I started out loving this book, but by about 2/3 of the way through I fell out of love and nearly into boredom. My very shallow analysis: it kept feeling like there was more to the story that would be revealed, but when the time came ------ not so much.
The narrator, Iris Greenfeder, is a part-time college instructor and sometime doctoral candidate who teaches writing to several different audiences: art school students, a group of adults with limited English proficiency, and a class of inmates in a state prison. Working with her ESL students, she reads to them an essay she has written about a favorite fairy tale, one told to her as a child by her mother, and challenges them to write about a folk tale from their own culture, prompting from them a level of engagement and excitement she has not anticipated. As Iris presents the same writing assignment to her other classes, the topic proves to hold greater meaning for all of them: the art students are inspired not only to write but to create artworks from the themes of their chosen stories, and one of the prisoners connects with her over the assignment, on a more personal level than is perhaps wise. At the same time, Iris's own story dredges up unresolved questions from the past, leading her to return to the upstate Hotel Equinox, where she was raised, to investigate the death of her mother, Katherine Morrisey, a fantasy author whose bedtime stories were taken from her books - and which may be thinly veiled excerpts from her mysterious life prior to arriving at the Equinox.
Right about this point, things start to get a little too convenient/coincidental for me - Iris's new "editor" (publisher of a small literary magazine) happens to be related to a major hotel mogul, who steps in to save the aging Hotel Equinox just as its elderly owners decide to close; one of the art students decides to recreate a piece of jewelry from Katherine Morrisey's books, which happens to closely resemble a missing 15th century treasure; within a few hours of beginning her investigations, Iris stumbles over a newspaper article that provides the exact information needed to direct her to the next branch in her mother's story (anyone who's ever spent time doing historical research with a microfiche reader knows how unlikely that is)...
There are also some parallels between the various fairytales and the book's action that were painted a little too broadly for my liking - e.g., Tam Lin is saved when the woman who loves him is willing to hold onto him, no matter what form the Elf Queen changes him into, including setting him aflame - likewise, Iris hangs onto Aidan, despite shifting perceptions of who he really is, not to mention the likelihood she'll get "burned" by their relationship.
All of that said, Carol Goodman's use of language is lovely; I mostly enjoyed the book, esp. the descriptions of the land around the Equinox, and the whimsical constructions designed by Katherine and executed by the hotel's gardener/general handyman (also Iris's unofficial godfather); interesting characters, attention to detail, plus a healthy dash of Celtic myth, which is also a good thing IMHO. I don't think there was a single instance where my qualms with the plot (or, for that matter, an awkwardly written phrase) kicked me out of the story, so for all of my kvetching, I'd still recommend it.