NPR Staff

It's been wet in Texas this year — exceptionally wet, as a matter of fact. With record amounts of rain, Texas is more than a little hot, green and rife with happy insects.

Take the tarantula hawk, for example. In case you've never heard of it, it's a wasp that's so big, and so nasty, that it attacks tarantulas — who happen to be quite big and nasty themselves.

So, what does a happy tarantula hawk look like? Ben Hutchins, an invertebrate biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, takes NPR's Wade Goodwyn through all the gruesome wasp-on-tarantula details.

When writer Ta-Nehisi Coates sat down at NPR's New York studios a few days ago, he got a little emotional.

It was the first time that Coates, who writes for The Atlantic, had held a copy of his latest book, Between the World and Me.

This book is personal, written as a letter to his teenage son Samori. In it, we see glimpses of the hard West Baltimore streets where Coates grew up, his curiosity at work on the campus of Howard University and his early struggles as a journalist.

The nation's capital is sweaty and sweltering right now, but Washington locals and visitors can find a seaside getaway in the most unlikely of places. In the middle of downtown D.C., the National Building Museum has installed a 10,000-square-foot indoor "beach" that has attracted kids, tourists and workers looking for an out-of-the-ordinary lunch break.

Daniel Majok Gai wants to go back to South Sudan.

He thinks he can help his homeland — the youngest nation in the world. Today marks the fourth anniversary of its independence. But there's little celebration. The country is being ripped apart by civil war.

Yet Gai, who suffered through years of violence and pain as a refugee, believes he can play a role in moving South Sudan toward peace and safety.

Against all odds, the 34-year-old is an incredible optimist.

He was 6 when a militia attacked his village.

If you've been following the Greek financial crisis, you've certainly seen this old cliche in the headlines.

In USA Today, there was "If 'it's all Greek to you,' here's the skinny on debt crisis." The BBC says, "All Greek to you? Greece's debt jargon explained."

It's a bit of an understatement to call Judd Apatow busy.

His new book, Sick in the Head, a 500-page collection of Apatow's conversations with some of the greatest minds in comedy, is on the New York Times best-seller list. Meanwhile, his film collaboration with the white-hot Amy Schumer, Trainwreck — his fifth movie as a director — is set for release within two weeks.

Oh, and he just wrapped up shooting another movie that's due out next year.

It was the middle of the Cold War and the CIA was having a difficult time getting information on what the Soviet Union was up to next.

The agency needed a spy — a Russian spy — who was willing to go the full way and betray his country.

It found one in Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet aviation expert.

David Hoffman tells Tolkachev's story in his new book, The Billion Dollar Spy.

Walking through the farmers market this time of year is a wondrous thing: juicy tomatoes, rows of jewel-toned eggplants, fragrant basil and sweet yellow corn. But then, you see bunches of greens that look like weeds, stuff with names like kohlrabi and purslane, and suddenly, you feel intimidated. Other people know what to do with these greens, why don't I?

Everyone has had the dream in one form or another. You are about to take a big test when you realize you don't know anything about the subject. You are on stage but you haven't memorized the lines. You have to make a speech but you haven't written it.

It's your basic performance anxiety nightmare.

But if you are a musician, performance anxiety, better known as stage fright, can ruin your career — maybe before it even gets started.

Louisa Hall was a nervous speaker when she was little. At school, kids teased her and said she talked like a robot.

"I think I was just so nervous that I kind of couldn't put any real animation in my voice," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "But ever since then I've kind of looked at robots or looked at machines and wondered whether they were just having trouble acting human."

In the dirty, crowded, and impoverished immigrant barrios of Buenos Aires of 1913, a 17-year-old girl arrives with little more than some clothes and her grandfather's violin.

Her name is Leda, and she's the character at the heart of Carolina De Robertis' third novel, The Gods of Tango.

Leda, an Italian girl, was sent for by her cousin-husband, but widowed before her ship even lands in South America. She soon finds comfort and excitement in a new kind of music that's filling the city's courtyards, bars and brothels: the tango.

In just over 18 months, Barack Obama will join the ranks of ex-presidents. He'll be 55 when he leaves office, among the youngest to become a former president, alongside Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

President Carter remains a model of what an active, productive life can look like after leaving the White House. He looks back on that life in his new memoir, A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, beginning with growing up with black friends in the Jim Crow South.

