Arcana - Jessica Leake
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The author's aunt is the founder of the book club in which I participate, so it was no surprise when she chose this book as her selection. What was surprising was how much I enjoyed this book! It's not that I expected it to be bad - I just didn't expect it to be SO fabulous. Keep in mind I was fresh off of reading "O, Africa!", Conn's sophomore attempt at a novel that was laborious reading at best. If you've read a few of my reviews you may have picked up that my all-time favorite author is Diana Gabaldon. I am seriously considering moving Jessica Leake to my number one spot. I like reading classics from time to time but I have to be in the mood to deal with the antiquated language. Leake provides all the traditions of a classic with modern day English so it's easy on the brain. She provides the romance of Gabaldon without droning on for pages about how soap was made. And then she adds in a dash of magic as charming as Harry Potter or Edward Cullen. A lot of this book reminded me of another book I also enjoyed, The Paid Companion. It's nice to experience a bit of historical traditions as far as women finding a proper spouse without having to actually live through them myself. It's intriguing because the idea of a "season" and endless balls and rules for how to interact with a male are so foreign in today's modern society - yet I am acutely aware that this was actually the way it was done back then.
The book proceeded in a perfectly pleasant manner until about half-way through when there was a first kiss and then I was really hooked! Some of it was predictable - you knew that there would be a rival; and it was no surprise when the girls thought they couldn't tell their grandmother about a problem and instead set out to solve it on their own. Ricky always helped Lucy, regardless of how many jokes went by until he learned about the problem, but in this situation grandma really would not have helped and it was just as well that the girls worked on their own. About two-thirds of the way through there was a cliff-hangar of sorts and I figured it would somehow work out as expected, but I was almost hoping it wouldn't. I was spinning possible endings in my head and thinking if it went this way instead then there could be a sequel and such and such could happen. The closer I got to the end the more I wanted things NOT to wrap up because I really wanted a sequel instead of having to leave these characters happily ever after and never interact with them again. Turns out I could have saved myself the torment if I had just gone to Mrs. Leake's website to find out that she is already working on a sequel!
On a scale of 1 - 5:
Sex - I guess the appropriate term for the time period might be "heavy petting". Whatever you call it, there were two occasions when a couple got very into each other but, never fear, the man was a gentleman and the lady maintained her virginity.
Religion - I don't recall any mention of religion. There was the whole magical part. And there is the other group that is the nemeses of the Sylvani (those who do arcana). I'm sure religious fanatics could find something of which to be offended but I don't feel the need to rehash all the Harry Potter is evil arguments. If people vote with their wallets than obviously the majority of people are not offended in the least.
Gruesome - a fatal wound and a man who treats a woman roughly are minorly upsetting but nowhere near as gruesome as they could be.
Suspense - Towards the end I did get very eager to find out how it was all going to turn out. I might have even pushed myself beyond sleepy just to enjoy a few more pages.
Morality - I'm willing to overlook the pre-marital inappropriateness and still score this high on morality because the lead character demonstrates such a strong commitment to her family. Even more impressive, when faced with a decision as to whether she should incur a personal risk to help her arch enemy in a life or death moment, she chose to help. At times when she does wind up injuring someone, she feels deep remorse.
This was one of those rare books that I was enjoying so much I just let my thought go and barely noticed any discussion questions.
Discuss possible alternate endings if Katherine had made a different decision during the scavenger hunt.
Discuss possible options Katherine had for overcoming the obstacles her grandmother created.
Serve "petit fours, biscuits, and other sweets along with refreshments" (p. 71) like in the palace at the debuts.
Serve "canapes, lobster salad, medallions of foie gras, and salmon" (p. 87) like at the ball when Katherine and Lord Thornwood first danced.