Master of Bella Terra
I read a lot of HPs; I finish a lot of them rolling my eyes. But I’ve also read the odd book that combines glamour with memorable stories and convincing characters, and I remain ever hopeful that out of the dozens of authors writing about diamonds and foreign billionaires, I’ll find one more that does its genre justice. Master of Bella Terra comes close, but no cigar.
Kira Banks left England a few years ago after an affair with a married man at university went awry and has since buried herself in the middle of Tuscany, working as a landscape planner and living in a humble gardener’s cottage on a large estate that was owned by her late patron and client. When Kira hears the estate agent raving about a potential buyer for Bella Terra, Kira is instantly wary of the prospect of yet another arrogant rich man, and her suspicion is confirmed when Mr. Foreign Hot Stuff disturbs her peace, and lands on the estate in a helicopter.
Stefano Albani ends up buying Bella Terra, but not before he’s convinced that he wants Kira to design the gardens for his various properties, and to hop into his bed. And not in that order, naturally. He succeeds in both wishes, but not before some emotional wrangling and compromises, then a fight, a fire, and a happy ending.
Okay, so what’s good? Some of the little details, like the fact that Stefano’s fortune is made in travel books. Ms. Hollis makes a really good attempt at making Kira and Stefano reasonable, normal people, despite past heartaches and family problems and glitz. Add in the Florentine setting and decent writing, and I was more or less hopeful.
But the good stuff always manages to stop short of effectiveness. Whenever the author comes close to something interesting, she backs away. She feeds us tidbits about our couple’s backgrounds, then moves on to something else, the descriptions flitting and skimming like a pond insect. The peripatetic character development is ultimately what caused the book to fail for me, and the return to tiresome soap opera situations was equally unhelpful.
You may well ask, “What on earth are you expecting? Aren’t you setting standards a little high?” Nope. A story is a story, and I sure as heck don’t think it’s expecting too much to want decent narratives and sympathetic characters. Master of Bella Terra wasn’t half bad. Unfortunately, that also means it wasn’t half good either.