Friday, January 18, 2013

Eating Heaven - Jennie Shortridge

Summary:  Nothing gets Eleanor Samuel's heart racing like a double scoop of mocha fudge chunk.  Sure, the magazine writer may have some issues aside form food, but she isn't quite ready to face them.  Then her beloved uncle Benny falls ill, and Eleanor's whole world is torn apart.  Unlike her sisters, she has neither a husband nor a full-time job, so it's up to Eleanor to care for her ailing uncle.  What at first seems scary and daunting becomes a blessing in disguise.  Because while she's doing all that cooking and nurturing -- and enjoying a delicious flirtation with a new chef in town -- Eleanor begins to uncover some long-buried secrets about her emotionally frayed family and may finally get the chance to become the woman she's always wanted to be... (Summary from book - Image from www.jennieshortridge.com )

My Review:  Eating Heaven is an achingly tender portrayal of love, grief, and renewal, delivered with mouthwatering delicacy.  It tells the story, both past and present of Eleanor Samuels, a kind, but lonely, freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, who spends her days writing sell-out articles for cooking magazines and her nights entirely alone.  Still suffering the repercussions of her parents'unhappy marriage, her mother's constant criticism, and her father’s general apathy towards fatherhood, Eleanor’s tendency to find solace in good food has led her to feel uncomfortably large in her own skin.  When her Uncle Benny falls ill with terminal cancer, Eleanor quickly moves into his home to help care for him and, as his health continues to decline, she experiences the highs and lows of caring for someone in their final days, begins a promising new relationship, and discovers truths about her own family that will change everything.

Each character in this book feels genuine – perfectly imperfect in their own ways.  I loved Benny, who was equal parts stubborn mule and loving father, and swooned a little over Eleanor's culinary soul mate, Henry.  Eleanor’s mother?  Well,  I wanted to punch her for most of the story.  You will too.  I promise.   Eleanor was lovable and easy to root for because she seemed like a normal woman, with the typical insecurities, desires, and hopes for the future as any of us.  I connected with her on many levels, but no where more so than with her love of good food and her guilt over eating so much of it.  Can I get an 'Amen!'?  That having been said, her culinary life and eating habits didn't overshadow the rest of the story, so that food, family, grief, and love, just sort of melted together into a savory word stew.   

Eating Heaven wasn't the kind of book to set off fireworks.  Instead, it was quietly compelling, and I became so deeply invested in the lives of the characters that I didn't want to stop reading, even when it hurt -- and sometimes it really hurt.  Her writing style reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg.  Like Berg, the author, Jennie Shortridge, writes in a way that is realistic and raw, but cathartic, so that even though I sobbed through parts of the story, I still felt strangely content when I finished reading.

Shortridge, who lost a relative to terminal illness bares a little bit of her soul, I think, in the telling of this story.  She deftly portrayed the slow, then slippery, decline of terminal illness, the bittersweet nature of death, and the agonizing stages of grief and mourning, but she also explored the blessings of family, a loving father-daughter relationship that extends beyond genetics, or the support that can come from a good man, or a house full of sisters.  She wrote about living life, in all its glory and pain, and finding joy in every moment.  Eating Heaven might have been heavier fare than I normally read, but it was still a great read and one that I highly recommend. 

My Rating:  4. 25 Stars.  I think I might have rated this higher if I were feeling a bit more emotionally stable.  Having four children has been an adjustment, to say the least, and I tend to spend my free time lost in the undemanding pages of the nearest YA novel.  This book took something from me, emotionally, and I don't think it has given it back yet.  Until it does, I"m holding at least a few tenths of a point hostage. 

For the sensitive reader:  Some sexual references and a handful of profanity (mostly “S” words, but at least one “F” variant). 

Sum it up:  Eating Heaven was heavier fare than I expected, but still undeniably divine.

PS.  I also plan on reading some of her other novels, found here.


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