Spring 2024 books roundup, part 4: war stories, horror and vampires

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Monday March 18, 2024
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Spring 2024 books roundup, part 4: war stories, horror and vampires

Presenting the fourth and final piece in our big Spring books roundup. Titles in this enchantingly fiction-heavy installment include works of autofiction by French author Edouard Louis in his sequel to "The End of Eddy," and a story collection from gay Vietnam veteran Angelo Presicci.

More alternative selections and darker story entries can be found for those readers who enjoy spooky suspense and horror. There are lots of new books to choose from this Spring for every color of the personality rainbow. Get out there and visit your local bookstores in person and see all the wonder and entertainment that books and reading can provide.

Author Edouard Louis  

"Change" by Edouard Louis
, translated from the French by John Lambert, $27 (FSG)
French author Louis' revelatory 2017 work of autobiographical fiction, "The End of Eddy," searingly portrayed the titular protagonist as a poor, asthmatic, queer boy raised in northern France and subjected to the violent toughening rituals of his alcoholic father and chain-smoking mother.

If the push-pull of his identity struggle was wincingly palpable within that melancholy narrative, Louis's desperate desire for attention and literary fame becomes just as resonant in this sequel.

Louis writes of his "character" reaching adolescence as a self-loathing queer man but with his spirit buoyed by a friendship with a philosopher, Didier. His enthusiasm and determination (and monetary stipends from generous men and hustled clients) would bring him to the doorways of an elite school where he learns of how snobbery and diligent writing can bring wealth and notoriety. This sequel continues to "fictionally" probe into the author's life, emotions, intentions, and dreams with grace and dexterity.

"Fighting the Bad War: Stories" by Angelo Presicci, $24.95 (Night Horn Books)
These gritty yet luminous short works of autofiction by debut author and Grass Valley resident Angelo Presicci dramatically reimagine and incorporate aspects of his wartime experiences as a reconnaissance scout and Armored Personnel commander in Vietnam in 1966.

Standout stories include the dramatic opener, "The Tunnel," where a military commander sends two soldiers into a cave in Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province to probe it and they discover a trove of "tropical roaches" and a "twisted sideways" corpse.

"Poker Night" portrays a rousing game of cards between competitive solders turning deadly when the camp where they're playing explodes from mortars. The moving story of a disabled, wheelchair-bound veteran in "Tomas and Banefsha" returns him to small-town Tennessee only to be rejected by his wife but finds love again with a woman who considers his good looks "like a movie star."

The men who populate these stories are deeply, emotionally scarred and physically wounded, but they each carry a warrior's heart and soul within their weathered broken exteriors. Inspired by the author's real-time Vietnam tour of duty, the collection of seventeen interconnected stories is a memorable treasury of the military experience and, particularly for war veterans, will be pondered long after the final story has been read.

"Thirst" by Marina Yuszczuk, translated by Heather Cleary, $28 (Dutton)
In novelist Yuszczuk's first book to be published in America, the Buenos Aires-set story crosses centuries to chronicle the bloodthirsty tale of a nameless female vampire. She'd abandoned Europe after her Maker and sisters were slaughtered by locals; now in Argentina, she hunts and she drinks with a newfound pleasure.

But that life can hold only so much satisfaction and soon she quarantines herself inside a cemetery tomb for eternity. For vampires, the nature of "eternity" isn't typically considered forever, so the vamp's slumber is eventually broken by a young mother who obtains a key which (you guessed it) unlocks the vampire's musty tomb.

Sex, blood, and forbidden desire soon drench this fantastic tale which Yuszczuk regales with deliciously explicit neck-biting details. Anne Rice fans will savor this one.

"Bury Your Gays: An Anthology of Tragic Queer Horror," edited by Sofia Ajram, $18.95 (Ghoulish Books)
The sixteen tales of terror in this eerie and sinister anthology have a devilishly queer twist and are destined to keep you up at night, whether or not you're a fan of horror fiction.

