nature of good, evil, and hedonism," the teacher droned on.

At the mention of hedonism, on reflex, my eyes darted two rows in front of me. Buzz-cropped Jason Abington, wearing his basketball jersey, number 9, to advertise the big game this weekend, nibbled on the cap of his blue ballpoint pen—my blue ballpoint pen. Somewhere inside my stomach, swarms of butterflies fluttered from their cocoons. It was for this very reason that the front outside pocket of my backpack bulged at all times with scores of these pens, which I had, optimistically, bought in bulk. Jason never seemed to have his own and somehow, by an odd stroke of luck, he had asked to borrow one from me weeks ago and then again and again and now this is what I had become to him: a purveyor of pens. At the desk beside him, a blonde creature—his blonde creature—named Courtney twirled her artfully hot-rollered, bodacious curls. This is what boys like him were conditioned to expect. This wasn’t me, and I couldn’t imagine it ever would be, regardless of what magical metamorphosis one was expected to undergo during high school. I was a work in progress, but I had no reason to believe the finished product would ever be quite like that.

I had stopped paying the least bit of attention to Harris’s lecture when she called, "Ms. Terra? Haven. Did you hear me?"

To be honest, no. Scrambling, I shuffled through the shards I had caught of her lecture, searching for the most likely line of questioning and then shooting out an answer that ought to fit. "Um, Dorian and Lord Henry believe in following the senses, pursuing whatever pleases them, uh, no matter the consequences, and, um, not worrying about right and wrong?" I proposed, sweat dampening my temples. Jason angled his head back just a touch in my direction. I felt other eyes on me too.

"Thank you, that’s lovely." She was holding a slip of paper she had just taken from a senior girl, bored, chewing gum, who now left the room. "But your presence is requested in the principal’s office."

A weak chorus of "Oooooh" broke out as I gathered my books and boulder of a backpack heavy enough it carved divots into my narrow shoulders. As I squeezed through the aisle, passing Jason’s desk, he looked up for only a moment, expressionless and still chewing on my pen.

In my two and a half years of high school, I had yet to set foot inside Principal Tollman’s office—I’m just not that kind of girl. So I couldn’t imagine what this could be about. On the walk there, footsteps echoing on the linoleum, faded voices muffling out from passing classrooms, I tried to think what it could be: Was it Joan? Was something wrong with her? This is how it is with me, always expecting the worst.

But in our case, this sort of overreaction was justified.

This is just what happens when you are discovered, as I was, at roughly age five, in a muddy ditch somewhere off Lake Shore Drive in the dead of winter.

A little Jane Doe, barely breathing, no memories of anything that came before that night, no one to ever come looking for you. And you get raised by the kind nurse who eventually takes you in, names you, feeds you, clothes you. After a thing like that, worry becomes more than a reflex; it becomes an umbrella shading daily life, hovering closer every time someone gets home late or doesn’t call when they say they will.

"Ms. Terra, have a seat," Ms. Tollman said over the top of the rimless reading glasses perched on her nose when she saw me standing in the doorway of her office. She squared up in her chair, watching me, until she finally spoke. "So it looks like congratulations are in order." I felt my eyes involuntarily bulge. "We’ve just been notified that you and two of your fellow eleventh-graders have been accepted into the Department of Education’s Vocational Illinois Leaders internship program."

It took me half a second too long to process.

"Oh, wow. That’s great, thanks," I said, more reserved than she probably expected, but I was preoccupied. My mind sorted and sifted through everything I’d applied for in the past year. There was just so much. Anything that could earn me extra cash for college or would sound good enough to help me clinch a scholarship to one of my dream schools. Internships, fellowships, essay contests—my mailbox and my mind flooded with the constant stream of applications and deadlines and hopes. And yet, somehow, this didn’t even ring a bell. The principal took off her glasses and stared at me with a faint smile, a director waiting for the reaction shot she wanted. "This sounds fantastic," I started. "I really am honored. But forgive me, I can’t seem to recall actually applying for this." A nervous grin propped up the corners of my mouth.

She laughed, a small, charmed chuckle.

"Yes, well, that’s because you didn’t. That’s the beauty of this particular internship. They just pluck the best and the brightest and place those students with a thriving Illinois enterprise for the semester. It’s a new pilot program the state seems to be trying out. You will each be paired up with someone at this business who will act as a sort of advanced independent-study tutor and a mentor. And—"Glasses back on, she read from a paper. "Let’s see, ooooh, yes, it appears you’re going to be placed at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago. Why, that’s really remarkable, you know. They’re about to reopen, and the woman who owns it has become the toast of Chicago’s business world practically overnight. You may have seen her in the Tribune and on the news. This is a tremendous privilege. It says here that room and board are provided, and there’s a considerable stipend in exchange for good old-fashioned hard work."

