Review: “Best Day Ever” by Kiara Rouda

Best Day Ever

Kaira Rouda

September 19, 2017 | Graydon House

Literary thriller | Psychological thriller

 


 

Paul Strom has the perfect life. Wonderful career, perfect wife, two beautiful, healthy boys, a big house, the perfect suburb. And he’s perfect: successful, handsome, powerful.

Or so it seems.

He’s planned the perfect weekend away, just him and his wife spending the weekend opening their lake house. He has it all planned, after all, she deserves it.

But, even before they pull out of the driveway, things are going wrong. Just little things. But, as they drive, the perfect facade starts to slip, and doubts creep in. How much do they really know about each other? How perfect is their marriage?


Love puts us in the most precarious of situations, doesn’t it?!

At its best, love should leave us vulnerable and unguarded, because we’re opening up our hearts and souls, trusting someone with our love.

It goes the other way as well. With love, hopefully the other person is just as emotionally exposed. You just never know, though, because it’s all a game of trust.

This why stories of abusive relationships hit so hard. Whether it’s emotional, verbal, or physical – the abuse happens because someone let down their guard, trusting another person with all those sensitive, intimate thoughts and feelings. And the abuser takes that opening and attack.

These deep, dark thoughts formed while I was reading Kaira Rouda’s suspenseful Best Day Ever.

The first surprise in the book was the locale. The Stroms live in the mythical Columbus suburb of Grandville, which could be any number of towns surrounding the Ohio capitol. Personally, because of the name, I pictured Granville, the home of Denison University, but I don’t think that was necessarily the Stroms’ hometown. Rouda was intentionally vague on this (only saying it was a desirable neighborhood).

And they’re driving to Lakeside, a real town on Lake Erie. I have not been there, but I have many friends who have vacationed there, and the town is exactly as they describe.

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Lakeside, Ohio

Because of the familiarity and the beauty of Lakeside, the book hit an even creepier note.

From its very first note, Best Day Ever is creepy. There is something ‘off’ with Paul Strom and his relationship with Mia, his wife.

In minute detail, Rouda uses Paul to tell readers all about Paul and Mia’s marriage. We’re given history and detail of their relationship as well as their relationships with others in their life. And, as Paul’s mind wanders more and more, readers get know the real Paul.

Paul is that uber-creepy dude you hoped to God you never dated (let alone married). But I don’t want to give too much away. Seriously, though, if you don’t figure out Paul Strom is twisted in the first five pages, you need to go live in a cave and NEVER DATE AGAIN. Your radar is way off!

Best Day Ever is a serious page turner. Although Rouda uses Paul to recount everything with infinitesimal precision, readers are still drawn in. The blow-by-blow analysis is part of Paul’s very disturbing personality.

Paul is one of the best, most obvious unreliable narrators I’ve read in awhile. Rouda uses him well. From early on, we know he’s unreliable, and it’s okay. About halfway through, readers understand what’s going on, as the slow burn of his crazy starts to show. But, because Rouda does such a great job with Paul, I for one could not stop turning the pages.

My biggest problem was with Mia. She fell for him when she was young and impressionable, but she was also smart and from a family that seems like they taught her right from wrong. Or maybe that was the problem? She was always overprotected, making this seemingly urbane older man look like the next logical step in her life. I don’t know — as the mother of daughters, I hope they’re smart enough not to fall for that.

I had one other problem with Mia, which I think was done by design, but it bothered me. It’s at the end, and, when you finish this book, please ask me about it! I can’t discuss it too much, because it’ll give it away.

If your looking for a page-turner, Best Day Ever fits the bill. Perfect for a weekend away or a day stuck inside. You may look sideways at your partner for a few minutes, but you’ll get over it. I hope.

***Thank you to Graydon House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

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Post-apocalyptic fiction + Review: “The Salt Line” by Holly Goddard Jones

When readers come to me, asking for book suggestions, I ask them about books they’ve recently read and enjoyed, and books they’ve liked in the past.

They list some books for me, and sometimes they list The Hunger Games or something similar (there are a lot that are similar).

“But please no dystopian stuff,” they tell me. “I’m over it.”

