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review 2016-02-26 00:00
Monstrous Beauty
Monstrous Beauty - Elizabeth Fama TW: Rape. It’s a hard to read myth perpetuating depiction (stranger overcome with uncontrollable lust with lots of victim blaming), which permeates the entire story. It’s necessary to the plot as surprise twist, to make other attractions non-icky and show how the victim suffered then sacrificed to get what she wanted like a superhero rape backstory.


Recommended: Mermaid, mythology, YA fans. Well-written and dark tastes recommended that’s not dumbed down by assuming teenagers can or should only read twee melodramas and can’t handle mature subject matter. It’s better if you don’t think about it much and enjoy the ride for what it is: a haunting, gripping tale beautifully told with possibly ship-wrecking blights.

Pros

Well written and atmospheric
Returns to classic mermaid mythology
Dark & twisted
Solid, compelling characters
Engaging Story

Cons

Plot Holes
Mystery killing blurb
Foresaw most events
Awful depiction of rape


I don’t remember the first time Monstrous Beauty wound up on my radar though it’s been extremely well spread and hyped. I do remember lots of “this is the mermaid book I’ve been looking for” and similar praise. I can’t say the same but this dark, twisted YA tale is certainly right up my alley.

For me, mermaids have always been beautiful and dangerous so I’ve been looking for something fresh like moving past the gorgeous white girl top half and whale tail. Really, Monstrous Beauty returns to classic mermaid mythology everyone’s seemingly forgotten after Disney’s Little Mermaid.

However, I’ll certainly never forget meeting the awesome Mickey from Book Sharks when she gave it to me in a big bag of books to clear off her to-read shelf. Thank you again.

Ideally, I’d have read it right then and reviewed it right away. Alas, ‘twas not meant to be. Monstrous Beauty was waiting to be read on my shelf for so long, I’d forgotten what it’s supposed to be about. This worked out for because it added mystery, which the blurb completely kills with its first words: In 1872.

Without knowing the date, it’s a rather surreal experience wondering where they cross and collide that I thoroughly enjoyed. So I’ve no idea how it reads while knowing that beforehand. It may be a story killer because I was able to piece things together before Hester throughout the entire story anyways.

As gripping as the story is, it’s not without faults. There’s several plot holes noticeable while reading. For instance, why would anyone assume their child is dead when there’s clearly another option, which they were worried about just a second ago? I’m sorry but how does that make sense? This isn’t the only occasion of such gaps either.

Beyond that, at round the halfway mark there’s mind-boggling action via domino effect straight out of Hamlet. My first thought was that someone pissed off the DM badly to get the party wiped (lol), which I doubt was the intended reaction. It just came off as so outrageous yet I couldn’t look away.

Characters are sensational despite their awkward lapses described above. I really enjoyed their point of view, especially Hester’s and found them compelling. It’s so well-written and atmospheric; I couldn’t help but overlook the immersion breaking moments and breathlessly continue when that’s usually a deal breaker. It’s rhythmic, beautiful and haunting. I fully enjoyed it even though most turn of events were obvious; it’s all about the journey.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-08-08 04:29
The RITA Award Finalists
Boys Like You - Juliana Stone
Run to You Part One: First Sight - Clara Kensie
Some Boys - Patty Blount
Plus One - Elizabeth Fama

The RITA Awards. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) has a young-adult category for its annual RITA and Golden Heart awards, and this year I decided to read the four finalists. I was curious to see what the RWA honored in romantic YA literature. Disclosure: I haven't read romance novels since I was a teen, and my only experience back then was with Harlequin Romances--the slim variety near the grocery store check-out. So I'm not terribly qualified to discuss romance novels, but I do know something about YA literature.

 

The rules. I first looked up the policy and procedures of the RITA award.

 

1. "All entries must contain a central love story, and the resolution of the romance must be emotionally satisfying and optimistic."

 

2. In addition, the YA category includes: "Novels in which young-adult life is an integral part of the plot."

  

Oops, I already disagree. The resolution of the romance has to be "emotionally satisfying and optimistic?" This means that romance, as the RWA defines it, must include a happily-ever-after, when in fact some of the most romantic books of all time are sad or bittersweet. What about Anna Karenina? Gone With the Wind? Love Story? I guess the RWA would classify those as "women's fiction," and not romance.

 

Anyway, accepting the rules as given, let's proceed.

 

(***Note: the following reviews assume that you've read the book.***)

 

The winner: Boys Like You, by Juliana Stone (Sourcebooks Fire).

