I received a book a few weeks ago to review. It sat amongst a pile of books that I have been sent over the past few months. I recently picked up the book to begin reading since I had just finished reading something else. It is called Dear Mr. Knightley. I didn’t really know what to expect from the book. It’s a first novel by an author named Katherine Reay.
I know that they say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but surely you can get some type of reading from the back cover, right? Here is the plot synopsis on the back of the book:
“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.
Sam is, to say the least, bookish. An English major of the highest order, her diet has always been Austen, Dickens, and Shakespeare. The problem is, both her prose and conversation tend to be more Elizabeth Bennett than Samantha Moore.
But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. As an anonymous, Dickensian benefactor (calling himself Mr. Knightley) offers to put Sam through Northwestern University’s 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 dark memory mingles with that of eligible novelist Alex Powell, her letters to Mr. Knightley become increasingly confessional. While Alex draws Sam into a world of warmth and literature that feels like it’s straight out of a book, old secrets are drawn to light. And as Sam learns to love and trust Alex and herself, she learns once again how quickly trust can be broken.
Reminding us all that our own true character is not meant to be hidden, 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.”
I admit, this description had me intrigued. First of all, I can definitely relate to being a lover of books — especially the classics. I could understand how Samantha could get lost in the worlds and characters of her favorite stories. I also liked the idea of reading a “book of letters”. I personally love reading books that are written like diaries or a collection of missives. So I began. And I was quickly sucked in. I LOVED IT! About halfway through the book I was so overcome by its awesomeness that I actually sought out the author to send her a message. I honestly feel as though that message best conveys my feelings about this book, so I am going to include it in this review:
I am not sure if Katherine actually reads these messages, but I just HAD to write.
I was sent (what I now assume to be) an advance copy of Dear Mr. Knightley to review on my blog. I signed up to do this review after reading the synopsis. I am an avid reader. A literature junkie. A bookie. Whatever you want to call it. I. LOVE. Books! And I often fall in love with or relate well to the characters. And, because of that, I felt like I could probably relate to Samantha. So I signed up and received the book.
The review is due next month. Near the end of the month actually. Which usually means I would wait until a week before and begin reading. But I saw the book sitting on my shelf a few days ago and picked it up. A bit of “bathroom reading” (I am a single mom to a 3 year old so reading in the tub at the end of the day is the way I wind down).
Your book came with me once I left the bathroom. And on a trip to a banquet. And in my bed at night. I have not been able to breeze my way through it as I usually would since I also juggle running a business and grad school. But I think I prefer it this way. After all, Mr. Knightley sometimes had to wait weeks for Samantha’s next letter. I can last a day.
Your book has been one of the few (along with Silverlock) that has made me want to immediately dive into some of my past favorites. Especially Austen. It has reminded me of so many characters that I would like to revisit. But I can’t revisit them yet. I haven’t finished my walk with Samantha. I have to continue on with her journey toward self-discovery.
I have experienced so many emotions while reading her story. Anger at the way she treats the people close to her. Understanding for why she hides behind her favorite characters. Sometimes they say things we wish we could say and have qualities we we wish we possessed. Joy at her triumphs — even the small ones. Exasperation when her naivete blinds her to what I think is obvious. Happiness for her coming out of her protective shell. Fear that something coming up will make her wish that she still had it. I have fallen in love with a lot of the people in her life and feel highly distrustful of others. In short — I feel highly involved in her life and her world. And that is something that every book lover yearns to feel. To get lost.
I am only halfway through the book and I find myself becoming excited to reread it. Some books that I review I realize quickly will never be read again. They will sit on my bookshelves awaiting a day when perhaps a friend or family member will ask to borrow it. This book will be one that I reread. Many times. Each time I will feel a pang of sadness that I can never read it for the first time again. That, to me, is the mark of a great book. “Dear Mr. Knightley” will remain in a place of honor. It’s companions will be Harry Potter, Austen, Frodo and the gang, the Pevensies, Sherlock, and Silverlock. It will be one of those books that I feel nervous to loan out for fear that it will never return (or will return in piece as happened to a beloved copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — such a sad, senseless day). But I would feel guilty keeping it to myself. Books like this deserve to be read. By many.
So I will write my review of your novel and I will try my best to convey the awesomeness that it contains. I just finished reading page 168 and was so moved that I felt compelled to write you and tell you thank you. I LOVE when I find a story that pulls me in and won’t let go. Thank you for this one.
I honestly was not expecting a response — at least not from the author — but she responded quickly and was actually really down-to-Earth. She seemed really appreciative of my message and what I had to say about her novel and we actually a bit of a back and forth conversation. We even, as fellow book lovers, recommended some books to each other. She is nor reading Silverlock and I am reading Divergent (I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of the series until she mentioned the 3rd book coming out). I LOVE meeting fellow literature junkies.
Anyways, back to the review. The ending did not disappoint at all! It was actually kind of perfect, but in a flawed way. You know what I mean? Like, it wasn’t the ending that I expected for some of the characters but it just…worked. I was so blown away that I wrote her back pretty much screaming over the internet. There were many exclamation points used. Lol!
Overall, I found this book to be an excellent read and would recommend it to anyone who loves great literature. Not just for the book itself, but for the way the author draws from other classic characters and weaves them throughout this story.
Dear Mr. Knightley is available on Amazon, along with other titles by Katherine Reay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries — who provide constant inspiration both for writing and for life. Katherine’s first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist and winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut as well as Carol Awards for both Best Debut and Best Contemporary. She is also the writer behind Lizzy & Jane and the The Bronte Plot – all contemporary stories with a bit of “classics” flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, runner, former marketer, avid chocolate consumer and, randomly, a tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago.