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Valentines is for lovers, those who love leisure

By MIM ANNE HOUK

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


Valentine's Day need not be a day for lovers only. It's a grand excuse for remembering all the people who are important to us. Sharing books, music or movies makes a caring way to mark the day.

Amanda Cross (pen name for the English literature professor and critic Carolyn Heilbrun), in her latest academic mystery, has put Kate Fansler, usually her central character, alter ego and amateur detective, on the sideline as a supporting player in favor of Woody Woodhaven, a bright, engaging, way-overweight private investigator.

In Honest Doubt: A Kate Fansler Novel, he is caught in the middle of a murder investigation at a small liberal arts college and appeals to Kate for her help and guidance in untangling the politics and rivalries that may have been instrumental in the death of a very unpopular professor. Lots of fun, with cross-references to other mysteries, movies and politics, to keep the reader smiling.

Frances Mayes' new work, In Tuscany, a beautiful coffee-table with gorgeous pictures, has updates from Frances and Ed about life in their remodeled house in Tuscany and more recipes for unforgettable Italian dishes. A winner for anyone who has ever been -- or simply has dreams of going -- to Italy.

For a novel reader, John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener will satisfy the need for a seriously good book. His fans used to worry that he might have lost his subject with the ending of the Cold War. His new enemies are huge, immoral corporations that carelessly dump their below-par, sometimes downright dangerous, merchandise into Third World countries and make huge profits from them. This is not an easy-to-read mystery, but a complex, layered novel about the misery that greed and cruelty can create.

A book that's fun to leaf through, stop to read favorite parts, and return to again and again: From Elvis to E-Mail: Trends, Events and Trivia from the Postwar Era to the End of the Century by Paul Dickson. It is a wonderful timeline book ("British rule in India ended on August 15, 1947, and Captain Kangaroo and The Mickey Mouse Club both debuted on the same day, October 3, 1955. . . . The Year in Words and Phrases ("brinksmanship," "Asian flu" and "Common Market" -- all from 1957). Good fun and bound to bring back lots of memories.

The wonderful music just keeps coming to the Marly Room of the Museum of Fine Arts on Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg. The outstanding young Russian violinist Dmitri Berlinsky will be accompanied by prize-winning pianist Elena Baksht at 2 p.m. Sunday. On Feb. 11, award-winning cellist Jan-Erik Gustaffson will be joined by pianist Noreen Polera, a Juilliard graduate widely praised as both a soloist and accompanist, in a program of Beethoven, Sibelius and Chopin. Admission is $15. Call (727) 896-2667 for reservations. Call early: This a popular series in a small recital hall.

If you like your music in the morning, the Florida Orchestra's Coffee Series at the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg, conducted by Thomas Wilkins, is just the right arrangement. At 11 a.m. Feb. 8, the program will feature Yoo Bin Son on the flute and music by Vaughan Williams, Mozart, Elgar and others. As a bonus, come an hour early and join Dr. Ira Ross as he converses with musicians while everyone enjoys complimentary coffee and doughnuts. Call (813) 286-2403or (800) 662-7286 for information, reservations and tickets.

Which writer do you prefer -- Hemingway or Faulkner? In February, at the Performing Arts Center on Pine Street in Tarpon Springs, you'll have a chance to remember them both and maybe come to a decision about their relative merits. At 8 p.m. Feb. 10, Ed Metzger, actor and playwright, will portray Hemingway in Hemingway on the Edge. At 8 p.m. Feb. 16, John Maxwell, artistic director at the New Stage Theatre in Jackson, Miss., will perform in Oh Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write? based on the life of William Faulkner. Call (727) 942-5605 for ticket and reservation information.

Remember the lights at night, the smell and taste of roasted peanuts and cotton candy and the sounds of the merry-go-round? The Florida State Fair is scheduled for Feb. 8-19 at the Fairgrounds east of Tampa. There's quite a lineup of feature entertainment, ranging from the Platters to the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra & the Pied Pipers to Stars of the Grand Ole Opry -- something for every taste. The usual midway attractions, agricultural exhibits and good eating will be on hand. Ticket prices vary with price breaks and discounts, some now available at Publix supermarkets. For more information, call (813) 621-7821 or (800) 345-3247, e-mail at flafair2001pr@aol.com or visit the fair Web site at http://www.floridastatefair.com/

Web sites:

http://www.milespree.com/ -- Links to help you spend your frequent-flyer miles wisely. Even if you won't be flying, here's how to to redeem your frequent flyer miles through discounts on merchandise

http://www.bnuniversity.com/ -- Free online instructor-led courses in literature, history, business, the arts and other subjects. That's right: They're free.

Happy Valentine's Day, and take note.

* * *

- Write to Mim Anne Houk c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or send e-mail to MHouk@tampabay.rr.com.

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