NPR Staff

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Imbolo Mbue lost her job. "I was very disillusioned about America ..." she tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "I was unemployed for over a year and a half."

Originally from Limbe, Cameroon, Mbue came to U.S. to go to college. After losing her job, she had to start over from scratch — and that led to her sitting down to write her debut novel Behold the Dreamers. One day, while walking down the street, "I got an inspiration to write this story," she says.

It's a big summer for conventions, the Olympics — and Barbra Streisand. She's on tour in nine cities across North America, and has a new album of duets called called Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway. Her collaborators include Anne Hathaway, Daisey Ridley, Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, Antonio Banderas, and a host of other film stars.

After making two solo albums, singer and guitarist Charlene Kaye hit a creative wall. She was stuck, mired in writer's block and self-doubt — until she went on the road as the frontwoman for the baroque-pop band San Fermin. Now, she's rediscovered her own voice on a new EP, Honey, released under the moniker KAYE.

It took Bill Broun 14 years to write Night of the Animals. But the novel, Broun's debut, has still proved remarkably timely in a summer of "Brexit"-tinged anxieties.

The book depicts a dark future in which the European Union has dissolved and the U.K. has become a pacified surveillance state. Between "indigents" and "the new aristocracy," a vanishing middle class bows beneath abundant chocolate, lager, legal hallucinogens and mind-numbing electronics.

A stop-motion samurai film — that's the germ of an idea that grew into the sprawling fantasy film, Kubo and the Two Strings.

It's a coming-of-age epic set in fantasy Japan about a young storyteller who makes magic with music and origami paper. The film stars Art Parkinson as Kubo, the Samurai's son, as well as Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei and Matthew McConaughey.

Editor's note: This interview contains adult themes, including a discussion of sexual assault.

Amy Schumer is tired of answering a question journalists ask her all the time: Is this a good moment for women in Hollywood?

"It is an amazing moment for every woman," she tells NPR's David Greene, "if you have ovaries and you're in the 90210 ZIP code."

Natalie Portman says her new film felt like something she just "had to make." It's an adaptation of A Tale of Love and Darkness, the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz, in which he tells the story of his childhood in Jerusalem during the early years of Israeli independence.

Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, directed and wrote the Hebrew language film. She also stars as Oz's mother, Fania, whose family emigrated from Eastern Europe.

The shiny, polished pop of today sometimes sounds effortless, as if it hatched fully realized from the keyboards of genius producers. But just because the technology is different doesn't mean the creative process is.

Noteworthy, a new video documentary series from NPR Music, spends a day with a musician to understand the real work that goes into the creative process: how they get ideas for melodies and lyrics, the places and people that inspire them.

In Teju Cole's writing, everything is fair game. Politics, poetry, music — even Snapchat.

He roams between time periods, genres and media, drawing unexpected parallels, and his latest book, Known and Strange Things, is a collection of his essays written for publications like The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker.

Jace Clayton circles the globe looking for new sounds, from home studios in Morocco to teen parties in Mexico. Performing as DJ /rupture, he incorporates them into his work — and in his travels, he's found that digital technology has profoundly changed how music is produced, even in the most unlikely places.

That's the subject of his new book, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture. He joined NPR's Audie Cornish to talk about it; hear the radio version at the audio link, and read an edited version below.

Graham Moore's new novel opens in 1888 with a jolt: Its main character, Paul Cravath, witnesses a Western Union worker being electrocuted in the sky above Broadway while trying to repair a live wire. Blue flame shoots from his mouth and his skin falls from his bones.

Later that day, Paul meets Thomas Edison, an inventor who is racing against archrival George Westinghouse to electrify the United States from coast to coast. The success of Edison's inventions hinges on the U.S. adopting DC electricity, while Westinghouse's innovations rely on AC power.

Sam Esmail, creator of the TV show Mr. Robot, learned the hard way that hacking isn't easy. Years ago, he made the "really ill-advised decision" to hack his girlfriend's college campus email, from his job at an NYU computer lab.

"I easily got busted ..." he tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. "They traced it back to that IP address and I got fired and put on academic probation and that was the end of my hacker days."

A few years ago, writer Elizabeth Greenwood went on a trip to the Philippines where, on the afternoon of July 7, 2013, she died. "My death certificate indicates that I perished in a car crash," she tells NPR's Audie Cornish.

Clearly, Greenwood didn't actually die, but she did spend a lot of time researching how to make the world believe she did. Faking your own death, or pseudocide, is the subject of her new book, Playing Dead: A Journey Through The World of Death Fraud.

For his latest project, singer Will Downing decided to pay homage to some of R&B's greats. Female chart-toppers from the mid-'70s to early '90s — Phyllis Hyman, Deniece Williams, Cherelle and Chaka Khan, to name a few — are Downing's contemporaries and his inspiration, and hail from an era in which soulful love songs ruled pop culture.

