Monstrous Beautyby Elizabeth Fama
Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences. Almost 140 years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to
Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences. Almost 140 years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra's help, Hester investigates her family's strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the oceanbut, in Elizabeth Fama's Monstrous Beauty, powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.
“A riveting tale... Kelgreen provides first rate narration.” School Library Journal
“Narrator Katherine Kellgren smoothly moves between the 1870s and current time. Her talent with accents is put to good use as she portrays folks of various English backgrounds and helps the listener keep track of each time period.” AudioFile Magazine
“Fama does not shy away from the big issues: love, death, longing, lust, fear, and revenge all play out through her complex and multidimensional characters.” Booklist
“Monstrous Beauty packs a serious, sexy wallop.” Bookpage
“Fama (Overboard, 2002) delivers a beautifully written, romantic ghost story with an artful construction that incorporates a murder mystery and detailed historical fiction.” BCCB
“History buffs, fantasy lovers, and mystery fans will all find something to please them in this engrossing story…” School Library Journal
“horror and humanity are adroitly handled…” Publishers Weekly
“...this stylish fantasy mesmerizes.” Kirkus
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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- 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
THE WIND WHIPPED Hester’s hair around her face. She shoved it behind her ears and closed her eyes for a second, taking a deep breath of sea air—faintly like salt, faintly like cucumbers. The ocean filled her with joy and longing, all at once. It was strangely, achingly bittersweet.
She had gone on dozens of Captain Dave whale-watch adventures over the last seventeen years: her best friend’s father was Captain Dave Angeln himself, and her own dad—a researcher at Woods Hole—often used the trips to collect data and observe mammalian life in the bay. When she was a child she had loved clambering up on the ship’s rails, her father gripping the back of her shirt in his fist, and scouring the horizon for the telltale spouts that she was almost always the first to see. She still thrilled at skimming alongside a massive humpback, its slick body and watchful eye hinting at secrets from beneath the surface.
She stole a glance at Peter, a bullhorn hanging in his right hand, his left hand shielding the late spring sun from his eyes. She could see just the side of his face: a high cheekbone, black glasses, a thick eyebrow, weather-beaten blond hair like bristles of a brush, lips pursed in easy concentration. He was looking for whales. His eyes passed right over her as he turned, scanning the bay. In a moment he lifted the bullhorn to his mouth.
“Awright, folks, we’ve got a spray on the horizon off the port bow,” he announced cheerfully. “For you landlubbers that’s the left side as you face forward, near the front of the boat.” The tourists rushed to see, chattering and aiming their cameras. A father hoisted his son onto his shoulders.
“There it is again—eleven o’clock,” Peter said. “Ah! There may be two of them.”
The crowd oohed with delight and pointed eager fingers. Peter announced, “The captain is going to take us in that direction—toward the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. It’ll be a few minutes, but with any luck we’ll get a much closer look at those animals.”
He lowered the bullhorn and caught Hester’s eye, smiling. He yelled against the wind, “You’re slipping, hawkeye.”
“No fair, I was distracted by something,” she called back.
“Oh, yeah, by what?”
She opened her mouth but nothing came out. The truth was, she had been distracted by him. She had dropped her guard. How could she have let that happen? She felt her ears heat up.
A girl with a pixie haircut and a nose piercing rose from her seat and tapped Peter’s shoulder. He turned away from Hester to answer the girl’s question. Hester examined her; she was boyishly pretty with a heart-shaped face and cherry red lipstick. She wore tight black pants and a gray cashmere sweater with a red silk scarf. The girl’s eyes fairly sparkled as she spoke to him, and her broad smile revealed perfect teeth. Hester felt a little weight press on her chest, and then she felt irritated by the sensation.
Peter took off his Captain Dave’s windbreaker as he talked and Hester tilted her head with a new discovery: his shoulders were broader now. Had she already known that? She’d been friends with him for so long that half the time in her mind’s eye he was a bony six-year-old, hanging on to a swimming ring for dear life at the beach, craning his neck to keep the water from splashing his face, while she recklessly dove under him again and again, just to unnerve him. He was such a funny little chicken back then, she thought. She caught her eyes sweeping over his shoulders and his back again and she forced herself to look away.
She had no business admiring him, or spying on him when he was with other girls.
