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Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall

 

glitterlandNote: I wrote this review several months ago, when the book originally came out. I would now call the author an online friend.

Sensuality Rating: Uh… I’ve kind of forgotten. I guess Torrid.

It’s a little discombobulating reading a book written in the first person by someone you’ve interacted with online.  I had trouble at first separating Ash, the bipolar and severely anxious narrator of the story, from Alexis Hall, the friendly Internet voice. Then the character of Darian is introduced and Ash immediately begins mocking his clothes, his hair and (relentlessly) his Essex accent. I was intensely uncomfortable until I realized — oh! Ash is an asshole.

For Ash, feeling attracted to “a man who was practically orange and wearing beneath his jacket a shirt that read ‘Sexy and I know it,’ could only have been the sick joke of a universe that despised me.” Ash is an intellectual, a successful writer, wealthy and “posh.” He’s also just barely on the other side of a psychotic break, and even navigating a conversation with a stranger is often beyond him.  But Darian notices his interest, and climbs up to him, “like the world’s most ill-suited Romeo in pursuit of the world’s least convincing Juliet.” And Ash finds himself falling into a one-night stand.

“What did any of it matter? I’d never see him again. Nobody would ever know. All sense, all judgment, overthrown by an h-dropping, glottal-stopping glitter pirate, and I didn’t have to care.”

Then Darian shows up at Ash’s book signing, inconveniently revealing himself to be an actual person with feelings that were hurt when Ash disappeared in the night.  And still intensely attracted, Ash winds up in the difficult position of trying to relate to someone who really wants to get to know him. “…what was I supposed to say? That I enjoyed long walks on the beach and occasionally trying to kill myself?”

Darian is a sweetheart. He’s so comfortable in his own skin that he can appreciate the differences between them that confound Ash.  “I like it when you say fings, cos it sounds posh and filthy at the same time.” But he’s sensitive enough to call Ash on his snobbery, and even pokes a little fun himself:

He cleared his throat. “I say,” he said, in an outrageous RP [received pronunciation ] accent, “suck me off at once. Rar.”

I glared at him in outrage. “I do not sound like that! I’ve never said ‘I say.’ Or ‘rar.’”

“Get on wif it, peasant.”

I fell in love with Darian and Ash as a couple during their game of “Nabble,” in which you put down words that aren’t in the dictionary. (Darian easily admits that he doesn’t feel up to Scrabble against the erudite Ash.)

He was uncertain at first but soon he was nabbling like an old hand. First came glink (‘that like look what happens when two people are fancying each other from across the dance floor’), then gloffle (‘like when you put too much toffee in your mouf at once”)… And then, somehow, I got silly and offered up svlenky to describe the motion of his hips while dancing, to which he responded with flinkling, which was apparently what my brow did when I was coming up with something sarcastic to say. From there we moved through a few variations too ridiculous to be recorded. I foolishly formulated glimstruck as a representation of how it felt to be around him, and then we graduated to kissing, still fully clothed like a pair of teenagers on the wreckage of the Scrabble board.

Since this is a romance, naturally there’s a dark moment, and it’s kind of a classic. Ash does something so excruciatingly dreadful, I literally couldn’t bear to turn the page for several minutes to see the inevitable aftermath.

But Glitterland isn’t only a romance, it’s also a deeply resonant depiction of depression and anxiety. Ash is seriously mentally ill — and no, true love doesn’t mean he’s cured — and his descriptions are painfully authentic:

Depression simply is. It has no beginning and no end, no boundaries and no world outside itself. It is the first, the last, the only, the alpha and the omega. Memories of better times die upon its desolate shores. Voices drown in its seas. The mind becomes its own prisoner.

The things I cared about were the hooks I’d driven into the rock face. Depression snapped them, one by one, one by one. My only certainty was the fall.

Ash is terrified by how happy he is with Darian.  “…happiness was merely something else to lose.”  But later, when he’s gut-wrenchingly screwed things up between them, he has a stunning realization: “…I wasn’t depressed. I was sad. This little piece of hurt was all my own.”

I loved almost everything about this book. The writing just… melted in my mouth, it’s so smooth and rich and sweetly tart. But I did have some discomfort with the portrayal of Darian. I doubt if, as an American, I could fully grasp all the nuances of class and culture clash that were going on here, but I felt that Darian was almost too wise and perfect in his easygoing simplicity. Part of the point of the book, of course, is that the way Darian sounds and dresses has nothing to do with his value as a person, and obviously he needs to have an attractive personality, so they can fall in love. But there was a touch of “noble savage” about him that nagged at me. It might have helped if we’d gotten to see more of his inner life.

It’s still a marvelous story. I have to quote just one more passage, because it’s such a charming comment on an opposite attracts relationship:

The cottage pie was about as wholesome and straightforward as you could get. It was food for winter evenings and happy days. And the salad was rich, complicated, a little bit sweet, a little bit sharp, and seemed to be trying way too hard to be impressive. We’d both served each other a metaphor.

I give this 4 1/2 stars. You can buy it here.

