Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's here!

The new website for Red Hot Eyebrows is up and running like a well-oiled machine.  Caren's husband, Andrew, is a graphic designer and he got the site all prettied up and easy to use.  I added some content, like what it's all about, who Caren and I are, and how to contact us.  All the posts on this blog are also on the new site, so you won't have a need to come back to here unless you're feeling nostalgic or something.  I've been adding some new reviews on the site and we've got our very first ever video co-review at the top!  I've been trying to think of a clever name for it, like a co-view.  Or a co-review-you-can-view.  Hmm, that still needs work.

In case you didn't see the link above, the new site address is  You can also find us on Facebook by searching for Red Hot Eyebrows and hitting "like" to get more frequent updates on books and stuff.  I might be bringing my twitter feed back to life one of these days, but don't get your hopes up.  Anyway, come on over!  Catch up on what we've been reading!  We've got our Best and Worst of 2010 List in the works!  Soon we'll have prizes and whatnot!  I couldn't be more excited!  I'm using lots of exclamation points!!!  That should be reason enough, right there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Big Move

Hey readers, we've got some news.  RHE will soon be moving to a new site!  There will be more bells, some whistles and possibly a firecracker or two.  For now, I'm tweaking it and getting it ready for the Grand Unveiling and writing a review or two to stay caught up.  My reading is far out-pacing my writing right now, but I should be all caught up for the Big Day.  Notice lots of capital letters?  That's because RHE is going to be one amazing site when we're done with it.  One might say it'll be Turbo Awesome.  I might be exaggerating a bit, but I'm prone to enthusiastic exaggeration when I'm excited.  Thanks for your patience while Caren and I shine up the doorknobs and put out the fancy linen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I miss Michael Crichton.  I miss seeing his newest book come out and wondering what current science topic he was going to tackle.  I miss reading it and being sucked into a world where dinosaurs, aliens or nanomachines exist.  And threaten to take over the world, naturally.  I miss chuckling over the fact that his books were marketed as thrillers when they were really science fiction, which meant that people who scorn sci-fi were inadvertently reading it.  Hee hee.  Any time an author I like stops writing, I feel sorry for myself that I don't get to read anything new by them ever again.  Selfish, I know.

Imagine my delight when a review I read compared Laurence Gonzales to Crichton.  It's an accurate comparison.  Gonzales' book Lucy was really similar to Crichton's book Next, which both have to do with transgenic species.  Next is about two animals with human genes, but Lucy is about a girl who is half human, half bonobo ape.  Bonobos look like chimpanzees and are endangered animals found only in the Congo.  Lucy's father is a scientist who lived in the Congo for years and decided it was his mission to bring the human race to its next level of evolution.  In other words, he was kinda crazy.  Lucy is found after another scientist, Jenny Lowe, comes to rescue Lucy's father when violence breaks out in the jungle.  Her father was killed, unfortunately, but Jenny takes Lucy back to England with her to find Lucy's remaining family.  Guess what?  None are found.  You know, 'cause Lucy's mom is an ape.  Nobody knows that, other than Lucy, until Jenny reads the journals that Lucy's dad meticulously kept over the years.

Lucy is an articulate, intelligent and well-educated young woman.  Her father spent her childhood filling her brain with more education than most of us get in a lifetime.  When Lucy and Jenny end up back in the U.S., where Jenny is from, Lucy tests out of all her high school classes, but Jenny decides to stick her in for a senior year anyway.  Now that Jenny is in on the secret, they are very intent on keeping Lucy out of the public eye and getting her adjusted to the real world.  This is hard to do, what with Lucy's social awkwardness, sensitivity to sound, super high intelligence and inhuman strength.  How do you keep those kinds of characteristics out of spotlight?

You know it's going to all fall apart and Lucy will be exposed for what she is, and sure enough, it happens.   But when it does, it's interesting how Lucy and her best friend, Amanda, spin it their own way.  They make a video on YouTube, create a MySpace page, blog incessantly about it and basically protect Lucy through public exposure.  She becomes a celebrity and by it, the government doesn't easily nap her for the proverbial tests in a laboratory.  You know that's going to happen too, but for a while she is protected by her celebrity.

The creepy parts are when the government decrees that Lucy isn't human, even going as far as to pass a law defining her existence as animal, not human.  Her treatment when she is captured is horrible and upsetting and would be cruel if she was truly just an animal.  Even the letters she gets from fans are creepy.  From marriage proposals to death threats, it was unnerving to read people's reactions.  Yet, Lucy handles it all so well.  So well, in fact, that I started to get a little annoyed that Lucy never gets mad.  She's just a little too perfect.  It's like Gonzales is trying to drive the point home that Lucy is better than the rest of us, that being who she is makes her more human.  But being human means getting mad or frustrated or acting badly sometimes.  And Lucy never does that.

