Recap #64 – Murder, She Wrote ep. 5.13 Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble

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Behold the witchy pentagram of witchiness

Title: Murder, She Wrote episode 5.13 “Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble”

Director:  John Llewellyn Moxey

Writer: Tom Sawyer [lol]

Original Airdate: Feb. 19, 1989 [Wait, this wasn’t a Halloween episode? I am confuse.]

Description: Jessica is suspicious when the appearance of the ghost of a long-dead witch burned at the stake coincides with the release of a book on the very subject.

Guest Stars: Brad Dourif, Roddy McDowall, Bill Maher, Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone

Nostalgia Time!


No, seriously, this wasn’t a Halloween episode? How is that even possible? This was closer to Valentine’s Day?! Whut?

Sorry.

So, this is one of the murder mystery/detective shows I used to watch with my mom all the time starting when I was probably around 8 years old or so. I loved mysteries, and would always try to figure out whodunnit before the end of the episode. I was usually pretty good at it, too. I figured out early on that it was usually the person nobody is suspecting, too, even if that is a cliche.

I don’t remember watching this episode way back in the day, but I definitely sought it out many years ago after I became aware of Brad Dourif (who, thanks to seven Child’s Play movies, is shaping up to be the most-recapped actor on this site). I sought this episode out again more recently due to the presence of Roddy McDowall (who is very shortly going to be challenging Mr. Dourif for the title of Most-Recapped Actor on this site). Anyway, this episode is a ridiculous amount of fun and, well, ridiculousness.

I’m not sure why Murder, She Wrote is enjoying a renaissance among my age bracket and the one just below mine, but I’m happy it is. It makes me feel like less of a dud for enjoying it.

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Recap #57 – The Stepdaughter by Carol Ellis

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Title: The Stepdaughter

Author: Carol Ellis

Published: April 1993

Tagline: Daddy’s little darling . . . is dead.

Description: Having a new father can be murder.

He’s kind and thoughtful. He wants them to be a happy family. He’s her stepfather.

And he may be a murderer.

From the day Livvie meets him, she knows she’s not going to like her new stepfather. But when she tells her mother and her best friend, they both think she’s crazy not to like such a wonderful man.

Then Livvie thinks she sees her stepfather’s picture on TV – wanted by the police for a murder he committed fifteen years before. The murder of his wife . . . and his stepdaughter.

Is Livvie crazy?

. . . Or is her stepfather?

Nostalgia Time!


Hoo, boy, that’s . . . a lot of “crazy”s we’re throwing around, huh? Not thrilled about that.

I remember this book pretty well. I was eleven, almost twelve when it was published, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, this book is basically the movie The Stepfather. Honestly, the book should have been titled The Stepfather, and I’m willing to bet the only reason it’s called The Stepdaughter is so that it wouldn’t be confused with that movie. But it is. It is totally The Stepfather. It also used to be one of my favorite Point Horrors. I’ve read this book multiple times. I don’t think the ableism regarding mental health is actually as bad as the back-of-book description makes it sound, but it has been a very long time since I’ve picked this one up, so I guess we’ll find out! [Note from Future Me: *stares bleakly into the abyss*]

Also, because it is titled The Stepdaughter instead of The Stepfather, I remember when I bought it assuming the stepdaughter was the murderer. (I don’t know if you can read the newspaper headline in the cover art, but it says “Police search for stepdaughter-killer” which my tween brain insisted meant the stepdaughter was the killer.) I was very surprised to discover it was actually about a girl who suspects her stepfather is a killer.

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Recap #54 – Whispers from the Dead by Joan Lowery Nixon

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Title: Whispers from the Dead

Author: Joan Lowery Nixon

Published: 1989

Tagline: Who is trying to reach Sarah? And why?

Description: Only Sarah senses the horror.

The minute she steps through the doorway of her family’s new home, Sarah feels a smothering cold mist, and hears the echo of a scream and a heartbreaking whisper in Spanish, “Help me!”

Sarah feels compelled to find out who is trying to reach her. But can she uncover the mysteries of the past before terror strikes again?

Nostalgia Time!


