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Koss BT540i Full Size Bluetooth Headphones, Black with Silver Trim
Koss BT540i Full Size Bluetooth Headphones, Black with Silver Trim
Price: $199.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Luxury sound, October 15, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It seems a little weird to describe an electronic item as "luxurious." But the Koss BT540i Full Size Bluetooth Headphones is pretty close to the mark, if you want something that has great sound, Bluetooth AND fits your head... all of which I've had to do without in the past.

The headphones come in a small black case, with two cords -- one to connect the headphones to MP3 players, phones or computers, and the other to charge the Bluetooth battery. As for the Bluetooth, it works pretty well and very quickly, once you are able to locate the tiny buttons.

The sound quality is excellent, and I didn't even need to turn it up all the way to hear every song clearly and crisply. The large, heavily-padded, all-covering earpieces also serve to dampen outside sounds, whether you're listening to music or have it turned off. And the earpieces are on double hinges, allowing them to be adjusted snugly to any ear placement.

Downsides? Well, wearing the headphones for more than half an hour makes my ears feel squished, and only one of them swivels all the way.

The Koss BT540i Full Size Bluetooth Headphones are a good buy for people who want comfortable, good-quality headphones, with the perks and adjustability of Bluetooth, high quality volume and sound, storage options, and swiveling earpieces. So if you can, give them a listen.

Endgame: The Calling
Endgame: The Calling
by James Frey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.88
80 used & new from $3.93

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This is Endgame. There is no why., October 13, 2014
This review is from: Endgame: The Calling (Hardcover)
I think we know what the pitch for "Endgame: The Calling" was: It's like the Hunger Games, but without the realism! And there are PUZZLES! And a fetch quest!

And sadly, the pitch is all there is to recommend the first book of James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton's new series for young adults. The actual execution is like a piece of stale pizza with no sauce -- dry, flavorless and kind of tedious. In addition to the awkward, lifeless writing with its short bland sentences, the characters feel more like game pieces than actual people.

The premise is that there are twelve ancient lineages who have been preparing to save the world for thousands of years... and for some reason, only one person is eligible per line, even though any one person from thousands of years ago is going to have a LOT of descendants. And for some reason, only teens are eligible, even though you would expect people at their peak physical condition to be chosen. But what do I know? Endgame!

Now meteorites are falling on whatever city the ONLY appropriately-aged descendants are living in, signaling the beginning of the vaguely-defined Endgame. Every one of them has been trained in deadly Special-Ops-style combat, so they can kill anyone who gets in their way -- including each other. Their goal: when Endgame starts, they must fetch three keys. And so begins a world-wide, bloody quest for the Great Puzzle of Salvation. If they don't win, they die.

"Endgame: The Calling" is the worst kind of story -- the kind of story that has a brilliant premise... and falls flatter than a tortilla that has been run over by a steamroller. In the hands of a better writer, this would be an epic story. It has backstory that spans all of human civilization, sci-fi/fantasy "Sky People" who have caused all this, a large cast of characters who come from all across the world... it sounds very epic, and a writer like Brandon Sanderson or Garth Nix could have spun a spellbinding tale.

But do we get an epic story? Alas, no. It feels like neither Frey nor Johnson-Shelton even cared.

The biggest problem is the writing, which is as dry and bloodless as a mummy. Often it feels like a screenplay ineptly transformed into a novel -- most of the time, we're simply told the characters' actions and some bland inner descriptions like "she wanted this" or "he didn't like this."

Everything is related in short, clunky sentences in the present tense (presumably a failed attempt at immediacy). They're strung together like dreary little beads ("It's just a gash. It will need stitches, though"), and they never swirl up the passions of the reader. For instance, once scene involves Sarah cheating on her Perfectly Perfect Ken-Doll Boyfriend with one of her rivals, whom she is competing against. How is this conveyed?

"But then they kiss.
And kiss.
And kiss.
And Sarah forgets."

Riveting, isn't it? The heat just radiates off the page.

