Cover Image: Summer Sons

Summer Sons

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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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Summer Sons is the queer, haunting, sensual, and grief-shot southern Gothic dark academia that I didn’t know I needed as much as I did. Mandelo’s prose is gorgeous and thoughtful and this book has some of my favorite depictions of grief, masculinity, and sexual discovery that I’ve read in a long time. It’s a thrilling and fascinating read the whole way through and it’s entirely deserving of its beautiful cover. You don’t want to miss this one.
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Summer Sons is a haunting, modern southern gothic, dark academia ghost story that follows two blood-bound best friends, Andrew and Eddie.  The story takes place six months after Eddie’s apparent suicide.   But Andrew is convinced that there’s more to Eddie’s death — that he would never kill himself.  So Andrew enrolls at the same university in Nashville that Eddie was attending and begins associating with Eddie’s sketchy former friends, hoping to find out whether they had anything to do with his friend’s death.  As Andrew begins investigating Eddie’s death, he unearths a plethora of dark secrets, lies, and betrayals in the process.  What Andrew didn’t know is that all of these secrets were waiting for him.

This dark academia book ended up being a wild ride of a story and turned out to be much more than I expected.  There is a lot going on here:  horror, action, mystery, coming of age, blood-soaked family secrets, murder, curses, hungry ghosts, blood rituals, hot boys, fast cars, sex, and drugs.  This was an intense, raw, and wild read with some pretty heavy themes such as toxic masculinity, self-loathing, grief, and shame, all of which added an extra compelling element to it.  

The character development here is phenomenal, especially the relationship tension between Andrew and one of Eddie’s friends, Sam Halse.  Every character in the story is extremely well fleshed out and multidimensional, making me feel as if I knew each of them by the time I finished the book.  The horror element in the novel was genuinely creepy and terrifying, and I liked the way it dipped in and out as the plot unraveled. Interestingly, it was subtle at times and in-your-face at others.

What I especially liked about the book was how messy and chaotic the relationships were — much like they are in real life.  Each of the characters is damaged, and toxic relationships abound.  I tend to love stories surrounding messy relationships, and we received that in abundance here.  The characters are wild, reckless, confused and in some cases, even traumatized.  Yet, what I found notable was how I could relate to each of them on different levels.  Their yearning became my yearning — their heat, confusion, and angst — mine.  The story was brutal in some places and totally heartbreaking in others. Yet, I also found it fascinating how I grew to love certain characters whom I’d initially hated earlier in the book.

Additionally, The prose in the book was a joy to read with its rich, lush descriptions, rendering the novel visceral and atmospheric — almost dreamy in places.  I could feel the sweltering heat of the scorching Tennessee summer as well as the deep, bone-chilling cold of the ghost.  The book was poetic and beautifully written and successfully invoked a vivid sense of place.  It’s the kind of book that drags you under and doesn’t want to let go.

I enjoyed the utterly satisfying ending, which, I admit, wrecked me for a couple of days.    My only niggle with the book was that it took a while to get going.  It’s definitely a “slow burn,” and I found myself kind of bored throughout the first part of it.  But once it picked up, this adrenaline-fueled story absorbed my attention until the explosive ending, and I completely lost myself in it. I ended up loving this clever, spooky, and original story with its found family vibe and sinister plot. Recommended!

A huge thank you to Netgalley and Tor for providing a review copy of this book.
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Huge thanks to NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this book!

I mean. I don't even know what to say. Talk about one of the best queer horror love stories ever. I cried so many times and was legitimately terrified during a good bit of it. Also. Fuck this book is hot. Like. REALLY hot. This book really is sex, drugs, and rockabilly with a fun Southern Gothic murder-ghost curse to spice it up. 

The whole dynamic and arc that the reader goes through involving Eddie and Andrew. It's one of the most compelling things I've read in awhile.

The only thing I will say is I just didn't care for ALL the cat racing. Yes I know it was very important for Andrews character development, but I did find myself skimming through the race scenes quite a bit...

But if you're looking for something fun, spooky, and spicy then pick this one up, you won't regret it!
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I went into this book not really knowing what it was about and it was SO GOOD.  Southern gothic, dark academia, with street racing. Someone dies (murder?) and dumb boys are figuring out their shit, it was just all of the things that I didn't even know I wanted to be reading about.
This comes out at the end of September, which is just perfect timing, because it is a perfect book for spooky season.
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Andrew and Eddie. Readers are not ready for the havoc this book will wreak on them this September. Part gothic horror, part m/m romance, part Fast and the Furious, this book is best experienced by just giving oneself over to the story. Andrew's grief over Eddie's suicide is so palpable that some readers will definitely find it difficult to read. It shows what happens to the people left behind in such a way that is impossible to look away from even though it stings so badly. 

