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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway novel this pedometer geek read was Camille Aubray’s Cooking for Picasso. This is Aubray’s debut novel although according to her bio, she has writing credentials for various television shows like “One Life to Live” and “Capitol” as well as writing and producing for ABC news, PBS, and A&E. She has also taught writing at New York University. This is the extended review.

Cooking for Picasso

by Camille Aubray

Published by Ballantine Books,

an imprint of Random House,

a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-17765-1

Cooking for Picasso is a novel that is inspired by a little-known interval in the artist’s life. As the copyright page indicates, it is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and aren’t intended to change the fictional nature of the story. Despite the fictional nature of the story, it is a story that seems all too plausible and as such, it was a delight to read.

This pedometer geek reader is not a gourmet cook, unfortunately, because this review just calls for all kinds of adjectives that refers to cooking; however, having said that, this is a story of cooking, art, and love told through the past as well as the present. Divided into the past and present, the narrative follows three generations of women who are connected to the artist Picasso.

1936–In a small village in southern France, a seventeen-year-old girl is recruited by her parents to cook and then deliver lunch daily to a new patron, a mysterious man by the name of Ruiz. Bicycling up one of the steep hills of Juan-les-Pins, Ondine finally meets the man, Picasso, who is hiding out from everyone. Over time, she meets Matisse and Cocteau, but through her daily association with Picasso, she ends up modeling (and a bit more) for him.

2014–Celine, Ondine’s granddaughter, has heard stories from her mother Julie about her grandmother all her life. When Celine turns thirty, her mother tells her about the relationship between Ondine, Picasso, and a mysterious painting. With her mother in a nursing home following a stroke, Celine travels to France in her mother’s place with her aunt for a cooking class, and to search for this painting, that is, if it really exists.

This is just a well-constructed story that brings three generations of women together in a story that is connected to an enigmatic artist and his art. Added to that, there are French cuisine references throughout (just reading the story, I think a few pounds were added to this reader’s waistline), and lovely impressionistic pictures of southern France were painted. The suspense builds throughout as to the veracity of a narrator who may or may not be reliable as regards to this painting.

Overall, the novel is recommended for anyone who has interest in gourmet cooking, art, and love, for ultimately it is a love story written in a historical context of the missing years of Picasso. Could it be that a chance encounter with a young woman was enough to spark a new period for this artist? This novel answers this question, and a bit more.

Quotes to remember/consider:

“Yes, we cook and eat things that were once alive–be they vegetables or animals–in order to stoke the fire of life in us; but in return, we must keep our end of the bargain, which is to handle them humanely with great respect; and when it’s our turn to die, we should do so gracefully and willingly, so that we, too, feed the fiery furnace of the earth’s future plants and creatures.” (p. 267)

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