Thursday, May 30, 2019


Jennifer Cody Epstein's books include The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, winner of the 2014 Asian Pacific Association of Librarians Honor award for outstanding fiction, as well as the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai.

Epstein applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wunderland, and reported the following:
From page 69:

“Can you speed up?” says Ilse. “You’re moving like my grandmother.”

They have just emerged from the Wittenbergerplatz U-Bahn station and are standing on the street by its steps. Rather than speeding up, however, Renate stops altogether. “I’m sorry,” she says, and leans against one of the railings. “I didn’t sleep well last night. I kept worrying about the letter.”

“I keep telling you. They probably won’t even ask for it.”

“But what if they do? And what if they can tell?”

Ilse heaves an exasperated sigh. “All right. Let’s see it, then.”

Renate pulls the envelope from her satchel, then pulls the thrice-folded sheet of paper from the envelope. She hands it over, swallowing her anxiety as Ilse runs a well-chewed fingertip down each carefully typed line:

Dear Fräulein von Schmidt:
Please allow my daughter Renate to register as a Hitlerjugend Jung-mädel and provide her with the appropriate physical exam: she has our full approval on both counts. I apologize that neither my wife nor I could accompany her today, but we’ve had a death in the family and must leave town immediately. Thank you for your consideration.

Heil Hitler! Otto Bauer
This section is in many ways about as representative of Wunderland as you can get, as it marks a very crucial turning point in the two central narratives. Fifteen-year-old Renate Bauer and her best friend Ilse von Fischer are heading in to Hitlerjugen headquarters in 1935 Berlin with the intention of signing Renate up for the highly popular Bund Deutscher Mädel, the female division of the Hitler Youth. Ilse has happily been a member for two years, and since Renate’s parents have forbidden her to join the organization, she has urged Renate to forge a note from her father giving his approval. Bookish and slightly anxious by nature, Renate is worried that this ruse will be discovered and she’ll be refused. As it turns out, though, there are far greater stakes in play than a forged permission slip. For in the scene that follows she is told that under the Nuremberg Laws—which by that point have been in place for two years—she is actually not considered German at all, since (utterly unbeknownst to her) her father was born to formerly Jewish parents who had converted to Lutheranism around the turn of the century. It’s a discovery that will shatter Renate’s world as she knew it, putting her and Ilse on opposite sides of the antisemitic storm sweeping their country, and shaping both their lives in devastating—if very different—ways.
Visit Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Painter from Shanghai.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.

Writers Read: Jennifer Cody Epstein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"Riots I Have Known"

Ryan Chapman is a Sri Lankan-American writer originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work has appeared online at The New Yorker, GQ, Bookforum, BOMB, Guernica, and The Believer. He is a recipient of fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and the Millay Colony for the Arts. He lives in upstate New York.

Chapman applied the Page 69 Test to Riots I Have Known, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Coolhunters and tobacco marketers both know if you’re going to get big, first you have to get the influencers: your Lego architects, your SXSW “experiential leads,” your prop stylists for Japanese workwear zines. I direct new readers to “We Have All Killed the Widows,” a rather thorough listserv of Holding Pen scholarship. The moderators claim with some degree of confidence two distinct and near-simultaneous first sightings of The Holding Pen in the cultural underground.

Last December a restaurant named Napkins opened in the Mission District of San Francisco, the newest addition to celebrity chef Frankie DiCredenza’s growing empire. DiCredenza has the reputation for being as lax with his restaurants’ decor as he is meticulous with his crudo. It would not surprise any of his many loyal fans to learn his first Michelin star (French Stuff, in London’s Gravesend) was awarded only after fierce internal debate whether he even qualified: his plywood tables had been pulled from the refuse pile at a nearby wharf and gave the judges several splinters in their hindquarters. As for Napkins, the chef was dating a homeless teenager he’d found shooting up in the alley behind the restaurant; DiCredenza asked the young man to furnish the place for $800. Destiny pushed the doped-up kid into a nearby dumpster, and two weeks later Napkins opened to rapturous reviews about its duck à l’orange ... and its curiously moving placemats. (That kid’s name? You guessed it already: Grammy-nominee and MTV Music Video Award winner DJ G-G-G-Ghost!!!)
The novel is a book-length, live-blog confession written by a prisoner who has barricaded himself inside the prison’s media lab while a largescale riot rages outside. He’s also the proud editor of house lit journal The Holding Pen, and in these paragraphs he explains how it found mainstream success among the un-incarcerated. You get a sense of the narrator’s desperate need to impress, as well as his desperate need to rush through the details of his life story before discovery and dismemberment. That’s right, it’s a comedy.
Visit Ryan Chapman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 27, 2019

"The Scent Keeper"

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of four novels including The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, The Lost Art of Mixing, and The Scent Keeper.

Bauermeister applied the Page 69 Test to The Scent Keeper and reported the following:
The Scent Keeper is a novel told in three parts, each in a different location. The first part is set on a remote, forested island where Emmeline lives with her father in almost complete isolation. Emmeline is raised with smell as her primary sense, and her life is alive with scents and the messages they send her. The island is magical, almost like a fairy tale, and as I was writing the book, I often wondered what would happen to the magic when Emmeline left the island (as she must – this is a novel with an arc, after all).

