Review: Serenading Stanley (The Belladonna Arms #1) by John Inman

Serenading Stanley 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with beautiful green eyes does everything in his power to woo Stanley, but Stanley has always lived a quiet life, too withdrawn from the world to take a chance on love.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.

John Inman stories make me happy.

They are funny and his quirky characters are just as important and dimensional as the MC’s and this one was no exception. In fact, I think the secondary characters in Serenading Stanley were some of my favorites of all time.

Serenading Stanley is the story of Stanley Sternbaum. He is a graduate student who is moving out on his own for the first time. He moves into the Belladonna Arms which seems to be a hotbed of quirk. His first encounter is with Arthur, the bear, drag queen with a heart of gold who can barely make it up the stairs to show Stanley his ‘penthouse’ apartment.

Stanley is a sweet soul who sees himself as painfully ordinary and he’s terribly shy. He’s never really had a boyfriend and with his completely insane mother, he’s found it best to just try to fly under the radar. As Stanley says,

“Two weeks with Stanley’s mother could make the Valentine’s Day Massacre seem like a skeet shoot. The sinking of the Titanic a mere act of baptism for fifteen hundred people. A flesh-gobbling case of leprosy little more than a diaper rash.”

It’s no wonder Stanley needed to get away. Little did he know what he was getting himself into at the Belladonna Arms. Not only do we have Arthur, but there is also ChiChi, the nipple ringed “massage therapist” down the hall; Ramon, the freshman beauty student; Charlie, the certified kleptomaniac UPS driver; Pete, the anti-social token straight guy and my personal favorite, Sylvia, the pre-op transsexual that absolutely everyone loves. Sylvia and Stanley become fast friends and I loved reading the conversations between them.

Of course we can’t forget Roger Jane, a god among mortals in Stanley’s eyes. He is just entirely too perfect for Stanley to take seriously. There is no way Roger could be interested in plain old Stanley Sternbaum. Roger is fantasy fuel for sure and Stanley gets to know Roger and he discovers that he is also a truly nice and caring guy who just happens to be interested in Stanley. The two of them have lots of starts and stops to their courtship and that is mostly Stanley’s doing. To be fair, Stanley has spent his entire life feeling plain and boring, larger than life Roger is just too much for him to wrap his brain around. He even asks Roger,

“But why would you be thinking about me? You’re beautiful, I’m just . . . me.”

It never feels like Stanley is fishing for compliments, he is truly stymied by Roger’s interest. Roger has been hurt in the past though and he’s not going to let Stanley get away with hiding from him, Roger doesn’t play games or pull punches with how he feels and I’ve got to give Roger credit for his incredible patience. They were very honest with each other though, when Roger could pin Stanley down that is.

One of my absolute favorite things about John’s books is the boys get together well before the end and then they stay together! Sure, it’s the honeymoon period so there’s lots of hearts and flowers, but that’s refreshing. It’s not the formula of:

Finally come together, throw in some icky angst, question and regret all misunderstandings, work it out at 98%.

It's more:

Finally come together (like for reals) at 50-60%, stay together, be all kinds of sappy, and keep coming together, both literally and figuratively until the end.

I like it.

I’m normally not a fan of the overly sweet, although thinking about it, maybe I’m just not a fan of the overly sweet that takes itself too seriously. That’s probably why John’s books work so well for me. Just when there are declarations of all manner of fluffy love forever and always, the statement will end with,

“You’re the best thing I’ve ever known. And you fuck like a monkey.”

Now that’s my kind of sweet talk right there.

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