Title: Serenading Stanley (Belladonna Arms #1)
Author: John Inman
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Rating: 5+ stars
A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: An incredible love story, nothing more, nothing less–just brilliant!
Blurb: Welcome to the Belladonna Arms, a rundown little apartment building perched atop a hill in downtown San Diego, home to the city’s lost and lovelorn. Shy archaeology student Stanley Sternbaum has just moved in and fills his time quietly observing his eccentric neighbors, avoiding his hellion mother, and trying his best to go unnoticed… which proves to be a problem when it comes to fellow tenant Roger Jane. Smitten, the hunky nurse with beautiful green eyes does everything in his power to woo Stanley, but Stanley has always lived a quiet life, too withdrawn from the world to take a chance on love. Especially with someone as beautiful as Roger Jane.
While Roger tries to batter down Stanley’s defenses, Stanley turns to his new neighbors to learn about love: Ramon, who’s not afraid to give his heart to the wrong man; Sylvia, the trans who just wants to be a woman, and the secret admirer who loves her just the way she is; Arthur, the aging drag queen who loves them all, expecting nothing in return—and Roger, who has been hurt once before but is still willing to risk his heart on Stanley, if Stanley will only look past his own insecurities and let him in.
Belladonna Arms Series
Review: Stanley Sternbaum is a true fatalist. He is the worst kind of pessimist, one who encourages others to take risks and be hopeful while he himself quietly lays down and accepts defeat, embraces it like an old lost friend. Stanley has been down on himself for so long, it never occurs to him that he is worthy of anything, certainly not love and certainly not from one of the hottest guys he has ever laid eyes on, Roger Jane. Roger’s needs are simple. Save the wacky yet endearing neighbors he has at Belladonna Arms apartments from giving into their own special brand of crazy and, of course, falling in love…with Stanley. First, he must convince Stanley that he is lovable and for most of this story that idea hovers on the edge of never happening.
Once again I find myself staring at the review sheet and trying to come up with more euphemisms for the word outstanding. For you see, in my book that is what John Inman’s writing is…outstanding. There were moments (oh so many) when I was left gasping for air with tears streaming down my cheeks from laughing so hard. And then with the flick of his pen, Mr. Inman had me nearly weeping over moments such as when Sylvia tries to take her own life. It was as if the author pulled away the fourth wall from this building and exposed all the zany, along with all the love, pain, fears and, yes, the hopes and dreams of some of the most remarkable characters ever written.
Why is this author so successful at combining humor with just a touch of angst and delivering an outstanding novel time after time? Simply put, while the characters in Serenading Stanley may see somewhat outlandish, the feelings and foibles they have are oh so real. Stanley’s constant war with himself over how he perceives himself and how Roger views him is not unlike how any other person would react when confronted with a love they never in a million years thought they had a chance at finding. The idea that Stanley has such low self-esteem that he cannot visualize anyone of Roger’s beauty and brains ever loving him is made more realistic when he sets out to sabotage the relationship before it even exists. Creeping up the stairs, hiding from Roger, refusing to even think that Roger could ever love him, this is how Stanley guards his heart from being broken. Yet time after time, Roger batters at the walls Stanley erects and we, the readers, hold our collective breath hoping against hope that Roger will succeed.
But author John Inman doesn’t stop there. He goes one step more and creates a secondary cast of characters that are larger than life and oh so sweetly flawed. Some he uses as a means of injecting humor into what otherwise would be a fairly angsty love story. Other characters he uses to bring out the finer qualities in his leading men. For instance, the compassion he reveal in Roger when he cares for Charlie, the resident kleptomaniac, as he helps Charlie back on his meds and then gets him rehired from the job he lost due to his stealing habit. The incredibly sweet way that Roger and Stanley care for Sylvia who is transitioning from male to female and who is at the end of her rope because she does not have the money to finish her treatments was a real window into how loving and caring both Roger and Stanley are to those around them. With each new side character, the author peels away another layer and reveals something more about Roger and Stanley, their character, their heart, and what motivates them. It is so deftly accomplished and so very entertaining to read.
I have such respect for this author. He uses both humor and drama to deliver a brilliant love story that never panders but is always intelligent and just pure fun. I could use one superlative after another to express how rich and deeply satisfying this story was to me. I think, instead I shall leave it at this: Serenading Stanley by John Inman is one of my top picks for this year. I highly recommend it to you.