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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 9, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to love this book. I love Brit chick lit - set a story in London and you've got my interest immediately. And there is nothing horrible about this book, but there's just not very much going on at all.

Betsy is sweet. Bone-deep sweet. It's easy to like her, but there's just not much more there. She's not terribly funny, she's not tragic, she's not even really struggling financially or anything interesting. There are hints that her personality changed some at 18, but it sounds like she went from being much more fun to pretty boring, and since the book is set in the "now", well...

In fact, NONE of the characters have an edge of any sort. The best friend is a little flaky, but not ridiculous. The 18 year old girls at the finishing school might act edgy, but are really sweet underneath. There is no villain - or, if there are supposed to be, in the current headmistress or a former pupil/femme fatale - they are so mild as to not cause any real worries.

Betsy's search for her birth parents is lukewarm at best. I think she's right about her "new classes" (I'm trying not to give anything away that's not in the blurb on here) but even that doesn't lead to a ton of conflict.

There's a bit of a romance, but it's nothing torrid, depressing, or funny.

The dialogue is well-written, the settings are well-drawn, the characters are easy to picture, the writer's grasp of grammar and good writing style are there - which is worth the 3 stars to me - but there's just not enough plot or emotion going on. I don't normally love what I'd call "book club books" full of depression, or at the least self-conflict, but I would have still preferred that to this. I don't know even how I'd describe this book. It's not exactly a romance, it's not very comedic, it's not deep... I don't know what it is. I found myself putting this book down after every chapter, frankly because I was just getting bored with it.

As I said, it's perfectly pleasant, but it's nothing but a beach read. Even for that, it's lacking drama or any other full-scale emotion to draw you in. It's just missing that "wow" factor for a great book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Not, mind you, that I ever was able to do more in Harrod's than visit the expensive toilet - but, since the abandoned baby of the first page is left in a Harrod's marmalade box, I thought it an appropriate reference. :) The wit and cleverness of this delightful book made it a treat I gobbled down quickly, with laughter, wistfulness at times, and occasionally deep compassion.

Hester Browne's gift for expression is superb. The descriptions are subtle but exceedingly humorous. There also is an underlying fact, which would have affected the upper classes even more than most, that London has changed immensely in the past twenty years, and that, even at the time of the 'marmalade box baby,' the customs described were preserved by few. Images of women in 1980 learning Victorian customs about how to accept and decline marriage proposals and dine with royalty are a hilarious contrast to their counterparts just two decades later.

Incidentally, some of the advice from the finishing school is not a bad idea at any age.

The book is a cut above what normally falls into the 'chick lit' category. It has an underlying, subtle wisdom that rises it above the usual fare. Few authors in that genre have Hester's ability with the language - and of capturing much of human nature, warmth, weakness, and hope in the process.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 15, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this story; it captured me right from the beginning, but that may be just because I really wish I had been dropped off at a finishing school as a baby. I love the ladylike advice strewn through the story. This is my first Hester Brown book, but it will not be my last. She has a nice flowing tone to her writing. Great for relaxing on the couch!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 27, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is very, very nice. Betsy, the main character, is nice. Her best friend Liv is nice. Even Liv's playboy brother Jamie is nice. The financial guy Mark is nice. Betsy's adoptive parents are nice. Betsy's birth family is nice. The main plot (saving the finishing school) is nice.

Unfortunately, nice can be boring. I genuinely liked Betsy and the book, but it did take me a long, long time to complete it.

There is very little conflict in the plot, and the conflict that does exist seems artificial. For example, it seems that the head mistress of the school and Adele (a former student) are undermining Betsy's efforts.... However, they have no reason to do so, and the head mistress has two very good reasons to help Betsy: the school's owner is Betsy's father, and the school will fail unless something is done. (Adele should also want to befriend Betsy for her own reasons, which are explained in the novel.)

Aside from the lack of genuine conflict or edgy characters in the book, it has another problem that is a bit more subtle. The author cannot decide exactly who Betsy is:

Is she the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat? If so, she should not feel in any way socially below the students, and yet she does. Why does she work for years as an assistant manager in a shoe store? Why does she worry when that job is in jeopardy?

Were her adoptive parents loving? Betsy seems to think so, yet she never was brave enough (even when her adoptive mother was dying) to ask questions about her adoption. In addition, Betsy seems to lack basic self-confidence; for example, she defers to the head mistress constantly, even though she is the daughter of the owner and he has told her to run the school. This lack of confidence may have nothing to do with the parenting she received, but it is interesting that she does not usually refer to her adoptive parents as Mother and Father, but as Frances and Lord P.

