Friday, March 25, 2011

Decadence & Obsession in London: One Fateful Summer

What lengths will we go to for our friends and our family? What behaviors will we--can we--put up with... and when does the sum total of those behaviors suddenly become “too much”? 
How do we know if love borders on obsession... and are we capable of realizing if and when it crosses the line, blithely sailing right on past what is apt to be recognized only later as the point of no return?
Why do we make the choices we do... and how do we justify living with their consequences?
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
By all accounts, it would've been perfectly reasonable for Queen Charlotte’s College linguistics student Karen Clarke to assume she had life all figured out as it stretched endlessly before her, in a vista seemingly full of promise and possibilities. But, all sorts of things can intervene and spoil even the best-laid plans... something which author Erin Kelly illustrates with bold brushstrokes in her tour-de-force debut, The Poison Tree
(Quick note: You may be worried that I’m about to divulge spoilers. Trust me, I’m not.
Rising above her humble, blue-collar upbringing (via a natural talent for learning foreign languages), Karen was about to become the first in her family to receive any sort of degree, and she would do so with the highest honors. 
Besides her brilliant academic achievements, she'd also enjoyed the security of “belonging” and the luxury of safety during her years at school. From the first, she’d been welcomed into a small group of other “good” girls, and shortly after, had moved into a smart place with them in a nice neighborhood (rather than rooming in either the usual dingy, institutional housing offered by universities everywhere or the sort of dodgy, off-campus digs available from nearby slumlords). 
For the next four years, she proceeded to attend classes and study dutifully, work out at the gym, and hang out with her friends in their safe little world. Holidays were likewise spent together, as the housemates pooled their resources to visit all the prestigious European museums (staying in rented homes, rather than the grubby hostels frequented by their peers). Karen had a boyfriend, as well--a steady (if boring and self-centered) chap--with whom to be seen, marking her as part of a couple in their little crowd. 
If it was all a bit empty--if she often felt as though she were being towed by an invisible current, doing all the expected things at the proper times in the proscribed order--well, she just tried to push those thoughts right out of her mind. This was the life she’d always wanted... right?
Fortunately--or unfortunately, as the case may be--life rarely remains on such an even keel for long. Whether it’s one tiny little thing which leads to another and then another, snowballing, or something much more dramatic--a real sea change, it’s inevitable that sooner or later something will happen to alter the balance... something which changes everything.
In Karen’s case, the first changes are rather unexceptional. On the verge of completing their fourth year in school and deciding “what comes next”, her boyfriend unceremoniously breaks up with her. Then, her roommates inform her that they’ve made plans to go abroad for the summer... without her.
After the initial surprise, Karen feels relief at being shot of the lot of them, and she finds herself looking at this last summer of new-found freedom as an opportunity to really live. Moreover, she's convinced that fate has indeed intervened, when in short order she happens to meet a beautiful girl--the most exotic creature Karen has ever seen, looking for someone who can translate German for her. There would be no way of knowing that this would become one of the most-defining relationships of her entire life.
The bohemian Biba Capel is everything the proper Karen isn’t, which naturally makes her endlessly fascinating. Life is an adventure to Biba; she's the picture of spontaneity, knowing no boundaries and denying herself no pleasure (or, at least insofar as being a penniless-but-charming college student allows). By turns sensitive and brash, Biba is like a brilliant flame to so many fluttering moths... and she carries with her the sort of danger which is only realized too late.
Karen moves into Biba's huge family home in Highgate (which also houses Biba’s devoted and protective older brother, Rex, plus a revolving-door of eclectic guests and wanderers in need of a place to crash). Despite its impressive London address, though, the house is a mouldering pile of decrepitude--always a fire hazard (with everyone constantly smoking and burning candles), full of filthy, tatty furniture and unwashed dishes and clothes, and reeking of the stench left over from endless parties. Yet somehow, none of that really matters, simply because Biba is there. 
Like everyone else, Karen is obsessed with Biba--and later, to a somewhat-lesser degree with Rex--and she whiles away most of the sweltering summer in a haze of lazy, carefree days and smoky, booze-filled nights. It’s the happiest time she’s ever known, living with the Capels in their own little wasteland. But, all good things must end, and the summer of bliss comes to an abrupt halt when a sequence of events culminates in a shocking tragedy... leaving a family and friends torn apart by murder. 
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *  
This is a book--and these are characters--unlike any other. From our first vision of Karen Clarke (furtively but frantically racing off in the dead of night), to our next encounter with her (which takes place some ten years in the past), it's easy to see that this is someone with a tale to tell. Author Kelly leisurely shows us Karen’s world through Karen’s eyes, and in so doing we gradually come to understand just how inevitable are the events which follow.
I suspect there will be certain segments of people--particularly, those who prefer their stories tidy and linear, and those convinced that "fine art" means a depiction of heavenly rays of light over a pastoral scene--for whom this tale will hold little appeal. They'll probably feel confused and frustrated by the constant, back-and-forth nature of the story, as Kelly masterfully interweaves past and present, retracing Karen’s steps all the way back to the beginning. There are people who won’t approve of the subject matter, either; the author never looks down on the hippie-ish culture embraced by her characters, but focusses on their good and bad decisions and the outcomes of their actions. And, I suppose, there will even be some people who simply don’t have the patience to wait and see what everything is inexorably leading up to--the people who don’t like to be held in suspense, ever.
None of that describes me. Listening to me recount a story may, in fact, be much like this one--generally choosing the long, meandering way, and apt to tell things when I feel they’ll have the greatest effect (which isn’t necessarily, by any means, in their proper order). Nor do I actively seek out friends and acquaintances who predictably go from Point A to Point B every single day of the week; it’s so much more interesting being around people who really live (and think and feel and dream), rather than around those content to let life just happen to them. And--no great surprise--I adore suspense; I view life as a puzzle--with the pieces in a constant state of flux--and the thrill is in trying to figure out where everything goes.
That brings me, finally, to the suspense in The Poison Tree. I did, as it happens, figure out the ending well in advance of it. (As soon as a certain minor plot point was mentioned, I latched onto it and just knew.) Did that spoil one iota of the story--the whole experience--for me? No way. The Poison Tree is a psychological suspense of the first order, which means it is the people--and their motivations--which drive the story. Even if you know (or think you know) the what, who, when, or how, there’s still the why to worry about... and the why is the most fascinating part of all, because it is the why of everything which originates deep inside of us... and which explains, better than anything else, who we really are. By the end of The Poison Tree, we have a handle on the motivations of all the characters... and I suspect that we will all learn a little something about ourselves, in the process.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 mousies!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Carpools & PTA Meetings: Just A Day in the Life of a Vampire P.I.