Summer is a time for music festivals around the world, with thousands of people gathering to enjoy their favorite bands and musicians. But a dark current underlies some of these events: In Sweden, police say there were more than 50 cases of rape and sexual assault at two major festivals there last month. Sexual violence has been reported for decades at large outdoor concerts, including here in the U.S. And now in the U.K., some county officials are trying to do something about it.

With Hillary Clinton having made history last month by becoming the first female presidential nominee, could it be that today's gender roles are not as egalitarian as we think?

Irina Reyn's new novel, The Imperial Wife, raises such questions. The dual-narrative follows the marriages of two ambitious women immigrants: one, a rising Russian art expert in a high-end Manhattan auction house set in the present day; the other, a young Catherine the Great in imperial Russia.

There was a time when people went to bars to talk to other people, maybe even meet someone new. But that was in the BC era — before cellphones.

"I've been in the pub industry for a long time, and progressively it's become less and less social and more and more antisocial," Steve Tyler, the owner of the Gin Tub in Sussex, England, tells NPR's Scott Simon.

Cockroach Milk: Yes. You Read That Right

Aug 6, 2016

Pour out that almond milk — the new hip thing cockroach milk.

Well, kind of.

The female Pacific beetle cockroach is one of a kind. Unlike other insect species, this Hawaiian native gives birth to live young. And she feeds them a pale, yellow liquid "milk" from her brood sack.

But the craziest thing: Cut open an embryonic beetle roach, and they're guts will spill out nutrient-rich milk crystals that shimmer like glitter.

Jesmyn Ward was in her twenties when she first read James Baldwin's 1963 essay collection The Fire Next Time. Ward felt that Baldwin's essays — compiled in a year which included Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech and the Birmingham church bombings — are especially resonant today and tease out similar racial tensions.

A few years ago, Silicon Valley engineer Bindu Reddy was raising money for a new startup. An investor offered to contribute — not because of what she was trying to do, but because she was a woman.

That rubbed Reddy the wrong way, and she wrote about it — then the backlash began.

Perhaps you've heard the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that goes, "There are no second acts in American lives." Some may beg to disagree. After all, for many people, there are indeed second acts. One such example is singer and actress Heather Headley, who epitomizes this in ways few others do. Headley is a native of the twin-island republic Trinidad and Tobago in the South Caribbean, where she started singing and playing the piano in church at a very young age. She moved with her family to the United States in the early '90s.

Adam Summers used to trade Snickers bars to get free CT scans of dead fish.

He likes fish. A lot.

Summers is a professor at the University of Washington in the biology department and School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences.

"I've always been a fish guy," he says. "It's just been in my blood since I was as small as I can remember." Summers was a scientific consultant on Finding Nemo and did similar work with Finding Dory.

Bad Moms is a movie about good moms who try to go bad. Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban Chicago mothers who find themselves ground down by the daily cycle of school drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer games, supermarket runs, errands, chores and endless worries. One night they wind up at the same bar after a PTA meeting and together they decide to let loose.

Family stories get passed between generations, and like a lot of cherished possessions, they sometimes get nicked, smudged, frayed, or otherwise changed.

Nadja Spiegelman has written a memoir of a mother she thought she knew, which resonates through the recollections of the grandmother she might have misunderstood.

Her mother is Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, and her father is Art Spiegelman, the graphic novelist. In fact, her father's Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel Maus is dedicated to Nadja.

Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice is a troubling comedy.

The play's villain is Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. He gives one of his Christian tormentors a loan on the condition that if the merchant doesn't repay, Shylock gets a pound of the borrower's flesh.

While Shylock does give a famous speech that nobly decries de-humanization of the Jews, the play is full of anti-Semitic language and ideas.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has been in politics since the 1960s, and launched multiple runs for president himself.

In 1992, he ran as the outsider candidate — chastising the incumbent parties that had "failed their duty."

"They've placed their own interest about the national interest," he said during the speech that kicked off his campaign. They've allowed themselves to be trapped and in some cases corrupted by the powerful forces of greed. It's time for them go!"

Jason Dessen, the protagonist of the new novel Dark Matter, is just a regular guy: He's 40, a devoted husband, a professor of physics at a small college, and a loving father to a teenage son.

But one day he's drugged and kidnapped and wakes up to find he's in a very different world. Not just a different world — a different life.

Blake Crouch joins NPR's Elise Hu to talk about the new book, and about why he loves imagining alternate realities.

Since his debut novel, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has finessed a line between fact and fiction. His latest, Heroes of the Frontier, is a novel about a dentist who, after a bad breakup, packs up and moves to Alaska with her two young children.

Alaska is "a working state" that's "not too precious about itself," Eggers tells NPR's Scott Simon. "It's still very raw and there's still so much of it that you can discover, and be alone."

John Evans, co-owner of California's Diesel, A Bookstore, recommends three vacation reads: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan and Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe and Tom DeSavia.