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.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Elizabeth Fama
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Elizabeth Fama
All rights reserved.
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.CHAPTER 2
Ezra left the stationer's shop with a lightness that felt suspiciously like joy, if he was remembering joy correctly. He pulled out his pocket watch to check the time. It was ten minutes before low tide. Perfect. He found himself smiling; the little muscles around his mouth had miraculously not forgotten how. In his other hand was a parcel — the object that promised to lift him just a little out of his misery.
He had taken a leave from his second year at Harvard nine months ago. It was temporary, he'd told the dean, perhaps a month at the most. His father couldn't shake a bad cold, the housekeeper had written — it was nothing that hot toddies, warm blankets, and the doting of an only son would not cure. But Mrs. Banks's optimism had already turned to shadowed eyes and a furrowed brow by the time Ezra's coach arrived. He had watched his father suffer six and a half months of fever, spasms, and the shakes, until pain and despair whispered the unthinkable into truth: death would be more merciful than life. Ezra watched it arrive with anguished relief.
As a boy he had played in tide pools, devoured books, imagined undersea worlds, captured and sketched insects and sea life. As a young man, it occurred to him, he did much the same. His father had allowed him to attend college at sixteen, had never disputed his choice of studies (wholly unsuited to the family shipbuilding business) — had loved him that much. And so these last nine months had forced burdens on Ezra that he'd never borne before: managing business affairs; running a household; fielding too many well-wishers with their marriageable daughters in tow; hearing the shallow phrase "poor Mr. Doyle" again and again without walloping someone; dressing the bedsores of the ivory-and-blue wraith that had once been his beautiful father; planning the funeral of his last relation on this earth.
And now there was an undefined mourning period to endure: too short, and the town would mistake him for callous; too long, and he'd go mad. He needed to study. He could not live without wonder. Someday soon, he'd sneak away from Plymouth — put off the housekeeper and the lawyer and the foreman in the shipyard, promise to come back but not mean it — and hop on the Old Colony Railroad back to school to finish his studies. In the meantime, he would escape for a moment to the shore.
It had been drizzling when he went into the shop, with a sky so thick and heavy his evening plans seemed to have been thwarted. Now as he left, the clouds were punctured with luminous holes, spilling rays of sun like solid beams. He looked up at those beams as he stepped off the boardwalk — captivated by how extraordinarily straight light was, and how easy it must have been for scientists to mistake it for particles rather than waves — and collided with Olaf Ontstaan. His parcel fell in the mud on the dirt road of Leyden Street, and Olaf's cotton sack crashed with the sound of breaking glass.
"Clumsy oaf!" Olaf barked, picking up the bag. Shards of a bottle slipped out and fell to the ground.
"I'm terribly sorry," Ezra said. "My head was in the clouds."
Olaf looked up then. "Mr. Doyle! Poor Mr. Doyle, how are you? Think nothing of this. A simple mishap. Eleanor reminds me time and again, there is no sense in weeping over shed milk."
Ezra bent to help him pick up the sharp pieces. The smell of something stronger than milk wafted around them.
"I would appreciate your not mentioning my purchase to Eleanor," Olaf murmured as they worked.
"Of course not."
"She will not tolerate liquor, and I respect her wishes in the house. But I work hard, Mr. Doyle, I am a good provider — and at the end of the day if I may not stretch out my legs with a drink and relax in my own home, I deserve to take it elsewhere, do I not?"
Ezra rescued his own parcel from the mud as they stood up. He quickly removed the wet paper wrapping before it could damage what was inside.
"Ah, a book," Olaf observed. "We have only the Bible at our house. I expect yours is for university?"
"It's a journal." Ezra flipped the empty pages for him to see.
"You are a writer, sir?"
"A researcher, a scientist in training: botany, zoology, marine life. But when I'm home I seem to be drawn to the history of legends and mythical beings. This will be a field journal in which I record observations and sketches of the ocean environment that might sustain such creatures."
"Mythical creatures." Olaf's face sagged, suddenly doughy. "You are not by chance speaking of sea folk?"