Somewhat curiously, a lot of people live and die for vampire books. (Okay, maybe--hopefully--the reality isn’t quite as dramatic as life-and-death... but, still, you know the person I’m talking about, right? The one who will read anything, no matter how atrocious, so long as it features their favorite creature of the night?) 
Such people can--and invariably do, if you’re around them long enough--rhapsodize for hours about the “dreaminess” of vamps... from their perfect, alabaster skin (conveniently ignoring the reality of how it would feel to hug such marble-chilliness), to the romantic nature of their only-after-dark lifestyles (seriously? as though a life lived primarily without ever seeing the sun sounds do-able?), to their overall beauty (because everyone knows that NO ONE is writing books about vamps who look anything like Bela Lugosi these days, pfft).
Then, of course, there’s the whole issue of blood to deal with (or not, as is generally the case with all but the seriously-hardcore fans--the ones whose level of kink soars into the stratosphere and who definitely aren’t the “normal” rabid fans currently under discussion). I mean, sure, there’s an undeniable appeal in having someone bite your neck hard enough in the heat of passion to draw a few drops of blood... but to then drink your blood, to suck it from your veins and guzzle it as though it were cold water pouring from a faucet on a hot summer day? Yeah, I’d be taking a pass on that.
All of this isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy stories about vampires, myself. They can make for some good reading... provided they aren’t over-glamorized and glorified. Give me a troubled bloodsucker--one for whom everything isn’t always rosy, who deals with problems and insecurities--and make him/her an interesting, multi-dimensional character, and I’m in. (It’s just yet another uber-handsome blond Adonis, gorgeous female fighting machine, or anything remotely sparkly that I can do without, thanks.)
✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠   
J.R. Rain, bless his heart, writes about my kind of vampire. Samantha Moon, heroine of Moon Dance (the first in his “Vampire for Hire” series), is... was... no, is a typical modern woman... who just so happens to be a vampire, as well. To say that her life is complicated would be an understatement.
Sam, a married 37-year-old mother of two, was turned six years ago. Since then, her life has, of necessity, undergone some pretty radical changes. She had to give up the federal job she loved (because the 9-to-5 schedule no longer worked with the “extremely-rare skin condition” she told everyone she’d suddenly acquired). To that end, she became a private investigator; she sets her own hours, sees clients at her convenience, and conducts investigations after dark. She longs for the companionship of the old days, though, and most especially when she’s all alone in the middle of the night.
Eating and drinking, obviously, are wholly-different experiences for her now, too. Suffice it to say that she really misses food and absolutely hates the bagged blood stored in a padlocked refrigerator in the garage. (Anyone with food allergies or sensitivities will definitely sympathize with her, there.)
Other things can’t change so much, though; namely, that which concerns her young children. Sam’s daughter and son expect their mommy to be able to pick them up from school just like always, and do all those “mommy” things with them in the afternoon... and so she does, with the aid of copious amounts of sunblock, tinted windows, and dark sunglasses. It isn’t pleasant for her, but she endures the pain and being awake when she should still be fast asleep because she has no other choice; her children need her, and she needs them. (These come across as realistic, healthy relationships, and I suspect that mothers everywhere will identify with what Sam is going through.)
Her husband, meanwhile, is another matter. As Sam does everything she can to keep up the semblance of a “normal” life (and of being normal), she feels the husband she loves slipping further and further away, and she isn’t sure whether or not things can be fixed. (Again, the problems of a long-married couple ring true; take the vampire element out of the equation, and a lot of women will recognize their own experiences in those of Sam and her husband.)  
Fortunately, Sam at least has plenty of work to occupy her thoughts (and keep her sane), and her newest case certainly seems like a challenging one. A local defense attorney--who recently survived being shot multiple times by an unknown assailant--hires Sam to find the shooter (something the police have, as yet, been unable to do). A couple of interesting things about the case? The client is magnetically appealing, in ways that Sam can’t quite figure out (or believe). And, he apparently chose her for a reason; he has--inexplicably--figured out what she is.
✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠

Although it’s rather short--only 258 pages--Moon Dance works on several levels. It’s an interesting--practical, if you will--look at being a vampire, as much about dealing with being different, as it is about being a supernatural creature. (It's a vampire story for both vampire lovers and those not-so enamored of them.) It’s a journey of self-discovery. It offers a look into relationships--what they mean and how they change. It’s about trying to do the right thing, even when the right thing isn’t easy or particularly desirable. And, of course, there’s a nice little mystery, too, with the resolution of the ‘whodunit‘ and the ‘whydunnit‘ making sense.
Because this is a quick read, some things are dealt with in lesser detail than they would’ve been in a longer book. The solution to Sam’s case, for instance, is a tad abrupt. (However, since all the essentials to her figuring it out are there, that isn’t a major quibble.) All in all, though, it’s a good introduction to an interesting character, a neat take on a couple of genres, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what author Rain comes up with next.
[Note: This is the second story I’ve read by this self-published author--see my earlier review of Dark Horse, here--and have enjoyed both; Rain has a nice way with words and is an easy story-teller. (I should probably mention that the errors in his books are, thankfully, few and far between; I’ve seen far-more egregious mistakes in too many professionally-edited and -published books, so please don’t let that deter you from trying him out.) Also, even though some of his books are available in paperback now, the best deal is still the Kindle version.]

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 3.5 mousies 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Journey into the Icy Unknown (a Steampunkish Fantasy Adventure)

