Thirty-five party menus from a veteran food writer whose professionally chic recipes have to compete with lousy prose and a general air of contrivance. The menus, meant to cover a multitude of social contingencies, rarely live up to the seasonal billing of the subtitle--apple tart in spring? The concepts vary a lot in general bearability. ""Japanese Poolside Party,"" a five-cheesecake soirÃ‰e, and ""Winter White Dinner"" (""a palette of ethereal dishes"" of ""rich, monochromatic understatement"") are rather harder to take than ""Danish Whole Fish Dinner"" (a noble-sounding meal, this one), a Pennsylvania Dutch New Year's Day dinner, a sort-of-Indian buffet, or ""The Joy of Afternoon Tea."" For the most part, Tart sensibly steers away from suggestions for cute ""theme"" decor or improbable accessories. Some may wish she'd given more guidance on planning schedules. The recipes lean heavily (though not always) to stylish hyperinventiveness. Things like old-fashioned red cabbage slaw with boiled dressing are very infrequent surprises in a book where even iced tea has to be brought up to date with ginger; creamed scallops are run under the broiler in individual lettuce cups; and Bloody Marys are given the Chinese treatment with sesame oil and hoisin sauce. Strained ingenuity is also the dominant note of Tarr's cheery headnotes and introductions: ""Once steamed, mussels open their sleek, steel-blue wings like armor-clad butterflies."" To breathe fresh inspiration into books ""meant to take the panic out of party-giving"" is at this point probably beyond the powers of the angel Gabriel--but you'll find a nearer approach in Susan Costner's Good Friends, Great Dinners (p. 917).