And Frey and Johnson-Shelton utterly fail at creating any sense of actual tension. The first few chapters contain devastating meteorite strikes that leave countless people dead... and the reaction of all the characters is either glee or dull surprise. Even when a character's brother is impaled on a steel beam and dies in front of her, she barely even seems to care. It's presented in such a dull, vague way that nothing actually seems important.

But that's because these are not characters. They are chess pieces. They are video-game avatars. The backstory, personalities, and experiences of the characters are nonexistent except for their Endrame training. Admittedly it is difficult to flesh out such a large cast, but some of their introductory chapters are only a few pages long -- just long enough to establish the character's nationality/ethnicity, and that they are a main character.

What is there to these people other than their nationality/ethnicity and the fact that they have trained to be in Endgame? Not much. Only one seems to have an actual life outside the Endgame prep, and that is just so her blandly perfect boyfriend can eventually be imperiled.

"Endgame: The Calling" has a shell of a plot, full of the characters' actions and words, but without any kind of narrative soul. The writing is dry, the characters are like paper, and the authors clearly cared about nothing but the movie rights.

Northanger Abbey (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Northanger Abbey (Barnes & Noble Classics)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $7.95
124 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars When a young lady is to be a heroine, October 11, 2014
Gothic romances were all the rage in the late 1700s and early 1800s -- sprawling, eerie melodramas full of sublimated sex and violence.

And rather than her usual straightforward comedies of manners, Jane Austen once wrote a mellow satire of the very mockable genre -- think a parody of "Twilight" or "50 Shades of Grey" as written by one of the greats. "Northanger Abbey" is a clever and slightly tongue-in-cheek little novel about a girl who needs to learn the difference between fantasy and reality... and yes, there's some love tangles and deceptions too.

Catherine Morland is an innocent young country girl with a love of gothic romances, and has lives an unremarkably life in a country parish. But then the wealthy Allens invite her to Bath during their vacation there, and of course she accepts -- and through balls and old acquaintances, she becomes friends with two pairs of siblings. One is the Thorpes, the uncouth dandy John and his manipulative sister Isabella, and the more mysterious Tilneys, the charming Henry and sweet Eleanor.

When the Tilneys decide to leave Bath, Catherine is invited with them, to the vast stone manorhouse of Northanger Abbey -- which is as gloomy, eerie and remote as her gothic-loving heart could wish for. What's more, she believes that there are dangerous secrets in Northanger Abbey, related to the suspicious death of the late Mrs. Tilney. But Catherine has some lessons to learn about reality and fantasy: that everyday world is not nearly as melodramatic and twisted as her novels, and that it has its own dangers and deceptions.

Unlike all the other books Austen wrote, "Northanger Abbey" is a careful balance of two different styles -- a parody of all the lurid excesses of classic gothic novels (she even lists a bunch of real-life gothic novels!), and it's a subtle coming-of-age tale about a young girl who needs to figure out the difference between reality and fantasy. There's big spooky manors, sinister noblemen, mysterious deaths... you do the math.

And Austen clearly had a lot of fun with this book, enhancing her usual formal style with a bit of satirical melodrama ("A thousand alarming presentiments of evil to her beloved Catherine from this terrific separation must oppress her heart with sadness"). And while the plot is sprinkled with sinister pseudo-gothic hints, Austen also takes the time to sketch out some romantic deceptions and tangles, as well as some deliciously arch dialogue ("I was not thinking of anything." "That is artful and deep, to be sure...").

The only part that falls short is the climactic encounter between Henry and Catherine... which is completely skimmed over, and related only in a distant vague style. "I leave it to my reader's sagacity" is not a satisfying way to handle that sort of romantically-charged scene.

Austen also has fun with Catherine as the unlikely heroine of the piece, especially since she makes it clear that Catherine comes from a very mundane, undramatic background. She's sweet, naive, wide-eyed and essentially good-hearted, but she has a lot to learn about reality (especially about the golddigging family that befriends her). And Henry is an oddity among Austen's heroes, being a clever silver-tongued charmer with a heart of gold who likes to gently tease Catherine.

