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Nail-biters, tearjerkers, mind-benders, page-turners – there’s something for everyone to read this summer

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Illustration by Salini Perera/The Globe and Mail

Novel inspiration

Sarah Laing suggests books best stuffed in a travel bag

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For a big-hearted romance

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (HarperAvenue, 352 pages)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the world does not need another reimagining of Pride and Prejudice. (Why tread where P.D. James has gone, and triumphed, before?) So yes, Ayesha at Last is very loosely based on the famous classic, but that’s not the reason to read it. Come for Darcy reimagined as a hyper-conservative young man and Elizabeth Bennet as a wannabe poet frustrated by family obligation; stay for Uzma Jalaluddin’s warm portrait of life for twentysomething Muslims in suburban Toronto struggling to honour their heritage while pursuing their dreams.

More like this? The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Berkley); A Grand Old Time by Judy Leigh (Avon)

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For historic melodrama

The Dying of the Light by Robert Goolrick (Harper, 288 pages, July 3)

If Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Gone With the Wind and Rebecca had a literary love child, The Dying of the Light by Robert Goolrick would be their spine-tingling, Spanish-moss-draped progeny. Deliciously dramatic – almost to the point of camp – this novel traces the (tragic, naturellement) life of Diana Cooke Copperton Cooke, the last scion of a great Southern dynasty and the final hope of Saratoga, a grand Virginia plantation with as many dark secrets as bolls of the cotton on which it was built.

More like this? Chasing the Wind by C.C. Humphreys (Doubleday Canada); Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul (William Morrow, Aug. 21)

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For screw-turning suspense

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, 400 pages)

The best sorts of mysteries keep the reader constantly on shifting sand, and no author is to be trusted less in this regard than the playful trickster/parodier par excellence Anthony Horowitz. In The Word Is Murder, the narrator is a novelist named Anthony Horowitz (hmmm), who is the Watson to disgraced police detective David Hawthorne’s Sherlock Holmes. The case they take on is that of a woman who is killed in a robbery-gone-wrong but that Hawthorne believes is something more sinister.

More like this? The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)

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For shades of Jodi Picoult-inspired drama

The Life Lucy Knew by Karma Brown (Park Row Books, 304 pages)

When Lucy Sparks wakes up from a coma, she’s expecting to see the concerned face of her husband David staring back at her. Instead it’s the bewildered face of her long-term boyfriend, Matt. Wait, what? Sparks, you see, is suffering from head-injury-induced “honest lying” in which her brain has fabricated false memories that feel as vivid as if they’d really happened – in this case, an entire four years of life. Walking just the right side of Lifetime-esque schmaltz, The Life Lucy Knew is for fans of Nicholas Sparks who always wanted him to set something in Toronto’s bougie Leslieville neighbourhood.

More like this? The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan (Graydon House, June 26); By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank (William Morrow)

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For something a little quirky

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht (W.W. Norton, 272 pages)

To everyone holding out for a female James Bond: Rosalie Knecht is here to bring you the female-driven spy thriller you’ve been waiting for. In the spirit of the stylized, mod delight of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., this clever romp follows the titular heroine from the fringes of 1962 Greenwich Village to the thick of political intrigue in a Buenos Aires that’s about to blow (metaphorically that is). And although she’s ostensibly the one tasked with uncovering government secrets on behalf of the CIA, it’s the reader who will have to sift through subterfuge to answer the novel’s central question (and title): Who Is Vera Kelly?

More like this? The Seas by Samantha Hunt (Tin House Books, July 10)

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For something a little too close to the bone

How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson (St. Martin’s Press, 384 pages)

Allison Pearson’s name might be familiar as the author of I Don’t Know How She Does It, the rallying-cry-for-Supermoms-about-to-break-turned-subpar-SJP-movie. Four million copies later, she revisits Kate Kelly for the follow-up, How Hard Can It Be?, on the eve of her 50th birthday. Kelly is now the mother of teenagers, the wife of a man toppling over into midlife crisis and, yes, still completely overwhelmed in the pursuit of “having it all.” Pearson’s prose is so skillfully breezy – and funny – that you’d almost miss the radical interrogation of “the way we live now” in this sharply observed comedy of manners.

