Cover Image: Summer Sons

Summer Sons

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Member Reviews

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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