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The Ninja Reader

High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.

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Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self
Laura Martocci
Monstrous Beauty - Elizabeth Fama Hester Goodwin is like any other teenage girl - she goes to school, she crushes on her best friend, she works weekends and summers at the Pilgrim village at her local community. However, the women in her family have suffered from a strange affliction: they all die within a few days of giving birth to a child. The idea that she might find love only to die scares Hester so badly that she decides she doesn't want to have a relationship, ever, but then she meets the odd, handsome Ezra, who encourages her to look into her family history for the origin of this curse.And it is a strange origin, going back all the way to 1872 where a naturologist and a mermaid fall in love, leading her to seek life on land. But merfolk and men were not meant to mingle, and the consequences of their decisions leads to a tragic end.Monstrous Beauty starts off slow, builds up raplidly and finishes on such a breathless note that it had me glued to my chair and reading until near midnight. From the outset, it looks like any other YA book - inexplicable attractions and all - but it soon takes a turn for the dark and macabre. The narrative alternates between modern day Plymouth and 1872-1873, and follows both Hester and the mermaid Syrenka, until their stories meet and entwine to a really satisfying conclusion.Now, I have to say, I looked forward to Syrenka's chapters a lot more than I did for Hester's (even if her name translates to something less scary or exotic in Bulgarian). She, along with most of the characters in those segments, is very well fleshed out, three dimentional, and heartbreaking. Her story unravels constantly to new and tragic ends, which really made my heart go out to her. That is not to say the story is perfect, though. There are quite a lot of small things that made me pause, but there are only a couple of them that I felt could have been handled better.I said that the book starts off slow, and part of the reason why is because I didn't get much of a feel for Hester as a character. Compared to Syrenka's, her segments (and the characters in them) are underdeveloped, and I never could buy her motivation. Yeah, okay, the women in her family often die after giving birth, but she's a teenage girl. I can't believe she would just think she's doomed if she falls in love, not without at least challenging the assumption.But as the book progresses, Hester becomes a really cool character too. Once she realizes that somethings is up and shit got real, she puts on her big girl pants and does what she has to do. Refreshingly enough, she needs no help to do it either. Yes, her motivation is a guy, but the guy is absolutely helpless and she has to deal with every obstacle by herself, and I think she emerges as a stronger character from it. As for the other problem, it involves Syrenka. To become human and have a soul, she must give birth to a human child and eat a human's lungs. She gets captured by a drunk fisherman who rapes her, and then, when he regrets it and cuts her free, she kills him. Now, in the grand scheme of things, this only contributes further to the story, but Syrenka is never seen having any conflicted feelings about her child, she loves her unconditionally. Again, it's possible, but there is no struggle there, no conflict. It ignores the violence that happened to Syrenka, and what effect it had on her, as if to say that no matter what, children are sacred.In fact, the whole novel seems to have pretty strong religious undertones to it, but it's certainly not preachy, and it adds, rather than takes away, to the overall story. So yeah... to put it as simply as I can, this is actually a good mermaid book. I recommend it.Note: A copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.