Wednesday, June 26, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

For all historical fiction fans, I can’t urge you strongly enough to check out the Historical Novel Society. Membership is $50 per year, but it’s well worth it. With your membership, you become part of a welcoming community of historical fiction readers and writers. The website is full of information and book reviews, and the society puts out a quarterly print journal containing author interviews, articles on historical fiction, and hundreds of reviews of new releases.

If this isn’t enough, the society holds a biannual North American conference. (On alternate years, there is a conference in England.) Last weekend, the conference was held in St. Petersburg, Florida at the spectacular Vinoy Renaissance Hotel. From Friday night until Sunday noon, we had panel discussions, author guest speakers, agent and editor sessions, cocktail parties and banquets, and never stopped talking about historical fiction. Next time, I’ll bring a camera to record some of the fun.

There is also opportunity for book buying as well as book giveaways in our conference goody-bags. So I’m well-stocked with more reading.

On the plane ride home, I dug into one of my purchases, The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee. (At the book signing, I was thrilled to discover she’s another Kentucky author.) Because of a weather delay in St. Louis, I had ample time to read the whole book, and thanks to Atlee’s engrossing story, I didn’t mind (too much) the fact that it took me the entire day to get home.

Betsey Dobson is the typewriter girl. An intelligent, hardworking woman, Elizabeth (Betsey- don’t call her Lizzie) is a working-class Londoner whose prospects once seemed limited to being a domestic servant. Unfortunately, as a fourteen-year-old maid, she was seduced by the 19-year-old heir of the house where she worked and was abruptly dismissed, establishing a pattern for her future employment. The book opens with Betsey once again out in the cold with limited options because of scandal. She is a typist for a London company–a very good typist. But her employers have caught wind of the fact that she is having a love affair with one of her typing teachers.

It might not be a love affair, but Betsey is definitely sleeping with Avery Nash, an instructor who owned a typewriter and who let her practice on it after hours. (Betsey is ambitious and resourceful.) Avery liked Betsey, but he never intended to offer her marriage. He can’t even bring himself to stand up for her when she is harassed on her last day of work, dismissed without a reference, and denied her last few days of wages.

Betsey needs the money and reference because she has an offer to work as an excursion manager at a seaside resort, Idensea. Mr. John Jones, the contractor in charge of overseeing the expansion of the Idensea pier and all its entertainments, had taken note of her when at a meeting in London. He saw her potential. Perhaps he saw something else, as well. But without a character reference, will he still hire her?

Mr. Jones is a Welshman who has worked his way up from a poor country boy to a master contractor. His wealth now is such that he is courting heiresses and hobnobbing with gentry. Despite his great ambition, he remains a good-hearted, fair-minded gentleman. Although he doesn’t know quite what to make of Miss Dobson’s appearance in Idensea days too early and without a character reference, he is still willing to give her a chance.

Betsey has the summer season to prove not only that the tourist excursions are a good idea, but that she is the one to manage them. She has to deal with men who are out to prove that she cannot do it. She also has to deal with an increasingly strong attraction to Mr. Jones–and his to her. Betsy’s trouble in the past has always come from poor decisions. A woman in Victorian England has no freedom to act on her sexual attraction, but Betsey did, more than once, and paid the price. The Typewriter Girl is a sexually charged romance that will keep you rooting for the protagonists as they struggle to find their way to each other.

It’s fun to read a historical romance with characters that have different, interesting jobs and are placed in unusual settings, rather than the typical gentry in Regency England looking for mates. Those are fun too. (See my review of A Little Folly by Jude Morgan.) But this is a great book if you’re looking for something a bit different.

This is my 16th book read for the Historical Fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.