I remember reading this when I was ten years old. I was reading a ton of Joan Lowery Nixon around that time, I think because the school library had a ton of her books. This was one of my favorites, and whatever Spanish I knew as a ten-year-old was because of this book. I think I figured out the mystery pretty quick as a kid, but reading this as an adult, it was infuriatingly obvious, and I spent a good portion of time screaming at the main character about how stupid she was being. I still enjoyed it (hell, I gave it four stars on Goodreads when I was done facepalming), but make no mistake – Sarah should have died from stupidity a hundred different times. Also, JLN clearly knew she was writing for babies, and it shows. She doesn’t miss any opportunity to over-explain simple concepts.

Having said that, I actually have nostalgia about her books, so I’m probably going to be biased about how good I think this is.

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Recap #39 – Crash Course by Nicole Davidson

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Title: Crash Course

Author: Nicole Davidson (aka Kathryn Jensen)

Published: July 1990

Tagline: A secluded cabin on the lake was a perfect place to study . . . or to die

Description: As the water closed over his head, he imagined he felt a hand grasping his jacket – pushing him deeper . . . . He thrashed his arms and legs in the irrational hope he might break the surface, his chest tightening, burning . . . . Too soon, a paralyzing lightness overtook him and he gave up to the icy current as the spring below pulled him deeper . . . deeper . . . .

And then there were seven  . . .

The weekend had begun as a crash SAT prep course given by a strict teacher in a secluded cabin at Deep Creek Lake – four boys, four girls, cramming for college entrance. It ended with a bone-chilling scream breaking the silence of the night. For one of them, it was all over . . . forever. For the rest . . .

The terror had just begun . . .

Now, while their teacher goes for help, seven terrified teens wait, not knowing if a lunatic killer lurks in the darkness . . . or sits among them, ready to strike again.

Nostalgia Time!


Jesus Christ, look at all those ellipses. Who wrote this description, Richie Tankersley Cusick?!

Anyway, this was one of those books I remembered vividly, but couldn’t for the life of me remember the title or author. For some reason all that would come to my brain was the title “Class Trip,” which I knew it wasn’t, because that’s a book by Bebe Faas Rice that I also remember vividly, still have in the box in my basement, and definitely also plan on recapping eventually. It took me a while to figure out the title of this one, and I think I finally tracked it down by simply Googling the names of all the authors whose books I still had in my basement box to see what else they’d written. (I still owned Davidson’s book, The Stalker.) As soon as I saw the title I knew that was it, and I finally got around to ordering it on Thriftbooks a while back. I remember liking the story and reading it several times back in the day. Upon reading it as an adult . . . wow, it does not hold up at all.

Note: I was originally planning to have this ready to post around Thanksgiving since it takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, but life happened and I obviously didn’t get it done in time. Story of my life, guys.

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Banned Book Week Recap – Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan (Recap #30)

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Title: Killing Mr. Griffin

Author: Lois Duncan

Published: 1978 (My copy is the 1990 printing, meaning it’s still the original version of the text rather than the “updated” editions LoDunc herself “modernized.” Thank God.)

Description: The plan was only to scare their English teacher . . . . They never actually intended to kill Mr. Griffin. But sometimes plans go wrong.

Nostalgia Time!


So, for Banned Book Week (Sept. 23-29), I decided to recap a book that’s been challenged and banned from some schools and libraries. Believe it or not, Killing Mr. Griffin was #25 on the most challenged book list from 2000-2009. It was banned from a few California schools in the 1980s, and challenged in plenty more. Seems ridiculous, but most of the books on that list are. Supposedly, Killing Mr. Griffin contains “violence, murder, drinking, drugs, lying to authority, peer pressure, and smoking.” They forgot “foul language,” but Sinnott Elementary School in Milpitas, California didn’t in 1988 when they challenged it – they also added that it has “no redeeming qualities.” Hey, come on, guys. Determinations like that should be left to recappers on the internet, not school districts! Geez!

I remember reading a virtual shit ton of Lois Duncan when I was a kid – I checked a bunch of them out of the school library, oddly enough! Never this one, though, and maybe the whole “challenged/banned book” thing is why. I didn’t read this one until I was an older teenager, when I got it from the city library. A movie version was made for television in 1997, but I’m pretty sure I was unaware of it until a few years later. I honestly don’t remember the movie very well, although I’m about 90% sure I’ve seen it. I know I watched Teaching Mrs. Tingle at some point after reading this book because it looked like it was a rip-off of this story and I wondered if it was like an official gender-swapped version or something. Listen, the movies have not been kind to Ms. Duncan’s work. I Know What You Did Last Summer barely resembles the book it’s supposedly based on, and a TV movie of Gallows Hill that was retitled I’ve Been Waiting For You was frankly disappointing and forgettable. I mean, do you remember it at all? I was so excited for it because the book had come out only the year before, and I really liked it, and then . . . meh.