Is she the confident person that Jamie (the playboy) claims she was? I never saw that woman in the story. I don't mind insecure characters -- they can be interesting. If I am presented with more than one image of a character, however, I prefer that the images either complement each other, or that there exists some reason why the images are divergent. I did not feel that the different views of Betsy were explained or supported by the events in the novel.

Finally (and this is a small point)... why would the UK Child Protective Services let Frances and Lord P keep the baby simply because she was left on the school's door steps? I realize that most novels require some suspension of disbelief for one or more plot elements, but this one fact did not gel with the other aspects of the book, which were generally realistic -- not fairy-tale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I dearly love to read fiction set in England. It's at times almost a different language. The characters too can be quite a bit wonderfully eccentric. Browne's characters are wonderful and well detailed, from the beautiful but ditzy Liv who doesn't know how to iron, use a mop, or pay the mortgage to the vastly different men in her life, the party planner gorgeous flirt Jamie or the more City-type bursar Mark with the dry sense of humor. The students are also unique as are the teachers of the finishing school. The idea of the finishing school and how our heroine turns it around was the utterly fluff part for me. Too shallow and nonsensical at times - getting out an old pram to teach the students how to walk in high heels, etc. Too frivolous, but Browne's sense of humor and characters kept me reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
I really tried to like this book because I liked the whole premise of it. However, I really had to just put it down; it was irritating me. When it takes a page and half to get from the car to the front door, that's just too much angst. And, it all seems to be like that. Sorry, I really wanted to like it; maybe I'm too old for her market.
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on August 8, 2012
This a a fine Brit chick-lit book, actually it is a great Brit
chick-lit book - period.

And as one reviewer as noted, it reveals the differences in
changes in British society perfectly. Hester Browne's gift for writing
and for helping her readers to enjoy the nugget of social interactions
and foibles is a delight as is her ability to use humor in unexpected

I happened to pick this book up used some time again, I loved it as
passed it on to friends.

I am now transferring the best of my huge tree library to e-book,
and I wanted "The Finishing Touches" in with the rest (as beach read,
train read, etc).

Sadly the price of this as e-book prevents me. Having
received loyalties myself, I am all for good royalties for authors.

However, my ability to purchase this book as a USED tree book on AMAZON for
$0.01 (no additional royalty to author), to pass it on legally as a used
tree book around( no additional royalty to author), and even to turn
around and RESELL my $0.01 tree book it on AMAZON at some
massive profit (no additional royalt to author) underlines the
madness that USED e-books cannot float through the world in a similar manner.

And of course, the irony of AMAZON PROMOTING used tree book sales at any
price but enforcing DRM is fun to ponder after a glass of wine.

I buy a used e-book, author receives royalty, I am happy, author is
happy to the extent of her contract. My rights regarding ownership of an
e-book should be equal to my rights to owning a tree book.

I should be able to give AWAY e-books, etc (not loan: give away, resell, etc.).
Fix the DRM to prevent copying, but admit that I bought and now own the e-book.

Good or bad, the e-book is the medium of choice for a large percentage
of readers. There will always be tree versions, but I buy an
e-book but its use is licensed to me; I buy a tree book and I own
that thing free and clear.

Take away: "Finishing Touches" is a great read, and a great introduction to the Work
of Hester Brown. I strongly recommend you buy it new, buy it used, license
it as an e-book, but DO read it
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on December 23, 2011
This was my first Hester Browne book and I loved it. I was never really interested in the premise behind her Little Agency books, but the plot summary of this one drew me in. I think there are enough reviews about the basic plot that I won't go into that here. But what I really enjoyed about this book is how the author tried to inject a sense of reality into it.

Obviously, the book is fiction and clearly so. I mean, a fnishing school, and rich girls, etc. While this may be reality for some, I'm going to assume that for most people, these things don't exist outside of books. And yet, the main characters are fairly down-to-earth. For example, I love how the main character in this book does not go off and do stupid things because she's stupid and thinks that her plans and ideas make sense. Rather, she's grounded in reality, has a brain, and knows how to use it. Her friends are also real people (for the most part).

