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'Dragon Heart' Is Epic Fantasy With A Gothic Air

Sep 5, 2015

At first glance, Cecelia Holland's new novel Dragon Heart is a straight-down-the-middle work of fantasy. (The dragon depicted on the cover might just be the dead giveaway.) But there's another genre lurking beneath the book's mythic, majestic surface, one that's equally as intriguing and far less expected: The Gothic romance.

Salman Rushdie's new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, seems to transpose the Arabian Nights of long ago to modern-day New York City. A thunderstorm overturns the city and upsets the laws of the universe with myth and magic.

The jinn have come back after an 800-year exile, and they create a world in which a down-to-earth gardener walks on air, a spurned wife shoots lightning from her fingertips and a graphic novelist's character turns to flesh. The world is in the grip of a long-term struggle between fear-instilled superstition and unmagical reason.

Hours before it was scheduled to screen at the Telluride Film Festival, the Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace has been pulled, after a federal court granted the singer an injunction. The film centers on footage shot by late director Sydney Pollack at a 1972 Franklin concert.

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Editor's Note: This report contains a racial slur.

A new play reveals some little-known history about the land that became New York City's Central Park: People used to live there.

Beginning in 1825, about 300 people — mainly free African-Americans — lived in a village that spanned a portion of the park's 843 acres in Manhattan, between 82nd and 89th streets, east of Central Park West. It was called Seneca Village.

It's that time of year when some gardeners and tomato-coveting shoppers face a vexing question: What on earth am I going to do with all these tomatoes I grew (or bought)?

A select few up to their elbows in tomatoes may have an additional quandary: How am I going to prepare different kinds of tomatoes to honor their unique qualities?

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Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine hits theaters today. Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney's documentary joins a growing list of biopics and biographies that have come out since Jobs' death in 2011. But, it adds a new perspective on the increasingly well-known facts of his life. Gibney's thesis seems to be that Jobs' flawed character was infused into the machines he made, leaving us perhaps a little more flawed if we use them.

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We're not shy about our affinity for the Cherokee Purple, a purplish package of sweet, acid and savory tomato greatness.

Last week, when Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I gathered to talk about the great summer entertainment we'd neglected to discuss on the show, we came to a realization mid-taping: All three of us had been watching, and loving, the USA Network series Mr. Robot, which aired the last episode of its first season Wednesday night. (It's already been renewed for a second season.)

Slight and familiar but sweet enough for Saturday night, Before We Go is the umpteenth re-up of Brief Encounter, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's also the directing debut of Chris Evans, and quite possibly an effort to run as far from Captain America as he can, into a chatty two-hander whose only action is a late-night ramble around New York City.

Having slipped into permanent darkness, the protagonist of Blind stays secluded in the Oslo apartment she shares with her husband.

Eventually we learn that her name is Ingrid, but her identity barely seems to matter. The world bustles past the shut-in, alone at her window, a voyeur who can no longer see.

In 2008, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk attempted to summit Meru, a 21,000-foot mountain in the Garhwal Himalayas in northern India. Some of the greatest climbers in the world have tried and failed to reach its peak — a sheer granite wall known as the Shark's Fin.

"The Shark's Fin to a climber is really irresistible," Chin explains to NPR's David Greene. "What really makes it challenging is that you have this kind of big wall on top of basically 4,000 feet of alpine climbing."

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It was the closing ceremony of the Fifth Annual Slum Film Festival and Maxwell Odhiambo's film, the centerpiece of the night, wasn't there yet.

"Did you finish it?" his mentor, George Stanley Nsamba, asked nervously as Odhiambo burst through the door, two hours late.

"We finished it," he said with a grin.

A packed audience in downtown Nairobi, including a Kenyan actor who had flown in from Hollywood, waited for his film to begin. A blue screen stared back at them; the audience shifted nervously. There were technical difficulties.

