Thursday, August 30, 2012

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Title:  Monstrous Beauty
Author:  Elizabeth Fama
Series:  Monstrous Beauty
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYC)
Publication Date:  September 4, 2012
Source:  Netgalley
Purchase:  Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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.

This haunting tale cast its spell on me from the very first chapter.  Stories involving mermaids and selkie folklore have inundated the YA market as of late, but each struggles to bring something different to the reader, to make an indelible impression upon them.  With her second novel, it’s clear that Elizabeth Fama has created a story so unique and so beautifully woven that her readers will not soon forget it.

Monstrous Beauty is considered a young adult novel, but honestly, it doesn’t read like one.  And it’s most definitely not your typical mermaid story either, which all too often tend to be on the lighter side and altogether fluffy.  This story is haunting – literally – and full of all manner of vile things, including -- but not limited to – murder, rape, abandoned children, and a curse hundreds of years in the making.  But woven into this cryptic story is also a tale of love and sacrifice so heart-wrenching it took my breath away at times.

The story is told through alternating points-of-view and spans two different time periods.  The novel begins with Hester  in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, pondering over unrequited love and her own awkwardness.  I immediately felt a kinship with Hester, not because of either of those things but because of how genuine her thoughts and feelings were, how honest she was, even with herself.

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Though the novel might start with Hester, the story truly begins with Syrenka and Ezra and a love so powerful that it transcends their time together.  A curse is born of their love and the mistakes they make in their desperation to be together.  But it is Hester and her ancestors who must bear the burden of this curse throughout the years, and as the story unfolds, it becomes all too clear where everything went wrong for these ill-fated lovers.

I wanted to devour this book, but I made myself read it slowly, so that I might fully appreciate the gorgeous prose and breath-taking storytelling.  It was very much worth the delayed gratification, though I must admit that I gobbled the story at the end, too engrossed to properly digest it.  Such is usually the case with such an exquisite novel, but I didn’t mind reading the ending twice, especially when it was so poignant and heartrending.  It almost makes me wish there were more of the story to be had.  Almost.
"It was one of the reasons she was drawn to history in school:  there was such romance in listening to voices of the past."
I highly recommend Monstrous Beauty for anyone looking for a darker fairy tale, one riddled with secrets and ghosts and very dark deeds.  Or if you’re simply looking for a mermaid tale that doesn’t read like a Disney cartoon, this book might just be what you’re searching for.  And if you’d like to take a peak at the author’s writing and the world she has created, you can check out her short story, Men Who Wish to Drown, set in the same world as Monstrous Beauty.
Rating:  Photobucket


  1. I've heard mixed reviews on this one, but the way you describe it makes me want to pick it up immediately! Thanks for the review, it's been marked To-Read. :)

    1. Oh, I'm glad! I really enjoyed Monstrous Beauty, and though I'm no connoisseur of mermaid stories, it was definitely the most engaging one I've read. I hope you do get a chance to read it and that you love it, as well.

  2. I started this book but just couldn't finish it. Something just didn't click for me, but I'm glad you liked it. Great review!!! :)

    ~Emily@Emily's Crammed Bookshelf

    1. Aw, I'm sorry to hear that, Emily, but I guess every book isn't for everyone. Hope you'll give other mermaid books a try, though!

  3. Wow! You've sold me on this one with that review! I've read quite a few mermaid books this month but there's always time for one more! Adding to wishlist now :)

    1. I've got SOOOOO many mermaid books on my TBR right now, it's not even funny. But I definitely prefer the ones that lean toward the darker side. Glad to help you add another one to your TBR. ;0)

  4. I'm loving the idea of dark mermaid books. I listened to Lies Beneath and really liked it. I also just read Brides of Rollrock Island, which might make an interesting comparison to this one...

    1. Me, too! The darker, the better! I have a copy of Lies Beneath on my shelf but I haven't gotten to it yet. Glad to hear it's dark, too. :P I'd been toying with requesting Brides from NG, but I couldn't fit it into my reading schedule. :( I'll wait for your review, and if it's anything like MB was, I'll probably end up adding it to my collection, too.

  5. gr8 beautiful review . i cant wait for this book . i need it now . ^^

  6. I definitely want to read it, but I'll have to be in the right mood.

    Great review!

  7. ooh so you got fireworks huh, lol. I'm happy you enjoyed it cause that boosts my interest to check it out.


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