Cover Image: Summer Sons

Summer Sons

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4.5 stars rounded up. This debut is Southern Gothic - which seems to be fast becoming its own solid subgenre? - dark academia queer creepy goodness. I was slow to get started because honestly I'm a baby and I had to read it in daylight so couldn't really dive in all the way until the weekend, but then it really took off. Andrew was not a fan of his best friend Eddie starting grad school a term earlier than planned and without him. When the worst happens, Andrew starts the term as planned with a secret-not-so-secret goal of finding out what really happened to Eddie, convinced there is something more sinister at play and that his best friend didn't take his own life. He's aided by Eddie's new roommate Riley and Riley's cousin Sam and a ghostly apparition that clutches Andrew and won't let go. Thus begins a journey of literal hauntings and curses and pain and self-discovery and fast cars and codependency and legacy and messy queerness. I think this is going to speak to a lot of people, myself distinctly included, and I can't wait to see what else we get from Mandelo.

Content warning: death, violence, brief homophobia and homophobic slurs, drug use
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Five phenomenal, engrossing stars. Summer Sons easily shot to the top of my 2021 reads and has become an all-time favourite as well. A combination of messy grief, horrific haunts, adrenaline laced secrets, and dangers both phantasmal and all too real, this novel grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let me go until the very end.

Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for an advance reading copy. All opinions are my own.
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‘For a moment, he hadn’t felt alone’ 

Summer Sons is a novel that pulls you in with its skeletal fingers and doesn’t let you go. It’s a petrol fuelled, southern gothic story that’s filled with fast cars, angsty boys and a plot that will make you reenact the Charlie Day meme.  

What begins as a death of a best friend, turns into a slow, agonising decent of identity issues, grief & codependency. The take on being queer was something I’ve never really encountered before in books and I savoured it with each chapter. I can really see a lot of queer readers being able to understand and identify with the main character Andrew, in his pursuit of finding himself. 

If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. It was eerie, spooky, there was moments that really frightened me, which isn’t easy, but it also had beautiful moments of boys being tender, caring and protective. 

Mandelo’s writing, his prose, the way they were able to conjure such a beautiful, compelling novel that was also filled with such horror, dread and guilt has completely blown me away. 

Half way through the book, I started describing myself as a SFS, Simp for Sam. I don’t think I’ve felt this drawn and infatuated with a book character in nearly a year, so thank you for that. 

I’m actually quite upset that I’ve read it now because…It genuinely was a perfect book to me. The pacing, the setting, the characters, everything was perfect to me, and the fact that its a horror book that I can really relate to in the sense of being a gay trans man, has made me extremely happy. 

I envy all the new readers who going to experience this for the first time. Savour it. 

A huge thank you to Nightfire Books for giving me an advanced copy in the exchange for an honest review.
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3.5. this book was reaaaally hard for me to rate and comes down to personal taste>quality.

so i never read books of this genre, but ~queer gothic~ ofc i’m gonna be curious! i will say i tuned out of about 45% of this story because i found all the action to be boring. i much prefer romance & character interactions to action, which this book has very little of; however, the little bits of romance and character development given were FANTASTIC. like seriously, this book gave me in 10 pages what so many books fail completely at, which is a charismatic, electric romance paired with a complicated backstory of dead lovers, and an unresolved toxic poly trio that has a beautiful two-page-long climax. 

This book does beautiful things with grief and loss, original character voice, gothic tones, and suspense. Had it had more character building and romance this definitely would’ve been a 5 star read for me. Highly recommend picking this up for anybody who is interested by this review!

As for TWs, i don’t pay attention to them normally as I don’t list them in reviews, so I don’t have a complete list; however I wanted to note there are mentions of slavery and racism both past and present, and some of the horror plots take place on a plantation.
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It’s officially time to kick off the spooky season, and I do declare that Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo should be your first pick. The book is part southern gothic, part paranormal mystery, and part dark academia set against the backdrop of prestigious Vanderbilt University and rural Tennessee. It’s hot and humid and confusing as all get out but it’s a strong 2021 dark horse pick that you should definitely consider.

