Top critical review
Not Quite Paradise
on 5 February 2015
Having never read anything by Carol Goodman before, I was interested in the book title, summary and cover and decided to give it a read. Overall, I enjoyed it. The imagery in the book is startlingly good- the author has a real talent for building up tension and setting a scene. I could picture Arcadia quite clearly as she discussed the grounds and characters over the course of the book. In particular, I found Sally Rosenthal, Meg's daughter, to be quite an intriguing character, to the point I wish the book had been written from her perspective over Meg's. Chloe Dawson was another character that stood out well and I feel like her personality and motivations translated well. The mystery aspect of the book was interesting, especially as the author intermingles an aura of witchcraft and the supernatural into her story without being overt about it. As the plot unfolds into the complicated relationships between the characters of the past, I was eager to find out just what those behind it were hiding. The diary entries with Lily's perspective were very interesting and the author did a good job conveying the differences in time periods, as well as communicating the passion for the arts felt by the characters very well.
What prevents the book from getting five stars was first of all, while I loved the actual story and the author's descriptions, I found Meg Rosenthal very annoying. We're supposedly meant to sympathise with her, but she comes across as whiny, petty and quite superior, which is possibly why I enjoyed Lily's chapters (even if Lily was clearly very deluded), because they gave me a break from Meg's narration. The plot twist at the end of the book was incredibly confusing and kind of undermined another plot twist that had happened before. It felt a bit like the author just wanted to pad the book out for another couple of pages, and I feel like it didn't really add anything to the story overall.
Another subplot I disliked was the 'romance' element, which I felt was really unnecessary. For a book that is mainly centred on women, female empowerment and about women having to sacrifice either their family or careers and how they have more choices these days, I found the fact Meg had her own romantic subplot to be entirely predictable and quite boring, especially as I was able to tell who was her designated love interest from the second he was introduced. He didn't really function much as his own character to me and the fact he always seemed to believe Meg and be in the right place at the right time hammers home how he's more of a plot device than a person.
Overall, an enjoyable book with an interesting backstory (with clearly extensive research on fairytales and how to craft a fairytale lore), but I felt like the ending let it down and that it took a while for the real mystery to get going. Still, it was likable and I'm glad I discovered it.