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Notable books

Notable Books | Four current novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Agincourt

If you looked away during Braveheart, don't read this book: The prominent medieval battle scenes are gory, with Cornwell capturing the smells, sounds, and hard physical work of close-up killing. But for those who want a rousing retelling of the story of how 6,000 Brits under Henry V in 1415 defeated a French army of 30,000, Agincourt is a terrific page-turner.

Cornwell's grunt's-eye view of traipsing through France, dysentery and all, has plenty of action stirred with vengeance and sweetened with romance. The hero, archer Nicholas Hook, rescues a maiden at the siege of Soissons, escapes the murderous wrath of a corrupt priest, and rains down death on the advancing French army.

Jerk, California

Sam Carrier has Tourette's syndrome. His uncontrollable twitches, jerks, and grunts cause embarrassment and ostracism at school and rejection at home. His stepfather can't stand the disorder and compounds the problem by lying to Sam about his birth father, leaving the boy angry and feeling rejected by everyone.

An unlikely friendship with a neighbor leads Sam on a road trip that helps him discover truths about his father and himself. Jonathan Friesen, a Christian who has Tourette's, wrote this novel for teens. He portrays Sam as someone who judges others just as they judge him-until he discovers, with the help of his father's friends, that his superficial judgments are often wrong.

Black & White and Dead All Over

Darnton, a 40-year veteran of The New York Times, gets even with this witty mystery/satire set at a New York newspaper suffering from a decline in circulation and stock price. When someone murders a despised editor, an intrepid male reporter pursues the story with the help of some colleagues and an attractive female detective assigned to the case.

The novel works as an entertaining whodunit, but it's best as a satire on the news business. It's also an affectionate look back at journalism's good old days and some customs-deadlines overwhelm personal relations, liquor overcomes secrecy, cynicism defeats everything except a sense of adventure-that remain.

The Paris Enigma

The Twelve Detectives, made up of the world's greatest sleuths, are scheduled to meet for the first time at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. At the last minute the Argentinian detective is unable to attend, so his assistant goes instead and is thrust into the middle of a mystery when one of the 12 is murdered near the unfinished Eiffel Tower.

The stories of remarkable cases are amusing at first, but the lack of character development or a central core leads eventually to reader ennui. The detectives, eccentrics with huge egos, engage in philosophical debates about the nature of detection but seem strangely incompetent to solve a crime-and in the end, who cares?

Spotlight

Looking for a good book to read? Several websites offer book recommendations based on information you provide. At Whichbook.net, a U.K. site, you can specify by race, gender, sexuality, and age what kind of character you want to read about. You can also specify, on a continuum, plot attributes such as happy/sad, funny/disturbing, optimistic/bleak, short/long, etc. The books are limited to fiction and poetry written or translated into English and published in paperback since 1995.

What Should I Read Next? (whatshouldireadnext.com) relies on other readers to provide recommendations. You enter the name of a book and author you like, and the website generates recommendations "based purely on collective taste: when items are entered into the same favorites list, they become associated with each other." The more often the same titles appear on the same lists, the stronger the association.

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