Despite what everyone says, Andrew knows Eddie didn’t commit suicide. They were best friends, and each moment of their lives had been laid out perfectly in step. Eddie would never leave him behind. Would he? But Eddie botched their plan to attend graduate school together and went to Vanderbilt a semester early while making excuses to keep Andrew from visiting. It just doesn’t make sense. Now Eddie is gone, and Andrew is left with an extensive trust fund, a house in Nashville, Eddie’s wild(-ly attractive) friend group, and a ghoulish haunt on his heels. Andrew’s arrival in the leftovers of Eddie’s life reveals he didn’t know what his friend was up to, and the tangled mess of his death is complicated and dangerous. 

Summer Sons is a slow burn juxtaposed with frenetic energy as a mystery slowly unfolds amidst  Andrew’s outbursts and general chaos. At first, it’s incredibly frustrating. I just wanted to put the pedal to the metal and figure everything out. But then I realized this story was something else entirely. The paranormal mystery is just background noise. The real story is watching Andrew stumble along as he explores his trauma and grief. He’s (badly) trying to learn who he is now that his dependent crutch has been pulled out from under him. Mandelo dragged me through this story, leading me to many dead ends in my exploration of the path forward, and somehow found ways to push all my buttons. And it was a great experience because the storytelling personified Andrew entirely. It captured his energy, anger, confusion, and sadness. The plot is messy but so is Andrew, and I enjoyed Mandelo’s ability to place me in his state of mind. 

Our main character is an absolute wreck of a person, and he’s hard to love--but that fits the story. Andrew’s sole motivation is to solve Eddie’s murder, and through that filter, he uses the people around him to accomplish his goal. He’s in a dark place, and it’s very evident in his erratic behavior. I cringed every time Andrew coldly dismissed people. And the horror of watching him ignore emails from professors and skip classes was nightmare-inducing for me. Andrew has an “act now, worry about it later” mentality, and his reckless behavior (from street racing to physical altercations) honestly had me hyperventilating. It’s uncomfortable as a humid Tennessee summer, but Mandelo does such an amazing job making you sweat. 

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. I’d say it’s a coming-of-age story first, paranormal mystery second. There’s violence, ghostly possessions, recreational drugs, and souped-up cars. Then there are undercurrents of racism and homophobia rearing their ugly head. When I look at all the pieces individually it feels like several different stories. But Mandelo artfully combines all the elements, making it one of the most unique books I’ve read this year. Although I really enjoyed the immersion into Andrew’s character development, I found the paranormal elements confusing and the mystery a little lackluster. There is a really creative, spooky element that hovers over Eddie and Andrew’s friendship, but it never manifests fully. And I know I am hard to please when it comes to mysteries but there wasn’t a lot of build-up to whodunnit and it was pretty clear early on as to who it was. Where Mandelo truly shines is their ability to connect you with the characters, and that alone kept me engaged even if I didn’t find the other elements as interesting. 

I personally was pulled in by Summer Son’s paranormal aspect but ended up staying for Andrew’s personal journey. I never quite knew where Mandelo was going to take me, and I’m pleasantly surprised with the end result. I think this book will be appealing to many because it can pull you in for lots of different reasons. So I encourage you to pick this one up and find which part calls out to you the most. 

Rating: Summer Sons - 7.0/10
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4.5 stars

“Home is where Eddie was; home is nowhere, now.”

Andrew Blur arrives in Tennessee after the death of his best friend Edward Fulton. He inherits not just a vast fortune, but also a house, a roommate Riley, and a mystery.

Eddie and Andrew were enrolled in an American Studies graduate program at Vanderbilt University. Eddie started a semester early, and now he’s dead. After spending every waking moment together, even sleeping moments, Andrew wants to find out why Eddie was so secretive leading up to his death.

Summer Sons was difficult to get into at first—a lot of the first few chapters probably could have been cut and the story would have been more enjoyable. Once we get into the meat of the story and the mystery, it’s a fast-paced, thrilling story. I loved getting to know Andrew, Eddie, Sam, and Riley. It has been often labeled as a “coming of age” story, and it does have elements of such, but I believe it’s more of a coming to self story.

And that ending. Wow. That’s all I’ll say. You’ll have to read it for yourself. 

Thank you Tordotcom, NetGalley, and Lee Mandelo for the chance to read this advanced review copy. Summer Sons releases on September 28th.
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*Disclaimer: I received this book via netgalley in exchange for my honest review*

It’s not often that I come across a book that is nearly impossible to review but Summer Sons absolutely hit that mark. All I want to do is keyboard smash and then, in big, bold letters, scream for everyone to go and read this book. 

