Cover Image: Summer Sons

Summer Sons

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Member Reviews

I had high hopes for this story with it being promoted as southern gothic and a mystery, however, it didn't give off those vibes to me. I didn't even get immersed into any sort of setting or atmosphere. The beginning was quite slow and I didn't understand why Andrew didn't immediately start trying to figure out what happened to Eddie if he believed it wasn't suicide. Instead, he goes to class, in which he didn't seem too invested in it? In fact, Andrew didn't seem too invested in much through the story and it got rather bland. This story wasn't for me until for a few moments at the very end.
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That is true horror in my opinion. Highly impressive book, for what I thought was a debut author, but no, she seems to have already some books under her belt and that may be why this one was as good as it was. Fantastic characters, very emotional and engaging story. I love it and will recommend it a lot!!
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LISTEN, I read “queer southern gothic” alongside “ghost” and “hot boys” and knew in my bones this was gonna be for me. Hungry and haunting and full of heart, Summer Sons didn’t disappoint.

Best friends since childhood, bonded by blood, and closer than brothers, Andrew and Eddie are damn near inseparable. That’s why when Eddie leaves Andrew behind, early admission to Vanderbilt in hand, everyone is a bit surprised, Andrew most of all. The separation wasn’t meant to permanent. Andrew was always meant to follow. But just days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies. An apparent suicide. Andrew decides to retrace Eddie’s last days - months, even - and as he does he begins to uncover the dark secrets left behind by the person he loved and trusted the most. Secrets that start to claw their way inside of him. Secrets that hunger for him.

What did I find in Summer Sons? Ghosts? Yes. Absolutely. Ghosts and other haunted, hungry things: grief and love and hard won truths. Summer Sons was everything I didn’t know I needed.

Thank you for this slow burning, heart filled ghost story @leemandelo + @tordotcompub.
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Much like the revenant in the story, <i>Summer Sons</i> is one of those books that claws its way into your mind and then lingers, haunting you long after you finish the last page. I was absolutely dazzled by this stunning debut. It's skin-crawlingly atmospheric -- Southern Gothic to its core -- and clever in its social commentary, while still centering itself around the exploration of identity. The ending was brilliant and beautiful. It is a slower paced read, so be sure to dive into this one when you're in the mood for a slow-burn.

I cannot wait for more of Lee Mandelo's writing. Thank you Tor.com for providing a free advanced copy of the book!
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Disclaimer: I received an eARC from netgalley.com in exchange for my thoughts. Thanks, NetGalley!

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo explores themes of grief and loss and the horror that happens when you cannot let go. After the loss of his best friend, Eddie, Andrew moves to Nashville. He's determined to uncover the mystery of why Eddie passed. Slipping into the world that Eddie left behind, Andrew slowly unravels the dark legacy given to him. All the while dealing with the confusion around his desires and passions.

Mandelo has written a fabulous horror story that blends the mystery of personal loss with the ability to gain authentic love. They compellingly use rejection and death to bring readers into the world of self-discovery and queerness.  Their writing is visual, and you can feel the heat of Nashville, smell the dust, and feel Andrew's pain in the hole that Eddie left behind.

Summer Sons is a quick read. The world draws you in, and the horror elements aren't in your face. Instead, they appear as fluid as the natural world we know. It's a dark mystery that leaves you satisfied and rooting for Andrew in the end. It left me thinking about my own queer path and discovery of authenticity.
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**Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for providing this eARC in exchange for an honest review. This book will release September 28, 2021.**

*That friendship was a muted fraction of the real thing, the marrow-thing, that tied them together.* 

Something in *Summer Sons* wormed its way into my psyche and I don't think it'll be letting go anytime soon. And in no way should this book be aspirational, and yet... every page managed to speak to the spark of me that looks forward to the stickiness of summer nights in the south, the magic that can be found in the land there, and longs for a bond that can transcend the veil, even when it threatens to subsume you. Hell, it made me miss grad school, while accurately making several critiques of academia as an institution. And even though my experiences were nothing like this fraught, atmospheric daze, reading it made me feel equal parts *I want this* and *I miss the parts this reminds me of,* and *God I want to write like this.* This book is unsettling, raw and aching, sometimes funny, strangely gentle, and eerily real. 

