The Finishing Touches

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Overview

A fading English finishing school gets a twenty-first-century makeover in this "modern-day fairy tale" (Romantic Times) from New York Times bestselling author Hester Browne, whose sparkling novels are "charming and feel-good" (Cosmopolitan).

Twenty-seven years ago, an infant turned up on the doorstep of London’s esteemed Phillimore Academy for Young Ladies. Now, Betsy Phillimore returns to the place where she was lovingly raised by Lord and Lady Phillimore, only to find the ...

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The Finishing Touches

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Overview

A fading English finishing school gets a twenty-first-century makeover in this "modern-day fairy tale" (Romantic Times) from New York Times bestselling author Hester Browne, whose sparkling novels are "charming and feel-good" (Cosmopolitan).

Twenty-seven years ago, an infant turned up on the doorstep of London’s esteemed Phillimore Academy for Young Ladies. Now, Betsy Phillimore returns to the place where she was lovingly raised by Lord and Lady Phillimore, only to find the Academy in disrepair and Lord P. desperate to save his legacy. Enter Betsy with a savvy business plan to replace dusty protocol with the essentials girls need today: cell phone etiquette, eating sushi properly, handling credit cards, choosing the perfect little black dress, negotiating a pre-nup, and other lessons in independent living. But returning to London also means crossing paths with her sexy girlhood crush . . . and stirring up the mystery of who her parents are and why they abandoned her. Will the puzzle pieces of her past fall into place while Betsy races to save the only home she’s ever known?

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Betsy Cooper Phillimore has turned into a very well-finished lady, considering that she had been abandoned as a baby. Luckily, her birth mother had the foresight to leave her on the doorstep of the Phillimore Academy, one of London's last finishing schools, where she grew up learning good manners along with her ABCs. Betsy didn't actually attend the finishing school, instead taking a math degree at university and eventually ending up in Edinburgh running a high-end shoe store. However, owing to some misunderstanding, her adoptive family believes that Betsy is a successful management consultant and asks her to help get the now faltering academy back on the right financial track. Betsy can hardly say no, and there is the added incentive that she might discover her real mother's identity if she is given access to the academy's old records. Being in London also means that she will see more of Jamie, her best friend's brother and her long-time crush, and Mark, the academy's slightly bookish but handsome bursar. Browne (The Little Lady Agency) has written another entertaining and highly enjoyable novel that will appeal to fans of Bridget Jones's Diary and other British chick lit.
—Lisa Hanson O'Hara

From the Publisher
A fading English finishing school gets a twenty-first-century makeover in this “modern-day fairy tale” (Romantic Times) from New York Times bestselling author Hester Browne, whose sparkling novels are “charming and
feel-good” (Cosmopolitan).

“A DELICIOUS, ENTERTAINING BOOK!”
—SOPHIE KINSELLA

“A charming and funny novel . . . moving, too, with some really poignant moments. I loved all the pieces of advice and scribbled some down!” —Sophie Kinsella, Time magazine

“Entertaining and highly enjoyable . . . will appeal to fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
—Library Journal

“Browne has a sure touch with plot and dialogue.” —Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781410419781
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 10/2/2009
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 591
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Hester Browne is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Little Lady Agency in the Big Apple, The Finishing Touches, and Swept Off Her Feet. She lives in London and Herefordshire with her two Basset hounds Violet and Bonham.

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Read an Excerpt


One

The only truly waterproof mascara is an eyelash tint.

"Betsy, if you want a sneaky cry at weddings and funerals, dye your lashes." That was probably one of the best tips Franny gave me, out of the thousands she'd passed on, over twenty-seven happy years.

Also, "sunscreen now saves face-lifts later" and "never trust a man with a ready-made bow tie."

I stared blankly out of the window at the red London bus idling next to our taxi. For once I didn't mind the clogged-up traffic, because it gave me time to pull myself together between leaving the church and arriving at the memorial tea, where I'd have to hear how elegant and inspiring my mother was all over again, this time while juggling canapés and a wineglass.

Tears prickled treacherously along my lashes. They weren't the distraught tears I'd cried six months ago, when Franny's headaches turned out to be a tumor, and the end had come almost before I'd had time to realize it. But they were sad ones, because I'd never feel her elegant, comforting presence behind me at memorials again. Franny had always known what to say, the kind word to murmur at the right time. She had handled every situation gracefully.

