Thalia @ Pictures in the Words

I'm Thalia! I run a book blog called Pictures in the Words and I hope to be an editor for YA fiction. I'm a GoodReads refugee!



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Monstrous Beauty (Review)

Monstrous Beauty - Elizabeth Fama

I’ll be honest—when I first started this book, I was less than thrilled. I was bored and kind of irritated with Hester because she just seemed to be one of those characters—cynical, pessimistic, and generally irritated. Maybe she has a right to be that way, but still—I wasn’t sold on her story. The other half of this book takes place outside the present day, in 1872—1873. It, too, was a little boring in the beginning, but there was something strangely haunting and interesting about Syrenka’s story and her desperate desire to be with Ezra. It kept me moving forward; it kept me engaged.


This is so much more than a story about mermaids. It’s about curses, it’s about passion, it’s about destructive jealously, and it’s about violently murdered spirits, unable to let go of the physical world. It felt like more of a ghost story than one about mermaids, but I was still sold once we got into the heart of the plot. I finally reached a point where I devoured every word and just wanted more (though, honestly, I still wasn’t sold on Hester—I don’t think I ever reached a point where I liked her, and the insta-love plot didn’t help). I wanted more of the writing, I wanted to know what would happen—I wanted to know where it all connected. And while I felt like the story would have been better if it had just focused on the historical plotline instead of the dual narration, I really did end up being satisfied at the end of the story (though I couldn’t discard my initial feelings). Either way, this definitely is not your average paranormal young adult book.


What I Liked: Spoilers!

  • I think I must be sick and twisted, but the way Fama writes the really nitty gritty stuff is what sold me the most on this book. When various characters in this book met their torturous ends, it was strangely intense. I was morbidly hooked when Syrenka became human by ripping out the lungs of the man who raped her, and eating them to give her mortal life. The writing that describes these scenes is not the same the rest of it—the parts that I thought were boring were inherently different from the raw, undecorated bits that created these other parts of the story. The parts that both haunted and fascinated me. I’m not a squeamish person, but I must admit, sometimes I couldn’t help but cringe. Ghost stories with dark twists are one of my weaknesses, and this book ended up providing that, though I didn’t expect it. Once the plot hooked onto the ghosts and how to help them and everything that needed to be done there, I was more than sold—I wanted to keep reading until the very end, no matter how long it took or how late it got. It made me want to really fall in love with the whole thing.


What I Didn’t Like:

  • While the prologue interested me, as soon as we came to Hester’s narration, I felt so bored that I honestly wondered if I would be able to get through this book. It’s not that I thought the writing was bad or anything, but I was just so uninterested. Hester immediately came off as one of those characters, as I described earlier, and nothing about her made me want to keep reading. This is the real sticking point with dual narrations, as well. The pacing it totally skewed because the author has to take twice as long to establish the story when it keeps switching off every chapter. It takes twice as long to tell it, and while it might come together in the end to make something interesting (as it did here), it doesn’t make the beginning any more bearable. I eventually grew more intrigued by Syrenka’s story, but I never honestly warmed up to Hester or her part in things, other than the fact that she was the lens through which I was able to see the results of Syrenka’s life. And I was really unhappy that that’s all the main character ended up being to me. (Especially since she convinced herself it was okay to do things like being cruel to her best friend, stealing from the library, and then combining those two things together by stealing something from a museum that belonged to her best friend’s family.)


  • There was instalove all over the place in this book. It happened first in the prologue with Syrenka and the man she admired from afar—Pukanokick. (I guess with that one she had watched him for a year before, but still—she fell in love with a man she only ever saw at the beach and had never spoken to.) Then it continued with Syrenka and Ezra—some time spent in a boat and whatnot I guess really teaches how about a person? Then finally, the most unbearable of them all—Hester and Ezra. Okay—I get that she’s supposed to be the spirit of Syrenka, so it would make sense that she fell in love with Ezra. But I mean, really? That whole “physical pull to go to him”, “can’t even explain how much I love him” stuff is just…ehhh. I was rooting for poor Peter, the family friend, the whole time because Hester did have a crush on him in the beginning and it’s pretty obvious that he likes her, too—and I thought for sure when Needa heard Hester calling Peter’s name when she was unconscious and put his name on her palm to remind her of her life on land, that would be Hester’s wake up call that she really loved Peter and not Ezra, whom she really had just met. But no dice. I just couldn’t swallow it and it kind of tainted how I felt about the climax of the novel, since it pretty much surrounded Hester and Ezra’s relationship. (He honestly wanted to stay a ghost and be with her rather than die and be reunited with his actual wife?) And that doesn’t even address the fact that Ezra was at least twenty-two and Hester was seventeen. That didn’t quite sit well with me, either.


Overall: This book really did have its pros and cons, and I would definitely pick up another novel by Fama in the future based on that writing that really drew me in. I think if you’re looking more for a ghost story rather than something about mermaids, you should look into this—especially if you’re like me and you like nitty gritty ghost stories with tragic endings and dark curses. There was very little graphic content, though I must warn about a fairly graphic rape scene, and there was some language that bothered me. For those reasons, I would probably recommend it for mature fifteen-year-olds and older. While this book wasn’t my cup of tea completely, I really did enjoy the latter half and I would, overall, call it a successful read.