It was nearly impossible to read this book fast. I thought I was going to want to, but in the end I realized that would have been the wrong way for me to consume this story. Instead, I let it trickle in, because I have been down the road of tense boys with intense, uncertain relationships before (see the weekend I absolutely breathed in All For the Game my senior year of college, barely doing homework, sleeping or eating) and I'm trying to be more responsible now. But still, the pull to read was magnetic, even if the first half or so of the book was more languid than I had anticipated, and then in the last quarter I felt as if I was being inexorably dragged—in the best possible way—to the climax and conclusion. The writing, even when it's grim, is both poetic and familiar, and demands that you drink in every word. 

The relationships and characters here are so much to handle. They are fully realized. They are damaged. They are sharp and unexpectedly tender and understanding. In them, I saw the broken but persevering and desperately loyal groups of friends that are more like family that I have loved over the years. There's more to the quote that I opened this review with, by the way, and I think that when you read it you'll be able to grasp the completeness and all-encompassing-ness of the relationship between Andrew and Eddie. I can't articulate the things that I want to about Eddie in this review, because I don't feel like those thoughts are fully formed, and maybe I want an excuse to reread. But Andrew... His development is phenomenal. I sympathized with him throughout, of course, because being haunted and dealing with the aftermath of your sort-of-more-than-best-friend's death is a lot, but once things come to a head and he can't live in denial anymore, he... I want to say blossoms. Which is weird, I know. But it's true. He finally *feels*, and feels like he has a chance at life. And I don't know if I have a legitimate reason to, but I felt like I could see parts of myself in Andrew, so maybe that's why I feel so attached. Riley, the roommate that Andrew inherits from Eddie, is great, and has some of the funniest lines in the book. His relationship with his cousin, Sam—or Halse, depending on Andrew's mood—is protective, both ways. And at first I was wary about Sam, but he shifts so subtly from the persona you first see him as to a full, complex person, and I really loved that. This is a slow-burn's slow-burn, and it continues to be right past ending; I love how it's done. 

Reflecting, I can see that books that are about the difficulties of moving on, but with a more supernatural twist, are extremely my thing. And this ties into my feelings about the atmosphere of this book, but I feel like Lee Mandelo also truly nails the ache of longing, missed opportunities, and obsessive attachment. So much so that it's easy for me to forget that there was a plot outside of Andrew's grief and trauma and burgeoning relationships. But it's there, and when they crash into each other and things are resolved—with a moment in the forest that struck me hard in the heart and a text message that reminded me of an Avett Brothers song—it's with a strange sense of, as other reviewers have said, calm and relief. 

Pairs well with drinking around a bonfire, the Kyla La Grange songs "Sympathy" and "Vampire Smile," blazing down a highway with the windows open on a summer night, the summerdark aesthetic, and Vin Diesel saying "I don't have friends, I got family."
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This book is one of my new favorites, and it's the PERFECT read for summer. It's fast-paced, daring, electric, and intense. It perfectly captured that feeling of heat in the south and made me miss the landscape so much. If you're a fan of the raven cycle, this book had a similar energy in the sense that it has that southern charm and every character had some Ronan in them. However, this book goes darker and deeper. I did kind of see the end coming, but it made sense for the direction the story was going and didn't make the experience any less fun for me. Overall, I had such a great time with this! If you're looking for something full of excitement and angst, this is the one.
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This isn't a book where much happens until the final 3rd. It's fun getting there, though, if a bit meandering—the vibes are immaculate (very queer, very strange)—but if you're looking for any plot for the first couple hundred pages, look elsewhere lol. But if you're interested in character study, and slow-burns, this is for you! Dark and surreal.
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*ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Let’s be honest from the start. I was hooked by this book the moment I saw the cover. My mind started racing (pun not intended… I think), imagining all the possibilities. I read a blurb that stated that it was the perfect combination between a southern gothic and Fast and Furious, and I knew I had to find out what it was really referring to. It seemed odd at first, this combination, but something creepy was involved… and I was intrigued. 

And, let me tell you, the result is… fascinating. I was deciding the perfect word for it, bewitching came to mind, captivating, but I think fascinating fits just perfectly… because I could not look away.

Summer Sons started amazingly good. I loved the setting, the presentation of the characters, the slow pace. I knew something bad had happened to Eddie, and I suspected something creepy had happened with Eddie. I just needed to know more. And then all the folktale oriented details appeared on scene and it was just the perfect addition. 

