Book Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Graydon House (September 19, 2017)
Length: 384 pages
Best Day Ever is a novel of domestic suspense, so like many of its peers in the genre it’s going to be hard to review without giving away any key details, but I will ensure to keep this spoiler-free. The story is a look into the lives of a seemingly perfect couple: Paul Strom is a successful advertising account executive in his mid-thirties, and Mia is his beautiful younger wife who comes from a prominent and wealthy New York City family. Married for ten years, the two of them have two healthy and happy boys that they are raising in a big house in the best neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio—and recently, they’ve even purchased a cottage in the affluent and historic Lakeside district nestled along the shores of Lake Erie.
To anyone looking in from the outside, the Stroms have the best life, and they’re also about to have themselves the best day ever. To ease his wife’s stress, Paul has planned the perfect romantic weekend away at their lake cottage, just the two of them without the kids. Hitting the road bright and early, the two of them are determined to make the most of their weekend, but tensions start to rise almost immediately as they start discussing recent issues in their marriage. The perfect couple might not be so perfect after all, as dark secrets about their life begin to come to the surface.
Compared to my other reads in this genre, Best Day Ever does not have as strong of a “thriller-suspense” vibe to it, but the pacing was smooth and the book was a page-turner nonetheless. The story is told in the first person, from Paul’s point-of-view, and he is one of the finest examples of an unreliable narrator that I have ever read. You get a sense of “wrongness” about his character from the very first page, but it will take several more to finally be able to put a finger on what that might be. He’s a real piece of work, let’s just leave it at that, but lest you start to feel bad for Mia at this early point, it’s important to note too that she’s not the most sympathetic character either. From the start, she comes across as very standoffish and passive aggressive, not to mention high maintenance and uncompromising.
But again, this is the kind of novel where you can’t take anything at face value. Spending just a few hours with the Stroms on their drive to Lakeside is already enough to clue you in that there something is seriously rotten at the heart of this picture perfect marriage. But what could it be? Not surprisingly, finding out is much of the fun, as the author doles out clues in the most cryptic fashion—always in small doses, and always veiled beneath a layer of uncertainty, making the situation more and more provocative. By the time the drive is over, you might be feeling ready to throttle both Paul and Mia because they are just such infuriating people, but this is all part of Kaira Rouda’s plan to lure you into the couple’s web of intrigue and deception.
As such, the plot is admittedly a slow-burner, but this was acceptable to me, considering the immensity of such an undertaking. Like I said, there aren’t too many scenes in this book I would describe as all-out “thriller”, but there’s definitely an atmosphere of foreboding and distress that keeps the reader on edge. Once you reach the final chapters and everything is revealed, all will make sense and all the time invested will be worth it. There wasn’t a “twist” ending per se, not if you have been following along and have been paying attention, but it was a satisfying conclusion and I was happy with the way things turned out.
It just goes to show, what you see on the surface is never how things really are; people always misrepresent themselves to a certain degree when projecting an image of their identity to the world, even if it’s an innocent little modification of the truth. If nothing else, this novel is a stark reminder that you can find examples of this kind of truth-bending happening around us every day, from dating sites to job interviews. Though the degree of misrepresentation might not be as extreme as what we see in the book, nor do we often see them lead to such dramatic consequences, the story manages to get its point across loud and clear.
All told, Best Day Ever does a phenomenal job shining a light on the dark side of a seemingly happy, blessed, and perfect marriage, making you wonder what the couple could be hiding behind closed doors and how far someone might be willing to go to keep their secret lives buried. Paul Strom is a disturbing individual, but there’s also no denying he was a fascinating protagonist to follow. By telling this tale through the eyes of such an unreliable narrator, the author kept her novel so tantalizingly sinister and engrossing that I just couldn’t put it down. The name Kaira Rouda is now firmly on my radar, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for her future projects.