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This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

Eating Heaven - Discussion begins today!


I have been patiently waiting to discuss Eating Heaven for a few months. Reading this book I kept thinking it would make the perfect book club selection, an insecure woman looking for love mixed with family secrets and situations. Special thanks to Jennie Shortridge for donating the books and allowing us to discuss her book online this week.

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry… you will still be able to join in the discussion. Below is the synopsis:

Nothing gets Eleanor Samuels's heart racing like a double scoop of mocha fudge chunk. Sure, the magazine writer may have some issues aside from food, but she isn't quite ready to face them. Then her beloved Uncle Benny falls ill, and what at first seems scary and daunting becomes a blessing in disguise. Because while she cooks and cares for him-and enjoys 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.

I read this book in just a few days and I expect many women will connect to Eleanor. When the book opens we learn that Eleanor is a writer and aspiring chef (she loves to try new recipes and cook). We get the sense that she’s overweight and as part of her job she takes an original recipe and manipulates it into a healthy, low cal, low fat option. As she takes inventory of life, simply put she’s not happy. As you get to know Eleanor you might find yourself loosely comparing her to the character from ‘she’s come undone’ at the beginning and by the end Eleanor is transformed into a woman in control of her life and her future.

So to get us started, I have a several questions to guide our discussion:

- Did you like the book?

- If you were behind a dumpster with ice cream... what would you do?

- Eleanor... she's an average everyday woman. How 'big' do you think she is? Could you imagine her as a friend? What kind of advise would you give her?

- What was your opinion of Bennie and his role in the family?

- What did you like/dislike about Eleanor’s mom, Bebe? Do you know anyone like her?

- The discussion of thin versus healthy – so true. Eleanor’s mother is always nitpicking her weight, even when she’s losing it. If you have a daughter, how would you handle this situation? What advise would you give Bebe?

- Eleanor’s men – Did you take the men in her life to mean anything more than what they were? In what way is she still looking for a father?

- Benny’s illness brings the family together at the end – for anyone with a serious illness in their family, has your experience been similar? In this book Eleanor is the main caregiver and puts her life on hold. How did she feel when Benny had the incident and moves to the nursing home?

20 comments:

  1. I will get us started by answering a few of the questions; I will answer more as the discussion moves along:

    As you can tell from my previous write up, I really enjoyed this book and was able to relate Eleanor and her relationship with her mother.

    I was giggling/shedding a tear for Eleanor as she bought the ice cream and the dumpster ‘dilemma’. I think I would lick my fingers! To relate to many women, I have a distorted view of myself… I was able to relate to Eleanor.

    I guess everyone’s definition of big may vary but I pictured Eleanor to be about 20 pounds over weight. I’m in my 40’s and I know many many women struggling with weight (and vocal). I recognize she’ younger but I was able to visualize her this way. Eleanor and I would be friends, sharing advise back and forth.

    Eleanor’s mom… let me just say I remember the MANY times my own mom told me “Becky wears a 6 slim and you wear a 6 regular”… how old would I have been, maybe 6 or 7 years old? So these mom’s do exist!

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  2. I also enjoyed this book, and was glad that the book ended happily for Eleanor (in my mind anyway!) I also feel that she would be a friend. I liked how the author showed Eleanor's kind nature by the way she took care of her neighbors, checking on their needs during the snowstorm. I also would say that I know someone a bit like Bebe, in my case, my grandmother. She was, in her younger days, very glamorous, and put a high value on her daughters also being slim and attractive - I know my mother felt that she did not measure up. I have 2 daughters myself now, and though my 9 year old sometimes worries about being thin, I emphasize that people come in different sizes, and we should just try to take care of ourselves by eating healthy and exercising, and I try to be careful not to comment negatively about my own size. I liked that Eleanor had sort of surrogate parents in Benny and Yolanda, and I do think that Benny is her biological father. I think that Benny is a basically good man who made the mistake of falling in love with Bebe. Thanks so much Mari for choosing this book and running the book club, and to Jennie for donating it!!