Just by chance, page 69 describes her initial reactions when she is forced to make that change to a new environment. For a girl who has grown up in fairly primitive conditions, even a bath is a strange experience:
…an endless torrent of cool, then hot, water poured out of the wall. I watched, fascinated and terrified, as it filled the tub. I couldn’t imagine how all that water stayed inside the walls, or what might happen if you made a hole in them by accident.
What I realized in writing Emmeline’s reactions to “ordinary” life is that magic is the art of making us see things from a new and unusual angle. In The Scent Keeper, what seems normal to Emmeline on the island seems impossible to us at times, but in Part Two, the situation is utterly reversed. Our world is as fantastical to her as it is mundane to us. Emmeline may have left her fairy tale island behind, but through her eyes, we can learn to see our lives in new and magical ways.
Learn more about the book and author at Erica Bauermeister's website.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Essential Ingredients.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Art of Mixing.

Writers Read: Erica Bauermeister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"This is Not a Love Scene"

S. C. Megale is an author and filmmaker. She's been profiled in USA Today, The Washington Post, and New York Newsday, and has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and the CBS Evening News for her philanthropic and literary work. As a humanitarian, she's spoken on the USS Intrepid, at the NASDAQ opening bell, and to universities and doctors nationwide. She enjoys making connections all over the world.

Megale was raised in the long grass of the Civil War, hunting for relics and catching fireflies along the banks of Bull Run. A shark tooth, flutes, and a flask are some of the items that hang from her wheelchair, and she had a fear of elevators until realizing this was extremely inconvenient. She lives with her family which includes her parents, sister and brother, service dog, and definitely-not-service dog.

Megale applied the Page 69 Test to This is Not a Love Scene, her first published novel and reported the following:
From page 69:
I should have been paying attention. Instead, I studied the back of Cole’s head the whole time. How did he feel about this? When they portrayed the man limply being dressed, Cole didn’t move. When the heavy wheelchair needed to be pushed up a steep hill, he scratched his forearm. When the man confessed his self-hate because of the disability, Cole didn’t raise a hand to dry his eyes. He just watched.

Just. Watched.

Maybe he was dragged here by the other two, and the only thing on his mind was getting some eight-fifty nachos at the counter. Or worse, maybe he was thinking of me, with pity and that helpless feeling like you just can’t wrap your mind around something.

My God, you deserve to be loved like everyone else. But it can’t be from me.

I was used to men thinking, saying, or showing that on their faces.
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the novel?

I think so. Maeve, the protagonist with muscular dystrophy, happens to be in the same movie theater as Cole, the unlawfully hot guy she fell for. Only problem is, they're at a film about a young man in a wheelchair experiencing all the awkward and intimate things Maeve sort of doesn't want Cole thinking about or associating with her.
Visit S.C. Megale's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Is Not a Love Scene.

Writers Reads: S. C. Megale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2019

"Amelia Westlake Was Never Here"

Erin Gough is a Sydney-based writer whose first young adult novel, The Flywheel, won Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Prize. The Flywheel was published in the US as Get it Together, Delilah! and was shortlisted for the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Older Readers and the Centre for Youth Literature’s Gold Inky. It was also named a White Raven International Youth Library title.

Gough applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Amelia Westlake Was Never Here, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Edie flicks her ponytail. "That's wishful thinking, if you ask me. She'll find someone to play with, or someone will find her. There's no reason to assume she won't play in the doubles."

"So what do we do?"

I must sound overly panicked because Edie puts down her racket and comes over. She presses her forehead gently against mine, which is one of our pregame rituals. I drink in the smell of her floral perfume. "Train hard," she says. "Learn what we can about her. Find out about her strengths, her weaknesses," she murmurs, her lips very close to my lips.

I sigh. "You always know exactly what to say to calm me down."
This excerpt is largely representative of the rest of Amelia Westlake. Tennis, sneaky plotting and sexual tension between two girls all feature, which are all key elements of the narrative. Page 69 is a "Harriet" chapter - the book's chapters alternate between the perspectives of Harriet and Will - so it is flavoured by Harriet's particular formality, naivety and general lack of self awareness. All that is missing is the perspective of Will, who is much more knowing, cynical and self-possessed. Will is the 'glass-half-empty' to Harriet's 'glass-half-full'.
Visit Erin Gough's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Last Things"

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, the middle grade fantasy The Collectors, and the new YA novel Last Things.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Last Things and reported the following:
From page 69:
I shift on the seat. “You’ve heard my stuff.”

“No. I mean, I don’t know how you write your songs. Where they come from. If you start with the melody, or with the words, or with the concept for the expensive music video you’ll make someday, or what.” She pauses again. I don’t speak. “So—this sounds totally corny, but where do you get your ideas?”

We’re heading past the park, along a road where the houses grow thinner and the trees grow thicker. Green walls surround us.