She pulled a necklace out of her collar—a rounded gold heart with softly brushed edges, on a delicate, short chain. She pushed the heart hard to her lip until the pressure against her tooth made her wince. She reminded herself of the history of the necklace: her dying mother had bequeathed it to her when she was only four days old, and her grandmother had given it to her mother under the same circumstance. According to a story passed down through the generations, the original owner was Hester’s great-great-great-grandmother, a woman named Marijn Ontstaan, who had died of “languishment” or something equally nebulous less than a week after her own child was born.
What a burden that little heart represented for her family, Hester thought, dropping it back under her collar: a legacy of premature death, passed on to innocent new life. It was also a warning, she had decided years ago, against love and its cozy associates: sex and marriage. Other people could dare to love—Peter and the pixie girl, for instance—people who wouldn’t lose everything if they did.
She looked back at the two of them. Peter was showing the girl a specimen of a baleen plate from a whale. From his gestures Hester knew he was describing the filter-feeding process of the whale and telling her that the baleen combs were made of keratin, like fingernails, rather than bone. She had heard him explain it to tourists a thousand times: wholly approachable, never impatient, always sharing a sense of discovery with them. But now his head was so close to the girl’s, they were almost touching. And then they lingered like that; a beat too long. He was neglecting the other passengers, wasn’t he? He wasn’t tracking the sprays of the whales for the captain, as he usually did. The girl brushed her hand over the baleen sample and then grinned as she ran her fingertips over his hair, comparing the two. He received her touch without flinching—maybe even playfully?
Hester needed to lift the weight from her chest. She moved to the back of the boat, to the other side of the captain’s cabin, away from them. She looked out across the water and allowed the feeling of longing to wash over her, spill into the crevices of her soul, and fill her completely.
Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Fama
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Fama is the author of Overboard, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, which appeared on five state lists. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois.
Katherine Kellgren has recorded over 200 audiobooks and won four Audie Awards, three ALA Odyssey Honors, and eight AudioFile Earphones Awards. In 2011, Kellgren was named the Best Voice in Young Adult & Fantasy, and she won the Audie award for Best Female Narrator in both 2013 and 2014.
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I loved this book. Monstrous Beauty combines two paranormal creatures: mermaids and ghosts. While it seems a surprising combination, it actually works. The book travels between two timelines, each one equally convincing. Solid writing, amazing characters. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This was a very different and interesting new mermaid tale! My Opinion: I was quite impressed with this book as it was different from most other mermaid books out now. I tend to love mermaid books anyway, and this one was unique enough to really grab my attention. To begin with, it's written from the POV of two different female mermaids, one in our time (Hester) and one who lived one hundred and forty years ago (Syrenka)! Then we have poor Hester, whose family history shows that to fall in love means death. Since Hester thinks it's a family curse, she is determined never to fall in love, but as we all know, teenage hormones are not going to go along with that at all! First she starts having feelings for her neighbor and friend, Peter, and when she runs away from him, she runs smack dab into gorgeous Ezra on the beach! What's a girl to do? Then there's the weird happenings at the church and in the graveyard that I'm not even going to tell you about because I want them to be a surprise :) All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Syrenka and Hester had very different voices and ways of talking so it was easy to switch back and forth between their POVs, which is always a plus. The characters were compelling, the pace of the book was spot on, and I definitely recommend it to all lovers of YA mermaid tales :D I received a copy of this book free of charge from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
I rarely ever listen to audio books instead of reading the actual books but I have been hearing such high praise for the audio book of Monstrous Beauty that I had to give it a try. In this paranormal novel, Elizabeth Fama creates a world where mermaids, ghosts, curses, and a 17 year old girl, Hester, who is the only one that can solve the mystery of the curse as well as unravel the paranormal world that has always been within her reach, are a part of this plot. While I did enjoy this novel, I have to say that if I read the book, I wouldn't have liked it as much as listening to it. I haven't always had the best of luck with mermaid novels but I have to say that with the combination of the entangled plot as well as the great narration, this novel marks the first mermaid novel I actually enjoyed. Monstrous Beauty alternates between the past (the 1800s) and the present, between Syrenka and Hesther. Syrenka is the mermaid that wanted to be human so bad, to be loved, and to sacrifice her immortality for the one man that she loves. However for Hesther, given the family curse where the mother always dies after giving birth, is trying to stay far far away from love, romance, or anything close to it. I can't say I connected with both the characters much, Hesther annoyed me with the insta love (though if you read the book you would know why) and Syrenka does some things that I can't get past. So yea, both of these characters, while unique, didn't make me want to root for them. Secondary characters didn't leave an impression on me so I enjoyed this novel not for the characters, but for its plot. The plot is mainly the mystery which was a great one. I was actually so confused at a certain point that I tried seeking out answers from the internet, but thanks to every review being spoiler free, I wasn't able to understand. I am so impatient I know! However towards the end, everything got cleared up and I actually gasped once or twice at the outcome of both of the character's stories. The unraveling of the mystery and plot is perfect for mystery fans, while at times you did figure some parts out before Hesther and felt frustrated that she didn't understand, other parts would be a total shock to you. I would definitely recommend this book, and specifically the audio book, to paranormal fans, ones who love mermaid novels and ones who have never read a mermaid novel. I have to point out that even with it being a mermaid novel the setting throughout most of the book is on land, but I actually preferred it that way.