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  3. I posted to the Big Tent - is that ok? I'm sure I could cut & paste...

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  4. I really enjoyed this book. At first I thought maybe Eleanor was bigger but I gradually came to realize that she wasn't really that big, that she had just been made to feel like she was. I felt the same way at when I was younger so I can absolutely relate to Eleanor and that's why I was so happy that she finally came to terms with food. I so wish I would have been able to do the same in my life.

    My grandmother was something of a Bebe and, just like Bebe, she was really in no place to be judging someone.

    I really liked that Shortridge didn't wrap things all up neatly. You feel that things will work out but she didn't write that Christina left Reid, Anne found a wonderful new job, Bebe became a better mother.

    I really wondered about Benny when Bebe told Eleanor that he wasn't as good as Eleanor thought he was. I was happy to learn that his only real sin was loving too deeply. It probably made the girls' lives more difficult in their home growing up but he also tried to make up for it in other ways.

    The relationship with Henry was the only problem that I had with the book. I found it hard to believe that Eleanor and he would bond so quickly and the whole idea that he married someone to help provide her asylum then would divorce her kind of rubbed me wrong. But I was happy for Eleanor--and when you feel happy for a character in a book, that character has really come alive for you!

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  5. I LOVED this book. I got a late start in reading, and finished it in 3 days. I couldn't put it down and kept sneaking moments with it until I was finished. There were so many moments where I LOL'ed, and I cried my way through the final chapters.

    While I can't say that I've gone as far as eating ice cream behind a dumpster, or enjoyed scoopfuls of spice cake while driving - I can definitely relate to Ellie's food dilemmas and feeling surrounded by skinny people who seem to have no issues at all. I want to live by the pledge at the end of the book - eating good food, food that nourishes your soul and makes you feel sated.

    I imagined Ellie's character to be a size 22 at her heaviest and maybe a 16 by the end of the book. I think the average size for a women in America is a 12/14 - and don't think a 16 is too far away from average for what it's worth. I HATE that we are held to this unreal standard about size and beauty in America, and it seems we are so brainwashed at this point it's impossible to avoid talking about it. For those of us who don't meet the ideal, how can you not be obsessed with losing weight when the cover of People talks about how much weight so-and-so lost - "how great it is that she's a [twig] again! How [awful] it must have been for her to weigh 155 lbs!" I think it's unfair to expect that ALL WOMEN should be a certain size. I couldn't weigh 113 if I starved myself - my metabolism and body weren't designed that way and why isn't that ok?!?!

    I received body/weight criticism from my Dad growing up, Mr. Marathoner/tri-athlete. It haunts me to this day. I make it a point to tell my daughter (8 yo) how perfect and beautiful she is. BUT, she makes comments like, "thankfully I'm thin" (from Grandma), (while looking at my Driver's License) "it says you're 5'4" and I'm not even going to mention your weight" (it's around 150 lb by the way), and this summer she refuses to swim without some type of shorts on (which she gets from me) because she has 'big thighs'. She's already conflicted at 8!!

    The book is full of memorable characters. I don't know a Bebe, but I felt the way in which she kept secrets was old-fashioned. I've heard my Mom say plenty of times, "You just didn't talk about stuff like that back then" - and that's what I think Bebe was doing - trying to manage her secrets given the social morals with which she was raised. I wish that she hadn't been so tortured in her romance with Benny, and it made me ponder whether there truly is "the one" for each of us - the one person who we love despite everything. She should have visited Benny to "tie up loose ends", but I'm glad in the end it was Yolanda who was there with him. She, in a way, was the single positive influence in Ellie's life. Thank god she learned to cook - the food sounded so divine (even though I'm not a meat eater).

    Sam

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  6. I loved the book and was so happy it was selected. I definitely could relate to Eleanor's thoughts/issues around food.