Being a young woman has never been quite the walk in the park it might--at first blush--appear to be.
Sure, it looks simple enough when viewed from the outside. Young women giggle and share secrets with their best friends. They sit in front of mirrors, studying their reflections and analyzing every pore. They spend hours in pursuit of the perfect article of clothing or pair of shoes. They daydream about who they want to fall in love with them... and then devise elaborate schemes in the hope of ensuring romantic success.
Young women are a lot more than such fluff and frippery, of course. They think about the world at large, looking beyond their own small corner of it. They rail at social injustices and inequalities, and chafe at being told to blindly accept the status quo. They ponder the great unknown of the future, and think, perhaps, that they could solve all the world’s problems, if given the chance. They have minds of their own, and they look for opportunities in which to use them.
✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠
Author Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic focuses on two such young women--girls on the cusp of legal adulthood and all the thrilling and fearsome responsibility it will bring. In that sense, this is something of a coming-of-age tale. It goes way beyond that, however, because Elliott chose, with great effect, to put her spunky young ladies in the middle of an alternate-history, Steampunk-tinged world.
It’s 1837, and early days of the Industrial Revolution. The Europe inhabited by our characters isn’t the same as the one we know from history books; different results in famous battles have led to changes in the power structures (the Phoenician and Carthaginian Empire co-exists with the Roman one, for instance), and the alteration of geopolitical boundaries has created an interesting co-mingling of diverse cultures (groups from the African continent are allied with the Celts, here). Europe’s various rulers number among them military leaders, monarchs, and cold mages--the latter’s power deriving from their ability to wield magic, and being particularly adept at using cold. (Speaking of cold, this version of Europe is stuck in a long-lasting Ice Age--something which adds another interesting layer.) In this world, the mages are a holdover from old times... and it is the mages who oppose all the modernization taking place, deeming it “radical tinkering”, sure to destroy society (a position leaving them both feared and generally disliked.)   
But back to our young women. We get a good sense of who they are, early on. College students, privileged to be studying all the latest scientific achievements with their male counterparts, each girl is just shy of her twentieth birthday. Orphaned Catherine Hassi Barahal, who has lived with her uncle’s family since she was a small child, is the more grounded and practical one--except, perhaps, for her great obsession with reading in general, and with the journals written by her (deceased) father, famous explorer Daniel Hassi Barahal, in particular. Cousin Beatrice, on the other hand, is Cat’s polar opposite, an artistic girl who craves attention and possesses the uncanny ability for bending everyone to her will.
After a bit of excitement in class one day--trouble involving Bee’s confiscated sketchbook (which contains not only excellent depictions of the newfangled airships they were attending a lecture about, but also a bunch of lovingly-detailed renderings of the young fellow who is the current object of Bee’s affections)--the girls are forced to mount a daring rescue campaign of said sketchbook from the dean’s office. (It’s a cute scene, highlighting the girls’ relationship and showcasing the special talents of each, while further building on the whole Steampunk setting.)
That little escapade is a mere inconvenience, however, compared to what happens next...
A mysterious visitor arrives unannounced at the family home later that same evening... a man, inexplicably claiming his right to collect on an old contract agreed upon more than a decade earlier by his family and the Barahals. The arrangement, apparently, stipulates that he will marry the eldest Barahal daughter prior to her twentieth birthday! 
Being a scant two months older than her cousin, means that Cat is the unwitting bride-to-be. And, as both girls watch in shock and disbelief, Cat’s uncle and aunt not only begrudgingly acknowledge these extraordinary terms--without explaining how or why such an agreement was ever made--but insist that Cat leave at once with the man.
It gets worse. This isn’t just any random stranger staking a bizarre claim; he is a cold mage. The Barahals--city dwellers enjoying the Industrial Revolution, thrilled by the likes of the airship newly landed in town, and by inventions such as the gas lights (which they’re unfortunately too poor to afford)--are naturally opposed to the cold mages with their adherence to mystical ways. The mages, in turn, abhor not only all the new technology and fancy gizmos, but also the fact that the combined work of historians, scientists, and political speakers is spawning such widespread upheaval. By marrying a mage, Cat will be tying herself to someone who disagrees with everything she’s grown up thinking and believing. (Not exactly an auspicious start for a marriage.)
But, after the briefest of “ceremonies”, married they are, and Cat finds herself in a claustrophobic carriage with her taciturn new spouse, Andevai, riding in near silence for days on end, en route to a mysterious destination. (“Mysterious”, because he refuses to tell her where they’re going, or why.)
It’s a bitterly-cold and miserable journey across the barren, icy landscape, punctuated by their encounters with terrifying things and strange people. Technology may indeed be taking off like wildfire, but that doesn’t change the fact that (seemingly) ordinary people such as Cat still share the world with not only the mystical mages, but also with trolls, erus, djeli, and gnomes (to name just a few). Just when she thinks she's getting a handle on things, it all shifts and changes yet again, this time putting the couple on the run in a desperate attempt for survival. 
Cat handles herself surprisingly well, throughout. Then again, she's the daughter of an explorer and a descended-from-the-Amazons warrior, and despite having lost her parents so long ago, she still thinks about them often, drawing courage from their exploits. And, courage is precisely what she’s going to need to possess in spades, because danger lurks everywhere, and nothing is as it seems... not her new husband, not the family she thought she knew, and not even who she grew up thinking that she was.
✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ 
There is, as you may have guessed, a lot of world-building going on in Cold Magic. The true importance of many things isn’t immediately obvious, but invariably makes sense later, as Cat discovers and learns more. (In that sense, the story also draws from mystery books, because we never know more than Cat knows, only finding out when she does.) It’s a fascinating, richly-layered and textured world that Elliott builds for us, with new takes on some familiar things, as well as others that I hadn’t previously encountered. (There are a few things which aren’t, perhaps, fully-explained within the context of this story, but they’re things which I suspect will come back in future books, and they don’t give me any cause for upset.)  
Cat--and to a slightly-lesser extent, Bee, who’s absent from the action through the mid-section of the book--is a fully-fleshed-out character, sympathetic and believable. (I suspect that some readers might get a bit frustrated with her occasionally, thinking she should know/realize more than she does, sooner than she does, but I found her actions and thought processes true to her age and experience.) She isn’t drawn as someone who becomes impossibly capable or suddenly knowledgable when thrust into some very unexpected situations (an annoying tendency in many fantasy and paranormal books), nor does she come across as a whiny, helpless child. Instead, she deals with a lot of uncertainty and inner turmoil, making decisions--for better or worse--both instinctively and reflectively. Both young women undertake journeys of growth and understanding, and their responses to the situations they find themselves in feel “true”... making their story one you want to totally immerse yourself in.
Really, though, I think that all of the characters are nicely fleshed-out; even very minor ones are given enough detail and depth to make them interesting, and integral, parts of the overall story. The social and cultural dynamics are especially compelling, too; Elliott has created a radically, racially- and culturally-diverse world (particularly notable for the time period), and the idea of such holds great appeal for me.
Cold Magic is the first in Elliott's "Spiritwalker" trilogy, so it definitely has its work cut out for it, establishing the alternate world and histories, plus introducing us to such a broad cast of characters. Elliott calls the series a mash-up, an “Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency novel with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troödons” (a type of dinosaur)... a description that works well enough for me (although I would add that there is also an element of romance to it--certainly with the whole sinister-but-sexy-stranger-coming-to-steal-away-the-innocent-young-lady plot--but it's by no means the main or only focus).