 

I think I see why this book won. It's the most romance-novel like of the group if you follow the "central focus" and "happily ever after" criteria listed in the rules. Monroe is broken, and has had suicidal thoughts in the past, after the death of her little brother (of asthma) on her watch, when she took him to the park to play and then fell asleep. Now she's just a bit dead inside--full of regret and unable to move on. She visits her refined grandmother in Louisiana, who wants Monroe to open up to her and see joy in life again. A boy named Nate begins working at the grandmother's house, and it turns out he is also broken: he was driving drunk and was responsible for the head injury of his best friend, Trevor, who is now in a coma. Nate hates himself, knows that Trevor's family hates him, and has stopped playing music (he and Trevor were in a band together). Monroe's grandmother turns out to have a bit of a secret agenda: to get these two damaged souls to "save" each other (she uses different language...perhaps "catch," from falling). That is, in fact, what happens--Monroe and Nate teach each other how to forgive themselves. I appreciate that the two co-protagonists support each other, but in YA, in my opinion, romance and love should be separate from self-forgiveness and finding meaning in life after tragedy. This novel veers close to the message that love cures all serious problems. Trevor even comes out of his coma at the end, despite being near death with his organs failing three quarters of the way through the novel. With his recovery and Monroe and Nate's nearly marital-like commitment to each other over a 1300-mile distance (Monroe goes back home to high school in New York City), Ms. Stone has definitely got "optimistic" covered.

 

Run to You by Clara Kensie (Harlequin Teen).

 

This book was possibly the most stereotypically romance-novel-like in terms of the nuts and bolts of the writing: the love interest physically carries the heroine more than once (seriously, this is what I remember from romance novels...so much carrying, which feels oddly patriarchal and women-as-property to me); he professes his desire to "protect" her; he kisses her even though she resists; he tells other people to leave her alone, even though he won't leave when she asks. This book is technically a paranormal novel, though it reads very much like a contemporary. Tessa Carson's family has paranormal abilities (all but Tessa, they think) and they're being hunted by a Bad Guy named Dennis Connelly, who wants to kill them because (the children believe) the Carson parents exposed the corruption of important politicians. The Carsons move from city to city, changing their identities, with the three children going to successive schools but never staying long. The Carson parents are loving and protective. Tessa won't allow herself to get close to anyone until she meets Tristan, another new boy at school. This book had a deal-killer in it for me. Tessa's parents turn out to be the real Bad Guys--murdering bad guys--mid-way through the book (which is not a terrible twist in and of itself). But in the final pages, Tessa (who discovers that she can see the past by touching people and objects) finds out that her mother was sexually molested by her own father as a girl, and the grandfather was the first person her mom had killed, in what turned out to be a lifetime of extortion and ruthless, cold-hearted serial killing. I think Ms. Kensie intended to make the mom a wounded character, but in my YA world, rape shouldn't be introduced without dealing with it in the text, and it's especially disastrous to imply, whether you mean to or not, that one way to become a killer is to be raped, or that being raped makes you a killer. I thought that plot point was a deal-killer for an award, and yet, while it didn't win the YA division, Run to You won the "Best First Book" RITA.

 

Of the four books, this one also had the most ordinary writing:

 

Repeated words:

"Without using his PK [psychokinesis], Logan opened the door and went inside without another word."

 

Repeated phrases:

"My hand fluttered to my belly." [This happened at least ten times. She has scars on her stomach from an alleged attack by the Bad Guy when she was a child.]

 

Comma splices:

"Licked my lips, swallowed." [This sentence shows up several times, and is also missing a subject.] 

 

Dull metaphors:

"He grinned, and just like that, the awkwardness between us melted like ice in the sun."

"My face became hotter than the oven."

 

Awkward descriptions: 

 "I glared at him for a full minute before returning to the binder." [Seriously, authors, try glaring at a clock for a full minute. It's longer than you think.]

 "[Tristan] smelled of soap and masculinity."

 

And as mentioned, there's the "protective" boyfriend, so ubiquitous in romance novels, but always verging on creepy: 

"...all I wanted to do was make that scared, sad look in your eyes go away."

"I promise, whatever it is, I'll keep you safe."

"I'll do anything for you, Tessa. Except for one thing. I. Will. Not. Leave. You."

 

Some Boys by Patty Blount (Sourcebooks Fire)

 

Well, phew, this one has the opposite message of the winner, in that the main character "saves herself," without being saved by love. In terms of the RWA rules, this book (and the last finalist, Plus One by Elizabeth Fama) doesn't quite fit the romance mold. As with many YA novels that include love stories, the romance is an integral part of the story, but the character's personal conflict or struggle is the most important part. In Some Boys, Grace has been raped by the school's golden boy, Zac, a star Lacrosse player, and her peers (even her best friends) ostracize her for what they think is her false accusation. Zac has uploaded a video of the encounter to a social media site, and in it, Grace is moaning--interpreted by all as enjoying herself. Everyone calls her a slut and bullies her. Zac and his friends try to intimidate her. The treatment she receives from her classmates is really brutal, but Grace is determined not to hide. She continues to dress provocatively-Goth, the way she has since 8th grade, and never backs down from a vocal claim that Zac raped her. It's palpable how hard this is for her to do, but with her mom's support, she continues to stand her ground. When she and Ian, Zac's close friend, are assigned to clean lockers over the break (both for bad behavior), they slowly develop a friendship. Grace begins to trust Ian, but Ian is confused by his allegiance to Zac, and what he thinks is the ambiguous nature of what happened between Grace and Zac. My only objection to the novel is how "clean" the resolution is. Ian discovers that Zac has a second video on his phone--a longer one that clearly shows that Grace is drunk and sick and saying no--and Ian is brave enough to show this second video to the authorities. Some of the power of the story is diminished by this too-handy plot device, and by Zac's violent outburst at Ian, sending him to the hospital (which in itself is enough to get him in trouble with the law). But by and large, the story is a strong one, with an admirable protagonist.  

