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Monstrous Beauty

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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 one hundred forty 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 ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

352 pages, Paperback

First published September 4, 2012

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About the author

Elizabeth Fama

8 books411 followers
Elizabeth Fama is the author of Plus One (FSG, 2014), Monstrous Beauty (FSG, 2012), a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and Odyssey Award honor winner, and Overboard (Cricket Books, 2002), an ALA Best Books for Young Adults.

(You're absolutely welcome to follow me on Goodreads, but I won't seem very interesting as a reader here. While I'm an active lurker on GR, I keep all of my personal thoughts about what I'm reading on an anonymous Booklikes account.)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,021 reviews
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,540 reviews33.9k followers
October 18, 2012
Take a photographic tour of the Monstrous Beauty world as Elizabeth Fama stops by The Midnight Garden to kick off her blog tour! Plus win a finished hardcover of the book.

It was a woman--as pale and luminescent as a ghost, with swirling white hair. Ezra startled, dropping his pencil into the water. Her face snapped toward him. Her eyes were too large, clear green, and had horizontal, slit-shaped pupils, reminiscent of an octopus.

Did your pulse quicken when you read that paragraph? Mine did! I had a feeling I was going to love this book, because it blends several different things that I love: mermaids, the nineteenth century, and ghosts. What I wasn't prepared for was an unconventionally striking story that will definitely not appeal to someone looking for a typical YA paranormal book. I found this dark fairy tale to be wildly exciting and utterly gorgeous, however, and I think it will find its audience in readers who enjoy literary fiction or more mature YA.

In the late 1800s, a mermaid named Syrenka makes a terrible mistake in judgment as she seeks companionship. More than a hundred years later, 16-year-old Hester searches for the mystery behind a tragic curse that has haunted her family for generations. The book alternates between past and present in a small fishing town in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the shifts in time and multiple POVs are handled with skillful aplomb. Deep secrets are slowly revealed in both young women's pasts, and a fine thread of tension running through the story eventually escalates into scenes of shocking madness and violence.

There are despairing stolen souls. Creepy churchyards. A woman drowned in a sarcophagus. Rape. Underwater doll graveyards. A boy who gives his heart for the one he loves. A truly repulsive mermaid queen ! Through it all, the seductive beauty of the language irresistibly lures the reader into the story's unique mythology, so that by the end of the book the lonely, painful fates of the characters seem as gut-wrenchingly immediate as your own.

"Even in rage, she was eerily beautiful."

Syrenka is such a splendidly doomed creature, however, that Hester unfortunately pales just a bit in comparison in the beginning. Because readers see the perspectives of both past and present, they'll likely guess certain truths well before Hester does, which provides a few moments of frustration. Later in the book, however, Hester's story takes on more shape and her choices are both brave and heartbreaking in their necessity. The plot has many twists and turns, and while I did guess quite a few of the surprises, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of this beautifully crafted story at all.

Mermaid lovers should note the sea creatures in this story are incomparable to anything that has come before them; the disturbing nature of their animal instincts and deadly muscularity is boldly unapologetic, and the story is all the better for it.

Readers who appreciate literary young adult fiction will love this book. Monstrous Beauty's dark moodiness is incredibly evocative, and the startling originality of its story--as well as the lush vividness of its imagery--will not soon be forgotten.

Strongly recommended: for fans of Angela Carter, Cat Hellisen, Margo Lanagan, and possibly Laini Taylor; for adults who don't normally read young adult fiction and for mature YA readers; and finally, for anyone who has been searching tirelessly for a mermaid book that truly transcends its genre.

Heed the siren call: this mermaid story is unlike any other you've read.

This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for K..
181 reviews713 followers
August 11, 2012
Elizabeth Fama's Monstrous Beauty is a dark and twisted concoction of myth, curses, history, and murder. It is a piercing story about a mermaid who longs to love and a young girl who has discarded any hope of it. I haven't read many sea-folk lore, and so won't pretend to understand this "new" and "original" approach to the mermaid legend. The story is certainly mature, however, daring to be more graphic and seasoned (if you catch my meaning), than most young adult novels in the market. In fact, dare I say that this ranks as highbrow teen fiction in my reader's opinion.

But I digress. I meant to say that I can see the "innovative" appeal in Fama's presentation of merpeople. Innovative is quoted because is it innovative to bring something back to basics? Because that is what I found most intriguing. We have been thoroughly saturated with lies by Disney. Disney has deceived us, people. Not all fairy tales end in "happily ever after". And Fama knows this. Her mermaids reject Ariel. Instead, they go back to the time when a mermaid did not simply lose her voice -- but had her tongue cut out; when a mermaid did not simply grow legs -- but had to endure the sense of walking on knives when standing on her feet; when a mermaid did not marry her prince -- but had to watch the man she loved fall in love with another; and when a mermaid did not go on to live a wonderfully fulfilled life -- but died and turned into sea foam. Fama's sea-folk are beasts of the sea, they are feral and violent acts of butchery come as naturally to them as it does for us to slay a slab of beef. And this isn't even half of what makes this book good.

Fama gives to us Syrenka. A lovely, passionate, powerful, and ferocious creature of yearning. She is ancient and in her long life has suffered imprisonment and loneliness. She is willing -- oh, all too willing! -- to yield all that defines her...for love. But she has lost before and so with this second coming, she determines to make everything right. She is quick but rash, fervent but reckless. And she makes a mistake, and this mistake will tie her, for an undetermined period of time, to Hester, a seventeen year old whose life is turned upside down by a mysterious man who seems to know her -- indeed, know her to her very core.

The divide between Syrenka's chapters and Hester's chapters are distinct. Syrenka's chapters are stunning, where Fama has certainly captured an atmosphere. I only wish Hester's were treated with the same deliberate care. But perhaps it is simply the period -- that Syrenka lived in the romance of 17th century and Hester in the derivativeness of the modern era. Perhaps it is simply our own time's staleness that Fama could not bend her language around (no offense, 21st century, I love you). Because this woman can write. Syrenka and Ezra's conversations seemed, at times (a stretch but I'm flexible), pleasantly imbued with a Godard-esque existentialism...ness. It did, okay! And that's what got me. It was a dialogue I hadn't read the likes of in my on-going quest of young adult literature. I've had beautifully sparse language, and I've had prettily embellished language but not quite this. Why this wasn't a perfect novel through and through is because it eventually subsided to normal dialect...but I remember!

And I suppose the plot itself did not unfold as mysteriously enlightening as it could have. I wasn't quite sure which ones I was supposed to figure out with her help or which ones I just did on my own because I am that clever. Suffice it to say, when certain revelations came to Hester, I was already sitting, hunched, and gesturing my hands that meant "Uh, duh?". But suffice it also to say that I was slightly knocked off my feet by the twists and turns Fama's twisted, unforgiving mind has created. Boy, they were good. They came around the corner, unseen, and I went running the other way. But they got me, the devils!

The romance in this story is well done. It's complicated, which makes describing the premise problematic but worry not. Syrenka and Ezra are not un-reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet and, even, Cathy and Heathcliff. It is a love complicated but so deeply earnest.

And from it erupts this story.

Monstrous Beauty is a must-read. It has character that may not be suited for all readers. But to those who this may win over just yet...


An ARC was provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for Giselle.
990 reviews6,363 followers
September 6, 2012
I have tried to read mermaid books - a new hype in today's YA market - and book after book I keep finding myself disappointed, realizing that these water beings are simply not my forte... until now. Is it the dark, twisted plot? Is it the violent, yet beautiful story? Is it the combination of local sea lore mixed with curses, murders, love, and horror? Let's just say, this is definitely more up my alley than the froufrou mermaid books that I have been using for kindling lately.

Monstrous Beauty welcomes the old sea-folk lore, where mermaids are beautiful, perilous beasts who seduce and kill those who unfortunately come upon their waters. There is even mention of specific lore details such as the goddess Atargatis; I can't say I was extremely familiar with the mythology myself, but this book piqued my interest enough to have me browsing Wikipedia to learn more about it. It's a very fascinating subject with a lot of history and legends surrounding it. Though knowing absolutely nothing about the history of these sea creatures will not diminish your enjoyment of this book in the least, it's merely to say that it will increase your appetite for it. Rich imagery created by brilliant descriptions turns these mythical beings, as well as their underwater world, the villagers, the alternating time periods, all of it, into a strikingly picturesque tale. It may revolve around it, but the mermaids are not the only thing to look forward to in this novel; we have a cursed family, a love story, an enthralling history, and even a few ghosts.

Naturally, with such vicious creatures in our midst, we get a plot that is much darker than your usual paranormal mermaid novel. It's violent, gory at times, with scenes of horror and seduction that I would not normally expect from a YA novel, making me recommend this for more mature readers. I found these aspects really impacted the seriousness of the mermaid myth. They are not, in fact, sweet loveable creatures. They're manipulative, treacherous monsters who will make you look at The Little Mermaid in a whole new light.