More like this? When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger (Simon & Schuster)

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For one you definitely don’t want to read on a plane

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages)

Based on the true story of Air France flight 007 – which crashed after takeoff in Paris en route to Atlanta in 1962 – Visible Empire is a tensely wound novel that follows the shock waves of this forgotten air disaster across a hot, humid summer. The plane was a charter, chock full of Georgia’s biggest names in the arts, the manifest of the fallen a who’s who list in Atlanta society. Grief rises like a miasma over Hannah Pittard’s fourth novel, but it’s also a love story of sorts, centred around newspaperman Robert and his estranged wife Lily, unexpectedly left penniless after the death of her wealthy parents in the crash.

More like this? Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Air Travel, by Patrick Smith (Sourcebooks)

This list is lit

With some of the year’s biggest books coming out in the throes of summer, why not pick up a literary blockbuster for the beach? Prepare to laugh, cry and get a little introspective with Becky Toyne’s fiction picks

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For dark humour and a family mystery

Mama’s Boy by David Goudreault (Book*hug, 200 pages, June 11)

A major success in the author’s native Quebec, Mama’s Boy is a darkly comic novel about a young man in search of his mother after a childhood spent in foster care. Taking the form of a confession, the book is translated from the French by JC Sutcliffe. Expect gritty humour, bizarre characters, and a tale both tender and violent.

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For the bliss and torment of ordinary life and love

Ordinary People by Diana Evans (Doubleday Canada, 336 pages, June 19)

Published to effusive reviews in the UK this spring, Ordinary People, the third novel by Diana Evans (26a, The Wonder), is a story of marital angst in the face of parenthood and approaching midlife. With their relationships now settled into routine domesticity, the spouses in this story lament the agony of ordinary life that lies beyond the first blush of new romance.

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For a Kafkaesque story of turbulent times

The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (Counterpoint, 208 pages, June 22)

Forty years after its original publication in Albanian, Man Booker International Prize-winner Ismail Kadare’s book is finding an enthusiastic readership in English. Translated by John Hodgson, this allegorical novel of tyranny and rebellion is set in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, but its story of subordination to the state is timeless. “Kafka on a grander political scale,” said the The Sunday Times.

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For a story of marriage, faithfulness, and faith

The Paper Lovers by Gerard Woodward (Picador, 320 pages, July 12)

The story of two married couples and one affair, Gerard Woodward examines the crisis of identity that might follow a betrayal. Through the transgressions the novel explores, Woodward (an acclaimed author of novels, short fiction and poetry) asks what it means for our identities to be faithful – to yourself, your spouse, your god – and what it means to have deceived.

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For life on the American frontier

My Name Is a Knife by Alix Hawley (Vintage Canada, 400 pages, July 17)

Dubbed “Cormac McCarthy’s young heiress” by Joyce Carol Oates, Alix Hawley won the Amazon Canada First Novel Award for her debut, All True Not a Lie in It. In her sophomore novel, Hawley returns to fabled frontiersman Daniel Boone, this time to tell the end of his story, in which Boone must choose between his white and Shawnee families, and decide whether to kill or be killed in the fighting he knows must eventually follow.

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For some belly laughs and a knowing wink at our preoccupation with fame

Hits & Misses by Simon Rich (Little, Brown & Co, 240 pages, July 24)

Simon Rich is really funny. A past writer for Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons and Pixar, Rich is also the creator and showrunner of Man Seeking Woman and Miracle Workers, both of which are based on his previous books. His latest is a collection of laugh-out-loud stories with our obsession with fame and fortune at their heart. The stories are inspired by the author’s experiences in Hollywood.

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For a feted debut about the fine line between faith and fanaticism

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead Books, 224 pages, July 31)

A coming-of-age story that explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, R.O. Kwon’s debut has received two thumbs up from writers including Lauren Groff and Jenny Offil. While mourning the death of her mother, a young Korean American woman gets drawn into domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea. Advance reviews have called it “dazzling.”