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Oh. So you are a mysterious musical genius.”

“No. I just—I can’t really explain it.” And then I tell her the truth. Partly. “I’m not controlling it. It just happens.”

“Hmm.” Frankie lifts that eyebrow at me again. “Maybe you have a muse.”


“You know, how people used to think that art came from some goddess coming to you and inspiring you. They all had weird names, like Euterpe and Calliope....”


“I don’t know why that one hasn’t caught on as a baby name.” Frankie shrugs with one shoulder. “So, maybe you have a muse. Maybe some force is coming in and giving you your songs.”

There’s a gust of wind around my unzipped heart.
Oh, Page 69 Test: You’ve clearly got some weird magic. I often describe my new YA thriller, Last Things, as a modern-day, metal, Minnesotan retelling of the legend of the musician who may have sold his soul to the devil—and that concept is spelled out in as-clear-as-it-gets dialogue on page 69.

A quick summary: Eighteen-year-old Anders Thorson has become famous in his small Minnesota town. His band, Last Things, is on the cusp of major musical success, and as the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Anders is flooded with attention and acclaim. The trouble is that Anders isn’t sure his success is earned. New songs come to him all at once, in overwhelming flashes, and his guitar skills are advancing faster than seems possible. Even though Anders doesn’t fully understand his gifts, he’s starting to fear that some dark force is coming to collect what it is owed.

In this scene, Anders has just accepted a ride from Frankie Lynde. Frankie is another high school senior in his small town. She’s the girl everyone wants to be with—Anders included—but he’s not sure he deserves her interest. (On top of feeling like a fraud, he’s kind of a shy, thoughtful, metal nerd—not the type of guy who pursues confident, beautiful girls.) Without intending to, Frankie starts a conversation that forces Anders to confront some of his worst fears.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacqueline West's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones (July 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones (July 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"A Palm Beach Wife"

Susannah Marren is the author of Between the Tides and A Palm Beach Wife and a pseudonym for Susan Shapiro Barash, who has written more than a dozen nonfiction books including Tripping the Prom Queen and Toxic Friends.

She lives in New York City and teaches gender studies in the Writing Department at Marymount Manhattan College.

Barash applied the Page 69 Test to A Palm Beach Wife and reported the following:
Page 69 in my novel is representative of one aspect of the book - the tension between mothers and daughters, and the constant desire for mothers to protect their daughters. The book is about other story lines as well - the idea that wives hold the bar so high and that being a wife is tricky, almost a test of one's spirit and core values. For my heroine, Faith Harrison, in A Palm Beach Wife, there is proof of her hard work as a mother, wife and business woman in Palm Beach. But once her husband tanks - which happens by page 12 in the book, she has to reevaluate her entire life. She has to make a decision - does she try to save him and her family and at what cost to herself? Also this is a book about the secrets women keep - and how they lie for the cause. It is a story about female survival and how a place informs us - shapes us. What is the price of escape and what is the price of belonging.
Visit Susan Shapiro Barash's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Palm Beach Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Mary Miller grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of two collections of short stories, Big World, and Always Happy Hour, as well as the novels The Last Days of California and Biloxi. Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, the Oxford American, New Stories from the South, Norton's Seagull Book of Stories, The Best of McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, and many others. She is a former James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas and John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband, Lucky, and her dog, Winter.

Miller applied the Page 69 Test to Biloxi and reported the following:
From page 69:
I got into bed and tried to get comfortable, flopped about. I’d placed Layla’s bed right next to mine so I could drape an arm over and pet her, though I worried I might step on her when I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I imagined the sign and the balloons going up at the hands of Harry Davidson’s wife, the small pretty hands of his wife, who hadn’t been able to stand the gagging or the shedding—the hair had already gathered under every one of my tables, retreated into every corner of the house. I fell asleep recounting the details of her: sharp elbows and the lightning bolt on her leg, her pretty hands and PINK shirt, short shorts, dark bra, mousy ponytail. Walking her up and down her driveway, back and forth.
In the novel’s opening scene, Louis stops at a house advertising ‘free dogs’ alongside a couple of drowsy balloons and meets Harry Davidson. Davidson claims to have more than a dozen dogs, but offers only one: an overweight mixed-breed he calls Layla—a prolific shedder with a gagging problem. For reasons he can’t fathom, Louis feels compelled to take her.

While I figured page 69 would be representative of the book, it’s surprising to find it recalling the scene that kicks it off so explicitly. This passage also reflects what’s to come: Louis’s growing obsession with this stranger’s wife. Earlier in the day, he returned to the house to see if the balloons were still there and sees the woman for the first time. Transfixed by this unremarkable yet eccentric creature, he’s already plotting a way to meet her, which sets off the primary conflict of the book.

Though an understated passage—a man in bed—it’s also central to the book’s theme: Louis’s fondness for oddball and dejected characters, and his extraordinary ability to find trouble.
Visit Mary Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2019

"Strangers and Cousins"

Leah Hager Cohen was born in Manhattan and raised at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens and later in Nyack, New York. She attended Hampshire College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The author of five novels and five works of nonfiction, she is the Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross.