I blinked hard, knowing that at least I wouldn't be given away by telltale panda eyes, and I could almost see Franny's familiar smile, the one that twisted up a corner of her mouth. She liked a private joke. I hadn't had time to buy a new outfit for the memorial service, but I had made time for a lash tint. I knew she'd know. Somehow.

That really set the tears off. Oh, nuts.

A hand descended on my knee and shook it. "Betsy? Betsy,will you pack in that stiff-upper-lip nonsense and just cry? I'm your best friend, Betsy. I don't care if your nose is snotty!"

I turned my face back into the cab, blinking hard. "I'm fine! Honestly!"

"No, you're not. Your lip has been wobbling for the last five minutes," Liv went on. Her words were brisk, but her voice was gentle and concerned. "You're meant to cry at these things. The whole point of memorial services is to let everyone have a good howl. It's good for the soul. Then the women can repair each other's makeup as an icebreaker after and get on with the hilarious memories. I'm sure you told me that."

Liv was balanced on the taxi jump seat opposite me, her long legs arranged like Bambi's and a mixture of concern and smudged mascara all over her beautiful face. Apart from the lack of a lash tint, Franny would thoroughly have approved of Liv's outfit, I thought. The dress code had been "celebratory," and Liv was wearing a sunshine-yellow miniskirt and a selection of perfectly chosen accessories, including gloves and a gold sequined beret on her straight blond hair, as her tribute to Franny's devotion to the Phillimore Academy finishing school.

It made my simple blue coat and shift dress look rather sober in the drab January light, but I'd barely had time to think about what to throw on before the taxi had come for me that morning.

There was a discreet cough from my left, but I didn't turn my head, because that would mean looking at Jamie, and I wasn't sure whether that was a good idea. I hadn't known Jamie was coming along today. If I had known, I might have distracted myself with hours of worrying about what to wear, but as it was, I only had enough spare energy to angle my head so he couldn't see my puffy eyes.

"What my darling tactful sister means is that after everything that was said about Lady Frances, you'd need a heart of pure concrete not to be in tears," said Jamie. "Even I cried when you read out that letter she sent you at school, about how to make friends with bullies by complimenting their hair. And you know what a heartless bastard I am."

Liv wiped under her eyes with a finger and smeared her mascara. "It was such a lovely service," she sniffed. "It was like Franny was there. Those lilies she loved, and that Bach solo, and everyone in beautiful hats with veils..."

"Here," I said, reaching into my bag, glad of the distraction. "Have a handkerchief."

"But what about you?"

"I've got two." I waved mine, a big white gent's hankie. "Always carry two -- one for you and one for a friend." I managed a watery smile. "A top tip from the Academy."

"Franny told you such useful things," sniffed Liv, patting her face. "I wish I'd grown up in a finishing school."

"So do I," said Jamie.

"Shut up, Jamie," said Liv, blowing her nose with a trumpeting sound. "No one in their right mind would let you into a finishing school. It'd be like letting a fox loose in a henhouse."

"A fox?" I could tell by his voice that he was joggling his eyebrows. "Why, thanks!"

I risked a sideways glance. I'd thought Jamie was in New York, working -- but he'd arrived with Liv, looking dashing, as Kathleen would say, in a dark suit, his blond hair cut slightly shorter than I remembered but still falling into his handsome face. When he brushed it out of his eyes with a tanned hand, my stomach still flipped over, memorial service or not.

It was a habit, I told myself. A bad habit. My stomach had flipped over for Jamie O'Hare since I was fourteen years old; it was hardly likely to stop now. If anything, the familiar ache was replaced by a sense of relief that some things didn't change.

"I meant I wished you'd grown up in a finishing school, you plum," said Jamie. Liv and Jamie still squabbled like teenagers, despite Jamie being over thirty and a company director, albeit of a company that arranged parties for posh girls. "It'd have done you good to have learned some manners. And how to arrange flowers and..." He turned to me and gave me such a charming smile that I forgot to look away and disguise my puffy face. "What exactly did they learn at that Academy? I'm afraid my knowledge of finishing schools is limited to, um -- "

"Dodgy DVDs and his own private fantasy world," Liv finished. "You knocker."

"They learned how to dine with royalty, and talk to anyone, and arrange flowers," I said through a watery smile. The Academy and its near-fairy-tale lessons had been such a big part of my childhood, it merged in places with storybooks. "They used to rehearse marriage proposals too -- accepting and declining without hurting anyone's feelings, that sort of thing. What to wear to the opera, and to Ascot."