"That's right," Ezra said. "Although I don't tell many people. At best, it must seem to the outside observer a frivolous pursuit, and at worst, lunacy. I suppose now we must keep each other's secrets, Mr. Ontstaan." He smiled, but Olaf did not reciprocate.
"You ought stay away from that subject, Mr. Doyle."
"It's too late, I'm afraid. After all, I was weaned on such stories since before I could talk, from my father's customers — in the shipyard, around the dinner table, at the fireside. The fascinating thing, scientifically speaking, is how consistent the legends are, and how persistent. Think on it, Mr. Ontstaan: even the Indians have oral traditions of such creatures. How could they generate the same descriptions independently of the foreign merchants, the sailors, and the local fishermen?"
"Mr. Doyle, would you consider coming home with me for supper this evening?"
"That is kind of you, but I cannot. I want to tally the number of mollusks and crustaceans that are at or below the high-water mark on the rocky outcropping. I have a theory that the abundance of food sources there could account for the high number of sightings in the bay." He gave a helpless shrug. "I am a prisoner of the tides."
"If you would allow me to say my piece, sir, I would dissuade you from this dangerous obsession."
Ezra looked at Olaf more closely now — his leathery face and tired eyes. A man eroded by life, whose small-mindedness would extinguish Ezra's last pleasure, if he let him.
Ezra bowed his head and said, "I thank you for your invitation. Please give my regards to Mrs. Ontstaan." He turned and took quick, long strides toward the bay.CHAPTER 3
Hester wound her way through dozens of flickering Japanese lanterns on the lawn near the beach. In the waning evening light they were lovely, she conceded — like randomly clustered honey stars in a night sky. It was cool for mid-June, and as tiny raindrops speckled her arms she harbored a small hope — unfair to the others, she knew — that the weather might provide an easy way out. She was there only because Peter had asked her to come and he was graduating soon. She would do what she did at every school party: chat with him — shout with him — over the music, have a soda with a few other wallflowers, avoid stumbling on couples sharing saliva in dark corners, and steer clear of Joey Grimani, who prowled school events for anything with two X chromosomes.
The band finished setting up in the gazebo and began tuning their guitars and testing the amplifiers. They started a slow ballad as a warm-up. She looked at her watch: five minutes early. In her eagerness to get the party over with, she was paradoxically the first one there. The misty rain hadn't extinguished the lanterns yet, but it had raised the hairs on her arms, so she made her way to a tree for shelter. How much moisture could speakers and amps tolerate? she wondered. How much rain would it take to decompose Japanese paper?
Her classmates began arriving by the carload — laughing and tumbling from vehicles whose booming, rumbling radios hammered over the relative calm of the band's song. She leaned against the trunk of the tree, her hair falling in curtains on either side of her face.
When she looked up, Peter was walking toward her with Jenn and Claire. He pushed up his glasses and smiled as he approached. She tucked her hair behind her ears.
Looking at Peter was like looking out her bedroom window: she knew every tree, every nest in every tree, each tile of the neighbors' roof, the lawn and the flowers, every splotch of color, in every season. She even knew the befores and afters: his teeth, before and after braces; his glasses, which she had joked were part Buddy Holly, part bio nerd when they were new, and which now had a scratch on the left lens from when he'd dropped them into the harbor and dove in to retrieve them. Whenever she saw him, he seemed glad to see her. Someday she'd figure out a way to tell him just how much comfort that had given her over the years.
"Hi, Jenn, hi, Claire," Hester said.
"Hey, Hester," Jenn said. "Aren't the lanterns incredibly romantic?"
"Sooo romantic," Claire agreed. "They make me wish the perfect guy were here to sweep me off my feet."
"The lanterns are very pretty," Hester managed to say.
"Don't forget to dance this time, you guys," Jenn said to Hester and Peter, tugging Claire away by her sweater sleeve.
"Yeah, have fun!" Claire wiggled her fingers goodbye.
Hester fixed on their bouncing ponytails as they merged effortlessly with the party. "Why do they always do that?"
"Deposit you and run; try to make us a couple."
"Aw, relax. They don't understand the magic is gone once you've seen the guy projectile-vomit double-chocolate cake on his eighth birthday."
