If you enjoy art and cooking from a historical perspective, Cooking for Picasso by Camille Aubray will make a great read. Ondine is a young woman who lives and works at her parents’ bistro in Juan-les-Pins on France’s Cote d’Azur. One day her parents have an unusual job for her. This was in the days long before take-out food. Ondine must bicycle to a villa each day to deliver lunch to an unknown Mr. Ruiz. This begins a life changing summer for Ondine. After she has learned that he is Pablo Picasso, she does some modeling for him. Ondine eventually cooks the lunches for Picasso instead of just making her mother’s deliveries. The novel jumps from the summer of 1936 to a present day granddaughter of Ondine who hopes to locate a portrait that Picasso may have painted and given to her grandmother. The lives and loves of three generations of women are blended in a historical sweep with a treasure hunt at the end.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly follows the lives of three young women from the beginning to the end of WWII. Caroline Ferriday is a Washington socialite who volunteers at the French Consulate trying to arrange charitable funding for French orphanages. Herta Oberheuser has just finished her German medical degree and is finding it very difficult to be hired in any capacity. This is a time when women doctors were still very unusual in Germany. In desperation, she answered an ad for a governmental medical position. She is shocked and frightened when she eventually learns what she is expected to do. A Polish teenager, Kasia Kuzmerick, longs for a more exciting life. She thinks she has found a purpose when she becomes a courier for the underground after Germany has successfully invaded Poland. The intersection of their lives is inevitably tragic. Ravensbruck is a concentration camp for women only. Terrible medical experiments were carried out there. This is a tale of tragedy that leaves you with hope.
The London Blitz gives atmosphere and seriousness to Chris Cleave’s novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven. Mary North leaves finishing school on the day war is declared and signs up to volunteer in any capacity. Her assignment is to work at a school even though she has no experience teaching. While she is working at organizing children who are evacuated from London, she meets Tom Shaw, a school administrator, and becomes involved with him. Tom’s roommate Alistair Heath enlists in the Army very early in the war. The novel alternates between these characters and the situations they are in from 1939 to 1942. It touches on so many of the things that happened to people; the Blitz, evacuation of children, wartime shortages, and hazardous training exercises. In spite of these topics, it still showcases the humor that is necessary for people to survive and stay sane during such a terrible time. This is a wartime novel that focuses on people and relationships rather than the war.
People who have made a more hopeless mess of their lives than the two couples in Jennifer Close’s novel, The Hopefuls, would be difficult to find. Beth and Matt are a recently married couple who have relocated to Washington D. C. from New York. Matt is somewhat of a political junkie so Beth feels she has to support the move even though she greatly prefers New York. They become close friends with another couple, Jimmy and Ashleigh, who are from Texas. The men bond over their jobs in the political world and the wives enjoy each other’s company. So much of the infighting is revealed as they pursue their careers in the Obama administration. One character takes great pride in his knowledge of what kind of snacks Obama prefers. Jimmy comes closer to a political election when friends from Texas persuade him to run for Railroad Commissioner. He asks Matt to be his campaign manager. What will happen to these people to whom winning is everything?