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July 11, 2006 > Footnotes


by Joyce Peters and Dominique Hutches

It's summertime and the reading is easy. Here are some books that are easy to pick up or put down for a quick nap, whatever your mood dictates.

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, Bloomsbury Publishing hardback, $24.95 (2006)

Nasty Bits either refers to the less desirable cuts of meat that serious cooks turn into gourmet treats, or Anthony Bourdain's collection of food articles and reflections on his food travels in the last five years.

Since writing "Kitchen Confidential," his breakout expose of the restaurant world, Bourdain has been living the easy life - traveling and eating in exotic locales often followed by a film crew. He admits that he is too old to be on his feet cooking 12 hours a day, yet he misses the kitchen. He and his other misfit cooks have skills honed from coming up the ranks. In "Nasty Bits" there still is the disdain for cooking school graduates over those ex-dishwasher immigrants that have learned the hard way. They are the true warriors that run the operations of labor-intensive restaurants, cranking out thousands of identically tasty dishes. Most diners don't like to be surprised; they want consistency.

Bourdain is still opinionated, since publishing "Kitchen Confidential," but has toned down his criticism of celebrity cooks particularly now that he trades on his celebrity. He even gives respect to gourmet restaurants in Las Vegas that are started by culinary stars who never really cook in these kitchens. Even Emeril Lagasse is given grudging admiration.

At times profane, Bourdain makes the case that a truly wonderful meal is akin to good sex. His description of an intensely sensuous sushi meal at New York City's Masa -- where the starting price is $350 per person -- is pure ecstasy. It's not easy finding non-repetitive adjectives for food. How many ways can you describe a "crisp" salad? So I appreciate how vividly he describes his food experiences.

Because "Nasty Bits" is a collection of articles written for Gourmet and other food magazines, the book disjointed at times, is recommended for earnest "foodies." However, it is not recommended for vegetarians. This man loves meat, animal fat and rich sauces. Since I can't bring myself to eat high-fat foods with total abandon, I get guilty pleasure from his freedom to indulge. Bourdain is respectful of animals but that doesn't stop him from eating them. Ban fois gras, traditional or powdered (yes, it's true)? Don't count on Tony to sign on.

Recommended for adults. Reviewed by jgp.

"Darkhenge" by Catherine Fisher, Greenwillow hardback, $15.99 (2006). Paperback is due August 2006.

While Chloe is in the hospital in a coma, her brother, Rob, "sees" her riding her horse calling to him. When he encounters a group of mystics, there's no way their leader could know him. And when he's hired to work at an archeological dig, a bird emerges flying from under the ground. Somehow, all these things actually happen and Rob finds himself caught up in a mystical hunt to bring the soul of his sister back from the "Unworld," the world under the ground. Set in England, the entrance to the Unworld is discovered at a dig site where a Stonehenge-type artifact made of ancient timbers has been unearthed.

Rob's character is written well as a man full of doubts and frustration centered on his effort to bring his sister back at all costs. Chloe, too, is fascinating, as Rob's younger sibling - her talents have always been overshadowed by her brother's artistic success. In fact, as we get to know her, we find out that she doesn't want to go back to the "real" world at all and fights against Rob's rescue efforts.

Darkhenge is filled with dark imagery; the reader won't know until the very end if Rob will survive his quest to get Chloe back, much less if he'll be successful. It's an enthralling read from cover to cover.

For young adults/high school ages. Reviewed by dh.

Dear Fish written and illustrated by Chris Gall, Little Brown. Hardback, $16.99 (2006)

Peter Allen spent a marvelous day at the beach playing in the waves and wondering what strange creatures might live in the water. Being a curious but polite sort of fellow, he leaves a message in a bottle:

"Dear Fish,
Where you live is pretty cool. You should come visit us someday. Plus my Mom makes good pies.
Peter Alan"

The next morning as he gets ready for school, he notices odd sounds and a strong odor coming from behind the shower curtain. His letter has been answered! Soon there are curious creatures everywhere!

The illustrations in this book are full of visual puns (my favorite was the peanut butter jar being held by the jelly fish) and ocean denizens in all kinds of unusual situations (a barracuda baseball bat?!). The inside covers are helpful guides for parents, identifying all the fish Peter and his family encounter. Lots of fishy fun!

For children ages 5-9. Reviewed by dh.

Johnny Hangtime, by Dan Gutman, Harper Collins. Paperback, $5.99
Johnny Thyme is a13-year-old,  normal kid who goes to school. He also happens to be a stuntman who spends his spare time doing things like jumping off buildings as the stunt double for Rickie Corvette, teen movie star. Problem is, no one can know about Johnny's work - Rickie is loved for doing his "own" work in his movies.

Needless to say, Johnny's life is full of frustrations. He hates not being able to tell anyone about all the cool stunts that he's done. The school bully keeps taunting him, and there's nothing he can do about it. His mom frets about his stunts, which only makes sense since his stuntman dad was lost when he went over Niagara Falls. And on top of it all, Johnny doesn't particularly like Rickie Corvette. Still, doing stunts is the best life for him.

I really enjoyed the description of all the hard work that goes into executing action sequences that look so amazing on the screen. The stunts are described so well you almost imagine you've seen the movie. Gutman manages to make the stunts sound difficult, and stresses all the safety precautions needed to get them done, without losing the momentum of the plot and the interesting characters. Gutman has said that he believes this is one of his best stories. I must agree.

For ages 10-14. Reviewed by dh.

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