Wednesday, April 22, 2015

4 Book Club Recommendations


We have several different book discussion groups here at Monroeville Public Library. I've been the leader of one of those groups for quite a few years and have read a lot of different types of books. Some have been really good and some not so good. Here are four that my group has read over the last two years that were enjoyed by all.




This well researched book tells the true story of the thousands of women (and men) who worked at a top secret facility in Kentucky during World War Two. An entire town was created to house all of the people who were performing jobs that they had no idea how it was contributing to the war effort. Young women came from all over the United States not having any idea where they were going or how long they would be there. It wasn't until the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima that they realized what they had been apart of. Denise Kiernan introduces the reader to many different women doing many different types of jobs. This was a definite hit with our book group.





Harold Fry is a reserved, retired Englishman who has just found out that an old friend of his is dying. He decides to send her a letter, but on his walk to the post office he somehow ends up on a pilgrimage to visit this friend who is in a nursing home almost 500 hundred miles to the north. As he walks, Harold examines his marriage, his career and the mistakes he has made throughout his life. Along the way he becomes a bit of a cult figure with an entourage following him. We all found this to be a sweet and heart warming book.





The subtitle for this book really sets the stage for this fascinating story. David Grann, staff reporter for The New Yorker, follows in the footsteps of Percy Fawcett. Fawcett was a British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925. He was in search of El Dorado or, as he called it, The Lost City of Z. Many men have gone in search of El Dorado and to find out what happened to Fawcett's expedition but they either never returned themselves or didn't learn anything new. But what made this middle-aged city boy take on this adventure? Read the book for yourself to find out!



The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich


Like many of Louise Erdrich's books, this one tells a story of Native Americans in North Dakota struggling with their past and their present. This time the story is centered around the mystery of the murder of a family in 1911. A lynch mob is formed to find the killers. Three Indian men are hanged for the murder, while young Mooshum Milk is not. As the years pass the families of both groups, the hanged and the posse, develop complex relationships with one another. While there are parts of the book that feel like they don't quite belong, Erdrich weaves an intricate tale of how the actions of a few so long ago, affected so many. 

--Post by Tracy

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 picks from March Library Reads




Here are five of the picks from April's Library Reads. Enjoy!

by Sara Gruen


“Set in Loch Ness, right in the middle of WWII, a foolish group of rich Americans arrive in search of the famous monster. Narrator Maddie must make sense of the circumstances that have brought her to this wild locale. Only then can she discover the strength she needs to make her own decisions. Enjoy a delightfully intriguing cast of characters and the engaging style of storytelling that has made Gruen so popular.”

Paulette Brooks, Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, WI


by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan


“This delightful spin on the story of Prince William and Kate Middleton is the perfect beachy, weekend read for anyone who loves love stories with a healthy dose of humor. Here, Will and Kate are replaced by Nick and Bex–he’s the heir to the British throne, she’s the American who effortlessly steals his heart. Can they weather many obstacles to find their Happily Ever After? Part fairy tale, part cautionary tale, the novel is pure fun from start to finish.”

Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH


by Brendan Duffy


“Eager to get out of the big city, Ben and Caroline Tierney purchase a large, old house upstate hoping to renovate it into a hotel. However, their house, called The Crofts, has a dark, mysterious past, and terrifying secrets begin to threaten the family. This wonderfully eerie and atmospheric debut novel is a great recommendation for fans of Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers and McMahon’s The Winter People.”

Sara Kennedy, Delaware County District Library, Delaware, OH


by Marisa de los Santos


“Taisy hasn’t seen her father since he dumped her family and started another one 17 years ago. An unexpected invitation to write his biography returns her to her hometown, and gives her a rare chance to knit together a broken web of relationships. Like all de los Santos’ books, The Precious One features smart, funny characters who form an unconventional family. It’s luminous and heartwarming, without an ounce of sap.”