    If I were behind the dumpster with ice cream, I think I would just cry. I can't remember, was she eating the part that fell on the ground? I am way too much of a germ freak to do that, but if it would have landed in my hand or on my shirt or something, I think I may have eaten it too. I really felt for her during that part of the book.

    I imagine Eleanor to be my size and definitely could imagine her as my friend. I consider myself to be "average" size, and in my mind that is how I pictured Eleanor. Our society focuses so much on weight issues that when she described herself as having curves and something for Henry to hold onto I thought it was great.

    I really liked Bennie, he seemed to be the one who provided comfort and the feeling of stability for the girls. At first I was not sure how it would all play out. . .was he really an instigator in the whole thing with Bebe, were they having an affair the whole time, etc., but I really like how it was all revealed and it made me like Benny even more.

    I could not stand Eleanor's mom. I thought she was incredibly selfish and focused on her own needs so much more than helping give her children the grounding they needed to be confident, strong women in life. Although Anne seemed to do well on her own. I'm not necessarily sure how much of an explanation she owed the girls—that is that awkward parent/child relationship thing that once the child grows up some think they may be entitled to more info. . . .but still the parent/child relationship. I imagine that is hard. However, as a mother I definitely thought Bebe needed to show her love to her children more. The part where Eleanor was sick as a child and calling out to her mom broke my heart and I think I really didn't care for Bebe after that point.

    Ah, the discussion of thin vs healthy---this discussion comes up often in my circle of friends. I have a daughter who is 3 (almost 4) and believe me catches every little reference made so you bet I watch my words around weight issues/food choices, etc. My mother, who I have an amazing relationship with, has on and off nitpicked me about weight. It can change my mood in an instant and I react very negatively to it. I am conscious of it every single day and do not want to pass that on to my daughter. In fact, I am probably a little too far on the opposite end, but for now it is working for us.

    I commend Eleanor for putting her life on hold and caring for Benny the way she did. He was able to maintain his dignity and I think that is so important as people age. What an incredibly hard decision for many people to make. I'd like to think I would do the same, but who knows. . . I'm married, have a daughter, different situation, but I would like to think I would be able to do the same for my parents if needed. I do wonder if Eleanor would have done the same for her mother. . .hmm, something tells me no, but then again, Bebe did have a very strong pull on her.

    Sharon

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  7. This sounds good. Thanks for blogging about it.

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  8. I really enjoyed this book, it was a quick light read on the surface, but dealt with a lot of serious issues and revealed information in layers, mirroring how you get to know someone on a deeper level over time. Eleanor felt real, as if she was a real person you would enjoy sitting down and sharing a meal with, complete with wine, dessert and lots of laughter :)

    Joan

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  9. I loved reading this book, I could definately relate to Ellie, dealing with the constant battle of weight. I did wonder what size she was, my guess was between 18 and 20. I have to agree that weight is an obsession in America. I love the idea of enjoying your food and eating when hungry. I felt so sad reading the end when Benny was almost dying. How depressing was that. It rather annoyed me that Bebe didn't bother to go and see Benny before he died. How could she be so heartless?

    I give Ellie a lot of props for taking care of Benny the way she did. It takes a rather strong person to give up everything for someone else. Ellie is her mother's opposite.

    Overrall, I would recommend the book to others. A special thanks to Mari for organizing the manic mommy bookclub.

    Natasha

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  10. This was one of my favorites lately! I described the plot to my husband and he thought it sounded depressing, but I didn't think it felt that way at all despite the serious situations. It was a good read with interesting characters and storyline.

    Eleanor was real. I pictured her as a Paula Deen-ish (from Food Network) size. Someone who loves food and their job sets them up for lots of sampling! And someone we'd see on Oprah, the giver who never takes time for what's best for herself.Bennie was sweet, but kept so many secrets. Bebe made me mad, how she treated her daughters, her first husband, Bennie. Yolanda was put in a hard spot and was great at the end. Henry was too good to be true, but we needed a happy ending!

    Good pick, fun summer read! Now I have to keep slogging through Love in the Time of Cholera....