Her words rushed at me too fast to make sense of. So I would be living at this place? Living at a hotel? Working full-time? No actual classes? "Considerable stipend"? It was a lot to wrap my head around. Do things like this just fall from the sky? Perhaps the near-perfect grades I worked so hard for, the afterschool job I had had for pretty much a decade, the Saturday nights spent at home studying, were finally paying off in something that could give me a shot at the pricey and prestigious schools on my college wish list.

"I know we’ve started our semester—the timing is a bit odd; I suppose the state board is still ironing out the kinks—however, we’ll make it work for the three of you students since this is a rare opportunity." She said this with a hands-clasped, tilted-head gravity that suggested she would like some gratitude and gushing in return.

"Thank you, Ms. Tollman. I appreciate it. This is really great." My mind was already five steps ahead, sorting through what Joan would say. Would she even let me go? What would I bring? How would I tell them at the hospital?

"You start next week. Everything you need to know should be in here." She stood from behind her desk, thrust a slim manila envelope at me, then surprised me by grabbing my limp, unsuspecting hand for a firm shake. "Do us proud, Haven. We’ll see you back here in September."

I had never seen so many people crowd the half-moon of the pediatric nurses’ station when there wasn’t an emergency. There must’ve been at least three dozen of them pulled from even the farthest corners of Evanston General Hospital’s compound and representing the full color spectrum of scrubs—pinks, blues, greens, Disney characters—all buzzing around me, nibbling on heaping slices of red velvet cake (my favorite).

Joan had, of course, orchestrated the whole thing. Now she bent over the sheet cake bearing the message "Happy Birthday and Congratulations, Haven! We’ll miss you!," dishing out precisely sliced pieces as fast as she could and, naturally, with a smile. She had just turned fifty a few months earlier, but besides her gray hair, which she hadn’t bothered to dye, you would never have guessed her age: her social calendar, from her book clubs to her bridge nights, put mine to shame. I wished that she tried to date more—of the two of us, she seemed to have a better shot at it—but she could be stubborn about that. It was the only thing she got touchy about. She had divorced a year or so before she found me, after discovering she couldn’t have kids of her own. Joan didn’t talk about it much, but the other nurses had over the years, so I’d gotten the whole story in bits and pieces. They thought she was too scared now, and they tried to push her into dating and set her up to little avail. But at least she had plenty of friends. She was always either going to a party or throwing one. I wished to one day be such a good hostess. At the moment, though, I was doing my best as the center of attention, another tricky role for me. As problems went, this was a fine one: surrounded by so many well-wishers I had managed only one bite of my celebratory confection before being pleasantly besieged by a tug at the arm of my salmon-hued scrubs here, an ambush hug or a jolly pat on the back there.

"Y’know, I just don’t know how I’m going to tell some of my patients about this. They’ll be devastated!" said blonde-beehived Nurse Calloway from cardiac. She stabbed at her cake as Dr. Michelle from pediatrics—the youngest resident in the entire hospital, and my idol—and white-haired Nurse Sanders, with glistening eyes behind her thick glasses, nodded in agreement. This was my little sorority. "You’ll break all their hearts," Calloway went on.

"And those are hearts that are already in pretty bad shape to begin with!" Dr. Michelle chimed in with the punch line, pointing at Nurse Sanders. We all laughed. This is what passed for humor in these parts. Indeed, a few of Sanders’s patients liked to call me a "heartbreaker," which was embarrassing and just not true, and certainly something I never heard from anyone who wasn’t an octogenarian with failing vision. Dr. Michelle smiled. "We’ll miss you, Haven." She could almost pass as a patient in her department, being so energetic, young, and, like me, only a couple inches over five feet.

Sanders sniffled. "Could you still come on weekends? Or evenings?"

"Now I’m starting to feel bad," I said. "Maybe I should stay."

At the other end of the nurses’ station a good fifteen feet away, Joan perked her head up, waving her cake knife in the air.

"I know you’re not guilt-tripping my girl, are you, ladies?" she called over to us, cutting a piece of cake for herself at last. Propped up on the table behind her was a framed photo of me, about ten years old wearing a mini–candy striper’s uniform. Images of me were all over this place: I was everyone’s surrogate child smiling from their desktops and cabinets and computer wallpaper. This had pretty much been my daycare center for as long as I could remember, coming to work with Joan and being babysat by anyone and everyone until I was old enough that they could start giving me something useful to do. Joan wandered over, plate in hand, mouth full of cake, and put her arm around me. "We have to let this one spread her wings. She’ll fly back." She winked.

"I’ll be back at the end of June. You’ll barely have time to miss me," I said, a crater deepening in my heart. "I’ll do a goodbye tour before I go today."