Even though this book is science fiction and therefore filled with improbable situations, I kept wondering what would happen if scientists were able to create transgenic people.  This isn't a new topic.  The Isle of Dr. Moreau is an old book, after all.  And I mentioned Next.  And any book where people hate someone or something that's different.  Oh man, I'm not going to even start on a list of books on that topic.  This isn't a new idea, is what I'm saying, and probably Lucy isn't even the best book on that theme, but I still liked it.  It keep me riveted and by the time I reached the climax of Lucy's escape, I couldn't stop turning pages.  I love Crichton's books, but I never felt compassion for his characters like I did for Lucy.  It's got flaws, but overall, I still liked it.  How human of me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The best way for me to get the heebie-jeebies is to watch the news.  I consciously avoid knowing what is going on in the world.  My husband's job is to bring to my attention anything I need to know as a concerned citizen.  There is way too much horribleness out there and my brain gets too full with it and makes me sick.  For instance, I can't handle any news stories about abductions.  It's my worst nightmare so I avoid reading about it at all costs.  With that in mind, I have no idea why I read Room by Emma Donoghue.  The premise was fascinating which is all I can say to explain myself.

Room is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack who seems like a perfectly normal little boy.  He loves Dora the Explorer and spaceships made out of cardboard, hates green beans, and plays imagination games with his Ma.  The difference is that he and his mother are prisoners inside a tiny room built into the shed belonging to their abductor.  Ma, whose name we never learn, was kidnapped as a young college student and has spent seven years in the room.  She has created as normal a life for Jack as possible, telling him stories, teaching him reading and math, having a routine to their day.  When the creepy night time visits from Old Nick, her abductor, happen, Jack is tucked away into a closet where Nick cannot see or touch him.  Ma wants to protect Jack from him at all costs.

Jack has never left the room and as far as he knows, there's nothing out there.  His whole world is the room and the sun that comes in from the skylight.  It's obvious that Ma has worked on escaping over the years.  She has a bad wrist from one attempt and she and Jack play the screaming game once a week.  Old Nick is too thorough, however, and they are stuck.  But shortly after Jack's fifth birthday, Ma comes up with an escape plan and Jack is the key.

If you're going to read the book, I don't want to spoil how they successfully escape.  Their time spent in the room is only the first half of the book and in some ways, their recovery and celebrity after they escape is more gut-wrenching.  Jack has many developmental problems from having spent his entire life inside such a small space.  He has no long-range vision and his spatial reasoning is seriously messed up.  His skin is extremely sensitive to sunlight and just being outside is overwhelming to him, with all the wind and noise and environmental newness.  But he is bright, an avid reader and quick to catch on to his new surroundings.  Part of his problems with being out in the world is that the room was his home and he wishes that Ma would take them back there.  Ma is repulsed by his insistence that they go back and I couldn't help sharing her feelings, but I could understand why Jack wanted to go back.  It's the only home he's ever known and he was happy there.

In part of their celebrity status, Ma agrees to a tv interview.  She has worked hard to protect Jack from the media, but realizes that an interview could help save some money for his education.  The exchange between her and the interviewer was fascinating, especially what questions she is asked and how she reacts to them. I found myself cheering Ma on, internally defending her actions during what must have been horrific conditions.  When Ma loses her temper and stops the interview, I don't blame her one bit.

I found Room to be simultaneously fascinating and awful.  It wasn't graphic, probably because it's told from Jack's perspective, but the whole basis of the story is like something out of a nightmare.  As Jack finds more out and learns more about his mother, you can't help but mourn his innocence that is ripped away from him.  The way that Donoghue ends the book was perfect and I'm glad she didn't do it any differently because it felt like natural closure.  I'll never read this book again because my heart can't take it, but I'm not sad I edged out of my comfort zone a few feet to give it a try.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Picture Bride

Several years ago my husband and I made a trip to San Francisco.  We had a fabulous time, especially eating all the sourdough bread and dungeness crab we could, but also sight-seeing and enjoying the beautiful weather in August.  We toured Alcatraz and then Angel Island, which is like the Ellis Island of the West Coast.  It was fascinating and shocking.  There I learned that during WWII, Japanese Americans were put in detainment camps for fear of their association with their mother country.  The conditions were horrible and they were imprisoned even when they had their citizenship.  I couldn't believe it.  How had I never heard of this before?  It completely opened my eyes.

