Thursday, September 23, 2021

Bombshell by Sarah MacLean

Bombshell. Hell’s Belles, Book 1. Caleb is fast realizing that Sesily isn’t for forgetting… she’s forever. And forever isn’t something he can risk.

New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean returns with a blazingly sexy, unapologetically feminist new series, Hell’s Belles, beginning with a bold, bombshell of a heroine, able to dispose of a scoundrel—or seduce one—in a single night.

After years of living as London’s brightest scandal, Lady Sesily Talbot has embraced the reputation and the freedom that comes with the title. No one looks twice when she lures a gentleman into the dark gardens beyond a Mayfair ballroom… and no one realizes those trysts are not what they seem.

No one, that is, but Caleb Calhoun, who has spent years trying not to notice his best friend’s beautiful, brash, brilliant sister. If you ask him, he’s been a saint about it, considering the way she looks at him… and the way she talks to him… and the way she’d felt in his arms during their one ill-advised kiss.

Except someone has to keep Sesily from tumbling into trouble during her dangerous late-night escapades, and maybe close proximity is exactly what Caleb needs to get this infuriating, outrageous woman out of his system. But now Caleb is the one in trouble, because he’s fast realizing that Sesily isn’t for forgetting… she’s forever. And forever isn’t something he can risk.


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Bombshell by Sarah MacLean.

Book 1
Buy Links

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Audiobook (US)  ~  Hardcover (US)  ~  Paperback (US)
Avon (HarperCollins)




Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Bombshell is the debut in the Hell's Belles series.

Sarah MacLean tops my favorites list on Historical Romance. I need to add a disclaimer. If you're an old-school Historical Romance fan, where historical accuracy is tantamount, I might dissuade you from reading. Simply put, I see MacLean's novels more like a historical spin on modern romance, with a feminist twist in an era where women were not treated as a man's equal in society. The heroine will know her worth, be it in the 1800s or the 2000s, even if it messes with historical accuracy.

Bombshell was an anomaly to what I posted above, the fine line generally ridden was pitched, where the feminism was so hard-hitting that it felt as if it was in the wrong era, the wrong genre. No longer a romance novel but a vehicle to punch the reader in the face with the author's mindset, none of which worked in the era/genre it was written.

To be honest, I struggled from the start, not truly hooked, attempting to read the beginning portion of the novel, which is not the norm for me when it comes to MacLean's novels. I have no idea if it was my mood, or inability to concentrate, but I was just not connecting with Sesily or the story itself. After I fell into the groove of it all, I read the rest of the novel in a single sitting. But the struggle was real in the beginning. If you're experiencing this as well, here's my push to soldier forth if you're a fan.

Lady Sesily Talbot is not unfamiliar to those who have read all of MacLean's works. Scandalous and brazen, Sesily has the personality to start a brand-new series, featuring Caleb Calhoun. Their connection was introduced in Day of the Duchess, and I was surprised that MacLean didn't end the Scandal & Scoundrel series with their story. Embracing the freedom scandal allows her, Sesily doesn't fret over what the ton thinks of her reputation, one of the little freedoms women were allowed in the era.

Quite frankly, I'm not a fan of this premise. "Caleb wants Sesily but can't have her, so he ignores her, which affects her self-esteem, because she's heartbroken someone doesn't want her, someone she just met, in the ultimate of insta-loves, because Caleb had the audacity to not want her back."

Sesily is a feminist, right? Doesn't she realize she is the one who is responsible for her own feelings? Caleb doesn't have to want her, just because she wants him. To have this impact your life for two years is a bit extreme and childish. It's ironic that as a reader I'm to feel bad for her because of this, even if it's angsty AF how he wants her back too but feels as if he can't have her.

Sesily is invited to join a grouping of women, spearheaded by Duchess of Trevescan, focusing on helping women escape abusive marriages, dubbed the Hell's Belles. With a varying cast of personalities, the women stole the show. A heavy feminism mindset is woven throughout the entire story, one that may not feel authentic for those who read old-school historical romance.

Caleb has always been drawn to his friend's scandalous sister, and together they share a past, a past in which he has hurt Sesily's feelings. Even still, the protective sort, Caleb is determined to watch Sesily's back from afar, watching on as Sesily behaves as the ultimate of pot-stirrers. Caleb is harboring secrets of his own, ones in which the author keeps from the readers and fellow characters alike.