To listen to the media tell it, "so" is busting out all over — or at least at the beginning of a sentence. New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas calls "so" the new "um" and "like"; others call it a plague and a fad.

Ever heard of a tengu? How about a jorōgumo? You'll know them after you read Wayward, Image Comics' action-packed romp featuring Tokyo teenagers fighting the supernatural. It's been likened to a Japanese version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its emphasis on epically battling the Big Bad (to use the Buffy term) is coupled with a determination to get its monsters right.

'Sorcerer' Is A Delightful Romp With Deep, Solid Roots

Sep 3, 2015

There are several ways in which Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown invites comparison with Susanna Clarke's best-selling, BBC-adapted Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: It features squabbling English magicians, a Regency setting and a mysterious decline in English magic attributed at least in part to difficult relations with capricious fairies.

Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, has died at age 84. In addition to his film work, Jones played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim's Company in 1970.

Jones died in Los Angeles on Tuesday, according to his publicist, Richard Hoffman. The cause of death is reportedly related to Parkinson's disease.

In 1938, an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger gave the first public talk on autism in history. Asperger was speaking to an audience of Nazis, and he feared that his patients — children who fell onto what we now call the autism spectrum — were in danger of being sent to Nazi extermination camps.

As Asperger spoke, he highlighted his "most promising" patients, a notion that would stick with the autistic spectrum for decades to come.

About two-thirds of the way through Jonathan Franzen's big new novel, Purity, we're told about an "ambitious project" conceived by a young artist named Anabel. Anabel finds it strange that people can go through their lives without "having made the most basic acquaintance with [their bodies] ...

'Twelve Kings' Launches A Bold New Fantasy World

Sep 2, 2015

Despite numerous, valiant efforts over the past few years to broaden the palette of epic fantasy, the genre still has a default setting: some fictionalized version of medieval Europe. Add Bradley P. Beaulieu's new novel, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, to the growing list of proud exceptions. Set in a world covered by desert and lit by twin moons, Twelve Kings includes Islamic and Ancient Egyptian influences among its fabulist mix of cultures.

Spoiler alert: Terry Pratchett's final novel begins with the death of one of his toughest and best-developed characters.

With a title like Purity, Jonathan Franzen's latest novel sets the reader up for great expectations, and how. What Franzen does well in every novel is to tell a sprawling story with a robust and intimately rendered casts of characters. At the outset of this one, we meet Pip (hello, Charles Dickens), a recent college graduate who is clever and ambitious, but aimless.

The Naples in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels isn't the Italy you see on postcards. The neighborhood she describes in vivid detail is poor and unglamorous — and it may or may not be based on the neighborhood where she herself grew up. Ferrante is actually a pen name and very little is known about the true identity of the author. She does almost no publicity, but that hasn't stopped the books from achieving cult status. Her latest, The Story of the Lost Child, comes out on Tuesday.

Trying to divine what the future holds is an ancient human preoccupation. And for centuries, soothsayers have sought answers in the bottom of a teacup.

Amy Taylor was 18 when she stumbled into the practice of reading tea leaves. Now 46 and a professional tea-leaf reader, she remembers looking into her stepsister's teacup at a Toronto restaurant, and saying, "Oh, that's funny, that looks like a tree." She says she looked at all of her family's cups that night, and saw things in all of them. "I just thought that was really odd," she says.

For novelist Jonathan Franzen, writing isn't just an escape from himself, it's an "escape from everything." He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross: "It's like having this dream that you can go back to, kind of on demand. When it's really going well ... you're in a fantasy land and feeling no pain."

It might seem odd to be reading about an old-fashioned farmstead shootout and thinking about how charming it is, but if you're reading Girl Waits With Gun, you might as well get used to it. You'll be thinking that a lot, because the women holding down this particular farmstead are Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp, who handle the battle with grim panache. Though they're under fire, Constance's narrative voice is endlessly pragmatic and authoritative: Neither stray internal monologue nor enemy bullets will be permitted.