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Series Review: School For Manners (Part One)

'If you have a Wild, Unruly, or Undisciplined Daughter, two Ladies of Genteel Birth offer to Bring Out said Daughter and Refine what may have seemed Unrefinable. We can make the Best of the Worst.'

Collage of covers for books 1, 2, and 3 of the School for Manners series.
"When Amy and Effie Tribble, two charming but impoverished spinster sisters, lose out on an inheritance, they place this advertisement in The Morning Post and hire themselves out as professional chaperones. Vowing to prepare even the most difficult misses for marriage, the Tribble sisters will spend a London season on each client, educating them in their School for Manners."

The six-part School for Manners series by the late M. C. Beaton was originally published under the author's real name, Marion Chesney, across several years in the late 1980s. Revamped with a lively new narrator and stylish artwork, the series re-release promises to introduce Beaton's most unruly ladies to a new generation of fans.

Desperately balancing their pride and penury, spinster twins Effie and Amy are initially introduced as a pair of 'Ugly Sisters' caricatures; almost grotesques with their exaggerated unflattering traits. They grow on the listener once we get to know them, however, and see their goodness and vulnerabilities. Deftly aided by the calming influence of their old friend Mr Haddon, the sisters set out on their new venture with only slightly less trepidation than their incorrigible charges.

The School for Manners series is both written and narrated much in the style of modern women's fiction, which may make these audiobooks a more accessible way into the world of historical romance for younger readers, or those who find the classics too reserved. It's a sort of Bridget Jones-style take on the Regency, and as such is very entertaining but doesn't really reflect the female experience of the time (and the abject mortification and social exile that would accompany behaviour like the girls who are sent to the Tribble's). The series felt much like many of the 'enlivened' period drama adaptations; it was rather refreshing and freed me from the burden of expecting perfection - something which reflected the girls' own rejection of propriety.

In Part One of my review of the series, we'll take a quick peek at books 1-3, and learn a little more about the author, M. C. Beaton. In Part Two (coming later in the year), we will cover books 4-6, and shine our spotlight on the narrator, Joanna Bending.


Audiobook cover for Refining Felicity. A dark haired lady in a purple dress.Refining Felicity, School for Manners, Book 1 by M. C. Beaton.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 5 hrs 5 mins.

Bennet Sisters Scale: Lydia 🌹🌹🌹 - Frivolous but delightful, this series is filled with women who are improper and incorrigible but they will all make you smile.
Tropes: #Finishing School, #Cross-dressing, #Opposites Attract.

Refining Felicity, School for Manners, Book 1 by M. C. Beaton is unconventional for a Regency romance, as it has quite a bombastic, colourful style, but it's packed with Beaton's signature humour and ease of listening. There's an Agatha Raisin in every century, and in the early 1800s, she may well have been selling her social services to the Ton...

Audible Summary: "Felicity Baronsheath, their first assignment, turns out to be more of a challenge than they could have ever imagined. Not only is Felicity indifferent to the idea of marriage, she is also a spoilt brat! And when, despite their best endeavours, Felicity insists on remaining unrefined and hoydenish, the Tribbles begin to fear that her season - and their new business venture - will end in disaster.

©2019 M.C. Beaton (P)2019 Hachette Audio UK."

Felicity Baronsheath's father always wished that she'd been a son, and - much to her Mama's exasperation - Felicity does her best not to disappoint him. Loud, brash, and hoydenish in the extreme, Felicity must make her debut, but Lady Baronsheath hasn't the faintest idea how to launch her daughter into society without scandalising the Ton. 

When she sees the Tribble's notice in the paper she hasn't much to lose and entrusts her daughter to their dubious care. When we first meet Felicity she is very reluctant to change; especially when Lord Ravenswood tells her that she should!

When Ravenswood proposes to a nice, delicate girl who is decidedly unlike Lady Felicity, he finds his attention repeatedly drawn to the unrefined debutante. A house party at his family home is the perfect time to showcase his fiancee's talents, but it's Felicity's assets that pique his interest...