"How to be a princess, basically," sighed Liv.

"Sort of," I agreed. "I think there was some useful stuff too. Franny was quite keen for the girls to have things to talk about, in between the proposals and flowers. The girls were there to be finished, you know. Polished up."

"Turned into the perfect wives?" asked Jamie, and this time I had enough presence of mind to rest the puffier side of my face against a hand, as if in thought.

"Nnngh," I agreed, as my brain finally registered that Jamie's knee was almost touching mine and conveniently went blank.

Having a crush at twenty-seven was embarrassing enough; having it on your best friend's brother edged into Mortification Country. It said something about my distracted state of mind that I hadn't already mumbled something moronic to Jamie. Whenever I saw him, I acted as if I were suffering from an incapacitating hangover; Liv, who had no idea how I felt, always mistook it for supreme indifference, something she felt Jamie didn't get enough of.

"And the school is still running now?" he went on. "What sort of finishing do the girls get these days? Do they still do curtseys?"

"I haven't been back in years -- " I began.

"Before you ask," Liv interrupted, leaning over to rap his knee with her clutch bag, "they don't learn how to mix cocktails while doing Pilates and waxing their own bikini lines, so if you're coming along to the reception to check them out, you're going to be disappointed. We all know what your ideal woman is. And you won't find her there."

I glanced between Liv and Jamie. I'd wondered why he'd been at the service -- though it was lovely of him to pay his respects to a woman he'd rarely met -- and now the penny dropped. He wanted to see inside the Academy for potential conquests and/or posh waitresses. My heart deflated a little.

"That is not what my ideal...Oh, forget it, Liv," said Jamie, seeing my crestfallen face. "I came because I know how much Franny meant to Betsy, and I happened to be in London this week, and I'm glad I did." He turned to me and said, with the grave charm that kept a stream of triple-barreled Olympic skiers and party girls swooning in glossy heaps all over London's hottest nightclubs, "She was obviously a real lady of the old school, and if it's any consolation, I think she passed on a great deal of that to you."

I blushed, and Liv coughed, hard, to disguise a little sob.

I wanted to store that gem away, but the trouble about being famous for charm was that it was hard to take Jamie very seriously. Besides, it wasn't true. Franny had done her best to pass on a lifetime of hints and tips, but I just didn't have her grace. That wasn't something any finishing school could teach. You had to be born with it.

The traffic began to move again, and I grabbed the chance to stare out of the window so he couldn't see my expression. We were moving up St. James now, getting nearer Mayfair and the tall town houses near the Academy, and my heart began to thump in anticipation of the moment when I'd have to get out of the car and not have Jamie's leg pressing against mine. I mean, face the other guests at the reception.

"He's right, for once, Betsy," said Liv. "You are like her."

"That's really sweet of you to say." I squirmed. "But Franny was gracious and smart and had fabulous parties and millions of friends. I never know what to say, and I'm still doing my holiday job after five years, even though I'm a university graduate." I sighed, not wanting to go down that particular route. "She just knew how to make people feel better about themselves. That's proper manners."

"But you're -- " Liv began.

"I'm not," I said flatly. "I wish I were."

"I can see she didn't manage to teach you how to accept a compliment," said Jamie. He nudged me, until I turned back and had to look at him. His grayish eyes twinkled with a sad sort of friendliness, and I wished he'd been paying me the compliment under happier circumstances. I managed a small smile, then readdressed my attention to the traffic lights on Piccadilly, so he couldn't see my gormless expression.

"Anyway!" said Liv, slapping her tiny knees. "We've done the sad part; let's concentrate on remembering the good bits! Let's talk about the way Nancy and Kathleen used to throw duchess parties for you when you were little and Franny would lend you her tiara and fur coat!"

"Really?" Jamie cocked an eyebrow, and something melted inside me. "Any chance of doing that...Oh, excuse me." He reached inside his suit pocket and took out his tiny phone. "It's work. Hello, Jamie O'Hare speaking. Lily! Hello! Yes, the ice sculptor should be with you any minute -- the question is, are you ready for him?"

Liv rolled her eyes at me. "When you turn your social life into your job, I suppose the fun never stops. Or the work never starts, whatever."

I rolled my eyes back. We'd turned down Halfmoon Street now and were only moments away from the reception.

"Are you OK?" she mouthed, all concern, and I nodded bravely.

"Let's stop here," I said. "I'd like to walk."

