Thursday, February 6, 2020

Book Review: Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Pages:  336
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: December 31, 2019
Publisher: Dutton
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "In this captivating dual narrative novel, a modern-day woman finds inspiration in hidden notes left by her home’s previous owner, a quintessential 1950s housewife. As she discovers remarkable parallels between this woman’s life and her own, it causes her to question the foundation of her own relationship with her husband–and what it means to be a wife fighting for her place in a patriarchal society.  When Alice Hale leaves a career in publicity to become a writer and follows her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. But when she finds a vintage cookbook buried in a box in the old home’s basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook’s previous owner–1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch. As Alice cooks her way through the past, she realizes that within the cookbook’s pages Nellie left clues about her life–including a mysterious series of unsent letters penned to her mother.  Soon Alice learns that while baked Alaska and meatloaf five ways may seem harmless, Nellie’s secrets may have been anything but. When Alice uncovers a more sinister–even dangerous–side to Nellie’s marriage, and has become increasingly dissatisfied with the mounting pressures in her own relationship, she begins to take control of her life and protect herself with a few secrets of her own."

Alice and her husband are moving from NYC to a fixer-upper in the suburbs.  Alice just lost her job, so the timing seems right; after all, now she can work on writing that novel she has been meaning to write for years.  While Alice's husband goes to work, Alice stays behind fixing up the house (there's a lot to work on, including the garden that is overgrown) and while working on the various projects, she comes across an antique cookbook and letters left behind from the former owner.  The previous owner is Nellie Murdoch and she is a bit of a mystery. The letters left behind were never mailed, so obviously, this raises some questions.  Alice enjoys trying out some of the vintage recipes from the book and the more Alice learns about Nellie, the more she realizes that they have a lot more in common than she thought.  Readers also get chapters from Nellie's point of view, so we learn more about Nellie as she isn't just your typical 1950s housewife.  She is an interesting character in her own right, but she holds some dark secrets and her life isn't picture perfect.  For starters, her husband isn't a nice man, so her life isn't an episode of I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver.  Nellie had to not only deal with being a woman in a patriarchal society, but also with an abusive (both emotionally and physically) husband.  The more Alice learns about Nellie's plight, the more she wonders if things have really changed all that much for women? Like Nellie, Alice is hiding more than one secret from her husband, but eventually that all comes to the surface in Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown.  It's a dark and twisty page turner that made me want to smash the patriarchy.

Alice is an interesting character in Recipe for a Perfect Wife.  Readers are privy to the secrets she is keeping from her husband, but slowly things start to come to a head and it gets super complicated.  Her husband isn't perfect by any means, so once Alice is without a job and living in suburbia, their relationship becomes a bit strained. He has to work (and study) for long hours in the city and this keeps him from home; plus, his study partner is a female coworker. Cue the eye roll.  Also, he really wants to have a baby soon, but Alice, on the other hand, is not so sure.  You can see where this is going and let's just say that things aren't simple for them not to mention the fact that Alice isn't telling him why she lost her job.  

Nellie is such an entertaining character in Recipe for a Perfect Wife. I immediately felt for her and all she had to go through with such a bully of a husband.  I thought she was going to be this "perfect" 50s housewife, but I love that she wasn't. She was hiding some major secrets and she isn't someone to be trifled with.  I love that! Her story really made me want to challenge the patriarchy, because it wasn't easy for women who didn't fit the mold and it even got me thinking about how still today women are faced with many of the same problems.  Nellie's story gets pretty dark and twisty, but I was here for it and I liked the dark and winding road that Recipe for a Perfect Wife went down.

Brown includes excerpts from marriage books at the beginning of each chapter in Recipe for a Perfect Wife and OH.MAN. were they infuriating. I can't believe people printed this advice and/or actually took the advice. Scary!! But it really set the tone for the time period and set the stage for Nellie and what she's up against regarding the set conventions of society. I also loved the retro recipes  Brown included and how Alice tried out various recipes.  It was a nice touch and brought the two time periods together even more.

If you are looking for a suspenseful domestic drama and that will take you by surprise, then you will definitely want to check out Recipe for a Perfect Wife this winter. The story truly made me think and it stayed with me long after the book ended. 


  1. Lovely blog.

    Terrific review. I loved this book.

    Stopping by from Bloglovin'

    1. Thanks so much, Elizabeth. I appreciate you stopping by and I am glad you enjoyed this book too.

  2. Nellie sounds like an amazing character, and it's always to fun to compare what things were like "back in the day" to today.

    1. Yes, it was definitely entertaining to read about how things were and how there are still some similarities to today. Eye opening for sure. Thanks for visiting, Angela.


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