Heather Bistyga, Anderson County Library, Anderson, SC


by Greg Iles


“Based on a real series of unsolved murders from the civil rights era in Louisiana, and the crusading journalist who uncovered the story, Iles’ novel shines a bright light of truth upon one of America’s darkest secrets. Iles’ compelling writing makes this complex tale of good versus evil a must-read for those who love thrillers, and those who want to learn a little bit of American history not normally taught in school.”

Ellen Jennings, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL


--Post by Tracy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

6 Reasons Why "Interstellar" Was the Best Film of 2014



March 31 marks the release of Interstellar on DVD and Blu-ray. Directed by Christopher Nolan, this sci-fi film is set in a future in which the earth is being gradually overtaken by the Blight, a mysterious ailment that is destroying the planet's crops one by one. Cooper, a NASA pilot turned farmer, is trying to balance a job in which he has little interest with raising his two children, Tom and Murph (short for Murphy).

When Murph unlocks a mysterious puzzle that sends her and her father stumbling into an undercover NASA base, Cooper suddenly finds himself hired to undertake a seemingly impossible mission: follow the cosmic breadcrumbs out into the far reaches of interstellar space -- and find a new planet for humanity to inhabit before Earth becomes a barren wasteland. Joining the crew of Dr. Brand (the NASA scientist overseeing the mission), Cooper will pilot the ship that will take them farther than any human being has ever been before -- even as Cooper fights to get back home to his family.

Released last year, the film was a smash hit. As a sci-fi buff, it was the 2014 movie I was most excited for -- so I was elated when Interstellar turned out to be the weird, wild, wonderful, and wholly unique ride I had hoped it would be.

Haven't seen it yet?  Here's six reasons why you should give it a go:



1.) You haven't seen space like this before



Nolan named 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the films that served as his inspiration for Interstellar, and it's easy to see that influence in the awe-inspiring shots of space that the Endurance crew travel through.

But since the release of the Stanley Kubrick classic, there's been a plethora of films set in outer space, from Apollo 13 to Gravity. What makes Nolan's take unique?  First, there's consultant Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist whose expert advice and theories allowed the effects crews to offer a unique take on such typical sci-fi fare as wormholes and ice planets. Then there's Nolan's commitment to practical, physical effects over computerized effects whenever possible. Obviously, a sci-fi film like this one will demand the use of some CGI -- but with much of the action being made without the use of a computer, the film often has a more physical feel to it than similar genre offerings.

Best of all, for me, was the chance to see the film in IMAX. The larger-than-life screen packed an extra-powerful wallop, as sheer size helped bring to life the silent, lonely, terrifying, and beautiful emptiness of space. Never before has a film so effectively offered me a window into what a trip through outer space might really be like.

Speaking of:



2.) The alien worlds are actually alien



Being a Christopher Nolan fan girl, all it took were the words "Nolan" and "outer space" to pique my interest in Interstellar. But it wasn't until I caught the film's trailer that I realized I was in for something special. In the trailer, we're shown a scene in which the Endurance crew have landed on a watery world which is caught in the massive gravitational pull of a nearby black hole.

The crew looks out across the alien sea towards a mountain range in the distance:


Then the pilot, Cooper, gets a better look. And realizes it's not a mountain.

It's a wave.
Well, bummer.

Too often in science fiction, the alien worlds don't seem to be anything of the kind; they are, instead, thinly veiled versions of our own home planet. But Interstellar seemed to kick things up a notch, delivering alien worlds that feel alien in their features, geology, and weather.

This is made all the more ironic by the fact that Nolan was filming in real, natural, outdoor locations (with a bit of CGI thrown in later), but that only adds to the effect of bizarre worlds that are still very physical and real.



3.) These archetypal characters are truly archetypes



The characters in Christopher Nolan stories are often thrown into extraordinary circumstances -- navigating the worlds of other people's dreams or fighting crime behind a rather unusual mask. But despite their otherworldly surroundings, the characters remain relatable Everymen, with recognizable and understandable motivations.