Jamie leaned forward to talk to the driver, phone still clamped to his ear. I could hear the distant gabble of pre-party panic. "Can you drop these two lovely ladies here, please, then take me on to Cadogan Gardens, mate? Cheers." He sat back. "Sorry, I can't stay for the bunfight, I've got a hostess in distress with an engagement party at seven. Themed round Dirty Dancing. You don't want to know what I've had to arrange."

"You came to the most important part," I said. "Thanks."

Jamie smiled, pressing his lips together in a manner that wasn't flirtatious so much as brotherly, and rubbed my upper arm. "My pleasure."

Liv was busy getting out without snagging her tights, and for a second or two my eyes locked with Jamie's as his hand rested on my coat sleeve, and I thought he might say something else. Or the conversation fairy might help me out with a witty comment. But the silence stretched, and then Liv's hand grabbed mine and we were walking down Halfmoon Street, toward the Academy.

•

Although I'd often been back to the mews cottage where my adoptive grandmothers, Kathleen and Nancy, still lived, I hadn't set foot inside the Phillimore Academy itself since I was twelve years old. Their cottage was warm and cozy, full of cake and nannyisms about "not being at home to Miss Rude," whereas the big house was much more imposing altogether. An old chill of anticipation fluttered in my stomach when I spotted the familiar brass plaque next to the red door.

I'd felt the same flutter as a little girl, walking down the street after my afternoon turn around Green Park with Nancy. There was always something intriguing to spot in the upper windows of the Academy, some romantic lesson in the mysterious grown-up world awaiting the shrieking girls I saw streaming in every morning, with their padded jackets and long hair.

In winter, the four-story façade was like an Advent calendar, with a different scene behind each lighted square: blond girls waltzing together in the old ballroom, where molded plaster vines were picked out in gold above glittering crystal chandeliers, and on the floor beneath them, the Social Dining class, struggling with a plateful of oysters and seven different glasses.

On very hot summer days, the sash windows at the front were opened, and Nancy and I would catch the sounds of a piano being hammered and enthusiastic singing as we walked down the street. Not that we ever went in through the red door; we took a side alley two houses down that ran into the mews behind the street and from there let ourselves into Kathleen's kitchen, where table manners were more rigidly enforced than they were in the Academy's Social Dining class. Both Kathleen and Nancy were well into their sixties when I arrived and were fond of the "elbows off, napkins on, plenty of prunes, and early nights" approach to child rearing.

Now that I thought about it, I'd had a very Brideshead Revisited sort of childhood, though it had seemed perfectly normal at the time...

I was jolted out of this daydream by Liv nudging me.

"I said, did it take you long to get everything arranged, Betsy?" she asked in a tone that suggested I'd probably done everything in an hour. I had a reputation for organizing, which, to be honest, wasn't 100 percent deserved.

I shook my head. "I didn't do very much, really. I did offer, but it's been so busy in the shop, and Lord P insisted that he'd manage it all himself. In fact, he specifically told me not to take time off work and come down." I paused, wondering now if I'd done the right thing. "I thought it was best to let him, you know, keep busy."

Keeping busy was my personal therapy when things were bad. Right now my flat and the shop were absolutely spotless, with every account filed and shelf spotless. A couple of days after Franny's funeral I'd even arrived early and washed the windows, to the amazement of the assistants. I'd used vinegar and newspaper. That was one of Nancy's Good Housekeeping tips, not Franny's.

"Probably for the best," Liv agreed. "I suppose there'd be people at the Academy to help? The headmistress?"

"Mm," I said, distracted by the middle-aged ladies with "good legs" already heading toward Number 34 like honey-blond bees: obviously old Phillimoras from their confident walk in high heels.

"And there's always Kathleen and Nancy," she went on. "I can't imagine they'd stand by and let him undercater a party. You know what Kathleen's like -- " Liv went into a terrible impression of Kathleen's Lancashire solidness, with her hands on her nonexistent hips. "If a party's worth having, it's worth having wi' lots of sandwiches. A cake shared is a pleasure halved. Better to feed the birds after than starve the guests before."

Kathleen and Nancy communicated entirely in pithy sayings, most of which I now suspected them of making up to suit the occasion.

"At least there'll be plenty to eat," I said. "That's one thing you can be sure of. That and the three hundred thank-you notes Lord P will get in exactly twenty-four hours' time."