And tour I did, making the rounds to see all my favorites and ending the day with the toughest stop of all, pediatrics. I cut a pied piper’s path through the ward, collecting pajama-clad followers as I went room to room dispensing hugs and kisses and promising to be back soon. We landed back at the playroom and gathered at the bulletin board we had assembled together: a collage of photos of each child in the ward, running the length of the wall, with a border in a riot of colors. It looked like a massive yearbook page, and we updated it with new photos of everyone on a regular basis. It had started as nothing really, just a little project for photography class last year. I had asked a few kids if they would be willing to let me photograph them and they agreed and then somehow everyone wanted in on it. "We look better in your pictures than we do in the mirror," Jenny, a bandana-clad fourteen-year-old, had explained once, shrugging. I assured her no Photoshop was involved—this was them.

The strangest thing of all though was the reaction back at school. Most of the kids in that photography class were in there either for easy As or were really tortured artist types who dressed all in black. Then there were people like me, who could appreciate the arts, even if we didn’t quite have the skills to participate, and figured we couldn’t be that bad at pointing and shooting.

When I put together that project though, something clicked. You looked at the pictures and jumped into the eyes of those kids and felt like you knew everything there was to know about them. Each semester the class voted on someone’s work to be displayed in the glass case in the school’s front hallway, and somehow they chose me. Every time I walked by it, I would see a handful of people stopping to stare, kids who never seemed to notice anything. Even Jason Abington had looked—a few times in fact—and once when I happened to be walking by (because I walked by a lot) he saw me and elbowed me, nodding at the case, and said, "This is yours? It’s really cool." That meant more to me than I’d like to admit. But it was true; the sweet faces of my subjects did all seem to glow in those pictures, like the camera cut down to their core.

I addressed my little posse now. "I’m officially putting you guys in charge of the Wall of Fame." I knocked a knuckle against the bulletin board. "Dr. Michelle has kindly promised to take the photos so you can keep rotating in the new ones. Don’t let her slack off. I’ll be back soon and it better be in good shape." I smiled.

"Ooooh, um, she’s not such a good photographer," Jenny whispered. "Remember the one of me with just one eye open when you were out that one day? It took, like, an hour to get something even that good."

"Good point. We’ll just hope that she’s improved since then. Or else, you’re in charge." I winked. "I’ll miss you guys. Okay, high-fives, everyone." I raced around slapping each soft palm.

Night had fallen by the time we left the hospital. The lights of Chicago were a dull glimmer in the distance as Joan drove through the windswept suburban streets of cozy, quiet Evanston. The city felt much farther away than it actually was from home and the comfortable routine of my life. The car heater blasted, and beneath my puffy parka I could feel cold bands of sweat trickling down my skin. I sighed.

"You okay?" Joan asked, peeking at me from the corner of her eye as she drove, the slush crushing under the tires.

"Sorry, yeah." I kept my gaze straight ahead into the ice-encrusted, velvety night. "I just mean, I think that was actually a lot tougher than I expected."

"Of course, honey, they’re all like family. Besides, going-away parties are designed to make you sorry you’re leaving—they’re sneaky that way." She smiled, and I did too. "But you know what? We’re all right here, we’re not that far away. It’ll be fine."

"I know, I’m just sort of, I don’t know, nervous." A twinge of guilt nipped at me. I didn’t want her to worry, and I certainly didn’t want to remind her that just about twenty-four hours ago she was completely vetoing this whole plan. She had sounded all the expected alarms: Why do you need to stay there? How hard are they going to be working you that they need you on the premises 24-7 when you only live an hour away on the L? Don’t they know there are child labor laws? Sure, I had told her, the whole thing is organized by the state Department of Education so obviously they’re not shipping us off to some sweatshop. But, in the end, there was just no denying the honor that seemed to come with this and that stipend (Joan’s eyes had positively bulged). I had pulled out the packet from Principal Tollman, with all the particulars about the hotel, glossy photos of its grandeur, and a host of clippings from every newspaper and magazine in the city about the glamorous woman—Aurelia Brown, blonde, stunning, unbelievably young, and powerful—who would be my new boss. Joan had to say yes.

But now, as Friday night closed in on me, ushering in what I knew would be an intense weekend of preparation for this sudden new chapter, nerves were getting the best of me.

"I just don’t know what this will be like," I continued. "I don’t know if they’ll like me or if I’ll do a good job. And it’s just weird. I mean, I’ve never even been to camp and now I’m going to be living somewhere else. And I know I want to go away to school, but I would have a whole extra year to get ready for that, you know? I just feel really . . . off." That was the only way to put it. I felt that I was playing the role of me—and doing it badly—in what would be a spinoff of my life. The glow cast by the streetlamps transformed the bare trees lining our path into spindly, tentacled beasts. I shivered and took a deep breath.

"Don’t worry. They picked you, remember? They know you’re special. They want you there," she offered, in soothing tones. "And, besides, you’ll have Dante there. You kids will have each other."

"I know. That’s the only reason I’m not totally freaking out. Imagine what a basket case I’d be if I had to go it alone."

"No kidding."

Dante Dennis had been my security blanket, and best friend, for about ten years now. That he was one of the other two kids going to the Lexington with me might have otherwise seemed pure, dumb luck, except that he and I were always neck and neck, vying for the top of the class (politely, of course). So it made sense when he hedged at lunch, sheepishly peeking out from behind his chin-length dreadlocks and grabbing a french fry from my tray.