I will admit to some of the car scenes losing me a bit, but they definitely make sense for the characters and the story so it didn't harm my opinion of the book in any way. Andrew's exploration of his sexuality, as well as diverse cast of characters, makes this book all the more appealing. I think a wide range of readers will be able to see themselves in this book and that is so important. Finally, the horror is HORROR and there are some truly captivating scenes of depravity and terror. I loved it.

Part crime, part suspense, part horror, I really appreciated the wild journey of this book. Just when I thought I had a grasp on what was happening, Mandelo flips it around. A definite page turner and heartbreaker, it took me two months to even decide what to write about this book. In short, take a chance on this novel. It is SO worth it.
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A good choice for a lgbt book, the struggle between Eddie and Andrew was well written and I eventually grew to like Sam and Riley. The actual plot with the revenant was really confusing to me though. Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I could keep saying good things about this book forever. Summer Sons is one of the best books of the year, and I will never stop thinking about it. An instant favorite. Utterly phenomenal!
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I’m sorry to report that this book was not for me. I didn’t care for the writing or the characters, the plot was alright but I really couldn’t get into it because the writing just wasn’t there
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I loved Summer Sons' atmosphere SO MUCH. There's something about the very gay gothic horror that just is *chef's kiss*. Dark academia is one of those genres I either enjoy or absolutely hate, and this one was really well done. This book up there with one of the best of the year, and I loved every deep, dark, moment of it. It was in part soulfully haunting, and in other parts strangely action-intense. I am glad I read this on a day where I was able to focus on it, though, because the car racing part could have lost me really easily. I did find myself skimming a few times, there.
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This was a compelling, slow-burning horror, and well worth the read. At times the plot seemed a little strangled by its subplots, characters were brought in only to be seemingly forgotten about (Ethan and Del, particularly), and the mystery of the origin of the curse shared between the boys was frustratingly unclear, but all in all this is a story worth reading. The protagonist's grief and trauma felt genuine, as did his reluctant acceptance of his "self" more ways than one.
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"Summer Sons" by Lee Mandelo is a creeping, dreadful tale that drips with humidity and the bitterness of lost chances. Andrew Blur is aptly named - a determinedly bland protagonist that shoves his emotions down and away in order to investigate the death of his best friend, Eddie - a death that was ruled a suicide. Andrew knows there's something suspicious about the "suicide" because Eddie's ghost said as much to him. 

Andrew's strange ability to communicate with the dead is more of a curse than a gift; cold, fetid shadows follow him through this claustrophobic tale as he navigates Eddie's friendships and academic community. This is a slow Southern Gothic tale - a little too slow, truthfully, as it takes a good 150 pages for the horror to really start kicking up. Andrew is an interesting protagonist, but so determined to NOT pursue the obvious threads that are kicking up around him that his inertia can be frustrating. That inertia does pick up about halfway through the novel, as "Summer Sons" begins to sink its teeth into the concepts of race, queerness, depression, and ancestral legacy. 

"Summer Sons" is horror in the visceral sense; there are no jump scares or wild action scenes here, at least not of the haunted house variety (there are a few car races, but those are largely testosterone-fueled bonding sessions). The horror in "Summer Sons" rides on your back, a cold, heavy presence that gets heavier with every step. It's the kind of book that had me by the throat every time I set it down and wondered if the pace was going to pick up soon. It whispered a refrain of Eddie's last text message to Andrew in the moments when I was not reading it: 

"Come home. I'm waiting."
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3.5 *
the raven cycle x foxhole court vibes!

I loved the plot and the characters, which was able to keep me reading till the end.  But I hated to writing style.  It uses alot of complex jarring language that often left me confused and lost. It definitely read like the author was trying too hard to be flowery and deep and it just made it messy.  I had to skim through a decent amount of this book.

Pretty much all the characters suck, but in a good way.  I got weirdly attached to this group of terrible assholes and ended up rooting for them.  And I adored the trans rep in riley, I liked that as the reader we got to know him before we knew he was trans.

Rep: gay, mlm, trans ftm, poly, side poc (Black, asian)
CW: death, murder, talk of suicide, drug use, alcohol, sexual content, off page transphobia, homophobia, slurs, mentions of racial discrimination, grieving, drinking and driving, possession, toxic relationships, off page child abuse, probably more im forgetting this book is dark
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I absolutely adore this book! If you’re a fan of southern gothic horror, chilling mystery, dark academia, and queer fiction, then this will definitely be up your alley. Lee Mandelo’s writing style is consistently atmospheric, often eerie, and at times erotic. There were so many shiver-inducing passages I wanted to read multiple times and the lyricism of the text immediately drew me in. While already a bit of a longer read, not only in terms of page count but density, I found this a book to be savored, rather than binged. The author flawlessly blends creeping dread, tragic grief and longing, as well as a compelling enigma to construct this ever-compelling narrative. 

