From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Besides their prominent place on many Regency fans’ bookshelves, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Georgette Heyer’s Frederica have another trait in common: Their plots revolve around a group of loud, lovable, and independent people who have the good fortune to call each other ‘family.’ While our lively Elizabeth Bennet might complain (if given the chance for an interview) about her claustrophobic world, the charm and humor of Pride and Prejudice would be lost without the rest of the Bennet clan. Despite the familial meddling in these two great works, the heroines and heroes find love and, perhaps equal in worth, readers enjoy hours of amusement at their antics. Since 2013’s release of The Naturalist, Christina Dudley has followed in the footsteps of Austen and Heyer in her series, “The Hapgoods of Bramleigh Hall.” School for Love, her latest installment, continues the story of the eccentric Hapgoods and their hilariously romantic escapades.
As an unmarried member of a small community, Rosemary DeWitt has long worn the label of spinster. It isn’t that she’s afraid of marriage; rather, she refuses to marry a man who desires her solely for her wealth. As Rosemary busies herself by championing the right of education for her village’s young women, she hides her growing sense of discontent, only showing her free-spirited side to her parents and brothers. That is until a solemn-faced, sparkling-eyed visitor arrives in town.
“She had already, to her embarrassment found him a compelling man, but seeing his habitually somber features thus transformed made her breath stop. Why–it was better that the man only smiled rarely. Because, when he did do so, she supposed all the world would come to a tumbling halt as she had, transfixed… ‘Ah,’ she said to herself. ‘So Lionel does not get his winning ways only from his mother.’ This thought was followed by ‘whatever you do, do not reach out and touch the man again!'” (Location 1704)
A widower fresh from thirteen years in a loveless marriage, Hugh Hapgood struggles to be a good father to his three young children. While visiting his son, Lionel, who is in turn visiting his Hapgood cousins in Bramleigh, Hugh is surprised to find that his son has formed an instant attachment to the striking Miss Rosemary DeWitt. Miss DeWitt’s intelligence, conversation, and friendship soon capture Hugh’s thoughts and respect in a way that no Society Beauty has accomplished yet. Unfortunately for his goals of singlehood, she has also captured the fascination of his very wily, very tenacious children. As Rosemary and Hugh navigate the wilds of childish mayhem and compromising situations, they discover that no one is too old to find love…or too young to matchmake.
At this point, in the spirit of all fairness, I should probably warn you that I am a biased reader when it comes to “The Hapgoods of Bramleigh Hall.” For years I’ve been hoping Christina Dudley would add to the series, as the first two (previously reviewed on Austenprose) were delightful Regency romps. Then my wishes came true! After I finished School for Love in a day, I immediately ordered the physical editions of all three in the series—never mind that all three already sat in my Kindle app.
This gem of a book exceeded my highest expectations. The plot was hilarious and the romance was beyond lovely. Lately, I’ve been beginning to believe that England in the 1820s was filled only with shapely young women between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one with ringlets in their hair and soulful eyes. Rosemary was a wonderfully refreshing heroine because she broke the mold of the ‘beautiful paragon’ that is so common in Regency novels. Instead, readers are introduced to a woman who is mediocre by the beauty standards of her day, but who has an exceptional heart, soul, and mind.
What was less enjoyable in School for Love is worth mentioning, but not worth dropping this review to a lower rating. As a fellow fan of Jane Austen, you’ll no doubt remember that Mrs. Bennet can be as tiresome to readers as her nerves are to her family. Not all eccentricity is fun to read, and the antics of the Hapgood children and cousins sometimes prompted a frustrated sigh.
With its echoes of Pride and Prejudice and its homage to the memorable Hapgood family, Christina Dudley’s School for Love shines as a unique addition to its beloved genre. Its flawless narrative voice, swoon-worthy romance, and message of the importance of family make this a novel not to be missed during this holiday season.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
- School for Love: The Hapgoods of Bramleigh (Book 3), by Christina Dudley
- Bowker (October 23, 2020)
- Trade paperback & eBook (420) pages
- ISBN: 978-0983072157
Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover image courtesy of Bowker © 2020; text Katie Patchell © 2020, Austenprose.com