Cohen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Strangers and Cousins, and reported the following:
Hm. I wonder what I’d even consider “representative” of Strangers and Cousins, which seems to me, more than my other books, an odd mix of voices. The point of view rolls around quite a bit – not even shifting in neat sections; it’s really very rolly. We slip in and out of various characters’ thoughts and memories. At times we even consider things from the perspective of a mouse, at times from the perspective of the moon.

On page 69 we are more or less inside Bennie’s head. Bennie, the mother, the de facto matriarch of the Blumenthal family, is sitting in the kitchen thinking about her somewhat wayward younger brother, Lloyd, whom she hasn’t seen in two years, and who is due to arrive that afternoon with his daughter Ellerby – just two of the many people descending upon the old family homestead in advance of her eldest child’s wedding at the end of the week.

Bennie finds Lloyd a bit maddening, a bit inscrutable. One part prodigal son, one part Eeyore. And her thoughts pinball from the disparaging to the forgiving to the fretting to the lovingly mocking. Deep down she’s hurt that he never accepts help from her, but it’s so deep down she’s not even quite aware of it:
That was the thing about Lloyd, the thing that made him at once irremediably lovable and irremediably infuriating: the graciousness of his demurrals, which made you always yearn to offer him more, or offer him something different, always in hopes that you’d come up at last with the elusive thing he might actually accept, so you’d keep striving for this, failing to acknowledge its certain futility.

Well – but he had accepted the invitation to Clem’s wedding. Managed to RSVP and everything. They’ll be here today, he and Ellerby – another thing to prepare for. Even if she does wind up roping them into lending a hand with the scullery work later this week, she does at the very least need to have beds made up for them when they get here. Not to mention have dinner to serve. And, asterisk to that: her brother’s ever-changing dietary preferences to cater to.

Fake butter, she adds to one of her lists. Soy/almond milk.
Then her thoughts are interrupted by one of her children coming into the room – that’s another thing about this novel: no one’s stream of consciousness goes on for long without interruption, because people are forever entering or exiting the stage (so to speak) in a jumble of slightly slapstick activity:
Speaking of brothers: “Where’s your brother?” she demands of Mantha, who’s wandered into the kitchen and is poking around the fruit bowl. “What are you looking for?”

“A plum that isn’t squishy.”

“Well stop that. Just take one. You’re making them all squishy. Where’s your brother?”

Mantha takes a plum and gives it a distrustful, millimeter-long lick.
If there’s a way in which page 69 is representative of the book, it may be in this very interruption, in the overlap, the swerve from large abstract thoughts about the very essence of a bewildering loved one to the staccato practicalities of shopping lists to the found poetry of a scrap of mother-daughter banter. All stitched into a mammoth, messy patchwork quilt.
Visit Leah Hager Cohen's website.

Writers Read: Leah Hager Cohen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"Beware the Night"

Jessika Fleck is a writer, unapologetic coffee drinker, and knitter -- she sincerely hopes to one day discover a way to do all three at once. Until then, she continues collecting vintage typewriters and hourglasses, dreaming of an Ireland getaway, and convincing her husband they need more kittens.

Fleck has lived all over the U.S. from Hawaii to Vermont, but currently calls Illinois home. She resides there with her sociology professor husband and two daughters where she’s learning to appreciate the beauty in cornfields and terrifyingly large cicadas.

Fleck writes both young adult and middle grade fiction and her work verges on fantastical and dark with a touch of realism. She is also a regular contributor to the fantastic kidlit blog, Kidliterati.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Beware the Night, and reported the following:
I love the idea of taking a page out of a book and examining it out of context.

Page 69 of Beware the Night [left; click to enlarge] certainly isn’t representative of the book as a whole; however, it does give a great window into the complicated relationship between Veda and Nico. They are childhood friends and care about one another deeply but despite living on the same small island, the lives they lead are worlds apart. Relationships (especially complicated ones)—family, friends, romantic—are a theme that carries throughout the book and into book two. There’s a constant push and pull between these two characters which is both lovely and heartbreaking. But we soon find that everything surrounding Veda exists in juxtaposition to itself. So, push and pull… dark and light… sun and moon… it all ties together.
Visit Jessika Fleck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Murder Knocks Twice"

Susanna Calkins holds a PhD in history and currently works at Northwestern University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder Knocks Twice, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gina watched her father take his last bite of toast, chewing slowly and carefully. She knew he’d had a bad night the night before, the medicine working on the shakes only some of the time. But she could no longer put off the questions that had been raging inside her since she’d first heard them. “Papa?”


“Why were you called Frankie the Cat?”

He pushed the plate aside, a spasm crossing his face. “Where’d you hear that ? I haven’t been called that in years.”

“Mike Castallazo. He owns the Third Door.”

“Castallazzzo!” He spat out the name. “That double-dealer! Didn’t know Big Mike owned that joint. I’d never have let you work there.”

Though startled by his outburst, Gina pressed on. “His wife, the Signora—she’s the one who hired me. He hadn’t realized who I was until we met.” She paused. “He said you were friends. That you ran together in the old days.”

“Yeah. The old days, sure. We were pals. Back when he was still Little Mike.” He said the last with a snort. “Big Mike came later, after I was already out.”
This interaction on page 69 between Gina Ricci and her dad offers an important glimpse into Gina’s backstory. First, it reveals why Gina needed to work at the Third Door in the first place—her father was ailing and was having trouble holding a job of his own. Perhaps more importantly it also reveals some troubling questions. When she started working at the Third Door, she hadn’t known most of the people who worked there. And yet, they all seemed to know her. Moreover, they also appeared to have known her father as a young man too—back when he was known as “Frankie the Cat,” a nickname she’d never before heard. All of this makes her wonder more about Dorrie, the cigarette seller who had died under mysterious circumstances, and whose position she had since filled. There’s definitely something odd going on, and Gina doesn’t know who to trust, especially since her father is not being forthcoming about what he knows about her questionable new employers.
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Calkins's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.

The Page 69 Test: The Masque of a Murderer.

The Page 69 Test: A Death Along the River Fleet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Once More Unto the Breach"

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.​​

She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Once More Unto the Breach, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The apse was laden with hulking shadows, squared edges sharp under the canvas drapery protecting what lay beneath. I holstered the Luger and approached the curved recess, my footfall muffled by the carpet of moss. I grasped the edge of the canvas and pulled. The heavy protective fabric unfurled like a wave, eddies of dust drifting upwards to catch in the sunlight like a spray of sea foam. I stepped back, coughing into my elbow, and took in the storehouse that had been unveiled.

Dozens of crates were stacked shoulder to shoulder in the space. The sizes were varying—some taller than me, others no larger than a child’s height. All were tightly slatted and nailed shut. I could find no identifying markings on the crates, but I could hazard a guess at their contents.

I retreated from the chapel. “Bring the crowbar from the ambulance.”

“What did you find?”

“Bring it and see.”

I watched Charlotte’s face carefully as she took in the crates, noting the excitement that lit her eyes and the satisfied curve of her lips. I took the crowbar from her and slipped the edge into the seam of the crate, leaning down on the tool to pry the nails loose.

As soon as the top was ajar, Charlotte lifted it and carefully eased aside the fabric wrapped around the contents. Her breath caught as she unveiled the sculpture within the crate.

I set the crowbar aside and knelt beside her. “Is it from the Louvre?” I could not see much detail about the piece looking at it from such an angle. It was bronze, the figure of a man clasping a woman to him with his face tucked into the curve of her neck.

“No.” Charlotte’s voice was but a whisper. A sheen of moisture glinted in her eyes.
I have always loved the story of the Monuments Men, the Allied Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section. The MFAA was tasked with finding and saving pieces of art and other cultural items before the Nazis could confiscate or destroy them during the Second World War.

I have a deep love of France and an unfailing appreciation for Paris’s museums and galleries. I first visited the Louvre at the age of eleven. At that tender age, I recall standing at the base of the Daru staircase, head tilted back to take in the statue at its pinnacle. The goddess Nike is hewn out of marble, windswept and powerful and victorious. To this day, decades later, I would still swear to you that standing there in awe, captivated by the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I heard orchestral music swell through the Denon wing. And when my mother asked me why I was crying, I had no answer for her.

I knew of the overarching effort of the Monuments Men before I began my research for Once More Unto the Breach, but I did not know of the mission at the Louvre. Efforts began in 1938 as collections from the Louvre were moved to a number of the châteaux outside of Paris. The museum was practically empty by the time the Germans marched into the city. But soon the Near Eastern antiquities galleries were full, not with museum pieces but with the collections plundered from prominent Jewish families and dealers. The Louvre was used as storage for these stolen collections and as a showcase for the high-ranking officials to pick over. Resistance efforts, led by Rose Valland and Jacques Jaujard, secretly catalogued and tracked as many of the stolen pieces as possible.

These quiet, scholarly, dedicated heroes have largely gone unsung, but it was through their efforts that the heart of history and culture was not entirely destroyed by the tide of evil that swept across the continent. As soon as I began digging further into this movement, I knew art would play a pivotal role in Once More Unto the Breach. It is a story about love, family, home, and the regrets we carry with us. But it is also about beauty, sacrifice, and the enduring power of art.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Istagram.

My Book, The Movie: Once More Unto the Breach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2019

"The Paris Diversion"

Chris Pavone is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Expats, winner of the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel, The Accident, The Travelers, and most recently The Paris Diversion. He was a book editor for nearly two decades, and lives in New York City with his family.

Pavone applied the Page 69 Test to The Paris Diversion and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You understand that you cannot allow yourself to be caught?” That’s what the man with the big beard asked, the man who has run this op. “Not under any circumstances.”

It was a beard that could look like many different things, depending on context. A rugged mountain man. Or a hipster. Or an orthodox Jew, maybe a rabbi. Or a devout Muslim. Or a jihadist planning to blow up Paris. A lot of competing types.