I honestly loved this book and was not ready to come to the end of it. The writing is fantastic, the imagery and characters making it so easy to get lost in the story. It’s the kind of book that sticks with a person. 

***Potential Spoilers Beyond This Point.***

The slow burn build of the story and the wait for answers about Andrew and Eddie’s bonding trauma holds attention in the best, most infuriating way. The lead up to it all was interesting enough to quell the desire to just skip ahead, to find the answers. 

It really gives you a solid perspective on how Andrew feels in his pursuit of the truth about Eddie’s death. 

The relationships built between Andrew and the people that Eddie had spent his final months with are captivating and born of shared tragedy and grief, built in spite of anger and the dawning realization of a horrible truth wrapped in family curses and blood. 

The haunting aspect is beautifully done. Heart wrenching and with a deep sense of unease, enough to make my own skin itch as if I were going through a shadow of that same experience. 

Riley and Sam are a wonderful breath of life in stark contrast to the weight of death that clings to Andrew. The relationship between the cousins, the way Sam has protected and cared for Riley despite Riley’s protests over aspects of it is refreshing. It’s effortless and well executed, homey in the both the bickering and playful banter coupled with shared interest and pain. 

Truthfully, if you want a solidly good read, please do yourself a favor and pick this up once it’s released. I promise, you will not regret it. As it stands, this is the best book I have read all year. It’s one of the best books I have read in a long while and I cannot recommend it enough.
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**Full review to be added closer to publication date!**

Summer Sons was a book that I found myself highly anticipating after seeing it being discussed around the book communities, and it has certainly been one of the more intriguing books I've read this year. I admit that I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this book, as half of me was honestly rather bored throughout it and found a lot of the characters/events a bit repetitive and not that useful to the plot, but then the other half of me appreciates that the parts that were done well were done *really well*. There were certainly a few tropes used that I am not a fan of, but there was also a ton of originality in this book as well. Regardless of the plot or characters, the writing style itself was beautiful and I am so impressed by Mandelo's writing skill and style, which was incredibly engaging to me. If you are looking for a depressive, dark, and moody horror-esque read, then Summer Sons is a great pick for that!
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Summer Sons is an engrossing, genre-bending ghost story that is just as much about being haunted by regret. 

This is an LBGTQ+ coming-of-age story intermingled with horror. It’s quite long, but I was enthralled the entire time because the story moves with a fluid grace with more than a touch of Southern Gothic flare. It is as much of a ghost story as it is a story about a young man coming to grips with his own sexuality and life choices. 

The novel does a fabulous job showing how society can force someone to deny their sexuality. Andrew’s growing realization of how his internalized homophobia has denied him not only love but a true sense of self is very well done and quite heartbreaking. I think anyone who has had their sexuality repressed by society can understand his struggle.  

That being said, Andrew is incredibly unlikeable. He comes across as this rather stuck-up, too-cool-for-you dude who is so self-focused he lacks empathy for others. He is obsessed, understandably so, with his deceased friend Eddie’s suicide, but there are so many times in the novel I was like, god, man, just shut up. Also, why is he constantly littering? Seriously, he’s always throwing garbage out the window or on the ground. It drove me nuts, truthfully. 

The other characters weren’t as fleshed out. We only see them when they’re around Andrew, and because he’s so inwards-focused, we don’t learn a lot about them. We are left to extrapolate some things ourselves, which is fine, but the novel is very much about Andrew. Related to this, while the build-up tension towards the sex was quite well done, especially as Andrew begins to accept things about himself he denied before, I didn’t really feel their emotional attachment. We don’t often see Andrew and his intended at leisure - they’re either driving their cars fast, arguing, investigating Eddie, or on drugs; as such, I was surprised the novel put so much emphasis in the final quarter on emotions, as it felt more like just sex to me. 

The supernatural elements were really well done. I wanted more of this as they were incredibly creepy and fascinating and definitely fit the horror genre. I wish some of Andrew’s story was interspersed with Eddie’s research into the curse, maybe as flashbacks or journal entries, as that would have added to the haunting elements and made it feel less like a metaphor for internalized homophobia (which I honestly thought it was for a while). 

In truth, the novel could have used more ghosts and less young male angst, at least for me. 