 

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers)

 

This book is truly "odd man out" among the four: like Some Boys, it's not primarily a romance, but it also has a seriously bittersweet (verging on sad) ending. The only person who would think this book has an "emotionally satisfying resolution" is probably me--I feel utter satisfaction with open endings and characters who don't get what they want, even after their heroic efforts; because that's life, my friends. There's hope at the end of Plus One, but it's the kind of hope that looks like loss--the kind that comes from knowing you did the right thing, and hoping the gods will reimburse you someday. In fact, it's a Casablanca, hill-of-beans ending ("I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world"). Sol LeCoeur is a wounded, raw character at the beginning of the novel. She lives in a society divided into Day and Night, with mandatory curfews. She is a Night girl, and her brother has been transferred to Day. Sol doesn't want to save the world, she wants something crazier and simpler: to kidnap her brother's newborn daughter for an hour so that her grandfather can hold the baby before he dies. But Sol makes a mistake and kidnaps the wrong baby, an important baby, and accidentally drags a Day boy (the medical apprentice who treated her) on her run from the law. That's where the romance comes in--you can't get more star-crossed than a Day boy and a Night girl. But the book itself is--as its dust jacket says--"a drama of individual liberty and civil rights."

 

In sum. The two books I enjoyed the most in this year's slate of RITA finalists--Some Boys and Plus One--only loosely adhered to the definition of "romance" stated in the RWA rules. But it's no surprise to me that I favored those two. For me, a love story is even more swoon-worthy if the conflict, plot, characterization, setting, voice, and lyricism are all in place, too. 

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text 2015-04-04 00:29
Library!!!
Hunger - Michael Grant
Bad Connection - Melody Carlson
Plus One - Elizabeth Fama
Kill Me Softly - Sarah Cross
The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater
Reached - Ally Condie
The Lying Game - Sara Shepard
Under The Never Sky - Veronica Rossi
How To Fall - Jane Casey

I just got back from my town's public library and I came back with a ton of books!!!!! I'm so happy and I can't wait to read all of these! I think I linked the books onto the post so you should be able to see the titles but if not just comment or whatever you do on this website cause this is my first time so I have no idea how this website works really..... Oops..... Anyways gonna go read now! :)

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text 2015-03-22 17:34
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Plus One - Elizabeth Fama

I really try to finish every book I pick up. But at the end of the day, life is too short to read bad books. I feel like there are so many books that I want to read that I'll never come close to finishing them. So why waste times on one that don't appeal to you?

 

I'm sure there are many people out there that enjoy this book. The cover is gorgeous. The concept of a society divided into day citizens and night citizens is an interesting one.

 

However, I didn't feel any sort of connection with any of the characters. Sol has a very juvenile view of just about everything and I'm just too old to relate to that. I read plenty of characters her age who are intelligent and thorough in their planning. She has these general big ideas with no consideration for the details. She has no real idea how she's going to accomplish anything.

 

Her entire relationships with both her grandfather and brother are revealed through flashbacks for at least the first 40% of the book. I didn't have any sort of feelings toward either of them, not even curiosity. I didn't care about them. I didn't care about Sol. I didn't care about the baby.

 

D'Arcy was annoying. I didn't think he was physically described as being attractive, but then she made reference to finding him attractive. Her description of his features was not at all flattering. Those sort of inconsistencies happened so many times in he section of this book that I made it through.

 

I think this book is another example of an author taking a good concept and trying to make it overly complicated. I really wanted to read this and like it because it's a stand alone and there are just so many series out there. But this was a waste of time.

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review 2015-02-19 00:51
Monstrous Beauty
Monstrous Beauty - Elizabeth Fama

For a mermaid novel this is quite a ghost story. When you pick up a YA novel about a love between a human and a mermaid you expect something a bit twee, but this is a brutal story with some real gut wrenching scenes of violence and sacrifice. I hesitate to describe much of the plot because I knew nothing about the story when I started it and enjoyed the unexpected turns. Enough to say it is about a young woman who works as a pilgrim reenactor in Plymouth and literally lives half her life in a world of ghosts.

 

I listened to the audio of this because I heard the narrator perform a selection from it a library conference a few years back. Katherine Kellgren does an amazing job on this performance and I highly recommend the audio version.

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