Hester is dealing with a genetic defect that has killed all mothers in her family after they have given birth, but when she meets the mysterious Ezra, he helps her figure out some answers to this apparent curse. The mesmerizing manner this story is told keeps a perfect pace, constantly bringing us deeper into this fiercely gripping tale, never letting our attention falter. While Hester is delving farther into her unusual family history, we get thrown into the past where a passionate love story with mermaid Syrenka and her human lover unfolds. With the past and the present intertwining in more ways than one, this whirlwind romance quickly becomes a richly developed mystery. And even though I solved large parts of it long before Hester -- in some cases I even marveled at how easily she could have deciphered it if only she thought it through for a minute -- I still enjoyed the thrilling climax which is soon followed by a flawless ending.

Exciting, dark, and positively gorgeous, Monstrous Beauty has finally given me a mermaid book to rave about, throwing my expectations right out of the water (Ha! I made a pun!). A must read for those who would prefer their mermaid books in a more sinister tone.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for review.

For more of my reviews, visit my blog at Xpresso Reads
Profile Image for shady boots.
500 reviews2,040 followers
September 28, 2012
This review is also available over at my blog.


Part of my Mermaid Marathon, round two.

The year is 1872, and Syrenka, a mermaid, falls in love with the gorgeous Ezra, and makes the deadly decision to become mortal and live a life with him. Flash forward to almost 140 years later, Hester Goodwin meets a stranger with the same name, who seems to be living in a cave at the beach. In Hester's family, love has always lead to death. After the women in her family give birth to a child, they always mysteriously die the same day. With Ezra's help, Hester discovers more and more about her family's cursed history and her connection to Syrenka. But she'll have to get past the powerful forces─both on land and under the sea─that are standing in her way.

The chapters in this book alternate from the past and the present. It's told from multiple points of views but mainly Hester, Syrenka and Ezra. Both the past and present chapters always kept me engaged. Although the present chapters didn't have much action until closer to the end, I still loved discovering more of the history of Hester's family, and the fact that there are also the chapters that take place in the past really help. I liked finding out that everything was connected in some way.

There wasn't nearly enough mermaids in this book, though. Not enough for me, at least. In fact, there are also a lot of ghosts and spirits in this book. Some of the characters from the past chapters become spirits in the present chapters. We don't really find out that much about the mermaid world until near the end.

Then we have the romance, which is the reason that I had to take away a star from the rating. Syrenka and Ezra's romance wasn't technically insta-love, I guess, since it took quite a while for them to really truly be together.

Hester and Ezra's romance, however, really bugged me. Right off the bat, when Hester first meets him, it's lust at first sight. She didn't even find it weird at all that this guy lived in a cave and was wearing 19th century clothing. And then all of a sudden they start kissing and saying they love each other and I'm just rolling my eyes. But luckily the romance didn't annoy me enough to lose interest in reading.

Was I happy with the ending? Sure. Were all my questions answered? I guess. Do I think the ending gave the possibility of a sequel? Nah, I don't think so. It was a decent ending for a standalone, and I really would have no idea where the story would go if there was ever a sequel planned.

Overall this was a very enjoyable book. I liked the characters, the supernatural aspect (even though I wish there were more mermaids rather than ghosts), and how everything in the story was intertwined. Although I do have to take away a star due to the unfortunate insta-love.

Still, I would definitely recommend this to you if you're looking for a great mermaid read. It wouldn't be my first recommendation, but it would be one of them if you're looking for several.


Pre-reading: Am I the only one who completely resents the cover change? ._. I mean, ugh. The old cover looked ten times better, in my opinion. Well, it isn't that impressive either but I think it looks better.

And OMG look at the German cover!

They're so much better compared to this one. e_e Blech.
319 reviews1,892 followers
May 2, 2012
Wow. I can’t even begin to explain how thoroughly excellent Monstrous Beauty is. It’s to the point where I don’t even want to write a review, because, and I’ve said this before, it’s not going to come close to truly showing how amazing this book is.

Monstrous Beauty has everything that would make a book awesome: mermaids, ghosts, a curse, an awesome mystery, and an absolutely excellent plot.

The plot…. Oh my, that plot was… Wow. It took me some time to get used to the transitioning time periods, but when I did get used to it, I realized how awesome it was. Have you ever seen the movie Memento? If you haven’t, the main thing about it is that it’s presented as two different sequences of scenes: one in black-and-white sequences that’s shown chronologically, and one in color sequences that’s shown in reverse order. The two sequences eventually meet in the end, forming one story.

Monstrous Beauty is like that. There’s one set of sequences set in the late 1800’s that follows the main mermaid, Syrenka, and then there’s another set of sequences set in the present day that follows the main character, Hester. I really can’t say a lot about them, because so much in this book could be a spoiler, and I really don’t want to spoil this book for anyone.

I think the only negative things Monstrous Beauty had going for it were its predictability (though it may not be predictable for you. I found most of the plot twists coming, but that was only because I obsessively kept track of the characters in this book by taking notes. If I hadn’t taken notes, I most likely would not have seen most of the twists coming), and the fact that I didn’t really care for the characters (up until the last 10% or so). The characters were good and all, it’s just I didn’t really care for them too much, and the only thing I really cared about was the awesome plot, and how everything would tie together in the end.

My thoughts on the characters (really on Hester, Syrenka, Ezra, Pastor McKee and Linnie) changed immensely at the end, and I actually found myself crying (although I cry at everything).

Another extremely awesome aspect to Monstrous Beauty was Hester researching her heritage, and finding how everything related to her. However, I felt that it became really complicated and keeping up with all the characters and their histories got difficult, so I had to write myself some notes. That doesn’t make it bad, though, it just get’s extremely complicated, so I suggest taking some notes if you get confused easily when it comes to characters and their histories (like me).

Oh, and the mermaids in this book were vicious! They sure don’t sing… Instead of singing, they actually rip open people’s chests, rip out their hearts and swallow it whole, and eat people’s lungs. You know, the usual.

(I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch The Little Mermaid the same way again…)
little mermaid Pictures, Images and Photos

*slowly backs away* That's right, Ariel... I see you. I know what you're capable of... Don't try and fool me...

Overall, Monstrous Beauty was twisted, disturbing, graphic, heartbreaking and beautiful.

And I loved every single moment of it.
Profile Image for ♥Rachel♥.
1,823 reviews834 followers
February 11, 2013
Monstrous Beauty was disturbing, tragic and yet beautiful and hopeful.

Hester comes from a tragic line of women. Each mother in her family who’s given birth has dies within days of delivery. Hester’s mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and so on. Hester believes this is some sort of genetic anomaly and the only way to avoid death is to avoid love, marriage and pregnancy. Little does she know that this affliction is anything but genetic but stems from something far more sinister. The past and present collide with alternating chapters as the mystery is slowly revealed. Let me tell you it’s a brutal and violent history, and one that’s filled with a desperate all-consuming love. Did I mention the scary amoral sea creatures? I seriously could have nightmares. This is one eerily creepy story!! There was a romance that I was rooting for, and I wished it was developed a little further, but I still enjoyed this story even so.

I won this audio CD off a blog I frequent and I’m so glad I did because it’s not a book I would’ve picked up on my own. The writing was masterful and the prose was beautiful. The narrator was brilliant! I felt my heart pound in scenes with nervousness, longing, horror, disappointment, and envy as she brought each character to life. She brought the story alive with her versatile and passionate delivery. Each accent and voice were flawless, IMO. Just the right emotion was conveyed for each scene. I highly recommend it!

I enjoyed listening to this story so much, I decided to share the love and give away my audio CD copy. Come visit The Readers Den for a chance to win.
Profile Image for Heidi.
756 reviews174 followers
September 26, 2012
1.5 Stars (I didn't like it, but I still managed to read the whole thing).

So I finally did it. I read a mermaid book. My disdain for this trend was already pretty big considering I had yet to actually dip my toes in it, but when I started seeing one fabulous review after the other pour in for Monstrous Beauty I was determined that this would be the mermaid book for me. It was described as literary and haunting, beautifully written with dark, Gothic touches. Perfect for me. Oh, how wrong I was.

The Lore: I’m torn about the mermaid lore in Monstrous Beauty. On the one hand, I love their physical descriptions, their general rules of being, and I pumped my fist like a mofo when Syrenka ripped open that rapist’s chest and ate his lungs (the best part of the whole damn book imho), but on the other hand it was all just so convenient. We didn’t learn a single thing about mermaids (or anything else for that matter) that wasn’t immediately relevant to the tale at hand. It wasn’t as if the story existed within this world that already existed, it was as if the world was being constructed to support the story. Also, didn’t Syrenka tell Ezra that to become human she had to bear a human child? And yet, it never occurred to him to ask her what she was doing with legs? The willful ignorance of the characters and the all-too convenient story lines were glaring.