Andrew is a complex and intriguing protagonist. While dealing with deep grief at the loss of his best friend, Andrew is practically livid at basically anyone who bats an eye at him, initially. During the course of the novel, he gradually begins to let the new friends he makes in Nashville in, enlisting their help to solve the mystery of Eddie’s death. Although he despises the strange and often macabre field of study Eddie had pursued in local folklore, Andrew’s fierce loyalty compels him to pick up where his best friend left behind. In the hopes of uncovering foul play surrounding Eddie’s death, Andrew balances a world of backstabbing academics and friends with questionable motives.  

The secondary characters were also well-developed and enjoyable as well. Through descriptions of Andrew’s feelings, flashback scenes, as well as conversations he has with others, I felt like I got to know Eddie intimately. The phantom haunting Andrew may or may not be the remnants of Eddie and through their dangerous, as well as comforting interactions, much can be inferred from their past relationship and Andrew’s repressed feelings. In their world, there is a fine line between pleasure and pain and the strange relationship between Andrew and the ghost parallels this in a terrible and simultaneously beautiful way. 

Cousins and past associates of Eddie, Riley and Sam, are eager to provide Andrew a good time when he moves into his inherited house but often come across as not having the best intentions. I liked watching their friendship with Andrew develop as my original impression of them became much more positive. There was a nice added little found family element that I certainly did not expect, nor the acceptance and portrayal of queer identities within the group including gay, bi/pan, trans, and polyamorous folks.

As mentioned in the beginning of my review, I freaking loved this creepy, emotional, puzzle of a book. The plot kept me guessing nearly the entire time and I was always excited to see where the story would go next. I did feel one of the “big twists” near the end was fairly obvious but what followed most certainly made up for it. I also initially thought one or two aspects of the ending didn’t quite hit the mark for me, but upon further reflection, I consider it to be remarkable and the ideal conclusion. Summer Sons is truly an amazing debut novel that blew me away. I’m sincerely looking forward to whatever Lee Mandelo publishes next. 

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Tordotcom Publishing for providing me with a digital ARC copy in exchange for review.
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If you like southern gothic queer horror with a little added fast and furious vibes then you may enjoy this book!

Andrew’s best friend , Eddie , goes off to college before him in order to set everything up such as their matching class schedule and grouped living situation but then his friend dies from presumed suicide. Andrew just can’t wrap his head around the situation. He knew Eddie and he knew that Andrew was coming to college soon. Why would he do that. It doesn’t seem like something Eddie would do willingly. Andrew sets off on the course Eddie has put him on in order to get close with the people who saw Eddie in his last days. What really happened to Eddie? Andrew is determined to find out. 

I really enjoyed the mystery and drama surrounding the characters. Everyone is a suspect and no one is to be trusted. Andrew was on edge with every character and I was right there with him. I also loved that this was a story where the main character questioned their sexuality because not everyone’s story follows a straight path. Sometimes there is a journey and a set of events that make us realize what we really want. Lastly, I loved the maleficent haunt that would come in to torment the MC. The only issues I had with this book were the short cuts I thought were made with the main character. I wish I could have found out more about how he came about his gift of sight (like I know why but I want to know how it happened) and had more of a reliving the  flashbacks Instead of just being told what happened. I feel like reliving some of the events that the book alludes to would have made me understand and sympathize more with the main character’s story and even Eddie’s for that matter. I also wish the ending would have been more of a snatch of the rug beneath my feet because as I was coming upon the ending I already had in my mind what would happen. Overall, I really appreciated more inclusive characters and hope that more books embrace this in future and also the complex southern gothic history that kept me hooked. I gave this book 3.5 ⭐️ rounded to 4 ⭐️ for goodreads and amazon. 

Thank you to Nightworms, Sadie and Tor for sending this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I think I might enjoy this book more on audio. The writing is a mix of lyrical and litficy and is at times rather hard to follow and actually understand what is happening in a scene. Hopefully the audio makes it easier but as of right now I left feeling adrift trying to read this
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Do I, as a freelance social media copywriter, artist, and writer, have time to spend entire days while my children are away reading ever, let alone when the start of school has been pushed back two weeks? I do not. Did I spend all of today reading SUMMER SONS anyway? Yes, I did. 
This compelling, LGBTQ+, Southern-Appalachian gothic is everything I love in a horror novel and it busts all the myths about masculinity while our intrepid heroes go about their ghost busting business. Also, it takes some fantastic and well deserved shots at academia along the way (she says as someone who bailed on academia after her masters because HELL, NO). 
Definitely one of my favorite books off my personal mini-summer horror marathon, the summer, and very possibly of 2021.
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