"You wouldn’t happen to have any news, would you?" He had eased into it, then bulldozed on. "Because I do. And I will die if you don’t have news. Please tell me you’re ditching this town and breezing into the Windy City for a certain fabulous internship." He raised his eyebrows at me—up/down, up/down—conspiratorially. Instantly a wave of relief washed over me.

"You wouldn’t be checking into the Lexington Hotel, would you?" I answered.

"Yesss!" He was practically jumping in his seat now. "Oh my god, we’re going to have so much fun. I mean, who lives in a hotel? Only, like, rock stars and celebrities and maybe those messed-up starlets who, like, divorce their parents. Get me out of this horrid high school and into Chicago society!"

"Yes, please." I smiled, shaking my head. We looked around at the tables full of people who would elect us president of things like French Honor Society, but yet not talk to us ever. "Are you a little . . ."

"Nervous?"

"Yeah."

"Hello?! Yes. Totally nervous. I mean, the whole thing seems like kind of a big deal—Tollman was, like, weirdly excited, and I sure don’t want to mess up. We could get total kickass college recommendations outta this. And these people could probably get us into any school in Chicago without even trying: Northwestern, U. Chicago, they probably know everyone. We’d be idiots not to be nervous. But we’re smart and seriously, we work hard. It’s all good." He swatted his hand at me, no sweat.

And I exhaled. This was Dante’s rare talent—far more impressive than his tenure on the honor roll or his landslide reelection to student government, or the absurdly gourmet bake sale he organized for charity each year, full of the most precious confections you’ve ever seen (he was no less than an artist whose chosen medium just happened to be frosting). No, his greatest accomplishment, as far as I was concerned, was his ability to act as a human tranquilizer for me. He could keep me operating at a sane and steady level no matter how twisted up I felt inside. He had proven his aptitude for it from that very first day I met him at the hospital so many years ago.

Back then, I was a five-year-old roaming the pediatric ward halls waiting to find out who I was and where I would be shipped off to. He had been rushed to the emergency room by his frantic mom after he had fallen climbing a tree one afternoon. He had landed on a mess of sticks and rocks he had collected to build a fort and ended up scraping up his back something fierce and mangling his arm. Tendon damage forced him to stay overnight, and he wandered into my room with his broken arm plaster-casted in a sling. We were up till nearly daybreak telling ghost stories. He went home the next afternoon but promised to visit me once a week as long as I was there, and sure enough, every Friday he would appear, running down the hall, pulling his mom Ruthie with him, his little arms always full of coloring books or stuffed animals or pictures he’d drawn for me.

Joan pulled into the driveway of our town house. Home never looked so good as when you knew you were going to leave it. Ours was tall and narrow, a faded royal blue out front, with brown shutters and a slim covered porch. The place was plenty big for just the two of us and mere blocks from Lake Michigan, which was still and icy now, but would be our favorite escape for afternoon sunbathing and picnicking when the weather was warm.

"Go on in, I’ve gotta get some things out of the trunk." Joan shooed me away.

"Need help?"

"Nah," she insisted. "I’ll be just a sec."

With that, I ran up the front steps and to the porch as fast as I could, the icy air chilling me to my bones as the wind howled and whooped around me. My gloved fingers fumbled with the keys and finally the door opened and a blast of heat warmed my skin.

I flipped on the light. Through the living room, back in the kitchen, a shimmering silver balloon shaped in the number 16 danced above the table. A homemade cake and a palm-size box, wrapped in glittering silver paper with a matching bow, waited for me.

I dropped my backpack on the floor and beelined straight to my birthday shrine, unzipping my coat as I went and disposing of it on a living room chair on my way. Joan was already at the door by the time I dug my finger into the fluffy icing and licked it off.

"Part two of the birthday extravaganza!"

"Delicious. And amazing. But it’s not until Monday." That, at least, was the date we had always celebrated since we didn’t really know for sure when I was born. It was the anniversary of the day when I had been found and taken to the hospital where Joan was the first to tend to me, patching up my gashes and scrapes, checking for broken bones, and slowly getting me to talk to her, though I had nothing to say, nothing that was helpful at least.

"I thought since we were already in such a festive spirit, we would just continue the party. Let the good times roll!" She set down her purse and shimmied off her coat, hanging it on the rack by the door. I took the glittering box in my hands and shook it.

"So can I open it?"

"You’d better!" she said, joining me at the table and sampling a finger’s worth of icing herself. "Go on!"

I tore at the paper and opened a white velvet box. Its contents sparkled.

"I know you’re not into jewelry, my precious little tomboy," she said. "But sixteen is a biggie and I thought you should have something pretty."

