RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Secrets of Bella Terra by Christina Dodd

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Title: Secrets of Bella Terra
Author: Christina Dodd
Publication Info: Signet 2011
ISBN: 978-0451413093
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Secrets of Bella Terra This review was written by Donna. This story was nominated in the Best Romantic Suspense category.

The summary:     

Brooding and sexy Rafe Di Luca has returned to his family's luxurious vineyard resort and discovers that a long-ago quarrel has ignited once more, forcing him to work with Brooke Petersson, the woman he seduced … and betrayed.     

As the danger escalates and their passion threatens to rage out of control, Brooke fights her treacherous longing for a man who will never truly share his life with any woman. Remembering the anguish of the love they shared, she vows that Rafe may possess her body, but never again will he reach her fiercely guarded heart.     

The peril they face will either bring them together, or destroy them both … unless they uncover the secret that will change everything.

And here is Donna's review:

I'll say up front that Christina Dodd wrote one of my all time favorite historical romances. Unfortunately, whatever alchemy of characterization, plot and pacing that made That Scandelous Evening ( A | BN | K | S) a go-to comfort read is completely lacking here. This book definitely falls into the how-the-hell-did-this-get-nominated-for-an-award? category. What made it such an excrutiatingly bad read? Stupidity and disappointment. Everything about this book reeked of disrespect for the readers' intellect, and that's so disheartening when you've sighed over a writer's earlier work.

It starts out promising enough.  We meet Nonna Sarah driving home in her “titty pink” Mustang convertible. Who isn't tickled by the idea of their Nonna tooling around in a classic Detroit muscle car? On the other hand, do any of you have a first generation Italian grandmother born in a largely Italian neighborhood in the 30's named Sarah? Yeah, me neither. And what exactly does “titty pink” look like? I own a pair: not pink and not a color I would paint a Mustang. So right away smiling, but raising my eyebrow at the same time.  Shortly after getting home with the groceries Nonna is attacked, grandson Rafe is called home from a rescue mission and the story jumps on the stupidity train.

Rafe is supposed to be this big security expert, (hereafter referred to as B.S.expert). Based on the following, I think I'd rather throw my lot in with the rent-a-cop at the mall. 

The B.S.expert slips into the room where his brother keeps the resort's security computer.  The unmanned security computer.  Since it's a P.C., not H.A.L, exactly what sort of security does this provide? Don't hotels usually pay people to watch the pictures that are coming into the security computer from the security cameras? And we learn that there are security cameras everywhere – except where they're needed. Of course.

While the B.S.expert is giving access to the hacker in his employ (Guess. Go ahead, guess. Okay, yes, a pimply faced teenager who lives in his parent's basement playing video games. Whoddathunkit?), someone who shouldn't be able to access the securIty room comes in. When B.S.expert points out that employee swipe cards shouldn't unlock the door, she burbles, “Mine does!”.  She claims she's there to play an online game during her break like she does everyday… on the security computer.

The B.S.expert decides to test her veracity by handing her the keyboard and telling her to sign into her game.  She fumbles fetchingly logging on to Facebook, then says he's flustering her and she can't type. She wiggles her ass out of the room, hacker boy is drooling (like they do) and B.S.expert DOES NOTHING!!!! He doesn't take her swipe card, doesn't revoke her privileges, doesn't say anthing to her boss or his brother, doesn't have anyone staff the security closet. NOTHING!!!

There's this thing called willingness to suspend disbelief. A really good writer can accomplish this without readers even realizing they've done it. Honestly, how do you, as reader, overcome this sort of blatant stupidity? His credibilty is shot. We all know who the evil henchmen are at the beginning of the book. He doesn't figure it out until the end. No, that's not true, Brooke (the-girl-he-left-behind) figures out who one of them is and geek boy in the basement has to tell him who the other one is. The B.S.expert just cleans up after the fact. Sort of takes the suspense out of romantic suspense. Oh, if only this were all.

Younger brother Noah lets the B.S.expert in on his hiring criteria while discussing a shooting that Brooke  was involved in prior to his arrival:

“On a resort that sprawls 25 acres with wealthy guests and 230 employees, a familiarity with firearms is a valuable skill to have”  

A team of trained security guards is a valuable thing to have. An unsecured p.c. in a broom closet and a concierge packing heat, not so much.

Why does the B.S.expert have a hackable phone? And why, after geek in the basement informs him that it's been hacked, does he assume no one else's phones are hacked?

Why is the B.S.expert unable to contact his field team? Someone was able to contact him when he was with them. Did he take the only phone with him and now has to wait for them to find a Mobil station to use the pay phone?

