Scott Simon

Violent crime is down in America's big cities.

It may not seem so if you watch crime dramas like CSI, NCIS or Chicago P.D., but homicide, assault and rapes have decreased in big cities since the 1970s. Even Chicago had a 16 percent decline in murders last year, to 650. (In 1974, the city had 970 homicides.)

Helen Grace James won her honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force this week — at the age of 90. It is a battle she fought for 60 years.

Helen Grace James grew up in Pennsylvania, where she worked her family's farm, and asked her mother to call her Jim. She played with toy trucks and boats and gave the dolls she was given to her sister.

Helen Grace James' father served in World War I; she saw her cousins ship off to serve during World War II.

Leni Zumas' new novel, Red Clocks, imagines a time in which something called the Personhood Amendment has made abortion and in vitro fertilization a crime in the United States; Canada returns women who slip across the border to seek those services. The novel is set in an Oregon town and it invites inevitable comparison to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Is it also a parable for our time? Zumas says the story started out with "some personal anxiety and anguish of my own," but grew into something larger.

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Benya Golden is a Jewish Cossack. Which is not the setup for a Mel Brooks movie, but the new novel Red Sky at Noon by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Golden is a prisoner in a Soviet gulag during World War II, and he ends up pressed into a kind of Dirty Dozen battalion of horse-riding Cossacks and convicts who detest Stalin — but revile the Nazis even more.

There's a big, green, tinsel warning label across the cover of Martha Brockenbrough's new book, Love, Santa, illustrated by Lee White. It reads: "The beautiful truth about Santa."

Brockenbrough's book is written as a series of letters between her and her daughter, Lucy, who begins to write Santa Claus when she's 7 years old.

"Dear Santa, how do you get down all the chimneys?" Lucy writes in the book. "What happens when people live in homes without fireplaces? Why does your handwriting look like my mom's?"

The U.S. foster care system is overwhelmed, in part because America's opioid crisis is overwhelming. Thousands of children have had to be taken out of the care of parents or a parent who is addicted.

Indiana is among the states that have seen the largest one-year increase in the number of children who need foster care. Judge Marilyn Moores, who heads the juvenile court in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, says the health crisis is straining resources in Indiana.

Social media platforms can connect people across the globe — and terrorize people next door.

In a new novel, Ricky Graves is a young man coming to terms with his sexual orientation in a small New Hampshire town. He's tormented by a jerk named Wesley, until Ricky kills him — and then himself.

The news media descend. And after they've gone on to the next sad crime, Ricky's pregnant sister, Alyssa, returns to the town she fled so that she and her shattered mother can get a hold on the terrible event that has taken two lives, and understand the son and brother they loved.

Here's an idea for a musical: The end is near, and there's just one day for the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom to figure out how to save themselves from a powerful volcano that's about to explode. Who can we count on to come through?

Well, who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!

Maude Julien's childhood was so horrible, it's difficult to read about. Her father wanted to turn her into some kind of superhuman, able to withstand any torment without flinching. So he treated her in a subhuman way: He forced her to stay in a dark cellar at night, to meditate on death. He made her hold on to an electric fence, to strengthen her will. She had to wait on him hand and foot. And he kept her from most contact with the outside world for years.

Johnny Hallyday was a rock and roller in a nation of curled lips and subtle glances. He had a deep, grainy voice, steeped in Gauloises, streams of booze and a smog of drugs.

Although he recorded more than a thousand songs, and earned more than 60 gold and platinum records, Johnny Hallyday never became a household name in the United States. But he once performed before a million people on the Champs-Elysees. He died this week, at the age of 74, and this weekend the Eiffel Tower is lit with letters that say, "MERCI, JOHNNY."

The campaign season has begun for Hollywood awards. Wind River is a widely-praised film that hinges on a murder mystery, but it's also a pointed and poignant story about the violence endured by many Native American women. The Weinstein Company had the rights to distribute Wind River, but following efforts by the filmmakers and the film's stars, the Weinstein name has been removed.

"[His name is] beyond, I think, toxic," says actress Elizabeth Olsen, who stars in the movie. "It's completely against all the reasons we made this film."

Fiona Mozley is one of the literary sensations of 2017. The part-time clerk at the Little Apple Bookshop in York, England was named a finalist for this year's Man Booker Prize with her first novel Elmet.

When does a comic first realize that he — or she — can make people laugh?

For 1950s housewife Miriam Maisel, perhaps it comes when she gives a toast at her own wedding. But in the new Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it takes the breakup of her marriage to get her to venture, desperately, on stage.

This week, the president of the United States passed along malicious messages from a racist, ultranationalist fringe group directly to almost 44 million people. Those 44 million follow him on Twitter and may have now retweeted those anti-Muslim messages to millions more.