I pulled out a necklace, webbing its gold chain around my fingers. It’s true: I didn’t wear any jewelry ever, and what few pieces I’d ever gotten had always sat in their boxes untouched. But this one already felt different. For one, it wasn’t a heart or a dangling birthstone or any of the typical kinds of things I was used to seeing on the girls at school. Instead, this pendant, almost harpshaped and running the length of my fingertip, was something entirely new: a single gold wing, its texture softly rippled to give the illusion of feathers.

"I found this at that antique shop I always drag you into with me," Joan said.

"Right, the one next to that bookstore that I always sneak into when you take too long."

"Exactly." She smiled. "I just thought it looked special, like you, and unique." She kissed the top of my head. "I liked the wing, because you’re really going places, you know that? You’re soaring, Haven. You have so much ahead of you."

"Thanks, Joan, I love it, I really do." I gave her a hug and held her an extra few seconds longer than I normally might.

"Maybe you’ll actually wear this one, you think?" she asked, smoothing my hair.

"I’ll prove it." I dangled the necklace from my finger and lifted up my hair. "Would you?"

"I’d be honored." She fastened it on, then turned me around by my shoulders and straightened it in place so it dangled just at that little indented spot at my throat. "Perfect, go see."

I flipped on the bathroom light and studied myself in the mirror. My eyes went directly to the pendant. Generally, everything about my appearance seemed either imperfect or, at best, plain Jane. My nose always looked to me like a blob of uncooked cookie dough. My hair, skin, and eyes were just one shade off from one another in the color spectrum: caramel skin, bone-straight honey brown hair, dark amber eyes. The pink scrubs hanging as they did on my boyish frame did nothing to improve upon all this.

And I had worn entirely the wrong long-sleeved thermal shirt underneath the V-neck top today. My favorites were in the hamper and poor planning had left me with only this old one, with a V-neck just a touch too deep. I looked at the mirror now and wondered if that corner of my scar—the three nasty stripes angled like accent marks and pebbled in texture like burns, located in the space above my heart—had been peeking out like this all afternoon. It was just two inches long but, when coupled with the pair of scars on my shoulder blades, collectively signaled one big, marred canvas. The necklace clearly should have looked glaringly out of place having me as its unworthy mannequin. But somehow this new piece seemed at home. The intense shine of the gold caught the light and cast a soft glow upon my face. I did like it actually. Perhaps I was growing up at last. Maybe this was the first sign of the sophistication to come. Sixteen. It felt weighty, substantial, important.

"I love it," I called out, still admiring it in the mirror. "Thank you so much."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 29 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 3, 2012

    Wow! This book was fantastic! I have been waiting to read this b

    Wow! This book was fantastic! I have been waiting to read this book for awhile now, and finally decided I couldn't wait any longer! I am glad I didn't!

    Haven Terra was so cute. She just really wanted to do well. She swooned at the PERFECT HOT GUY. It was so typical, and it not once annoyed me! I loved Lance from the start - the nerdy, shy kid. Dante was also a fantastic character - the gay smart kid who just doesn't give a damn and grabs life every chance - he is the gay best friend I really wish I had!

    Haven, Dante and Lance get accepted to this internship at a hotel, but not everything is as it seems. I found this novel was constantly surprising me! I thought I had it figured out, but alas, I was mostly wrong!

    The only complaint I have with this book was it was quite long, roughly 530 pages, and I felt it dragged on in some places. But otherwise it was amazing! Buy it, devour it, LOVE IT!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Okay so I was looking for a good read at the bookstore today. Th

    Okay so I was looking for a good read at the bookstore today. Then out of the blue the saleslady said she had this great book that she is reading that I might like. There were no copies of the book on the shelf so she went to the back. Luckily there was one copy so I think it was fate for me to read this. I'm looking at the reviews  and hope its is as fantastic as everyone is saying. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2013

    Very well written and exciting!

    Great book! It was well written and very exciting to read. At one point I almost started crying because I felt so much for the characters. Its worth the buy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    This is ridiculous! Why is the paperback cheaper than the nook b

    This is ridiculous! Why is the paperback cheaper than the nook book! Amzons' version is only $7.43, just something to think about. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Haven and her two friends are chosen (out of the blue) to work i

    Haven and her two friends are chosen (out of the blue) to work in a prestigious up-and-coming new hotel. I’m not sure what kind of public school system they’re a part of, but they get to leave school and live at the hotel for an entire semester. It’s almost too good to be true. All of the hotel staff are young and impossibly gorgeous and Haven feels pretty special just being a part of it.

    Soon enough, odd things start happening (a plant spontaneously catches fire, photographs do weird things, people disappear) and Haven becomes suspicious. Throw in a diary in which passages suddenly appear and seem to give Haven directions, and she really gets freaked out. I have to admit, I would have become a little nervous much sooner than Haven and her friends did.