I'm not a fan of this drawn-out delivery system, and this isn't being said by an instant-gratification reader. It's not a mystery if one of the narrators knows the secrets but purposefully withholds it from their own mind for over 70% of a novel. A mystery is something in which neither of the narrators knows. Otherwise, it's just an evasive tactic utilized by the author to withhold information until they feel it will be most impactful, either making it look like it came out of nowhere or that we had an unreliable narrator for the most part. This is just a pet-peeve of mine that I had to voice.

Forced proximity places both Sesily and Caleb in readers' grasps, which is one of my favorite, angsty treats. Forever drawn to one another, they are under the impression how they can get each other out of their systems. I'm not sure where this premise started, one which we have in real life, how you can get someone out of your system. Never once has this helped in novels or in person, forever falling for the object of your obsession. Who is spreading this BS to get people to honestly think this is a course of action? Name one person in history where this worked? Why does this keep being perpetuated? But I digress.

What I will say is this was an entertaining calamity of errors, where nothing on the pages would have had happened in reality. Was I entertained? Yes, for the most part. But I spent the entire time reading at a rapid pace, entirely flying by the suspension of belief notion. If I paused too long, if I mused over anything, it would tear me from the story and I'd begin to struggle too much.

As a feminist myself, even I had a hard time connecting with Sesily. I found her behavior and mindset somewhat disrespectful for the era, as well as childish and self-indulgent, with all the pot-stirring, "I don't care what others think." It came off as she very much cared what others thought, so she went out of her way to make them uncomfortable, knowing they thought poorly of her, so she might as well make an impression, ya know, versus not be thought about at all. My over-analytical mind thought Sesily insecure, no matter how much she professed her independent thinking.

Sesily's behavior was selfish and mindless. She felt she had a right to do anything she wanted, consequences be damned, caring little of the impact her actions had on others. If anyone, particularly Caleb, voiced how she was being an idiot, she would argue how she had a right to do as she pleased. Reminded me of trying to explain to a toddler why they can't run into traffic, even if they were completely capable of running there, the toddler not able to realize how the person who hits them will ultimately feel, or how badly it will hurt if they survive. That is Sesily, and I couldn't figure out why anyone liked her. She gave my ilk (feminists) a bad name, selfish, vapid, and narcissistic. I doubt MacLean wished to have the opposite happen, where readers would actually resent people like Sesily, instead of identifying with her.

This is a case where I wanted to like it but struggled to find entertainment within it. As a fan of MacLean's, I'm sure that influenced my rating, as well as my overall thoughts on the novel. This is by far one of her most feminism-forward novels, to a preachy degree.

As a feminist seeking escape, I personally didn't need to be preached at one iota. I think this impacted my entertainment value. I hope Sarah MacLean just takes her foot off the gas a bit, idles it back a bit in future installments. You change more minds by being subtle than punching them in the face with it. Because the story stops being about the characters, their journeys, the journeys of the side characters, all completely overshadowed by an agenda being preached.

To be honest, I just expected more out of Sesily and Caleb's story, after waiting to read their journey so long. What was promised as an angsty journey seemed to be overshadowed by preaching and showcasing other characters who will undoubtedly get an installment next. I felt the novel was disjointed, the wrong things in the forefront, with not enough of the couple or their romance showcased, especially as this is historical romance.

Many of MacLean's novels are on my reread list. I'll skip Bombshell on future rereads and only recommend it for series continuity. I look forward to the next installment, hoping this was just a dud among diamonds.



Author Bio

SARAH MACLEAN grew up in Rhode Island, obsessed with historical romance and bemoaning the fact that she was born far too late for her own season. Her love of all things historical helped to earn her degrees from Smith College and Harvard University before she finally set pen to paper and wrote her first book.

Sarah now lives in New York City with her husband, baby daughter, their dog, and a ridiculously large collection of romance novels. She loves to hear from readers.

Connect with Sarah

Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Instagram  ~  Website  ~  Goodreads



Avon Books.

Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Bombshell (Hell's Belles #1) by Sarah MacLean to read and review.

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