Imagine being granted a scholarship on the grounds that you must write a letter sharing your progress to that mysterious person. Now, imagine a book that is a collection of these letters. Outpourings of a heart that make you want to stop and realize that it is Sam‘s life you are reading and not your own. And the icing on the already delicious cake? Lots of Jane Austen for you. Yes, my dearies. That’s right.
I fell in love with the title “Dear Mr. Knightley” because, if you know me, you know I love letters. So, when Booksneeze sent me a copy of this book to review, I was only too happy to do it. Who is Sam? What is the past that she guards so fiercely? Who is the mysterious Mr. Knightley who asks her to write letters? Will she ever meet Mr. Knightley?
Sam receives an extraordinary opportunity when a certain Mr. Knightley offers her a scholarship to study at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism on the condition that she updates him of her progress. The book traces a beautiful transformation of Sam as she steps into college, the process of making friends, living up to expectations, finding love amidst fighting other battles, all the while seeking solace in books. I expected a cute, happy book but was quite blown away by the depth at places.
The language is simple with a good dose of Jane Austen (ofcourse!) and was a page turner for me. I enjoy first person accounts and the interesting premise only aded to the good experience. There were instances where I was a little impatient and wondered why the transformation took so much time but then that’s life, right? Things don’t change miraculously always. And fighting those demons and healing yourself is no crash course either. Dear Mr. Knightley is an epistolary novel that turned out to be a lovely debut for me!
Now here’s the bonus. Katherine Reay, the author of this lovely book, was kind enough to do a small interview for my blog. This is my first interview with an author and I am pretty kicked about sharing it with you all. Thank you so much Katherine for being so nice!
1. I totally enjoyed your book! How did the idea for the book come about?
Dear Mr. Knightley started during my recovery from an injury. Many of the ways I defined myself were removed for a time – tennis, running, tae kwon do, cleaning the house, driving carpool, volunteering, even standing in the kitchen cooking…. I was housebound for several months recovering, praying, reading and, eventually, writing. I started reading the classics, beginning with Jane Austen, and spread from there. When I got to Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs, I found context for the character already developing in my head. It all rolled from there…
2. Sam undergoes a transformation that is beautifully reflected in the letters. Is Sam’s life based on someone you know personally?
Sam shares no common history with any one I know personally or with me. That is why I say at the back of the book that all mistakes are my own. I need to be so careful about that because my book is fiction, but for some, such an experience is reality. When writing I worked to make Sam’s life bigger, tougher, and more challenging than many of us face so that we could more easily sneak into her emotional world and realize her struggles are universal – because, regardless of our circumstances, I think we all strive to define ourselves, face insecurity and fear, seek a place to stand and belong, and search for a family to love.
3. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Honestly, I love it all. As my sister says, “You get paid to live in your head.” But “most”? I think I like that moment when the skeleton is on the page (my initial 50K word draft) and I get to start layering emotions. That’s a wonderful time.
4. Loved reading so much of Jane Austen. Was she a great influence in your life? Who are some of your other favourite authors?
She is huge for me. I have read all her novels repeatedly – and they are brilliant. I also return again and again to Tolkien, Lewis, Dickens, and Chesterton. Now that said, I don’t spend all my time in the past – there are innumerable great books out today and I try to inhale as many as possible.
5. Tell us a little more about your family.
I have a wonderful husband, three fantastic kids and a dog. The kids are thrilled with the book – they think it’s much more glamorous than it is and that’s fun.
6. How does your family feel about your book?
My immediate family is bursting with joy, but my extended family is completely surprising and delighting me. I knew they loved me etc., but to hear all my cousins on Facebook and Twitter raving about the book is so fun. It’s nice to connect across the miles this way.
7. What are your hobbies?
Ah… so many. I play tennis, I run, I read, I cook, I try to clean the house, I only needlepoint in the summer while visiting my parents and watching movies, I love gluing things back together and fixing stuff and I fly fish.
8. Any more books in the pipeline?
Lizzy and Jane is next and in the editing process right now. It will be out next fall and I am so excited about this story. It’s got all the big guns: sisters, conflict, food, Jane Austen, Hemingway (threw you there, didn’t I?), love, and breast cancer. I know that last one is a bummer, but it’s a reality that so many of us experience either personally or walking the journey with family and friends. Basically Lizzy and Jane is the story of a young woman, Lizzy, who has excised love from her life and, as she helps her sister through chemotherapy, she starts to put it back in – in all its wonderful and varied forms.
Thank you Katherine!
So peeps, have you read this book yet?