Quick, light and full of teasing humor, "Northanger Abbey" is an oddity in Jane Austen's string of brilliant novels -- but being a clever, well-plotted spoof doesn't make it any less charming. A delight.

North and South (Open Road)
North and South (Open Road)
Price: $0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Love and unions, October 11, 2014
If you had to describe "North and South," it would probably be something like "Jane Austen with more sociopolitical content."

That sounds painfully dry and unromantic, but Elizabeth Gaskell managed expertly to wind together a tempestuous romance with a story about mills, workers and unions in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. While the beginning is a bit slow, and the ending a bit abrupt, the rich prose and passionate central relationship really make this an arresting piece of work.

After a decade living in London, Margaret Hale returns to the idyllic country village of Helstone to live with her parents. But then her father declares that he is leaving the Church of England out of vague religious scruples, and is instead becoming a classical tutor. Unfortunately for Margaret, this means moving to the dirty, hardscrabble northern town of Milton, which contains several mills and manufacturing businesses.

Her father's first pupil is Mr. Thornton, who worked his way up out of poverty through brains and hard work, and now owns a cotton mill. Thornton considers Margaret proud and snobby, and she dislikes him because she believes he's unfair and harsh to his workers.

And she's not the only one -- the dissatisfied workers of Milton have begun to rebel against their employers, forming a union and going on strike. Thornton finds himself in the middle of the conflict, even as Margaret struggles to help her ailing mother -- and despite being on different sides of the increasingly heated conflict, the two of them begin to fall in love. But misunderstandings, class differences and tragedy stand in their way.

"North and South" is relatively obscure, compared to works by the Brontes or Jane Austen. That's a shame, because Elizabeth Gaskell's story can be considered as gripping and romantic as theirs -- a love that has to triumph over snobbery, class differences, prejudice and the whole weird situation with Margaret's brother. Like the immortal Lizzie and Darcy, Thornton and Margaret start off disliking each other, but gradually see each other's worth in their actions and passionate debates.

What sets this book apart from other period romances is the whole plot about the workers and industrialists. This book was published after the flowering of the Industrial Revolution, when labor in mills and factories was cheap and dangerous, and there were no laws or safety regulations to protect people. It would be easy to just demonize the big nouveau riche guys like Thornton, but Gaskell makes a genuine effort to show both sides of the conflict -- neither side is all nobility or all villainy.

And it deepens the relationship between Thornton and Margaret, because their clash is over real societal issues. In Austenian style, both of them must change their attitudes before they can find happiness -- the strong-willed Thornton must learn more compassion and understanding for his workers, and the fiery, romantic Margaret must learn to appreciate people not for what their profession is, but who they truly are.

This applies to some of the other characters as well, who are given plenty of dimension -- the bombastic Higgins, a leader of the unions who is softened by Margaret's kindness; Thornton's crusty mother; and Margaret's dying friend who gives her time in Milton some purpose.

Gaskell's writing can be a little dense at times, like most Victorian novels where people were paid by the word. But she manages to use them pretty effectively, scattering moments of bleak poetry ("Senseless and purposeless were wood and iron and steam in their endless labours") amidst the dramatic dialogue and intricate descriptions. The only problem is the ending -- while it finishes in a satisfactory way, the final scene is so... abrupt. Boom, it's over. You'd expect a final epilogue to tell you what happens next, but it never happens.

Despite the abrupt ending, "North and South" is a rich, layered novel where romantic passions clash with serious societal issues -- think "Pride and Prejudice," but with class issues and lots of factories.

Sense and Sensibility (Vintage Classics)
Sense and Sensibility (Vintage Classics)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.84
40 used & new from $6.84

5.0 out of 5 stars The sensitive and the sensible, October 11, 2014
One of the Dashwood daughters is smart, down-to-earth and sensible. The other is wildly romantic and sensitive.