    Haven was an okay protagonist, though I had some issues with the way she handled some things. She had some scars on her body and didn’t know where they came from (she was an orphan, found on the side of the road), and when in danger, her scars started to hurt. Um, hello? Big fat warning sign. Does Haven pay that any mind? No. When the aforementioned plant catches on fire, she just tosses the thing and forgets about it. Besides the previous nitpicks, I did like how real she was. She was shy and nerdy, but also kind and friendly. I love the way she and her best friend Dante talked to each other, like they’d been friends forever. Lance was a nice addition to their duo and I especially liked how he and Haven grew as friends.

    Haven’s love interest Lucian and her boss Aurelia (anyone else think of areola when they see that name? No? Just me then?) were supposed to be just regular people, but I never fell for it. They were too perfect and beautiful and cunning and powerful. I never believed they were just normal, so it made it hard for me to be shocked and upset when Haven found out the truth and felt that way.

    The dialogue was standard stuff, nothing too artsy fartsy or simple. The mystery part of the story was interesting, although I think anybody else would have come to the obvious conclusion sooner than Haven did. But I’m probably just nitpicking. The length of the novel was way too long. The entire middle part dragged on and on. The beginning was interesting, as we learned about the characters and their environment and the ending was fast and held my interest, but the middle was unnecessarily long, without a lot of action or new information to move the story along.

    The cover is beautiful and appropriate. The wings are subtle (I didn’t even notice them at first) and she actually wears a similar dress in an important scene in the story, so props for that.

    The sum up: I wasn’t as excited about this book overall as I was in the beginning. It had a lot of promise and started off well, but didn’t finish as strongly as it could have.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2013

    It Illuminated my soul...

    This book was throughly enjoyable. I loved the length of it-- it felt not too short, but not too long, and kept me reading. I learned a great bit about myself interwoven in these pages, and I believe the novel showed a lot on the true American Dream. Haven kept her faith in the truth that hard work for goals brings true happiness, and that instant gratification is fruitless, and that is what saved her in the end.
    I love the Seven Deadly Sins theme in the Vault, and Lance was my favorite character. Not to spoil or anything but at THAT MOMENT there in the end (you know what I'm talking about if you read it already), I shouted, "I KNEW IT!!" And grinned widely.
    Spectacular story of not knowing your own strength and is very reccommended :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Great book

    If you have not already read this book, READ IT. It is such a great book.

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  • Posted August 3, 2012

    I give this book 5 stars

    These are the kind of books that I love to read. Ones that I can not put down. It just seems that with the series books They can't publish them fast enough for me

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  • Posted August 2, 2012

    At first, I didn't really like Haven because she just seemed lik

    At first, I didn't really like Haven because she just seemed like the perfect student. Ugh. But as she became an intern, she was mature, sophisticated and professional. I really admired her. She was able to collect herself and conquer obstacles. It definitely in a way reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada.


    Dante was a bit feminine which I love! He was sweet, FUN, and caring. EEEE! Best friend material! *arms flail*


    Dante was your typical hyperactive kid. Wally (Wally West from DC Comics), and Naruto (Naruto from the Naruto manga) like.


    Lance seemed sweet and cool. I mean he wore glasses! Hello! You know I kind of have a thing for "nerdy chic". I mean my love for the guy below can be prove to that. Granted he is not real.



    I really enjoyed the slow build up between Lance and Haven. Some of you might know I hate instalove with the "Every-touch-sends-a-spark- and-I-want-to-be-with-you-forever" thing. Their friendship was very sweet, and very subtle.


    Lucian, wow, he was such a flirt. He was smoooooth. The tiny gestures that goes on between Lucian and Haven. Woowoo mister!

    I really couldn't pick whether I am Team Lance or Team Lucian.
    And what can I say about Aurelia?

    When she talked, it contained mystery and depth to it. At times she really reminded me of your "old-wise-one-mentor-with-the-philosophical-sayings-without-being-all-wrinkly".


    At time, I get the feelings like I'm reading the Mortal Instrument Series and the Iron Fey Series. The hotel totally reminded me of the Lotus Casino in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The hotel was just breathtaking! (Oh yeah so was Alcatraz as well!) One thing that I completely fell for was that the hotel set the week with the theme of the seven deadly sins. What came to my mind immediately was FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST! Yeah, that was off topic. I really enjoyed the historical reference to Chicago, the prohibition, Al Capone etc.


    The only thing "bad" about this book was that it was too long. I think there was too many dialogues and a lot of blah blah. That's why it is 511 pages long. There was basically a 100 page intro to the basic setting and few main characters. Overall this book was beautifully written. Aimee created a complete magical world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2012

    I really enjoyed this book and believe that the length did nothi

    I really enjoyed this book and believe that the length did nothing to skew the brilliant story line, and funny, captivating characters. 5 stars for sure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2012

    Wonderful!

    I coukdnt put it down cant wait to read more!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    AMAZING BOOK

    ... an amazing book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012

    Omg definitley five stars

    Loved this book

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Illuminate is a fantastic start to what I'm sure will be an amaz

    Illuminate is a fantastic start to what I'm sure will be an amazing series.