Regarding the male angst, this is definitely a novel about men, but I appreciated how the few women in the novel were treated. In some stories that feature men, women seem to disappear entirely. In this novel, it’s clear women still exist in the world as there are many background characters and some minor characters who identify as female. In fact, there is a small section dealing with the way women’s bodies are often viewed as disposable by men, and that was important to see in a story where women aren’t as present. I really appreciated how that was handled too. There is also a trans character who is not a stereotype nor is their trans identify their entire personality. 

As someone who is into cars, and the original Fast & Furious was a big influence on my teenage life, I enjoyed the car racing scenes and it was one of the only areas of the story where I really connected with Andrew. There are only a few races, but they are told in a rapid, entertaining way that was exciting and fun. 

I’m torn about the writing style. The novel has very fluid prose, but I found it too description-heavy at times; it often slides into being verbose. The book is very long for what is ostensibly a rather light plot; the story is much more a coming-of-age/gay awakening story versus a tight mystery, so if you’re looking for something like Mexican Gothic or Rebecca, this might not be enough mystery for you. In truth, the mystery/ghost story plot is a bit too obvious to be compelling. It ties together well and makes sense, and I really liked how the ghost was handled, but I can’t say I was blown away by any aspect of it, especially the climax. 

That being said, the novel is really really good. It’s very compelling, it’s a compulsive read, and I definitely enjoyed it.
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Southern Gothic meets queer romance meets ghostly horror meets street racing. Add in the insidious sides of academia, privilege, and toxic masculinity, and you have SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo. While I definitely liked all of these themes in theory, in practice for whatever reason not everything connected with me as well as I had hoped it would. But I definitely liked how it picked up about halfway through, and I REALLY liked the self discovery romance between our protagonist Andrew and local racing tough Sam. I think that the pacing was a little slow for me, and that Andrew didn't really pick up as a fully rounded out character until it was a little late in the narrative. All that said, I thought that SUMMER SONS had some good aspects and themes that it touched upon, as well as good questions about codependency and the damage that culturally valued hyper-masculinity can do to people.
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This book was so promising. However, it really failed to grab me at all from the beginning. Through the first couple chapters the character was just mooding along about his friend's death and not a whole lot was happening.
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This story focuses on 2 friends who are best friends through the years.  They have an incredible bond.  One friend dies and it’s hard to accept it.  
This was a fast paced read.  I read it in 2 sittings.  
Thanks for this advanced copy of this book.
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September brings you Summer Sons from Lee Mandelo, which is a haunting, slow burn of a novel that explores grief, loss, denial, and a hunt for truth set against an atmospheric backdrop of the humid heat of the south.

Summer Sons takes some of the characteristics you would find in a southern gothic such as flawed characters, the use of horror imagery, ghost stories, and secrets and uses them to create a layered and lingering tale. There are a fair few spooky and eerie moments, which becomes unsettling at times but that’s what can make a book go from good to great because it gets to you.

The book also attempts to show the darker side of academia and privilege, but the story isn’t all set on campus and it tries to straddle both worlds. Andrew struggles to attend college in the beginning as his primary motive in being there is to follow in Eddie’s footsteps and he is going round in circles and hitting deadends.

The pacing creeps slowly at first, but then it soon starts to drip with suspense and tension as both the reader and Andrew delve deeper into what Eddie left behind and try and figure out the people he was spending his time with. It is worth talking about these characters as I found that I started to like them more as the book progressed and where Andrew started to let them in, which felt very natural. Andrew is wary of everyone at first and so is the reader. Andrew is grieving, he’s confused, his head is not the best place to be in, it’s raw and straight-up sad at times. You have Riley as a roommate living with Andrew, wanting to help, asking questions, and encouraging Andrew to continue with Eddie’s research and academic path, then at night, there is Sam, who provides the party, the gasoline, the drugs, and the late night texts.

We need to mention the chemistry between Andrew and Sam, the CHEMISTRY:

“Sam Halse had cocaine and a fast car and apparently a goddamn death wish—inviting scabs on his knuckles, plus a mouth that could peel paint off a wall. The appeal was obvious // Andrew understood where the hook had sunk in because it had pierced straight through the meat of his cheek, too. He wanted to race Halse again, and that was a strange sensation: want. He also wanted to break his knuckles on Halse’s jaw.”

These men will be the death of me, I swear. I wanted to bang their heads together.

Yes, so I was hooked in from reading the blurb, but I found that there is so much more to find in the story that all weaves together. It is a ghost story (maybe both physical and metaphorical), it also becomes a search for the truth, about friendship, self-discovery, unpacking trauma, re-evaluating relationships and looking towards recovery. I found it to be a very memorable, and yes, haunting read and I am already looking forward to re-reading it again with new eyes.

