Forester's Hornblower novels were a favourite of my father, so when I found one lying around the house a couple of months ago (it happened to be 'The Happy Return') I picked it up and idly started to flip through it.
3 months later, I now own all the Hornblower series.
The Happy Return was the first Horatio Hornblower book that Forester wrote. As such, the character is not as well developed or easy to understand as in some of the others. In addition to this, it is a book that fits into the middle of the series (the Hornblower character is a Captain in this book, whereas his career starts as a midshipman and ends - well, I won't spoil it for you). The first novel of the series, `Mr Midshipman Hornblower' was actually written several years later than `The Happy Return'.
If you want to start with `The Happy Return' rather than the first of the series, you should also try and pick up 'A Ship of the Line' and 'Flying Colours'. The 3 were written at the same time (1937 - 38), were the first 3 released and go very easily together.
Over the last 3 months, I've had a great time following in my father's footsteps. For me, every book is hard to put down, the descriptions are vivid and the characters are always engaging. In addition, I now understand what a leadsman does, the difference between 'beating to quarters' and 'clearing for action' and the dangers of a lee shore, plus I have a much greater appreciation of how close the world was to real disaster under Napoleon in the early 1800's.
If you enjoyed the TV series and movies like `Master and Commander' (Russell Crowe) then you'll love the Hornblower series.