Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Writer Harlie Rose is dumped by his lover, it precipitates a cross country journey to mend his broken heart. Now four months later, Harlie is ready to settle down and start writing again. When Harlie finds himself on the doorstep of the Belladonna Arms, a quirky, perhaps even seedy apartment building on the only hill in San Diego, he knows he’s found home. What he doesn’t know is that the Belladonna Arms has a reputation for romance—and Harlie is about to become its next victim.
Needing a job to pay the rent, Harlie finds a job as a baker’s apprentice at the bakery just up the street. The grumpy but gorgeous baker is the owner’s son, Milan, and Harlie finds himself attracted to the man despite Milan’s attempts to push him away. Why? Milan too is nursing a broken heart. Soon the men find themselves hopelessly attracted to each other, despite their histories and internal walls.
The Belladonna Arms cupid has its work cut out for it, but luckily there’s plenty of help from the other residents, from Sylvia, on the verge of her final surgery to become a woman, Charley and PJ- the kleptos in 3C, to Arthur, the aging drag queen who is about to discover a romance of his own, and Stanley and Roger, the handsome young couple in 5C who lead by example, Harlie soon learns that at the Belladonna Arms, love is always just around the corner waiting to pounce. Whether you want it to or not.
I loved Work in Progress by John Inman. It is a heartwarming, wonderful sequel to another favorite of mine, Serenading Stanley (Belladonna Arms #1) by John Inman. That story was our first introduction to this shabby, delightfully quirky apartment building on a hilltop in San Diego and its eccentric, almost bizarre inhabitants. After obseving the Belladonna Arms’ owner, Arthur, in full drag taking out the trash, these are the thoughts running through Harlie’s head:
Yep. It was time to finally settle down and pull those notes together. And time to somehow squeeze The Great American Novel out of them. I was home now to do exactly that, or I would be home as soon as I found a home to settle in.
That’s why I was standing in the rain in front of the Belladonna Arms. The old sign had caught my attention while I was tooling aimlessly down Broadway looking for a place to light. Broadway, by the by, is San Diego’s main thoroughfare. It bisects the city from east to west, and at the moment I could see it a bit down the hill from where I stood.
But back to the sign. When I first spotted it, I had immediately liked the cheesy orange lettering on the rattletrap neon contraption. I even liked the way it stood slightly askew atop the boxy, less than elegant 1940s-era apartment building the old drag queen had ducked into. The whole misaligned package of tattered neon and weathered construction, perched one upon the other on this out-of-place hill on the southernmost tip of the California coast, somehow shrieked home to me. Go figure.
Even Arthur realizes immediately that Harlie belongs there and hauls him in to live in Apartment 2A. By then a love affair has started between the reader and these characters, including the Belladonna Arms, a romance that gets better, deeper and more memorable as the story progresses.
Truthfully, all I would have to do to get you to pick up this story is quote Chapter 1 over and over again. It’s hilarious, and touching, and downright addicting. John Inman’s descriptions are so wildly funny that you will find yourself laughing until the tears flow. Yet those same colorful descriptions, while perhaps being blunt and containing truthful observations of everyone involved, are never cruel or stoop to cheap shots at the characters expense. No, John Inman loves and understands these unconventional people who have all the same hopes and dreams for themselves as everyone else, despite their outlook, outward appearances and even their kleptomania. And he makes you love and understand them as well.
The title appears to be about Harlie’s ongoing attempts to “butch” up drag queen Arthur so Arthur can finally find true love. So initially it appears that Arthur is Harlie’s work in progress. But nothing is ever that simple at the Belladonna Arms, for everyone there is in transition of one sort or another, including all the people we met in Serenading Stanley as well as the new characters too. There’s the fragile, beautiful Sylvia completing her transition to female with her devoted fiance Pete at her side, Stanley and Roger (the main romance in Serenading Stanley) more deeply in love and looking towards the future, kleptomaniacs Charley and P.J. now happily together whether stealing or on their meds, Chi Chi and Ramon who provide the fire as well as the pathos, even the Belladonna Arms cat whose name changes depending upon whose apartment he’s visiting at the time. This tight family of people are all so important to the story that no one really feels like a secondary character. That’s because the Belladonna Arms is a sum of all its parts and we need them all in order for this story to work its magic. And believe me it does. Magic, tacky, glittery, over the top, sort of dusty, magic, is scattered throughout this story like the feathers from a boa tossed in the wind.
Inman’s new characters are as strongly crafted and layered as the ones we were already fond of. Milan, his father Mr. Berger, each new person fills a void for someone within the Belladonna Arms. And yes, with all the love and laughter that bubbles off these pages, the author balances it with life’s loss and pain. This element is real, raw, and very necessary in order to appreciate the glow and radiance achieved at the end.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I love and recommend this book (ok, yes, I just did that), it should be obvious. So instead I will leave you with another short excerpt, still from Chapter 1. Harley has just settled in and is heading out for a grocery run.
Lives don’t write themselves any more than WIPs do. Nosirree. Might as well get started living mine right now. And to live it, I needed food.
I locked the apartment door behind me, taking a moment to brush my fingertips fondly over the 2A screwed onto the front of the door in something that resembled copper but probably wasn’t. I trotted my way down the one flight of stairs to the front door, wondering if I’d see Arthur along the way, which I didn’t.
I had a feeling I was going to like the Belladonna Arms. I wasn’t sure why. The place was actually kind of a dump. But hey, I thought, popping open the umbrella and ducking underneath it as I strolled out the door and into the rain, it’s kind of a happy dump. And happy is exactly what I need right now. Christ knows I’ve been morose long enough.
By the time I sloshed my way to the car, I was surprised to hear myself whistling. And wasn’t that a stunning revelation.
You will find yourself whistling along with him. Perhaps even doing a little dance step or two. These characters and this story will have that effect on you. Make your acquaintance with John Inman today and pick up both stories! Happy Reading.
Cover artist: Aaron Anderson. I feel this cover is a bit of a miss. There were so many elements to choose from for this cover and yet this is the content?
Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback All Romance (ARe) amazon buy it here
ebook, 226 pages
Published October 6th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1632161966 (ISBN13: 9781632161963)
seriesBelladonna Arms #2
Belladonna Arms series:
Work In Progress