PaperBackSwap Blog

Romantic Suspense Review – Secrets of Bella Terra

Secrets of Bella Terra by Christina Dodd


Review by reacherfan1909


Lately, romantic suspense has seen an influx of standard romance writers looking to cash in on this popular, and rather under-appreciated genre.  The books are unabashed romance, but with a mystery and threat of danger.  Jayne Ann Krentz always had these elements in both her contemporary books and her Amanda Quick Regency books years before she became the archetype that other romance writers followed.

Christina Dodd formerly specialized in historical (mostly Regency) and fantasy historical romances, contemporary romance, did some paranormal, and then moved into contemporary romantic suspense style books.  Secrets of Bella Terra is Book 1 in the new Scarlet Deception romantic suspense series.  Here’s the thing, romantic suspense, to be really good, needs a certain sense of authenticity about the tough male character.  The favorite male characters are cop/FBI/CIA type, military or ex-military, or some kind of tough guy from a mixed background that includes a lot of weapons training.  Creating such a believable male lead, is not easy.  On the upside, most romantic suspense readers aren’t fans of writers like Barry Eisler, John Donohue, Stephen Hunter, Kyle Mills, or the many ex-spec ops guys (some of whom can’t write decent characters, but are great with the action parts) writing today’s action suspense thrillers.  This means female authors can get away with glossing over the particulars while relying on clever characters and good plotting.  A handful do far better than that, and ably plot a complex thriller element,  Check out Suzanne Brockman‘s earlier SEAL Team/Troubleshooters books (Out of Control and Over the Edge could be considered “Best of Breed”), Tara Janzen‘s Crazy and Steel Street series, and Marliss Melton‘s SEAL stories (she’s wife to a career navy man), Roxanne St Claire‘s Bullet Catchers, and Anne Stuart‘s Ice series (especially Blue Ice).  All are well done, original and interesting romantic suspense.  In defense of romance writers, all authors take liberties with technical details, even  the male authors, for the sake of story flow.  I just find it hard not to pick on these things, because if I can see it, heaven knows what experienced eyes see.


There are three DiLuca brothers, Eli, Noah, and Rafe.  Same father, Gavino DiLuca, an actor, but three different mothers, they got to know each other with Nonna.  Rafe DiLuca is the son of Italian movie star Francesca.  He even had a brief acting stint in a children’s movie, but Rafe had no interest in the world of drama that his parents inhabited.  Like his half brother’s, he was mostly raised by their Nonna.  He is now a top of the line mercenary with an elite group of ex-military types working for him.  He’s on a rescue mission in a remote country unfriendly to US military when he gets called about his grandmother.  Sarah DiLuca, Nonna, has been assaulted and is in the hospital back in Bella Valley, California where his two brothers run Bella Terra Resort and Winery.  The winery had been first, but during Prohibition, wine making was stopped and the family needed another way to make a living, so the Bella Terra Resort began.


When Rafe returns, he finds another part of his past is there as well – Brooke Petersson is now head concierge at the resort and a close friend of the family.  Brooke is the girl he left behind and she’s determined NOT to allow him back in her heart – and he’s determined not to allow himself to give in to what he’s always wanted.  The reunion finds both still strongly attracted to each other, then heroine stupidity syndrome hits.  The syndrome is, unfortunately, not just found in cozy mysteries, it’s found in far too many romantic suspense novels.  Even more unfortunately, stupidity is not limited to Brooke, Nonna had it for a long time too.  She’s kept secrets – well, dangerous, stupid and, just plain DUBM secrets.


Brooke starts nosing around the resort and finds a body, a missing gardener is dead.  Now, is this a sufficient hint that that chasing criminals is a very bad idea? I realize Brooke feels she has to prove her independence and ability to take care of herself to Rafe, but making stupid decisions only proved the opposite.


This scenario had all the potential for an excellent bit of romantic suspense in beautiful California wine country, but somehow, it all just slipped away.  Eli, Noah, and Rafe are good characters wasted on a poorly executed, often annoying story.  Brooke irritated me.  I have a low threshold for female leads who persist in pursing a course of action for which they are eminently unsuited!  What kind of delusions make them think pursuing a dangerous criminal who has proved he/she will attack any threat is a good idea?  And since when is a champagne bottle a  good weapon.  Maybe James Bond could make it work with some MacGyver ingenuity and a classic Bond quip.  A concierge?  Please, do not insult my intelligence.  Nonna and Brooke’s mother, Kathy, a retired career military woman with a bad divorce behind her, both gave me the urge to yell, “Grow UP!”  Jenna, the head of the resort spa, is another case of arrested emotional development.  Ebrillwen, head of housekeeping, was the most sensible, astute person in the whole book.  And since  when is the head concierge responsible for resort management and human resources?


At 400+ pages the story is long, but despite an interesting cast of characters, it lacks that plot edge or tension that makes really good romantic suspense.  There is a nice twist at the end, though it seemed a cop out by an author not quite able to execute a tension filled, believable story.  Notably absent was the sense of humor and self deprecating wit that can often carry a slight plot to much higher levels.  The glaring deficits make it tough to take it seriously.  Fans of romantic suspense light might be happy campers, but fans of any of the authors listed above are doomed to disappointment.  Even the ‘romance’ part was only average for me.  The old, “I’ll let him my bed, but not my heart” routine is trite and very stale here. The byplay of the 3 DiLuca brothers is well done and possibly the best part of the book.  Making Rafe a mercenary was a bad idea poorly executed.  Penguin/Signet should have sold this as plain Contemporary Romance and stopped trying to force a ‘suspense’ element.


My rating for The Secrets of Bella Terra is C, .  The romance portion is a C+, but the suspense part is C-, so as romantic suspense, it’s just a C.

Tags: ,

One Response to “Romantic Suspense Review – Secrets of Bella Terra”

  1. Issa S. (Issa-345) says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been pondering reading this one for a while, but haven’t been as impressed with Dodd’s contemporaries so I’ve stayed on the fence. Sounds like something to check out from the library.

Leave a Reply