While the characters of Interstellar are searching for a way to build a future for humanity and save them from a dying planet, they are also motivated by more personal reasons. Cooper is looking to find a way back to his family. So, in her way, is Dr. Brand, the NASA scientist in charge of the expedition. Murph, Cooper's daughter, finds her own way of searching for the father who had to leave her behind to save her.

Woven into the vastness of space and time is a theme of the timelessness of family, making these characters and their archetypal motivations something relatable and familiar, no matter how weird or wild their surroundings.



4.) It keeps you guessing


In a world of sequels, prequels, and reboots, it's become the truly rare film that has a wholly original story to tell. Of the top-grossing films of 2014, Interstellar was the only movie in the top ten that was not a sequel or adaptation.

I spent the entirety of the film utterly unsure of where the story might be going. While it seemed reasonable to think that the good guys would triumph, I hadn't the foggiest idea of what they might do to get there, and how the hints and clues sprinkled throughout the film would lead to a solution. From ticking clocks to alien contact, the story was intriguing, unsettling, and, ultimately, full-circle. But never in a way I saw coming.

Which leads me to:



5.) It's "A Wrinkle in Time" for adults



Well, to be fair, Madeleine L'Engle's classic YA novel can be enjoyed by any reader of any age. But the fact remains that I couldn't help but be reminded of A Wrinkle in Time while watching the final act of Interstellar. The film ultimately ties together ideas of space, time, and the way in which love and family can transcend those realms -- which is more or less precisely what L'Engle did in her own sci-fi adventure over fifty years ago.

There's nothing overtly linking Nolan's space adventure to L'Engle's. But just as A Wrinkle in Time opened my nine-year-old mind to worlds I had never before considered -- while also telling a story about the unbreakable bonds of love and family -- so, too, did Interstellar achieve the same feat. It's a sci-fi adventure film, but it's also a tale that resonates on the most personal of levels -- making it the rare story that broadens the limits of imagination and tells an important truth, all at the same time.



6.) There's a snarky robot


I could watch this all day.

And then there's TARS -- the sarcastic, snarky, good-natured, and uniquely-designed robot, used by the Endurance crew to help them on their expedition.

Because what's a sci-fi story without a snarky robot?


Request "Interstellar" on DVD from the Catalog

Request "Interstellar" on Blu-ray from the Catalog

Request "The Science of Interstellar" by Kip Thorne from the Catalog

Request "Interstellar: Beyond Time and Space -- Inside Christopher Nolan's Sci-Fi Epic" by Mark Cotta Vaz from the Catalog

Request the Hans Zimmer soundtrack from the Catalog






-- Post by Ms. B 

Friday, March 27, 2015

4 Story Endings That Are Better Than The Story



With the final film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy just out on DVD -- and the recent celebration of Tolkien Reading Day -- it got us thinking about story endings. Finding the perfect ending to a story can be a hard nut to crack, especially as many people would happily debate just what it is, exactly, that constitutes a "perfect ending" to their favorite shows and series.

Still, when a story wraps up on exactly the right note, it's a moment of satisfaction for the book-lover or film buff that has few equals. Read on to see four of our favorite, most powerful endings.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)



-- Fight Club (the film)

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate 
so we can buy stuff we don't need to impress people we don't like."

When Fight Club was first released, I went out of my way to avoid seeing it. A movie about a bunch of guys beating each other up didn't sound like my type of flick, to say the least. But then I was assigned the film as part of a college class syllabus, and I found myself stuck with watching Fight Club whether I wanted to or not.

There wasn't much to recommend it to my sensibilities, either, as I watched the Narrator (our unnamed main character) have his typical, materialistic, button-down life interrupted by Tyler Durden, a nihilistic anarchist who starts up underground "fight clubs" as a way to connect men back to real meanings in their lives. Of course, when you're convinced that there is no meaning, such a plan is bound to be twisted, and the Narrator is caught up in a plan of increasingly horrible and dangerous consequences.