Overall, I think the author succeeded brilliantly, and Cold Magic stands alone as a complete piece, that also sets up the continuing story for the next book. 
Elliott is a new-to-me author (this book being a friend recommendation, actually), and I’m not only eagerly anticipating the release of the second book in the trilogy (Cold Fire, debuting September 2011), but am looking forward to checking out Elliott’s earlier works. This is good stuff, and I’m hooked. :)

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4 out of 5 mousies!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Strip Clubs and Lap Dances: 'Lucky' Writer Researches It All

I am, admittedly, something of a slave to research.

That comes as no great shock, I know; we quiet, “bookish” (ugh!) folk are just sort of made for spending hours cooped up in libraries or in front of computers, compiling endless lists of data for later tabulation, consideration, and regurgitation.
Case in point? I spent two semesters in college--working for minimum wage, 20 hours a week, mind you--cooped up alone in a glorified closet (okay, scratch the “glorified” part, because it wasn’t), painstakingly wading through roll after roll of grainy, eye-numbing microfilm, trying my best to decipher shakily-handwritten copies of wills, bills of lading, and other documents from the late 1600s and early 1700s, cataloguing each and every single possession of the individual (down to the mended sock or mismatched set of spoons) bequeathed, inventoried, and otherwise mentioned therein... all in the name of research. And the kicker? I. Loved. That. Job.
Fortunately for those not so-inclined, though, research doesn’t always have to be quite so, erm, mundane (nor so lonely!). On the contrary, it can actually be downright... titillating, as described below by a fabulous new author whose works I’ve previously featured (see here), Deborah Coonts. 
So, without further ado... take it away, Deb!

