by Lee Mandelo
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Pub Date 28 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 27 Jan 2022
Lee Mandelo's debut Summer Sons is a sweltering, queer Southern Gothic that crosses Appalachian street racing with academic intrigue, all haunted by a hungry ghost.
Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him.
As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble.
And there is something awful lurking, waiting for those walls to fall.
"Summer Sons is a southern summer in book form: hot and hungry and haunting. I couldn't put it down." —Alix E. Harrow
"Truly intense: you can smell the blood, the sweat, and the petrol. It absolutely rips." —Tamsyn Muir
"At once a raw, beautifully written gothic and an adrenaline-fueled debut, Summer Sons heralds a rich new voice in speculative fiction. Lee Mandelo is for real." —Andy Davidson
"Intense, sweaty, and literally haunting, Summer Sons is the Southern gothic tale of race cars and graduate school I didn't know I needed. Come for the slow-burn relationships, and stay for the scalding hot twists." —Annalee Newitz
"Hooks you hard and fast from the start, then drags you kicking and screaming and loving it on a twisted backroad nightmare full of bad boys and badder revenants." —Sam J. Miller
"A gripping, gasoline-drenched story of ghosts, friendships, and things left unspoken." —Sarah Pinsker
- Early buzz campaign featuring advance bound manuscripts & digital access followed by multi-wave grassroots outreach to booksellers, librarians, reviewers and influencers, including galleys & finished book mailings
- Major debut promotion for a beloved voice within the SFF community with trade & consumer advertising & promotions targeting fans of Southern Gothic & queer & literary SFF, with a long-term author investment & awareness campaigns, with more books planned six months & a year out
- Extensive coverage on Tor.com, which averages 1 million unique visitors and 3 million pageviews per month, with more than half a million newsletter subscribers and over 240K social media followers
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 239 members
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.
**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."
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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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