    Gretta

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  11. I haven't quite finished the book yet, probably by tomorrow. I started it a while back, but I had to put it down for a while. When I got to the part where Benny ended up in the hospital and Eleanor was saying or thinking about how could Benny have cancer and only find out about it when it's so far along. My husband died last year from stomach cancer (he was only 43) and he had no symptoms up until two weeks before he died. So when it got to that part in the book, I couldn't read anymore for a while.

    I am glad I decided to pick it up again because now that I've gotten further in the book, I really enjoy it.

    I don't think I would have eaten ice cream out of my hand that I'd dropped, but I could definitely see myself maybe hiding out in the alley to eat it.

    I pictured Eleanor as maybe a size 16, not as big as she seems to think she is. I could definitely be friends with her. She thinks a lot like I do.

    I had mixed feelings about Benny. I think he was a good man for the most part, but his involvement with Bebe really bothered me. Regardless of the state of her marriage, she was married. If she really wanted to be with him, she should have divorced.

    I didn't really like anything about Bebe. I thought the way she treated Eleanor was awful. She was too self-centered and all about appearances. I don't really know anyone like her, thankfully.

    I'll answer more questions after I finish. Looking forward to everyone else's opinions

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  12. I really enjoyed this book, although it frustrated me a little to not know all the details in the end such as was Benny the father, and why was Eleanor's mom so distant to her. I really disliked Bebe.

    I pictured Eleanor as overweight but not obese (if that makes sense).

    I have a daughter and worry about childhood obesity for health reasons, but I can just do the best to offer reasonable portions of the healthiest food that I can and the rest she's going have to figure out as she grows older. I also encourage my husband to pay special attention to her or compliment her as I think that means more to a young girl than if her mom says it.

    My favorite part of the book was the final article on eating Eleanor wrote, it puts it all in perspective. It was a great ending to the book.

    Janet

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  13. Great book. I could totally relate to using food for comfort, hence my size 12/14 clothes! Having to step up and take care of a family member is also something I know too much about.

    I enjoyed Love and Biology too but found one common theme between the two and that was women who didn't really speak up for them selves.
    Some of the situtations I felt like screaming at those around Ellie to help her. I did have to take a step back and remember I too once had a problem standing up to those I love.

    Jennie really writes with such vivd detail for the surrounding and this book made me hungry! LOL I would have liked to know all the dirty secrets but does life ever really wrap up neatly?

    I found it an easy and enjoyable read and am greatful to have been introduced to this author.

    Thanks and can't wait for the next read!

    Shauna

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  14. I definitely enjoyed this book, it was my favorite MMBC selection so far.

    I could definitely relate to Eleanor. Especially the part when she was eating -- I forget which dessert -- but she kept saying to herself that she wasn't going to have any more, and then went back and finished them all. I have deliberately closed, sealed, and put snacks out of reach to stop myself after a reasonable amount, and have gotten them back out 5 minutes later. So I can see where she is coming from!

    - I thought Benny was a great character. I found him to be such an important father figure in Eleanor's life, whether he was actually her father or not. I thought he was such a noble, selfless person (or either just really in love with Bebe) for protecting her and not ruining her marriage.

    - I did not enjoy Bebe's character at all, and found her to be extremely selfish/immature.

    - I am hoping that, with 2 boys, I won't have to deal with body image issues in the same way a mom of girls would. But I will work hard to make sure my sons never hear the word "fat", from ME anyway, in reference to myself or other women.

    I also liked her beginning relationship with Benny and the way the author told of their first night together. Overall a very enjoyable read!

    Holly

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  15. Ok Ladies, I don't know if all of you read love and Biology, but I actually liked it better then Eating Heaven. If you haven't read it yet, check it out. Also I went to the Author's website, she has another book coming out soon, can't wait to read it to!

    A special thanks to Jenny Shortridge for sending me both books! She actually signed my copy of eating heaven, which I thought was so cool!