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For an immigrant-in-America story about sticking out while trying to fit in

Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar (Hamish Hamilton, 320 pages, July 31)

In the vein of Teju Cole and W.G. Sebald, and with advance praise from Cole, Hanif Kureishi, Viet Thanh Nguyen and others, Immigrant, Montana is a story of cultural misunderstanding and love, from the perspective of a young new immigrant to the United States from India, dubbed AK or AK-47 by his new American friends. This promises to be a moving story of a young man trying to fit in across a cultural divide.

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For an unputdownable book you may not want to read after dark

Foe by Iain Reid (Simon & Schuster Canada, 272 pages, Aug. 7)

Iain Reid’s first two book were memoirs – about his parents’ hobby farm and his gran respectively. But having lulled his readers into a sense of comfortable security, Reid performed a plot twist with his own career. His third book, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, was a scare-your-pants-off thriller. Expect more of the latter with Foe, a page-turner about space and confinement, about familiarity and the unknown, and about … well you’ll have to read it and see.

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For a haunting story about the ghosts of memory

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson (Knopf Canada, 272 pages, Aug. 14)

Canada Reads-nominated for his non-fiction, and with a deftness for the dark and creepy in his horror (published pseudonymously as Nick Cutter), Craig Davidson is back with his first literary fiction since his Giller-nominated, bestselling Cataract City. Davidson returns to magical, seedy, slightly haunted Niagara Falls (a.k.a Cataract City) for a story about childhood adventures, the human spirit and the haunting mutability of memory.

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For the final words of a beloved Canadian storyteller

Starlight by Richard Wagamese (McClelland & Stewart, 256 pages, Aug. 14)

Unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 2017, Starlight is the final novel from Richard Wagamese, the bestselling author of Indian Horse and Medicine Walk. An abused woman on the run finds refuge on a farm owned by an Indigenous man with wounds of his own in a story about compassion and the land’s ability to heal. Starlight promises to be a moving read for Wagamese fans old and new.

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For something small-town and strange

Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey (HarperAvenue, 288 pages, Aug. 21),

Playwright (and design label Horses Atelier co-owner) Claudia Dey makes her long-awaited return to fiction (her only novel, Stunt, was published in 2008) with Heartbreaker, a coming-of-age story that is magical, sinister and strange. Seventeen years after falling from a stolen car into a remote northern town, Billie Jean Fontaine goes missing. “I want Van Halen to write the soundtrack and the Coen brothers to make the movie,” says Leslie Feist.

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For the power of female conversation

Women Talking by Miriam Toews (Knopf Canada, 240 pages, Aug. 21)

From Miriam Toews, the beloved author of devastatingly sad yet heart-warmingly witty modern Canadian classics including A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows, comes a timely, necessary new novel. Written as an imagined response to a true event, Women Talking, tells the story of a group of women gathered in secret to decide whether to stay or leave after being drugged and assaulted by men in their remote Mennonite community.

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For a send-up of high society and some armchair travel to France

French Exit by Patrick deWitt (House of Anansi, 248 pages, Aug. 28 )

For his fourth novel, Patrick deWitt focuses his funny on Paris in a tragedy of manners and a F riotous send-up of high society. Readers can expect the unexpected as the author of Ablutions , The Sisters Brothers , and the underrated and hilarious Undermajordomo Minor introduces an Upper East Side widow, her son and her aging cat – who may harbour the spirit of her dead husband – and sets them on a voyage for a new life in the City of Light.

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For an erotic awakening and an ex’s unexpected return

Queen Solomon by Tamara Faith Berger (Coach House Books, 160 pages, Sept. 1),

Tamara Faith Berger’s Maidenhead provided a smart, literary alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey and its copycats back in 2012. In Queen Solomon, Berger – who wrote porn stories for a living before publishing her first book in 1999 – explores the erotic awakening and mental disintegration of an intense young man. Teenaged Barbra terrifies and captivates the young narrator in equal measure. When things go wrong, Barbra leaves, but unexpectedly turns up seven years later to once again mess with the young man’s mind.

The science of reading

Ivan Semeniuk makes a case for three brainy books that will blow your mind

On vacation, a good book is as welcome as a good pillow. But need the contents be as lightweight? Hardly. For those uninspired by the cotton-candy clichés of summer reading, an army of science writers stand ready to divert you. What they are pedalling is not fluff, but wonder – and a chance to pause and look at the world differently.

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A case in point is Listening to the Bees (Harbour Publishing, 240 pages), a unique collaboration that features the work of Vancouver science writer and biologist Mark Winston and Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Poet Laureate for Surrey, B.C.

Winston, who also teaches writing, applies his deft style to a lifetime of research focused on bees, among the few members of the insect world for which humans have developed a close affinity. Whether he is ruminating on the improbably elegant mouth parts of long-tongued bees or on humankind’s inability to strike a balance with nature, his insights are thought-provoking but not heavy-handed. They are interspersed with Saklikar’s poems, which serve as staccato accents to the book’s contemplative hum. They revel in the chemosensory world of bees and the genetically-ordained rituals of the hive. The book is easy to dip into, like a jar of honey on the breakfast table, but something about it sticks long after the page is turned.

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For an entirely different sort of buzz, Canadian science journalist Alanna Mitchell takes readers on a wide-ranging journey into frontiers of geophysics in The Spinning Magnet (Viking, 336 pages). This may seem counterintuitive: At at time when scientists are busy conjuring up Higgs bosons and quantum computers, isn’t playing with magnets a wee bit elementary?

Not so. The once-mysterious and multifaceted force that today physicists call electromagnetism may seem well contained in the embrace of Victorian science. But once it leaps out of the textbooks and inhabits the molten churn that is Earth’s interior, it’s as unpredictable as a whirling dervish. The main focus of Mitchell’s book is the interaction between life on Earth and the global magnetic field that shields us from radiation (and reminds us of its presence when the Northern Lights dance across the night sky).

Scientists have long known that Earth’s magnetic poles have a tendency to flip over intervals of tens of thousands of years. The fact that Homo sapiens has never witnessed such an event speaks to how brief the history of our species is in the context of geologic time. Mitchell makes a compelling case that we are utterly unprepared for the havoc a magnetic reversal would wreak on civilization.

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Magnets come into play in very different and mind-bending ways (literally) in Caroline Williams’ My Plastic Brain (Prometheus Books, 278 pages) , a lively, first-person exploration in which the author stars as guinea pig.

Williams, a freelance science writer based in Britain, starts off, like most of us, feeling like her brain is not quite up to snuff. So begins a whirlwind tour of brain labs on both sides of the Atlantic to find out what she can do it about. Can the adult brain be trained? To what extent is mental performance and even consciousness a faculty that we can tune as needed? Short of taking drugs, Williams puts her grey matter through just about everything modern neuroscience can throw at it. The result is an eye-opening account that dispenses with some of the misconceptions around how our brains work and what commercial brain-training techniques can actually deliver.

Full disclosure: I once co-hosted the New Scientist podcast with Williams. Although it’s been years since we last worked together, the book instantly reminded me of the upbeat but precise flavour of her journalism. One could hardly want for a better guide through such a rapidly-advancing field.

True, science can be a hard sell for readers with bad memories of high-school physics or organic chemistry – or those who steered clear of the business altogether. But in the hands of capable writers, science can become a summer garden of delights.

The season’s hottest lines

Nathalie Atkinson hits the books to find five authors who best bring fashion to life on the page

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Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de La Falaise by Christopher Petkanas (St. Martin’s Press, 512 pages, $59)

This dishy oral history of the aristocratic bohemian designer, who was both lifelong friend and close collaborator of Yves Saint Laurent, features dozens of revealing (and often provocative) interviews. The chatty format brings the Left Bank heyday to life while it dismantles the myth of Loulou and her role as the passive muse. Insiders name names and uncensored gossip dents a few legends.

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Soccer Style by Simon Doonan (Laurence King, 257 pages, $41.99)

Tattoos and man-buns and beards, oh my! Barneys’ madcap, English-born creative ambassador combines his two abiding passions in this pictorial romp through the good, the bad and the ugly of footie fashion. The sport’s 1960s rise and George Best’s sharkskin suits begat sartorialist strikers like Cristiano Ronaldo. But Doonan also analyzes peacock fashionistos from Djibril Cissé and Paul Pogba to avant-garde hipster Hidetoshi Nakata and classifies them by style tribe. A tongue-in-cheek catalogue of the players and club bosses, and their lifestyle toys, Soccer Style makes for an entertaining sideshow of the beautiful game just in time for the World Cup.