Wyatt accepted the familiar handgun.
Although these are minor characters, this scene is indeed completely representative of the plot, themes, and twists in this book. The thing that you as a reader think is going on? That’s not what’s really going on. And the second thing you think you’ve figured out? That’s not it either.
Visit Chris Pavone's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Chris Pavone & Charlie Brown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"The Fourth Courier"

When Timothy Jay Smith quit an intriguing international career to become a full-time writer, he had a host of real life characters, places and events to inspire his stories. His first novel, Cooper’s Promise, in some ways is still the most autobiographical of his novels, though he was never an American deserter adrift in Africa. But he was in The Mining Pan bar and he did meet Lulay and he did stowaway on a barge that landed him in an African jail.

Now, in his third novel, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland in 1992, Smith looks back at the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, as witnessed through the eyes of an FBI Special Agent on assignment to stop a nuclear smuggling operation out of Russia. Smith’s newest book continues his style of page-turning thrillers steeped with colorful characters.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to The Fourth Courier and reported the following:
From page 69:
Of course he couldn’t exactly ignore her foot resting on his leg, nor entirely block from view her squirming toes. Her nails were painted cherry red, which he realized did make her feet attractive, certainly more attractive than the coarse lardy nails his wife hadn’t painted since their first anniversary. Oh, why not massage her foot? he decided. It might be fun, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone’s foot other than his own. Tentatively he wrapped his fingers around her arch and squeezed. “Is that where it hurts?” he asked.

“Oh yes… but harder…”

He gripped her foot tighter and massaged it with his thumbs. He found he rather enjoyed it; there was an unfamiliar sensuality to it, and as a plus, from his angle he could peek up her skirt to where her heavy legs disappeared in a dark shadow. Gradually his fingers migrated to her toes, which they worked vigorously, rooting down between them, and bending them to crack them. For the first time he understood why some people suck toes for sexual pleasure, and if his back had been more limber, he might have dared to bite hers.

Emma sighed. “I can tell you are professional. Yes... oh yes... ”

Suddenly the situation, and certainly his fantasies, seemed ludicrous to Sergej. He released her foot and said rather coldly, “I hope it feels better.”
By happy coincidence, page 69 falls right in the middle of one of my favorite chapters in The Fourth Courier. The set-up and many of its details are based on a train trip I took some forty years ago which made it fun to write. It’s also an important scene because it’s building on the reader’s understanding that Dr. Ustinov is so obsessed with sex, having been driven mad by what was required of him in a genetics engineering project, that he’s willing to take risks for sex—which he does for the first time only two pages later.

Two strangers—Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a genius Russian physicist, and Emma, a plump and lustful Russian-American on her way to visit relatives—by lucky chance have a first-class compartment to themselves in a train crossing Russia. While my real-life journey and the chapter in the book end differently, most elements are exactly the same: cans of soup fall out of Emma’s duffel; they share a greasy bag of dried fish; and complaining about her feet hurting, she drops a foot over Sergej’s thigh urging him to massage it. There’s a lot of humor in the chapter, and pathos, too. (Lina Wertmuller-ish for those who know her movies.)

I loved writing the character of Dr. Ustinov. While most characters in my books are based on people I’ve met, the mad Russian scientist is not. He’s definitely an important character and sympathetic. Readers will be rooting for him to get where he wants to go.

As he would say, “Ha!”
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

Writers Read: Timothy Jay Smith.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Courier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"Octavia Gone"

Jack McDevitt is an American science fiction author. He has won multiple awards including the International UPC Science Fiction award for Ships in the Night, a Nebula for Seeker, a Campbell Award for Omega, and the Robert Heinlein Lifetime Achievement Award. He has over 20 novels available in print, ebook and audio. He resides in Georgia with his lovely wife, Maureen.

McDevitt applied the Page 69 Test to Octavia Gone, the latest Alex Benedict novel, and reported the following:
A space station doing research at a black hole vanishes with its four-person crew. It seemed obvious that it had been drawn into the black hole, but the people in charge of the project maintained that simply hadn’t been possible. Even had it happened, there was no explanation for their failure, when things were going wrong, to send out a plea for help.

Alex Benedict is a dealer in antiquities. Eleven years after the station has gone, he discovers that he’d had a chess set belonging to Charlotte Hill, a physicist who’d been one of the four people on the station. It was no big deal, but eventually it will draw Alex and Chase into the hunt for an explanation. Meantime, the chess set has also gone missing. Chase, the narrator, is speaking:
“I don’t recall our ever having access to it. Did we sell it, or something?” I asked. “The chess set?”

“No. It disappeared after her death. Charlotte’s mother, Olivia Hill, contacted me a year or so ago to find out if we might have any idea what happened to it, whether we might have seen it on the auction listings. She was hoping to get it back.”

“So you’ve been looking into it.”