That is, until the story's end, when we discover who Tyler Durden really is -- and what our Narrator can do to defeat him. With Tyler's message ultimately rejected and destroyed, our Narrator is free to live a new life with his gal-pal Marla -- "new life" being rather more literal than normal. Tyler's true identity was a sucker-punch of an ending that I never saw coming, and it gave me an appreciation for a film I thought I'd never even watch.

Request Fight Club from the Catalog



-- Star Trek: The Next Generation (the series)

"That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and 
studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."

The last two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation rarely reached the heights of excellent storytelling as seen in earlier episodes. But then came "All Good Things …," the two-parter series finale, in which Captain Picard is ordered to take the Enterprise to investigate an unusual spacial anomaly. Unfortunately, his orders are complicated when he abruptly finds himself time-jumping six years into the past (when the Enterprise was just about to undertake its first voyage) -- and some 25 years in the future, when he's retired and his crew has gone their separate ways. Splintered between three timelines, things look even worse for Picard with the return of Q, an all-powerful alien adversary who delights in picking on Picard whenever possible.

But this time, Q's motives seem to be about more than making things entertainingly difficult. In fact, Q is insisting that Picard is on the verge of making a decision that will wipe out all of humanity -- leaving Picard struggling to solve the puzzle across three different timelines before it's too late. What makes this episode so incredible, for me, is that the solution is unlocked for Picard in the same instant it's unlocked for the audience -- and it's a mind-blowing answer that could only work within the limitless bounds of the sci-fi genre.

It's worth mentioning that I'm not entirely alone in my assessment as to the power of this story. The two-parter earned the 1995 Hugo Award (given annually for the best science fiction and fantasy works and achievements of the previous year) for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Request Season 7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation from the Catalog



-- The Graduate (the film)


"One word: plastics."
"How exactly do you mean 'plastics,' sir?"


"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"  It's the most famous line of the classic 1967 film, but The Graduate is about so much more than a recent college grad falling under the spell of an older woman. Benjamin Braddock has spent the last four years slaving away to earn his college degree, but now that he's got it, he's at a loss to find his next step. Utterly confused as to what he ought to try next or what he wants to do with his life, he drifts without purpose -- ultimately finding himself in the arms of Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's law partner.

As Benjamin continues to drift listlessly, his parents pressure him to ask out Elaine, the Robinsons' daughter. Ben does what he can to get out of it, but eventually finds himself all but forced to take Elaine out for the evening. Initially determined to be as terrible to her as possible (and, therefore, end any chances of a second date), Ben slowly begins to realize he actually likes her. Here, at last, is a person with whom he can be wholly himself.

Elaine feels the same -- at least until she finds out that Ben has been romantically involved with her own mother. Horrified, Elaine dumps Ben immediately, leaving Ben determined to reunite with Elaine -- a future with her being the only future he can see for himself.

The last third of the movie strikes many fans as romantic (or stalker-lite, depending on your perspective), as Ben tracks down Elaine before he loses her forever. But while the film has a nominally happy ending, the last shot suggests that these new adults are still as uncertain about their future as ever -- which is precisely the feeling that most new graduates can relate to best.

Request The Graduate from the Catalog



-- Secret Window, Secret Garden (the book)

"You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. 
It's the most important part of the story, the ending."

When writer Mort Rainey retreats to his summer home on Tashmore Lake, he's just trying to get a little peace of mind (and some fresh writing inspiration) in the aftermath of a messy divorce. So when John Shooter shows up on Mort's doorstep and accuses him of plagiarizing one of Shooter's stories, Mort finds himself with one too many problems to handle.

At least the fix to Shooter's accusation seems easy enough. All Mort has to do is prove he committed no such plagiarism. But when Shooter's insanity starts escalating, the stakes grow increasingly personal -- and Mort suddenly discovers there's no easy way out after all. Especially when Mort discovers that Shooter is not at all who he claimed to be.