It’s a bit rapey up in here: One aspect that particularly bothered me was the rapey-ness of the whole thing. A man who would go to great lengths to save another from the evil grips of a mermaid would suddenly be overcome with the need to rape her? Not to mention the fact that in the present day, Hester is continually leered at, physically accosted, and treated in a generally lecherous manner that is shrugged off almost as if this is perfectly normal male behavior. Um…what? A dude pushes himself on you, you manage to scare him off raping you by seeming crazypants, and you prove you’re crazy by not telling anyone about this creep?!?! How is that okay?! You let dudes eye bang you and proposition you for sex while you’re at work, and you don’t tell them off because you think your boss would be annoyed at you for breaking character? Yeah, pretty sure if your boss would actually be upset with you over asserting your right not to be treated like a sex toy on the job, you need to find a new place to work. But, Hester’s complete confusing lack of sense aside, why do all of these men in this book act this way? Are we as readers supposed to accept that most guys out there are just waiting for the opportunity to rape women, or is this supposed to be some mermaid mojo that they unknowingly hold over human men? If this is some sort of power that’s supposed to have been worked into the lore, we should see that, but it’s not there. And so we come to the fact that the only decent guy in this whole book is Peter and…

Hester: How do I disdain thee? Let me count the ways. Well, I already mentioned the ‘I’m going to let guys treat me like crap’ thing, so how about the ‘I’m going to treat guys like crap right back’ thing? Peter, her best friend, is so obviously in love with her and such a good guy–she does not in any way deserve him. She completely brushes him off, ditches him, and even has the gall to ask him for help doing illegal things after all of that. Then she gets all huffy when he asks if maybe she did this other illegal thing that she did do, makes him worry about her all night, and then at the end is all ‘oh you’ve been worried about me? Whatever, I’ll tell you about it some other time, how ’bout you read my dead lover’s headstone for me?’ Peter’s feelings are never once addressed.

And those illegal things? Made no sense. Hester supposedly wants to be a historian, but no history program in their right mind would accept her. First, Hester inexplicably needs to steal a book from the rare section of the library. (Side note–loved the librarian here who was awesome and helpful in Hester’s genealogical research!) The librarians let her look at this book as much as she wants. She expresses shock that she’s allowed to touch it, but then as soon as their backs are turned she shoves it in her backpack. Then, she also has to steal a doll from the museum. She has to steal it right that second. It’s so important, even though the task she needs it for has been left undone for well over a hundred years, and I’m pretty sure a day or two to go through legitimate channels would make no real difference. She potentially damages more historical property in order to complete this task–and almost certainly destroys the doll. Clearly Hester has no real respect for this field she wants to be a part of.

Then, let’s talk about her curse. Hester believes (and rightly so) that the women in her family carry a curse that will make them die shortly after giving birth. Okay…so she decides that she can’t have children. Logical enough, right? Nope! To Hester, not having kids equates to ‘I can never be in a relationship with anyone ever’. Apparently, she had the sing-song ‘First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage’ drilled into her head to the point of severe brainwashing. Since when does not wanting children mean you can’t have love? What kind of message does that send? Sure, I’ll hand it to Elizabeth Fama, she addresses the notion of birth control, but Hester believes that without surgical procedures, there’s no guarantee love won’t mean death for her. This is ridiculous. Birth control, when taken properly, is extremely effective. The pill, for example, is over 99% effective. Set a freaking alarm and take it at the exact same time every day, then make your partner wear a condom as a backup form of birth control. I pretty much guarantee you’re not going to get knocked up unless you’re some kind of fertile wonder. Hester sits around all mopey about her lot in life without ever really thinking about her options or taking control. After reading other heroines that don’t want kids, but have enough agency to still be happy in life–because IT’S OKAY TO NOT WANT KIDS (look at Katsa or Aya), Hester was just insufferable.

The Relationship: Insta love, no development, inexplicably drawn to one another…could I be less interested? Hester, who has decided that she must be alone forever to the point where she has only one friend and treats him like dirt, instantly drops all of her ‘hard-earned’ personal strife when she meets Ezra. Which says to me not ‘oh I’ve been suffering with this curse and now I can’t resist love’ but, ‘oh hey, no one’s ever good enough for me, but this dude’s cute so I guess I’m good to go now’. Seriously, she has one real conversation with him and then is ready to make out and potentially drop what little life she has to hang out with him on the beach forever? That’s healthy emotional growth for ya.

The explanation: Okay, first, I have to say that the urgency of this ‘mystery’ made zero sense to me. Hester had this unexplained need to suddenly uncover the details of her family curse, free pinned spirits, and fix something that’s been happening for over 100 years. There was no reason behind her urgency or actions, no legitimate motivation spurring her on. Then, Hester uncovers the fact that she holds Syrenka’s soul within her body. I didn’t find this charming or self sacrificing on Syrenka’s part, I found it pretty messed up. Syrenka throws her soul into the empty shell of her own daughter’s body after realizing that she’d used her own daughter’s soul to pin the spirit of Ezra (and apparently everyone else who died that day–though I’m pretty sure this was never addressed). See–maybe it’s just me–but I don’t get this. Putting your soul into someone else’s body doesn’t save that person. That person doesn’t exist, the body is a shell. Sticking your soul in their body only gives you a new body. It’s not self-sacrificing, it’s self-indulgent. It’s some weird method of practicing immortality. I didn’t think ‘oh how lovely’ when this was explained, mostly I just felt disturbed and it made me dislike Syrenka more.

The obvious: I don’t deal well with characters who don’t figure things out as fast as readers. I really don’t deal well with characters who take as long to figure out the obvious as Hester does. The fact that Hester is seeing and communicating with ghosts is obvious to the reader from the beginning. They literally tell her that no one else talks to them, but she still doesn’t get it. In fact, after she finally begrudgingly accepts that one character must be a ghost, it never occurs to her that these other people who are obviously displaced in time might also be dead. Really, Hester?

Obviously, I failed to find Monstrous Beauty beautiful. I didn’t feel as if there was any emotional development, the world building was a patch job, the pacing inexplicable, and the outcome unsatisfactory. Maybe I should just stay away from mermaids all together from now on…
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nafiza.
Author 7 books1,199 followers
August 1, 2012
This is a mermaid story. Consider yourself warned. I have yet to read a mermaid story that I actually really, really liked. I was hoping to like this as much because it comes backed by our lovely Wendy but I think this is one of the few times our tastes will diverge. I found the novel strong, likable but ultimately stereotypical of all others that exist. It didn’t give me anything new but it was an entertaining read.

The writing is strong and smooth. I liked the characterizations and I thought that Syrenka was one of the most intriguing mermaids I have come across so far. I wish the book had stuck with her and not Hester. The plot was well thought out and I liked the old Pastor and Linnie. Sam was also adorable. Why does Hester call her father Malcolm and not dad? This was never discussed but occurred enough times to become an issue with me.

The story moves between time and this was not done smoothly. The transitions often feel jarring and have the effect of jerking you out of the story and breaking whatever cadence you have built up so far. Hester treats her best friend and crush before the arrival of the ghost dude horribly. Very horribly. This does not make me warm to her. At all. Spoilers ahead, highlight to read.

To make matters even more worse, the villainess of this piece is an immortal being who apparently has no other motivation, is female and ugly and very one dimensional. She swoops in and becomes the bad guy so everyone else can be innocent in varying degrees of course. It didn’t work for me. If this was a reference to the sea witch, it really didn’t work me. I needed the villain to be developed more.

I couldn't get into the contemporary portion of the romance, that is Hester and Ezra because I believe that Fama had created Syrenka and Ezra's relationship strongly enough that I felt betrayed for Syrenka, if that makes sense. Plus, it is not Hester that Ezra loves, it is Syrenka's soul in Hester or whatever bit remains that attracts Ezra.

My last words? I wasn't too enamored of this book. Not as much as I wanted to be anyway. However, don't take my word for it! Wendy loved the novel and she has written a very eloquent review that I urge you to read. And then make up your mind after you have considered both reviews.
Profile Image for Denisse.
491 reviews292 followers
August 5, 2015
4.5 O___O Great! I really liked that we have alternate dates, present and 1973. The story is very good, but it is not a fairytale, the story is very dark, but also quite interesting. I recommend it, specially if you haven't read anything about mermaids :D

Me gusto mucho el tono de la novela, podía llegar a ser bastante oscuro.

Excelente historia, buenos personajes, buen ritmo, en fin, casi no tengo nada malo que decir. Puede que en los últimos capítulos bajara un poco la intensidad del libro pero se recupera bárbaro! La descripción de estas criaturas es tan oscura, al igual que de ciertas escenas donde la autora no suaviza temas como la violencia y la muerte.