A few months ago, my book group read Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida.  It's the story of Hana Omiya, a young woman whose family arranged for her to marry a man in San Francisco.  Hana is one of hundreds of picture brides who came to the United States during that time.  She travels from Japan in 1917 and there meets her fiance, Taro Takeda, an Oakland shopkeeper.  Hana was lead to believe that Taro was a prosperous man, but in fact, his shop barely makes enough to get by. Taro is a kind-hearted person, though, a very devout Christian and a conscientious student of English.  Instead of joining the ranks of houseboys and laborers, he worked hard to acquire his shop and make a life for himself.  Their life is far different than what Hana was expecting, especially since she came from a formerly wealthy family in Japan, but Hana is clever and resourceful and quickly adapts.

Unfortunately, racism against Asians in that area was normal at the time and Hana and Taro and their church community deal with it constantly.  Hana, an educated woman who could have been a teacher in Japan, ends up doing housework.  Taro's shop flourishes with Hana's influence, but Taro resents that she's better at his job than he is.  Everything Hana does for Taro is done with a light touch, partly due to his pride, but also because Taro doubts Hana's love for him.  Hana once loved his best friend, back when they were first married, but nothing ever came of it.  I don't want to paint these people in a bad light, though.  They love their daughter, Mary, serve selflessly at church, use their money carefully and find a form on happiness in a land that doesn't want them.

Mary, their daughter, is much more American than Hana and Taro are.  She worked hard at school, had friends and immersed herself into American culture.  Her relationship with Taro is good because he speaks English well, but Hana never really learned to speak as well as Taro and Mary and that put up a wall between mother and daughter.  When Mary leaves home, it isn't a surprise when she pulls away from her parents and disconnects from their lives, but it's heart-breaking.

Whew, I'm only half-way through the book here!  When World War II began and the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred, suspicion towards Japanese-Americans escalated.  When the government starts rounding up and interning the Japanese, Hana and Taro are included.  Their experiences in the internment camps are painful, mostly because they really happened.  The author based this entire book on her family's experiences.  Yoshiko Uchida was the daughter of Japanese immigrants who were interned at the same locations in the book. Uchida was given permission to be released and return to graduate school, but her parents were kept in the camps.  The conditions at the camp near Delta, Utah were awful and I was astonished over and over again how the government treated people who were citizens.  The people are able to find small joys, like the wedding of a young couple or reuniting families, but in general, they are stuck in horrible conditions with no end in sight.

This book was exquisite and painful, showing how people can be utterly debased and still prevail.  There were beautifully tender moments that filled my heart.  I'm so glad that Uchida told her story, that she was able to share an important part of history, and that my book group picked to read it.  It's through stories like these that we are able to understand history and become better people through it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Co-review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

It's fitting that this review comes so soon after Jenny recently reviewed Brandon Sanderson's newest book, since Dan Wells credits Sanderson with pushing him to write I Am Not a Serial Killer in the first place. Having Sanderson's support wasn't enough to make it very easy to get a hold of, though. Initially it was only published in the UK, then was released in the US last spring. But I still had to wait for an InterLibrary Loan (from out-of-state, no less!) to finally get my hands on it.

I Am Not a Serial Killer is a first-person narrative by an intriguing, yet disturbing, 15-year-old boy. John Wayne Cleaver is a morbid teenager who has been raised in a mortuary and has a keen fascination with death. He is obsessed with serial killers and makes a hobby out of studying them. The more he learns, the more convinced he is that he is destined to become a serial killer himself. But he doesn't want that, so he desperately follows a set of self-imposed rules to try to counteract his sociopathic tendencies.

Things change for John when a series of gruesome murders begin haunting the small town. John's unique perspective allows him to discover the murderer long before the police even get close, and he becomes convinced that he is the only one who can stop the killer. But to do so, he feels he must surrender to the monster within, and risk losing himself (or fulfilling his destiny, he's not sure which) forever.

As usual, we like to discuss these co-reviews openly, so consider yourself forewarned!

Caren: After a run of somewhat blah books lately, I Am Not a Serial Killer really made me sit up and take notice. I don't like guts and gore, so I felt pretty squeamish at the beginning when he was describing the process of embalming and the details of the first violent murder. Fortunately, he didn't go into a lot of graphic detail with every murder, or else I might not have been able to get much farther than the first few chapters! But I have to admit that I have a new appreciation for morticians now. I'm so grateful that there are people who make death so sanitary for the rest of us!

Jenny:  I made the mistake of sitting down to eat my lunch while I read this book the first time.  I made a note to myself never to do that again.  It did make me grateful that there are people, non-psychotic people, out there in the world who are willing and able to do the work of preparing the dead for burial.  'Cause it's gross.