“Yes,” He was smiling. “I got a response while I was on the road. From Paul Holton.” Holton was a long-time client. He put the message on-screen. “Alex, Kimberley Morris has it. She tells me she got it from one of Charlotte’s friends. She lives in Traymont. Link attached. She does not seem anxious about selling. Let me know if I can do anything more to help.”

Traymont was a time zone away.

Outside, a mollok was hanging from a tree limb gazing in at us. He was miling at something, and when Alex waved at him, he waved back. I couldn’t resist going into the kitchen for a banana. Alex was frowning when I returned with it. “You do that,” he said, “and it’ll be out there every morning.”

“Special credit at salvation.” I opened the window and tossed the banana.

The mollok caught it on the fly, chittered happily and began peeling and eating it.

Alex rolled his eyes. “Jacob,” he said, “connect us with Kimberley.”
Learn more about the book and author at Jack McDevitt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Octavia Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"The Southern Side of Paradise"

Kristy Woodson Harvey is a born-and-bred North Carolina girl who loves all four seasons—especially fall in Chapel Hill, where she attended college, and summer in Beaufort, where she and her family spend every free moment. The author of The Secret of Southern Charm, Slightly South of Simple, Dear Carolina, and Lies and Other Acts of Love, Harvey is also the founder of the popular interior design blog Design Chic.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Southern Side of Paradise, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I shook my head, incredulous. “Do you see this?” I asked, holding up my left hand. “This means that you have to learn to compromise a little. This means that sometimes you do what I want to do.”

“Moving to LA is not ‘sometimes doing what you want to do.’ “ Mark said, making air quotes.
The Page 69 test prevails again! Because this argument that Emerson, the youngest of the Murphy sisters and the protagonist of The Southern Side of Paradise, is having with her fiancé Mark is the crux of the problem in their relationship. While they love each other, Mark isn’t willing to give up his company in Peachtree Bluff, Georgia, where the Peachtree Bluff Series is set, and Emerson isn’t willing to give up her career as an actress in LA. It’s a hurdle that they can overcome, one that has a number of solutions, but it is the main issue facing the couple, the one that makes Emerson question whether they are right together. Throughout this novel, Emerson is making some hard decisions about her relationship and her career—and will have to decide what she is willing to give up to create the life she has always dreamed of.

Meanwhile, the Murphy women are facing their biggest challenge yet, the unraveling of a secret that Emerson’s mother Ansley has kept for decades, one she never thought would come to light. When it does, Ansley finds herself in jeopardy of losing the thing she thought was unshakable, the thing that means the very most to her: her connection with her girls.

Even still, if the town of Peachtree Bluff and the Murphy women know how to do anything, it’s come together when it matters most. And The Southern Side of Paradise puts that fact to the test.
Visit Kristy Woodson Harvey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 6, 2019

"The Last Time I Saw You"

Liv Constantine is the pen name of bestselling authors Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Their debut thriller, The Last Mrs. Parrish, was a Reese Witherspoon book club selection, a People Magazine book of the week, a Target book club selection, and is in development for television.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Last Time I Saw You, and reported the following:
Although Page 69 of The Last Time I Saw You is not filled with action, the murder victim and several of the suspects are named here. Lily is already dead by now, brutally murdered in her own home. Her daughter, Kate, appears on this page after an uneasy interaction with her husband, Simon, a prime suspect. He’s been secretive and aloof, and a little too friendly with a beautiful young colleague at his architectural firm. Blaire, Kate’s best friend and Simon’s nemesis, is asking questions here, seeing for the first time that Detective Anderson seems to be investigating much more than just Lily’s murder. Now Kate is being targeted and threatened along with her young daughter, Annabelle. What does Anderson know and how much information is he keeping from them? Hilda, Annabelle’s nanny, makes another entrance on this page. She too, will come to be one of the suspects in a long list of them. Her background is fuzzy, her only child and grandchild three thousand miles away, estranged from her only sister. Does she have a possible motive? And finally there is Selby, hated by Blaire, but the friend Kate has known the longest, the friend who, like Kate, comes from old money and privilege, the friend whose mother and Lily were best friends. Suspicion, mistrust and hatred simmer beneath the surface and soon will rise up as they come closer and closer to unmasking the murderer among them.
Visit Liv Constantine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Valerie Constantine & Zorba.

Coffee with a Canine: Lynne Constantine & Greyson.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Mrs. Parrish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Summer of ’69"

Todd Strasser is the internationally best-selling author of more than one hundred books for children and teens, including Fallout and The Beast of Cretacea, as well as the classics The Wave and Give a Boy a Gun, which are taught in classrooms around the world.

Strasser applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Summer of '69, and reported the following:
So, what to say about page 69 of the Summer of ’69? It’s July, 1, and Lucas’s girlfriend, Robin, has been away for only four days, but Lucas feels the need to write yet another letter to her (he’s already written several). He tries to keep the letters light and funny (she’s gone to Canada for the summer, but Lucas writes as if she’s stranded somewhere out on the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle) but clearly he’s heartsick without her. Later, seeing his brother, Alan, in his usual spot on the den floor in front of the TV, Lucas reflects on their earlier years and the corporal punishment their father sometimes administered to discipline them. From there Lucas wanders into the kitchen where his mother has heated a couple of Swanson fried chicken TV dinners for him and Alan. While in the kitchen, his mom asks him why he never told her that he’d been rejected by Goddard, the only college he’d applied to. And now that he has been rejected, is he prepared to be drafted and sent to fight in the War in Vietnam? For Lucas, the future is looking bleak.
Visit Todd Strasser's website.