Refining Felicity is a historical coming-of-age, and though the romance is central to the plot, its main focus is on helping Felicity figure out who she is in a world where everyone has their own ideas about what that should be.

Beaton is not trying to compete with Austen, or even Heyer, with this novel but she tells a diverting story in her own comic, colourful fashion, and it was very enjoyable.

Refining Felicity is available to pre-order on Audible, releasing on 23rd March 2020, and can be bought on CD from The Reading House, now.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 5 hrs 2 mins.

Bennet Sisters Scale: Lydia 🌹🌹🌹 - Frivolous but delightful, this series is filled with women who are improper and incorrigible but they will all make you smile.
Tropes: #Finishing School, #Nobility/Trade, #Ingenue & Rake.

Perfecting Fiona, School for Manners, Book 2 by M. C. Beaton is the second book in a lively series of stories about recalcitrant Regency women and the gentlemen who find them irresistible.

Audible summary: "Fiona has been sent to [the Tribbles] by her guardians as a last resort, for at 19, the beautiful and wealthy Scottish heiress still has no prospect of a suitable marriage. The Tribbles are puzzled, however, by their charge's demure perfection, until they take her to her first ball - and discover she is an incorrigible flirt! And when quizzed by the Tribbles, Fiona betrays her real feelings... so the sisters are forced to confront the truth about her past!

©2012 M. C. Beaton (P)2020 Hachette Audio UK."

Unlike the Tribble's previous charge, Felicity, Fiona Macleod initially appears to be everything a good society Miss should be. Demure, accomplished, and obscenely wealthy, Fiona should have been married ten times over by now. Yet something keeps scaring her suitors away, with her aunt and uncle never receiving any offers for her hand. 

As Fiona gets to know the Tribbles and learns to trust them, she reveals her past dalliances and we learn the myriad ways she has dissuaded men from forming a serious tendre for her. Discovering why Fiona is so opposed to marriage becomes the chief pastime of notorious rake, Lord Peter Havard. Determined to reform and settle, he is certain that he would never wish to do so with Fiona... Right up until she becomes all he can think about.

This one felt a little rushed at times, with Peter's conversion from rake to eligible bachelor feeling rather too swift to be believable. Fiona doesn't have Felicity's bombastic personality, but she has a gentility and kindness that make her endearing. This second story in the series is slower and quieter than the first, but it's still good fun.

Perfecting Fiona is available to pre-order on Audible, releasing on 23rd April 2020, and on CD from The Reading House, now.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 4 hrs 44 mins.

Bennet Sisters Scale: Lydia 🌹🌹🌹 - Frivolous but delightful, this series is filled with women who are improper and incorrigible but they will all make you smile.
Tropes: #Finishing School, #Second Chance, #Enemies To Lovers.

Enlightening Delilah, School for Manners, Book 3 by M. C. Beaton is the third lightweight Regency-set tale in this series of finishing school romances.

Audible summary: "Stunningly beautiful, the dazzling Delilah has had plenty of marriage proposals but having once been spurned by Sir Charles Digby, the only man she has ever loved, she is now a hardened heartbreaker who toys with all her suitors. And so it is up to the eccentric Tribble sisters to teach her the meaning of true love again. 

©2012 M. C. Beaton (P)2020 Hachette Audio UK.

Delilah Wraxall is a flirt. She wasn't always, but heartbreak hardened her to male attention, and she is content to run her father's country house and not look for a husband. Before she scandalises the family name in every household in the County, her father seeks the aid of the Tribbles to try and reform her.

Also in Town is Sir Charles Digby, recently returned from War and very surprised to find that the immature schoolroom chit he left behind has blossomed into a diamond of the first water. Delilah cannot forgive him for discarding her affections so cruelly, and the better he comes to know her the more he regrets the hastiness of his actions. But Delilah's own mistakes are not easily forgotten, and one of them - in particular - does more harm than the others.

I especially loved the quote from Rev. Sydney Smith at the start of this book, "There is great happiness in the country, but it requires a visit to London every year to reassure yourself of this truth."

