My Thoughts On: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Posted February 9, 2012 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 41 Comments

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama 
Published by
 Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR 
Publish Date:  September 4, 2012 
295 Pages
Source:  Borrowed

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.  -(summary from 

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

My Thoughts:  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 somehow it 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 of 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 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.   


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


41 responses to “My Thoughts On: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

  1. OMG! Dude, you just totally killed me with your review *gapes* I borrow an ARC from a blogger friend recently, but just didn't have to pick it up yet ;/ I feel like I want to drop everything and just sink my teeth in it, like. RIGHT. AWAY.

    What a fabulous review! Loved it!!! Thanks~!

  2. YAY!!!! I'm so excited for this book, I was hoping it was going to be amazing and clearly it is:) I'm loving that we're getting more mermaid stories, I've only read one and now there starting to become the new trend. You've got me dying to get my hands on this one now, gorgeous review Asheley!

    • Jenny! You. Are Going. To Love. This Story.
      Trust me.
      It's so well done, so amazing. I wish I had my own copy instead of having to borrow one so I could read it again closer to the release date…at any rate, it is SO GOOD.

  3. This sounds absolutely wonderful! Gah! I was trying to figure out all of the twists and such from your synopsis and I think I have at least one, but I so want to read it for myself and see it all unfold.

    Great review. 😀

  4. Thanks for this review. I'm putting Monstrous Beauty on my to-read list and sending a link to this post to a friend who I think will also enjoy the book.

  5. why must you tempt me so, with these mermaid books! lol.

    I'll be starting those other ones in about three weeks as soon as I get my kindle.. yay. 🙂

    but this one, I will have to buy this one.. the cover is gorgeous.. And well, you know my obsession for mermaids. I love the disney variety as well, but I love different takes on them. I like different takes on all kinds of mythical creatures. I just added this to my amazon wish list. Wow, that's a long wait.. Im sure it will be worth it.

  6. I like when you do extremely early blog posts! No, really, I do. To me, it's helpful in deciding whether or not to accept or request a review copy based on what others say. That's bizarre but true.

    And while I think mermaids are stupid, your review kind of convinces me that Monstrous Beauty does NOT in fact look stupid. ALSO I like ghosts and mystery. AND while my TBR is out of control, you have a way of convincing me to add just one more.

    • The early (and very early) blog posts are a fine line…too early and the risk is having people forget the book. HOWEVER, there is also the possibility of planting the seed or better yet, having someone head on over and putting it on their TBR if they want to read it…which is what I'm hoping for. I just love getting excited about a book I like and having other people get excited too.

      While the cover has only the mermaid on it, there is WAY more to this one than just mermaids. It was really hard to write this post because the plot was so well-conceived and so well-done. I struggle with what I feel are adequate words sometimes, particularly when I know mine are some of the first ones out there.

  7. I love your blog! Your reading challenge is awesome – 150 books in 2012. I will definitely have to bookmark this site for recommendations since we seem to like the same types of books. I just finished The Knife of Never Letting Go and Jellicoe Road… currently reading The Night Circus, and Cinder is next in the queue. I will have to add "Monstrous Beauty" to the list when it comes out!

    • Wow, it sounds like we're definitely book twins. The Chaos Walking books are pretty much my favorites…they're up there with the His Dark Materials trilogy for the top spot. And Jellicoe Road is brilliant, no? The Night Circus was my favorite of last year and Cinder was such a fun mash-up of all kinds of genres.

      You must add Monstrous Beauty to your list! It is fabulous. Simply astonishing how well-written it is, blending all kinds of genres with ghosts and mermaids…so so good.

      Also, nice to meet you! 🙂

    • It's nice meeting you as well – I love finding good resources for books. (And agreed- His Dark Materials is another awesome trilogy). This year I've been trying to blog more frequently about my latest reads, but obviously I'm nowhere near your quota 🙂 I look forward to reading more reviews!

  8. I'm so glad to hear this one was great! It's on my TBR, but I still wasn't too sure, so it was going to be a long while before I got around to it, but you've moved it up on my list now :]

  9. I love the detail you provide in this review! It gave me a very good idea what it is about and whether I'll like it without spoiling too much.

  10. Christina K.

    The dual timeline and darker tone is perfect! I think this is a completely unique take on the mer:)

    Great review:)

  11. Ems

    You know, pretty much every time I visit your blog, my TBR list grows! I love that. It's one of my favorite things about you. 🙂

    Definitely adding this one, after reading your review, your tour stop post from Elizabeth, and seeing the pictures that she posted on The Midnight Garden. It's too good to pass up! Definitely going at the top of the TBR list.

  12. Holy crap, I'm sold. How did I miss this review back in February? *slaps forehead* I don't usually do mermaid books but the whole "mashing up of genres" thing and the "dark, delicious and lovely" sentiments have caused me to reevaluate this decision. (And Fama's guest post really sealed the deal:)

    Can't wait to experience this one now Asheley. Thank you!

  13. I am so excited to read this!! I have had the ARC from Netgalley for ages and I have had a ban so I can get through ALL THE LIBRARY BOOKS!! I have 5 more to go and then its NG and BEA book time! I think this is going to be my first read!! I have been seriously underwhelmed (and vastly disappointed) in mermaid books lately so I am glad that I have heard such good things about this!!

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