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The Restaurant Critic's Wife    by Elizabeth LaBan order for
Restaurant Critic's Wife
by Elizabeth LaBan
Order:  USA  Can
Lake Union, 2016 (2016)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

When Lila met Sam Soto in New Orleans, she was living in New York and had recently broken up with her long-term boyfriend Tom. She had a master's degree in hotel management and a high-powered job as a crisis manager for Addison Hotels, a large hotel chain which sent her travelling all over the country and the world.

Lila loved her job and was well-known by other personnel at Addison as someone who could take care of any sort of catastrophe. She liked travelling and hotels so much that after she married Sam and had babies she would sometimes go to a hotel to calm herself by just spending some time there, breathing in the special scent. It didn't even have to be an Addison hotel.

She was in New Orleans on business and met Sam when she went to a local café to eat. One thing led to another and they recently moved to Philadelphia and bought a house. Lila is a stay-at-home mom with small children to take care of and no friends because Sam wants to remain incognito in his first full-time job as restaurant critic. He doesn't want her to work because she had a high-profile job and might be recognized as his wife, and she is certainly not to make friends with anyone with any connection to the restaurant business.

This presents a problem for Lila, since the only person she knows in Philadelphia is Maureen, a friend from graduate school whose husband runs a restaurant. Sam even distrusts their neighbors and insists that she find out who might have connections in the restaurant business before she becomes close to them. Of course she runs into Maureen at the playground where they had taken their little girls (who being close in age immediately became friends), but at first she agrees to Sam's rule to see them only at the playground.

Lila's second friend becomes an even bigger problem for her. Both children fell asleep in her car one day when she was driving home in a snowstorm. She parked in front of her house, where parking wasn't allowed, and sat in the car with her sleeping children, unsure how to get them into the house and return the car to a legal parking space several blocks away. When Sebastian, a waiter they met at a restaurant that Sam was reviewing, taps on the car window, Lila is at first startled, but enjoys talking to him. After they talk for a few minutes while he stands outside in the snow getting cold and wet, she invites him to sit in the warm car with her.

When it’s time for him to go, Sebastian helps her get the children into the house and parks the car for her, bringing her the keys. She runs into him, too, at the playground and he suggests meeting there regularly, when he is taking care of his niece, who is about the same age as her daughter. As more and more people in restaurants begin to recognize Sam, he starts to wear disguises and finally won't take her with him any more, thinking that she and her new friends are to blame. The complications mount and begin to cause problems in their marriage.

Although The Restaurant Critic's Wife deals with serious subjects, it is told in an engaging and frequently funny style. Sam's disguises are bizarre, and Lila's methods of dealing with her loneliness and difficulty adjusting to her new role a stay-at-home mother of small children are frequently just as clueless. She doesn't understand how she can be so inept at handling her own crises when she was so good at the ones that came up in her job.

Author Elizabeth LaBan is married to a restaurant critic and claims that this book is not based on her own life, but one does wonder whether some of the experiences she writes about for Lila aren't inspired by her own. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The loneliness and lack of adult companions and friends after leaving a job you like made me think about what my daughter is going through as the mother of young children adjusting to her new role. Many years ago I went through a similar experience when I left work to stay home with my young children. Of course, neither of us was married to a restaurant critic who wished to remain anonymous, and although that provides some of the serious problems for Lila, it also is responsible for most of the humor.

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