Sadly, when new characters started popping up, sometimes just for a brief conversation or two, it was difficult for me to differentiate them. I think this was my biggest concern with Summer Sons: Characters. Some of the background characters felt completely flat for me and did not care for them at all. I also tried to understand what Andrew was feeling, this mixture between internalized homophobia and the reality that was developing around him, but it was such a complicated task when all I wanted was to learn more about Eddie and his disappearance! I tried to like Sam as well, but his “evolution” felt kind of flat for me. Thank God we also had Riley! I really really liked him. 

The creepy scenes, scarce at the beginning, all centre towards the end, were wonderful, and I found myself looking for them eagerly. And what an ending! The pace got so fast that I felt I was out of breath turning pages non-stop. 

I have seen other readers complain about the length of Summer Sons. I must confess that it is a lot of pages, truly, and maybe it is a story that could have been told in a lot less, but Lee Mandelo’s style is something truly unique when describing, so I would say that, if you enjoy a southern gothic, you are into cars, or you really want to discover a mystery worth investigating… Go for it. Enjoy the ride.
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I requested this one because it might be a 2021 title I would like to review on my Youtube Channel. However, after reading the first several chapters I have determined that this book is not my tastes. So I decided to DNF this one rather than push myself to finish it only to give it a poor review.
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This was an excellent story--a queer, academia fast and furious with a ghost twist. It got a little slow in the middle, but picked up speed for a thrilling ending.
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Holy hell was this not a book I expected to read in 2021, and yet I’m so glad I did. How do I summarize my love for Summer Sons? Is it the dark academia intrigue? The author’s delightful (and at times, disturbing) way with words? The romanticization of the Appalachian Upper South with a haunting gothic aesthetic that brings me back to the best memories of my own childhood? Perhaps it’s the Hannibal-esque (TV show, not books) horror imagery put to words, in that disturbingly beautiful way an artfully arranged dead stag can be. And it’s certainly the delightful slow-burn M/M relationship depicted in a way I can only describe as the male-gaze. Essentially, there’s plenty to love.

Summer Sons, at its core, is a story of grief, of loss and denial, and of the struggle to move on. At every turn, the structure of the storytelling used to reflect that. The events of the first half happen in an almost disjointed. Andrew, upon moving in to his dead best friend’s, Edward’s, house (and room), moves from one event to another in an empty, almost sleepwalking manner. At one moment it’s class, the next it’s drag races at midnight on deserted highways with Edwards old friends, then suddenly it’s hauntings, horror imagery and possession. In between, Andrew attempts to make headways into the cause of Edward’s murder, though he mostly goes in circles. I’ve seen this book described many times as ‘a queer fever dream’ and that’s truly an apt way to describe what goes on in Andrew’s, and thus the reader’s, head.

The prose of this book is used similarly, with hauntingly beautiful horror imagery of dead stags, skeletal spectres forcing their way into a body, brushes with death so startlingly close you could taste the blood. For anyone who’s seen the NBC Hannibal TV show, think of how you’d describe one of Hannibal’s ‘artworks’. This is that prose. (To be clear, despite the horror label I wouldn’t consider this book scary. Simply disturbing in a most beautiful way). At the same time, Mandelo’s prose really breathes life into this gothic Appalachian setting, with their descriptors of the simmering heat of the late Nashville summers, the long drives over endless miles of highway. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I was transported back to those summer days of my own childhood as I read.

Of course, one of the main reasons I picked this book up was for the queer relationships and on that front, I was absolutely not disappointed. To my surprise and bemusement, Andrew spends a good 60% of the book insisting he is straight, even if all signs point the other way. At the arrival of any male character, Andrew spends at least a paragraph describing his clothes and how well they fit his body, and even just the flashbacks with him and Eddie are, well, intimate. Something fairly unique amongst the queer fantasy I’ve read is that labels beyond ‘straight’ aren’t really used. There’s a secondary set of characters in a poly trio (two guys, 1 girl), that the characters acknowledge but never label. The queer relationships depicted here are messy, they’re sometimes hard to describe, but the people involved make it work. It’s an extremely realistic depiction of the queer community, of queer relationships, and just another reason why I love this book.