We were nearly outside the house now, and as we approached, our pace slowed as we tried to pretend we weren't looking at the famous Doorstep of the Abandoned Child.

Over the years, Franny, Nancy, and Kathleen had told the story about the Cooper's marmalade box left on the Academy's front step so many times that it was sometimes hard to remember it had actually been me inside it. Obviously, I had no memory of it myself, and what I'd really wanted to hear wasn't what had happened but how excited and delighted they had been to find me there and how Franny had sent to Harrods for nappies.

I'd told the tale quite often myself at school, admittedly with a few elaborations involving cloaked figures and tearstains on the blanket, and there were times when I'd even made myself cry with secondhand pathos, along with everyone around me. But as I got older and started thinking more deeply about why my mother might have left me and where she might be now, I wasn't sure it was healthy to feel so detached. The simple truth was that I wanted to feel something -- but there was nothing there, except the little bee charm that I wore every day around my neck on a gold chain Franny had given me.

I tried to feel a flicker of something now, seeing the front doorstep where the box had been wedged against the bootscraper, but all I could see was tatty ivy clinging to a frontage that needed a lick of paint.

"Head up, shoulders back, chest out," said Liv as she rapped the lion's head door knocker. "Just remember the happy times, OK?"

It wasn't quite so straightforward as that, though, I thought. Much as I had loved Franny and the graceful, white-shouldered vision of high-society elegance she had represented, there were other memories attached to the Academy for me. Painful ones that I'd thought I'd put to one side but that were now rising inside my chest like acid reflux.

The red front door was opening. The nostalgic smell of polish and high ceilings and fresh flowers rushed out to meet me, making my head spin with recognition.

"Betsy?" Liv's voice sounded far away. "Are you all right?"

I took a half-step back away from the black-and-white tiles of the entrance hall, but then I saw a familiar face and my manners took over. Without thinking, I stood up straighter, pulled my shoulders back, and put on my best smile.

Lord Pelham Phillimore, my adoptive father and the official host, stood at the door, his wiry frame thinner than normal in his dark Savile Row suit. He'd put a crimson silk hankie in the top pocket in a melancholy attempt to comply with Franny's cheerful dress code, but his distinguished face was gray and tight with strain beneath his white hair.

I wished I could hug him, but the only time Lord P voluntarily submitted to having anyone put their arms round him in public was when his tailor took his chest measurement. His expression, though, softened when he saw me, and I smiled, hoping he'd read the hug in my eyes.

"Betsy," he said, reaching out for my hands, "and Olivia, how lovely. Come in."

There's an irony, I thought, as he kissed my cheek and welcomed me inside. Me, being welcomed into the Phillimore Academy by the very man who'd decided, against his own wife's wishes, that it wasn't appropriate for me to attend, nearly a decade ago.Copyright © 2009 by Hester Browne

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Finishing Touches includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Hester Browne. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Following the success of The Little Lady Agency series, Hester Browne introduces us to the charming and lovable Betsy Phillimore in her delightful new book, The Finishing Touches. As a baby, Betsy was left in a box on the steps of a prestigious London finishing school. Nearly three decades later, she is mourning not only the loss of her adoptive mother, the owner of the Phillimore Academy, but also the poor condition she finds the school in upon her return. Betsy is shocked to see only four students are enrolled. From the dusty drapes to the dusty ideas being taught, nothing at the Academy seems to have been updated in years! With the very real possibility of shutting down and selling, the responsibility falls to Betsy to bring The Phillimore Academy back to life and give it a 21st century touch.

Questions for Discussion

1. Betsy can be at once insecure and socially confident. How do these two aspects of her personality complement and contradict each other? Do you believe in the power of good manners to overcome awkward situations and painful emotions?

2. Discuss Betsy's relationship with Lord Phillimore. There are a few very poignant moments between them, but there is also a sense of distance. How does her relationship with Lord Phillimore differ from her relationship with Franny? How does it change throughout the book?

3. Why do you think Betsy feels she has to lie about her real career? Do you think she would have been given the opportunity to transform the academy if everyone knew she worked in a shoe shop?

4. Although Betsy has a serious crush on Jamie, she is hesitant to jump at any opportunities that may make her fantasy of a relationship with him come true. Why does she hold herself back so many times?

5. Liv and Betsy are constantly teasing Jamie for his playboy reputation. Based on his interactions with Betsy throughout the book, how much of that reputation do you think is really deserved? How does that image play into Betsy's feelings toward him?