I discovered this story on audiobook, and listened to the rip-roaring, nail-biting ending while driving home alone at night in the middle of a deserted country road. Rarely have I had a more terrifying -- or pleasing -- horror story experience. Don't miss it!

Request Secret Window, Secret Garden from the Catalog






-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Favorite Moments on Downton Abbey


Once again it's that sad time of year where one season of Downton Abbey has finished and now we must wait nine more months to see the next season of Downton Abbey. And to top it off, there are rumors that season six may mark the end of this wonderful show. I know that it must come to an end one day, but I sure hope it's still a few years away.

While there are always lots of simultaneous story lines in Downton Abbey, here are a few of my favorite moments.

But beware, there are SPOILERS ahead!


1) Don't go Tom!



Tom Branson has come along way since his days as the chauffeur for the Crawley family. He is now a valuable member of the family whose opinion is often sought by Lord Grantham. Who would have thought that just a few seasons ago? Tom's late wife, Sybil, was always my favorite character on the show and when they killed her off during childbirth, I was crushed. Now that Tom is a single father he is trying to determine the best future for him and his daughter. Will that mean moving to America? I for one, sure hope he doesn't leave. After his brief romance with Miss Bunting, a local school teacher, some of the socialist firebrand that we saw in the first season was back. It was good to see that side of him again. I'd hate to see him go now.


2 ) Lady Edith's secret revealed


As usual, there weren't too many episodes where I did not utter the phrase "poor Edith" while watching Downton Abbey. In season five we are sure that Edith will finally have some happiness to only have her love, Michael Gregson, disappear in pre-world war II Germany. And to top it off, she discovers that she is pregnant. While she still struggles with feeling like the outcast in her family, she now realizes that she has something to fight for - her daughter Marigold. This being 1920s England, she can't acknowledge the child as her own, but now most of her family knows the secret and her daughter will now be a part of her life. And with the death of Michael, she has inherited his publishing business, which will make her an even more independent woman. So maybe next season I won't have to utter "poor Edith" anymore!


3) Lady Violet's scandalous past


Who would have thought that the Dowager Countess would have such a scandalous past? The discovery that she almost left her husband, the current Lord Grantham's father, for a married Russian prince when her children were very young was quite a surprise. Lady Violet is such a stickler for propriety, that her affair of the heart came out of left field for me. However, I did find it refreshing to see her as more than just the sour old granny with her wicked one-liners. This season we also got to see Violet's fear of losing Isobel Crawley as a companion and friend, when Isobel contemplates accepting Lord Merton's marriage proposal. After their many years of clashing ideas, it was nice to see that there is genuine affection between the two.

4) Daisy's continuing education


We've slowly seen cook's assistant Daisy, grow and mature over the years, but this year really put her on a path of personal growth. Daisy always showed a capacity for learning and for questioning the way things worked, but after meeting Miss Bunting she sees that with education her future can be whatever she makes of it. She doesn't have to work in the kitchen the rest of her life. Daisy has always been the voice of reason and now that she is learning more about the world, she is learning even more about herself. I can't wait to see where this takes her!

5) Mr. Carson's marriage proposal!



After last season ending with Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes holding hands while navigating the waves at the seaside I was hoping for a romantic storyline for these two great characters. But as season five progressed I wasn't so sure if anything would transpire. I should have known better. This is Mr. Carson we are talking about here! Everything has to happen in a proper time and place for him. I should have also seen it coming when Carson suggested to Mrs. Hughes that they look into buying a small house that they could run as a bed and breakfast when they retire, but I admit, that kind of slipped by me. When Mrs. Hughes admits that she has no money to invest because of taking care of her invalid sister, Mr. Carson shows his true colors by admitting that he bought a house in both of their names admitting his feelings for her in this gesture. I think they are a sweet couple and it's lovely to see people of a "certain age" still getting to experience love and romance.