I am not the only one to think this, but I would compare this to The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (one of my all-time favourite book series) perhaps not in writing style, but definitely because of the vibes and some of the characters. Think of the fast cars, night drives, and the street racing with Ronan Lynch in The Dream Thieves, and of the ghostly presence of Noah Czerny. I would even stretch to say it is similar to Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo in the way that the character of Eddie is similar to Ninth House’s Darlington in that he may be missing physically but is very much present and the reader finds out more about him through the story.

I’d recommend Summer Sons to fans of the southern gothic as well as those new to the genre, and I think readers who like a good mystery would enjoy this too. I’d also recommend it to those who enjoy character focused novels, as well as anyone looking to read more queer literature by queer authors.

Definitely worth mentioning a content warning for adult content including alcohol, drug use, drink driving, profanity, sex, suicide references, plus trigger warnings for death and gore and some homophobic slurs.
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Summer Sons follows Andrew, after the death of his best friend. They were supposed to go to school together, but Eddie left first. Now Andrew is going to the school, to follow in Eddie’s footsteps. To find out why he died, because he doesn’t think Eddie would have taken his own life. 

I struggled with Summer Sons, mostly because I expected this to be a horror book. It was described to me as a horror book, with Andrew dealing with hauntings after something happened to him and Eddie when they were younger. While that is partially true, it definitely wasn’t the main focus of the book, so I wasn’t in the right mindset when reading it. Instead, this was a book dealing more with self-discovery than anything else. Which is perfectly fine, when that’s what you’re expecting. 

There is a solid couple of chapters at the end of the book, where it really gets into the meat of haunting, there’s some ghosts and haunts, some eerie parts,  throw in some occult for good measure - basically, the ending of the book had me hooked. I just wish the entire book were more of the same, because that’s what I was in the mood for. 
A lot of Summer Sons felt fairly slow paced, and Andrew meets all of Eddie’s new friends, introducing you to a range of characters, but never really fleshing any of them out beyond two cousins. The others all feel like name dumps, to make it feel like we know a lot of people in the story, without really getting to know them, mostly as red herrings or bylines as Andrew suspects everyone of who may have killed Eddie. My biggest issue with the lack of fleshing out these characters was West, both Andrew and Eddie’s mentor at the school. What could have been a really interesting character, would have small parts and then  be pushed to the side. 

As I said though, this is more a book about self-discovery. It is very queer friendly as characters come to terms with their own sexuality and realizations about themselves. I think this was reasonably well done, but it also felt like it was lacking. There’s a lot of nudges at toxic masculinity, self-hatred, struggles with coming to terms with learning their sexuality, but it sometimes felt like it wasn’t enough. It felt like it was tied together in a neat little bow of acceptance and understanding, which just washed away previous doubts. I would have liked this to have been fleshed out a bit further as well, because it felt too tidy to really embrace self-discovery. 

Basically, Summer Sons had a lot of promise, but didn’t quite work out for me as well as I wanted it to. This may be due to it being described poorly to me, and I went in within the wrong expectations. For others who know more of what to expect, this might work really well for them.
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TW: Suicide, Drug use, loss and grief, hallucinations.
I would like to say, initially, that I don't know if this book is for everyone, and that's okay.  The story focuses on two friends, Eddie and Andrew, who have a deep and intense bond and who have been friends for years. When the story begins, Eddie has apparently committed suicide leaving Andrew to parse through the truth and the lies and the suspicions he has, in order to ultimately uncover what has gone on. There is also this theme of haunting, realized and internal, that I thought was really beautiful. I found myself asking, often, is this real or has Andrew not fully accepted that Eddie is gone? This story has many unlikeable characters in combination with a very dark, slow plot. I found the prose very interesting, if not a bit purple, but which conveys deep intense emotions so well. I think, though, that if you're expecting the 'horror' aspect of the plot to be delivered in a very gruesome scary way, you will probably be disappointed. The horror is very nuanced and gothic and suspenseful rather than in-your-face-scary. Overall, I thought this novel was awesome, but I do strongly caution anyone against reading it if they are unsure if they can handle the strong, intense themes of loss and grief as it was very distressing and saddening, and could potentially be triggering for some, especially with the talk of suicide throughout.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Yeesh, sometimes giving an honest review is hard for me... when I just didn't like a book. I feel bad, because authors put their soul, their blood, their sweat, their tears into their work, and I hate feeling like I'm somehow deminishing them by giving a low rating.