And in a Jane Austen novel, you can guess that there are going to be romantic problems aplenty for both of them -- along with the usual entailment issues, love triangles, sexy bad boys and societal scandals. "Sense and Sensibility" is a quietly clever, romantic little novel that builds up to a dramatic peak on Marianne's romantic troubles, while also quietly exploring Elinor's struggles.

When Mr. Dashwood dies, his entire estate is entailed to his weak son John and snotty daughter-in-law Fanny. His widow and her three daughters are left with little money and no home.

Over the next few weeks, the eldest daughter Elinor begins to fall for Fanny's studious, quiet brother Edward... but being the down-to-earth one, she knows she hasn't got a chance. Her impoverished family soon relocates to Devonshire, where a tiny cottage is being rented to them by one of Mrs. Dashwood's relatives -- and Marianne soon attracts the attention of two men. One is the quiet, much older Colonel Brandon, and the other is the dashing and romantic Willoughby.

But things begin to spiral out of control when Willoughby seems about to propose to Marianne... only to abruptly break off his relationship with her. And during a trip to London, both Elinor and Marianne discover devastating facts about the men they are in love with -- both of them are engaged to other women. And after disaster strikes the Dashwood family, both the sisters will discover what real love is about...

At its heart, "Sense and Sensibility" is about two girls with completely opposite personalities, and the struggle to find love when you're either too romantic or too reserved for your own good. As well as, you know, the often-explored themes in Austen's novels -- impoverished women's search for love and marriage, entailment, mild scandal, and the perils of falling for a sexy bad boy who cares more for money than for true love... assuming he even knows what true love is.

Austen's formal style takes on a somewhat more melancholy flavor in this book, with lots of powerful emotions and vivid splashes of prose ("The wind roared round the house, and the rain beat against the windows"); and she introduces a darker tone near the end. Still, there's a slight humorous tinge to her writing, especially when she's gently mocking Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood's melodrama ("They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it").

And Marianne and Elinor make excellent dual heroines for this book -- that still love and cherish each other, even though their polar opposite personalities frequently clash. What's more, they each have to become more like the other before they can find happiness. There's also a small but solid supporting cast -- the hunting-obsessed Sir John, the charming Willoughby (who has some nasty stuff in his past), the emotional Mrs. Dashwood, and the gentle, quiet Colonel Brandon, who shows his love for Marianne in a thousand small ways.

"Sense and Sensibility" is an emotionally powerful, beautifully written tale about two very different sisters, and the rocky road to finding a lasting love. Not as striking as "Pride and Prejudice," but still a deserving classic.

Mansfield Park (Vintage Classics)
Mansfield Park (Vintage Classics)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.93
44 used & new from $5.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Everybody likes to go their own way, October 11, 2014
Even the best authors in the world sometimes put out something that... well, isn't up to their usual standards. For Jane Austen, that book was "Mansfield Park" -- her prose is typically excellent, and she weaves a memorable story about a poor young lady in the middle of a wealthy, dysfunctional family. But put bluntly, Fanny Price lacks the depth and complexity of Austen's other heroines.

As a young girl, Fanny Price was sent from her poor family to live with her wealth relatives, the Bertrams, and was raised along with her four cousins Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia.

Despite being regarded only little better than a servant (especially by the fawning, cheap Mrs. Norris), Fanny is pretty happy -- especially since Edmund is kind and supportive of her at all times. But then the charming, fashionable Crawford sibilings arrive in the neighborhood, sparking off some love triangles (particularly between Maria and Henry Crawford, even though she's already engaged.

And the whole thing becomes even more confused when Henry becomes intrigued by Fanny's refusal to be charmed by him as the others are. But when she rejects his proposal, she ends up banished from her beloved Mansfield Park... right before a devastating scandal and a perilous illness strikes the Bertram family. Does Fanny still have a chance at love and the family she's always been with?