Season six can not come fast enough for me!




--Post by Tracy










Thursday, March 19, 2015

A TOAST TO SIR TERRY


British fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett passed away last week at the age of 66. He was best known and loved for his Discworld series, which started life as a satirical spoof of the fantasy genre but went on to become a work of rich worldbuilding and unique storytelling in its own right. Consisting of over 40 books, the novels were clever, captivating, fresh, poignant -- and always, always funny.

As a massive fantasy fan, the Discworld books were breaths of fresh air to me in my high school and college days. They were fantasy novels that had something new, fascinating, and hilarious to say. It's been years since I've picked up a Discworld novel, but I still remember my fondness for the world and characters that Sir Terry created.

Here are a few of my favorites:



- The Color of Magic

Pratchett fans will often recommend that newcomers not pick up The Color of Magic, the first book in the Discworld series. Indeed, the novel has a much different flavor from future installments in the series, serving as more of a straight-up satire of the fantasy genre than a solid, standalone fantasy tale. Still, if, like me, you're well-versed in the tropes of epic fantasy, this is the satire for you.



Pyramids


By this, the seventh novel in Pratchett's series, the Discworld had become a unique fantasy realm in its own right. Pratchett still had fun shaking up his stories by drawing on a variety of tropes and influences, however, and here we get a story heavily influenced by Ancient Egyptian culture (and, to a lesser extent, the fairy tales of the Arabian Nights). Teppic is the young prince of Djelibeybi (sound it out, you Doctor Who fans) who has spent the last few years being educated … by the Assassins Guild. When he returns home to reclaim his throne, complications, as can be expected, ensue -- particularly involving the local pyramids, which are magically constructed to control the flow of Time itself.



- Maskerade

This eighteenth entry in the series features the Witches -- Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg -- and newcomer Agnes Nitt, who they hope to make their coven's new protege. But Agnes is off in the town of Lancre for a job at the local Opera House, and promptly finds herself in the middle of a story not so unlike The Phantom of the Opera ... (This one is extra-delightful if you're familiar with that musical; watch especially for Pratchett's take on Christine, who ends all of her sentences with double exclamation points.)



- Monstrous Regiment

Pratchett excelled in writing complex, relatable female characters. Here we're introduced to Polly Perks, who disguises herself as a man and enlists as a soldier to track down her brother (without him, she'll lose all claim on the family business). Luckily for Polly, she's fully accepted by her fellow soldiers -- but it turns out she's not the only one with a secret to hide.



The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable


Lavishly, beautifully illustrated by Paul Kidby, this Discworld novella stars my favorite character of the series. Rincewind is a wizard (well, actually a "WIZZARD," if his hat is anything to go by). He only knows one spell, and seems to spend the majority of his time running away from all the various people, things, and circumstances that are constantly conspiring to kill him. Reluctantly teaming up with Leonard of Quirm and Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, Rincewind finds himself on a mission to stop a hoard of elderly barbarians from killing the gods themselves.



- Good Omens

The Apocalypse. Four Horsemen on motorcycles. A misplaced Antichrist (who is kind of fond of the human race). A book of prophecy. An angel and a demon who actually get along. All co-written with Neil Gaiman. It's not Discworld, but it's my favorite Pratchett novel all the same. Don't miss it.



- Interesting Times

… well. Maybe Good Omens is my second-favorite Pratchett read. This story probably takes the true top spot, as we follow Rincewind the Wizzard as he encounters Cohen the Barbarian, meets up with an old tourist friend, and gets involved in a rebellion against an empire being controlled by a villainous Grand Vizier (aren't they always villainous?). He's only on his unlikely mission because he's determined to earn back his title as a right and proper Wizard -- but with Fate and Luck literally playing a game for the rebellion's outcome, Rincewind's got his work cut out for him.

There is a curse. They say:
"May You Live In Interesting Times."