6. Betsy wants to teach life skills that vary from serious undertakings such as getting a job and finding a home, to walking in heels and looking good in photographs. How important do you think the more frivolous-seeming skills really are? How does Betsy explain the need for them? Do you agree with her reasoning?

7. What makes Adele the perfect antagonist? Why is she so easy to hate? Do you think her character represents the image most people have of finishing school girls?

8. While Betsy swoons over Jamie, she also has a mild flirtation building with Mark. Who do you think is best for her? Do you agree with Liv's insistence that Betsy give it a try with Jamie?

9. Do opposites really attract? Discuss the ways in which that idea fuels the relationships in this story.

10. Despite Hector's bad reputation and irresponsible behavior, Betsy hopes beyond hope that he is her real father. Why is a blood relation to Franny and Lord Phillimore so important to her? How does she think it will make a difference in her life?

11. Part of Betsy's curiosity about her birth mother stems from the feeling that she doesn't really know who she is. Do you think finding her birth mother is the key to finding herself? What role, if any, does learning the truth about where she came from play in her self-understanding?

Enhance Your Book Club

Turn your book club meeting into a classic English tea party! Make yummy sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and follow Franny's strict guidelines for making tea.

Share your own words of wisdom: what manners and mantras were you brought up with? What are some of the rules you live by?

Have everyone in your book club bring their most challenging pair of heels and put your skills to the test!

A Conversation with Hester Browne

Why did you decide to branch off from the The Little Lady Agency series? Do you see yourself returning to it at any point?

I love writing about Melissa (and Honey, Nelson, Allegra, Roger...) but I think it's good to take a break now and again, if only to give the characters a chance to do new outrageous things. Since they're all so "alive" in my head, they never really go away; I often find myself thinking about what they're up to, what outrageous schemes Daddy's concocted to beat the credit crunch, how Jonathan's Paris office is doing, whether Melissa and Nelson have agreed on the right dog to get - plus, of course, the various oddball clients Melissa would be tackling at work!

How did this experience of writing your first stand-alone title differ from The Little Lady Agency series? Is it hard to let your characters go at the end?

It differed in that I was starting again with a whole new set of characters, with completely fresh backgrounds and motivations and quirks - that was exciting and a little daunting. But by the time I came to the end of The Finishing Touches, I felt as if I'd lived with Betsy and Jamie too. Yes, it's quite hard to let them go, even when they've worked out their knots and dilemmas, because by then they're like friends, and I'm curious to know what they do next. If I didn't wonder about that, I don't think I'd have done a good job in making them come alive for the readers.

How did you come up with the idea of a modern day finishing school for the subject of The Finishing Touches? Do such educational institutions really exist? Do you have any personal experience of them?

The modern finishing school idea grew sideways from The Little Lady Agency - quite a few people joked to me that they'd have loved to have had whatever lessons Melissa had had in coping with sticky situations. Belinda, Melissa's mother, would definitely have done her time at an old-style finishing school, folding napkins and planning dinner parties, but Melissa learned her social prowess a different way: it's her real life experience of working in an office, coping with mortifying parents, and recovering from romantic disappointments that forms the basis of her great capability.

That started me thinking about the sorts of skills I wish I'd been taught, rather than had to acquire by trial and error, and it formed quite a list! As Betsy eventually realizes, there are some things in life that you can only learn by experience, but we could all do with some coaching in the old-fashioned social cushions that simply help people feel better, like writing a letter of condolence, for example. Then there are the modern dilemmas that Emily Post never had to worry about - when to use a cell phone, how to deal with an office romance, the ever-lurking nightmare of the Reply All button on computers.

Social grace really boils down to self-confidence, and not being scared of what comes next in any situation. There are a surprising number of modern finishing schools, although they brand themselves more as life coaching classes, with the emphasis on good business manners and polished presentation. But I must confess that from what I've heard about the older finishing establishments, they did seem to be preparing you for more fun - making life fun for other people and looking gracious yourself while having a good time! Easily the best hostess I know is a glamorous alumna of the famous Lucie Clayton school in London - her house parties are fabulous, everyone is introduced very clearly right at the start, and then mixed up as perfectly as her drinks. She was also expelled from a finishing school in Switzerland, which is a chic addition to any CV. If I were setting up a Finishing Touches school of my own, she would definitely be my principal!

Jamie charms his way right off the page! Is it difficult to write a man that can work his way into readers' hearts? Did you have any real-life inspiration for his character?