RESEARCH—Vegas Style
(by Deborah Coonts)
"I bet I am the only taxpayer who used a night at a male strip club as a business deduction. Well, okay, me and several politicians, but mine was legit. This writer gig has its upside, I can tell you that.  Who knew research could be this much fun? 
I wish I could tell you that I based my novels in Las Vegas because I wanted Uncle Sam to cover some of the cost of great nights out, but I wasn’t that smart. And to be honest, while digging around Sin City can be wildly amusing, it does have its downside.
As with most of life’s lessons, this one was learned the hard way. And here is what I’ve learned: USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM!
Right out of the gate, for novel number one, WANNA GET LUCKY? I needed to experience a sex toy trade show. As with most things, I didn’t really think it through. I mean, people go to these all the time, don’t they? It was a trade show, for chrissake! With vendors and everything. So, picturing the Home and Garden Show I attended at some point in the past (I know! What was I thinking? Apparently I must have been channeling Donna Reed—that’s the only excuse I can come up with.), I launched off, blissfully clueless.
My head started to swim after the fourth or fifth row of battery-operated boyfriend exhibits. I’m from the South; please, we don’t even discuss sex, much less have it thrust in our faces—I thought I was made of sterner stuff, but apparently not. So, even though as a Texas girl I can ride bareback, shoot dinner on the wing, gut a deer, converse fluently in china patterns and silver place settings, identify this season’s Prada from last’s, and break the nose of any guy who calls me “Honey,” I found myself totally out of my element. When Oprah admonishes us to challenge ourselves everyday, I don’t think this is what she means.  I started to hyperventilate. I needed help, and a change of plan.
After two glasses of liquid fortification at the bar, I headed into the movie theatre. Big mistake. You see, when I’m nervous, I laugh uncontrollably—doubled-over, tears-rolling-down-my-face, gulping-lungfuls-of-air kind of laughing. And I really hadn’t recovered my composure.
I discovered two things that day: porn stars take themselves very seriously, and I can outrun over-siliconed twenty-somethings…if they are wearing six-inch heels. As a woman of a certain age, I already knew I could outrun any guy preoccupied with his wanker, so that was no biggie. 
Now, when I go off on a research expedition, I gather the posse. There is safety in numbers. At least that’s what my mother used to say, but I don’t think she ever envisioned the places I have to see, the sacrifices I’m called upon to make for my art. Once the girls gather, we fortify ourselves with liquid courage, check to make sure the EMTs are on speed-dial and we have the names of several reputable bail bondsmen (assuming that isn’t an oxymoron), then we’re off.
Our first foray into the dangerous world of research as a group was a night out at one of the few, if not the only, remaining true male strip clubs. The club occupied the second floor of a ramshackle old building in a part of town that had lost even then the faintest memory of respectability. Emaciated, disinterested young women writhed around poles on the lower floor. Like ants following a trail of pheromones, a single file of women snaked through the bar to the back staircase. We fell in as I meticulously tucked my receipt into my wallet—business expense, you know. At the top of the stairs we were assaulted by a coven of naked young men wearing only a tiny sack over their privates. One brazen, doe-eyed, long-haired kid, started running his hands over me. “Don’t.” I snapped. I was in no mood to play—as I said, this was business…and he was…not appealing. He reared back as if I’d hit him with a Tazer. “I can’t touch you?” he asked, clearly incredulous. I narrowed my eyes at him and he slunk off. Smart boy.
One of my friends, who had decided to “dress slutty” in honor of our outing, attracted the most attention, as I skooched into a booth enjoying the show. And what a show it was. The music started. A guy dressed as a Marine strutted out and started doing his thing. As I watched, all I could think of was “What ever happened to the Village People?” I was clearly having trouble going with the flow.
Women beat their open palms on the stage, stuffed the Marine’s tiny sack with dollar bills, while one Adonis straddled my “slutty” friend and began grinding into her chest. She looked around his perfect set of cheeks that were aimed in my direction, and raised her glass while gracing me with a huge grin. I flagged the waiter down and ordered a double.
That’s about all I think I can tell you. I know truth is an absolute defense to libel, but discretion is the glue that binds female friendships. However, to this day, I wake up in a cold sweat that somewhere there is a grainy photo, hastily taken with a camera phone…
But, if its all the same to you, I’d rather take in a male strip show."
DEBORAH COONTS’s mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though she’s not totally sure—her mother can’t be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can’t get into too much trouble. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager. She is the author of the "Lucky in Vegas" series, featuring Wanna Get Lucky? and Lucky Stiff.

Thanks, Deb, for such a fun and, erm, illuminating look at all that hard research you've done in the name of writing! (Small pun intended.) (Or possibly a large-ish one... but only you know the answer to that. ;D)