Published by Riptide. Reviewed from e-arc provided by NetGalley.

The winner of the Advance Reader Copy of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS is Lori_Erokan. Please email Julia at juliaspencerfleming dot com and let her know if you want a book (include your snail mail address) or a Net Galley (ebook.)

 

 

 

Through evil daysI love a good romance. I’ve been reading them ever since I snuck The Flame and the Flower out of the paperback swap box at the Argyle Free Library. I was thirteen, and boy, did that that novel further my education. In the many, many years since then, I think I’ve read in every romance subgenre there is (except, perhaps, for Inspirational Amish single title. I’ve read Amish romance, mind you – Sunshine and Shadow remains one of my faves.) So it was a natural fit for me to create a heartfelt romance within my first mystery novel.

 

The book was titled In the Bleak Midwinter and it became a surprising success. Evidently, lots of readers shared my enthusiasm for suppressed passion alongside murders, arrests and life-threatening chases through the Adirondack mountains. So much so, that the eighth in the series, Through the Evil Days, is being released on November 5th (a very easy date to remember, remember.) I’ve taken my heroine, an Episcopal priest who unwillingly falls in love with a married police chief, from their small northern New York town to a tour of combat duty in Iraq and back again (with accompanying problems.) There have been lingering half-hidden glances; unwilling admissions of love; pain, rejection, reconciliation and consummation (that was fun to write.)

Karen Scott 2

However, as central as the relationship between Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne is to the story, I’m still writing crime fiction, not Romance-with-a-capital-R. Which means I get to play with and against many of the conventions of that genre. Russ is neither young nor rich (although he is, to use the description of Castle, “ruggedly handsome.” Clare is lively and personable, not pretty. Russ is married at the beginning of the series to a pleasant, attractive woman. (The H/H don’t cross the line into actual cheating, but even emotional infidelity tends to be a huge no-fly zone in Romance.) Their big fights end with them being mad, not falling into each others’ arms.

 

Karen Scott 4Now, in the upcoming Through the Evil Days, I tackle a romance trope that has always bugged the heck out of me: the Joyful Reaction to Unplanned Pregnancy. You’ve all read this, right? The hero and heroine have no plans to have kids. They’re surprised with an unplanned pregnancy. She instantly becomes Tiger Mother and he turns into Father Goose. In real life? Not so much. She says, “Oh, shit.” He says, “What did you do?” A vigorous discussion ensues. I wanted to take a look at that. In One Was a Soldier, my hero and heroine finally made it up the aisle, with the understanding that, among other things, the demands of her calling and his age meant they wouldn’t have children. So of course, at the very end of the book, they discover she’s pregnant. (Lawrence Block’s secret to good fiction: just keep throwing one damn thing after another at your characters.)

 

Karen Scott 3In a romance, the Hero would take a deep breath, readjust his perceptions, and say, “Great news, honey!” Russ reacts a little differently.

He collapsed into one of the ladder-back chairs. “How?” She looked at him incredulously. “I mean, I thought you had the birth control thing all covered.” He jammed one hand through his hair. “Jesus, Clare, I would’ve used condoms if there was a problem.” He squinted up at her. “You didn’t forget to take ’em, did you?” He didn’t mean to sound suspicious, but it came out that way.

 

Karen Scott 1Clare’s scared of what her congregation will think, but soon has bigger problems when the bishop threatens to haul her up on charges of “conduct unbecoming of a priest.” She’s afraid for the baby – she’s being treated for addiction – she’s afraid for her job, and she’s afraid for her marriage.

 

Russ is mad, upset, inflexible and refuses to buy into the idea that he’s going to be a father. And he doesn’t do a 180 turn through the talc-scented magic of romancelandia. He has a long, hard slog through danger and disruption before he can even hope to come to grips with the way his life continues to be turned upside down by love.

Karen Scott 5

Will they arrive at agreement and acceptance? Will they be able to grow and change within their marriage? Will they get away from the stone-cold killers they stumble over at their remote lakeside honeymoon cabin? (Well, it is a mystery.)

 

And what do you think, readers? Do you prefer the H/H who start knitting booties before the EPT stick has dried? Or do you like them to have a more realistic approach to the event? Let me know, and one lucky commenter will get an Advance Reader Copy or Net Galley of Through the Evil Days !

Julia Author Photo

Julia Spencer-Fleming‘s New York Times bestselling books have won multiple awards, including the Anthony and Agatha, and have been Edgar and RT Reader’s Choice nominees. The next Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne novel, Through the Evil Days, comes out on November 5th. You can find Julia at her website, her readerSpace, on Facebook and on Twitter as @jspencerfleming. She also blogs with the Jungle Red Writers.

Author Visit: Julia Spencer-Fleming

Were you here for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s post on sex in mysteries? I was, back when I was just a visitor, even though I hadn’t then read any of her books.  And despite her telling me I had the same tastes as a little old lady, I went on to read them all. 😉

Julia will be joining us again on Wednesday October 9th to talk about her upcoming book Through the Evil Days. I don’t know what she has planned, but her last post was pretty fun, so come check it out.