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Originally published Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 7:02 PM

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A 'Sookie Stackhouse' junkie comes clean

How a reader of respectable novels got totally hooked on Charlaine Harris' fantasy/mystery/vampire/romance series featuring heroine Sookie Stackhouse, the inspiration for the HBO series "True Blood." Author Harris appears in Seattle Thursday, May 13.

Seattle Times staff

Author appearance

Charlaine Harris

Reading and book signing, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle. Tickets are free with the purchase of "Dead in the Family" from University Book Store; otherwise tickets are $5 (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).

Season 3 of "True Blood" premieres June 13 on HBO.

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Commentary |

It was my Summer of Sookie.

That would be Sookie Stackhouse, big-hearted, telepathic waitress from Bon Temps, La., torn between two vampire lovers.

In June 2009, I couldn't wait for Season 2 of "True Blood" to hurry up and start on HBO. I was fully caught up with Season 1, having just consumed all 12 episodes in an On Demand feeding frenzy.

By "True Blood's" Season 2 finale last September, I had also devoured all nine books in Charlaine Harris' "Sookie Stackhouse," aka "Southern Vampire," series, which inspired the TV show.

It was a given that I would love spooky, sexy, quirky, funny "True Blood." It's my kind of show — "Twin Peaks" and "The X Files," I miss you still.

That I would fall for the novels took me totally by surprise. I'm an avid reader of respectable books, the kind reviewed in this newspaper. Fantasy/mystery/vampire/romance novels? Uh, no thanks.

But I was curious about the source material for "True Blood." So I bought one ("Dead Until Dark"), then another ("Living Dead in Dallas"), then another ("Club Dead"), and on and on.

What sucked me in? Definitely the books' oddly charming, often funny mix of the mundane and the absurd. And the chills and thrills in boudoirs and various locales around the South aren't too bad either.

The basic conceit of the stories, set in the present and told from Sookie's point of view, is a hoot. The creation of a synthetic version of human blood has brought vampires "out of the coffin." Those who want to play nice and mingle with the living drink the synthetic — in varying blood types and best microwaved. Those who can't control their urges ... well, it gets ugly.

Harris, a prolific author who lives in Arkansas, had me early in "Dead Until Dark." Bill Compton, turned into a vampire during the Civil War, comes to Sookie's house for a visit — clad in Docker khakis and a polo shirt.

Sookie's grandmother is delighted that the gentleman caller is a bona fide Confederate veteran. Gran wastes no time inviting him to speak to her historical society, the Descendants of the Glorious Dead.

Over the course of the series the education of Sookie has included: meeting various members in the hierarchy of U.S. vampires (a queen in Louisiana, a king in Kentucky); discovering what really happened to Elvis (!); and realizing that intolerant humans can be more monstrous than the various supernatural creatures who become her friends and foes.

Florid, silly, escapist fun? You bet. But Harris manages to rise above, writing with straightforward honesty, humor and heart.

About to infiltrate the vampire-hating Fellowship of the Sun in Dallas, Sookie ponders, "What did fanatics wear to go to a fanatic gathering place? ... If I'd been at home I'd have run to Wal-Mart and been right on the money ... "

Hurricane Katrina's devastation figures into the series. The introduction of a relative who connects with our heroine in a special way is tender and playful. And Harris can get suspense just right, as in a spine-tingling scene where witches recreate a murder through an "ectoplasm."

Through it all there's vulnerable, resilient, likable Sookie, trying to make peace with her lot in life and, in between the mayhem, enjoy simple pleasures like curling up with a good book.

And that's just what I plan to do with the latest in the series, "Dead in the Family."

Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi is a Seattle Times desk editor. For the record, she's on Team Eric.

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