    Natasha

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  16. I absolutely couldn't put this book down; however, at the very beginning I had to struggle to stay with it. But once it got wound up, that was it I was hooked.

    As for being behind a dumpster, I would never do something like that. I am a sized 14 lady that decided to embrace who God made me to be and love myself.

    I would figure Ellie to be around a size 16. I will have to admit when the book first started, I thought she was a plus plus plus sized woman.

    I tell you right now, I am thinking Ellie would be one awesome friend, caring, loving, and especially once she embraced her size and started loving herself for who she was. Ellie would be a blast to be around. She would be a very loyal true friend.

    There is no advise you can give someone that has self-esteem issues other than love them so they can see they deserve to be happy. Tell them that they are beautiful the way they are and mean it!

    Bennie took on a father figure role, and I think tried to help the girls cope with Bebe and how she treated everyone. There are several things that I think he did wrong like the affair with Bebe, etc., but all in all I think he is a good man.

    There was nothing that I particularly liked about Bebe, and thank goodness, I do not know anyone like her. I am very outspoken, and I think we would not get along very well.

    I think that if I ever had a morbidly obese child I would have the whole family start an exercise program along with cutting calories. I think that the main thing would be to only offer healthy snacks. One of the main things I gasped at in the book was the oreos. If Bebe had actually been a good mother and cared about the size of Ellie, she would not have brought them in the house to begin with other than as a special treat.

    I think Eleanor's search for men was her way of trying to earn acceptance, to feel if she was pretty, not disgusting (which is exactly how she saw herself), and she was somebody. I truly do not think she was looking for a father-figure as much as acceptance.

    My husband was diagnosed with cancer and given one month to live 5 years ago. Thankfully by the grace of God he had a miraculous healing and has been cancer free for 4 1/2 years. While we were going through that ordeal, we found out just who our friends were which I think happens any time sickness comes into a home.

    I think that Ellie felt like a failure when Benny had to go into the nursing home. I think she would feel like she was a bad person, that he would think she didn't love him, that she had failed him,etc. However, I think in the end that she realized that was the best place for him, and that she hadn't failed him.

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  17. Like everyone else, I found this an easy & fun book, that was easy to relate to. Eleanor's character was so honest. I loved her internal dialogues with herself, like when she would write an email to her boss of what she really wanted to say, and then change it to what she really sent. How many times I have been in that situation of what you really what to say to someone as compared to what you end up saying.
    At the beginning of the book the scenario with the ice cream was just hilarious. I can't say I would do the same thing, but it set the tone for her relationship with food. I like the way the author slowly developed who Benny was. I like when authors leave you room to speculate what is going to happen. I found it very honorable of Benny's character to not 'out' Bebe to Eleanor. Even though he had been so hurt by Bebe, he loved Eleanor so much he didn't want to put her mother down. People could learn a lot from that, there are so many divorces of friends that I know of, that unfortunately the parents don't have that kind of respect to honor each other for their kids. I found the ending of this books very satisfying. I felt that Eleanor deserved that happy ending, but she also left some other things unsaid. I will definitely be passing this book on to friends to read. Thanks!

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  18. I wouldn't have thought that Ellie was a morbidly obese child growing up, I would have thought she was chubby, a little heavier than most kids, but in the book I think Ellie says she is taller than the kids she grew up with as well - so I pictured her more "Paul Bunyan" like than obese.

    Also, I don't think Henry's character is too good to be true. The first time my husband and I went out there was a "spark" between us. We fell in love fast, married and have been together for 9 years now -- not perfectly happy or anything -- but I do believe in having a "connection" with someone and falling in love quickly.

    Samantha

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  19. I posted my review here:
    http://litandlife.blogspot.com/2009/06/eating-heaven.html

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  20. I LOVED this book. As a mom of two young boys, who has struggled with weight and also a healthy appreciation of food, this book really hit home. I have also struggled with my identity within a family of sisters and could relate to so much of this book.

    I have a ton more to share, but we are on our way out for vacation. I will post again as soon as we get back!

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