For years, Larry Campbell has been one of the most in-demand musicians and producers in roots-rock, backing up Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and many more.

Classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein is just back from Havana, where she performed with Cuba's National Youth Orchestra. She is also working with young people back in her hometown, New York. One of her goals? To introduce students to the composer she's best known for performing — Johann Sebastian Bach. She's taking digital pianos into public schools in a program she calls "Bach-packing."

It was the least suspenseful cliffhanger in the history of cliffs.

Governor Christie has, essentially, been running for higher office for years. But as of Tuesday he is now, officially, a presidential candidate.

This week the Christie Tracker podcast, from WNYC and New Jersey Public Radio, headed to Livingston High School for analysis on the announcement.

Cocktail jazz isn't a sound you hear very much in pop music these days. But a duo known as Twin Danger is causing a scene with their self-titled debut album and live shows.

It's a familiar mood for saxophonist Stuart Matthewman; he co-wrote many of the biggest hits for Sade, like "No Ordinary Love" and "Your Love Is King."

Two years ago, a wildfire was raging in the foothills of North Arizona. The Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of elite firefighters from Prescott, Ariz., were on the ground, battling the blaze.

Then the weather and the winds shifted, and the two-day-old Yarnell Hill Fire changed course. The commander had a huge decision to make: stay on safe ground, or try to cut off the blaze?

He made the call — and before the day was over, 19 hotshot firefighters were dead. It was one of the deadliest incidents for wildland firefighters in U.S. history.

Two 21st-century guys, a replica 19th-century wagon, some mules and a resolution: to re-live the Oregon Trail today.

Rivers, mountains, cliffs, runaway mules, cars and trucks, bad weather ... What could possibly go wrong?

Journalist Rinker Buck wanted to find out. He and his brother Nick hitched a covered wagon to mules and set off to retrace what's left of the westward path traveled by thousands of 19th-century pioneers.

Frida Kahlo became known for works that are bold, colorful, rebellious and emotive. What music might best complement her paintings? The Villalobos Brothers, a trio of singer-violinists from Veracruz, Mexico, now based in Manhattan, were asked to help answer that question.

Mary Anna King grew up in a housing project in southern New Jersey, with her older brother Jacob and struggling parents.

"When you're struggling financially and you're living in poverty ... it takes twice as much effort to do anything," she tells NPR's Eric Westervelt.

Her parents went on to have five more kids, all girls, and despite her mother's best efforts to keep the family together, all five girls were ultimately given up for adoption.

More than 80 Americans have been taken hostage abroad since Sept. 11, 2001. Currently, 30 Americans are being held around the world.

Until this week, the families of those hostages would have faced the threat of prosecution from the U.S. government for trying to pay a ransom to kidnappers.

Step aside, Peter Parker: There's a new Spider-Man joining the Marvel Universe.

According to Sports Illustrated, more than half of all NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. Most of the players come into professional sports totally unequipped to handle their own windfalls like cars, houses and fancy clothes.

Former NBA star Adonal Foyle is trying to help.

He offers financial advice for current and future professional athletes in his book Winning the Money Game: Lessons Learned from the Financial Fouls of Pro Athletes.

Another summer, another best-seller from novelist Daniel Silva. In The English Spy, the most famous woman in the world — a titled and gorgeous ex-member of the British royal family — is sunk on her yacht. To track down her killer, British Intelligence needs a little help — actually, a lot of help — from Gabriel Allon, an unassuming art restorer who is also, to those who have to know, a legendary and indispensable Israeli spy.

The Confederate stars and bars have been taken down from flagpoles and store shelves all over the country this week. Calls for their removal follow the June 17 shooting of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

With a silver pompadour and a belt-busting baritone that delivers songs about heartbreak and honky-tonking, Texas musician Dale Watson is straight country — but he doesn't necessarily want you to say so.

On his last album, Miguel sang songs that swooned with the emotion of a first kiss. Wildheart, the new album by the Grammy-winning R&B artist, takes things a little further. While that sleek mix of bass, synths and soul that powered his 2012 breakout remains, the songwriting on Wildheart takes a much more personal, introspective approach.

Singer Tori Kelly is an unapologetic optimist about love, her image and her music. At the ripe old age of 22, she's been at the edges of the music business for a long time. She started singing when she was just 3 years old, and at age 11, she took her powerful, mature voice on the TV show America's Most Talented Kid -- and won.

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