Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama Review

Monstrous Beauty

by Elizabeth Fama
Goodreads Summary:
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.

I so wanted to love this book. I had really high expectations going in and maybe that's why I feel so let down after reading it.  It felt like I was reading two separate books, one really well written and one that I could barely follow and that felt rushed. Monstrous Beauty is written in two parts the present and the past, the 1870's in alternating chapters.  I completely understood what was going on in the past, everything followed a straight line and made perfect sense. Ezra Doyle, a bookish type who wanted to go to college rather than run the family shipping business came home from college to be with his dying father. While mourning his father's death, he occupied his time by drawing pictures of the abundant sea life on the Massachusetts shore. And there, he met and fell in love with a mermaid.  A lot happens after that to make the present day story happen.

Now, I realize if the story had been told completely in the past and then told completely in the present it might have lacked the suspense it did, but as it was, it was hard to believe that Hester could fall in love with a man she didn't know. Feel the force of an anger she felt towards him when she didn't know him and then suddenly feel this pull towards him that she couldn't deny. And with all the people that were intermarried and connected I had to draw a family tree to see who was who and if the boy that was in love with Hester wasn't a cousin or something. And then, there was that. Why have him be a love interest at all? She didn't return his feelings at all so why not just have him be a good friend or a best friend? He didn't need to be the unrequited love, it just didn't fit. I will say though, that towards the end of the book or the last third, by the time Hester is starting to put things together, the book seemed to gel or become more cohesive. It just felt like that first part of the book was too rushed and implausible.

And then there's the characters. I easily liked the characters from the 1870's and felt I knew them well enough to get a feeling about them, at least, Sarah and Ezra. But I didn't like Hester at all. Not a bit. And when you can't connect with the main character, it makes it hard to connect to the story. In the end, she was noble and I liked her then, but I spent most of the book not liking her. Peter was such a side character I really didn't get to know him at all and there was Sam, her brother. At one point I had to go back and figure out who he was because there was so little mention of him.

In all, this wasn't the best of the mermaid stories I've read this year. The mermaids are definitely scary and the type you want to avoid. If you like them more shark like and deadly, then this is your mermaid story. They are very non-human like. And very violent. And if you can get through the first shaky part of the story, then the rest of it is a decidedly different take on the mermaid lore.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley for review purposes. I was not compensated for my review. The opinions in this review are my own.



  1. *sigh* too bad really :( But Jenny also wasn't too excited about this book so I am totally going to pass on this!

  2. I had no idea this was on Netgalley. I must've been knoced out or something. ;) Thanks for letting me know about the two parts and time periods. That would have confused me. Still I'm curious about the dark aspect so I'm going to give this one a whirl.

  3. Yeah, it is too bad, but it wasn't the book I thought it would be. I've seen some people give it really high marks, but I feel like they must have read a different book because I didn't see what they were talking about. Beautiful writing, no, not there for me.

    1. No, we did read the same book. It's ok to have lots of different opinions out there on the same book. For instance, you didn't like the two separate stories in one, while it was something I really enjoyed.

  4. Perhaps I liked it better because I didn't see Ezra as the love interest. He was the obsession and I could tell that Hester had some sort of connection (I was thinking descended from) Syrenka. The mythology really went back to the old stories and that is what I appreciated. This is why it's great to get more than one opinion. What one person liked, the other does not. :) I hope you get a home run book for you next. :D

  5. Well, the Hester/Ezra thing was believable in this world because Hester wasn't exactly who she seemed. The core of her knew a lot more. I don't know how else to say it without completely giving it away.

    I also felt like it was two books woven into one but I liked how it was done. I really wish you would have liked it more, but it's good to know a lot of different opinions and I know you're not the only one who was disappointed.

  6. The family genealogy was a bit confusing and it worried me about Peter and Hester too, but it turned out they weren't distantly related. Whew!

  7. Sorry to hear you didn't like it. I however loved this book! I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one. That is the beauty of books I guess.

  8. Mermaid books always intrigue me since I've had such a love of The Little Mermaid since I was a kid. All the different opinions make me want to give this one a chance.

  9. Bummer - this was one I wasn't sure about and hadn't picked up yet. I think it will stay on the back burner. Thanks for the honesty.

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  10. Man, I loved this book. LOL That's one of the things I love the most about reading: that two people can read the same book and have a completely different "feel" for it.

    Have you read Sweet Shadows yet? I need to order it for my Kindle to see what happens!


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