The Southern Vampire Mysteries are the series of books on which "True Blood" is based. Not ground-breaking literature, but way more fun than Twilight. Notable for a decent balance of gore and sex and a complete lack of sparkly vampire skin.
This series of novels revolves around self-deprecating hottie Sookie Stackhouse, whose very name ought to tell you how she's built.* A waitress in her mid-twenties in rural, northern Louisiana, Sookie spends a lot of time telling us what she's wearing and how she's done her hair that day. In between getting dressed and undressed, she waits on tables at the only bar in town, fails repeatedly to notice that her boss is hot for her, and fails repeatedly not to use her telepathic powers to glean embarrassing tidbits of info from the bar patrons.
*She's stacked. Like a brick house. Stackhouse. BOOBS.
When the series starts, vampires have recently "come out" (stick with us, it doesn't get any more subtle from there) into the open and revealed their existence to society at large. Newly developed synthetic blood (brand name: TrueBlood), created for hospitals but nearly as tasty as the real thing, has changed things for vampires: It's allowed them to stop hiding in the shadows, fearing discovery and hunting the living, and start owning property, running businesses and humping the living.
Awwwww, yeah. Sookie Sookie now.
Reactions to the worldwide coming-out varied by nation, but the U.S. is more or less rolling with it, criminalizing attacks on vampires as hate crimes and outlawing the sale of their tasty, mind-altering, sexy-time-enhancing blood. (Vampire blood is a drug in this series, and it's called "V.") However, vampires still aren't allowed to get married, although there's legislation in the works. And if they let that through, the next thing you know some guy will want to marry his pet werewolf. It's how those people are.
Like this, only with more vampires and less idiocy.
The Southern Vampire Mysteries vampires are traditional vampires: they only come out at night, they're highly sexual, they never age, and they vaaant to suuuuck your blooooood. They're allergic to silver, they move very quickly and they don't harbor much pity for humans. They can't come into a house unless they're invited. And they stay out of the sun because it sets them on fire, not because it makes them look like a Lisa Frank trapper-keeper.
No. Just...no. NO.
If they want to screw you, they're not going to be all angsty about it and worry about hurting you. They're going to screw you, and yes, it'll be hot and no, you won't have to wade through thousands of pages of junior-high daydreams to get to the good parts. There's good parts right there in the first book, starting on page 143 of the paperback edition. (You're welcome.)
In the first novel, Sookie falls in love with a vampire named Bill Compton, who's about 160 years old. Their complex relationship runs through the series, and in each novel, Sookie finds herself involved against her will with various vampires and the problems that affect their world---vampires who've lost their memories; efforts to thwart the anti-vampire, Fred-Phelps-substitute Fellowship of the Sun; the mysterious disappearance of one vampire or another; vampire conventions up North. Just typical Louisiana stuff in the post-vampire world.
Not pictured: Vampires. Because it's daytime.
So life is hard for Sookie, and it only gets harder as the series progresses: She quickly learns of the existence of other supernatural beings besides vampires; the "supes" include werewolves, werepanthers, weretigers, faeries, maenads, and demons, just to name a few. They're not ready to come out until they see how things work out long-term for the vampires--so keeping their existence under wraps becomes Sookie's de facto full-time job. That's what you get for screwing vampires. That, and vampire herpes.
This is the third image that comes up if you search for "vampire herpes." Seriously.
The series features some genuinely nasty gore, some pretty hot sex, and occasionally some good insight into what defines a person as a person. Things get interesting and poignant whenever the vampires reflect on when they used to be human---for example, Sookie's new boyfriend Bill telling her grandmother's Descendants of the Glorious Dead society about the Civil War according to what he remembers from actually being there is a moving scene that simultaneously reminds the characters and the reader that, while the Civil War happened a long time ago, it happened to people who felt their losses just as keenly as we feel ours today. It's like if the Lost Boys had talked about their time spent working in coal mines or as newsies during the Industrial Revolution...
Yeah, that's Batman in the middle. We're sorry.
Aforementioned hottie waitress. Telepathic. Falls for vampires because she can't read their thoughts; because really, who wants to know what guys really think about your body when you're a 5'7" blonde with a great rack?
Aforementioned vampire boyfriend. Handsome, gallant (dead) Southern gentleman. Fought in the Civil War. While he has conflicting loyalties, he is the kind of vampire you bring home to meet your parents.
Big blonde vampire described more or less as a walking (dead) hard-on. Owner of vampire-bar Fangtasia; manipulative, powerful and very, very old. The kind of vampire you just know you can change, if you can only break through the he-man exterior to the wounded soul within. Before he kills you, sexily.
The Southern Vampire Mysteries are capitalizing on the currently red-hot my-boyfriend-is-a-vampire book market and, having been adapted into a very susccessful HBO series, show no signs of stopping. Sookie is an engaging heroine and Harris has coined some clever phrases; for instance, we would start calling all Goth chicks we encounter "fangbangers" if we weren't certain they'd take it as a compliment.
Actually, we'd call her anything if we thought she'd take it as a compliment.
While the books are short and simple, Harris's writing style is straightforward and funny, and way ahead of most of her competition.
The TrueBlood series differs from the Southern Vampire Mysteries books in some pretty significant ways, but both are worth checking out if you're looking for vampires that aren't hideous beasts from the underworld, but that can still fuck some shit up when necessary.