And in case you think Brooke is a bastion of intelligent characterization, a heard-but-not-seen character is described by Brooke as a “con-man”. Either Brooke or Dodd apparently doesn't get the subtleties of various criminal elements. A man who shows up regularily at a high end resort accompanied by several body guards is not a con-man. Those show up with a mark in tow, keep a low profile and disappear never to be seen again when the bills come due. And he wouldn't give you his cell phone number. Regardless, is a man your daughter suspects of criminal behavior someone you want her to hook up with? Mine sure wouldn't, but Brooke's suggests him as a fine alternative to the B.S.expert. Brooke doesn't necessarily disagree, [as she says]  “Sharing a bottle of wine with Gagnon would fulfill any woman's fantasy.”

Here I thought it was sharing a bottle of wine with George Clooney. Silly me. I'm not even going to go into the TSTL behavior that follows her discovery of who one of the evil henchmen is.

And the final (not in the book, just in this review) insult to our intelligence:

“Girls don't hack!”

This would be the whiney excuse of pimply faced teenage employee for not figuring who the hacker is sooner. Computer geeks living in their parents basements, the last bastion of male chauvinism. Also a good reason to hire an adult to do your computer work.

Last year when I gave “When Harry Met Molly” a C, some of you asked why not a lower grade. At the time I mentioned that she wrote in complete sentences and didn't make any glaring grammatical errors. It was clearly a first book, & you've gotta give a writer some credit for doing what you can't.  Christina Dodd is by no means a new author, so no slack given. Nor is any slack deserved. This book defines phoning it in. But why a D instead of an F, you ask?  I've graded on a curve. I read the next book in the series (Cock-eyed optimism thy name is Donna), and it was WORSE.

I hear time heals all wounds. So maybe some day I'll be able to curl up on a rainy-snowy-feeling crappy sort of day with a cup of tea and That Scandalous Evening, but it won't be for a while.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
  2. 2
    kkw says:

    I am so with you on everything.  I couldn’t even finish it.  Unreadable.  I don’t believe it’s by the same author as That Scandalous Evening.  What happened?
    Wait, to be fair, great-grandma Spamp (Spampinatto or something of the sort but no one ever called her that), the first of her family not born in Sicily, was named Sarah.  She was born at home, no certificate, so she never knew her birthday, not even the year, but it was around 1910, so an old Italian-American lady named Sarah isn’t hard for me to accept.
    But that a talented, competent writer produced this ghastly POS?  I don’t get it.

  3. 3
    Lori says:

    I tried to think of a nice way to ask this, but I can’t so I’m just going to put it out there—-do all of Dodd’s contemporaries suffer from teh stoopid?

    I read the Fortune Hunters series last year because (I am not making this up) I was snowed in for 3 days and they were the only books I had with me. I thought my head was going to explode from the dumb. You know the thing where rescued hostages or escapees from repressive regimes kiss the ground when they’re finally free? I may have kissed the cover of the first post-blizzard book I got my hands on. If all Dodd’s contemporaries have this same issue then I need to make a mental note to avoid them, especially when there’s any possibility of bad weather. 

  4. 4
    Susan says:

    I thought When Harry Met Molly was right up there on my Worst Ever list.  Hard to believe this one’s up there with it.  What the heck’s happened to Christina Dodd?  She’s done some good contemps, but they’re not her strong suit.

  5. 5
    Converseleigh says:

    I could not finish this book either.  I saw Christina Dodd’s name on it and assumed I would love it. Even worse I bought the paperback version so now the darn thing is floating around my house like a bad penny.

  6. 6
    DesLivres says:

    Why is E not a grade? Just curious.

    My reaction to this book was much the same as the reviewer and commenters – now have a rebuttable presumption (presumption rebutted by numerous positive reviews saying things like “she’s gotten good again!”) against Christina Dodd whereas years back she was an auto-buy.

  7. 7
    Bnbsrose says:

    Lori, I have to say I agree with you. Dodd’s comtemporaries are generally average at best. The paranormals slightly above average. And I’m going to have to say that her last couple historicals? Meh. Maybe it’s because she’s stretched herself too thin writing series all over the romancelandia map. A vacation might help.

  8. 8
    Chris J. says:

    Okay, so I’ll be skipping this book, but I’d be very happy to read more of Donna’s reviews.

  9. 9
    cleo says:

    My first generation Italian-American grandfather was named Ralph, so Nonna Sarah doesn’t bother me. 

    The rest of it sounds bad – “girls don’t hack” indeed.  Did they not read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  Or see The Matrix?  (early Trinity / Neo conversation – “I thought you were a dude.” “Most dudes do”)

  10. 10
    Rebecca (Another One) says:

    In the US the grades go from A to D, then F.  I think this is because we also have behavior grades: E, S, N, U (Excellent, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, Unsatisfactory).  So E might be confused with excellent.

  11. 11
    DesLivres says:

    Thanks Rebecca! That explains it.

  12. 12
    Bnbsrose says:

    Thank you kindly. Unfortunately I can’t write a decent positive review to save my life so it would just be more ranty stuff like the above.

    And all my senior relatives were Teresas and Stellas and Marias. Maybe that’s a Sicilian thing.

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