While many authors featured here are relative unknowns, there are a few stories penned by recognizable names like Gretchen Felker-Martin, whose 2022 debut "Manhunt" was an amazingly daring, trans-populated gross-out zombie epic. She contributes the story "Sardines," which is based on a version of the hide-and-seek children's game. In this nightmarish version, however, it's the collective "thing" morphing in a crawlspace that isn't exactly child's play.

LC Von Hessen's brilliant "American Gothic" follows queer serial killer John, whose latest victim refuses to die and keeps emerging from the bloody basement. The situation gets even more sticky since "despite being dead, he can still get hard," which causes John to develop romantic feelings for him after all the brutality.

Elsewhere, a Vietnam vet desperate for gender reassignment surgery accepts their fate at a Mexico clinic where the horrific comes true, and a tale about a dead body and a runaway queer girl who have more in common than they know.

This collection is a standout and aptly reflects the ingenuity and creativity of queer horror authors at the hopeful and momentous outset of their writing careers.

"Rainbow Black" by Maggie Thrash, $18.99 (HarperPerennial)
Thrash is better known for her young adult novels, but here, in her first foray into adult fiction, she shines just as brightly in this story of young, queer, and gravely unfortunate Lacey Bond in the 1990s.

Lacey's life becomes unmoored when she's tossed into a foster group home after her parents are convicted of heinous atrocities at their New England day care. From there, the story weaves maniacally across mystery, courtroom, and family-discord themes.

This is a welcomed delight to queer readers who crave murderous melodrama packed within a coming-of-age novel that's constantly (and literally) hyperventilating with lurid excess and extraordinary detail. Lacey is a resilient character to cheer for, even while everyone around her has failed to support her. This is the dark horse novel of the season.

"Hex Magic/Hexual Awakening" by Andrew Forrest Baker, $18 (Parlyaree Press)
These first two entries in Baker's spellbinding Hex'd Southern gothic lit series are sexy, sultry, suspenseful, and impossible to put down once a reader dips in.

The series stars Darragh Cullen, curator of the Herbal Emporium Xpress store in downtown Atlanta, a business (and the upstairs apartment) he'd inherited from his retired Uncle Gardiner. Though the "non-magical folk" who wander in call it "wizard crap," to Darragh, it's his lifeblood and keeps him busy and safe from the scrutinous overlording eyes of the Moral Authority of Witches ("MAW"), the same group who caught him exposing magic to the mortal world.

After mysterious, handsome fellow witch Cernun Murphy shows up, the dark sparks fly hot and bright. But when Merlin's wand goes missing, accusations of thievery fall on both men along with dangerous suspicions, curses, spells, and, yes, steamy (three-way) sex all stewing in a bubbly cauldron of queer desire and dark devilry continuing into Book Two and beyond.

Both books in the series are narrated from Darragh's perspective, and Baker's smooth breezy prose, overheated Southern setting, creatively spicy storytelling, and sensuous characterization will hook readers from both sides of the spell book.

And, good news, there's a third book in the series called "Great Hex" that's due to be published soon. "Sex and saliva hovered in the air as they parted" is really all the information you need to know about this immersive, wickedly witchy, and wonderfully sexy queer series.

"Before It's Gone: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America" by Jonathan Vigliotti
, $29.99 (Atria/One Signal) April 2
Queer Emmy Award-winning CBS news national correspondent Vigliotti sounds the warning bells about climate change in this distressing story about the impact of climate change on smaller communities in America.

Split into four elemental sections (fire, water, air, Earth), Vigliotti dives head-first into wildfires decimating communities and critical farmland and lethal tornados ravaging lands and populations left at their mercy after city and town officials failed to warn unsuspecting citizens.

The author states that these small rural areas are ill-equipped to afford the often million-dollar clean-up efforts needed to restore the areas back to a functional condition. Vigliotti also spotlights climatologists and scientists who have been doing their best work in alerting a politically distracted, socially indifferent global population on the incoming weather crisis that will strike sooner than later if interventional measures aren't taken in the here and now.

This important, urgently written report demands attention and further scrutiny from politicians, city leaders, activists, and everyday Americans.

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