Enlightening Delilah is a colourful and engaging romance, and another great addition to a fun series. As well as Delilah's story, the Tribbles' characters have developed nicely throughout the series, with matronly Amy taking an especially prominent role this time around.

Enlightening Delilah is available to pre-order on Audible, releasing on 21st May 2020, and on CD from The Reading House, now.

The series' narrator, Joanna Bending, has a friendly, engaging, voice which is adept at conveying the characters' different personalities, and particularly the juxtaposition of Amy's brashness and Effie's comparative delicacy. Though her performance is lively, Bending's general narration is also soft and soothing throughout, and helps with the feeling of 'escape' that most listeners seek in a Regency romance. There are a few odd pronunciation choices, such as "rakey hell" for 'rakehell', but her Scottish accent for Fiona was very pleasant. Overall she did a great job at refreshing this delightful series.

I'd recommend the School for Manners series to those who are looking for a simple, airy way into historical romance books with a Regency setting, or want a more humorous take on the genre. These audiobooks are mostly clean with some swearing and a few saucy scenes, but nothing too explicit. If you are expecting them to be true to the classics, then you'll be tearing your hair out before the end of chapter one, but if you can park your inner Janeite then you'll chuckle all the way through.

Beaton says that she wrote "for escape" and that is just what this series provides.

*I received these audiobooks free of charge from the publisher in the hope of an honest, unbiased review.

(Click here to buy the books from this series, listen to a sample, or add them to your wishlist!)


M. C. Beaton (1936 - 2019)

Photo of M. C. Beaton, courtesy of MidasPR.
Marion Chesney Gibbons, better known by her most famous pseudonym M. C. Beaton, was the bestselling author of the much-loved mystery series featuring sleuths Agatha Raisin, and Hamish Macbeth. Also writing as Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Marion Chesney, Charlotte Ward, and Sarah Chester, Chesney-Gibbons was extraordinarily prolific throughout her long writing career, writing over 150 novels in the Romance, Historical Romance, and Crime genres.

Born in Balornok, north of the River Clyde in Scotland, Chesney-Gibbons became a fiction buyer for the oldest bookshop in Glasgow, John Smith & Son, upon leaving school. A move into journalism soon took her to London, where she married fellow Express journalist Harry Scott Gibbons. It was during the family's stint in America that Chesney-Gibbons decided to try her hand at writing historical romance, after being disappointed by the quality of the novels hitting the market.

It was upon returning to the UK that Chesney-Gibbons embarked upon her bestselling Agatha Raisin series of village mysteries, which in no small part contributed to the author becoming the 7th most borrowed author from UK library services in 2017-2018. It is believed that Chesney-Gibbons sold more than 21 million books in her lifetime, continuing to write until death interrupted her relentless "Scottish work ethic".

Few authors can rival the 153 English-language audiobooks Chesney-Gibbons has to her name on Audible.co.uk alone, narrated by, amongst others, Penelope Keith (Agatha Raisin series), David Monteith (Hamish Macbeth series), Lucy Scott (Daughters of Mannerling series), and Joanna Bending (School for Manners series).

During an exclusive interview with Audible in 2016, Chesney-Gibbons described her career, from her humble beginnings as a fan of Georgette Heyer to the author of almost 100 Regencies of her own, and onwards to becoming the Queen of cosy mysteries (even if she did resent the title). She also extolls the virtues of audiobooks, and their importance to people who rely on them as an escape. The interview is free for all Audible members to listen to, and provides far better insight into her character than any biography or obituary. After all, how better to remember such a prolific author than in her own words?

The School for Manners audiobooks in order, are:

1 - Refining Felicity.
2 - Perfecting Fiona.
3 - Enlightening Delilah.
4 - Finessing Clarissa.
5 - Animating Maria.
6 - Marrying Harriet.

The whole series can be purchased on Audio CD and MP3 CD directly from the Ulverscroft website.

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*All product links may lead to affiliated content. Full disclaimer here.