I do hope Jamie's charming - I rather fell for him myself! I think the secret of any romantic hero is to let him do his own sweet-talking. I try not to be too prescriptive when I'm plotting those scenes, and let the interaction between the hero and heroine unfold as naturally as possible, so the flirting happens in the same spontaneous manner you'd hope it would in real life. I try not to base my romantic heroes on real people - my own lovely man aside! - because that can lead to all sorts of trouble...

Are Franny's tips tried and true? How were you able to come up with so much sound advice? Did your own upbringing play a role in the construction of this novel?

Franny's tips are a mixture of smart things my own mother told me, household hints I've picked up over the years, and practical bits of advice that I've gleaned from friends. I do love those old-fashioned etiquette books that guide you sternly around all manner of formal events, like a duchess with her gloved hand in the small of your back, steering you away from a faux pas with the canapes.

Nancy and Kathleen's enigmatic nannyisms were inspired by my own nanny, Nanny Lockyer, who probably got them straight from some Official Bureau of Nannying. She was a very traditional London nanny who had retired to the Lake District after decades of pushing enormous prams around Regent's Park, but once there, found she couldn't quite kick the habit, and made me her last charge. Over the years, she'd developed a knack for delivering mysterious pronouncements in her broad Cockney accent that made it very hard for anyone to demand an explanation as to what she actually meant - even my mother. That is the secret of a good nanny, I think: no debating.

Did you feel it was important that Betsy find out who her birth mother was? How did you decide who it was going to be?

That's a very good question because I think Betsy's reasons for wanting to find her mother change over the course of the book. When her story opens, despite her achievements, Betsy's still insecure about who she is, to the point where her biggest secret fear is that her parents will turn out to be worthless, making her worthless too. She's also yearning to discover some real connection to Franny, the woman who's been so much more than just a guardian to her throughout her life, which she hopes, might bring her closer to Lord P, who's always been somewhat distant.

But as Betsy grows and starts to see her life from a different perspective, she finally understands why Franny insisted to her that origins aren't worth much on their own. It's being true to who you are now that's important, not trumpeting your ancestors (or in Adele's case, trying to cover them up with artificial manners). By the time Betsy does find out the truth, she almost doesn't need to know. In every way that matters, Franny is her "real" mother, and always will be. But everyone gets second chances: Betsy and her birth mother, and also Betsy and Lord P, who's now free of the awful secret he's been carrying all these years. In a sad sense, it's his desire to be a "good father," protecting her and Franny from the scandal around her arrival, that has stood in the way of their relationship growing closer. With that finally out of the way, I think they all deserve a happy ending!

If you were going to attend a modern finishing school, what skill would you be most interested in acquiring?

I'd love to know how to extract my foot from my mouth, once that chilling dinner table silence has fallen and everyone's staring at me! I have a terrible habit of cracking the obvious joke, even if it's wildly inappropriate, and I probably need some firm instruction to nip that in the bud. And I'd definitely benefit from Mark Montgomery's brisk budgeting advice.

Do you have any future projects in the works? Could there be a sequel to The Finishing Touches?

I'm currently falling in love with some new romantic heroes for a novel set in Scotland, but who knows? I'm rather curious to see inside some more of Betsy's classrooms, and to know what kind of challenging new pupils - male and female - might end up taking her courses in stylish modern living. I think at a school like Betsy's, the staff probably learn as much as the students in the course of an eventful term!

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A touch of polite, a dash of common sense

    I had been delighted to spot this Hester Browne book on the shelf since I had loved The Little Lady Agency series and despaired that it had ended a few years ago! While The Finishing Touches holds a completely different story with new characters, Ms. Browne's writing still sparkles with the same delightful fun I have come to adore! I enjoyed Betsy and many Franny-isms that she shared and tweaked to fit the modern times! Manners, once learned and mastered, are definitely timeless - and I would have definitely loved to attend the Phillimore Academy for Young Ladies!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 18, 2010

    Really enjoyed this!

    I'm looking forward to buying any other books that Hester Brown does! Witty, funny and just a very good read! It was a fabby beach vacation book! :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    Original Concept

    When I opened the book I was excited about the idea of a "finishing school" for girls. But this book started off slow and lost my interest a few times. However, once it got going, I enjoyed the central characters and found myself rooting for the Jamie - Betsy hookup.

    I do think that some of the characters and side plots were unnecessary and convoluted - Venetia? really? - and I thought some were unfinished or wrapped up to quickly.

