The Restaurant Critic's Wife
By: Elizabeth LaBan
Publisher: Lake Union
Publication Date: 1/5/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars
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.
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.
A special thank you to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
What a fabulous front cover design. Depicting the upscale white tablecloth dining experience, with the child’s eating utensil. A balance of two worlds into one, similar to the overall novel's theme. Elizabeth LaBan delivers a witty and modern contemporary look at today’s domestic dual working career couples; parenting, their choice of friends, identity, and how sometimes careers can jeopardize our social, professional, and family life—life can be major collision course. The bad with the good- the balancing act. A RESTAURANT CRITIC’S WIFE is filled with delicious guilt-free literary humor, while exploring the struggles of motherhood, relationships, marriage, and some juicy restaurant reviews; culinary delights—catering to today’s most discriminating taste palettes, epicureans, and foodies.
LaBan is the author-wife of real, Inquirerrestaurant critic Craig LaBan, and her tale follows a young woman adjusting to motherhood, life in a new city, and living with the fact-crazed, anonymity-obsessed restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Record. “It's really fiction, insists LaBan, whose protagonist, Lila, meets government reporter-turned-restaurant writer Sam Soto in New Orleans. They move to Philadelphia - a path that the LaBans took in 1998.”
Fans of Jennifer Weiner, Sarah Pekkanen, Jane Green, and Amy Hatvany are going to fall in love with this gem! Loved the opening of each chapter with a glowing, or not--review from Sam Soto. Lila Sota, previously had a great job, a fabulous degree, and lots of travel as a corporate hotel crisis regional manager. She thrived on problems. No problem too big to solve. Her position was important and she traveled the world, a pro at crisis management. She loved the power of her suitcase—representing travel, adventure, and not being tied down. She loved her life. She even broke off an earlier relationship, when things started getting serious. She could not consider marriage or children, and being tied down. She did not want to lose her independence. However, later she met “the man”, changing her ideas about settling down. Sam, in New Orleans, while away on business. Slowly he became more important to her, and for the first time, and a baby on the way, she felt this was the “one”—she could share her life with and settle down. As the novel opens, the couple Sam and Lila are married, where they reside in a nice suburban neighborhood—Colonial Court (so funny I stay often at a boutique hotel on Florida’s west coast-same name), with their three-year-old daughter, Hazel (A diva, a riot and a handful) … hilarious! Lila has another baby on the way. They have moved from New Orleans to Philly, due to Sam’s job. He is a food critic and works for the local paper. He takes his job VERY seriously. Lila has left her power job, in order to stay home full time to take care of Hazel, and the soon to be baby. After the baby arrives (Henry), she is mounted with the demands of two children, feels cut off from neighbors and friends, living in a new neighborhood, due to her husband’s position. She has desires of going back to work, feeling important, with sense of purpose. After the second baby is a little older, she has an opportunity to return to work--her old boss, allowing her to work on a contract basis part time. Of course, Sam wants NO part of this. She often gets publicity--too risky with his job. She makes decisions to do what she feels is best, and does it. (without discussing) She wants to try it out. However, Sam has issues. His own mom left them, at an earlier age due to her unhappiness, after he was born. He wants his wife to be fulfilled. A constant struggle—with his own insecurities. Plus Lila has her own mom’s need for a professional career pushed on her. Lila’s struggle to balance the demands of husband, kids, and job—plus Sam’s job--overwhelming--her former crisis management skills are being tested. What is a more crisis-ridden position, than a mother? However, they have a big problem. Sam needs to maintain anonymity. He has to dress up in all kind of disguises, in order to drop into the restaurants, so one will recognize him. He drags Lila to all the fancy spots day and night; however, if he wants to review a certain dish, she cannot order what she really wants. Sometimes he wants her to drag the kids, which can be embarrassing when you are breast feeding and have an opinionated, temper throwing, vocal, four-year-old. Plus, for a test, sometimes Sam carries in Mac n cheese in a box and asks the restaurant to prepare it. Total buzz kill; taking away the entire pleasure of the overall dining experience. From family members, friends, and colleagues – everyone is "used" as part of this charade. However, there are some cool creative restaurants-especially the one with snow sledding. Due to the sensitivity of his job, he refused to allow Lila to socialize with her neighbors, have friends, or have their daughter attend birthday parties--she could be tasting their food. She is not even allowed to stop in for a quick bite at a restaurant she likes—a gossip columnist will document what she eats and how much---after her husband gave them a bad review! Gals, you are going to LOVE Lila!. She pushes ALL boundaries. She is smart, sassy, driven. Living proof, you can be in a marriage and have differences of opinions. You can disagree. Most marriage couples would give up –walk away, with these high pressures. Not, Lila---she