Monstrous Beauty. I tell you what, this book hit me unaware. I thought I might like it. Might. I have been a mermaid fanatic since I can remember. As such, I watch every mermaid movie I can get my hands on and read any mermaid book I can find. Maybe because I love mermaids so much, I'm ALWAYS let down. Even the books I do like I find lacking. I expected a similar experience here. How wonderfully wrong I was! Monstrous Beauty is easily in my top ten favorite books. Period. And not just because it does mermaids perfectly (beautiful, dangerous, a truly separate species with very little in common with humans). The storytelling is masterful. It was one of the rare novels that pained me to leave and do anything else. Fama leads you through the story with captivating, multifaceted characters, clue by clue--giving you just enough of a morsel to make you salivate for the next bite. This is one book that I will read over and over and over again--and I'm a once-and-I'm-done reader with most authors, even on books I love. I honestly cannot say enough praise for this novel. The only complaint I have is that I never wanted it to end. As a side note, if you like audio books, the performance by Katherine Kellgren one of the best I have ever heard. Stunning!
I have been hearing phenomenal things about this book from my friend Angel at Mermaid Visions for over year now. I've been fairly hesitant with mermaid books because I'm very picky with them for some reason, but I had heard this one was gorgeous and would sweep me off my feet. Big, fat checkmark for that recommendation. Monstrous Beauty was everything I was promised it would be and more- that's how special it was. I've read books about friendly mermaids and killer mermaids, forbidden love, and curses but somehow this one still manages to stand out on its own. Also, totally heartbreaking (in a good, moving way). REASONS TO READ: 1. Gorgeous, descriptive writing: Elizabeth Fama is extremely talented when it comes to writing; there's something spellbinding about it, where you lose yourself in the ebb and flow of her words. Everything felt so lifelike and real, the writing positively stole my breath away. Her descriptions brought the story to life and drew you in easily to the story. 2. Intoxicating mythology: This was easily my favourite part of the book. I couldn't get enough of learning more about Syrenka and the world she came from. There is some much tragedy to it, but it felt so rich and just FULL. I also enjoyed the way Ezra found himself so enthralled by studying mermaids, and yet throughout the book they still retained their mystery. 3. A curse that can't be undone? I love good mystery plots. Just love it. So watching Hester attempt to unravel her past, her family's curse, and discover what happened to Syrenka and Ezra.. well, what could be better? These pages are just bursting with excitement on every page, and the way past events start to culminate just before they blow up...? I don't think my heart can beat much faster. Interestingly enough though, I didn't find myself nearly as interested in Hester as I did Syrenka. I'm not sure if her personality just didn't quite relate to me as well, or if I just found her less exciting and mysterious... but I found myself craving more and more for the past story than the current timeline. And I wasn't sold on Hester's romance, completely. It was just kind of iffy for me, again because I think I preferred Syrenka's story. Thoughts on the audio: Lovely, lovely, lovely. The narrator had an older voice, but that worked well for Hester's character. And the slight accent made the narration melodic. Katherine Kellgren did a wonderful job with enthusiasm and excitement and the audio never felt boring- she really captured the atmosphere of the scenes very well. Audio CDs received from Macmillan Audio for my honest review; no other compensation was received.
