5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, John Inman, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Coming Back by John Inman

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Title: Coming Back (Belladonna Arms: Book Three)

Author: John Inman

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: This novel wraps around you like an old comfy blanket, and makes you part of the magical place where some of the most amazing characters live.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Barney Teegarden knows what it’s like to be alone. He knows what it’s like to have a romantic heart, yet no love in his life to unleash the romance on. With the help of a friend, he acquires a lease in a seedy apartment building perched high on a hill in downtown San Diego. The Belladonna Arms is not only filled with the quirkiest cast of characters imaginable, it is also famous for sprinkling love dust on even the loneliest of the lovelorn.

At the Arms, Barney finds friendship, acceptance, and an adopted family that lightens his lonely life. Hell, he even finds a cat. But still true love eludes him.

When his drag queen landlord, Arthur, takes it into his head to rescue a homeless former tenant, he enlists Barney’s help. It is Barney who shows this lost soul how to trust again—and in return Barney discovers love for the first time in his life.

It’s funny how even the hardest battles can be fought and won with laughter, hugs, friends, plus a little faith in the goodness of others. All it takes to begin the healing is the simple act of coming back.

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Review: I have hardly made it a secret that I believe author John Inman is perhaps one of the most gifted voices in the M/M genre. Moving easily from horror and suspense to romantic comedy, there truly is not a more versatile writer on the scene today than Mr. Inman. I may have squealed with a bit of delight when I saw that there was a third installment in the entertaining Belladonna Arms series. You may wonder why, and I can tell you it doesn’t simply rely on the fact that these novels are sweet love stories at their finest. No, it is much more than that. You see, these tales are a slice of Americana, a gay Americana, no doubt, but still as familiar as small town parades and neighbors who support and love each other despite their flaws. What Mr. Inman has done with this series is create a small community that quietly goes about the business of propping one another up when needed, saving each other when disaster looms, and loving each other regardless of what past mistakes may have been made. In short, he has created a family, and I defy you not to fall hopelessly in love with each one of them.

Welcome to the Belladonna Arms, run by the mountainous cross-dressing landlord, Arthur; where gay men, trans folks, and kleptomaniacs all reside in blissful harmony. A new resident has arrived, a friend of Pete’s, and his name is Barney. Those knowing the series will remember Pete, the accountant, who married Sylvia, who has recently transitioned into a gorgeous female. Barney is small in stature but huge in heart, and that is the main problem. You see, while Barney may love, he is never loved in return, nor does he think he will ever be.

However, the decaying old apartment building seems to weave a magic of its own, and nearly everyone who has come to live within its walls finds love following swiftly behind. All, that is, except for Ramon. Again, if you are familiar with these stories, you will remember that Ramon recently accidentally killed his abusive drug addicted lover, ChiChi, in what may have clearly been part freak accident and part ChiChi running into the knife in Ramon’s hand. Regardless of what truly happened, Ramon fled Belladonna Arms and disappeared nearly six months before Barney arrived. Now Arthur has a bead on where Ramon is, and needs his newest renter’s assistance tracking his lost and emotionally wounded friend. The real question is not whether Arthur will bring Ramon safely home; it is, will Ramon be able to shed the pain and guilt he carries and find hope and, yes, love back in the arms of this magical apartment building where his and Barney’s destiny awaits.

A good novel has an interesting and well-paced plot, likeable characters who draw you into their imaginary lives, and solid dialogue that is both intelligent and clever. A great novel has all those components ratcheted up to the nth degree, making it more complex, its people more multi-layered and believable, and the story captivating and memorable. This is the type of story John Inman writes, and in the case of this series, and specifically Coming Back, you must add witty repartee and breathtakingly wounded characters to the list.

I fell in love with the eclectic band of brothers and sister that peopled this novel. I did so, easily and agreeably, because the way in which each one was delicately written to hinge on the life of the others made them rich and unique and so very easy to care about. Ramon, oh golly, I wanted to hold him till the nightmares went away. I wanted to reassure Barney that love was most definitely out there waiting for him despite his very bad track record of one unrequited crush after another. With each description of yet another apartment dweller, I was pulled inexorably into the story, where I happily remained, gobbling up page after page, sometimes shiny-eyed with tears but more often weeping with laughter.

Coming Back, the third installment of the Belladonna Arms series, is truly brilliant story telling. This novel wraps around you like an old comfy blanket, and makes you part of the magical place where some of the most amazing characters live. I highly recommend it to you.

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