Alas, I didn't enjoy this one. The characters weren't likable, even in the least. The story was slow, the pacing was off, and I just was bored for most of it.  It hooked me at the beginning, but that hook was pulled out and left bleeding for the majority of the rest of the book as Andrew makes bad decision after bad decision, uses drugs, races cars, gets angry, treats his friend like garbage, and just screws everything up royally.

It definitely has a Gothic atmosphere that was rather enjoyable, and I really wanted to like it, especially with the LGBTQIA+ tags, but it just felt... meh.

I didn't like Andrew, I didn't like Eddie from what we learn of him, I didn't like the roommates. Heck I didn't like any of them.

Overall, I just felt like this was a time sink that I shouldn't have invested my valuable reading time in, and I absolutely abhor saying that out loud.
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DNF at 25% This book just took too long to get going for me. Unfortunately the first 100 pages are Andrew grieving Eddie and being a gigantic ass. While I get that's part of grieving, I didn't know Eddie and therefore I couldn't feel that emotion with him. Instead, it was just boring and eye roll inducing him cussing at someone every turn. Also, unfortunately, the writing style I found a bit jarring. I might go back to it another day, but for now, not for me.
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Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo is one of those delicious books that coast by on vibes more than anything else. Set in Appalachia, this is a story of love and loss, of mystery and ghosts haunting your past and present. Andrew is a young man in his early twenties, moving to join his best friend and adoptive brother Eddie at graduate school in Nashville, Tennessee. Except, Eddie’s dead. And Andrew has no clue what happened to him – although he is certain that it wasn’t the suicide everyone seems to believe it was.

Summer Sons by Lee MandeloJoined by a cinnamon roll of a housemate, Riley, whom he inherited from Eddie along with his house and research project, Andrew is drawn into a world of dark academia, drug dealing hotties (why yes, Andrew is very much a heterosexual man, why would you ask?) and strange happenings.

I devoured this wonderful book in just a few sittings and couldn’t get enough of this dark and addictive worldbuilding and the fantastically written characters. The tension between Andrew and Riley’s cousin Sam and their constant will-they-won’t-they while Andrew comes to terms with his own sexuality is electrifying and honestly one of the best romantic arcs I’ve ever read when it comes to chemistry. And this kind of strong writing and characterization is what makes Summer Sons shine. Add in a university setting, a mystery and ghost stories on top of uncanny events in Andrew’s life and you have a recipe for success.

My only slight gripe with the book was that I guessed some aspects of the resolution too early, which made the ending too transparent for my taste. But then, I’m probably a more avid and attentive reader than most, and ultimately, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book as a whole – the book is stronger in its vibes than in its plot.

An element that stood out to me as very strong was its treatment of trauma and mental health issues. Not only did the characters all deal with grief and trauma over Eddie’s death in their own ways over the course of the story, but the book ended with a rather incisive event which affects the main characters in different ways and significantly impacts their relationships with each other. This isn’t just glossed over in the quest for a happy ending, but even in the small amount of time remaining dealt with in a healthy and realistic way to give a satisfying conclusion to both characters and readers.

As you can probably tell, I absolutely loved Summer Sons and highly recommend it. I especially think that this is well suited for those of you who enjoyed Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo or A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor & Forge for allowing me to read this ARC!

Content Warning: violence, murder, death, suicide, gore, recreational use of drugs and alcohol, homophobia (including slurs), racism, misogyny, cancer, animal death, child abuse, body horror.

Andrew and Eddie have been best friends -- and sometimes, perhaps, more -- since a traumatic childhood bonded them together. While Eddie is off attending Vanderbilt, he's left behind Andrew, promising to bring him to their to-be-shared house where they'll both go to college and, presumably, spend all of their time together as usual. Something horrible happens, though. Eddie commits suicide, leaving behind a huge inheritance for Andrew, one that doesn't just include his family's old plantation house and a car, but also a frighteningly powerful haunting. Desperate to find out if Eddie really left him behind, Andrew begins to discover secrets that leave him wondering just how well he truly know the man he believed to be his twin flame and other half. 

