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Book Discussion Guide: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman: Reviews

Book reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goodman (The Night Villa) delivers the goods her fans expect in this atmospheric and fast-moving gothic story: buried secrets, supernatural elements, and a creepy setting. Following the death of her husband, Meg Rosenthal accepts a job teaching at an upstate New York boarding school and moves there with her teenage daughter, Sally. The school, Arcadia Falls, also happens to be central to her thesis, which focuses on the two female coauthors of fairy tales: Vera Beecher, who founded the school, and her friend Lily Eberhardt, who died mysteriously in 1947. While the campus is bucolic, school life proves anything but – Meg thinks she sees ghosts and Arcadia’s brightest and most ambitious student, Isabel Cheney, is found dead in a ravine. Feeling Sally drifting further from her each day, Meg finds refuge in Lily’s preserved diary and begins to unravel the secrets behind Isabel’s death. Goodman doesn’t do anything new, but her storytelling is as solid as ever, and the book is reliably entertaining.

From Library Journal

After her husband's sudden death leaves her in debt, Meg Rosenthal must liquidate everything and jump-start her career. She gets a teaching job at a private boarding school in the upstate New York town of Arcadia Falls, but leaving Long Island luxury is a tough adjustment for Meg's teenaged daughter Sally. Soon after their arrival, a student dies in an accident and Meg discovers that Arcadia Falls is full of secrets. Intermingled with the present-day story is the equally suspenseful tale of the school's two female founders, one of whom died mysteriously. The two mysteries intersect through Meg's doctoral research into the life of one of the women, but just when the resolution seems clear, Goodman throws another plot twist – or two – our way. The final resolution may require a smidgen of suspension of disbelief, but, overall, readers will enjoy Goodman's clear prose and well-drawn characters in this moving story of mothers and daughters and the hard choices women must make. VERDICT: As in her previous novels (The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages), Goodman combines gripping suspense with strong characters and artistic themes. Those who read Anita Shreve or Jodi Picoult are likely to become fans.

From Kirkus Reviews

Goodman's latest melding of faux folklore and neo-gothic melodrama (The Night Villa, 2008, etc.). When Meg Rosenthal is offered a teaching position and free tuition for daughter Sally at a bucolic boarding school in the Catskills, she can hardly refuse. She's been exiled from Long Island by hedgie husband Jude's recent business collapse, followed shortly by his sudden death of a heart attack. Originally an artists' colony founded in the late 1920s by lesbian couple Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, the Arcadia School is an ideal venue for Meg's academic specialty, fairy tales. Indeed, its grounds ominously recall the setting of her favorite fable, "The Changeling Girl," which Lily wrote and illustrated. During Arcadia's annual fall pagan festival, a student, Isabel, falls off a cliff on the edge of campus. Years before, Lily fell to her death from the same cliff, much to Vera's everlasting grief and chagrin, especially since she believed Lily had forsaken her for society painter Virgil Nash. Called in to investigate Isabel's death, broodingly handsome local sheriff Callum Reade meets Meg, kindling sparks of incipient romance. At Vera and Lily's former residence, Fleur-de-Lis, Meg discovers Lily's lost diary, which reveals that Virgil impregnated her during an intemperate fling. Fearing Vera's wrath, Lily accepted a commission to paint a mural for a convent, St. Lucy's, which sheltered unwed mothers and orphans. Sixteen years later, having told neither Vera nor Virgil that she gave birth, Lily retrieved her daughter, Ivy St. Clare, from St. Lucy's orphanage and brought the girl to Arcadia as her "protegee." So that explains why now-ancient Ivy is the school's dean, but not why she is so tightly wound and always skulking around spying on people. Given the early introduction of a convenient cliff and a changeling motif, one can expect many cliffhangers and switched babies, and in this Goodman does not disappoint. The denouement, however, will leave many readers baffled.