Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full length (317 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

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.
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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.

Recipe for a Perfect Wife is a dual narrative novel, cleverly written, and connecting the lives of two housewives who lived decades apart. When Alice and her husband move into an old house once occupied by Nellie and her husband, Alice discovers a few surprises when she dusts off old books and letters from the 1950s.

Alice wants to write a novel but has writer’s block. She hopes delving into Nellie’s old letters she can find inspiration for her book. As it turns out, Alice finds more than just inspiration for a juicy story. She is prodded into certain actions.

Both couples have problems, and both keep serious secrets from each other. Nellie is abused, and readers’ hearts will go out to her. How can she escape this life? Can she, or is she trapped? Nellie decides to take drastic action, capable of shocking readers.

Alice and her husband keep things from each other, but Alice’s secrets and lies escalate. She becomes increasingly irritated, perhaps goaded on by the memoir of a desperate 1950s housewife. Alice, like Nellie, makes some poor decisions in reaction to the less-than-stellar treatment of their husbands.

Suspense keeps the pages turning, and unfolding occurrences are not what one is likely to expect. There are surprises in this book. Both wives find their voices and their strength but not in the typical positive way. This is an interesting story that leaves a reader thinking.

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