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4.0 out of 5 stars First in the "Hellions of Halsted Hall" quintet, 15 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Truth About Lord Stoneville (Hellions of Halstead Hall) (Mass Market Paperback)
This entertaining if less than rigorously accurate georgian romantic farce is the first in a series of five romances featuring the five brothers and sisters of the Sharpe family of Halstead Hall. The hero of this one is Lord Oliver Sharpe, Marquis of Stoneville, who has been a very ambiguous character in some of this author's other series such as the "School for Heiresses" books.

I would strongly recommend that if you are going to read this series you do so in sequence, which is:

1) "The Truth About Lord Stoneville" (Oliver's story)
2) "A Hellion in Her Bed (Hellions of Halstead Hall)" (Jarret)
3) "How to Woo A Reluctant Lady (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)" (Minerva)
4) "To Wed a Wild Lord (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)" (Gabe)
5) "A Lady Never Surrenders (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)."

The scene for this series, was set twenty years before the main action of the story, on the day in 1806 when the disastrous marriage, and the lives, of Oliver's parents came to a tragic end. The prologue of each of the first four books of the series is also set on that day, showing how it affected the central character of the story.

Lord Gabriel's father, the Marquis of Stoneville, had married Prudence Plumtree, daughter of a wealthy brewer, for her money. He hoped to use the dowry she brought from the Plumtree brewery to keep up his vast but expensive house and estate at Halstead Hall, while continuing to live the life of a dissolute noble rake.

Bad mistake. The Plumtree family may be in trade but judging by Hetty Plumtree, the grandmother of the five Sharpe siblings and a major character in the series, they are sharp as a whip, stubborn as a mule, and nearly as proud as the noble Sharpes. They really, really don't make good doormats.

Prudence did not have the complaisant attitude to her husband's infidelity which is found in some parts of the aristocracy: when he cheated on her, she went ballistic. The elder Sharpe siblings' memories of their parents, particularly those of Oliver the firstborn, were of a series of cataclysmic rows - the prologue of a later book makes clear that even seven-year old Gabe was upset by the frequent occasions when his mother yelled at his father.

And then the Marquis and his wife were found shot dead. At the start of this first book the reader is given the impression that there was a murder-suicide in which the Sharpe siblings' mother shot first her husband and then herself. Exactly what really happened is a major plot element in all the books, including this one, so I don't want to give anything further away beyond saying that the tragedy will haunt all the characters throughout the series.

The main action of all three books begins in 1825: the Sharpe siblings have grown up and each has become notorious in his or her own way. Oliver, the present Marquis of Stoneville, now 35, has become an infamous rake. Jarret, now aged 32, has become possibly the most notorious and skilled gambler in the country. Their sister Minerva, aged 28, writes gothic novels under her real name.

Gabe the third brother, aged 26, is another rake and is nicknamed "The Angel of Death" for his skill at dangerous carriage races, while the youngest sibling, Celia, is fascinated by guns and has become a crack shot - and she in turn is notorious for challenging her friends' brothers to shooting competitions and wiping the floor with them. The family as a group are known by the same name as this series of books: the Hellions of Halstead Hall.

The purse-strings of the family are still held by their maternal grandmother, and at the start of "The Truth about Lord Stoneville," Hetty Plumtree's patience with the five Hellions of Halstead Hall finally snaps when Gabe breaks his arm during yet another dangerous race. So she gives all five of them an ultimatum: settle down and marry within a year, or she'll cut them off without a penny and leave the brewery to their cousin Desmond.

That's the background to all the books in the series, and each volume covers how one of the five brothers or sisters responds to Hetty's ultimatum.

Oliver's reaction to his grandmother's ultimatum is to try to find the most outrageous possible means of complying with her request, by bringing home a prospective bride from a brothel. But in the process he finds himself rescuing an innocent but lion-hearted American girl who had rashly entered the brothel looking for her lost fiance. This soon leads to a farcical series of events ...

This series is nonsense, but it is entertaining nonsense, and I loved most of the characters. I've enjoyed each book more than the previous one. There are some flaws in the background research, mostly pretty minor, one or two a little annoying.

The five "Hellions of Halstead Hall" books are a genuine series: each book adds additional parts to the jigsaw as the brothers and sisters try to reconstruct the true story behind the deaths of their parents, and with character development in each of the first four books setting the scene for the following ones.

If you like historical romantic farces set during or slightly later than the Regency period, and are not too bothered about meticulous historical accuracy, you will probably enjoy this series.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Jul 2013 20:08:37 BDT
N.N. says:
I adored your last paragraph. and I have been amused , and also winced my way through one of Mrs. Jeffries books.
What has happened to authors' researching a period, of which they wish to write ? Just a little bit?
Was it a bad idea to compare her to Miss Georgette Heyer?
Thank you for a first-class review.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Oct 2013 18:42:27 BDT
Thanks for your thoughts on this. Some of the books by this author are much better than others. The author obviously did do some background research for some of the subsequent books in this series, which isn't too bad as long as you are looking mainly to be entertained, with perhaps a few nuggets of historical information, but not for rigorous accuracy.
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Location: Whitehaven, UK

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