No tengo mucho que decir, es de esos libro que es mejor entrar de lleno sin saber que esperar, así como entre yo. Solo diré que tiene un muy buen suspenso y si, tiene una historia romántica que a mi se me hizo tal vez un poco egoísta, no fui muy fan de ella, pero no baja mucho la calidad del libro 4.5 redondeado a 5 sin problemas se lleva.

Como alterna la fecha actual con la de 1972/1973, hay cosas que las descubres en esa fecha pero la protagonista del presente no sabe y para cuando se da cuenta tu ya no te lo tomas tan a pecho puesto que ya lo habías descubierto, y creo que no le doy las 5 completas solo por eso. Pero definitivamente les recomiendo leerlo, nunca he leído nada de Sirenas, y creo que para ser el primero estuvo muy bien, nada de cursilerias tontas ni nada de eso, lo prometo, es un libro YA pero es un libro oscuro, tal vez me aventure a leer mas del genero :D

Dale la oportunidad. :D
Profile Image for Cassi aka Snow White Haggard.
459 reviews154 followers
September 18, 2012
When I first started Monstrous Beauty I was practically begging "please don't be just another paranormal romance, please!" Mermaids are probably my favorite mythical creature andI have long searched for a good mermaid story. Most mermaid books just don't work for various reasons.

When the book started I was worried. The book begins in 1872, following the mermaid Syrenka who has fallen in love with a human. The book gets really dark really quick, setting a tone that lasts throughout the novel. I liked the darkness. The immediate lovestory worried me. But the story wasn't actually about Syrenka and Ezra.

What may have seemed like a romance for the first few pages changed. It fast forwarded to modern times and started following Hester. The mystery took center stage--inexplicably rancid communion bread, an unsolved triple murder in a church crypt and stories about the church being haunted. From that point onward I couldn't put the book down.

Monstrous Beauty is a dark creepy paranormal. There is some romance, but it's more of a secondary plot. The story focuses on Hester as she unravels the dark secrets in her family's past. Hester's mother died shortly after childbirth, as did her grandmother before and great grandmother before her. In Hester's mind love and death are interwoven, so she has decided to shut herself down against even the possibility of being in a relationship.

The story jumps between present day in the 1872, revealing Hester's families past piece by piece. Both timelines are necessary and relevant to understand the mystery. Pieces of the past are revealed as Hester discovers them so that the reader can began to piece together the puzzle along with her.

The book is well written, allowing you to sympathize with both Hester in the present and Syrenka in the past. Also, the human "villains" are not simplistic, but complicated characters who's motivations you understand and even sympathize with at times. I always appreciate when all the characters are believable. Too often the heroines have understandable motivations, but the villains are just evil for the sake of being evil. But in this book almost everyone is doing what they think is right. Good and evil is not completely black and white.

Though there is a love story, which of course is my least favorite aspect, but when everything is revealed it actually makes sense. It never overwhelms the rest of the story, the mystery to unravelling the past is always the central plot-line and the romance advances the story. I may not like it but I understand it's purpose.

This is the best mermaid book I've read by far. What's more, is it's not just good in relation to other mermaid books, but actually a good book. If you're looking for a paranormal that's more creepy than lovesick then this is the book.

I received an ARC of this book from Southern Book Blogger ARC tours. If you live in the South and haven't signed up you should!
Profile Image for Zemira Warner.
1,569 reviews1,038 followers
January 11, 2016
Here you go, guys! The first 'best-of-2016' book!

Wow. Can't believe this book was sitting on my shelf for almost 4 years before I read it. I've tried to read it a number of times, mostly during the summer, because of mermaids. Mermaids=Summer That was my logic which turned out being a huge mistake. I was expecting something light and this book was the opposite of that. But it's not depressing either. I picture this book as that perfect January day, when it's actually warm enough to get outside without a jacket. It possible I've had too much cheese my lactose-intolerant body could handle and I don't even know what I'm talking about.

Read this book just for the sake of reading something magical without it being over the top. Read it just because of the writing. Don't read it because of mermaids, romance or mythology. Believe me, once you get past the first couple of chapters you won't be able to put it down. Simply brilliant!
Profile Image for Coranne.
458 reviews28 followers
December 28, 2011
Whew. This was an intense book- not what I expected at all. I think I am going to break this one down into a few parts:

The Cover:

Take a look at this cover- she is pretty right? Long blond hair, smoky eyes, doing her model thing. The first thing I want to say is- this cover is ALL WRONG. Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful cover. But other than the fact that there is a blonde mermaid on the front on some rocks- it doesn't have much to do with the actual mermaid in the book. First of all- the tail is all wrong- she is described as having dolphin-like tail not a fish tail. The mermaid herself is pretty, but seems to be brooding and lounging- nothing like the actual Syrenka. I am not sure why it irks me so much, but I feel like the cover doesn't fit this book or do it justice. It is a gorgeous cover, but I don't think it is the right cover for this book.

Characters and Plot:

Wow there are a lot of characters in this book. I thought I would have trouble with keeping them all straight, and at the beginning- I did. But as the characters started to tie together the past and the present, I was amazed how the author had created such a complex web of events and clues throughout the book. This is not a book to read through quickly or when you are distracted. The author uses a great deal of foreshadowing and hinting throughout her novel and then pulls everything together within the last 5 chapters. This is a book that requires the commitment of the reader- because if you give up halfway through the book, you will miss the last quarter of the book where a significant amount of high action events are.

These are not Disney mermaids (think more Pirates of the Caribbean than Ariel if you have to have a Disney comparison). Syrenka has feelings, but a large part of her is very wild and acts on instinct. This is not a story I would recommend reading on a dark and stormy night (unless you enjoy being terrified- ha ha!) I am admittedly a pansy, but man this story has some scary parts! This is a mermaid story, but it is also a ghost story and a scary one at that.

The author has done a fabulous job with this novel. I hope that when it comes out in August that you will take the time to read it- it is very different from a majority of books on the YA market. It would appeal to females AND males (it is very romance light) and also people who do not typically read YA. This was an impressive re-entry to the fiction world and I can't wait to see what will come next from this author.
Profile Image for Arlene.
1,155 reviews642 followers
November 28, 2012
Wow! Color me awed! Monstrous Beauty is a fantastic yet horror filled novel that’s filled with gorgeous prose. I was literally hypnotized for the entire story. I can’t wait to see what else Elizabeth Fama has up her sleeve because she truly delivered quality entertainment with Monstrous Beauty!

This story juxtaposes two different points in time including 1873 and the present. Fama transports her readers to Plymouth Plantation where a centuries old curse takes the life of a particular lineage of women immediately upon giving birth. Medical examination nor logic are capable of explaining what would cause the women in Hester’s family to fade away when they bring life to this earth. As a result, Hester has sworn off love as a drastic measure to keep herself safe. On a fateful night, though, she encounters a mysterious man and is immediately attracted to him. As events unfold, Hester soon discovers that she might be able to undo the curse imposed upon her lineage.

This book has it all, including sea creatures, magic, ghosts, curses, sea witches, secrets and spells. Each element that Elizabeth Fama carefully weaves into the story, along with her meticulous details, add to the magical feel of this book. As I breezed through the chapters, I was both captivated and astounded at the lengths Fama would go to bring this story to life. There were violent events that shocked me; tender moments that moved me; and mysterious occurrences that kept me enthralled. It literally felt like you could lift the story and its characters right from the book.

With perfect casting and proper pacing, Elizabeth Fama delivers a great story that I highly recommend be enjoyed by the audio version of this book.
Profile Image for Crystal.
449 reviews90 followers
August 19, 2012
Holey moley!! I had no clue that this book would A. be as creepy as it was and B. deal more with ghosts and history than actually mermaids. Yes the mermaids play a big part but the ghosts play an even bigger part in my opinion and it was pure brilliance on the authors part! This book was creepy, captivating and oh yeah not for the faint of heart. *hehe*

This book has two stories in it. One that dates back to 1872 and the other in 2011. Told in alternating chapters we get to see two very different stories take place. In 1872 we have Ezra who is intrigued with mythical legends of sea folk. When he happens to stumble upon the very legend that he seeks he instantly falls in love and he knows that his life will never be the same again. In 2011 we have Hester and she is not what I expected. At first she seemed like your typical seventeen year old, she goes to school, has friends, and works in the summers. Well what is interesting about Hester is that she works at a Pilgrim plantation, this is a place where everyday she gets to act like she is a pilgrim for the tourists. I found all this very interesting and it gave Hester a whole different vibe than other girls that are in books today. So cool! Hester is also big into history and she lives in the same small town that her ancestors did. This gives her a starting point when she starts to look into the "curse" that has befallen most of the women in her family. You see after her mother gave birth she died shortly after, this happened to not only her but also her grandmother and her great-great-great grandmother. Knowing that this could happen to her, Hester vows to never get close to anybody so that maybe she can break this "curse". What she doesn't know is that this supposed curse goes way back in history and involves a soul, a baby, a mermaid, hatred, and love.

