Best Day Ever: Kaira Rouda
Pages: 334 (probably more like 290 given it starts on 11 and has page breaks)
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Slytherin
Paul and Mia are heading to their idyllic lake house to spend their “best day ever” together. To Paul, this house represents everything he has in life: a wife, two boys, an impressive job, and a great life that everyone envies. In fact, Paul has big plans up his sleeve for this weekend, ones that could change the course of his life–and Mia’s– forever. But it doesn’t help that the neighbors keep getting in the way, and it’s not long before they find themselves asking: how much can they trust the other, really?
I usually don’t consult Goodreads before writing a review, but this time I accidentally saw someone I follow talk about it. They gave it one star, noting that nothing happens until halfway through. I’ve docked many points for these types of things, particularly in a recent novella I read where nothing happened until the last ten pages. But this book is right up my alley so I picked it up anyway.
The premise is that these two happy-looking, wealthy people are heading away to their lake house for a relaxing weekend but there are secrets. And cheating. Sound familiar? Sure. But this time, it is a little different. I can’t say too much without giving things away, but the twists are different than you might expect despite falling into trope territory early.
So does nothing happen throughout the first half? Kind of. Maybe. But a lot of the information provided here is important to the story, and as Paul’s narration keeps going you see him first as somewhat of a regular guy (I did imagine him to be an extreme right-winger), and then someone more sinister. Is he lying to himself? His wife? There is definitely suspense that keeps you wondering what is going to happen, so I wouldn’t say that nothing happens for the first 50% of the book at all. I liked the conversational tone, too. Paul has a lot to say about his hometown and his life and it’s like you’re talking to a friend…though I wouldn’t really call Paul that, even at the beginning. Readers are supposed to go in thinking that Paul isn’t necessarily the bad guy I think, but that was never my impression. From the beginning I didn’t find him especially likable. He is a massive hypocrite. He loves his money. Clearly something is wrong here and I think that many readers will eventually realize what exactly it is.
I didn’t care for Mia, either. But as time went on, some of the reasoning for her is explained and as Paul reveals more information to us over time, which also helps to keep the narrative flowing. You don’t know what’s coming next, but it’s not like the tidbits he drops are so random that the book doesn’t make sense. They make sense and paint a picture of the guy Paul actually is. I actually found myself falling for some of his judgments (for example, he talks about Mia’s father like he is the bad guy and I thought the same for a while). Besides, I always liked the idea of a story that takes place within a day, so the “flashbacks” and Paul’s choices of conversation didn’t detract from the storyline. It fleshed it out a bit.
The unreliable character aspect actually goes both ways. Paul is for obvious reasons, but then there is Mia. We know that Paul isn’t telling us everything, but neither is Mia really. So who do we choose to believe?
Now some readers might be expecting a big confrontation between Paul and Mia, but this is where the book gets clever. Instead of lots of arguing and violence and who knows what as a climactic response (though there is some), Paul essentially gets tricked. It’s a different, more psychological twist than what we’re used to seeing and I thought it was very interesting. Most of the plot twists are details unveiled by Paul as the story goes on, rather than shocks that unfurl halfway through or near the end. I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming, but that’s when I knew that Mia was a different character than I thought. I did find Paul’s motivations to be a bit jumbled near the end when he goes back to town and does all his activities, and even in his ultimate plan. I’m pretty sure I know the motive for his plan with Mia, but I’m also not 100% sure. I also would have liked to have had his past (with his pets, parents and brother) explained a bit more; there are hints as to what Paul did but explanations are never given. The book itself wraps up in an almost-satisfying way. I don’t mean that as a bad thing; I mean that not everyone in life gets the justice that they were expecting and the same is true in Best Day Ever. So I have to give Rouda props.
Best Day Ever is definitely a solid addition to the genre. It’s not always fast paced, but the suspense is there throughout the whole novel. If you’re looking for something in this genre that’s just a little different than you might expect, give it a try. Fans of Behind Closed Doors will like this, too.