Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley/A February Bride

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DearMrKnightleyDear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

I read many books that I enjoy, but rarely do I find one that I love, that absorbs me so completely that I forgo all other responsibilities to finish it. Dear Mr. Knightley is not only charming, witty, and compulsively readable, but loaded with so much heart that it’s impossible not to get drawn into the narrative.

The story takes a set-up straight from a Regency novel: a mysterious benefactor calling himself Mr. Knightley offers a young woman a college scholarship in return for writing letters to assure him that his funding has been used for a good cause. The jaded and wounded Samantha Moore is just as skeptical as you would expect when faced with the deal. Over time, however, she is won by Mr. Knightley’s kindness, and her letters change from decidedly ungrateful and suspicious tone to trusting and confessional . As Sam witnesses true conditional love, she begins to soften towards those around her and realizes that her past does not have to define her.

Reay’s writing is smooth and accomplished, and the epistolary format creates an intimacy with the protagonist that is unusual in novels of this type. The development of the main character from a selfish, wounded girl who can’t drop her defenses long enough to be real with anyone around her to a mature woman who is able to give and receive love, is handled with the deftness of a much more experienced novelist. The secondary characters—Sam’s socialite friend who longs for acceptance as much as Sam, and fellow foster child, Kyle—are equally well-drawn. I’m not typically an emotional reader, but I found myself blinking away tears in a number of places.

The story works brilliantly as an allegory: I was sure we were meant to see Mr. Knightley’s patronage as a picture of God’s grace towards us, undeserved and often unwelcomed. Perhaps that’s why I found myself disappointed by the ending (no spoilers… you’ll just have to read and decide for yourself).

It’s been a long time since anything has held my attention that thoroughly, and I think there will be many more readers who love the wrap-up than dislike it. Dear Mr. Knightley is more than worth a try, and Katherine Reay is undeniably a novelist to watch. I’m looking forward to great things from her in the future!

About the Book

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. 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.

*Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing a free review copy via NetGalley.

A February Bride, by Betsy St. Amant AFebruaryBride

Betsy St. Amant is another “new to me” author, but after reading A February Bride, I will definitely take notice from here on. St. Amant has done something that I would have thought was near-impossible up until this point: write a fully developed, fully satisfying romance loaded with emotion in novella format. She wisely spends most of her page space developing the lies that the main character, Allie, believes about her worthiness (or lack thereof) to marry the man she loved… the lies that caused her to leave him at the altar in the first chapter. We also get a picture of how perfect they are for one another, so by the time we get to the HEA in the last chapter, we’re fully invested in their happiness. Smooth writing and a brisk pace makes this an easy choice if you’re looking for a sweet Valentine’s Day read. Highly recommended.

Preorder now! (Release date: January 28, 2014)

*Thank you to Zondervan for providing a free review copy via NetGalley.

About the Book

Allie left the love of her life at the altar—to save him from a lifetime of heartbreak. When a Valentine’s Day wedding brings them back together, she struggles against her family’s destructive history. Can Allie ever realize that a marriage is so much more than a wedding dress?

History repeats itself when Allie Andrews escapes the church on her wedding day—in the same dress passed down for generations and worn by all the women in her family—women with a long history of failed marriages. Allie loves Marcus but fears she’s destined to repeat her family’s mistakes. She can’t bear to hurt Marcus worse.

Marcus Hall never stopped loving Allie and can only think of one reason she left him at the altar—him. When the two are thrown together for his sister’s Valentine’s Day wedding, he discovers the truth and realizes their story might be far from over. Can Allie shuck expectation and discover who she is as a bride and in the Bride of Christ? And if she ever walks down the aisle, what dress will she wear?

*Thank you to Zondervan for providing a free review copy via NetGalley.

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