    Our protagonist Haven is a character that I really liked. She starts off quiet and not very confident in herself but by the end she's this strong confident girl that you want to root for. Haven is a very smart girl and isn't very easily swayed. I loved that she didn't just accept things that she searched and found out the truth, even when it wasn't what she wanted to hear. Haven is tested a lot throughout the book and I think she handled everything very well.

    Dante, Haven's best friend was probably my favorite character. Though he had his fair share of struggles throughout the book he fought his way through them and became a stronger character as well. Dante and Haven had some bumps in their friendship throughout the book but they always managed to find their way back to each other. You could really see how much Dante and Haven truly cared about each other.

    Lance, the other boy who was awarded the internship along with Haven and Dante was another character I really liked. At first I wasn't sure what to make of Lance because he came off kind of quiet and awkward but as the book went on and he and Haven became closer I began to really like him. Lance and Haven are just adorable together and I can't wait to see what happens between the two of them in the future.

    Then there is also Lucian, a boy who works at the hotel where Haven, Dante, and Lance are doing their internship. My feelings on Lucian are pretty mixed and to be honest I'm still not sure what to make of him. Lucian is a very shady and mysterious character and even though we learned some of his secrets in this book I'm sure there is a lot more to learn and I'm interested to see what we learn about him in the future.

    The plot of this book kept me hooked the entire time, I think the idea of these three kids getting an internship to work at a hotel was a very cool and different twist for a paranormal book. I also had a really fun time throughout the whole book trying to fit the pieces together and figure out what was really going on. Little hints are dropped here and there and some things I definitely saw coming but there were also quite a few things that surprised me as well. Another great aspect of this book is the writing, all the descriptions of the hotel were really detailed and helped pull me into the setting. While this book doesn't end on a cliffhanger there are many threads left to pick up on in future books and I can't wait to see what happens next.

    Final Verdict: I can't say enough good things about Illuminate, it is an amazing book and I can't wait until the next book in the series comes out as I am dying to know what happens next.

    *This review is also posted on my blog and my other social media profiles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2012

    Nyih....

    I havent read the book yet, but it sounds very cliche and predictable. BORING.....

    0 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    To describe Illuminate I could only use two words: freaking amaz

    To describe Illuminate I could only use two words: freaking amazing! And to be completely sincere, I wasn't expecting for it to be this good. Angel-themed books have been so popular these last few months that I though Illuminate would be rather repetitive but it was just the opposite! Agresti's novel was a pleasant surprise. And I can't forget to mention that Illuminate has a beautiful cover which will love great on your bookshelf, just saying.

    Haven, an ordinary yet very hard-working girl, is chosen to work at a hotel for six months. Her best friend, Dante, and another high school colleague, Lance, are invited too. This job seems like the perfect opportunity to get her life somewhere. But she doesn't know that in this hotel nothing is as it seems. A book left for her in the library tells her that her life is in great danger but will she believe it?

    The plot was utterly amazing and surprisingly captivating. It was actually really surprising to find out more about the hotel's beautiful employees and the scaring boss, Aurelia. I had no idea when I started this novel that it would not only involve angels, but also selling souls to demons (if you watch Supernatural, you know what this means!). It was refreshing; for as I said many times before, angels are a popular theme nowadays in YA books. But what I loved most was the mystery in Illuminate. Agresti succeeds in keeping us at bay the whole time, leaving us guessing and never finding out much, though I guess this could be a bit annoying to many of you but I enjoyed it.

    The characters in Illuminate were a bit hard to judge and relate to, since they were for the most part mysterious. For example you never knew if Lucian (the gorgeous employee, with whom Haven has a few dates) was nice or if he was just playing Haven for his and Aurelia's evil plans (mua-ha-ha! You will have to read it to find out more!). But Haven was a wonderful main character. She grows up a lot throughout the book, becoming a strong and independent girl. She is really down-to-earth and prefers to work hard now and slack later. Lance was sweet, quiet and likable but I would have loved to learn more about him. I wanted to read more about Dante too, even though he was a pretty predictable character.

    Overall the story was amazing, the writing beautiful so that I can't wait to read the next one (my hands are already itching for more)! The beginning started a bit slow and sometimes I wondered about taking a break from reading it, but I refused to give up and it totally paid off! I'm so happy that I continued reading because after the action started to pick up pace I wasn't able to put this one down. Totally recommended!

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  • Posted April 10, 2012

    Okay, I just want to call this book out RIGHT HERE. Note the wor

    Okay, I just want to call this book out RIGHT HERE. Note the words in the last line of the blurb “suspenseful” and “exciting.” This book is 534 pages that it doesn’t need to be because it is NOT suspenseful or exciting in a lot of places.

    The problem is, this book is WAY TOO BIG. The pacing in this book is really wacked out, and the editing also strange. If Illuminate had been half the size (or smaller!) it could have been a really awesome read for me, a higher starred one to boot. But this book GOES. SO. SLOW.