Anyway, I don’t remember Killing Mr. Griffin all that well, but I know I liked it. I’m sure there are tons of dated references, and a sociopath manipulating everyone into doing what he wants, and a sad-sack main girl who will go along with a lot of bullshit because of a boy she likes . . . hey, so I listened to the Teen Creeps podcast episode and it jogged my memory on some stuff, okay? At any rate, I’m looking forward to rereading and recapping this one for y’all, and also trying to parse why it’s a banned book.

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Recap #29 – The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

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Title: The Dollhouse Murders

Author: Betty Ren Wright

Published: 1983

Tagline: The dolls didn’t forget . . .

Description: It was just an old dollhouse. Hidden away in the attic – collecting dust. Amy didn’t know that the dollhouse held a secret. A deadly secret that hadn’t been talked about in years. And now, the dolls have decided that Amy should be the one to know the truth. The truth about the night of the murder . . .

Nostalgia Time!


While I’m sure I’ve read other Betty Ren Wright books (the cover of Christina’s Ghost in particular looks far too familiar for me not to have checked it out of the school library around 3rd grade or so!), I had never read this one before. I got it a while back at the used book store down the street when they were having a warehouse sale – they opened up their back room and sold people however many books you could cram into a plastic bag for $5. This was one of the books I picked up, based on the cover and the fact that, well, it’s a creepy dollhouse, right? That’s gotta be good!

Spoiler alert: It was good!

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Recap #24 – Twin Sisters by Janice Harrell

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Title: Twin Sisters

Author: Janice Harrell

Published: 1995

Tagline: No one can tell them apart . . . no one

Description: And then there was one . . .

I took over my sister’s life after she died, slipped into her place without missing a beat. I wore her favorite fuzzy sweater, kissed her boyfriend, inherited her friends . . . and her enemies.

Elizabeth and Isabel hadn’t seen each other since their parents divorced when they were three. Isabel stayed with her father, a brilliant and reclusive author. Elizabeth ended up with her mother, a jet-setting socialite who hopscotched her young daughter all over the world. Then Isabel is murdered – and her twin wants to find out why. Because she was out of town when it happened, Isabel’s friends don’t know she’s gone. And if Elizabeth has her way, they’ll never find out. Only Elizabeth will know – and the killer.

Nostalgia Time!


So, I must have been around 14 when I read this for the first time. I don’t know why I trusted Janice Harrell after reading her beyond-awful The Murder Game, but I did, and this one is actually pretty good. Completely contrived, but at least it’s entertaining and I don’t immediately recall anything that makes me want to kill it with fire. So, this is the first of two books (I’m loathe to use the term “duology” for reasons I can’t quite explain), and after I read this one (which ends with a cliffhanger – nothing is resolved at all), I immediately went back to the bookstore to try to find the second book. They didn’t have it, or it wasn’t out yet. Okay. Cool. I waited a while, looked again, no second book. For a while I checked back with the bookstores regularly, no joy. The time between checking the stores got longer and longer, until it no longer occupied my thoughts. At some point I figured maybe Ms. Harrell hadn’t written a second book, and I was doomed to never know how the saga of Iz and Liz ended. Then I discovered the second book did in fact exist, but I still couldn’t find it anywhere.

As I write this, I still have not read the second book, Twin Terror.

But! Thanks to modern times, I found it online and bought it. It sits two feet away from me as I type these words. I still have not read it. I don’t plan to read it until I finish the recap of this first book, Twin Sisters. See, I want to be able to speculate about who the killer is and what the fuck is going on during this recap, and I won’t be able to do that organically if I read the second book and know all those spoilers before finishing this recap. Does . . . does that make me a method recapper? Ah, well. Let’s do this thing, because I’ve been waiting over twenty damn years to find out how this ends!