    I want to read more by this author because I think she something more to offer. Her writing style is clever and has a great sense of humor to it. I just felt that this book was good, not great.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    Sign me up!

    "The Finishing Touch" by Hester Browne is part romance, part mystery, part chick-lit and all fun. This is the kind of book that will make you want to curl up in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and a biscuit or tuck into your vacation bag.

    Betsy Phillimore is an infant when she is left on the doorstep of the prestigious Phillimore Academy, an elite London finishing school for young ladies. She is adopted by its' owners and raised amidst lessons in a school who prides itself on "taking the girl and handing back a lady who can comport herself with style and grace in the highest echelons of society".

    When a grown up Betsy returns for her mother's funeral, she finds the school and its' classes out of date, out of funds and almost out of students. Determined to save the school, she attempts to modernize the curriculum, while still imparting the timeless wisdom passed along by her mother (I loved the description of the class on walking/running in high heels and thought of trying it for myself to see if it works...). In the midst of this, she is also busy trying to solve the mystery of her parentage.

    This is simple, well-plotted story along with likable characters and a romance or two that will keep you well entertained. A fun read, I guarantee by the end of the book you'll want to sign up for a class or two yourself!"

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Browne does it again.

    Hester Browne takes a different approach than in her Little Lady books. This novel is less dramatic, but the characters continue to provide excitement and insight into a small slice of English life. This novel reminds modern women that you can be both a Lady and a bold go-getter. A back-story provides the romance many love to have. Finishing Touches is great escape!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is an entertaining chick lit tale

    Almost three decades ago in London, a mom left her baby in front of the exclusive finishing school, the Phillimore Academy. An expensive golden brooch contained a pleading note to care for her baby. The owners Lord and Lady Phillimore and the staff raised Betsy Cooper Phillimore. Over time Betsy wanted only to become an Academy girl. However, her mentors told her to study math as her skills are super. Heartbroken, she left her "family" behind.------------------

    When Lady Franny passes away, Betsy returns to the school that was her home for her "mom's" memorable service; having not been back since she left. Betsy is stunned as the once elegant facility is in state of shabby condition, its reputation gone and the enrollment not just down but no longer attracting the elite. Lord P is despondent over what has happened to what he and his late spouse cherished even as he grieves; he turns to Betsy who has a degree in math to save the school as he believes she is a business consultant instead of running a shoe store in Edinburgh which she actually is. Betsy agrees, but also looks forward to seeing the man she likes while a shy employee likes her. -----------

    This is an entertaining chick lit tale starring a strong female who sees saving the academy as a way of thanking the Phillimore's and as a chance to perhaps learn who her biological mother is. Betsy is terrific as she holds the story line together while proving London swings like a pendulum as her emotions do likewise. Fans will enjoy reading about her efforts to save the school while actually finding herself.-----------

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Check it out

    Really cute, drags at a couple parts but all in all a good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    Nice read

    Love this book and it is such an addictive read

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  • Posted January 4, 2012

    Highly Recommend!

    Loved this book, great characters!

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  • Posted September 9, 2009

    cute little book!

    great characters, original story and captivating! great chic lit! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing!

    I love this book and highly recommend it to anyone. I've read the author's previous three books and enjoyed them as well, but this one took the cake. I'm praying there's a sequel in the works

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2009

    Makes you long for more..

    The story begins with a flashback of a baby being found on a doorstep of a finishing school. The Phillimore Academy is definitely something original and uncommon as a place holder in the story. The setting and story of Betsy Phillimore fixing up the old-fashioned finishing school and turning it into something extroardinary and dead useful while facing fears of unemployment as well as romance is very creative and makes you really want to read more. The tips handed out with each chapter are really quite interesting and useful as well! Def an A.

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  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Finished it!

    After having read and loved all of the Little Lady Agency books, I was so excited that Hester Browne had written something new. I eagerly started Finishing Touches, but after its slow start I wasn't sure I liked it enought to finish it. Having loved, loved, loved her first three books, I decided to give it a chance and kept reading...and I'm sure glad I did! By the time I reached the end, you couldn't pry it away from me. I can't wait to see what she writes next.

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    Posted December 19, 2009

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    Posted August 7, 2010

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    Posted July 28, 2011

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    Posted September 6, 2011

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    Posted September 24, 2010

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    Posted March 7, 2010

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    Posted August 1, 2011

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