The biggest problem with "Mansfield Park" is Fanny Price -- even Austen's own mother didn't like her. She's a very flat, virtuously dull heroine for this story; unlike Austen's other heroines she doesn't have much personality growth or a personal flaw to overcome. And despite being the protagonist, Fanny seems more like a spectator on the outskirts of the plot until the second half (when she has a small but pivotal part to play in the story).

Fortunately she's the only real flaw in this book. Austen's stately, vivid prose is full of deliciously witty moments (Aunt Norris "consoled herself for the loss of her husband by considering that she could do very well without him"), some tastefully-handled scandal, and a delicate house-of-romantic-cards that comes crashing down to ruin people's lives (and improve others). And she inserts some pointed commentary on people who care more about society's opinions than on morality.

And the other characters in the book are pretty fascinating as well -- especially since Edmund, despite being a virtuous clergyman-in-training, is an intelligent and strong-willed man. The Bertrams are a rather dysfunctional family with a stern patriarch, a fluttery ethereal mother, a playboy heir and a couple of spoiled girls -- Maria in particular develops a crush on Henry, but doesn't bother to break off her engagement until it's too late. And the Crawfords are all flash and sparkle: a pair of charming, shallow people who are essentially hollow.

"Mansfield Park" suffers from a rather insipid heroine, but the rest of the book is vintage Austen -- lies, romance, scandal and a dance of manners and society.

Persuasion (Vintage Classics)
Persuasion (Vintage Classics)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars A second chance at love, October 11, 2014
In Jane Austen's time, young women were taught that it was practically their duty to "marry well" -- someone of at least equal social/financial standing.

But if a woman turned down a suitor for being poor, she ran the risk of losing the man she loved. That's the problem for Anne Elliott, the heroine of Jane Austen's final novel "Persuasion" -- a delicate romance that takes place AFTER the romance, rejection and heartrending sorrow. There's some slight roughness around the edges, but the story and the characters are simply brilliant.

Eight years ago, Anne Elliott was engaged to the handsome, intelligent and impoverished sailor Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to dump him by the family friend Lady Russell.

Now she's twenty-seven (ancient by the time's standards), and her vain father Sir Walter is facing financial ruin. So he decides to relocate to Bath and rent out the vast family estate -- and it turns out that the new tenant is Frederick's brother-in-law. Of course, Anne still loves Frederick, but he doesn't seem to feel the same, especially since he's rumored to be interested in some younger, flirtier girls.

And Anne's worries increase when she joins her family in Bath, where her father is attempting to live the lifestyle he feels he deserves (since he's a baronet). His heir, William Elliott, recently reestablished contact with his relatives -- and he seems very interested in Anne. But Anne suspects that he has ulterior motives... even if she doesn't realize how Frederick truly feels about her.

It's pretty obvious that Jane Austen wrote "Persuasion" late in her life -- not only is Anne Elliott older than her other heroines, but she seems to have been more sympathetic to women who bowed to society's "persuasions." This was the last book that Austen wrote before her untimely death, and it was only published posthumously.

As a result, the book can be a little rough and the story is rather simple. But Austen's writing is still intense and powerfully vivid. Her prose is elegant and smooth, and her dialogue is full of hidden facets. The half-hidden love story of Anne and Frederick is among Austen's most skillful writing ("I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever"), and it's virtually impossible not to be moved by it.

And Austen went out of her way to praise the self-made man, who got ahead through merit instead of birth (something that bugs Sir Walter). She also pokes holes in social climbers, vain aristocrats ("Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did"), nasty family and false friends.

Anne herself is a very rare heroine, both then and now -- she's past her designated "marriage" years and would have been considered a lost cause. But she remains remains kind, thoughtful, quiet, intelligent, and as time goes on she starts to appreciate her own judgement instead of being "persuaded." And Captain Wentworth is a vibrant portrayal of a strong man who worked his way to the top, but had to do so without the woman he loved.

Jane Austen's last finished novel is a little rough in places, but the exquisite beauty of Frederick and Anne's love story is simply staggering. Truly a masterpiece.