This book was dark, creepy, and fantastic. With a mixture of mermaids, old myths, and ghosts it was a major win for me! Going back and forth from 1872/1873 to present day, learning what really happened and also watching Hester try to uncover the mystery of her curse was so great. I really loved how they merged together. At times I thought that maybe some of the writing was a bit mature for YA, but I did read an ARC for this review and some of the more mature content could have been removed. Putting that aside this was an incredible book. The characters were well developed and the way the story flowed, even with jumping back and forth, was great! Since we go back and forth we have two main characters. Syrenka (or Sarah) and Hester. I liked them both. Syrenka just wants to find love and be happy. She has a few unfortunate situations and they eventually lead to a family curse that passes from generation to generation. Now Hester wants to discover if there is a way to stop the curse short of never loving or having children. As we discover the things that Syrenka goes through, in present time Hester is slowly starting to unravel the past. Hester was a great character. You could feel her desperation the deeper into the situation she got. The only thing I didn't like was how she really started to just be flat out mean to the people around her and it was like the only thing that mattered was Ezra. I admired her strength to do what she had to though. This story is dark. It has some more mature content in it and some pretty gross scenes. (The more gory the better for me!!) I really enjoyed the darker tone of this book. It really created a fantastic atmosphere that was easy to get swept up in. I loved how things really connected. The writing was fantastic too. I felt that the settings were described really well and I could see myself in the book along with the characters. It's funny how when I really enjoy a book sometimes I just don't know what to say. I feel that way about this one. I don't want to really get into it because I don't want to give anything away. If you are looking for a dark read that doesn't hold much back, this is definitely a book for you.
I so wanted to love this book. I had really high expectations going in and maybe that's why I feel so let down after reading it. It felt like I was reading two separate books, one really well written and one that I could barely follow and that felt rushed. Monstrous Beauty is written in two parts the present and the past, the 1870's in alternating chapters. I completely understood what was going on in the past, everything followed a straight line and made perfect sense. Ezra Doyle, a bookish type who wanted to go to college rather than run the family shipping business came home from college to be with his dying father. While mourning his father's death, he occupied his time by drawing pictures of the abundant sea life on the Massachusetts shore. And there, he met and fell in love with a mermaid. A lot happens after that to make the present day story happen. Now, I realize if the story had been told completely in the past and then told completely in the present it might have lacked the suspense it did, but as it was, it was hard to believe that Hester could fall in love with a man she didn't know. Feel the force of an anger she felt towards him when she didn't know him and then suddenly feel this pull towards him that she couldn't deny. And with all the people that were intermarried and connected I had to draw a family tree to see who was who and if the boy that was in love with Hester wasn't a cousin or something. And then, there was that. Why have him be a love interest at all? She didn't return his feelings at all so why not just have him be a good friend or a best friend? He didn't need to be the unrequited love, it just didn't fit. I will say though, that towards the end of the book or the last third, by the time Hester is starting to put things together, the book seemed to gel or become more cohesive. It just felt like that first part of the book was too rushed and implausible. And then there's the characters. I easily liked the characters from the 1870's and felt I knew them well enough to get a feeling about them, at least, Sarah and Ezra. But I didn't like Hester at all. Not a bit. And when you can't connect with the main character, it makes it hard to connect to the story. In the end, she was noble and I liked her then, but I spent most of the book not liking her. Peter was such a side character I really didn't get to know him at all and there was Sam, her brother. At one point I had to go back and figure out who he was because there was so little mention of him. In all, this wasn't the best of the mermaid stories I've read this year. The mermaids are definitely scary and the type you want to avoid. If you like them more shark like and deadly, then this is your mermaid story. They are very non-human like. And very violent. And if you can get through the first shaky part of the story, then the rest of it is a decidedly different take on the mermaid lore. I received an ARC of this novel from the publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley for review purposes. I was not compensated for my review. The opinions in this review are my own.