Sounds pretty cool right??!! I know my little synopsis does not do the story justice by any means, but will give you a little glimpse into what this story is all about. There are so many characters and twists and turns throughout this book that I can guarantee you won't want to put it down. I did mention that this isn't for the faint of heart right?? There are several parts of this book that gave me the shivers and they were a bit on the gory side, but man on man were they awesome!! I loved every minute of it and I am so glad the author chose to include those little icky parts. It was so amazing watching this story unfold piece by piece and to see Hester figure everything out. I really appreciated the paths these characters took. There was no love triangle and no teenage angst, for the most part. The romance was believable and I loved the way the author used souls. It made everything come together perfectly.

Great characters, awesome plot with so many secrets that it took me up until the very last page to understand, and just an overall brilliant book about mermaids. What more could you ask for??!!

This review and more can be found here:
winter haven books
Profile Image for Ronak Gajjar.
239 reviews92 followers
January 23, 2018
“Why do you believe that love and death are intertwined?”
Thanks to lovely and cute, Meghan for the recommendation.
"You're not a dork, you're adorkable."
Mermaids have always been alluring fascinating creatures. This totally isn’t mermaid world neither human. It is though half balanced in between the worlds the story flourishes itself way to interesting. The mermaid’s name - Syrenka reminds me of the first part of Pirates of Caribbean. Initially, I thought it might be similar love-story but this one actually is the shocker! The character maps are really intriguing. I admire how every of character has been drafted impartially.
Concept: 4.0/5.0
Execution: 3.0/5.0
Characters Bespoken: 4.0 /5.0
Cover: 4.0/5.0
Overall: 3.5/5.0
P.S.: Full review – sometime soon!
Profile Image for Carol Saller.
Author 7 books72 followers
October 16, 2011
[Disclosure: I had the good fortune to read this book before publication, since the author is a friend.]

Monstrous Beauty has all the ingredients to become a classic: complex characters, meticulous plotting, intelligent prose, and page-turning situations. The opening pages grabbed me by the throat—and by the heart—and kept me reading.

Syrenka is an original. No Disney mermaid, she is a true creature of the sea, animal-like in her instincts and morals. Her transition to human form is anguished and difficult, and we ache for her in spite of her blemished character. One of the pleasures of the book is watching Syrenka evolve as she learns to live with her newly acquired soul. In addition, the history and lore and culture of the undersea realm that Syrenka comes from, with it’s horrifying queen Noo’kas, are fully realized.

The book is ingeniously plotted without reliance on coincidence or contrivance. Much of current YA literature is cranked out to a formula; it is a rare treat to find a book written with this level of care and craft. The twists and revelations are so well planned and paced that the climax took me totally by surprise—although in hindsight, I could see that all the groundwork had been laid and that everything made perfect sense.

Anyone who knows Beth Fama knows how much time and energy she would devote to researching the remotest details in a book like this—whether on marine life, nineteenth-century dress and manners, or the best way to kill someone slowly. What is astonishing is how seamlessly she was able to integrate that knowledge into the book so as to enrich but not distract.

And did I mention the romance? Oh, yes—the story includes a dreamy male love interest, Ezra. A complicated guy. With issues.

The excitement never lets up, with present-day Hester’s mysterious ties to the sea, to the past, to a possible family curse; mermaids, secrets, ghosts, murder. And all of it holds together in a tight drama that builds to a wrenching but inevitable, and satisfying, resolution.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Joy (joyous reads).
1,460 reviews290 followers
August 31, 2012
Well. That was unexpected.

Merfolks novels has never been my cup of tea; they almost, always manage to disappoint me. I've been staying clear of them just because I find it hard to summon enough interest to keep on reading. Imagine my surprise when Monstrous Beauty broke the mold.

The novel is rich in history, legend and myth - there's even ghost stories. I went into this book expecting the usual tales about forbidden love between humans and merfolks and yeah, it has those but outside of that romantic element, Ms. Fama's beautifully written book deviated from every other mer novels I've ever read.

It was clear that she worked very hard with research and it showed in the deceptively unique mythology that she'd woven in her work. The pages are ripe with a haunting ambiance characteristic of your usual siren novel but her world was well conceptualized - in both land and sea. It spoke volumes of the time and study spent giving birth to this book. She also took pains in painting a different picture of the usually beautiful merfolks we've come to know and at the same time, she showed great restraints in making it seem less contrived. The creative and imaginative writing shows with every ominous scenes. This book was layered with chilling ghost stories softened with a timeless romance.

Hester's investigation to her family's curse led to a lot of the intertwined histories of the characters. At first, I was overwhelmed; having to remember everyone's connection to one another seemed very tasking. But the more I got involved in the story, the easier it become. Having said that, I think that this book will frustrate some readers following the genealogy of the curse and the characters' roles in relation to its origin.

Verdict: Intelligently written, hauntingly beautiful. Recommended to YA readers in need of diversion from the usual fare. Fair warning: This book is a bit graphic, so I think this is for older YA readers.
Profile Image for Lisa.
672 reviews109 followers
August 31, 2012

How hard was it for me to come to this rating? Hard, I tell you. Hard. I completely loved this book, but it also completely devastated me. It was beautiful and dark, eerie and lush.

The writing was basically flawless for me. I could tell that the author really did some research on the topics that she was writing about. I could see what I was reading. I was transported to each setting and each time-frame.

You see, for me, Mermaids have always been known as evil sea creatures. They have. I grew up on an island and the things I heard growing up basically made me afraid and raised the hair on the back of my neck while piquing my interest, if that makes any sense. I mean, it’s this scary, unknown, mythical thing, but it’s also exciting.

Luckily for me, I’m a girl. And Mermaids mainly aim their beauty at men. So yeah, I wasn’t too worried. Much.

So whilst I deviated from my actual review there to ramble on for a bit, just know that it was all for a very good reason. I’m trying to paint a picture here for you – the reader – with my less than stellar review of this book.

I’ve had months to think over this review and basically all I could come up with is: This book exceeded all of my expectations. I expected what I expected, but damn, this author really killed it. This is so not your typical Fantasy YA romance story. Trust me when I say this. This was… beyond. I would have given it 5 stars, however, there was probably only one inconsistency for me which made it lose points, but oh man, you will not regret reading this. Mermaids, I tell ya. Evil Mermaids.

*cue scary music*

This story is told from different points of view and it goes back and forth from the present to the past about one hundred and forty years or so where we get the very beginning of Syrenka, the mermaid’s tale. We learn how unfortunate she is, how hard it is for her to find love and then so easily lose it. it’s a hard knock life for beautiful Syrenka.

She’s different from her mermaid sistren, she’s actually good – unless you get her angry then, well, she’ll rip you to shreds and eat your insides. Yep, no joke.

The story mainly focuses on Syrenka finding and falling in love with Ezra in the late 1800′s. Their love was not an easy one. People in the town thought Ezra was a little flighty, even though he was super intelligent, so they never questioned why he would go down to the shore and take notes in his journal. He was only warned of the creatures that lurked below the surface, other than what he was investigating.

Then it cuts to present day and Hester. Well, Hester doesn’t have it easy either, and it has nothing to do with love and boys, really. Well, it kind of does because basically the women in her line are cursed. Doomed! Doomed! It was rather sad actually, but I found it refreshing that Hester wasn’t all boy-crazy. She was smart and had a plan for her life. A plan that didn’t include a family of her own when she becomes an adult. Although I would have to say that her nerd-y guy friend was super attractive to me, but my heart? Well, it belonged to Ezra.

Sweet, love-sick, Ezra.

I have to admit that I figured out early on what would happen, but that didn’t spoil it for me. I just kept reading because I needed to see it play out for myself. I also realized about less than halfway through that this was soooo not gonna be your typical happily ever after, either. This story cut to the bone, it was just that good. I was left feeling bereft and melancholic after reading it. I felt for these characters and ached when they did.

So if you’re looking for a original take on mermaids in the mature YA genre, then this is for you. It has restless ghosts, a seriously scary – and evil – mermaid queen, a haunted church and graveyard, a boy who gave his heart for the one he loved, and a girl trying to break a curse and save the women in her family line while finding love, and so much angst that you wanna throw the book against the wall and cry your eyes out, then you need to pick this book up come September. It’s a must read for 2012.

Review originally posted at Fic Talk
96 reviews505 followers
September 16, 2013

I waited months for this book.

I feel really horrible about not liking MONSTROUS BEAUTY better. It was no doubt written beautifully, with an interestingly eery, gorgeous plot, and heart-wrenching scenes, but there were some things about it that took away from a 5-star rating.

Monstrous Beauty is split into three parts - Ezra in the 1870s, Syrenka in the 1870s, and present-day Hester. The three parts remain vastly different for me.

