Would you rather be stuck in traffic for hours than have pals over for a bash?
Does the idea of mixing Manhattans for more than you and your significant other give you Don Draper-ish angst? A recent British survey found that 57 percent of respondents said the idea of throwing a dinner party stressed them out more than their daily commute. So think of this summer's crop of soiree tip books as self-help lit for the entertaining averse. With advice on eats, drinks and how to dandify your space, they'll have you prepped to host to-dos from backyard barbecues and cooler-than-college beer blowouts to, yep, sophisticated suppers.
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— Best For Beautifying Your Pad With Blooms
"The Flower Recipe Book" by Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo ($25, Artisan)
The Gist: If you can follow a simple recipe for lasagna, you can create boutique hotel-worthy centerpieces from posies — and a few choice veggies and green things — with this high-on-photos tome. The authors (co-owners of a San Francisco floral studio) focus on seasonal buds, most easy to find at the supermarket; loose arrangements; and interesting vessels (canning jars, vintage wineglasses).
Best Advice: Recipes show how to whip up bouquets from common flowers at various levels of complexity/expense/difficulty. For example, peonies go solo in tiny vases or pal around with poppies and rosemary in a wooden crate.
Inspired Idea: For a wedding or baby shower, create a floral garland by stringing inexpensive mini-carnation heads on thread.
— Best For Setting The Scene
"The Art of the Party" by David Stark ($30, The Monacelli Press)
The Gist: Anyone who's been to a wedding since President Obama got in office (or who lives for Pinterest) knows that party decor has amped up lately, with goodie bags even for non-kids and sometimes wild themes (Pirate Funeral!) carried over in food, drink and crafty decor. Celebrity party animal David Stark, who has thrown bashes for such clients as Arianna Huffington and Target, shows how to turn an event from plain to schmancy, albeit on a very high-end scale.
Why Read It: You can fantasize about attending a lantern-and- carpet strewn wedding on a yacht in Turkey (shown in the book), then rip the idea off with World Market bath mats and a bunch of Ikea candles.
Inspired Idea: Use a mini flag to wrap napkins at each place setting. (U.S., D.C. and others, from $1.90 each, at Flagsexpress.com)
— Best for Passing the Bartender Test
"Cocktails For A Crowd" by Kara Newman ($19, Chronicle Books)
The Gist: Yeah, a Rhubarb Bruleed, Cinnamon-Infused Rye Manhattan sounds delish, but do you really have time to mix 50 of them for thirsty pals? Instead, this photo-filled book suggests crowd-quenching highballs — many of them pitcher drinks or punches — that are high on taste and low on effort.
Why Read It: To discover drinks that raise the bar on tasteless frozen margaritas or granny-ish punches: Hibiscus Rum Coolers and Sake Sangria.
Inspired Idea: For attractive ice in a punch bowl, fill a metal bread loaf pan halfway with water and submerge sliced berries and chopped mint or sliced lemons and cucumbers, then freeze.
_Best for Getting Grub on the Table or Tray
"What's A Hostess To Do?" by Susan Spungen ($18, Artisan)
The Gist: Susan Spungen, a seasoned food vet of the Martha Stewart empire, shows and tells how to host friends and family for dinner, picnics or cocktails with 121 recipes, guides to equipping a soiree arsenal (buy a cheap case of wineglasses) and sensible, stylish tips (use a cocktail tray to corral equipment and booze in a chic way).
Best Advice: "What's Wrong with this Menu" offers comparisons of difficult or messy meals (spaghetti and meatballs turns a buffet into a horror-movie set) with better ideas (salads, baked pasta).
Tastiest Takeaway: Spungen's recipe for easy pizza cooked on the grill. Her secret? Easy-to-stretch frozen dough and glowing, yet not superfiery coals.