STOP that people. JUST STOP! There are other types of ‘dystopian’ fiction!!

A couple of years ago, dystopian YA books were all the rage. Beautiful, strong heroes and heroines fighting incredibly flawed totalitarian systems in order to free the masses from oppression.

And, although the oppression was different, there was a formula at work. There’s nothing wrong with it, nothing at all, but after it worked a couple of times, it seemed like it was EVERYWHERE.

Because of their similarities, dystopian fiction took over one of my favorite literary genres (or is it a device? A sub genre?).  I’m talking about post-apocalyptic fiction. A less totalitarian, more literary version of its younger cousin.

I fell in love with post-apocalyptic fiction the first time I read Stephen King’s The Stand, in my teens. If there had been dystopian fiction back in those golden olden days, I would have devoured it. But there wasn’t, not in the way we think of it today.

After reading The Stand, I searched out various takes on the end of the world as we know it (well, pretty much the end of America as we know it), with most of my favorites taking place less than 100 years after the fall.

In the past few years I’ve read some wonderful takes on the end of our reality. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, California by Edan Lepucki, American War by Omar El Akkad all are wonderful, imaginative takes on what happens after the end.

At some point I’ll do a list of my favorite post-apocalyptic fiction, but these three are all relatively new and incredibly well written, doing what great post-apocalyptic fiction does best — studying the complexities of humanity and relationships in times of extreme stress, providing an in-depth looks at what people will do to survive.

I just finished one that give readers all the best of post-apocalyptic fiction. Here’s my take on The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones.


 

 The Salt Line

 Holly Goddard Jones

September 5, 2017 | G.P. Putnum’s Sons

Literary fiction | Post-apocalyptic fiction | Science fiction

In a vague point in the future, the United States has been redistricted into zones bordered by salt-scorched earth. Those within the zones are safe, but their lives are limited and ruled by fear.

What’s outside of the zones, behind those protective salt lines? Most of the world — but it’s crawling with ticks. A disease-ridden, deadly species known as miner ticks.

It’s the pregnant female tick that cause the majority of the trouble. With a that bite numbs the skin, she gives herself time to burrows in before she’s really noticed. After she nests, she releases her eggs under the skin, which can spread quickly. If not stopped, the eggs eventually erupt out of the skin –a birth that’s incredibly painful and possibly deadly to the host.

But it’s the blood-borne diseases that cause the real problem. Specifically Shreve’s disease; a fast, deadly disease that causes pain and paralysis before it kills.

If you live in a zone, you’re safe. Few travel outside of their zone, and it’s a huge deal to travel between zones. There are lumber companies and other industries located out-of-zone, and workers are paid handsomely to work and live outside the salt line.

And, because safe is boring, there are adventure companies taking rich adrenaline junkies on out of zone tours. Jones’s novel focuses on the members and their ‘adventures’ during such one such expedition.

This group includes Jesse, an egotistical pop star; his working class girlfriend, Edie; the tech wunderkind Wes; and Marta, a housewife and mother harboring a secret.

Once this group is beyond the wall, they get so much more than they bargained for. Kidnapped by a community that lives and thrives out-of-zone, the expedition group realizes there’s another world outside the salt line, one with tenuous connections to the zones that allow them to thrive.

When those connections are threatened, the outer zone survivors will do just about anything to protect their community. The kidnapping seems like their answer.

Seeing this community thrive where no one is supposed to be able to live causes Edie, Wes, and Marta to question their worldviews, wondering at what point the promise of safety turns into control. At some point, each must decide how important it really is to be on the ‘right’ side of the salt line.

The Salt Line is a searing look at what humans will do to survive, and what they’ll do for the people they love. Jones writes superbly about the best and the worst in humans: self-sacrifice, compassion, and cooperation tempered with greed, insecurity, and pettiness.

I had a hard time putting down The Salt Line. The protagonists were likable and complex; the antagonists hard to judge and to label as bad guys. Sometimes the lines between the two was blurred and confused, making it that much more engrossing.

I highly recommend The Salt Line.  Absorbing, captivating, and compelling.