I thought it was fascinating that our protagonist and potential hero is a mentally-disturbed teenage boy with his own monster waiting to strike and kill.  Very cool and original.  Freaky too, but it made the angle of the story different than what I was expecting.  Two things that took me by surprise was that we found out who the killer was fairly early in the story and that the killer wasn't human.  I thought for sure this would be a murder mystery that put John into suspicion as the killer and then he used his knowledge of serial killers to find the real killer.  Nope, nothing like that.  When I realized that the story was more about John using his inner demon to destroy the actual demon, it was all symbolic and stuff.

Caren: I was surprised by the supernatural element too.  John talks about himself and his disturbing tendencies in such a gritty matter-of-fact way that I expected the villain to be someone straight out of the news, not out of a comic book.  And it sure surprised me when the killer turned out to be his harmless neighbor!  (It's been a while since I've been genuinely surprised in a novel, so that was kind of fun.)  In some ways it was probably better to have the killer be this weird demon masquerading as a nice old man.  It was easier to read it late at night with the distance of "this could never happen in real life."

The demon was scary, but the creepiest and most disturbing thing to me was watching John struggle with his own unnatural inhumanity.  It makes me wonder how accurate Wells' portrayal is from a psychological standpoint.  I liked that John's therapist didn't think he was beyond hope, and I was glad that he shows himself capable of genuine feeling at the end when he and his mother defeat the demon.  That gives me hope that he's not a true sociopath destined to become a serial killer like he fears.  Even the fact that he doesn't want to become one should count for something, right?

Jenny:  I have a really hard time with books or movies that are about horrific things that can actually happen in real life.  Sci-fi doesn't scare me, just gives me the fun heebie jeebies.  If the killer had been a real person, it would have been way harder to read and I definitely would have avoided reading it at night.  For that I'm glad it was just a super creepy killer monster with a soft side for his wife.

What was really scary to me was when John let his inner monster out.  When he bashed Mrs. Crowley's head with the alarm clock and barely stopped himself from killing her, I was in agony.  I begged Wells not to let John become the monster that he was threatening to become.  Like you said, I also like that his therapist was a good person who truly thought John was a good person with a strong moral code.  He needed Neblin at that critical point and Neblin didn't fail him.  It cost him his life, but it kept John under control.

At that point in the book, my heart was pounding in my chest and I could barely breathe.  As soon as John saw on his GPS that the demon was heading back to the house, I thought I was going to jump out of my skin.  It's been a while since a book had me in such suspense.

Caren: Oh man, me too! It's a good thing it didn't get any more suspenseful because I could barely stand it as it was.  Which made it perfect for Halloween!  And yet, for as creepy and violent as it was, it was surprisingly clean.  I can't remember any bad language or anything sexual, which I would have expected for an edgy novel about a would-be serial killer.

I thought Wells did a really good job with the suspense and developing John's character.  In the acknowledgments, he insists that it's not autobiographical, but I wasn't convinced.  That's how believable John's character was!  (That, and I can't help but wonder about how well-balanced an author can be who writes about such psychosis so convincingly.)  But I admired Wells' restraint.  He showed us just enough of John's dysfunctional relationships with family and friends and his obsession with serial killers to give us a clear picture of his psyche without overdoing it.  It would have been really easy to go over-the-top with a character like John, but Wells didn't, and his reserve made for a stronger novel.

I am both intrigued and nervous that Wells intends this to be the first of a trilogy (I think the second was just recently published).  Intrigued because I am a little curious about what happens to John now.  He's made a breakthrough with his mother.  He has let loose his own monster with it's major issues.  And there were enough references to his father that make me wonder if there is more to come with that story.  But I am nervous that for the story to continue, it will only be because John has greater demons -- both within and without -- that he has to face.  I'm not sure I can handle that!  And I definitely don't like what more novels might mean for the sweet and innocent Brooke that he's stalking at the end.  It makes me shudder just thinking about it!

At least he ends this first novel well enough that I don't feel like I have to read the next one to finish the story.  I always appreciate that in an author!

Jenny:  Yeah, I just read online that it was going to be a trilogy.  It didn't have the feel of a trilogy at the end of the book, so I was surprised.  I'm kinda excited to see where Wells takes John and his tortured self.  There was some seriously scary and upsetting parts in this book, but nothing that wouldn't stop me from reading the next two books.  I have enough faith in Wells' plans for John that I think it could turn out okay in the end.