Monstrous Beauty is a wickedly dark novel. Elizabeth Fama created an eerie dark and seductive world above and below the sea and that sent chills up my spine with these beautiful monster of the sea. Fama gives you Hester’s present day story while also giving you the story of the past of what took place in 1872—that began the curse for the women in Hester's family. I enjoyed seeing this so much, being able to see the past romance that started it and the current romance that ended it. Fama’s writing style is intense and intriguing. She had me totally absorbed in the pages. I had to find out Hester's mystery right along with her. Hester is seventeen and she’s sworn off love, sex, and definitely children. For Hester, she knows the only way for her to stay alive is to say no to love. This is working pretty well for her until she meets the mysterious, gorgeous guy who lives in the cave at the beach. Hester knows her “just say no to love” rule is all over when she falls for Ezra, and every part of her body and heart desire to be with him. Hester and Ezra know they are destined to be together. Their love is also mystery of how strong they feel for each other as if they have known each other before. Hester is determined to find the answers to the mystery of why the women in her family can’t fall in love. When Hester finds the answer, and what she has to do to end the curse, the cure is going to be worse than the cruse for Hester. Monstrous Beauty is a beautiful forbidden romance between Hester and Ezra, a romance that's rooted in a curse with the monsters of the sea folk. I recommend Monstrous Beauty as a irresistible, delicious dark read.
Early last month I finally got around to reading the ARC of Monstrous Beauty and the whole time I was reading it I was cursing myself for not reading it sooner. Then again in the beginning I was a bit skeptical about the whole mermaid premise because it seems to be the new thing for YA novels just like Twilight and other vampire/werewolf novels were the thing to be a few years back. The great thing that happened was that I was completely wrong about this book because it was actually very well written and even more surprising to me was that the book was a little more complex than I expected. At first I had a bit of a hard time getting into the novel because of Hester. I wasn't overly fond of her character in the beginning mostly because she acted a bit like a school marm at first and I have a strong dislike for the name Hester. Petty, I know but every reader has their quirks. However, the more I read on the more I became fascinated with Syrenka, Ezra and Hester and how their stories intertwined. The way that the author wrote the book in alternating points of view worked extremely well because when the points of view shifted more and more of the story became clear. I have to say though that Syrenka (and boy do I love that name) was my favourite character. There was just something about her that made me really like her. I really enjoyed the fact that Hester had to solve the mystery surrounding Syrenka, Ezra and herself and why she was able to see things that others couldn't. There was a darker under current to the book than I expected but it worked out well. I also liked seeing Hester grow as a character because in the beginning I wasn't sure of what to make of her. If you're looking for a book with some good plot twists, great characters and mermaids this one should probably be on your list of books to read. Every chapter revealed something new and unexpected. The book was so well written I can't help but wish this were a series. I do have to warn you though if you're looking for a light and fluffy mermaid book than this one will surprise you with how dark it is. I loved that the book had a lot of substance to it and that it wasn't a fluffy read. I think there should be more books like this so if you love YA reads check this one out! I can't wait to read more by this author. This is definetly one of the best books I've read this year. * I received a free copy of this book from the published via NetGalley in exchange for my free and honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own and I was not compensated in any way.
I suspected mermaids were the next wave in YA fantasy creatures, and Monstrous Beauty has proven that even if they aren't, they should be. Author Elizabeth Fama creates a well-defined mythos full of terror and the sorrow of never being able to love without tragic consequences. Many non-YA books wish they were as well conceived and constructed. Mermaids allow readers into the female side of the fantasy world in a way vampires and wizards have thus far been unable to do. The history of a place like Plymouth, Massachusetts, makes it the perfect setting for a book like this. I was skeptical when I first picked this story up, but the setting and the history-loving protagonist drew me in even more than the vivid descriptions and mysterious atmosphere. The best feature of this novel is that the origin story is interspersed with present-day chapters, so the reader not only has time to care about both sets of characters, but also to enjoy an important dramatic irony by the middle of the story. The reader knows what Hester is looking for better than she does, but the complete sequence of events only becomes clear at the end, when Hester herself finds out the final pieces of the puzzle. It's masterfully done. One sticking point for me was Hester's antique perception of love=marriage=babies. Perhaps I just can't sympathize, but it seemed like a weird leap to me, and her admission near the climax of the book that she's planning to never have children (in order to escape her family's curse) fell a little flat for me because it was only logical. In the end, I decided to forgive it because the century-long curse really doesn't have any effect unless the women are having babies. There is a rape in this book, which is necessary because it sets all the other elements in motion to create the curse. Without it, there's no story. Or, at least, there could have been a happier one. That doesn't make it less disturbing. In spite of the intertwining stories, the novel is fast paced. Hard to put down, especially for readers who love the ancient lore of the sea.