The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (Vintage Classics)
The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (Vintage Classics)
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.65
44 used & new from $3.78

5.0 out of 5 stars The scarlet letter was her passport, October 11, 2014
When people think of a "scarlet letter," we immediate think of a person outwardly branded for something they have done. Credit Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" for that -- it's an intense, impassioned (if slightly hammy) story of a strong-willed woman in Puritan New England, who is branded for her sins and her love for one weak man.

In the mid-1600s, a passionate young woman named Hester Prynne has been accused of adultery -- she recently had a baby, even though her husband was abroad. Just as damning to the elders is the fact that she won't name baby Pearl's father. Even her estranged husband -- a cold-hearted older man calling himself Roger Chillingworth -- wants to know her lover's identity, but Hester steadfastly refuses to even hint at the man's identity.

We learn early in the book that Pearl's dad is actually the local minister Arthur Dimmesdale, who is wracked with guilt, hallucinations and sickness because of his secret adultery. Chillingworth slowly deduces who his wife's lover was, and begins to scheme revenge on Dimmesdale. Will the former lovers manage to escape their guilt-ridden lives, or will they reveal the truth to everyone?

It sounds like "The Scarlet Letter" is JUST a story about guilt and sin, but it's also a story about love and steadfastness. Hester remains strong and kind throughout her life despite others' cruelty to her, and her love for Dimmesdale and Pearl is what gives her that strength. Chillingworth (symbolic name!) is a cuckold, but it's impossible to like him because of his lack of love -- he loves no one, and lives only for revenge.

And at the same time, Hawthorne reminds us that goodness can overcome your past sins. Hester slowly overcomes the Puritans' loathing for her by simply being charitable, kind, helpful and loving, until eventually her sin is eclipsed by her virtues. On the flip side, Dimmesdale is annoying because of his weakness and cowardice -- I know he's supposed to be wracked with guilt, but he's so pathetic compared to Hester that it's just infuriating.

Hawthorne's writing may take a little while for modern audiences to get used to. It's very 19th-century in style, with staid, slightly stuffy prose gilded with hauntingly poetic moments and intense passion ("Never, never!" whispered she. "What we did had a consecration of its own"). At times Hawthorne's story gets a little... hammy (such as Dimmesdale revealing his "A" burn scar), but the power of his story keeps this from getting silly.

"The Scarlet Letter" is used to describe outward signs of guilt, but Hawthorne's novel is actually about strength and love, and how they can blot out misdeeds.

X-Men: First Class [Blu-ray]
X-Men: First Class [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ James McAvoy
Price: $16.18
6 used & new from $12.33

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mutants and proud, October 7, 2014
No Nightcrawler. No Storm. No Cyclops. No Rogue. No Gambit. And there's a noticeable lack of dignified old men like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

Yes, this is not the X-Men you're used to. "X-Men: First Class" goes back to the 1960s to tell the origin stories of both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants, as well as their charismatic leaders Professor X and Magneto. The story itself is a puff piece used to introduce the characters, but the performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are absolutely spellbinding.

In the 1960s, a CIA sting operation discovers that the the cruel Sebastien Shaw (Kevin Bacon) (who is working with the Russians) also has a small group of superpowered mutants who can teleport, read minds, and so on. And the existence of mutants is proven to the government by mind-reading telepath Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and his foster sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence).

With Shaw planning to spark off a nuclear war between Russia and the US, Xavier begins gathering his own group of mutants -- including Erik Lensherr, a Holocaust survivor who is hell-bent on killing Shaw. The mutants begin training themselves so they can use their abilities to the fullest, but they may not be a match for Shaw... and even worse, Erik might be.

"X-Men: First Class" as a pretty fluffy main plot, since its main purpose is to bring Erik and Charles together as best buddies... only to have them splinter off in two very different directions. Yes, there's a lot of stuff about the Cuban missile crisis and impending nuclear doom, but it feels like it's just a backdrop for the REAL drama.