I disagree with what a previous reviewer posted about how the lack of "meat" made this book unenjoyable. For me, there doesn't need to be crazy antics, stupid schemes by even stupider (yes, I know that's not a real word) girls and contrived dilemmas in order for me to feel that there is something going on in a book. This is essentially a light and fun book about a young woman who is going through her life and the changes in her life. Sounds dull, but in all honesty, that's what many of the NY Times Bestsellers and Oprah's recommended books are all about--people coming to realizations. Only those books try to inject a bunch of false angst in order to give "meaning" to their books. For me, I'd rather have an enjoyable light read without feeling as though I have to check out half of my brain in order to convince myself that the really stupid girls (and their friends) that you often find in chick lit actually exist.

I also enjoyed this book because the idea of a finishing school has always kind of interested me, it being such a different world. And I have to say that I picked up some good tips. Went and got my first lash tint after reading this.
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VINE VOICEon August 21, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wasn't entirely sure about The Finishing Touches when I first selected it for review from Amazon Vine, but I thought I would give it a try. I love British chick lit, and though I'd never read anything by Hester Browne, I'd certainly heard good things about her books. After reading it, I have to say that I am so glad I gave it a chance - if I hadn't, I might have missed out on one of my favorite reads of the year!

I really loved the character of Betsy. She was incredibly complex - on one hand, Betsy feels like she isn't living up to her family's legacy, but on the other hand, she doesn't feel like she is part of the family at all. She is afraid that she isn't good enough to be a Phillimore. On top of that, now that her beloved adoptive mother has passed away, Betsy feels the urge to continue her mother's legacy at the same time she discovers the need to find her birth mother. She is full of contradictions, but in a really appealing way. I loved the way she was written and am impressed with Browne's ability to develop characters. I feel like she shows off her amazing writing talent in The Finishing Touches.

Part of the reason I enjoyed The Finishing Touches so much was because of the storyline. In addition to her personal journey, Betsy is also trying to save her mother's finishing school. I love books in which a character comes in to save a struggling business and manages to do so competently by the end of the novel. I feel like it adds a completely new dimension to the book, giving it some additional depth. I was glad that through this, Betsy was able to show off her intelligence. Also, I was completely satisfied with the conclusion - I felt like Betsy's effort were realistic. There was no magical infusion of cash or unbelievable makeover. I very much appreciated this part of the novel.

I highly recommend The Finishing Touches, even if you aren't a fan of chick lit. It has so much more than the average novel of that genre. This book is clever, witty, and a joy to read. I can't say enough great things about it, and am looking forward to reading Hester Browne's other novels!
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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by "The Finishing Touches." It seems that most of the "chick-lit" I've read lately has been insipid and sometimes with some downright awful writing. Though this novel has a plot that is quite predictable, Browne has a very natural style of writing that made the dialogue seem natural and that moved the plot along nicely.

The novel contains a nice cast of characters though I thought that some could perhaps have been developed a bit more, particularly with regard to Venetia and Adele. It would have been interested to learn more about what was motivating the two of them. I enjoyed the two male leads, though. At first, they both seemed a bit stereotypical: the playboy and the buttoned-down businessman. Browne did a good job of adding progressively more dimensions to each of them. I also found Liv to be refreshing for the same reasons. Though she starts out seeming like little more than a spoiled daddy's princess, she's quick to rise to the challenge of overcoming her own setbacks.

The thing I liked most about the novel was its premise. I found the idea of a modern version of a finishing school to be quite interesting and I enjoyed reading about how Betsy went about achieving this goal. Her ideas for classes were creative and I found myself thinking that they would have some actual value in the real world. It seems so many people nowadays--not just women--grow up with plenty of book smarts but with little common sense about things like balancing a checkbook. Browne really did a good job of coming up with a fresh new concept for her novel.

The subplot of Betsy trying to find her mother's identity was handled fairly well but I didn't really find it necessary. I thought that the details of how Betsy worked to turn the school around were meaty enough without needing to add any extra plot devices. I suspect this may have been done to round out Betsy's character a bit more but I didn't think that this was necessary. It was nice to read a novel of this sort of genre in which the heroine is down-to-earth and in control of her life.

I don't necessarily mean to knock other characters of the genre. I enjoyed reading about the antics of a certified neurotic like Bridget Jones but there's no reason why a level-headed, smart, and successful character like Betsy can't make for an interesting central character to whom your average woman can relate. I sometimes think what makes chick-lit seem like a less serious genre to the uninitiated is the general sense that the genre deals with books about obsessive women whose main objective is to find themselves a man. It's authors like Browne who prove that chick-lit can be more than that.
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