    The fact that I finished this book is actually a fluke. I’ll admit that there was something compulsively keeping me reading. The prose was rather purple-y and overdone–further slowing down the already slow plot–but in some places it really did click. Flashes of action would crop up, but that’s all they were, flashes. Flashes of action is not actual action, people.

    WARNING! MILD SPOILERS BELOW!

    Our main character is supposed to be a protagonist. But the problem is, she isn’t. The entirety of the plot–when it does move forward–seems to be happening around her. The reason she starts doing ANYTHING is because she finds this notebook that tells her everything to do. It’s aggravating, especially when Aurelia and everybody start freaking out because Haven’s powers are growing and she’s effecting the photos but HAVEN ISN’T DOING ANYTHING. She isn’t any different, she isn’t even trying to be magical. It just happens.

    What in the world is going on in this book? I’m not kidding! The blurb tells you that Aurelia and crew are stealing souls, but what is Haven’s role? What’s her job? What kind of lore are we dealing with? I was asking these IMPORTANT questions all the way up until about halfway through the book! You don’t even find out what the deal is with Haven until later than that. I understand that since this is the first person and Haven is clueless she can’t exactly TELL us, but geez.

    And then when things actually happen… It doesn’t seem to FIT. For instance, when Haven finally figures out Lucian, I wanted to shout NO, REALLY? And then when things start rolling and some plot points are explained I went, WAIT WHAT? Because they happened too fast for me to get a handle on them.

    However, however, I do admit, I adored a few things…

    The character of Dante was awesome. I was upset we got to see him so little in the middle of the book. The Lance/Haven thing was also cute, because they took time to get to know each other, trust each other and THEN fall in love with each other. Major plus in my book. I spent so long on criticism I feel bad I don’t want to prattle on too much here, but yeah. Those were two major points for me!

    Now … the ending. THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS HERE, even if it kills me. However, I must say, things REALLY got rolling here. It was like, after 500 pages of blah blah blah all of a sudden it went EVERYTHING is GOING TO HAPPEN, THE END. I truly did enjoy the ending, though it ended pretty abruptly after what I was used to.

    In a nutshell, this book was something. It was really slow for ages, then really fast for about 20 pages and then you were at the end. If you are the kind of person who reads books were something NEEDS TO HAPPEN then I would avoid this one. However, if you don’t mind slower reading and a slower reveal of plot points then you might find this one enjoyable. Though I did finish this, it really wasn’t quite the right fit for me–a fast reader with a short attention spam.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2012

    Amazing Debut

    Illuminate is an amazing book. A great start to an amazing series. All girls looking for an adventure and mystery should eead this. SPOILER: Think of Dante's Inferno.

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  • Posted April 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting mix of typical mythical stories.

    This one took a while to pick up any main plot or idea of where the story was going. Not a very original story line, just a jumble of angels vs. demons, some Dorian Grey picture stuff and a whole bunch of plotting. I think I'd read the next one to get an idea if it gets any better. But I just wish there was more doing than just planning involved in the story line.

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  • Posted March 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    3 - 4 STARS Illuminate by Aimee Agresti is a romantically capti

    3 - 4 STARS
    Illuminate by Aimee Agresti is a romantically captivating Angel story! Filled with enjoyable characters that will have you wanting to befriend, and some not so much (they're evil I tell you!); an intriguing plot and a whole-lotta angst you wouldn't know what to do with!

    To begin, the cover is more than gorgeous! I really like the shadowy effect of wings as if she really has them (you'll understand my hinting if you've read the book). It's the major reason I really wanted to read Illuminate, the second being the synopsis.

    I have to admit this took me WAY longer than it should have to read/finish. The story really wasn't that bad, and the only way you will know that is if you've read to the end without skipping/skimming any pages. It was really long [534 pgs] when it could have been spruced up shorter, and it's the reason why it felt like it dragged on. The first few pages were filled with unnecessary descriptions and were a bit excessive. Two thirds of the way it just started to feel lengthy where it could have been edited a bit or condensed in some parts. I can't remember where it started to catch my interest, but it does get interesting once you pass that hurdle.
    I love the three main characters! Dante is adorable and I SO want one for myself! The love drama is cute and not over done. I still don't know which guy I like the most. Haven is very likable and you just want her to succeeded in what she does and tries to accomplish. Lance is such a nerd, but a nerd to be reckoned with! My only disappointment aside from the length is the lacking of Haven's past along with the confusing cryptic mystery of the book and postcards which I'm hoping will be cleared and explained more in the second book. I LOVED the ending! There is really not that much to say about it because it was a great and perfect way to finish the story. Even though I cried at one point the result was still SWEET! LOVED IT!
    If you don't mind novels that are long-drawn-out (which are great for rainy days mind you) then this is the book for you!! It is also a great Angel story to add to your list! Get Illuminate'd' =)

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