I absolutely adored Syrenka's story, and I enjoyed it even more when Ezra, the love interest for both our heroines, appeared. I didn't care for Ezra, personally (though he looks like my dream boy) - he turned Syrenka into a different person, and I was thrilled with that. There are no words to describe how haunting their part of the tale was, and I gobbled it up. I love mermaid stories - vicious, monstrous, stunning Siren-live mermaids.

Then she'd pull him down and rip him apart.

I found their relationship believable in that old-time mermaid sort of way, where the human and the creature just fell in love, and you sucked it up.

I loved Syrenka and I liked Ezra in their part of the story. A huge problem I had with the three points of views was that once I flipped back to Hester's world, she was so boring. I couldn't wait to go back to Syrenka's world! Usually, that wouldn't be a bad thing, but Hester did not interest me enough to look forward to her chapters.

Hester was okay... I didn't love her, and I didn't hate her. But her relationship with Ezra was so not - ugh! It was such insta-love bullshit.

Look: I don't buy into that .

I understand insta-love. Maybe even insta-like. But you don't go declaring your love for someone in two freaking minutes.

MONSTROUS BEAUTY was also chock-full of ghosts and curses. I'd prefer more mermaids, honestly, but the history behind these ghosts were so engaging I almost didn't mind. The curse on Hester's family was so, so, so absorbing! I know I keep using these words a lot, but if there was one word to describe MONSTROUS BEAUTY, it would be fascinating.

The ending was definitely amazing, but I . It was bittersweet and a perfect ending.

All in all, I took pleasure in MONSTROUS BEAUTY and look forward to reading it again.
Profile Image for Dominique.
46 reviews
April 24, 2016
It made her think about how recording information, ideas, and stories can collapse the time and space between the writer and the reader ... there was such romance in listening to voices of the past.

I loved this story! The romance was okay, Hester was okay, the intertwined stories were okay, but Syrenka was amazing! Syrenka is for me how mermaids should be, and I would love another book about Syrenka´s past (besides the novella).
Profile Image for Asheley T..
1,291 reviews118 followers
January 30, 2012
(a similar version of this review can be found here at Into the Hall of Books: http://www.intothehallofbooks.com/201...)

What an absolute treat to read Elizabeth Fama's MONSTROUS BEAUTY! This book is so well-conceived and so well-crafted that I struggle with my thoughts even now, and it has been days since I finished the story. There is so much going on inside of this book that at any given time, it seems like your head should be completely spinning, but it somehow all makes sense. Everything meticulously weaves in and out and then comes back together to form a story that completely knocked my socks off.

I realize that that this blog post is extremely early and that is always a risk, but I want to get it out there and make people aware of how much I love this book. It is really something special and it's really sort of in a league of its own right now...
Why I Absolutely Adored MONSTROUS BEAUTY:

1. The Characters. There are a ton of characters in this story, due in part to the multiple time settings. All well-written, well-developed, and very three-dimensional. I found that I enjoyed the scenes with each of the characters equally - I never skimmed over any pages! Rather, I soaked up all I could about every single character, the good and the bad. Let's talk about a few of them:
**Syrenka. A beautiful mermaid seen frequently off the coast by local fisherman for many years - often they fall so entranced by her beauty that they follow her into the ocean, only to drown. For this reason, some locals see her as a curse and want her caught and killed. Most other locals do not believe that seafolk exist.
**Ezra. Ezra believes she exists, because he has seen her. He saw her as he was writing/drawing in his journals one day. A young Naturalist, he wept with joy when we saw her, because she was proof of a myth that he had only heard and suspected before then. He began to come to the shore and sketch her every day, asking her questions of the workings of the sea. Soon the two were deeply in love, both longing for a way to be together.

There are secondary characters - a large group - that go along with this time setting (1873). There are good ones and bad ones, and they are all really, really wonderful and enjoyable as characters. I read them, at times, holding my breath as their story began to unfold. There is also:
**Hester. Hester is a young lady who lives in the present day. In love with a boy who might love her back, Hester knows she cannot commit to him. See, there's this strange curse that exists in her family where women always die when they have their first child...so she can't in good faith marry and continue this streak of bad luck with someone else. Dejected, Hester stumbles upon a mysterious man on the beach who seems to be pretty confident that he can help her find the answer to her medical mystery. As she begins to confide in him and visit him often - always in a cave by the ocean - she begins to be drawn to him in a weird, unexplainable way. AND his name is Ezra...Hmmmm....

2. The Setting. While it is fairly obvious this book is set by the sea, what I want to share with you is that it is told in alternating time settings. Alternating paragraphs give glimpses of what is going on in the present with Hester and then in the past with Syrenka, and so on. This can be confusing, granted, but it can also work well if the story is well-executed, which it is. I was smitten from the very beginning of Syrenka's tale, but it took me a chapter or two to figure out the point of Hester's story. Once I did, however...WOW! And both settings combined were dark and delicious and lovely from there on out, and they balanced each other out perfectly. Very well done.

3. The Mermaids. Friends, this is not your regular mermaid story! While Syrenka is beautiful, she is also fierce and vicious, and she has the strength of many men. She can and will kill for what she wants. And the sea queen, Noo'kas? She's downright scary.

I loved the lore of the seafolk as presented by Elizabeth Fama. When I was younger, I loved the mermaids as told by the folks at Disney...but now, these mermaid gals are much more enjoyable, unpredictable, and...well, fierce. And I really, really like that. I like it when a girl fights for what she wants. It just so happened that this time, the girl in question started out living in the ocean...

4. The Ghosts. YES! This is not only a "mermaid book" even though the cover sort of gives that impression. There are ghosts in it too, and they are awesome. I realized it for sure when I began to notice that some of the characters I knew I had just been reading in the 1873 paragraphs started turning up as characters in the present day paragraphs too. I don't know how she thought to do it, but the author managed to weave in both the mermaids and the ghosts with Hester. And it WORKED. Brilliantly.

5. The Genre. Paranormal? Yes. Mystery? Definitely. Fantasy? Uh-huh. Romance? Oh, absolutely.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of my favorite things ever: a mash-up of the genres, a little bit of everything, a little something for everyone. It all works so well, like a big swirling pot of awesome story-telling. It's not your average story, guys. It's better than that.

6. The Romance. Among everything that is going on: the mystery, the ghosts, the mermaids...there is a heckuva romance plot. Times two. And it isn't really like a normal YA romance cookie-cutter romance plot either. It's different, deeper, darker, and just...more...but not in an inappropriate way.

Syrenka and Ezra have a wonderful romance - they're deeply in love and it is a very passionate and intimate love that is created out of having secrets that others can never know. While initially a forbidden and impossible romance, Syrenka eventually finds a way to be on land with Ezra - how this happens is a huge part of the story - huge part shocking, huge part heartbreaking, and also part amazing. Eventually, when they are finally able to be together, I was sincerely thrilled for them. Of course, a situation like this apparently has to come with consequences, and this is another huge, suspenseful, heartbreaking portion of the book. With Syrenka and Ezra, it really was the things that they did and what they went through to be together that were so moving for me. I loved them together and I loved their story.

The relationship between Hester and Ezra was mysterious and so strange, but I loved reading it. It was much different than the relationship between Syrenka and Ezra. While I knew who Ezra was (no spoiler here, folks), Hester was fully unaware. Ezra helped Hester uncover her family's unusual history by helping her collect useful information and piecing it together. Hester called Ezra's touch "electric" and she could not help but be drawn to him. While this romance was sort of doomed from the start, I couldn't help but be a bit heartbroken for Hester when she began putting the pieces of the puzzle together and figuring everything out for herself. And certainly, there are questions as to Ezra's motives for being interested in Hester...

Friends, this book is absolutely stunning. It's like a beautiful adventure - like one of those books you wait impatiently for, devour, then close your eyes and exhale when you're finished. MONSTROUS BEAUTY had me in its grips from page one and kept me until the end, and now I already want to read it again. Sadly, it was borrowed, so I had to send it back on its way...

Elizabeth Fama has a clear talent for storytelling. This book is certainly one that will appeal to the more mature YA crowd...but adult readers will without a doubt love it as well. I also believe that it will have a firm place among both male and female readers. While it is easily character-driven, and rightly so, there is no shortage of active plot throughout the book, which will appeal to the more action-loving crowd. In addition, the broad reach across genres can assure that there is something inside the story that will interest almost any reader.

Ghosts and mermaids and mysteries aside, it is the complexity in the consequences of Syrenka's decision to become a land-dwelling human that really made this book stand out for me. Despite the true love involved, there were just too many bad things that resulted for things to work out - one after another after another - too many consequences, really, and no matter how much I wanted things to work out for Syrenka and Ezra, their fate was basically sealed. Interestingly enough, their fate set into course even more actions and reactions, and over a century later it was finally Hester stirring up things again in the present that caused enough disturbance to bring things to a climax. Of course, the way the book is structured - in alternating chapters of time setting - it reads with disturbance after consequence after disturbance, but it all comes together so well and makes complete and perfect sense while Hester pulls everything together.