As the story progresses, there’s this simply delightful slow burn relationship that begins simmering in the background (and yes, it begins before Andrew’s ready to admit he’s maybe not as straight as he thinks he is). What I love about this relationship is that it’s really shown through gestures, through a quick squeeze on the thigh during a long drive, a strong grip at the back of the neck, rapid-fire text messages or ones that go ignored because it doesn’t feel right at the time. Like the other elements, prose plays a huge role in how beautiful, how intimate these gestures are depicted, and I have so many notes from passages that just refuse to leave in my mind. Throughout is this underlying vibe of possession that almost gives me Hannigram vibes (no serial killers though), and a sense that any interaction is equally likely to end up in a fistfight or a bed. If there’s one way to describe this romance, it’d be m/m with a masculine gaze: the cheap beers, the fast cars, the goading and fistfights.

Overall, I rate this book 5/5 stars. A simmering queer fever dream, equal parts haunting and delicious. Lyrical language that transports the reader to the sweltering summers of the Upper South, that eerie yet disturbingly beautiful Hannibal-esque horror vibe, and a delightful masculine-gaze M/M slow burn relationship that eschews simple labels.

Review to be posted to my blog 17 September 2021
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2.5 stars

I've pondered on this rating for a good few hours, because of how hard this was for me to put into a numerical value.

this is one of the rare cases in novels where most of it isn't the best, but the parts that aren't bad are actually phenomenal. Summer Sons started out so great, and it was right up my alley. summer mystery, queer, horror, and with a dark vibe? it could have been a masterpiece. alas, it was not, but the beginning definitely did make me think it would be.

what I did have a problem with, as the story progressed were the repetitiveness and the characters.

this book is long. it is long and I couldn't really see the point of its length because not much really happened. to me it seemed like the same things over and over and over. until around the 85% mark where the plot actually started progressing, I couldn't really get into it.

now, the characters- they weren't bad, but they weren't great either. thankfully, there weren't many of them, and the story mainly focused on a few, but the ones that it did "put in the spotlight" felt underdeveloped and bland. they kind of mixed together at times, which made me confused as to who I was reading about.

somehow, I couldn't get myself to like Andrew, the main character, until the very end of the book. which might have been a purposeful maneuver to show his character development, but still. for most of the pages he felt like (not to be overly harsh-) a typical cisgender, heterosexual guy. he just absolutely didn't have a personality, all of his answers and thoughts were the same, he had anger problems and internalized homophobia, it just sucked. at the end, though- okay, the end...

this ending absolutely wrecked me. which is quite surprising considering this novel definitely isn't my favorite, but the last few pages hit me so hard. not only did I finally start to empathize with Andrew and began to like him as a character (since he was finally improving himself and evolving in a beautiful and admirable way), but when the mystery of what happened to Eddie finally was revealed, and we saw Andrew come to terms with all of it, I couldn't stop reading. I felt like for the last part of the book I held my breath, not because I was scared, but because there was a weird eerie calm about the aftermath of everything that had happened. and it was so refreshing to see Andrew deal with his trauma and with losing Eddie. it was beautifully and accurately presented, and I loved it.

there were some parts of this that felt bizarre (don't get me wrong, a lot of it was, but not in this way), and, once again, maybe they were written that way on purpose. but even so, it didn't really feel like they fit into the story, or were rushed.

oddly enough, I found myself loving and hating the "romance" part of this story. I put romance in quotes because there wasn't much of it here, it was only put at the end and it wasn't very elaborated on. nonetheless, I didn't expect it. I wasn't very fond of who Andrew ended up with, throughout the story, but got to appreciate the character a bit more when Andrew overcame his internalized homophobia and actually started... feeling stuff? that was beautiful.

in summary, I think this had a lot of potential. even though my review was mostly negative, I think there's a very large audience of people who'd absolutely adore this. sadly, that isn't me.

I saw one person describe Summer Sons as both "haunting and comforting," and I couldn't say it better myself. if that sounds like something you could potentially enjoy, (if you're willing to overlook character flaws) then I'd say give it a chance and judge it for yourself.
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I think I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was going into Summer Sons but I absolutely loved it. I was captivated from the start and I couldn’t put this book down. It’s been a while since I’ve read something so clever and compelling. 

Sommer Sons is dark, mysterious, raw but it also feels really poetic. I loved the writing style and it felt super refreshing to other things I’ve read lately. It gave me a bit of dark academia and The Raven Cycle vibes and I am here for this. 

