In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead (2021) Review

Amici mendacium, et homicidium

Why I picked up the book:

Jessica, Jack, Heather, Caro, Mint, and Frankie were as close as possible during their four years at university. That bond was fractured when Heather was brutally murdered during their senior year, and her boyfriend, Jack, though never convicted, was the police’s main suspect. 

Ten years later, with the murder still unsolved, the rest of the group reunites at the place where it all happened. Jessica is counting the days to be the center of attention at the 10-year reunion of Duquette University’s class of 2009. Jessica’s carefully planned appearance might be put in the backburner when it becomes evident that someone else has plans of their own – to reveal everyone’s dark secrets all and finally solve Heather’s murder.

The book through my criteria lens:

Holy ambiance! I loved how the tension crept up on you and then never left; every time a chapter ended, I just needed to keep going! Even though we have one main narrator, Jessica, Winstead used different POVs organically to better the plot. Her character work is what excited me the most, I must say. We have eight main characters, and each of them had their unique voice, distinguishable personalities, a great arc, not to mention clear motivation and consistent actions. Very early in the book, I felt like I knew them and could feel what it would be like to hang out with them. 

I thought the plot was tight, well-paced, delivered to near perfection! If anything, I wish that one particular relationship had never happened because I desperately wanted one of those character’s arcs to end differently, but that is just me being invested in them. I do feel that they deserved more, though. Had that person been given a better arc, this would have been a 5 star read for me.

My personal feelings:

I don’t know if it was me or intentional, but I noticed quite a feel knife, puncture, and stab-related expressions and words in the early chapters, but somehow they fizzled out. I was enjoying them so much! I was playing a game with myself trying to spot them. But oh, well. This is neither here nor there…

Another random thing that contributed to my enjoyment of the book was that there was a content warning for physical and sexual violence! I appreciate seeing this, these are significant triggers for many people, and it allows them to make an informed decision going into the book or prepare themselves for it! I know it can be considered a spoiler most times, but the care for the readers’ wellbeing was deeply appreciated by yours truly.

Ashley Winstead managed to deliver what I love the most about two of my favourite authors. She wrote horrible people perfectly, like Lucy Foley, and evoked the most deliciously dark side of academia like Donna Tartt!

I feel that a lot of the book was true to real life, though my group of friends was way more likable than this one; I could relate to that experience of finding friends in an academic setting and walking around like the world belongs to you, because at that age you believe it does! The difference is that we were nice to other people. But being this close to others so different from you is an actual rite of passage into adulthood. 

As a non-American, I also appreciated learning about a different college experience, though I was confused at parts. Still, Winstead did an excellent job of situating the reader into specific traditions without overexplaining. I do wish I had understood better the difference between a sorority/frat house and student residency, though. I thought once you’re in a sorority, that is where you sleep!

Even though half her characters were nauseatingly unlikeable, including her main character, and the other half had evident character flaws, Winstead made me care for each of them (except for Courtney, that is)! I spent the whole book either hoping someone was the killer or wishing they weren’t! I was deeply invested in Jessica’s wellbeing, and that says a lot because she had some pretty mean and nasty moments! I can’t even explain why. I think it’s because Winstead didn’t try to hide her flaws or make apologies for them, but at the same time providing us with context. Jessica’s anger, obsession and blind, albeit occasional, cruelty clearly comes from a place of hurt and sadness.

Winstead’s prose is wonderful. I cannot believe this was her first novel, the care with which she treated each character’s arc, the way she nailed both the dark side of academia but also that wonderful feeling of knowing these are some of the best years of the rest of your life, the way she ended each chapter with a hook that made it impossible for you to put the book down and the tightness of the plot are superb. 

I cannot wait for her next novel!

Enjoyability     9

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.83

This book is mentioned in this video: https://youtu.be/3Q2kNdkr-hQ

This book is mentioned in this video: https://youtu.be/aCVzsNukUXM

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to HarperCollins Canada, Ashley Winstead, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of In My Dreams I Hold a Knife.

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

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