About the Book:
Author: Katherine Reay
Publication Date: November 2013 (ARC)
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Genre: Fiction; Contemporary, Romance, Christian Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review: Dear Mr. Knightly tells the picturesque story of a young woman named Samantha who is not only an orphan, but a girl who’s made – nearly – one mistake too many. After attempting to make it on her own, she’s forced to return to the safety of the parish home she grew up in and try earning back the scholarship offered by a mysterious benefactor who is known to her only as “Mr. Knightley.” When the man agrees to reinstate Sam’s scholarship, the only stipulation he asks is that she write him letters detailing her progress. During her year of journaling through letters, Sam learns the meaning of independence, self-worth and maybe… even love.
Jane Austen has inspired thousands of contemporary pieces of candied fiction – both literary and cinematic. New author Katherine Reay uses the popularity of Austen-esque inspiration and crafts her story into a magnificently unique novel. One of 2013’s debut authors, already Katherine has established herself as a name to keep an eye on. In ‘Mr. Knightley,’ readers are swept up on an emotional journey of hope, healing and finding home. I have to be honest, when I was ready to read the book, in my typical reading habitual, I’d paged through the novel and read the author note prior to seriously reading it, and my opinion wasn’t were I wanted it to be. This can be traced back to one thing – the style in which the book is written. Aside from an epilogue, the story is told, not just in the first person but entirely through letters, and it was a context that made me read with trepidation. Nonetheless I went through with reading and oh my, what a treat Dear Mr. Knightly was. These are the best kind of novels.
Ripping up the “rules” for a usual contemporary novel, Reay reinvented the familiarity of the genre. All of the important key elements are there only with a new “twist.” Beyond the inventive uses of prose and characters, there’s also a beautiful realism to the story. Told elegantly through its heroine’s letters (something that I am a sucker for – people getting to know each other through letters), the book is also chocked full of fun pop culture references, all of which left me giggling and each one blends seamlessly with the old-fashioned concept balancing with the witty, sharp literature references – everything from C.S. Lewis to Bronte. (And, this also seems the opportune moment to throw in how much I lovelovelove the Eloise reference – not sure that could have been played to a better advantage.) Samantha is a character easy to relate too, not necessarily because of her sad past but because she is scared to step outside her comfort zone, she is afraid that she’s capable of doing something worth anyone’s notice or time. Those of us who have ever dreamed of doing something that requires criticism or opening ourselves up to others will understand this – we’ve all struggled with being accepted or emotional around someone, and in reading this, Samantha was less “figment” and much more, real. In more instances than one I was both sympathetic and felt as if she and I shared many of the same insecurities or worries that life throws our way. Above all, those qualities are this debut’s crowning glory – it’s not just an expert piece of fiction, it becomes very “real.” What Reay did for her heroine was strip her of all her protective shields so that Sam could find her own “voice” and stand out to be the person she never thought she would come to be.
After all that, there’s just this postscript left.
Dear Katherine Reay, thank you for sharing Mr. Knightley with us.
Synopsis: Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.
But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself “Mr. Knightley”) offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.
As Sam’s program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it’s pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is – once again – made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.
Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.
Coming Next from Katherine Reay: Lizzy and Jane, coming in 2014!
Sincere thanks to author Katherine Reay for providing a complimentary ARC copy of this book for reviewing purposes.