is tenacious, and does not allow her husband, or obstacles to get in her way. In addition, even though Sam has his eccentricities and obsessions, he is preoccupied; you cannot fault him—he is passionate about his position as a restaurant critic—taking it to the extremes sometimes; however, in the end he loves his wife and family. Neither walk away from troubles and pressure—which is easily done in today’s society. A very good example you can have careers, a family, a marriage---it takes the drive of these two, and the love to get you through it. Stay in the fight—without giving up your dreams. “Life without love is useless.” What a fantastic book! No one is just one thing. People can have two sides. A balance. There will always be another crisis. One can only hope, the good outweighs the bad. Loved Sebastian, the gay waiter. I would like to see a continuation and a series, with more from this character. He is too good to end. A friend we all want. Plus love Lila, her job, and the funny Hazel. Enjoy the cool unique restaurants, food, and reviews. Sure there could be more from the Desperate Housewives--Wisteria Lane (Colonial Court) neighborhood; untold juicy stories to follow. Summary: Furthermore, the author is married in “real life” to a restaurant critic with two small children--- with the insights and expertise to further enhance the fact/fiction realistic events. I had to laugh, thinking how in the heck did LaBane manage to convince her husband to write this novel-- while at the same time, trying to manage his reputation and keep "under the radar"? Maybe she has some of Lila’s spunk. Just do it! Ask for forgiveness later… Love it. It works. 5 Swans (Stars)!
“A tender, charming, and deliciously diverting story about love, marriage, and how your restaurant-review sausage gets made. The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is compulsively readable and richly detailed, a guilt-free treat that will have you devouring every word.” —Jennifer Weiner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Good In Bed, Best Friends Forever, and Who Do You Love
“Elizabeth LaBan’s novel The Restaurant Critic’s Wife stirs in love and intrigue making for a savory delight that pairs perfectly with your armchair. Prepare to be charmed!” —Elin Hilderbrand, author of The Rumor
“A heartfelt and relatable look at a woman navigating the difficulties of marriage and motherhood—while struggling to maintain a sense of self. Written with charm, honesty, and an insider's eye into a usually hidden slice of the restaurant world, it's a winning recipe.” —Sarah Pekkanen, internationally bestselling author of Things You Won’t Say
“In her debut novel for adults, Elizabeth LaBan cooks up a delectable buffet about motherhood, friendship, ambition, and romance (albeit one in need of a little more spice). She captures the essence of life with small children (smitten with a side of hysteria) and weaves a relatable, charming love story with the flair of an expert baker turning out a flawless lattice crust. LaBan's four-star story has the satisfying effect of a delicious meal shared with friends you can't wait to see again.” —Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens
“Author LaBan (The Tragedy Paper), who is married to a restaurant critic, excellently makes the joys and difficulties of young motherhood feel real on the page. Readers who are in the thick of raising a young family will enjoy, as will foodies looking for insight into the restaurant world.” —Library Journal
“The narrative flows effortlessly, and the dialogue is engaging and evocative. Lila and Sam’s love and devotion, despite expected bumps along the way, provides a sensitive look at rediscovering yourself and your marriage.” —Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is also the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.
She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.
She has a master’s in journalism from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s in English from Trinity College in Hartford. Elizabeth was an NBC Page, worked at NBC News in New York, taught journalism at a community college in New Orleans, and was a reporter at a number of small to mid-sized newspapers including The Riverdale Press before she began writing books. Read More
On a personal note from Judy:
I enjoyed the connection of the two careers and the hospitality business. Very close in nature. With a hospitality management background, myself, and a current hospitality consultant –reviews, matter. With today’s social world—from quaint bed and breakfast inns, from boutique, brand, independent hotels, to 5 star resorts, worldwide—the top focus is Trip Advisor 5 star reviews. You are being judged by a review. The owners and management need to be “on performance” 24/7. They feel pressure, and with my Diamond Collection, Select Registry, and 4-5 Diamond rated properties, they never know when the inspector will show up unannounced, with the white glove.
Being friends with chefs, restaurant owners, and management over the years, and the hotel restaurants I work with -----they live and breathe ---- at the mercy of a restaurant critic---so yes, their job is critical. The perks—the best of wine and gourmet delights. Always fun to get together with these talented chefs with small dinner parties. One place the critic will not be in attendance.
In addition, recall my earlier days of motherhood with two sons eighteen months apart, trying to pack everything in a car--by the time you get loaded, you realize it is easier to stay home. Later, raising two sons, and three step sons, those morning school trips with 5 boys under the age of 15-- insanity. Of course now that I am the hip Nana J--not my daily show-now, fun city.