I just remembered that we read Odd Thomas a few years ago for our October co-review and how scary that was.  Comparing Odd and John to each other, they are polar opposites.  Odd is peace-loving and non-violent except when he's forced to while having a strange ability thrust upon him, while John is tormented by desires to do great violence and constantly keeps it in check.  Yet, I think I like John just as much as I liked Odd.  Not because John is inherently likable, but because he works so hard to be good.  You've read more Odd Thomas than me, what do you think?

Caren: You know, it's funny that you mention Odd Thomas, because I thought of it too.  Partly because that was probably the last time I read something this suspenseful, and partly because of the supernatural element.  You're right that whereas Odd is so good and innocent, John is just plain scary.  But at the same time I can't help feeling compassion for him and wanting everything to work out.  I liked him, even though he freaked me out.

One thing I liked about the story is that as disturbing as it was, there was no such thing as violence without consequences.  So often in the action/thriller genres the good guys commit necessary acts of violence without it affecting their characters.  But the violence John committed changed him, just as it would in real life.  I liked that Wells forced us to face that when a good guy does bad things he can't walk away unscathed.

Okay, I looked up the next one and it looks to be even darker and more intense than the first.  It's called Mr. Monster and picks up right where I Am Not a Serial Killer ends.  The reviews look compelling; people seem to like it even more than the first.  Tell you what, you read it and then let me know what you think.  Maybe I can muster up enough courage if I know it's worth it.

Jenny:  Deal.  I will totally take care of that for you.  I'm excited to see where Wells will take the story.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Slumdog Millionaire and The Wednesday Letters

I started out reviewing Slumdog Millionaire with Crispin: The Cross of Lead, because I read them at the same time, and they both came from my sister-in-law's library cleansing.  But I quickly realized that that would be a really unsettling combination, so Slumdog gets lumped with another strange companion, but one that is at least still geared toward adults.

Slumdog Millionaire, by Vikas Swarup, is a gripping story, but horrible in a way so that I had mixed feelings about it the whole time I was reading it.  Two weeks after finishing it, I still have mixed feelings, but they are settling more and more in the negative.  It is a fascinating story about an illiterate young man in Mumbai who is arrested for cheating after becoming the first winner of the game show, Who Will Win a Billion?  Similar to the format of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? game show that inspired it, Ram Mohammed Thomas had to answer a series of increasingly difficult trivia questions, all of which he happens to know the answer to because of his unique past.  As he explains how he knew the answer to each question, his poignant, funny, and heart-breaking life history unfolds.

It was well-written, fast-paced, and with a clever premise that kept me interested.  But the language was really bad, and the first few chapters were so full of sexual abuse that I started to think that all Indian men were either gay, incestuous, or pedophiles (or two out of three).  Ugh.  It got better after that, and it was remarkable how Ram's purity of character continued to shine in the filth around him, but there were so many horrible things portrayed that I understood why my sister-in-law said she wouldn't read it again.  (As a sidenote, I don't know how a person could stomach watching the feature film.  As horrible as it was to read, I think it would be way worse to watch on screen.)  The ending was ultimately positive and there were some wonderful moments where evil got its just reward and good won out.  But I felt like I needed to scour the creepy crawlies out of my mind when I was done.  So while Swarup had definite talent, I won't be reading any of his work again.

Again from that same batch of disparate books, I recently just finished the New York Times Bestseller (so says the cover) The Wednesday Letters, by Jason F. Wright.  A complete reversal from Slumdog Millionaire, The Wednesday Letters overpowered me with it's over-the-top sentimentality and shoddy writing.  Again I felt like I needed a mental scrubbing, but from an overdose of intellectual cotton candy instead.  How do books like this get published, let alone become bestsellers?  The basic plot wasn't so bad.  While getting ready for their elderly parents' double funeral, three adult children discover boxes of letters written from their father to their mother; one on each Wednesday throughout their marriage.  They uncover troubling secrets about their parents' and their own histories that cause crisis, resolution, and eventual healing for each of them.  It's full of emotion, moralizing, and ultimately a good message about forgiveness and cherishing those we love.

My problem with it?  The writing was mediocre at best.  There were times when the perspective would shift mid-sentence to a different character, leaving me with vertigo wondering where I was in the scene.  And every character had to be introduced with a whole pedigree and history instead of just allowing us to discover their essence as the story unfolded.  The dialogue was flat and insincere.  The plot was predictable.  I have no problem with emotional novels that celebrate relationships and family values.  But not when they are an embarrassment to decent writing.  I don't want to invest any more effort than it's worth into saying more about what was wrong with it (like how the resolution of the love triangle was shallow and contradictory), but if I'd had anything else nearby to tempt me, I wouldn't have finished reading it.  Was it a total waste of time?  Not completely, but nearly.  Very nearly.