NPR Staff

It's 1963 Cuba and a woman named Maria Sirena is taking shelter from a hurricane inside the former governor's mansion, along with a small group of other Cuban women. Maria distracts the women at their request by recounting stories of her childhood — personal stories that trace the history of Cuba's long fight for independence.

That's the premise of Chantel Acevedo's latest novel, The Distant Marvels. Acevedo, herself the daughter of Cuban immigrants, tells NPR's Rachel Martin that she intentionally made Maria part of a unique generation in Cuba.

When English journalist Graham Holliday got tired of his office job in the U.K., he knew he wanted a change — a big one.

So he packed up and moved to Asia, first to Korea to teach English and ultimately, to the place that would be his home for nine years: Vietnam. As soon as he arrived, he was determined to immerse himself in Vietnamese culture — and for him, that meant food.

Action, espionage and secrets fill the new NBC show American Odyssey.

But Peter Horton, the show's co-creator and executive producer, says it's easiest to describe the show by saying what it's not. "It's not a police show, it's not an FBI show, it's not a CIA show," he tell's NPR's Arun Rath. "It's a modern-day thriller told in three story bubbles, basically, about three very ordinary people."

The Captain, a Communist sympathizer who's risen through the ranks of the South Vietnamese Army, has a confession:

I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.

So begins Viet Thanh Nguyen's new novel, The Sympathizer.

Businessman Mokhtar Alkhanshali was used to the complications of traveling to Yemen. He'd been traveling there and back for years; sometimes the American Embassy would close for a few days amid turmoil, but it always opened back up.

But on March 27, the situation changed dramatically. "Overnight, the country went to war," he says.

The Yemeni-American coffee importer had been in Sana'a, Yemen's capital, on business when the city was rocked by explosions. He stepped outside at 2 a.m. to find anti-aircraft guns lighting up the night sky.

There's not a whole lot to do in prison, so inmates spend a fair amount of time playing cards.

For several years, law enforcement officials around the country have been putting that prisoners' pastime to good use. They've been putting facts and photos from unsolved crimes in front of prisoners' eyes by printing them on decks of cards, hoping to generate leads.

Even if you don't know Kate Mulgrew's name, you know her work. She currently plays Red, the formidable prison kitchen manager in the series Orange Is the New Black. And for seven seasons she was Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.

"Nothing could be more challenging, more arduous, or more rewarding than that part on that series," Mulgrew tells NPR's Tamara Keith, referring to the role of Janeway.

It's an overcast morning outside President Lincoln's Cottage, a national historic site in Washington, D.C., and Erin Carlson Mast is struggling to open a pair of huge, historic wooden pocket doors.

"When we began the restoration these had been closed for over 100 years," Carlson Mast, the site's executive director, tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.

President Obama has launched a sustained, long-term military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But did he have constitutional power to do so?

Article I of the Constitution gives some war powers to the Congress — namely, the power to declare war — while Article II gives the president the power of commander-in-chief. But the U.S. Congress has not declared war since World War II, even as the nation has engaged in numerous military actions across the globe in the intervening decades.

Breakfast is Bryan Voltaggio's favorite meal because it's the only time he gets to eat with his family. Most other times, the Top Chef and Top Chef Masters finalist is at one of his restaurants. That's why the recipes in his new book, Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends, are centered on family and family gatherings, from Thanksgiving to Super Bowl Sunday.

Smartphones have new, seamless ways to purchase stuff lightning fast, with just a tap. With these new digital technologies available for mobile payment, many young people are ditching cash and plastic altogether.

But is traditional payment dead? According to Doug Conover, an analyst with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, not exactly.

"The perception that young people rarely use cash is just not correct," he says.

Last month, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill bringing back the firing squad as a method of execution. The state abandoned firing squads in 2004 but now, it has returned as the backup option — partly because of a shortage of lethal injection drugs, the state's default execution method.

Utah is now the only state in the U.S. that authorizes execution by firing squad.

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown made water conservation mandatory in the drought-stricken state of California. "As Californians, we have to pull together and save water in every way we can," he said.

But if the four-year drought continues, conservation alone — at least what's required by the governor's plan — won't fix the problem.

Across California, communities are examining all options to avoid running out of water. Some, like the coastal city of Santa Barbara, are looking to the past for inspiration.

In the early 1970s thousands of bombings were taking place throughout the country — sometimes up to five a day. They were targeted protests, carried out by a multitude of radical activist groups: The Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the FALN, the Black Liberation Army.

According to author Bryan Burrough, there were at least a dozen underground organizations carrying out these attacks at the time. He writes that the bombings functioned as "exploding press releases."

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