She laughed. "Or when you study for finals together and the girl is wearing a week-old sweatshirt and hasn't showered in three days."
Peter pushed his glasses up again. "Yeah — Hester — that's not actually gross when you're a guy." He pulled a narrow box out of his back pocket.
"I got you a present."
He shrugged. "No reason. Just something to keep that mop out of your face. You hide behind your hair, you know."
She lifted the top of the box. Inside, nested in white tissue paper, was a long silver barrette shaped like a seashell. It had smooth, plump whorls that formed a tightly wound cone, with ribs like a staircase traveling along the whorls.
"It's meant to be a wentletrap, I think," Peter said. "It's pretty accurate."
"I've never seen anything like it before." She hugged him and said into his ear, "I'm going to miss the crap out of you."
"Me, too," he replied, squeezing her and then letting go. "But I'll only be an hour away."
"You'll be studying." She handed him the empty box. He stuck it in his pocket again. "And making college friends." She put the barrette between her teeth and started to pull her hair back.
He took a breath, as if to say something, and then closed his mouth.
She watched him gaze at the ocean. In the waning light it was the same color as his eyes.
Excerpted from Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama. Copyright © 2012 Elizabeth Fama. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
1. "She had dared to love, and she had lost everything." What did Syrenka truly lose by daring to love Pukanokick? Who suffered more in the long run, Syrenka or Hester?
2. If Syrenka knew what would come of her attempts to find love, do you think she would haveor could havechanged her actions? Do you think love can be controlled, or does love control us?
3. "I am protecting you from me," Syrenka tells Ezra. In the end, could she have done more to protect him or herself? Is it, as the saying goes, better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? How do you think Syrenka and Hester would each answer that question?
4. The issue of souls passing from one generation to the next is a key to Hester understanding her family's history. Do you think such a thing is possible, or do you think each being comes into the world with its own soul?
5. In the end, how did Hester break the curse, thus ensuring she could have her own children one dayand live to raise them? Do you think she had to pay too high a price to break the curse?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama was definitely unique in a lot of ways. I haven't read a lot of mermaid books, but this one sets itself apart. It's told through two point of views, Hester in the present and Syrenka in the past. Sometimes the fluctuating viewpoints would cause the story to slow down a bit, but I think each point of view helped build towards the big picture of what was going on. With that being said, each viewpoint was interesting, and there is much to keep your attention. The characters and their world are very well built. This is a darker story with some romance, violence, curses, mythology, not to mention the mermaids, and it's all woven together quite beautifully.
I've had a mission this year. I wanted to find good mermaid books - because I grew up watching The Little Mermaid, dang it and I wanted some good Ariel-vibes in the books I read.So when Monstrous Beauty came up, and I saw the glowing ratings it was getting, I allowed myself to feel hope. Not all the mermaid books I've read have been bad (The Forbidden Sea by Sheila Nielson was fantastic) - but I wanted something a little more mature.Well, I definitely got mature in Monstrous Beauty.First, the good things. Finally, a mermaid scenario that makes sense; I always wondered logistics and how they fit into myth/legend. A prologue that gave me chills. A perfect mix of paranormal and fantasy. A nice little mystery, and some freakishly creepy elements. All these things made up something that, aside from one nagging detail, could be in my top two YA reads of the year. I loved the details about Hester as well. She was strong, independent, a go-getter, and honestly ... her job cracked me up. It was so entertaining I found myself wanting to read more of what it was like to be at work. That's talent, people!The mystery was okay - I mean, once things really got going it wasn't hard to figure out - the hard part was trying to see how it would all fit together. I'm normally not a big mystery person so this wasn't as big of a deal to me.And the mermaids - they were fantastic. Every bit as chilling as I believe mermaids to be - from the jagged rows of teeth to the bloodthirstiness of certain ones. I was entranced and found myself wishing I could go lay on a rock and just wait for them to come to me by the sea.Now - that nagging detail. There's a rape in this book. And while I was surprised at the level of detail (it's not super detailed, but a little more graphic than I'm used to seeing in YA fiction), I was more concerned at how it was not addressed. At all. I mean, it's there basically as a plot device - and that disappointed me. I mean, really? Using a rape as the means to make sure your heroine ends up where you want her to be? I'm not going to rant. I'm not. But I will say I'm very tired of seeing rape bandied about and then not addressed after the fact. It leaves lasting effects on women, people. Mythical or not. I'll get off my soapbox now.So - the only thing keeping this from five stars is that detail. That's it. The rest of the story? Fantastic. I plan to read it again - but this time I'll just skip the scene that bugs the bejeebus out of me.