My Book, The Movie: Summer of '69.

Writers Read: Todd Strasser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 3, 2019

"A Lily in the Light"

Kristin Fields grew up in Queens, which she likes to think of as a small town next to a big city. Fields studied writing at Hofstra University, where she was awarded the Eugene Schneider Award for Short Fiction. After college, she found herself working on a historic farm, as a high school English teacher, designing museum education programs, and is currently leading an initiative to bring gardens to New York City public schools. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Fields applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Lily in the Light, and reported the following:
A Lily in the Light follows eleven year old, Esme. Ballet is everything to Esme - until her four-year-old sister, Lily, vanishes without a trace and nothing is certain anymore. People Esme has known her whole life suddenly become suspects, each new one hitting closer to home than the last, including her brother, Nick, who Esme is speaking with on page 69 below...
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he whispered. Esme stared at the things in her brother’s room, things that belonged only to him: sweatshirts and baseball mitts, aluminum bats with missing paint chips, a bottle of Barbisol. She was jealous of the empty space on his walls.

“I thought I was helping.” Nick’s hand throbbed against hers like a beating heart.

“Where’d you go?”

“The depot,” he coughed. “And a few other places with pictures of Lily.”
Esme cringed at the thought of Lily in the depot. It was an old trolley barn. Sometimes Nick threw rocks at the windows. They all did. Only the highest ones were still in one piece and kids got as close as they could, picking through the chain link fence, stepping over old mattresses and torn trash bags. Homeless people lived inside with thrown-away things. The police found Denny there once after he’d been missing for a while. Esme was too afraid to ask what it was like inside.

No, Lily was with another family, like in storybooks where kids walked through cupboards and into other worlds. They fought wars against animal people, sailed imaginary ships across oceans full of paper monsters, met kings and queens, and came back unscathed but smarter. Lily would love that. It was make-believe, but even pretend stuff was based on real things. Even the possibility was comforting.
Accurate! Eerily accurate. Even on page 69, so much of Esme’s denial about her sister’s disappearance and coping through fantasy are already in full swing. The reality of the depot is too much. She can’t accept that her sister could be in a place like that instead of home, so she creates a storybook world for Lily instead.

Her inability to cope with Lily’s disappearance and the doubt it casts on everything closest to her, further entrenches Esme in ballet. Ballet becomes a similar storybook world for Esme, and it’s easier to accept that they’re both off on their own adventures. But it can’t stay that way forever, especially when a break in the case could shatter the imaginary world Esme’s created for herself and her sister. Page 69 captures the fragility of Esme’s relationship with herself, her family, and reality that plays out throughout the rest of the story.
Visit Kristin Fields's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 2, 2019

"The Luminous Dead"

Caitlin Starling is a writer and spreadsheet-wrangler who lives near Portland, Oregon. Equipped with an anthropology degree and an unhealthy interest in the dark and macabre, she writes horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface.

Starling applied the Page 69 Test to The Luminous Dead and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gyre was just about to turn away from the shaft when she made out a faint, familiar bump in the rock.

That’s a bolt, she thought, quickly followed by, No, can’t be. The simulation her helmet provided didn’t allow for the glint of light on metal, so maybe it was just a small stone wedged in a crevice. She squinted and moved closer to that edge of the shaft, but it was so far above her that she couldn’t hope to reach it without an actual climb.

Still, if it was a bolt, then there were probably others farther up the shaft. Em probably already knew about the shaft, in that case. So why hadn’t she mentioned it? If it went up to the surface, or even close, it could cut this initial staging time in half.

Maybe it wasn’t that simple. Or maybe Em didn’t know about it at all.

Maybe this was why the cache was missing.
This back-and-forth, paranoid uncertainty is the heart of The Luminous Dead. Gyre is alone in a daunting, dangerous, unsettling cave system, with only Em to keep her company -- from a distance, over her comm line, and from a position of omniscience (supposedly) and power (definitely). But what Gyre sees isn’t always what Em claims to see, and sometimes, when Em isn’t around, Gyre’s mind spools out terrifying possibilities.

After all, if Em is lying about one thing, what else could she be lying about?

And if Em doesn’t know everything, what else could she be wrong about?

Gyre is the only person directly experiencing her environment, and she’s also the reader’s only way into the story. We have to rely on her experience (seen here in how thoroughly she goes through the alternatives - prepare for a lot of technical caving passages!) and her understanding of just what is going on around her. But even that is shaky ground, leaving the reader to question Gyre’s reality.

All that is certain -- for Gyre, for Em, and for the reader -- is that the path is long and dark… and something isn’t right.
Visit Caitlin Starling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue