“Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley kept me up until 2:00 a.m.; I simply couldn’t put it down.” —Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling author of Once Upon a Tower
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 stranger.
Sam is bookish, to say the least. 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 Bennet than Samantha Moore.
But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. 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, Katherine 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.
“Sprinkled with classic literary references and filled with poignant characterizations, Katherine Reay’s modern retelling of Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legsis both reverently crafted and delightfully surprising.” —Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com
“Katherine Reay’s touching debut novel made me cry in all the right places. For joy.” —Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
“A lovely debut novel from Katherine Reay! A wonderful story told in letter form, Dear Mr. Knightleywas easy to read (and love) and a delight the whole way through, with plenty of Austen and Bronte sprinkled throughout. This book is going on my keeper shelf!” —Austenitis, austenitis.blogspot.com
“Dear Mr. Knightley is an emotional, haunting tale of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity. With depth and honesty, Katherine Reay’s debut novel will grip your heart in the very first pages and not let go.” —Sarah E. Ladd, award-winning author of The Weaver’s Daughter
“Reay's debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, is a fun story told in a compelling voice that kept me up way too late. Highly recommended!” —Colleen Coble, USA Today bestselling author of Secrets at Cedar Cabin
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About the Author
Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and isa wife, mother, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL. You can meet her at www.katherinereay.com; Facebook: KatherineReayBooks; Twitter: @katherine_reay; or Instagram: @katherinereay.
Read an Excerpt
Dear Mr. Knightley
By KATHERINE REAY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Katherine Reay
All rights reserved.
It has been a year since I turned down your generous offer. Father John warned me at the time that I was making a terrible mistake, but I wouldn't listen. He felt that by dismissing that opportunity I was injuring not only myself, but all the foster children helped by your foundation.
I hope any perceived ingratitude on my part didn't harm anyone else's dreams. I wasn't ungrateful; I just wanted to leave Grace House. A group home is a difficult place to live, and I'd been there for eight years. And even though I knew graduate school meant more education and better job prospects, it also meant living at Grace House another two years. At the time I couldn't face that prospect.
My heart has always been in my books and writing, but I couldn't risk losing a paying job to pursue a dream. Now I'm ready to try. Not because I failed, but because this degree gives me the chance to link my passion with my livelihood.
Please let me know if the grant is still available. I will understand if you have selected another candidate.
Dear Ms. Moore,
The grant for full tuition to the master's program at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism remains available. At the strong recommendation of Father John, and due to the confidence he has in you, the director of the Dover Foundation has agreed to give you this second chance. There is, however, one stipulation. The director wants to receive personal progress letters from you as reassurance that this decision was the right one. You may write to him as you would to a journal, letting him know how your studies are going. He has opened a post office box for this purpose so you won't feel the added pressure of an immediate connection to him or to the foundation. Additionally, he will not write back, but asks that you write to him regularly about "things that matter."
He recognizes that this is an unusual requirement, but the foundation needs to know that its resources are being used in the best way possible. Given your sudden change of heart, he feels it is not too much to ask. To make this easier for you, he will also remain anonymous. You may write to him at this address under the name George Knightley.
Laura Temper Personal Assistant to Mr. G. Knightley
Dear Mr. Knightley,
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. I submitted my application to Medill this morning. I had to use a couple papers on Dickens and Austen in place of the journalism samples requested. While that may count against me, I felt the rest of my application was strong.
If you will allow, I want to honor Father John's trust and yours by explaining my "sudden change of heart," as Ms. Temper described it. When I graduated college last spring, I had two opportunities: your grant to fund graduate school or a job at Ernst & Young. In my eagerness to leave Grace House and conquer the world, I chose the job. Six weeks ago I was fired. At the exit meeting my boss claimed I was "unengaged," especially with regard to peer and client interactions. I did good work there, Mr. Knightley. Good solid work. But "relating" in the workplace is important too, I gather. That's where I failed.
I'm guessing from your literary choice of pseudonym that you are very likely acquainted with another admirable character from fiction—Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen's complex and enchanting heroine. At Ernst & Young I tried to project Lizzy's boldness and spirit, but clearly she had a confidence and charm that was more than I could sustain on a daily basis. So now here I am, back at Grace House, taking advantage of the state's willingness to provide a home for me till I'm twenty-five if I stay in school.
Nevertheless, Father John still doubts me and couldn't resist a lecture this morning. I tried to listen, but my eyes wandered around his office: photographs of all the children who have passed through Grace House cover every space that isn't taken up with books. He loves murder mysteries: Agatha Christie, James Patterson, Alex Powell, P. D. James, Patricia Cornwell ... I've read most of them. The first day we met, right before I turned fifteen, he challenged me to stretch beyond the classics.
"Are you listening, Sam?" Father John finally noticed my wandering eyes. "The Medill program is straight up your alley. You're a great reader and writer."
"'I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.'" Elizabeth Bennet has a useful reply for every situation.
Father John gave a small smile, and I flinched. "What if I can't do this?" I asked. "Maybe it's a mistake."
He sat back in his chair and took a slow breath. Eyebrows down, mouth in a line.
"Then turn this down—again—and find another job. Pound the pavement quickly, though. I can give you a couple weeks here to get on your feet, then my hands are tied." He leaned forward. "Sam, I'll always help you. But after this, if you're not in school, Grace House is closed to you. This foundation helps a lot of kids here, and I won't jeopardize that support because you can't commit. So decide right now."
A tear rolled down my cheek. Father John never gets charged up, but I deserved it. I should only be grateful to you both, and here I was questioning your help. But help is hard, Mr. Knightley—even when I desperately need it. Every foster placement of my childhood was intended to help me; every new social worker tried to help my case; when I was sent back home at twelve, the judge meant to help my life too ... I'm so tired of help.
"I'm sorry, Father John, you're right. I want this grant and I asked for it again. I must seem so ungrateful to you, to be questioning again."
"You don't, Sam, and I can understand wanting to stand alone. Even in the best of times and circumstances, it's hard to accept help—"
In the end, Father John believed my commitment. I hope you do too. Here is our agreement: you will pay for graduate school, and I will write you letters that give an honest accounting of my life and school—and you will never write back. That simple, right?
Thank you for that, Mr. Knightley—your anonymity. Honesty is easier when you have no face and no real name. And honesty, for me, is very easy on paper.
I also want to assure you that while I may not relate well to people in the real world, I shine in school. It's paper-based. I will do your grant justice, Mr. Knightley. I'll shine at Medill.
I know I've said more than was necessary in this letter, but I need you to know who I am. We need to have an honest beginning, even if it's less impressive than Lizzy Bennet's.
Dear Mr. Knightley,
Each and every moment things change. For the most part, I loathe it. Change never works in my favor—as evidenced by so many foster placements, a holdup at a Chicago White Hen, getting fired from Ernst & Young, and so many other changes in my life I'd like to forget. But I needed one more—a change of my own making—so I pursued your grant again.
But it's not of my own making, is it?
Father John told me this morning that he was the one who proposed journalism for me—it was not an original requirement for your grant. I wouldn't have chosen it myself. My professor at Roosevelt College said I produced some of the best work on Austen, Dickens, and the Brontes he'd ever read. I'm good at fiction, Mr. Knightley. And I don't think it's right that Father John took away my choice. I'm twenty-three years old; I should be the author of the changes in my life.
I went to Father John and explained all this. I feel he has arbitrarily forced me into journalism—a field I don't know and don't write. "You need to undo that," I pleaded. "They'll listen to you."
Father John closed his eyes. One might think he'd fallen asleep, but I knew better. He was praying. He does that—a lot.
Minutes passed. He opened his eyes and zeroed in on me. Sometimes I feel his eyes are tired, but not at that moment. They were piercing and direct. I knew his answer before he opened his mouth.
"Sam, I won't ... but you can. Write the foundation's director and ask." Father John stared into my eyes, measuring his words. "Don't lie. Don't tell them I've changed my mind. I have not. I am wholly against a change in program."
"How can you say that?" My own shrill voice surprised me.
"I've known you for eight years, Sam. I've watched you grow, I've watched you succeed, and I've watched you retreat. I want the best for you, and with every fiber of my being, I am convinced that 'the best' is not more fiction, but finding your way around in the real world and its people."
I opened my mouth to protest, but he held up his hand. "Consider carefully. If the foundation is unwilling to alter your grant, you may accept or you may walk away. You always have a choice."
"That's not fair."
Father John's eyes clouded. "My dear, what in your life has ever come close to fair? That's not how this life works." He leaned forward and stretched his hands out across the desk. "I'm sorry, Sam. If I could protect you from any more pain, I would. But I can only pray and do the very best God calls me to do. If I'm wrong about this, I hope that someday you will forgive me."
"'My temper would perhaps be called resentful.—My good opinion once lost is lost forever.'" When Elizabeth Bennet doesn't come through, one can always count on Mr. Darcy to provide the right response. I shook my head and, quoting no one, said, "I won't forgive you, Father John. I don't forgive." And I walked out.
I don't care if that was ungenerous, Mr. Knightley. He overstepped, and he's wrong. So now I'm asking you: Will you let me decide?
Sincerely, Samantha Moore
Dear Ms. Moore,
Please forgive me for violating our agreement already, but I felt your question warranted a personal reply.
I understand your anger. It is hard when others hold power over you. Rest assured, your situation is not unique. There is very little any of us chooses in isolation.
Through my foundation, Father John has helped five young adults from Grace House. One attended junior college; another, trade school; one graduated from cosmetology school; and two successfully completed residential treatment programs. Each individual has grown closer to whole.
Father John not only fulfilled all the grant requirements for your application, but wrote me an additional five pages outlining your writing abilities, your gifts, and your determination. His decision to recommend journalism school was not made lightly, as you well know. Remember that, and remember what he has meant in your life. Don't throw away friends and mentors carelessly. They are rare.
I trust Father John's prayerful counsel and judgment, and stand with his original recommendation. My foundation will only award the grant for Medill's master's program.
The choice to accept it or not is yours, Ms. Moore.
Dear Mr. Knightley,
I didn't withdraw my application. I made my choice and now I sit, waiting for Medill to accept or reject me.
In the meantime I've settled into my old ways and my old jobs: I resumed tutoring at Buckhorn Cottage (Grace House's cottage for 8- to 13-year-old boys) and I picked up a few shifts at the public library. I've been working at that library for a decade now, even before I moved to Grace House for the first time.
I was about fifteen when I first arrived at Grace House. Father John took me to his office and invited me to sit. No one had ever done that—invited me to do anything. He chatted for a few minutes, then handed me an Anne Perry novel.
"Detective Huber got your file for me, Sam, and it's full of references to Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, and other great classics. I think you must like to read. So until I get some of your favorites, would you like to read one of mine?"
The thick hardback had a picture of a Victorian house on the cover. I slowly turned the pages, hoping if I feigned interest in his book, he'd take me to wherever I'd be staying and leave me alone.
He didn't. "This is one of the first mysteries I ever read. Now I'm hooked. I've got about a hundred titles over there." Father John pointed to his bookcase and waited.
I looked up.
"Come to my office anytime you want a new one. I picked that for you because it takes place in England in the nineteenth century, about the same time as your favorites."
I put the book down, never breaking eye contact. A show of strength, I thought.
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Your choice. I'm sure I can get some classics this week. Or you can go to the public library; it's on the corner of State and Van Buren."
I wanted to say I knew exactly where the library was, but that would require speaking to him, so I simply slid the book into my lap. I wasn't going to admit, even to myself, that I liked the man—and still do. In spite of how angry I am with him at the moment, I know that Father John has always been on my side.
He welcomed me at fifteen and again at eighteen, after I tried to move out. And now at twenty-three, despite my heated words, he's opened Grace House's door once more. So while I'm here, I will listen to his lectures and I will try to do what he asks. I owe him that much.
I'll even try to play nice with Morgan, my new roommate in Independence Cottage ...
"She's had a rough time, Sam. She turned eighteen a couple days ago and her foster family ended the placement."
"She can go on her own. Isn't that a good thing?"
"Not without her GED . You know how important that is. She's testing next month, then joining the army." Father John stared right through me.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I'm asking you to be kind. Morgan's defense mechanisms are different from yours, and it may be rough going. Please don't make waves."
"I make waves?"
"Like the ocean, kiddo. Then you retreat before they hit the sand."
So I'm being kind, but Morgan isn't making it easy. We were cleaning the kitchen the other day and I told her about your grant. I was trying to be friendly. She was not.
"You're selling yourself for school? I can't believe you'd give it up for tuition. At least get some money or clothes from the deal."
"Morgan, shut up. You're disgusting. It isn't like that. I write letters to an address in New York and I get my tuition paid to graduate school."
"I bet a lot of girls start out that way." Morgan stopped washing her dishes and stared at me. She smiled slowly, almost cruelly. "Letters will be worse for you anyway. Good luck with that."
"What do you mean 'worse for me'? I can write a few letters, Morgan. That's what I do. I write."
"Honesty will kill you. You're a coward, and you'll lie. That makes the whole deal a lie." She put her plate down and walked away.
She's not right. I'm not a coward, and I will be honest in these letters. Simply because I don't blab my business to the world like Mrs. Bennet doesn't mean I'm a coward. I'm prudent when dealing with people. That's smart. Wouldn't you agree?
But Morgan brings up a good point—her only one so far. Have you read Jane Eyre? There's a part when Mr. Rochester meets Jane and asks if she expects a present. Adele, his ward, believes everyone should receive presents, daily. Jane isn't so sure. She replies, "They are generally thought pleasant things ... a present has many faces to it, has it not? And one should consider all before pronouncing an opinion as to its nature."
You've led me to believe your gift has one face, Mr. Knightley. I'll leave it at that.
P.S. Okay, I can't leave it ...
If you are truly a "Mr. Knightley," I can do this. I can write these letters. I trust you chose that name as a reflection of your own character. George Knightley is a good and honorable man—even better than Fitzwilliam Darcy, and few women put anyone above Mr. Darcy.
Yes, Darcy's got the tempestuous masculinity and brooding looks, but Knightley is a kinder, softer man with no pretense or dissimilation. Yes, he's a gentleman. And I can write with candor to a silent gentleman, and I can believe that he will not violate this trust.
Excerpted from Dear Mr. Knightley by KATHERINE REAY. Copyright © 2013 Katherine Reay. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Where do I start with this book? It was beautiful. I loved every page and I only wish there was more of it. This is the kind of book that I love reading. It is a book of self discovery, friendship, and true love. I loved the characters. All of them. Sam is an intriguing heroine that you can't help but adore. This was an emotional read for me. I know it won't be for everyone. I just have a huge soft spot for foster kids and their unique trials. I did a lot of (not so) subtle eye swiping while reading. This is a beautiful debut. If you are looking for a fresh new voice in literature, one that will make you laugh, cry, and leave you with a smile on your face, then give Dear Mr. Knightley a try. Content: clean
I am a big Jane Austen fan so when I saw the title of this book I immediately snatched it up. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and realized this was not a Jane Austen knock-off. Was I disappointed? Not in the least! In fact I think I have just added a book to my top ten list for the year. This is Katherine Reay's debut novel but it does not read like one. The depth of emotion that this story evokes is overwhelming at times. Through the character of Samantha Moore we are taken into the world of the foster care system. Some of it good and nurturing but a lot of it broken and damaging. A simple classification of this tale would be to characterize it as a love story. As with most love stories it is complex. It involves the love of a man for a woman but it also involves adults that love a child even when that child is an adult herself. If you enjoy deeply emotional and beautifully written literature I can almost guarantee that you will love this piece of work. Let me leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes from the book: "The day we forget the horror, Sam, we will repeat it. Never forget your past. It will make you less human, less than human." "I've heard all sorts of things about a kiss (melting, fireworks, music), but no one ever told me it's a conversation: asking, accepting, deciding, inviting, giving . . . questions posed and answered.I received a copy of this book to facilitate my review.
This is a good book, although at times the narrative gets kind of stodgy and too convoluted. It is a pretty close copy of the book Daddy Long Legs. I knew that about halfway through the book. Not an original story, but I enjoyed it.
I LOVED this book. This is a modern version of Daddy Long Legs, but it was different and modern enough to enjoy even if you've read the other. It was full of lovely quotes from many books, and the writing was eloquent and beautiful. If you love Jane Austen, you'll love this book, but even if you haven't read much Austen, you will probably enjoy it too.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Touching, warm, a light summer refreshment.
This book was by far one of the best books i have read. The depth and the detail and the beautifully woven story line all come together to create this wonderful book. Many books are good some books are great an then there are books that really make you think, books that draw you completly inside of them til you are lost in its magical tale. I finished this book in one night, the plot is fantablous and there are some great thought or ideas that you can take away from this writing. As in most books there might be that one part that drags or gets a bit boring based on your preference of writing style, but i promise that if you read this book cover to cover you will be so happh you did ;)... I have nothing bad to say :)!!!!!
I absolutely adored this book. After finishing, I probably reread the ending about ten different times within the same day. It is just so incredible! I would definitely recommend this book, it has become a new favorite of mine.
Wonderful read; couldn't put it down til the last page
This is a modern day story of a girl in foster care who retreated into books to help her cope. The book is a series of letters written to an unknown person named Mr. Knightley as a condition of receiving funds to go to college. The growth of the main character is a joy to watch.
This was a page turner for me but in an unusual way. I felt strangely drawn to Sam even though she was young and came across as flighty. Except she wasn’t flighty, she was wounded by life and had immersed herself in literature to escape the pain. Full review is at my website.
Very beautifully done.
The story room me by surprise. Complete surprise. In a very good way! I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved watching the characters develop into the people who they were either intended to become or whom they doomed themselves to being.
This book is a refreshing change of pace, I love the epistolary format! Dear Mr. Knightley has a rich and complex cast of diverse characters. Sam Moore's frank honesty and guarded emotions make me want to give her a big hug and maybe shake her a little bit. I have a huge soft spot for the socially awkward (or perhaps kinship is the more appropriate word). Sam matured and gained confidence as the story progressed. I found myself urging her forward as she began to form authentic relationships and find her own voice.
“If you don’t sail high, with the risk of crashing and burning, do you really live? Can you love? I doubt it. I’m ready to fly.” -Samantha Moore My husband’s family has an annual tradition of camping the entire week of Thanksgiving. So, nine days in the middle of nowhere, campfire, and absolutely zero technology = the perfect setting for indulging in my favorite genre . . . the classics with a twist. Perpetual foster kid, Samantha Moore, has led a rough and tumultuous life with no real direction. Grace House and Father John have been her only tie to anything remotely resembling family, but Samantha is determined to make it on her own–she stubbornly rejects any and all help offered to her. Fatefully, she is offered a scholarship to attend Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, one of her requirements is to write to the anonymous benefactor who is funding her scholarship, his pseudonym being George Knightley. Throughout her successes and failures, she struggles to let her protective wall down and let people in. Mr. Knightley proves to be an unlikely source where she can voice and vent all her fears, hopes, and anxieties; he is her starting point to reveal who she really is, but who is this mysterious Mr. Knightley? I know I’ve bragged on Katherine Reay before, in my review of The Bronte Plot, but y’all (pardon my colloquialism), she’s the real deal and if you adore British literature, she’s your ticket to modern literature. Dear Mr. Knightley was her debut novel that set her writing career afire and our thirst for the classics has been quenched (for the time being) through Reay’s work. Here’s a plus: not only does Reay have a love for the classics, she’s well-versed in them–the lady knows her material. When she makes references to Charlotte, comparisons between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, you feel like you’ve been inducted into a secret club, you get it and it’s the most wonderful feeling. “I got a girl crush . . . ” on Katherine Reay. Recently Gilt & Buckram interviewed Katherine Reay which can be read here. I’m going to give you a dangling carrot: My next review will be Lizzy & Jane…eek! **** 4 Stars Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay 336 Pages Published 2013 by Thomas Nelson Genre: Fiction, Modern Literature, Romance, Women’s Fiction ISBN-13: 978-1401689681 *Disclaimer: This paperback was received by the author in exchange for an honest review. Gilt & Buckram . . . the framework that holds adventure.
Loved that this novel was written in letter format. And absolutely loved the small glimpse into the foster system. The stories of new families were my absolute favorite.
I always pick up one of these kinds of books with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. I knew by the time I finished the 4th letter that I loved this book -- no matter what the twists and turns of the plot would be. This is not a retelling of an Austen story or borrowing Austen characters; it is not a prequel or a sequel. It is inspired by Austen and a love of reading. It is a completely Austen story of a heroine who is on a voyage of self-discovery and grows in discernment in a close circle of family and friends. Sam's story is told entirely through the series of letters she writes to her benefactor -- Mr George Knightley.
A beautiful story filled with love, compassion, hurt, struggle, choices and our ability to keep going, to make it. To help others when we are able and to learn and receive help when we need it. In spite of pride or fear. This story is really a great read...
I am a huge fan of the romance classics and this book did not disappoint! I couldn't put it down and will read it again and again. Looking forward to the next novel by this amazing author! I have already preordered. I love this novel !!!
Great characters hard to put down
Much as i enjoy Austen, I'm pretty tired of spinoffs. But when I saw this was a retelling of the lovely and lesser-known Daddy Long Legs, I tried the sample. Unfortunately, I couldn't even get through that. Sam lacks the spunk and joie de vivre of the irrepressible Judy. By contrast, Sam is depressing and flat and hard to care about. Try the sample before you buy!