Browse the works of Terry Pratchett from the Catalog

- ARTICLE: Terry Pratchett's Discworld Might Be the Highest Form of Literature on the Planet

- ARTICLE: Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett

- ARTICLE: 50 Terry Pratchett quotes



-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Staff Recommendation #40: Psych

On the surface, comedy and murder mysteries are not two genres that seem tailor-made to compliment one another. But there's something about combining the serious with the silly that can make for fantastic storytelling, and if you want a prime example of that concept in action, look no further than the USA series Psych.



The show tells the story of Shawn Spencer, a guy whose freewheeling ways chafe against the rigorous lessons drilled in him by his father, a Santa Barbara police detective. Despite his determination to avoid following in his dad's footsteps, Shawn can't keep from using his own well-honed powers of observation to call in tips to the police for various unsolvable crimes. But when his astute observations seem a little too on the nose, Shawn finds himself a suspect in the very case he was trying to help solve. Panicking, Shawn blurts out the first thing he thinks of: he knows all these details because he's psychic.

It says something about the character that the police find it easier to believe that Shawn's psychic than to credit this irresponsible trickster with a natural affinity for crime solving. But then, that seems to suit Shawn just fine, as he finagles his way into becoming an official consultant to the Santa Barbara Police Department while also opening his own private psychic detective agency.

Roped in for the ride are Gus, his lifelong best pal who is reluctant (at least at first) to get involved in such shenanigans; and Shawn's dad, now retired, who is none too amused at his son's new profession. But Shawn needs all the help he can get to keep the truth from being discovered by Detectives Carlton Lassiter (who can't stand Shawn from the moment they meet) and Juliet O'Hara (who seems a little more inclined to give Shawn the benefit of the doubt). Luckily for Shawn, his sense of humor is as well-developed as his powers of observation, both being important skill sets when you're a fake psychic -- and a real detective.

The show ran eight seasons, making it a daunting task to know precisely where to begin. So if you'd like to start with a sampling, allow me to recommend a few of my favorite episodes:






- Tuesday the 17th (Season 3)


By the show's second episode, Psych had fun setting their mysteries in quirky places (a Civil War reenactment, a reality show set, and a comic book convention, to name but a few). But by Season Three, the show began to push the creative envelope, changing up not just the settings of the story, but the genre of the episodes themselves.

Tuesday the 17th is arguably the first episode where Psych blends its humorous procedural roots with another genre entirely -- in this case, horror movies. Shawn and Gus are called in to find a missing camp counselor at a closed summer camp, only to find themselves being stalked by a psychotic killer (in proper Friday the 13th fashion). The episode retains its signature humor as it plays and twists the tropes of the horror/slasher genre, which sets the stage for a recurrence of genre-bending episodes.



- Extradition: British Columbia (Season 4)


To make a mystery story work, you need a great detective -- but you also need a great villain. This episode introduces one of my favorites: Pierre Desperaux, an international art thief (played with great mischief and humor by Cary Elwes). Being a thief, rather than a murderer, Desperaux's more trickster than bad guy, and Shawn and Gus must decide exactly how far they can trust such a man. That is, when they're not working themselves out of the trouble that Desperaux continually manages to get them into.



- Dual Spires (Season 5)


Series star James Roday (who also wrote a fair few episodes of the show) is a huge fan of Twin Peaks and was the one to pitch the idea of a Psychified version of that show. The result was "Dual Spires," an episode which pays faithful homage to the David Lynch series while still telling an entertaining story in its own right.

Shawn and Gus travel to Duel Spires after receiving a mysterious email invitation to a local festival, only to find themselves trying to solve the mystery of "Who Killed Paula Merral?" ("Paula Marral" being an anagram of "Laura Palmer," of course.) The episode included seven of Twin Peaks' original cast members, including Ray Wise (Leland Palmer), Lenny Von Dohlen (Harold Smith), Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne), and Laura Palmer herself -- Sheryl Lee.



