I kind of shot my load on the last post, but I still need to learn to self edit and that sucker was getting long. Here is the abbreviated (HA!) version of what I have seen and read.
Read: The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud
This woman can write. After reading the book, I read a ton of reviews that likened her to Edith Wharton, and although I don't see any parallels in their writing technique, I think it harkens back to the subject - Emperor's Children is about New York City's upper crust. NYC is certainly its own character, and provides a fantastical backdrop, but Messud's ability to flesh out characters and plot lines in a most measured way is what sets this book apart. I think it is (or was) up for a ton of book awards, and rightfully so, but what makes this one a must-read is the talent of the author. Although this book should never, EVER, be made into a book, you find yourself casting it nevertheless.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
This is probably the best book I have read this year, and I have read some fantastic books. This is the kind of book that, when you set it down after finishing, reminds you why you could never write for a living. Imaginative, creative, clever - there aren't enough superlatives to describe it and the brilliant way in which Pessl tells her story. The protagonist is a freakishly well-read adolescent who lives with her brilliant-but-flawed father, who is raising her after her mother's death. He believes in education by life experience (despite being a professor) and challenges her to think for herself outside the proverbial box. As a result, the reader must follow along and question almost everything. A tragedy is described in the opening chapters and you spend nearly 400 pages, dying to know how it all came about. Along the way, you get a passive education, follow some red herrings, and ultimately, come to respect the person who imagined this story and these words that have kept you completely engaged.
I read a lot, and some of it is entertaining crap and some of it is insightful and some of it makes you appreciative of story telling and some of it leaves you gobsmacked. This book has all of that in the best possible way and I am pretty sure it is my Christmas book for my friends. When I set the book down after the final page, I found myself in a state of awe at the creativity and imagination and talent of the author. P has it now and am curious to know if she had a similar experience when she finally finished. A good book can take you places that few films can.