Book Review: “Illuminate” by Aimee Agresti (Gilded Wings #1)

One thing I can say in favor of this book-- the cover is beautiful.

Title: Illuminate (Click to add to your Goodreads!)

Author: Aimee Agresti

Available In: Hardcover, eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook.

Maturity Level: YA. Gore, violence, sexuality, but no language.

You May Like This Book if: you enjoy slow-moving and slow-developing plots; you have a strong base in Judeo-Christian angel/demon mythology; you’re a fan of Twilight, Hush Hush, or Evernight.

You May NOT Like This Book if: you’re looking for something fast-paced; you enjoy fresher takes on angel/demon mythology such as Angelfall; you don’t like “angel books”.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS.

Let me start off by saying that I really did want to love this book. It has a lovely cover (that, as many people have pointed out) is actually relevant to an event that takes place in the book. The main character, Haven, is a smart honors student with a bright future ahead of her and a mysterious past. It should have been wonderful, but unfortunately, it came off as rather flat instead.

Part of the problem with this book is that NOTHING HAPPENS. Literally. The majority of the first half is taken up with photography and sleep on Haven’s part, along with a rather creepy romantic relationship that she develops with her boss. I found myself nodding off at times— and I’m not the girl who falls asleep reading. The plot is so vague that had I not gone into this knowing that it was an angel book, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the angel/demon overtones.

Which brings me to another issue: the mythology. It’s not a particularly inspired take on angel/demon mythos. The angels in this book represent Ultimate Good and behave as such—when they’re not being overly emotional, whiny teens or invisibly writing in notebooks. As a mildly agnostic atheist who has read pretty extensively about religions all around the world, I actually found this portrayal to be startlingly inaccurate, given that the A’s are, in fact, badass soldiers of God who have been known to level entire civilizations before in the pursuit of their goal. I’m not poking at anyone’s belief systems here, but to me, that’s a complicated moral conundrum, and I like it when my angels are aware of that (Raffe from Angelfall is a pretty good example) and either choose to leave/reform that society (I’m thinking season 6!revolutionary!Castiel of Supernatural) or make their peace with it and go on (to some extent, Raffe, although he is a self-professed agnostic). I do not like it when they are the only good guys, and I dislike whiny emo teenagers in general, so that’s two strikes against this book. Also, the demons didn’t frighten me AT ALL. They sat around getting their pictures taken and occasionally stealing souls/killing people, and didn’t do much else until the final 20 pages. Even Lucifer was pretty lukewarm. (Oh, the irony.)

Now, there were a few things I liked that stopped this book from going in the DNF pile. I liked Dante and Lance quite a bit, and the descriptions of the hotel and the historical 20’s tidbits were quite nice. Unfortunately, they didn’t make up for the overwhelming slowness or the patchy mythology, resulting in the 2.5 star rating.

Pros

  • 20’s/Capone background details.
  • Dante.
  • Lance.
  • The luscious descriptions of the hotel.

Cons

  • Really long beginning.
  • To paraphrase my notes, “creepy ewww boss romance”.
  • Dante’s stereotypical “gay bestie” attitude.
  • The overwrought, very purple prose.
  • Waaaaayyy too long.
  • Nothing happens until the last twenty pages.
  • The stupid notebook subplot.

Favorite Scene (s): On page 307, things are kind of getting badass and hardcore as people literally sign their souls away…. And then Haven starts musing about sanitation and I lose all interest whatsoever.

Favorite Line(s): “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 you’re even bad at that.”~pg 3

Star Rating on Goodreads: 2.5 out of 5.

Final Grade: C. Might read sequels, will probably not reread.

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REVIEW: Oleander House by Ally Blue

Title: Oleander House

Author: Ally Blue

Warnings: NC-17. Strongly graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Disturbing imagery, particularly in Sam’s dreams.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Let me just preface this review by saying that I really did WANT to like this book. It had, from a quick glance at the cover copy and the first couple of pages, all the things that I truly enjoy seeing in a romance/horror novel. It had a paranormal investigative element. It had a lovely, nicely drawn Southern setting that made me want to go live in a rambling old house and hunt ghost. Sam and Bo had palpable chemistry and enough UST to cause a small earthquake, and the secondary characters were just as intriguingly quirky as the main characters. There was some overly clunky exposition, mostly concerning Sam’s past, but I was willing to overlook that for a good ghost story with some sexy boys full of angst and sexual tension.

Then, around page 82, my interest started seriously flagging. Sam’s primary character trait at this point was his unrequited love/lust for Bo, which would have been fine had there not also been several pointless scenes where it seemed like all of the characters had long, meaningless discussions that seemed like they were merely there to take up space. Sam had a lot of dreams, which were primarily about sex and ghosts. Near the middle, though, both plots started picking up  pace again, so I assumed that this little lull had been just a one-off,  and that the rest of the book would live up to my expectation of it.

It did.

Right up to the last twenty or so pages. Which basically took the entire book and tossed it down the drain. Which is where the incredibly stupid antagonist and the ridiculously easy fix should have ended up. I was going to give this book 3 stars until I got to the end, for being an enjoyable and sizzling distraction!read at work, but that ending dragged it right down, despite the fact that Bo and Sam were almost kind of together by the end and appear to be headed toward a HFN ending if not an HEA. For the sake of that, I will read the next book in the series, but I can only hope that Miss Blue becomes more adept at bringing her stories to a satisfying conclusion.

Pros

  • There is a ton of angsty romance, which is awesome if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • I love the Southern mansion setting, especially with the paranormal investigative edge.
  • There is one scene on page 104 where I literally punched the air on Sam’s behalf (at work, no less!), when he confronts Bo and basically tells him to either shut up and kiss him already or back off. In that single instant, Sam grew a backbone and I loved it.
  • I loved Cecile as a psychic. 

Cons

  • The prose is often peppered with bad, clunky exposition, particularly in the beginning.
  • Sam is often characterized solely by his desire to jump Bo’s bones.
  • Many scenes have no real point and seem like they are mostly intended as filler.
  • The ending was terrible. I mean, seriously. Aliens? That, despite being terrifying, ancient creatures that otherwise have been completely invincible, can merely be pushed away by the power of Sam’s mind? I don’t think so. It seemed like the author realized how ridiculous this was and quickly threw out a happy ending for the romance, but a little bit of boykissing does not make up for such a terrible example of deus ex machina.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

Final Grade: C. Will probably not reread. Other books in series will be low priority.