NPR Staff

Good novels are like good parties: You get the right mix of people together, and you never quite know what will happen.

In Ann Patchett's new novel Commonwealth, a christening party takes a turn when one guest arrives with a bottle of gin. The gin leads to a wonderfully sloppy afternoon with cocktail mixing, a dancing priest, and two adulterous kisses.

The kisses lead to divorces, and a new blended family, six kids bouncing back and forth between Southern California and Virginia.

It's a classic summertime treat, the kind you might get from an ice cream truck.

It's a sugar cone, in the shape of a taco, filled with light vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate with nuts on top. It's the Choco Taco.

But where did this highly engineered dessert come from?

Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel, Everything is Illuminated, dug into his family's history with the Holocaust. His latest novel explores a different aspect of Judaism.

It's called Here I Am; the title comes from the Bible — the story where God calls on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. This book is set in present-day Washington, D.C., where a Jewish family goes through a domestic crisis, while at the same time, a geopolitical crisis unfolds on the other side of the world.

Last month, NPR asked listeners and readers and a Harvard professor what technologies have stuck around a little too long.

"The typewriter keyboard for me is the one that is most amazing," said Calestous Juma, author of Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies.

He's talking about the QWERTY layout — in use since the earliest typewriters.

Robert Hoge's new memoir is about his childhood — his first day of school, making friends and learning to ride a bike. But it's also about getting called "cripple," having multiple reconstructive surgeries and teaching himself how to play sports with two artificial limbs.

Hoge was born with deformed legs and a giant tumor between his eyes. "The tumor formed really early during my development," he tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "So it subsumed my nose and pushed my eyes to the side of my head, like a fish, and made a mess of my face, as you'd expect."

The StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week we hear from Jenna Henderson whose husband died while serving in Afghanistan.

Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson joined the Army right out of high school in 1991. He served in Bosnia and Kosovo before deploying to Afghanistan in 2007 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. On that tour, he was killed by an IED, when he was just 35 years old.

We can't print the full name of LOLO's new album, In Loving Memory of When I Gave a S***. But the woman born Lauren Pritchard wants you to know that she does still care –- about some things.

"The meaning of the title is, I grew up in a really small town in Tennessee, and it's sort of the buckle of the Bible Belt," she says. "And I always tried to be a good, sweet little Southern girl, but I wasn't. I wasted a lot of energy trying to be what other people wanted me to be, and I can't be anyone but myself now."

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick dropped to one knee rather than stand during the national anthem at a preseason football game Thursday night. It's an extension of the protest Kaepernick began last week when he sat as the anthem played before an earlier game, declaring, "I am not going to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

A restaurant chain that charges twice as much for a meal in one location as it does in another? You would think that's a recipe for angry customers.

But Everytable in Los Angeles is betting that this will prove a successful business model, while also serving up a hefty side of social mission.

Pablo Escobar was one of the most notorious drug kingpins the world has ever known. His cartel — based in Medellin, Colombia — ruled in the 1980s and at one point supplied 80 percent of the cocaine coming into the U.S.

The drama and danger of those days is captured in the Netflix series Narcos. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura plays Escobar in the series, and at the time it was a surprising casting choice. For one thing, Escobar is on the chubby side, and as Moura tells NPR's David Greene, "I was very skinny." Also: He didn't speak Spanish.

The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., is home to so much Americana, including Civil War uniforms, Dorothy's red shoes from The Wizard Of Oz, and video game prototypes. It also has an extensive collection of presidential campaign memorabilia.

"We collect a fair amount of Republican, Democrat, red, white and blue stuff, but there are great objects that engage issues for 2016, that can communicate those issues and debates 100 years from now," says Jon Grinspan, one of the museum's curators for political history.

The V&E Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection in Durham, N.C., is the result of an obsession that grew one oom pah-pah at a time.

Vincent Simonetti started playing tuba in high school in the 1950s – and it was love at first puff.

"And I would draw it in study hall. I'd draw pictures of it. I don't know why. I just became obsessed with it," he says.

The Rev. Danny Cortez is a pastor. He also has a son who recently came out as gay. And when his teenage son came out to him in 2014, he did something more than express his support: He decided to talk to his Southern Baptist congregation about it — even though doing so likely meant getting kicked out of the church.

One of America's most distinguished men of letters says he believes that speech, not evolution, has made human beings into the creative, imaginative, deliberate, destructive, and complicated beings who invented the slingshot and the moon shot, and wrote the words of the Bible, Don Quixote, Good Night Moon, the backs of cereal boxes, and Fifty and Shades of Grey.

In the 1920s and '30s, Langston Hughes was at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance. After the movement ended, he didn't go far: The writer moved into a brownstone on Harlem's 127th Street, where he lived for the last 20 years of his life.

The building is a national landmark, but it's been mostly empty for decades. In that time, Harlem has begun to gentrify. Now, in an effort to keep Hughes' former home from becoming one more high-end co-op, a neighborhood nonprofit is raising money to lease the building as an arts center.

William James Stokes is the son of a church man, and on his first album he comes right out with it. The Preacher's Kid is the singer and rapper's debut as Sir the Baptist, a name he felt suited his origins in the Bronzeville district of South Side Chicago. "I grew up in a Chicago area where they called it 'Chi-raq' — and I felt like if I was gonna be the voice crying out in the wilderness, I would want to be John the Baptist," he says.

If you've seen Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book or the Toy Story movies, you've seen the work of animator Floyd Norman; for decades, he has helped bring Disney and Pixar classics to life.

Now 81, Norman still works for Disney, where he has plied his trade, on and off, since he became the studio's first African-American animator in the 1950s.

Frank Mutz's family has been keeping people cool for more than half a century.

It began with his grandfather, who started installing and repairing air conditioners in the 1950s. Now, Frank is the elder in the family trade, running the Atlanta business alongside his own children, including his son Phil.

Imagine you're a teenager in Beijing in the 1960s and '70s, during the Cultural Revolution. Everything that's deemed Western and bourgeois is banned — so listening to a 78 rpm recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, powerfully transformative as it might be, is off limits.

Enormous trucks from all over the country are rolling down highways toward Baton Rouge, La.

When they get to town, their task is to clear neighborhoods where streets are lined with trash from last week's massive flood.

Baton Rouge contracted with DRC Emergency Services to handle disaster response when the floods began last week. It started out rescuing people in boats, and now that the boats are docked, trucks are coming in to handle the cleanup.

Author Lawrence Wright was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, which meant he was required to do two years of what was called "alternative service." He ended up in Egypt, teaching at the American University in Cairo. And it was there that the man from Texas started his obsession with the Middle East.

Since then, Wright has written a lot about the region and about terrorism as a staff writer for The New Yorker. Now, he has compiled his many New Yorker essays into a new book called The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.

It's been a rough summer for supporters of Donald Trump.

A convention that aimed for harmony had some disharmony. The candidate picked arguments with a Gold Star family and with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Polls have shown Trump falling behind.

At a recent rally in Altoona, Pa., Trump told the crowd that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania — a state where he is polling well behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton — would be in the event of a fix.

In the their new book, Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money and Power, Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post tell the story of Donald Trump's rise as a businessman, a political candidate, but above all, as a brand.

This sentence from the book captures the proliferation of the Trump brand:

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.

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.

Security experts say that Russian hackers have broken into the computers of not only the Democratic National Committee but other targets as well.

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.

For voters dissatisfied with both major party candidates, there are a few other options. There's Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and a lesser known late arrival to the scene — Evan McMullin.

McMullin is running as an independent with support from the #NeverTrump movement. He has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump — and he's seen as a conservative alternative to candidate. He has blasted Trump as personally unstable on his website and "a real threat to our Republic."

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.