Review: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous Beauty

Synopsis from Good Reads:

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 very impatiently waited for this book to become available at the library and unfortunately found myself very underwhelmed by it. I was expecting an honest-to-goodness mermaid story, but it focused much more on land and ghosts and curses.

Hester was a likable enough character, but I just never connected with her. She meant well and worked hard to figure things out, but she often came off as immature and even a little stupid. This is perhaps not completely her fault, though. The story is told in alternate timelines, which is one of  my favorite styles, but it didn’t always flow well together here. As the reader, we make a lot of discoveries and connections in the 1800s timeline and Hester would make those same discoveries much later. Because of this, the pace felt off and the things that were big deals to Hester were already “been there, done that” for me.

I also didn’t care for the romance plotlines. Syrenka and Ezra had insta-love and so did Hester and Ezra (though I’m more ok with that since it goes along with the plot). There are hints of possible romance between Hester and her best friend Peter which are never resolved.

Overall, I found Monstrous Beauty disappointing. It did have an interesting premise and some original ideas, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting and the use of dual timelines did not work that well.

2 stars

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld – 2 stars (out of 5)


Synopsis from Good Reads:

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.
Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.


-As in a lot of books I have read lately, the narrative is told in alternating chapters of present and flashbacks. Although, in this book, it’s not actual flashbacks so much as Kate, the main character, retelling her past. I am generally a fan of this type of style, but some of the past events chapters seemed to drag on a little too long for me. I felt like the chapters could have been about half the length.

-The writing was very good. I just wish the story lived up to it. The pace was very slow and for most chapters, nothing really happened. Where Sittenfeld really excelled was the character development of Kate and to a lesser extent, her twin sister, Vi. The story is told by Kate’s 1st person POV and I felt a real emotional connection with her.

The rest of the review will contain SPOILERS. I just cannot explain my disappointment without them. You’ve been warned.

-I loved, loved, loved, Kate’s husband, Jeremy. He was sweet and loving and patient. He seemed too good to be true. Because he was so wonderful, I was sure he was going to end up breaking my heart by cheating on Kate with Courtney. Courtney and Hank are their best friends. Courtney is a professor at the same college as Jeremy and Hank is a stay-at-home-dad and spends most of his days with Kate and her kids. Their friendship with them divided between “professional” roles, rather than gender roles. And while I wasn’t concerned with Kate and Hank, Courtney just seemed like the type of  person who would initiate an affair.

-But Jeremy did not break my heart. It actually ended up being Kate, and because of how emotionally connected I felt with her, I felt just as betrayed by her as Jeremy did. It happened just once, when both Jeremy and Courtney were away at a conference. And there was no good reason for it. I never felt, in the preceding chapters, that their friendship was leading up to this. And neither did Kate. And afterwards they only spoke once and never again.

-It really wasn’t a surprise that she got pregnant and that the baby was Hank’s. She decided she wanted to have the baby and so she told Jeremy about what happened. After some thought, he decides he doesn’t want a divorce (he was a child of divorce himself), they have to move so Hank and Courtney will never find out, and they will claim Greek or Italian heritage to explain the babies darker skin (Hank is black and Kate and Jeremy are white).

-I basically spent the rest of the book hating Kate. And feeling sorry for Jeremy – and Hank who they never told about the baby. I think what I’m most mad about in the ending is that there was no closure about Kate and Jeremy’s marriage. I think he still loves her, but there’s nothing in the end, a couple of years later, that even hints that he’s forgiven her.

-The earthquake that Vi predicted never happened in St. Louis, so it felt like kind of a letdown. But through the experience Vi grew into an adult and I felt like she had a happy ending. And Sittenfeld didn’t let her be completely wrong about an earthquake. A few months later is when there was an earthquake in Haiti and later in Japan.

-Overall, the writing was great, the character development was strong, but the story really lacked for me. I would be interested in reading other books by Curtis Sittenfeld, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Sisterland.