I've been reading faster than I've felt like blogging these days. Here's the list, and some quick comments:
25. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
I actually read this on the plane over from Madrid. It's the second in the Millenium trilogy about Swedish journalist Mikhail Blomkvist and especially the disturbed and brilliant young researcher and computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. This book concentrates much more on Lisbeth's character and continues Larsson's probing of violence against women, and other crimes, in Sweden. What keeps these books from just being (amazingly well-done) thrillers is Larsson's obvious desire to use them as a wake-up call against how women are abused in his country, and around the world, every day. He explores many angles of the problem and uses hauntingly real characters like Lisbeth to demonstrate the psychological consequences, even as she stunningly conquers her own victimhood. Personally, I LOVE Lisbeth's character (couldn't you tell?) and I'm sad I'll only get to spend one more book with her.
26. Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind
I have to say, this started off as extremely generic and one-dimensional fantasy, but it gets impressively complicated and terrifying by the end. What this book has going for it is sheer shock value. Recommended to teenage boys.
27. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
I was disappointed in this groundbreaking scifi classic. I should have read it when I was younger and less familiar with the genre. Foundation is all plot. The great psychohistorian Hari Seldon maps out the future of a colony he establishes, the Foundation, before the Empire as everyone has known it for 12000 years finally crumbles. Without Foundation, Seldon claims, there will be a chaotic interregnum of 30000 years. With it, it will be reduced to only 1000. The book follows the inhabitants of the Foundation planet, Terminus, at intervals when "Seldon crises" occur, or Foundation must battle for its survival in the most statistically predictable way. All the characters are stock and used simply for a purpose, for the reader to learn their clever idea of how to weather the latest Seldon crisis and compete with internal and external political opponents. The only reason I can think of that this was so influential is that Asimov looked quite a bit farther into the future than most people were when he was writing, and his ideas involved a human race that occupied multiple planets throughout the universe. Asimov was writing in the '40s to early '50s, and other ideas like his don't come in till the '60s with Dune and Star Trek.
28. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
I enjoyed this more than I expected to, and liked it better than Brooks' People of the Book.. The story is based on the town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, England in the 1600s, where the townspeople shut themselves off to contain the plague for a little over a year. Brooks tells the story of that year through her vibrant fictional narrator, Anna Frith. Frith is a maid to the local minister and his wife, who are the strongest forces behind the decision to quarantine. While much of what Anna has to relate is traumatic and may seem far-fetched, I think Brooks did a very accurate job of portraying the physical and psychological aspects of plague. The book shows a lot of research and also a lot of inspired imagination. I would recommend it to fans of non-romanticized historical fiction.