Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review: Monstrous Beauty

Author: Elizabeth Fama
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Pages: 295
Read it in: 3 days
Source: ARC from the Publisher

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.

LC's Take:

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!

~Cover Talk~

So there are actually two covers I want to look at and compare-- the first one is from the ARC, which is the version I have, and the second is the final cover chosen for the published edition:

OK, so to the left we have the ARC cover version-- this is the one that I have. Honestly, of the two, I like the original cover art the best. Yes, I know, there are tons of YA covers with gorgeous girls on the front but I just think this one is so elegant and eye-catching. It isn't as colorful, but I sort of like that the colors are more drab and muted, because the story's setting is dark and gloomy too.

Don't get me wrong-- the published edition cover is also beautiful! I love the bright blue-green colors in Syrenka's tail fin, and it also does the story justice by coming across as being dark and mysterious. However, between the two, I personally prefer the ARC edition-- which cover is your favorite?? :)

Interested? Hear an Audio-clip from Monstrous Beauty Here!

LC's Rating:
 photo 5star-1.png
Amazing characters and a supernatural story that takes place across two centuries made this an absolute must-read-- I could NOT put it down! Creepy, mysterious, romantic, suspenseful-- all of these things describe Monstrous Beauty. It was unique and completely unlike other YA, you will NOT be disappointed!

Check It Out!


  1. Great now i have à new book in my wish list. Thanks to you Lea

  2. Good characters are everything! You may have convinced me to give the YA genre another chance ;). I agree with you about the cover. The first one is better.

    1. This one is definitely on the more mature side of YA, so you just might end up liking it! :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I will definitely add this on my books to read. I feel you when you talked about YA books getting more and more disappointing. I am happy you have given me something to look forward to :)

    I love the published cover better, by the way :)

    1. Oh yes, both covers are really lovely! And after reading some real duds (UGH Tiger's Curse in my opinion was just Gawd-awful) this one was like a ray of bookish sunshine haha ;)

  4. Okay. I should definitely read this one. I have been putting it off for far too long.

    Great review!

    1. If you haven't read a good mermaid book in awhile (personally, I really like mermaid books but I know a lot of people don't) I would give this one a try because it is totally different than so many other YA books in this genre-- much darker and edgy! :)

  5. I loved this book too, Lea. I thought it was so well-written and utterly captivating. I am glad you thought so too. I wasn't a huge fan of Hester but I loved Syrenka.

    About the covers? To be honest, I kind of disliked them both. The only reason I read this was because Wendy Darling told me to. I'm glad I did because it was fantastic. Most mermaid books are tacky and awful but not this one!

    1. Well after having to suffer through 400+ pages of Kelsey Hayes from Tiger's Curse (yep I'm still b*tching about THAT one) I think ANY YA female protag would have gotten raving reviews, but yeah I did like her history-nerdiness :)Syrenka was bad-ass and awesome.

      Isn't it funny how some covers you love and the story just stinks and other covers you wouldn't even bother looking twice at but the story is amazing?? Thank god we have book bloggers :)

  6. I really have been putting this book off because of something the author threw a fit about on her website/blog at one point. I guess I should get over what she said and just read this book already. I like the idea that the author didn't let the sex just fade to the background like so many YA authors do.

    Thanks for the great review, I'm glad you enjoyed this one! :)

  7. I'm so glad you loved this, LC! I totally agree, the world-building was spectacular. Although I got frustrated with Hester sometimes, I liked her too, so I'm always surprised when people say they didn't! (We spent more time with Syrenka, so I connected with her more, but Hester was great too, especially towards the end.)

    I'm with you on the covers. I like the updated cover, but if I had to choose between them, I still like the original ARC more! I'm guessing the colors appeal to more of a mass audience? Fortunately I have both and don't have to choose, hah.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. YAY!! I know, I was literally smiling as I read this book, just like "THANK YOU FINALLY!!" haha, a YA book that isn't cheesy as all get-out! There ARE tons of really good YA's out there, but I feel like I've been on a losing streak lately (well, I did read the last book in Lauren Kate's Fallen series, so I know I was asking for it with that one lol).

      Syrenka was definitely the stronger of the two, but yes I did like them both... the covers I think are both beautiful but I'm really happy I got the ARC version for myself :)

  8. I am so excited to see this review because I JUST received the audiobook to review today. I have never done the audio book thing before so this is pretty cool for me to see how much you enjoyed it.
    I have never read a mermaid story before. I am tad nervous because it is new for me. I am used to vampires, zombies, etc.
    I listened to the little audio blurb you included and I adored the narrators voice.
    I hope I love this as much as you and others did.
    Thanks for the awesome review :)

  9. I have never heard of this book before, but it looks really good! I agree with you, I also prefer the original cover. Brilliant review!

  10. I have never been a huge fan of mermaid books but this one sounds intriguing!! The characters and world-building in this sounds great!

    A wonderful review! I'm definitely putting this on my TBR pile.

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  12. Hi Lea, I'm italian book blogger and I love your blog!!! Review and design of blog are very pretty!!! A wonderful plase!!! Kisses from Italy

  13. OMG, I've read this book about a year ago and I can't believe I still haven't reviewed it.. I seriously LOVED it so much, too! Glad to hear we feel the same about it, Lea! I thought it was awesome creepy and atmospheric, so deliciously dark! I loved how the story combined mermaids with ghosts - that was so unique! Not to mention that I absolutely love ghost stories! I also love the original cover much better, I was a huge fan of the brown/grey colors and thought the girl on the cover was gorgeous. I'm very sad that they changed the design, as I don't actually own an ARC copy of it (I borrowed it from Wendy).

    Fabulous review as always, sweets! Always love to hear your thoughts on books! :) <3
    Evie @Bookish



    XX http://rorolovesbeauty.blogspot.com/

  15. I have to admit that I'm a bit wary of the YA genre. While I have read some amazing YA books, I've also read a lot of 'meh' books (not terrible, but nothing special either). From this review I think I might try 'Monstrous Beauty'. And personally I love the original cover - I know you're not supposed to pick a book by the cover and all that, but if I saw these two in a shop, it's the first that I would pick up.

    Just come across your blog and really enjoy your unique style.


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