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House of Nutter by Lance Richardson (Crown Archetype, 400 pages, $37)

Elton John. David Hockney. Diana Ross. The story of Tommy Nutter is the story of Swinging London. Both Bianca and Mick Jagger, for example, wore his bespoke suits, and so did three of the Fab Four as they crossed Abbey Road. With personal images from his brother and music photographer David, it’s a kaleidoscopic tale of how a 26-year-old iconoclast with no real tailoring training stormed staid Savile Row.

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Proust’s Duchess by Caroline Weber (Knopf, 736 pages, $47)

The author of the acclaimed Marie Antoinette fashion biography Queen of Fashion steps into the world of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece in search of lost fin de siècle excess. The daily lives, lavish dinners, masked balls and opulent wardrobes of the three bewitching high-society superstars who were the inspiration for Proust’s glamorous Duchesse de Guermantes are so evocative, you can practically hear the rustling of skirts.

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Icons of Style by Paul Martineau (Getty Publications, 368 pages, $84, July 10)

Fashion photography can reflect profound cultural shifts, such as the rise of a grittier photojournalism style in the face of crises, such as the Great Depression and the Second World War, or the periods of rebellion and seduction epitomized by 1970s Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. This coffee table companion to the upcoming J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition is a comprehensive survey of developments in 20th-century photographic style and taste through that lens, and it’s gorgeous.

Well read, well fed

While farmers’ markets abound, Julie van Rosendaal picks cookbooks to devour this summer

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How to Grill Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Flame-Cooked Food By Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)

The latest in Mark Bittman’s how-to series is the ultimate grilling guide for those who aim to spend their summer dining (and cooking) al fresco. Chock full of mouthwatering meaty options, the book’s 250 recipes also span plenty of veggie mains, desserts and condiments (grill-roasted apple butter, anyone?).

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The Dosa Kitchen: Recipes for India’s Favorite Street Food

By Nash Patel and Leda Scheintaub (Potter/Ten Speed, $24.99)

Yes, you can make thin crepe-like pancakes with a naturally fermented rice and lentil-based batter and stuff them with curries, chutneys and other tasty fillings. For those with dietary restrictions, dosa batter is gluten-free, and the fillings are easy to make vegetarian or vegan.

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Mindful Vegan Meals: Food is Your Friend

By Maria Koutsogiannis (Page Street Publishing, $31.95)

The Calgary-based blogger behind Food by Maria inspires vegans and non-vegans alike with her new plant-based cookbook. Besides classic comfort foods and sweet indulgences, many of the recipes are inspired by her Greek heritage; think vegan versions of traditional favourites, such as spanokapita, gyros and dolmades.

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Food Artisans of Alberta: Your Trail Guide to the Best of our Locally Crafted Fare

By Karen Anderson and Matilde Sanchez-Turri (TouchWood Editions, June 19, $25)

From high plains bison and river trout to the rolling fields of wheat, barley and canola, Alberta’s diverse terroir is captured in this book. Brimming with stories of the province’s farmers, growers and producers, this book acts as a guide for supporters of local food and a travel companion for visitors seeking out a uniquely prairie experience.

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Rosa’s Thai Café: The Vegetarian Cookbook

By Saiphin Moore (Octopus Books, July 3, $27.99)

Rosa’s Thai Café has grown from a street food stall to 11 London restaurants in the past decade. The second book from co-founder Saiphin Moore is beautifully photographed, with more than 100 vegetarian and vegan recipes from the café itself and inspired by Moore’s upbringing near Phetchabun, Thailand, where she opened a noodle shop at the age of 14.

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In the French Kitchen with Kids: Easy, Everyday Dishes for the Whole Family to Make and Enjoy

By Mardi Michels (Appetite by Random House, July 31, $29.95)

Toronto-based French teacher and food blogger Mardi Michels has been running a cooking club for seven- to 14-year-olds after school twice a week since 2010. Her first book shares the lessons of Les Petits Chefs, demonstrating that French food − even homemade profiteroles, ratatouille and crème brûlée − doesn’t have to be complicated.