Review:: The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here as The Restaurant Critic’s Wife.
In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back. (via Goodreads)


I received a galley of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan from Netgalley and the publisher, Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is a thoroughly enjoyable contemporary fiction novel. It is Elizabeth LaBan’s first foray into writing for adults, and her third novel. She also wrote the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper and The Grandparents Handbook.

Lila was a full-time crisis manager for a hotel chain who was more interested in her career and travel than marriage or kids until she met Sam Soto. She was great at her job, and she loved it, but she loved Sam, too. When Sam moves their family to Philadelphia to be a full time restaurant critic for the newspaper, he becomes obsessed with keeping his identity secret – to the point of asking Lila not to become friends with anyone without asking if they had any ties to the restaurant industry, and wearing disguises when he goes out to new restaurants to avoid having anyone know who he is.

Between quitting her job to take care of their two kids, dealing with her husband’s paranoia, and being in a new city, Lila becomes increasingly unhappier in her life in Philadelphia. Her unhappiness brings a rift in their marriage to life that even she isn’t sure they’ll be able to work through.

I loved Lila as a person. I think that in real life, I would get along with Lila very well. As a character, she was well developed and original in her thoughts. It was a pleasure to get inside her head in this novel. Her dilemma of redefining herself is one that so many stay-at-home parents find themselves in, and I hope that Lila resonates with those who have stay-at-home partners, so that they can understand.

However, I really disliked Sam. He felt barely developed to me, with his paranoia and love of food being the only traits that saw the light of day.I thought Sam’s “mac and cheese test” for restaurants was brilliant, especially since many restaurants don’t offer an easy option for picky kids. Coming up with this shows that he’s clever, and that he’s an awesome writer, but I thought that he needed a little more humanization.

Elizabeth LaBan drew on her own experience’s as a restaurant critic’s wife and a mother of two while writing The Restaurant Critic’s Wife. She says on her website that her husband, Craig, was totally supportive of her writing a novel about someone like him, though, “For the record, Craig is not obsessive or controlling like Sam—and Craig did not tell me to say that.”

This novel was a quick read, and an enjoyable one. Lila’s voice was funny and honest, and I really liked this novel. I rated it four stars, because I think that a little more editing and a little more development for Sam would have made this an absolutely great novel.

four stars and one empty one meant to signify a four star review

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is due to be published on January 5, 2016, so look for this one in your local bookstores when it comes out! I’d recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys a good female protagonist with a hefty dose of children, marriage and identity crises.

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