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Reviewed by Colleen Turner

Eva Gouel is ready to shed her shy, timid country-girl visage and the expectation that she must become a wife to a man she doesn’t love and resolves to find the freedom and adventure only a place like Paris can provide for her. She is determined to make it in this fast and fascinating city without the help of any man and she gets her chance when she secures a job as a seamstress at the scintillating Moulin Rouge. Then one night, while peering out into the audience from backstage, Eva sees Pablo Picasso and her feelings and future are forever sent down a path she could never have imagined.

Picasso, a fiery, young up-and-coming artist, is finding himself stifled and uninspired by his current muse, his long term mistress Fernande Olivier, a woman as tempestuous as the artist himself. When he sees Eva at an art show he cannot help but be attracted to this woman so unlike Fernande. After an unexpected night of passion, Picasso cannot get Eva out of his head and, once the two finally determine they cannot live without each other, both are forever changed. But as happy as the two are in each other’s arms, happily-ever-after does not come easy. They will have to fight against expectations, the negative opinions of those they love the most and a disastrous illness that threatens to separate them forever.

Madame Picasso perfectly brings to life the bright and fast-paced world of the Moulin Rouge’s backstage and the glittering opulence of the theater and its patrons in front, the disheveled yet pulsating energy of the artist’s studios, the vibrant intellectual stimulation of Gertrude Stein’s Saturday evening salons and the very streets and alleys of Paris itself, which becomes its own character. Sensuality and passion are always brimming and boiling over as would be expected in a city like Paris and in its inhabitants who want nothing more than to break away from conformity in their lives and in their art. But this colorful and vigorous imagery, which is so well developed and expansive, took a backseat to the wonderfully nonconforming characters that felt so tangible to me.

Eva is by far my favorite character, a woman of great determination and intelligence but also kindness and generosity. The reader is able to see her change Picasso’s very being and, by doing so, his art and thereby art history itself. Getting to see the inner workings of a man like Picasso, known for his eccentricities and womanizing, was inspiring and I so enjoyed finding a more fleshed-out, sympathetic and very human man within Madame Picasso’s pages. The rest of the characters – even the ones, such as Fernande, that I wasn’t a particular fan of – are just as well presented so that you cannot help but see them right in front of you, with all their foibles, fears and passions right at the surface. And the ending – oh, the ending – I don’t want to give anything away but just prepare yourself for tears!

Madame Picasso is top-notch historical fiction. I have never been a particular fan of Picasso’s work but the intricate story had me reexamining his painting and looking for any connections I could find online between the artist and Eva. That need to know more is always an indicator to me that a book is unforgettable. That is exactly what Madame Picasso is – unforgettable. Highly recommended to anyone who likes historical fiction.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review and giveaway copies were provided by Harlequin MIRA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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