I feel like I'm just rambling and that no words can really do MONSTROUS BEAUTY justice to my feelings. Really, readers that trust me, you should just throw MONSTROUS BEAUTY on your TBR/wish list and read it as soon as you can get their hands on it. It's honestly THAT GOOD. Elizabeth Fama has written a story of pure beauty and mystery and complexity. It's dark and brooding and mysterious and heartbreaking. It's really altogether lovely. I cannot say enough great things about it. I feel honored to have gotten an early chance to read it - truly thrilled - and I hope my words can somehow do it justice.

I feel like MONSTROUS BEAUTY would be most appropriate for a more mature or older YA crowd and the YA-loving adult crowd.
Monstrous Beauty will appeal to fans of:

Mermaids and Ghosts
Paranormal Fantasy with a touch of Romance
Strong, Well-Developed Characters
Alternating Settings (Time)
Character-driven stories AND Plot-Drive Stories
Complex Plot Twists

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama will be published on September 4, 2012.

*I borrowed this book as part of Around The World Book Tours in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions. I received no compensation for my review.
Profile Image for Lea.
112 reviews501 followers
February 12, 2013
OK, so where do I even begin with this book... because I seriously LOVED IT!!! It's been awhile since I've read a book where I felt totally captivated, where I was basically hanging on every word, and the more I read the more obsessed and involved I became with the story and characters... But Monstrous Beauty single-handedly was able to wipe from memory many of my horrible experiences I've had lately with several YA books, and has restored my faith in the genre as a whole.

YEAH. It was THAT good.

So characterization is always a *big* thing for me in any book, and that's typically my main focus-- if I like the characters, I will most likely become invested in your story. On the other hand, if your characters are paper cut-out fake stereotypes who I can't take seriously, I really don't care how great your story is, I'm not going to become invested in it. And for me, the true sign of good characterization is when the characters come across as real people. When I can imagine them as my friend or enemy, when I can relate to how they're thinking or feeling, and when they talk and behave in a believable way, that's when I know the author really took the time to develop the characters in his/her story. And in Monstrous Beauty, I definitely felt like I could get into the heads of each character and understand where they were coming from.

So the main character Hester Goodwin was awesome and I loved her. Not only did she come across as an actual, real person (which was very refreshing given the surprising difficulty to find realistic characters in many YA books), she was also a history-loving nerd so I immediately felt like I could connect with her. She could be confident and stand up for herself, she swore when she was pissed off, she could be awkward and self-conscious like any normal girl around her crush, she could be vulnerable without coming across as pathetically desperate-- I understood her character and connected with her. That *one thing* right there made me feel invested in the story being told.

Then we have Ezra, the 19th century spirit who Hester becomes drawn to-- I loved him too! Ezra had the delightfully cute quirkiness of a Tim Burton character-- awkward yet intelligent, sweet and sensitive, Ezra is the kind of guy every bookworm girl dreams of meeting. He was also another example of fantastic characterization-- for example, we know that Ezra was a scientist/naturalist in his lifetime who studied oceanic life and mythical creatures. Therefore, when we see things through Ezra's eyes, things are acutely detailed and scientific-- that's how he thinks, so that's how we see the world from his perspective. The fact that Fama actually took the time to give her characters unique perspectives so that we could tell whose point of view we were reading from set this book apart from many others-- it seems so simple, yet it's been awhile since I've seen unique POV's!

And another thing I HAVE to point out-- THANK YOU Elizabeth Fama for not being like so many other YA authors and treating sex like it's the Black Plague or something!!! You know how in some books the authors' main characters can't even *think* about sex, because it would be the end of the world? I 'm so sick of watered-down, G-rated adolescent characters who are totally out of touch with reality. But not Hester-- like any teenage girl, sex is a very real and important thing to her and it isn't treated like some dirty, taboo thing in this book. Seriously, thank you! Because guess what YA authors? Guy and girl teens think about sex quite a bit, so stop making up characters who basically think and act like eunuchs or something, and who wouldn't ever *dare* thinking of doing anything more than making out. And yes, this book does include some rather mature content-- like sex, swearing, rape, murder, etc.-- but they're all written in with the assumption that teens are half-way intelligent and can handle these things, and don't need to be spoon-fed Disney-sweet characters and plots. Let me give a standing ovation to this book just for that!

I was also a huge fan of the world-building in Monstrous Beauty. Since the story switches back and forth from modern times to 1872, it was crucial that things were set up for both time periods. The dialogue and character interaction were both spot-on-- when the story switched back to 1872, the characters actually spoke and behaved like they were from the 19th century-- and it came across very natural, not forced or cheesy. The author clearly did her research to make sure that her readers would feel as though they were going back in time. The descriptive language was also wonderful, and you could see each scene playing out through Fama's words. I think that a truly good writer makes you feel as though you aren't reading, but actually observing/experiencing things as they happen, and Fama was definitely able to do this for me! Finally, I loved how the story and setting had a slightly dark and Gothic feel to it-- the sea, the gloom of the New England coast, the creepy supernatural elements in it-- all of these things really set the tone for the story and made it irresistibly readable.

So lovely readers and bloggers, if it has been awhile since you've read a book where you were so eager to devour the words on each page that you couldn't read fast enough, this is the book for you. I was totally captivated by this story and its characters and could not put it down. Especially if you love historic settings, dark and creepy stories, and realistic characters, I hope you will bump Monstrous Beauty up on your reading lists, because I really think you will enjoy it just as much as I did!

~Lea @ LC's Adventures in Libraryland
Profile Image for ᒪᗴᗩᕼ .
1,455 reviews142 followers
February 3, 2019
๏  Highlights ๏ 

Present Day Interspersed With Historical Flashbacks
Pilgrims of Plymouth History
Cursed Ghosts
An Evil Sea Hag
Doomed Romance

With Narration by Katherine Kellgren

๏  My Thoughts ๏ 

I'm fairly certain the reason I was never able to fully immerse myself in this story is due to the narration by Katherine Kellgren.  I didn't like her accent, it felt all wrong to me and I couldn't tell if the story was in the present tense or the past tense, most of the time. 

The story feels like it is well researched as far as the history of the pilgrims and the religious beliefs of the time, and I enjoyed that aspect as well as dark themes and the violent outcomes.  Sadly, though, I didn't feel the connection/romance between Ezra and Syrenka or Ezra and Hester...and maybe that's due to the narration or maybe it's not.  This could be one of those books that would be better to read rather than listening.


๏ Breakdown of Ratings ๏ 

Plot⇝ 3/5 
Narration Performance⇝ 2/5
Main Characters⇝ 3/5
Secondary Characters⇝ 3/5
The Feels⇝ 2/5
Pacing⇝ 3/5
Addictiveness⇝ 3/5
Theme or Tone⇝ 3.8/5
Flow (Writing Style)⇝ 2.8/5
Backdrop (World Building)⇝ 3/5
Originality⇝ 4/5
Ending⇝ 3.5/5 Cliffhanger⇝ Nah...
๏ ๏ ๏
Book Cover⇝ Eerily Beautiful
Setting⇝ Plymouth, MA
Source⇝ Audiobook (Library)
๏ ๏ ๏
Profile Image for Navdha.
573 reviews79 followers
September 10, 2012
A mermaid fascinated by human, stalks him, falls in love with him and the human blinded by her beauty and simply fascinated stays close; then in the moment of heat, human gets pulled underwater, mermaid forgets he needs air to breathe and ends up killing him.

Oh no, that's not the spoiler for you, that's only the prologue. I should've known it wasn't a book for me right then, but I try not giving up a book before I read at least 100 pages of it. Monstrous Beauty is a love-story with a mysterious plot. If you like paranormal romances that end up tragically and are a sucker for mysteries, you might like this. I personally don't have a problem with either a tragic love story or mysteries, but somehow the combination of both did not work for me. If there is one good thing going on for the book, it's the plot. The author has done a fair enough job combining stories of the past with the present.. even if it's predictable and complicated.

Warning: Be prepared for minor spoilers in the review

The present story is about Hester who is plagued by the thoughts of not having a chance to have a happy family because of the history of women in her lineage. She has decided that staying away from love is the only way to stay alive and not die after childbirth like her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, her great-great-grandmother... and you get the idea. The past story is about Ezra, a human who falls in love with Syrenka, a mermaid, as he slowly gets to know her from his fascination of sea folks.