I struggled writing the summary for this one, as there's so much to it that so few words doesn't do it justice. Although this story is primarily about Andrew and Eddie, who share a fraught background and a sort of dark magic, it's also a rumination on the traditions of Southern Gothics and the occult. When I saw so many people comparing this to The Raven Boys, more specifically mentioning that the characters and relationships are reminiscent of my favorite of the boys, Ronan Lynch, I was thrilled to give this a try. For me, this novel was a full, even three stars, but I was slightly disappointed because I'd expected it to be something I would automatically click with.

Mandelo's writing is beautiful; there's no other descriptor that fully and simply explains the stylistic writing and lovely vocabulary at use here. However, in spite of this, I sometimes found it hard to connect with any of the characters. It was almost as if the prose came first, and somehow, its sleekness left me feeling a bit distanced from what was actually happening. The first 50% to 60% of this book was intriguing, but something of a slog, making it hard for me to want to pick it back up once I'd put it down. I don't mind slow-burns, but in this case, the pacing was off for me, and that had a big impact on how much I enjoyed the reading process.

Talking about the characterization, I have to say flat-out that I didn't like Andrew. Even his intense suffering over Eddie's death (and his secrets) didn't conjure up much sympathy for me. I understood that Mandelo was trying to show us just how caught up in each other Andrew and Eddie were -- to the point of outright ignoring and hurting others -- but it was hard for me to empathize with a man who blatantly uses and behaves cruelly to those in his life who love him. One of the characters (who takes a very minor role), Del, is a perfect example of Andrew's disregard for others: she obviously cares for him, and makes an effort to both be in his life and try to offer him advice and healing, but Andrew treats her so badly it honestly made me angry. There's also some casual remarks that Andrew makes in his narration that were misogynistic and, frankly, both frustrating and boring to read.

The worse part of it all is that the last portion of the book is actually unflinchingly painful and wonderfully realized. I began to like Andrew, and to understand him; the relationships he built with the other friends Eddie had left behind were touching and authentic; his coming to terms with his sexuality was sweet and frightening and real. The haunting, too, becomes more tangible; the end "twist" was not surprising nor original, but in combination with all of those other things, it was more than enough to make up for that small detail. The exploration of toxic masculinity was interesting enough, but it was the discussion of racism and the South's legacy that set this apart from other Southern Gothics. The haunted land, tormented by a past (and present) of racism and the pain and suffering of slavery, was well-done, although I think that aspect could've taken a larger and more important role. 

So, an imperfect novel, yes, but with Mandelo's talent, I would be happy to read what they have to offer next. Some things in this book didn't work for me, but for a large part of people interested in this, I think they'll love it. If you like slow-burn Southern Gothics that touch on the South's bloody history, explore the pitfalls and beautiful things about discovering who you are, and how grief can control us, I'd recommend you pick this one up.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Tor/Forge for an arc of this book.

Content Warnings at end of review.

After Andrew's best friend ostensibly commits suicide while away at grad school, Andrew is furious --that he wasn't with Eddie like he should have been, that Eddie's been keeping secrets from him, and that no one else seems to agree with Andrew that there was no way this was a suicide. Andrew goes to grad school and continues on the path that Eddie set up from him--inherited house, inherited roommate, inherited mystery--and throws everything he has into discovering what happened to him. The whole thing is further complicated by the power/curse that Andrew and Eddie have always shared: seeing and feeling remnants of the dead.

I loved every second of this book. I was immediately immersed in the Dark Academia aesthetic and in love with Andrew as a character. Something about his interactions with literally everyone else in the text really spoke to me. The other characters were also all so interesting and unique and I loved watching them interact like a dumpster fire with each other. Seriously, Andrew was constantly one wrong move away from accusing someone of murder? And then also enacting vengeance for the perceived murder? Amazing.

This book is also magical in an utterly disturbing way. This is like The Raven Boys but New Adult and 20x darker. I loved every bit of it.

Also Andrew's realizations about his sexuality were absolutely peak. Give me a protag that doesn't figure out they're queer until they are 24. I love it.

Honestly my only complaint is that this ended. I said it. I'm not taking it back.

Pub Date: September 28, 2021

Content Warnings
Graphic: Body horror, Murder, Suicide, Violence, Blood, Sexual content, Death, Grief, Alcohol, Drug use, Drug abuse, and Injury/injury detail
Moderate: Death of parent, Homophobia, Racism, Vomit, and Kidnapping
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