I found it easy to feel for Andrew and also feel the pain and trauma he’s going through. For most of the book he feels so lost, broken and stuck but that’s how life is when you’ve been through such things and it’s been easy to relate. It broke my heart that he never got the chance to act on his feelings for his best friend but I’m happy that he’s accepted who he really is and that the friends he made along the way helped him with this. I loved these gay, open, messed up, diverse characters a lot. 

If you like thrilling and spooky ghost stories, southern gothic, found family, hopeless boys, sexy cars and hauntings you better make sure to pick up Summer Sons. I very much recommend this book.
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Overall I really enjoyed it. Although I feel like some parts could have been shortened, whereas I would have liked more details in others. There wasn't much evidence for Andrew to really piece things together until about the 70% mark. I wish I knew more about Riley's paranormal abilities as well as a better look into what makes the curse so easily passed to someone outside the Fulton line. 
And I felt like a handful of details weren't cleared up. Was Troth's husband the "strong" one to put Eddie in the trunk, despite his illness weakening him? What happened to West, aside from getting back at the school for not defending him against Troth stealing his work? Did Andrew amend things with Del?
I liked how Andrew slowly began to trust Sam, and how seeing Riley and his partners and Sam with the mostly nameless tall girl in the pack helped him to reconcile what occurred between him, Eddie, and Del.
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Summer Sons promised a wild, spooky ride of a Southern gothic and it did not disappoint!  Lee Mandelo's thrilling new novel will take up residence under your skin -- a story that demands to be read compulsively and haunts the reader long after the last page has turned.  Sexy, visceral, and bone-chilling.
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*ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This book was a wonderfully haunting exploration of grief with a heavy amount of murder-mystery, a fun cast of southern queer stoners, and a perfectly southern gothic meets dark academia vibe. This reminded me a bit of The Haunting of Hill House meets The Raven Cycle but make it darker and even gayer.

If you like hauntings, blood sacrifices, slow-burn romances, reckless morally ambiguous queers and truly dark mysteries that don't shy away from the gritty details, then this book is for you.
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I love southern gothic tales. Southern noir or grit lit, southern horror. This was a pretty good story but I found it slow and annoying. It wasn't a bad story but I'm also felt like the characters were no way from the south. The southern gothic tales must have dialect and a southern feel. This did not.
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"This land and the stories people tell about it are fascinating. Hauntings, massacres, dark magic -- all that bloody business lingers underneath the surface of respectability." 

A fascinating, engaging, and AWESOME southern gothic ghost story. Regular guy Andrew gets declared the inheritor of his best friend/adoptive brother's wealth after his death. And not just his wealth, his research. The story is tangled up in themes of racism and homophobia, classism, poverty and wealth, suicide and murder, and two different types of families that go way back in the area in different ways: 'old money' families and Appalachian-South families. It's a story about eating the rich before they eat you. And it's all entangled around folklore. 

And it's about a guy who sees ghosts trying to solve whether his old friend killed himself (as he seems to have done) or was murdered. 

On one level, I found the pacing frustrating, given that it was a lot of spinning wheels. The first 45% of the story is made up of individual story beats that include scenes of some combination of Andrew ignoring his responsibilities (schoolwork, friends, family, sexuality, ghost), then some combination of attempting halfheartedly to claim it (parties, drugs, getting a vision from a haunting, a brief glance at research), before shutting down again. It then repeats almost identically, over and over.

But at the same time it honestly felt very <i>fitting</i> to have that happen with a traumatized character who is haunted. Trauma DOES consist of frequent replays of the same situations based on triggers. Ghost stories DO require the ghost to be endlessly repeating their actions and never quite fulfilling the purpose that they're taking their actions for. If a ghost gets into a car from a stretch of highway once and never again, that's an anecdote, not an urban legend, definitely not a local ghost story. Would I have wanted the wheel-spinning cut down to half that? Maybe. But I think that, in its own way, it's effective at turning the narrative into the themes.

And then after that point -- when Andrew makes the choice to face and actually engage with all of it (both the ghost and other people), though, that's when the story kicks off, pulling itself out of the ruts it was spinning in. Everything changes from there, from the events (suddenly stopping their circling and starting pushing forward) to the narrative (previously short, choppy sentences, now with variable flow and length and drive). It's powerful and clever, the themes and mood both handled perfectly, and the central mystery, as it develops, was something I couldn't put down.
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