Saturday, June 12, 2010

Feminist Bookshelf: Fun, fictional females

Charlaine Harris' latest installment in her wildly-popular "southern vampire" "Sookie Stackhouse" series "Dead in the Family" is still in the top five titles on The New York Times' best seller list.

(By the way, if you were a fan of the books first, the HBO series "True Blood," based the Sookie titles, blows. At least that's my opinion.)

Although I do not consider the Sookie character to be a feminist because of her over dependence on stronger, male characters for help and salvation, I am a fan of the series. It is a showcase for Harris' skillful writing and vivid imagination.

What I like about this series is that each volume contains enough background information -- skillfully written in by Harris -- so that readers can pick up the story at any point in the series.

To me, this is a mark of good writing.

Harris has also written other series worthy of a read.

The "Lily Bard" mystery series revolves around a survivor who refuses to continue to be victimized.

Lily was brutally raped. She survived and recovered and has taken up karate to build her physical and emotional strength in the aftermath of the attack. She exerts her independence by being self-reliant and self-supporting.

And, she just "happens" to solve murder mysteries in the town of Shakespeare, Arkansas.

What I like about Harris' female protagonists -- feminist or not -- is that they are down-to-earth, one-of-us women.

Sookie is a waitress, Lily cleans houses for a living.

As for me, I am spending the summer with one of my favorite fictional females -- Helen Hawthorne from the Dead End Job Mysteries by Elaine Viets.

Helen is a forty-something former executive who comes home early from work early one day to find her house husband, Rob, on the deck sexing up the next door neighbor. After destroying Rob's SUV in a rage, Helen files for divorce.

Much to her surprise, the judge awards Rob "alimony" and a share of Helen's future income. Helen vows that Rob will never see a penny and takes off on the run.

She ends up in Florida working a series of "dead end jobs" for cash to survive and stay off Rob's radar. In the process, she makes new friends, finds love, and, of course solves murder mysteries.

Author Viets claims to have worked dead-end jobs similar to Helen's including a bridal planner, dress shop salesperson, hotel day maid, and telemarketer.

I love Helen. Her situation is contemporary. The books are hilarious and fun. Read one and you'll be hooked. Viets employs the same clever writing technique so the series can be read in any order.

Currently, I'm catching up on the series with 2008's "Clubbed to Death" in which Helen is working in the customer service department of an elite country club. She returns to work on Monday morning to find one of her coworkers killed with a golf club -- literally "clubbed to death" -- putting her in the middle of another murder mystery.

In the high-tech, fast-paced age we live in, reading for pure pleasure is a small luxury we afford ourselves less frequently -- so treat yourself this summer.

Blessed be.

Elaine Viets' "Dead-end Job Mysteries"

"Half-priced Homocide" (2010)
"Killer Cuts" (2009)
"Clubbed to Death" (2008)
"Murder with Reservations" (2007)
"Murder Unleashed" (2006)
"Just Murdered" (2005)
"Dying to Call You" (2004)
"Shop till you Drop" (2003)
"Murder Between the Covers" (2003)

Charlaine Harris' "Lily Bard" Mystery Series
(all have "Shakespeare" in the title. Shakespeare ... Bard ... get it?)

"Shakespeare's Counselor" (book one)
"Shakespeare's Trollop" (book two)
"Shakespeare's Christmas" (book three)
"Shakespeare's Champion" (book four)
"Shakespeare's Landlord" (book five)

(FYI -- This series is best read in order.)

Charlaine Harris' "Sookie Stackhouse" series (all have "Dead" in the title.)
"Dead Until Dark" (book one)
"Living Dead in Dallas" (book two)
"Club Dead" (book three)
"Dead to the World" (book four)
"Dead as a Doornail" (book five)
"Definitely Dead" (book six)
"All Together Dead" (book seven)
"From Dead to Worse" (book eight)
"Dead and Gone" (book nine)
"Dead in the Family" (book 10 - latest release)

Related links: Charlaine Harris, Elaine Viets

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