But it is a pretty fun popcorn movie, though not as powerful as the first two X-Men movies. There are some very striking moments (the FLYING SUBMARINE! Epic!), and some pretty impressive action scenes. However, director Matthew Vaughn really underplays some important scenes (such as Beast's transformation), and he really beats you over the head with the gay parallels of the mutants ("You didn't ask").

As for the cast, the villains are pretty lackluster. Bacon gives a good performance, but he feels strangely out of place, as if he doesn't quite click into the story. And January Jones -- aka "sparkly Christmas ornament with breasts" -- gives a performance like garden tools scraping through a chalkboard. She is so annoying that she actually infects any scene she's in. And sadly, there is an ugly undercurrent of misogyny running through the story, with all the women explicitly sexualized (there isn't one who doesn't get naked or seminaked).

But on the flipside, the protagonists are AMAZING. McAvoy and Fassbender are absolutely brilliant as two very similar men -- charismatic, intelligent, strong-willed -- who become fast friends, but are divided by their different views of human nature. Both actors really explore the bond between their characters, but you can see their differing beliefs slowly infecting it.

As for the younger X-Men, they range from excellent (the adorable Nicholas Hoult) to horribly flat (Zoë Kravitz), but the one that disappointed me the most was Lawrence as the young Mystique. Lawrence is a sublime actress, but she seems oddly "off" here... possibly because of Mystique's rather flat "teen outcast" characterization.

"X-Men: First Class" has a rather lightweight plot and some sketchy casting, but is saved by the presence of McAvoy and Fassbender. A fun watch for fans of the X-Men, if you can get past the constant objectification of women.

Tithe a Modern Faerie Tale
Tithe a Modern Faerie Tale
by Holly Black
Edition: Paperback
48 used & new from $0.17

5.0 out of 5 stars They have brought back the Tithe, October 7, 2014
Stories about a girl who finds out she's part/all faerie and becomes enmeshed in that world are a dime a dozen now.

But Holly Black first started this trend, with the darkly glittering "Modern Faerie Tales: Tithe" -- a clever, entrancing story that brings a bit of urban grime to the faerie world without sacrificing any of its beauty. While the plot about a teen girl falling for a dangerous faerie man seems like one of many, it's the sharp jagged edges and luminous beauty that elevate it.

Kaye Fierch has spent years traveling with her mother's rock band, until one night when her mom's boyfriend/guitarist gets high and tries to stab her. So with the band newly broken up, her mom whisks her back to her grandmother's New Jersey house, where Kaye hangs out with other teens and reminisces about some "imaginary" faerie friends she had as a child.

But then she encounters Roiben, a wounded faerie knight whose life she saves -- and soon she learns that she is a changeling, who is targeted by the Unseelie Court as a sacrifice ("the sacrifice of a beautiful and talented mortal"). Now on the run with Roiben, she must deal with the faerie world's attacks on the mortal one... including her human friends.

Holly Black is one of the best urban fantasy authors writing today, mainly because her stories truly are urban fantasies -- they combine faerie glitter and ethereality with the grime, wire and subway tunnels of New York and New Jersey. She truly makes you feel as if both the faerie realm and the mortal cities are jumping out at you, rather than just popping faerie magic into suburbia.

Her writing has a dark, raw beauty, studded with moments of haunting poetry ("Moss and mud slid from its dripping flanks as the thing turned its head to regard Kaye with luminous white eyes"). And she never turns away from the uglier facets of her world -- there are hints of cruelty, madness and heartbreak, as well as the love and persistence in Kaye.

And she writes really, really good characters who run all across the board. Kaye is a very likable, heartfelt heroine -- she's initially a little fey and odd, and she has some painful growing up to do. Roiben is a rather alluring character, being all mystery, bad reputation and unearthly beauty, and you really want to see him get together with Kaye.

"Modern Faerie Tales: Tithe" is the vibrant, haunting story that spawned a thousand "I'm a faerie girl who never knew it!" knockoffs, and like many originals, it's one of the best. Delicious.

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