Glitterland - Alexis Hall 4.5 stars
Glitterland is a fantastic first book from author Alexis Hall. This character driven romance is both laugh out loud funny and break your heart sad, but ultimately a story of hope.

The story is told from the POV of Ash, a well-educated, successful writer, who suffers from severe anxiety and bipolar disorder. Sticking to a routine is a must to keep the anxiety at bay and he needs to carefully plan out any departure from that routine. While out at a stag night with friends from his university days he sees Darian on the dance floor and cannot take his eyes off him. Outwardly, Darian is absolutely not Ash’s type. An aspiring model from Essex, with a ridiculous fake tan, perfect grooming, sparkling clothes and nail polish, Ash dubs him a “glitter pirate”. After spending the night together, Ash makes a run for it and never expects to see Darian again. What follows is an anxiety attack and a bout of depression, and another meeting with Darian, who shows up at Ash’s book signing to tell him off. Darian is an honest breath of fresh air who seems to have a calming effect on Ash who is shocked by his need to not disappoint Darian.

While Darian is an easy going, sweetheart with an optimistic, almost innocent, outlook on life, Ash is misanthropic, abrasive and arrogant. He has pushed away most of his friends and would rather have people hate him than pity him for his mental illness. The one friendship we get a real insight to is with Niall, Ash’s ex who was with him through his diagnosis and hospitalization (and has issues of his own). There are times in the story where Ash treats Darian like complete garbage, yet Darian seems to be able to call him on it and see through it to the man Ash is underneath the grip of his illness. Darian is able to pull Ash out of his routine and takes great joy in seeing Ash have those happy moments while Ash derives a glimmer of hope.

What set this story apart for me was the character development and the way Ash is written. By all outward accounts, Ash is rather unlikable. There were times where I wanted to just hate him, but Alexis Hall wrote the character in such a way that I really felt what was going on inside his head. The fear of the next bout of depression, the reminders of what he suffered through and lost due to his illness and the fear of dragging Darian down with him. He wants to be happy again, but doesn’t see it as a possibility when it will all be destroyed by the next depressive episode. Being in Ash’s head had me by turns laughing out loud, cringing in disbelief and feeling the pain of Ash’s inability to accept what Darian offers.

The one thing that initially slowed me down in reading the book, was Darian’s accent. I have no idea what an Essex accent is supposed to sound like so although it was written phonetically, I still had trouble grasping some of the words until I got the flow of it. Also, Ash tends to be very wordy, which fits the pompous side of his character, but had me researching a bit to understand a few of his references. Overall, it did not impact my enjoyment of this book. Alexis Hall has created some memorable characters and the HFN ending was honest and fit the story perfectly.

*A copy of this book was provided by Riptide Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.