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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’m going to start this review with a quick warning – Do Not go in to this book thinking you are getting a light read or easy one. This being said it was a brilliant debut well hell a brilliant book period! I’m struggling with how to sum this book up as it was a very hard read that I just couldn’t put down.
I’m going to start trying to put my thoughts down for you by beginning with Darian. I’m starting here because he’s the heart of this book and brings his amazing personality to the page from the moment you first see him as Ash does at the club. He’s brilliant in form and truly brings an infectious love of life to everyone around him that let’s this unique man in. I loved how he didn’t make any real apologies for who he is but owned the fact that he might not be the most respectable person for polite society but he is who he is and you just have to deal with it. He’s not stupid though and even when all he wants is to be loved he’s willing to step back to force Ash to give him the respect he deserves. His dialogue can be hard for those not used to hearing or reading British street lingo but I adored that touch as it kept him real in my mind and with all my adoration of BBC I’m pretty used to hearing it so reading it didn’t throw me. I loved watching his willingness to put himself out there and my heart broke with his as Ash makes a horrible mistake. He’s just someone I think in real life I’d love knowing even as a part of me would cringe at how horribly inappropriate he can be. I have to admit being jealous of people and characters that comfortable in their own skin as I wish I could let myself be. I get my outlet via reading and now the blog but have issues truly letting go in public (those who know me or have met me can attest to that) but watching Darian demand what he deserved was awesome!
Ash is where we get to the hard parts… Alexis does a great job bringing you in to the head of a mad man. No I’m not exaggerating, Ash is certifiably a mess and has the scars to prove it. We get to see his struggle with being bi-polar and how exhausting it is for him to even pretend to function. Only as he spends time with Darian does he start to find some inner peace but he doesn’t trust that as the disease tells him he’s not worthy and that he will just end up destroying anything that comes near him. I mean look at what he did with Niall. He’s got himself so far down the rabbit hole that even heading out to the grocery store is a major event to dread. His voice in all of this is one of a man that is struggling to want to even stay alive let alone allow someone to mean more to him than a quick anonymous shag. As he spends more time around Darian he finds himself wanting more and more but being incredibly frightened of what will happen if Darin finds the truth out about him. When the truth does come out he finds that Darian doesn’t really care as life/love is never guaranteed so why not live for the moment and let the pieces fall where they may. Is this extremely optimistic? Yes but Darian has such an infectious joy of life you can’t help but want to give him everything he wants just to keep him happy. Ash really is trying but when push comes to shove he makes some comments that slice to the bone and I found myself gutted as we saw Darian’s reaction. I am very thankful that the author made the struggle Ash has to come to terms with what he wants/needs a hard one and even happier at the grovel that was very well done. He has to work for what we as readers all know is what he needs and I loved how the disease was not whitewashed at all but highlighted and in a way a living, breathing character in the book as well.
We see books at times that whitewash mental illness and thankfully this one is not another one of those. We get to see the nitty gritty painful details and the devastation it leaves for not only the sufferer but those around them that just want to help but go about it at times in the wrong ways. Niall is a case in point on this but as much as I wanted to hate him for his behaviour I did understand it especially when it comes to a head later in the book. I would love to see more of the supporting characters especially Niall as I feel he deserves a chance to finally be happy.
As I said at the start this is not an easy book to read and there are a few parts that drag as we get deeper into the psyche of Ash but I wouldn’t trade those sections for anything as it makes you better understand the struggle he is having with feeling worthy of love or even of living. I have to thank NetGalley.com and Riptide Publishing for giving me the chance to read this in exchange for my honest review. I also have to thank Sarah Frantz for being on the elevator with me at RT which started me down the path of actively seeking out more Riptide titles. I have enjoyed seeing some of the amazingly complex stories that have come out of that initial meeting. Keep them coming!