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Fall In Love With These Books- Valentine Roundup

February 14, 2011

Reviewed by Elizabeth Willse, a freelance writer from Manhattan.

I Think I Love You
Allison Pearson
Alfred A. Knopf, 336 pp., $24.95

Read this if you remember plastering your walls with your idol’s posters, singing along with the radio or screaming at a concert. Allison Pearson has a terrific grasp of all facets of the experience.

Growing up in a small town in Wales, Petra and her teenage girlfriends devour every word of the David Cassidy Monthly.

Meanwhile, in an office in London, Bill is fabricating every one of David’s “personal” letters to his fans, and wondering how his dreams of being a rock journalist came to this. The story takes place in 1974 and 1998, setting up parallel stories for Petra and Bill.
Pearson does a wonderful job capturing each narrative voice. Teenage Petra is dreamy and awkward, her dialogue peppered with Welsh slang. Bill is cynical and pompous about pop music.

Returning to them 20 years later, Pearson intertwines their stories and their lives in ways that are whimsically sweet, but still believable. Reading this will make you smile.

Fatal February
Barbara Levenson
Oceanview Publishing, 253 pp., $22.95

The real mystery in “Fatal February” is wondering how a smart criminal defense attorney — like the central character, Mary Magruder Katz — would cause herself so many problems, even for the sake of romance. A rude stranger rear-ends Mary’s car, introduces himself with a handsome smile, and suddenly she’s ready to help him seal a real estate deal. Or kiss him. Both of which she does, placing her job in jeopardy.

Even while everything in Mary’s life — from her longtime engagement to her bar license — is in upheaval, she keeps the narrative cheerful. Whether salvaging her reputation, working on a big murder case, or starting her solo law practice, Mary stays upbeat. This is a fun, vacation getaway book if you don’t push its logic too hard.

To snowbound Northeast readers, the Florida scenery will feel just as escapist and perfect as the plot. Whether Mary’s in the courtroom, her apartment or a beach getaway, the sense of Florida community and climate comes through.

And the Rest Is History: The Famous (and Infamous) First Meetings of the World’s Most Passionate Couples
Marlene Wagman-Geller
Perigee, 242 pp., $18.95 paperback

From Antony and Cleopatra to George Burns and Gracie Allen to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Marlene Wagman-Geller takes a closer look at iconic romantic couples throughout history. Each chapter tells the story of how two great lovers met, often overcoming differences like distance, age, even previous spouses. Once they meet what Wagman-Geller calls their “destiny,” the romance is spectacular. Each chapter ends on a bittersweet — if thorough — note, as Wagman-Geller adds a postscript noting how each of the lovers died and where they are buried.

While the general stories might be familiar, there are a few surprising details. Joe DiMaggio met Marilyn Monroe by arranging a blind date. Wallis Simpson’s scandalous affair with Prince Edward inspired Time Magazine to make her its first Woman of the Year.

Whether you browse these stories at random, or get absorbed enough to read several at a time, you’ll find it a fun, informative read.

The Science Of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us
Sheril Kirshenbaum
Grand Central Publishing, 246 pp., $19.95

Sheril Kirshenbaum’s discussion of the science behind kissing is a multidisciplinary overview of any science that might apply to the pastime. As kissing itself has not been studied very extensively, Kirshenbaum’s research draws on psychology, evolutionary theory, anthropology, biology, chemistry and studies that reveal more about lust and sexual attraction in humans and animals.

It was not, she acknowledges, an easy project. In her introduction, she recalls being embarrassed at having to ask an elderly librarian for an article called “Fetishes and Their Associated Behaviors.”

But her awkward conversations with librarians paid off, because she’s written an intriguing overview of several disciplines that inform the study of the kiss. From conjectures about the evolutionary roots of kissing to a broad survey of the place of the kiss in different cultures or historical periods, Kirshenbaum has provided a fascinating look at the big picture, loaded with interesting references to a wealth of studies.

The Lover’s Dictionary
David Levithan
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 224 pp., $18

From “aberrant” to “zenith,” David Levithan’s latest creates a relationship in short scenes, packed with lyrical language. Entries slip back and forth in time as they unfold through an alphabet of romance, anger, forgiveness and tenderness to make up one particular relationship. The narrator stays nameless, even as each entry reveals details both intimate and ordinary. They’ve both read “Charlotte’s Web.” They argue about drinking, finances, making the bed.

Some entries riff on the language itself: “better adj and adv. Will it ever get better? It better.”

The entries manage to be both intently focused and hinting at the larger picture. They read more like a well-crafted series of poems than a linear story line. Each word is defined and captured in a moment of the relationship. Levithan moves from romance to heartbreak to flirtation to devotion, in alphabetical order:
“breathtaking, adj. those mornings when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word.”

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