Review: Heartbreaker

Review: HeartbreakerHeartbreaker (Hell's Belles, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Hell's Belles #2
Published by Avon on August 23, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384

FINAL DECISION: Much better than the first in the series. I enjoyed the relationship between Adelaide and Henry. Much of the book is a road trip between them (only one bed at the inn!), so their relationship shines.

THE STORY: Adelaide Frampton spends her time in ballrooms watching as she pretends to be a wallflower, but she is actually the Matchbreaker who helps women avoid the altar. Adelaide has another secret; she was not born to the aristocracy but rather is the daughter of a crime lord. In her latest quest to help a young woman, Adelaide encounters Henry, Duke of Clayborn, who has tried to live the role of a duke to perfection. But Henry, too, has secrets. When Adelaide and Henry find themselves on opposite sides of stopping a wedding, the two take a journey across England, both thwarting and tantalizing one another.

OPINION: The strength of this book is the relationship between Henry and Adelaide. They spend much of the book together, which is good because there really isn’t much else to the book. The book feels like it walks through various tropes without deep emotional engagement. While the book lacks any real drama or tension between the main characters, there is a deep connection between the two — and both are very decent people.

Perhaps that is why this book is good, but not great. Because there is nothing for the two characters to confront or overcome in themselves, the story is flat. The whole Hell’s Belles series feels like superhero comics rather than romance. It feels like the book is ticking off a checklist rather than deeply rooted in the characters. While I liked Henry and Adelaide a lot, this is not a book that I would be compelled to pick up again.

This book is much better than the first in the series, but it does lack the emotional depth and angst of MacLean’s earlier — much superior — books.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are small mentions of other characters from the MacLean world, including the Wests.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HEARTBREAKER is the second book in the Hell’s Belle’s series. The romance here is self-contained so this book can be read as a standalone. There are appearances by characters in the series, however.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.


Review: Bombshell

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: BombshellBombshell (Hell's Belles, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Hell's Belles #1
Published by Avon on August 24, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 394


FINAL DECISION: An incredible disappointment. The book was a slog to get through and there was no chemistry between the hero and heroine unlike in the prior series where they appeared. MacLean has been a disappointment for her last several books. I hope she gets back to what made her books magical.

THE STORY: Two years ago Lady Sesily Talbot was rejected by Caleb Calhoun, but she also gained the friendship of a group of women who have mysterious intentions (no spoilers!) Sesily’s scandalous activities have a purpose. Caleb has spent years trying to avoid the sister of his best friend and business partner. The American has his own secrets that keep him away from the frustratingly attractive woman who he can’t forget.

OPINION: This book is a mess. It feels like a collection of “choose your own adventure” romance tropes and sayings rather than a well-constructed story. It took me a long time to write this review because it was almost impossible to be interested enough to get through the book and then to have to write such a bad review for an author that I have loved for about a decade.

The first problem with this book is that there really isn’t any reason for these two to be apart. We are teased with the idea that there is some huge reason why two single people who clearly have the hots for one another don’t get together. Because Sesily is not constrained by the “proper” woman behavior of her day and Caleb is an American who doesn’t seem to adhere to societal restraints himself, there really isn’t an external conflict keeping these apart. Instead, the story relies on Caleb two years ago having pulled away from his growing attraction to Sesily because of “something”. Unfortunately, that reason ends up not being satisfying and seemed really contrived.

I did enjoy the introduction of the other significant women who will appear in the series. Their stories were intriguing, but like many first books in the series, too much time was taken up with developing these new characters. In this book, the introduction of new characters detracted from the main romance. Perhaps this flaw wouldn’t have been so obvious if the book doesn’t also stuff in updates from prior series as well. We get an update on all the Soiled Ss. While I generally am happy to read more about other characters, I kept thinking … when is this story going to progress. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any interesting plot or conflict, or romance to keep this book going.

I also thought that some moments were highlights, such as when they first kissed. The language and the moment were perfect. This book, however, suffers mightily from being contemporary with a thin veneer of history. I’m not picky about such things, but I read chapter after chapter and thought whether the same story could be EXACTLY the same word for word in a modern story. MacLean is often guilty of putting excessively modern sensibilities (language, attitudes, situations) in her historicals recently, but usually, there is an interesting grounding to history (such as the ice business in the Bareknuckled Bastards series). This story, however, lacked that base and thus it felt more ahistorical than normal.

Endlessly disappointing.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are plenty of references to other MacLean books for long-time readers to discover.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BOMBSHELL is the first book in the Hell’s Belles series. The hero and heroine of this book, however, appear in the Scandal & Scoundrel series (most significantly THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS).

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.