- Right Turn or Left for Dead (Season 7)


A long-running theme of the show was Shawn's ongoing struggle to decide whether or not he should (or could) come clean about his decidedly un-psychic abilities. When the fallout finally hits, things go … rather poorly.

I consistently enjoyed watching the show expand its storytelling techniques the longer it was on the air, but I was particularly impressed with this Season 7 episode, which employed a storytelling tactic rarely seen outside the realms of science fiction: a splintered timeline. As Shawn grapples with the sudden fallout of his exposed secret, an unexpected taxi ride leads him to discover a badly-injured woman by the side of the road -- a person in desperate need of his help.

But the scenario plays out in two timelines, and, in the other, Shawn's secret stays safe -- but there's no one to help the injured woman, whose eventual murder comes to Shawn's attention when he's called in to investigate. Lives are on the line in more than one sense, and the resulting story is one of the most unique episodes of a procedural I've ever seen -- and a creative look at the ways in which our choices have the most unexpected, and powerful, of consequences.



- The Yin/Yang Trilogy (Seasons 3-5)



Psych is not the only show to combine comedy with the mystery procedural, but, being chock-full of murder and mayhem, it generally keeps a sense of serious stakes beneath the show's fun and frivolity. In a handful of episodes, those high stakes come to the forefront -- as best exemplified in the three episodes centered on Mr. Yang, Santa Barbara's resident serial killer.

Serving as the season finales of seasons three through five, Shawn finds himself the focus of Mr. Yang's psychotic puzzle-games -- on an increasingly personal level, as Yang targets Shawn's friends and family alike. The darker subject material allowed the writers and actors to show us other sides of these characters, while giving added weight to what we already know about them. Plus, Mr. Yang ended up being not only one of my favorite Psych villains -- but one of my favorite fictional baddies of all time.



- A Nightmare on State Street (Season 8)


Written by James Roday, the penultimate episode of Psych is one of their all-time weirdest (I mean that as a high compliment). The episode has the unique distinction of being fan-chosen -- it was filmed after the script's synopsis won the most votes in an online contest pitting it against two other possible episodes.

The fans chose well. The episode sees Gus seeking "dream therapy" (the original title of the episode) for a series of recurring nightmares filled with zombies, monsters, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house. The story neatly interweaves with the episode's requisite mystery, but the murder Gus and Shawn are trying to solve takes a backseat to the more pressing problem of Gus's nightmares. Many of the scenes are shot in a style befitting a horror film -- it's one of the most artistically-done episodes of Psych's run, stylistically-speaking -- which intertwines brilliantly with Gus's struggles to come to terms with how rapidly his life and circumstances are changing around him.

Most shows find it difficult to address the emotional fallout of the major changes their characters face in a series finale, mostly because it's hard to explore the issues of a final episode when there are no more episodes to do so in. Psych solves this problem by devoting their next-to-last episode to that very fallout; when the final episode gives our characters a happy place on which to end their current story, the happiness feels earned as a result.



- The Musical



Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scrubs, That '70s Show, Grey's Anatomy, Ally McBeal, Northern Exposure, Oz … Doing a musical episode has become something of a rite of passage for many television shows. For a show like Psych, which excels in satire and homages, it would almost have been odder if they hadn't done a musical episode at some point in their run.

Psych: The Musical was done as a standalone special, airing during the show's seventh season. The songs were written by showrunner Steve Franks (along with show composer Adam Cohen) and manage to both pay homage to Broadway musicals while also perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the show. (Not to mention, they're quite catchy.)

Read more about the musical here.




From the Catalog

Request Psych - Season One
Request Psych - Season Two
Request Psych - Season Three
Request Psych - Season Four
Request Psych - Season Five
Request Psych - Season Six
Request Psych - Season Seven
Request Psych - Season Eight

Request Psych - The Musical

Request the book Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting For the Totally Unqualified




-- Post by Ms. B