I just finished reading Alexis Hall’s Glitterland. I need a moment or thirty to get myself back in the right frame of mind to do anything other than flail and be relieved. Oh, who am I kidding? This book is going to dog me for days, if not weeks. (And, to be perfectly honest, perhaps even years.) I knew going into this I adored Alexis Hall as you may remember if you read my glowing review of For Real a few weeks ago, so I wasn’t surprised I liked the book, but I was surprised BY the book, if that makes any sense? Enough chatter from me.
Let’s begin in our usual way with the blurb, shall we?
The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.
Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations. Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety. But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?
I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to include the quotes that just downright slayed me right in the feelz while I was reading. There’s something about Ash Winters. (I was delighted with this character name too, since I 1.) Love Army of Darkness more than is reasonable—Long live the King Baby! and 2.) wanted to name a child Ash, but alas there was never a boy baby in our household, or at least not one I got the chance to name.) I think I was struck by so much of the dialogue and shear word craft in this book because Hall writes so poetically.
On with the quotes!
“But, in truth, I would have told a thousand lies to have him, and a thousand more to keep him.”-Ash
Glitterland: A Spires Story (p. 103).
I think we’ve all looked at someone from across a room at one point or another in our lives and simply wanted. Wanted someone out of our league or who didn’t match up with exactly what society says we should like or who we knew our friends would hate, or even just we knew we shouldn’t pursue, maybe because you’re already in a relationship. And for a few seconds of insanity you’d maybe do anything to get to touch that person. This quote was the embodiment of that particular emotional storm for me.
“I’m not. I have no excuses. Just a world of shame. But what I was going to say was that—” I paused, twisting my fingers painfully together, my nails catching at my skin. “— it’s difficult, sometimes, for me to understand that I have the power to hurt someone. You see, it requires me to accept that somebody might like me in the first place.”-Ash Glitterland: A Spires Story (p. 180)
Ah, old wounds. This feeling right here is one I understand well. It’s hard not to break hearts when you don’t love yourself, and sometimes loving yourself is the hardest thing you can do. No one knows YOU better than you, and quite often we aren’t the people we would like to be. At any rate, my heart broke for Ash and everyone who has ever had that feeling and realization when I read this.
Now, for the
There’s so much to love in this book. First, you have Hall’s witty character interactions and lyrical way of writing to look forward to. He has the habit of writing a book that feels fast paced but is actually lengthy. He has characters so real you can’t help but be drawn in by them.
The Epically Fantastic:
I was startled by Darian. It doesn’t happen often that I’m completely blindsided not by plot points, but instead by the introduction of one of the main characters. I didn’t expect him at all. He was so ridiculous and sweet and so mismatched to Ash I couldn’t imagine how they would ever be together long term, but the character insists on himself so well that you can’t fathom Darian being any other way or with anyone else but Ash by the end of everything. He’s a wonderfully constructed character.
The sex in this book was hot. I loved both the outright lack of shame in Ash’s enjoyment of Darian owning his ass and also the shy body issues he had due to some events that happened while he was in a manic episode of his bipolar disorder. I liked that Darian was turned on as much by Ash’s enthusiasm as by his body, and that Darian himself could still retain some shyness even though he is a model who is sometimes expected to be nude on set. The chemistry between the characters was well written.
I would rate the sex at an 8 out of 10 on a scale that I arbitrarily set myself. (For Real, Mr. Hall’s most current release I believe, is actually a 10 out of 10 because I’m something of a kink hound.)
I loved Ash Winters. I loved him and wanted to wrap him up in bubble wrap and keep him forever. There was no not loving Ash. He had prickly edges. He was sarcastic. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen both mental illness and the idea of shame portrayed so well in a story. I loved how Hall tackled these ideas. I loved that Hall was clear that Ash was capable of living a real life while managing his illness. I liked that he tackled the idea of a caregiver who wasn’t capable of letting go of the reigns even during a good spell, and that people who are mentally ill are often expected to actually be better than the average person. They’re expected to have more self-control in all the arenas that everyone else sometimes fumbles in. I was floored by the care and accuracy and just plain thought Hall put into all of these concepts in his book. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Hall takes something—mental illness—that could have been a trite train wreck of a plot device if mishandled and he made it shine. I have never seen anyone do this so well.
I worked in a group home for mentally disabled and mentally ill people and I was genuinely happy with the way that Ash was portrayed and the level of reality worked into the book. Kudos a thousand times over to Mr. Hall.
I was also enthralled with Mr. Hall’s commitment to writing in the vernacular with Darian’s character. I’m not sure I would have been able to keep that up throughout an entire book, but it really, truly made that character shine and I’m so glad he chose to do it.
The One or Two Things I Could Possibly Manage to Take a Pot Shot at Even Though I Pretty Much Loved This Book More Than Any Other I’ve Read This Year:
Okay, so, Ash gets a tattoo for his beloved Darian, then we don’t see the “reveal” so to speak. It just never happens and I’m left scrounging around for tissues at this delightful happy ending and still grumbling because I’m imagining it’s the sweetest thing ever when Darian finds what he’s done. (There’s backstory for the tattoo. It’s actually not as stupid as it sounds when I’m just telling it to you. You need to read the book.)
So, I wibbled and wobbled and felt bad for myself because I would never get to see that scene. THEN the best thing imaginable happened to me and I was informed that there was an “extras” on Alexis Hall’s blog that is the Aftermath of Glitterland. It’s free and it does indeed have the tattoo reveal in it, and I was greatly pleased. (And devoured it.) This minor irritation is actually one of the few things I could think of about this story, and it wasn’t actually much of an irritation at all.
Also, I wanted to see Niall set on fire after what he did to Darian in Essex, and that never happened. Now I would be content to see his story. I hope you’re working on that one next, Mr. Hall!
Fun fact: I also was going crazy because I couldn’t figure out why both For Real and Glitterland were “Spires Stories”. For all my American (or otherwise not British) friends, it is because Oxford is known as The City of Dreaming Spires and they all have parts of the story that take place there. Now you don’t have to try to draw ridiculous parallels between the stories to try to figure out what that means like I spent days doing (because I’m neurotic).
So, that’s my review. Freaky readers, your assignment is this: Read Glitterland so you can love it with me, and then go pick up your free copy of Glitterland: Aftermath here.
Check out my book Threefold Love.