Monstrous Beauty is a wonderfully gothic story--romance, tragedy, some horror, a smidgen of gore/violence, doomed lovers, curses, ghosts, hauntings. Delicious! I love this kind of stuff!! Plus, it's original. I haven't encountered anything quite like it. Great mythology, nice use of language. There's an interesting historical (and geneological) element to it, as Hester goes through microfilmed newspapers, looks at gravestones, etc to uncover the past. A sense of foreboding pervades the story and helps to create suspense. Though not every revelation is a surprise, I still found myself impelled to find out what was going on and uncover mysteries. I feel I should warn you that there is one rape scene. It's brief, it's not graphic, but it does happen.
This book had me hooked from the beginning. When I went into Monstrous Beauty, my opinions on it were 100% "Ugh. A mermaid book? I probably won't like this one, either. Well - here goes!" ... I WAS SO SO WRONG. This book is beautifully written, the characters are deep and interesting, and the story is just magical enough to be fantasy, but mostly it reads like a contemporary ghost story. I loved it. Monstrous Beauty exceeded my expectations in every way and I was so, so pleased. Hester is my literary dopplegänger. There are plenty of characters out there that I will read, and relate to in some way. Characters who are interesting, likable, or have similar quirks or interests. Loves, I have never related to a character as much as I related to Hester. Within the first chapter of listening, I knew that she: - Had a little brother she mostly gets along with. - Is inexplicably drawn to the ocean. - Is a HUGE history buff. - Is the QUEEN of socially awkward. - Hates parties because they're dumb. - Doesn't seem to really have any close female friends. These probably aren't that remarkable, but all together? Hester and I would be friends, at the very least, because I am all these things, too. She's not the only likable character, though! Everyone in this story is really interesting. I liked Pastor McKean a lot as well, with his kindly demeanor. I liked Hester's brother, Sam. And even Syrenka and Ezra and Adeline were great to read. Peter and Eleanor. All of them. I can't say I liked Eleanor as a PERSON, but as a CHARACTER? She's really good, really well-written. The history fanatic in me was dying. Dying in a good way! I am not an expert on Plymouth, Massachusetts. In fact, despite my proximity, I've never been there. But you can tell when the author has gone the extra mile to research her world. Whenever there's the slightest bit of historical fiction in a book, I am ready to destroy it. I am ready to find the lazy inaccuracies. Monstrous Beauty is really careful, really intricate, and it adds so much to the story. I really enjoyed the scenes where Hester was at her job at Plymouth Plantation. I loved her switching between her thoughts and character, making pottage and sweeping her cottage. Also... I just plain loved the fact she had a job? And actually went to work. And had to make excuses when she wasn't there, like REAL LIFE. The mermaid-ness of this story is important, but not overwhelming. I bring this up because if you're considering this book for all its undersea treasure and aquatic goodness, that's few and far between. The fact that there are merpeople is really important to this story, but at it's core? Monstrous Beauty is a ghost story. IT'S A REALLY GOOD GHOST STORY. There's a lot of twists and interestingness with the ghosts, so I won't go into detail (I REALLY WANT TO). I will say there was one bit near the end where I legit thought the author had just dismissed a character and was making up justifications for this in my head (I came up with reasonable ones I found acceptable!) AND THEN NO SHE DIDN'T AND STUFF HAPPENED. It was really good. I was really pleased. I do like a good ghost story. Overall? I loved Monstrous Beauty, and I'm glad it's a standalone because it's a well-written concise story all together. I would definitely read another YA fantasy book by this author!
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.