I didn't really have a problem alternating between these two stories. In fact, it left my mind whirling with the possibilities of what could have happened. However, it really grew old fast and soon I started losing interest. I didn't at all care for any character in this story. It was really a struggle keeping up with Hester's annoying obsession of the caveman. Okay, I understand, it was the pull of the ocean and something that had happened a century ago, but my question is, if Hester could feel the pull then why didn't any of her ancestors feel the same (assuming none of them ever left town even after getting married)? Why was the "pull" dormant for over 140 years or so? Also, I understand that the mother's death started from Marijn but how did it happen to other women in the family?

Everything started after that one night Olaf tried to warn Ezra and unsurprisingly even that night has left me wondering The involvement of Eleanor, Pastor McKee, Adeline and Marjin was done really well. What I loved the most about this book were the descriptions of the mermaids. They had long white hair, a tail three times longer than their torso, translucent pale skin, big round green eyes, razor-sharp fins in their wrists with webbed fingers.. Simply beautiful! The transition of a mermaid to a human wasn't an easy affair either. It was all very twisted and made sense. Noo'kas, the strongest sea folk's appearance didn't really impress me. Considering how she played a very important role in unraveling the story, her intentions were very stereotypical villain-y.
Ezra didn't really stand out to me and Hester's falling in love with a man she barely knew after spending a night with him was just over-the-top. I really wish I could relate or even appreciate that kinda romance, but I simply cannot stand it. I don't believe in soul-mates and even if Ezra and Syrenka's love felt true, the tragedy it followed was simply not worth it in my opinion.

The author compensated for lack of character building in the plot execution. I liked how she played her cards. It's not that I disliked the story, it's just that I couldn't bring myself to be enthusiastic enough about finishing it in one go. I really would give it a 3 for the plot but other factors can't bring me to say that I like this book. It was okay and for me it just can't be more than a 2.

Profile Image for Lisbeth Avery {Domus Libri}.
196 reviews153 followers
September 16, 2013
I don't know what happened with me and Monstrous Beauty. We just didn't click at all. I understand why people like the book but I just don't feel it. Yes, the book is beautifully written but it's also just kinda... boring. Nothing really happens in the book except for different people feeling bad for themselves and people getting torn up.

While I understand the allure of the book, of the writing, I can't help but notice all the flaws and faults. The beautiful words and imagery are masking some pretty big faults like the fact that the book for the most part isn't really well executed.

The flow of the book was very poor and clunky, and the book moved at such a slow pace that it had trouble holding my attention. It tried to do something special with two different POVs that seem different but come together but it failed mostly due to the fact that the transitions were shit.

Beautiful writing is great but it doesn't make up for having an otherwise pretty average novel. The writing sort of convinces you that Monstrous Beauty is a really amazing book, all around. But the truth is the only thing really spectacular about Monstrous Beauty is the writing.

There were two main characters, the first of which is Syrenka the killer mermaid. She's absolutely awesome, for the most part. I really loved her chapters because they were full of mermaid badassery. Who doesn't like dark mermaids anyway? While her romance was really weak, surprisingly it didn't detract too much from her POV.

What made Syrenka truly awesome was how she was a very real character. Under all her beauty and mystery is a truly flawed character with very human characteristics. Syrenka wasn't the all perfect character. I don't know how to describe her. She was magical and ethereal without being 'perfect'.

The second character is Hester. She's a human with a 'mysterious family curse', which to an extent was interesting. I guess. I mean, it wasn't all that absorbing but it wasn't completely a bore. What was boring about her chapters was instead how they were written.

While Hester wasn't a bad character, she was a very emotionless character that left it hard to really root for her.

Hester's chapters had none of the deep, dark beauty of Syrenka's. You go from a chapter written with the most beautiful language, something that can only be described as sensuous, to a chapter written like an average book. It makes sense that I didn't love her chapters. Maybe I would have appreciated them more if they weren't after Syrenka's but that's just not something you can change.

Monstrous Beauty was a very gritty and dark mermaid story with rape, murder, and gore. It's definitely not for the weak of heart. I really loved the brutality of the story. Fama definitely spent most of her efforts on plot execution instead of other things.

While personally I can't say I liked Monstrous Beauty, I can't say that I don't recommend it you read it because it's a very unique experience that should be experienced.
Profile Image for Alanna (The Flashlight Reader).
418 reviews77 followers
July 16, 2012
Oh. My. Goodness. Go ahead and slap yourself now. This book is phenomenal. It’s almost beyond words.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of books featuring mermaids, but this book broke all the molds. It defied all my expectations. I was expecting something like a love story with a little under the sea action, but that is not what I got. What I did find is a fantastic story that had mermaids, an evil sea witch, ghosts, and true love. Wow x 3.
Yep, I said ghosts and mermaids. Epicness. The way the alternating points of view intermingled was amazing. To flip from a story set in 1873 to present day—and to do it flawlessly—was fantastic. I loved every page. EVERY PAGE! And the last few chapters were intense. Speaking of intense, there is this one scene that made my stomach lurch. OMGoodness. It was so awful. It still haunts me.
I honestly don’t know what to say about this book. Read it. That’s all I can say. Read it and love it. Enjoy its epicness. Savor the mystery and the haunting romance of star-crossed lovers. Devour every page. You’ll want this one on your keeper shelf.
334 reviews174 followers
Want to read
April 29, 2012

seriously! you tell me, which is the better one:


or the new one:

yeah, i thought so too. sure, both covers are oversexed as hell, the first one even more so, but you can't deny the brilliance and allure and atmosphericness of the first one.
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,395 reviews152 followers
April 3, 2018
Three and a half stars: An entertaining and well researched book that blends the past with the present while exploring curses, magic and dark mermaids.

Plymouth in 1873 is where a young, ambitious scientist lives. He wants to record all the mysteries he sees in the ocean, until he stumbles upon a mermaid. Syrenka is a dangerous mermaid, who gives into her desire for this young man with devastating consequences. Their happiness is short lived as there are plenty who wish to destroy them, including the dark witch of the sea. One tragic night brings forth death and the birth of a terrible curse that is passed down generations. Fast forward a hundred and forty years later, Hester, a precocious seventeen year old, meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra in a cave, whom she is is inexplicably drawn to. Ezra vows to help Hester solve the mystery of why all the women in her family, including her own mother, die shortly after giving birth to a daughter. Hester quickly learns the truth about her heritage. Can she fix the curse?
What I Liked:
*Monstrous Beauty isn’t another one of those charming mermaid stories with love conquering all. This is a dark tale with curses, evil people who want to destroy others, magic and death. I was quickly drawn into this story, and I loved that it blended the past with the present.
This story takes place in both 1873 and present day. Ms. Fama skillfully weaves the story of the past into modern day. I liked that the stories fed off one another and that the author pulled it off without any jarring segue ways.
*This story features an interesting cast of characters. Hester the main character is a nerdy, yet likable teenage girl who is haunted by the curse in her family. She vows not to marry and fall in love until she meets Ezra. As Hester uncovers the truth, she finds herself in a terrifying position. I liked her pluck and determination, and how she faced down the big baddies with courage. I also enjoyed the Scottish pastor and young Linny, especially when I learned more about their history.
*I could tell a lot of work went into this novel. Not only is it well written, it is also meticulously researched. The author does a great job in bringing out all the little details that make Plymouth both past and present come alive.
*For those of you seeking beautiful mermaids, this is not for you. The mermaids are on the darker side. Syrena and her sisters aren’t beautiful sirens, but they have been known to lure a man or two beneath the waves. Then there is the the sea witch who is even darker than Ursula. She has rows and rows of sharp teeth. I loved this dark take on mermaids.
*I loved the paranormal aspects of this one. I won’t go into the details, as I don’t want to spoil it, but there are some interesting supernatural developments that add to the mystery and the suspense of the story.
*The ending is fast and furious with plenty of big reveals. It is a bittersweet ending. I was pleased when the dust settled. The book ends in a good spot without any nagging questions or unfinished story lines. This is a stand alone. No cliffhanger.
*I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Katherine Kellgren. Ms. Kellgren did a tremendous job. I loved her accents. The emotion she pumped into the story, especially during the climatic moments added to the enjoyment of the story. I especially enjoyed the interview at the end between Kellgren and the author.
And The Not So Much:
*Hester has a love interest at the beginning of the story. I wished that there was more development and detail with Hester’s modern day relationship. I didn’t like how she pushed him away and that she treated him badly. He was kind and caring, and there when it mattered.
*I wish that the aftermath of the events in 1873 was explored. How did the town react when they found out what had happened?
*I wanted more depth and detail on the mermaids. Syrenka and her sisters were fascinating. I wish that I had a better understanding of what their lives were like beneath the waves.

Monstrous Beauty is not your happy, Little Mermaid type story. This is a darker more sinister read that blends the past seamlessly with the present. This is a story of deep love, evil magic, dark curses and regret. I enjoyed the mystery, the characters and the attention to detail. If you want a mermaid story with teeth, this is one to try.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.
Posted@Rainy Day Ramblings.

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