I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
Published by Graydon House on September 19 2017
Genres: Adult, Thriller
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The nitty-gritty: A compulsively readable tale about the hidden lives of one married couple.
Best Day Ever was just what I needed. I’ve been surviving on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy for the last six years, so it was a nice change of pace to read a contemporary thriller for a change. Kaira Rouda’s latest is a carefully constructed, slow-burning tale of suspense that had me turning pages as fast as I could. The story takes place over a twenty-four-hour period, chronicling a husband and wife as they embark on a weekend getaway to celebrate what Paul refers to as the “best day ever.” What makes this story different and interesting is that the entire tale is told from one point of view—Paul Strom, the husband. To call Paul an unreliable narrator is an understatement, and I thought it was a great choice for the author to make. I did run into a couple of stumbling blocks with this story, however, but I’ll get to those a little later.
Paul and Mia are your typical upper class married couple. Paul has a high-powered advertising job, and Mia is a content stay-at-home mom who cares for the couple’s two beautiful boys and takes care of the house. Mia comes from money, and her parents are doting grandparents who have not only established large trust funds for the boys, but generously gift the couple money every Christmas. From the outside, at least, they seem like the perfect family. The real story is something quite different, however. Paul has just lost his job, and he’s in debt up to his eyeballs, although he thinks he’s done a great job hiding this information from Mia.
Paul has a special weekend planned at their second home, a lovely lake front cottage several hours away, and when the story begins, the couple have left their kids with a babysitter and are on their way. But right off the bat, Paul notices a tension in the air. There is something different about Mia, but he can’t put his finger on it. As they get closer to the lake house, the reader begins to suspect that not only is Mia hiding something, but Paul’s behavior is suspicious as well. As the day wears on, the thin veneer of happiness between Paul and Mia begins to crack, as little by little Paul drops hints to the reader about his life with Mia, the mysterious death of his parents, and increasingly upsetting revelations about what Paul might have planned for his “special day” with his wife.
Rouda does a great job of building tension. This is not a fast-paced thriller in the sense that the tension comes from action. Rather, with Paul narrating the story, we get a peek inside the mind of a very worrisome character as he gives us a blow-by-blow accounting of the drive up to the lake house, and the events that take place once they arrive. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll try to be vague, but Paul has all the classic markers of a psychopath. He’s extremely confident and believes absolutely that Mia belongs at home with the children. One source of tension between them comes from Mia’s announcement that she’s starting a part-time job when they get back. Even worse, she’s going to work for the man who Paul replaced at his advertising firm, and as you can imagine, Paul does not react well to this unpleasant news.
As far as characters go, Paul is one of the most annoying, controlling sleaze-buckets I’ve ever read. He believes the sole purpose of women is to do his bidding, and when they’ve lost their usefulness to him, he discards them like trash. Not only is he cheating on Mia (and has been, over and over, their entire marriage), but he doesn’t feel bad about it. If Paul had at least felt some sense of remorse over some of the things in his past, he would have been a more complex character—still not likable, but at least someone with more depth. But by the end of the story, when his actions are finally coming around to bite him in the ass, he doesn’t even have the decency to feel any remorse at all. He was too much of a cardboard caricature for my tastes, although he certainly entertained me!
Because we never get anything from Mia’s point of view, we can only observe her from Paul’s perspective. But I was rooting for her from the beginning and was immensely happy to discover she’s not actually a doormat. Mia befriends their neighbor at the lake, a man named Buck, and Paul does everything in his power to keep the two apart. Luckily, Mia is much smarter than Paul thinks she is, and half the fun of reading this book was trying to figure out how Mia was going to turn the weekend away to her advantage.
But as readable as Best Day Ever was, and I’ll admit I read it very quickly, I kept waiting for something big to happen, and it just never did. Even though there are several shocking moments at the end, I was expecting something more along the lines of Gone Girl, and it was a letdown when the final confrontation between Paul and Mia simply fizzled out. The big twist at the end wasn’t as exciting as it could have been, and I fear that with so many great books out there with mind-blowing twists, this one is going to be a disappointment for many readers.
But those issues aside, I had a great deal of fun reading this book. It’s made me realize that taking a break from my usual genre is a good thing, and something I’ll be doing much more of in the future.
Big thanks to the publisher and Wunderkind PR for supplying a review copy.