Book Review: "The Talisman" by Stephen King and Peter Straub

The Talisman by Peter Straub and Stephen King is a 644-page novel about a boy's journey across the country. Of course, if you know anything about these authors, you know that the novel is not as simple as I just made it sound.  

The Talisman revolves around a world that is mostly King's creation. Fans will recognize underlying tones from his other novels, particularly the Dark Tower series. Sure, the flavor of The Talisman is King, but that's not to say Straub's style is overpowered at all. It's a nice blend that is ultimately one of my favorites.

Jack is a boy of 12 who is somehow the keeper of two worlds that are connected, but somehow different. These two worlds are the world we know and the Territories. He must save both worlds and his mothers in both worlds from an evil man named Morgan. Morgan Sloat here, Morgan of Orris there. He is to achieve these heroic acts by finding the item on which all worlds, many more than these two, rely. This item is the Talisman and it is kept a country away from Jack within an evil castle/hotel that will try to stop him from retrieving his prize.

Peter Straub and Stephen King manage to weave a world that is both horrific and beautiful in the Territories. They also manage to remind us of what is horrific and what is beautiful in our own world. The reader cannot help but become engrossed in Jack's journey as we see him travel his way through both worlds, faltering at times, but always full of inner strength. Like a good fantasy novel, The Talisman has heroes of unlikely sorts and evils beyond comprehension. It is gripping, it is gruesome, it is sweet and it is charming in all of its complexity. Really, it is a damn good book.

Are there lengthy passages in the book that could probably be skimmed over or cut out completely? Of course there are. Stephen King is verbose after all. However, the book should not be discarded out of an unwillingness to read the unnecessary bits. The meat of the story is in there and it is worth chomping through some word salad to get to it. There is a sequel as well. It is called The Black House. We'll get to that shortly. I have to give it a reread before I tell you all about it, but I can tell you now that I liked it the first time I read it and that probably won't change, so if you get a chance to read both books before I get back to you, go for it. Don't wait around for me to tell you that a pair of novels by two masters is worth reading.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is an unforgiving look at the restaurant industry and the unsavory individuals that hide behind the scenes. This book is brutal, it is alarming, but most of all, it is beautiful and honest. It is the story of one chef's love of food and the gnarly people who cook it. This may not be the best book for folks outside of the business, but those who are "in the know" are bound to spend the entire time they are reading this novel nodding their heads in agreement. Bourdain just knows how to describe kitchens in a way that most cooks/chefs do not. (Hey, not all cooks or former cooks can write or even speak properly, but that magic on a plate needs no translation.)

Okay, to be fair, there is no plot to this novel. There is no page-turning suspense. There is no hero. There is only one master villain and his army of lesser villains marching from restaurant to restaurant, leaving no menu unchanged and no drug un-(well, you get the idea). Kitchen Confidential is no "Tale of Two Cities" and Anthony Bourdain is not Charles Dickens, by a long shot (though I doubt that would bother him in the slightest). What this book is would be lost on anyone who has not slaved in a 90-degree kitchen while listening to heavy metal, screaming at the other cooks to stay off your station . . ., and loved it. This is not a cookbook. It is a cook's book.

Anthony Bourdain has given cooks a book to pass around and say, "Dude, you have to read this." with Kitchen Confidential. In fact, that is how I came across it. Another female cook who I spent most of my cooking career with or around gave me the book and said, "Please read it. I need to talk to someone about it." I felt the same way when I had finished. I spent a lot of time feeling as if my kitchens were unique little secret hideaways that no outsider could understand. Terms like "radar love" were created for my use and the use of the cooks I came across. When I saw that in Bourdain's book, I said to my book-giving friend, "Didn't we make that up?" Her expression said, "Apparently not." In this way, Kitchen Confidential turned my one shimmering thread in the cooking world into a web.

I was not a lone mercenary cook beating some sense into the helpless newbs that were placed at my feet more often than I care to remember. I was part of an army that was heretofore invisible to me. Anthony Bourdain also taught me that I had "martyr syndrome." He is a jerk, but I love him for it.

Shelly Barclay