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Arts/Life

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"There must be something about me and orphans," says author Jerry Spinelli.

Several of Spinelli's novels tell orphan stories, including his Newbery award-winning book Maniac Magee.

"People come from other people," he says. "And if you remove one of the elements in that equation you're left with someone who is, in some sense, abandoned — and that changes the equation."

Manju has the body of a boy, the forearms of a cricketer, and a superstitious, arbitrary tyrant of a father who wants only one thing: To raise the first-best and second-best batsmen in the world.

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Psychic Soldiers Populate 'Throwaways' — With Style

Jan 7, 2017

Style matters, even when it's inside your brain. Caitlin Kittredge's comic Throwaways may deal with invisible and mysterious forces, but there's nothing low-key about artist Steven Sanders' character designs. The telekinetic protagonist, a psychic on the run from a top-secret military project, foregoes urban camouflage to let his freak flag — well, his Black Flag — fly. When he faces down several war wagons full of government agents, his t-shirt emblazoned with that band's logo — to say nothing of his sassy cerulean mohawk — almost steals the show.

Editor's note: Tunde Wey is a Nigerian chef. Lora Smith is a native of eastern Kentucky and co-founder of the Appalachian Food Summit.

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In the kitchen at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, just north of downtown Detroit, Linda Carter and Shawnetta Hudson are in the final stages of making their newest jam creation: cranberry-apple preserves. Carter is meticulously wiping down tables while Hudson seals the lids on jars. Then comes the logo — a beautiful graphic of a black woman with afro hair made of strawberries. The kitchen is small and basic, but for the past year it has served as the hub of a community-based product called Afro Jam.

Sherlock and Pop Culture Happy Hour both premiered in 2010, but until now, the two have never intersected in the form of a full segment on our show. The series of 90-minute episodes — which air in America as part of PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! series — stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, respectively. Last weekend, Sherlock launched its fourth three-episode season (not counting a one-off special in January 2016), which makes this a perfect time to dive in.

In A Monster Calls, a preteen boy in a rambling English countryside manor is visited several times by a beast of his imagining as his mother battles terminal cancer. This is a rough yet kindly monster, not here to feed off the boy's grief or make it disappear but rather to help him harness and manage it. But he certainly looks scary, emerging as he does from the gangly tree that rests near the grave plot at the top of the hill, with bright-red eyes and a towering height, walking on roots that creak and crumble with every step.

Standing across from each other at City Hall, each wearing an outfit that barely passes for "dress casual," Dianne (Olivia Thirlby) and Henry (Ben Feldman) cannot make it through their wedding vows with giggling and rolling their eyes a little. It's not that they don't care for each other — though they're in a rough stretch — but for two people so allergic to convention, the institution of marriage is like a pollen bomb. Their instinct is to duck-and-cover when it detonates.

The Ardennes forest is best known as the site of the Battle of the Bulge, although one of the sibling protagonists of The Ardennes associates it with idyllic family vacations. But by the time Kenny (Kevin Janssens) prevails on Dave (Jeroen Perceval) to revisit the rugged Belgian woods, another war has erupted.

We meet Dave first, as he dives, fully clothed and masked, into a pool. The camera is below the plunging figure, which makes for a dynamic and disorienting image.

Director Damien Chazelle's La La Land is an unapologetic musical that hearkens back to Hollywood's glory days of song and dance. The passion and grandeur of the musical numbers might make you believe that Chazelle had always imagined himself working in the genre, but he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that's not the case.

More than four decades ago, when NPR was still in its infancy, the network had a little idea: How about we ask listeners to write ads for the finer things in life — the things money can't buy?

The results, the "Commercials For Nicer Living," were produced by NPR in 1972 and voiced by Susan Stamberg and Linda Wertheimer — and so delightful that we decided to revive the series.

It's been 23 years since Tad Williams wrapped up his staggering fantasy saga, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Originally planned as a trilogy, it eventually grew to comprise four huge novels and — by Williams' own count — a total of a million words. Shockingly, it became a bestseller, and along with Robert Jordan's vast Wheel of Time series, Williams' books helped pave the way in the '90s for George R. R. Martin's equally ambitious fantasy opus, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Dorlyn Catron's cane is making its radio debut today — its name is Pete. ("He's important to my life. He ought to have a name," she says.)

Catron is participating in one of the America InSight tours at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum offers twice-a-month tours, led by specially trained docents, to blind and visually impaired visitors.

They call it "The Leaning Tower of San Francisco."

But it wasn't always that way. The luxury skyscraper was billed as "state of the art" when it opened a few years ago. People paid millions for condos there.

"Difficult woman" is a loaded term, but writer Roxane Gay isn't afraid of taking on ideas with baggage. (A few years ago, she wrote a book of essays called Bad Feminist.) Her new short story collection, Difficult Women, explores women's lives and issues of race, class and sex.

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Between Fidel Castro's death and the new American president, it's hard to know what's next for U.S.-Cuba relations. But partnerships are already underway, including one involving Cuba's first independent video game design company and a U.S. foundation that helped it get started.

Empty Head Games is the company started by two young Cubans, Josuhe Pagliery and Johann Armenteros. In November, the duo launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for their game, Savior. In just six days, the campaign hit its $10,000 goal.

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"Dogs are better than human beings," wrote Emily Dickinson, "because they know but don't tell." That sentiment comes to mind when considering Emily Bitto's debut novel, which showcases a dazzling, gabby and ultimately doomed collection of stray human beings. Assembled under one bohemian roof in 1930s Australia, most of these characters tell all to a fault. But one, an adolescent girl named Lily, sees all but keeps her mouth firmly shut — until she comes to narrate this book.

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In India people worship many gods. Aravind Adiga's new novel is about one of the most powerful ones.

'Bambi' Artist Tyrus Wong Dies At 106

Jan 3, 2017

The Hollywood artist and calligrapher who designed Disney's Bambi has died at age 106. Tyrus Wong, a Chinese immigrant, survived Angel Island, the Chinese Exclusion Act and racial bias, before receiving acclaim for his work, late in his career in the 1990s. NPR's Audie Cornish talks with Pamela Tom, who made the documentary, Tyrus.

When Lin-Manuel Miranda was a teenager in the 1990s, he liked to make eclectic mixtapes for his friends. In those cassettes, he experimented with the rise and fall of energy in music: A musical theater number might play after a hip-hop song, only to be followed by an oldie or an obscure pop song. It was through mixtapes that he could bridge the gap between two seemingly opposing passions — Broadway and rap.

It's 1968 in New Bordeaux, La. On the surface all looks tranquil as you drive through the bustling city in your red Pontiac, tapping your foot to Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang."

But as you take a sharp left down a winding back alley, an alarming sight gives you pause. Behind you, trucks painted with the Confederate flag begin to appear, the white men behind the wheel angry and visceral as they shout racial slurs.

Your name is Lincoln Clay. You're a 23-year-old biracial man — but in this place, this time, you're black, and instances of racism and bigotry are commonplace.

There's a reason that some readers view contemporary coming-of-age novels with suspicion. Too many play out the same way: An odd but winsome young person goes on some kind of journey of discovery, either literal or figurative, and learns something about himself or herself in the process. Often, there's an awkward romance. And the ending, whether happy or otherwise, can usually be described as bittersweet.

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