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Recap #11 – Slay Bells by Jo Gibson

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Title: Slay Bells

Author: Jo Gibson (aka Joanne Fluke)

Published: December 1994

Tagline: Tis the season . . . to die!

Description: Santa Claus is coming . . . to kill! The just-opened Crossroads Mall is the place to shop this Christmas season. Diana Connelly and her friends are having such a fabulous time that they don’t even mind the sudden snowstorm that traps them there.

Until the accidents start to happen.

Killing off Diana’s friends . . . one by one.

Accidents that aren’t really accidents at all. Because hiding in the shadows of the Crossroads Mall is a twisted killer with a Christmas list of his own.

He’s checking it twice . . .

To find out who’s been naughty or nice.

And Diana . . . you’ve been very naughty this year.

Nostalgia Time!


That description is, um. Not exactly right? It’s the day before the mall’s grand opening, Diana and her friends are employees of the mall, and they get trapped there when they let other people use their cars to evacuate. The description makes it sound like they’re idiot kids who want to keep shopping during a blizzard. That’s probably not important, but inaccuracy on the back cover description always bugs the hell out of me.

This book was published in December 1994, so I was thirteen when it came out, and I probably read it right around its release. I didn’t remember it very well, which was probably a good thing. This book is a weird combination of absolutely ludicrous events and plot contrivances, and also just not a lot happening. And I’d forgotten who Killer Santa was, but it wasn’t hard to figure it out from process of elimination. This author writes a series of mystery novels for adults under her real name, Joanne Fluke, and I’ve never read them, but I hope they’re more complex and interesting than this. Also, this author has a penchant for lots of exclamation marks and commas in weird places. It’s really noticeable and annoying.

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Recap #3 – Music From the Dead – Bebe Faas Rice

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Title: Music From the Dead

Author: Bebe Faas Rice

Published: 1997

Description: When Marnie’s father decided to rent an old summer house on the rocky coast of Maine, Marnie never imagined he’d choose Stoneycraig – a creepy-looking mansion miles from town. Her dad isn’t scheduled to arrive for a week, but there’s a housekeeper . . . who refuses to spend the night.

Marnie and her cousin Peter figure they can handle a week alone. But maybe not. Weird things begin to happen in the dead of night; they hear the chilling echoes of a woman crying and ghostly music drifting in from the piano room. Then Marnie learns of Stoneycraig’s tragic past sixteen years ago, involving a woman’s broken heart and horrifying death. Wanting to know more, Marnie and Peter move ever closer to the shattering truth, only to find a shocking secret that could kill them both.

Tagline: Marnie never believed in ghosts – until now.

Nostalgia Time!


I don’t remember this one very well, partly because in my mind it’s all mixed up with Rice’s The Listeners and Ritchie Tankersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat – all books I remember liking. I love a spooky ghost story, but I can’t remember if this one went full-on supernatural or not. (Future Me: Ghosts! We get for realsies ghosts! Ghooooooosts!) Either way, I’m really excited to reread this! A spooky isolated house with a possible haunting is right up my alley.

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Recap #1 – The Murder Game – Janice Harrell

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Title: The Murder Game by Janice Harrell

Published June 1993

Description 

It was no game.

The ad read “You’re invited to a murder . . .” It was to be a party, complete with a pretend corpse and plenty of clues. Only Meg Redding knew the host’s real motive: Dusty Ellis was determined to catch his twin sister’s killer – even though the police had ruled her death an accident.

The guests are gathered at an isolated cottage out by the reservoir where the stage is set for murder. But when the corpse is found – it’s real. Now Dusty’s a prime suspect and Meg’s out to clear his name . . . unaware that the killer is following her, step by step . . .

Tagline

Come to party and catch a killer – if you dare!

Nostalgia Time!


This was published in June of 1993, so I was probably around 12 or 13 the first time I read it. I didn’t remember too many details, but I remembered who the killer was and why. And the worst motive ever. Seriously, this motive is the weakest weaksauce to ever sauce. Even at 12 I was well aware of that. This was maybe the first time Rocky Horror Picture Show came onto my radar, and the first time I’d heard of Kewpie dolls. I also remembered the 16 or 17 year old girl and her 30-year-old “boyfriend.” Oh, boy, we’re gonna have a time with this one, folks. Not necessarily a good time, but some kind of time.

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