Thursday, September 24, 2020

"The Girl in the White Van"

April Henry is the New York Times-bestselling author of 25 mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.

Henry applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, The Girl in the White Van, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Jenny grabbed my shoulder. With a twist, I shook her hand loose and made for the door in the far wall. Its window was also covered. I grabbed the handle.

“Don’t open that!” Jenny said urgently behind me.

I turned the handle and pushed. It started to open, revealing a sliver of light. Cold air rushed in though the crack. Metal rattled. I was already moving my foot to step outside when the door’s movement abruptly stopped. The gap was only about three inches wide. In frustration, I bashed the door with my shoulder, ignoring how it set off echoes of pain. But the door refused to budge.

Putting my eye to the gap. I caught a glimpse of a heavy metal chain that was preventing it from opening all the way. Below it was dark, muddy ground. “Help! Help us!” I shouted through the opening. Suddenly the door vibrated under my palm when something scrabbled and scratched at the metal. And in the gap I saw a dark and terrible eye, a monster’s eye with no white at all.

It tried to thrust its head in further, just below my face. A growl filled the room. With a shriek, I pulled back. The dog’s mouth snapped open and closed, black rimmed lips stretched over long white teeth. Silvery threads of saliva bound together the top and bottom canines.

Jenny pushed me away with one hand while she wrenched the door closed with the other. Outside, the dog began to bark, angry and urgent.

“I told you not to do that!” She brought her hands to her stitched-together face. Her nails were ragged, bitten to the quick. “Did Rex bite you?”
Page 69 is a great reflection of my book: two kidnapped girls, strangers to each other trapped together, realizing just how hard it is going to be to escape their situation.

Now if page 69 was perfect, it would also include the main character Savannah taking inspiration from Bruce Lee, and a glimpse of the man who took them both.
Learn more about the book and author at April Henry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"The Lakehouse"

Joe Clifford is the author of several books, including The One That Got Away, Junkie Love, and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of the anthologies Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen; Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, and Hard Sentences, which he co-edited.

Clifford applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Lakehouse, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Lakehouse (at least the ARC!), there is a conversation between (one of three) protagonist(s), Tracy Somerset and her best friend Diana about Tracy’s chance meeting with a new handsome stranger, Todd Norman, who may or may not be a murderer…

Yes, this scene envelops the central mystery of the novel, namely whether Tracy and Todd can find true love … or if the latter is a killer.

I’m surprised by how well this 69 test works! Despite the book’s being about small-town secrets and unseen violence, The Lakehouse, at its heart, is a love story, albeit a potentially deadly one. It’s also about friendship and the bonds tested, which is encapsulated in this conversation between Tracy and Diana. And of course there is the lingering specter of Todd Norman (who is not one of the POV characters). How the residents of Covenant, CT, the fictional Central Connecticut where the novel takes place, view Todd depends on the observer. Tracy is a character who has been hurt before, and she has to make a choice whether to trust again. And Todd Norman presents a huge challenge.
Visit Joe Clifford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 20, 2020

"Sins of the Bees"

Annie Lampman is the author of the novel Sins of the Bees and the limited-edition letterpress poetry chapbook Burning Time. Her short stories, poetry, and narrative essays have been published in sixty-some literary journals and anthologies such as The Normal School, Orion Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, and Women Writing the West. She has been awarded the 2020 American Fiction Award in Thriller: Crime, the Dogwood Literary Award in Fiction, the Everybody Writes Award in Poetry, a Best American Essays “Notable,” a Pushcart Prize special mention, a Literature Fellowship special mention by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, and a wilderness artist’s residency in the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness through the Bureau of Land Management. Lampman is an Associate Professor of Honors Creative Writing at the Washington State University Honors College. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a bevy of pets (including a tabby named Bonsai and a husky named Tundra) in Moscow, Idaho on the rolling hills of the Palouse Prairie in another 1800s farmhouse. She has a pollinator garden full of native flowers, herbs, berries, song birds, squirrels, butterflies, bumble bees, solitary bees, and honeybees.

Lampman applied the Page 69 Test to Sins of the Bees and reported the following:

Page 69 of Sins of the Bees is only five sentences—the end of one of the repeating epistolary chapters:
I sit here, pouring out my soul, wishing for the comfort of you. Of the time before I left, water washing on shore, pebbles tinking against themselves in its ebb and flow. Where have I been? Where did I go?

Maybe the only way out of the dark is to descend all the way into it.
—My love,
Isabelle
The funny thing is, even though page 69 of Sins of the Bees is so abbreviated, it still would give a browser of my book a sense of the story’s personality and deeper themes as well as my writing style. There is something critical captured in those few lines that gets at the central question the main characters are struggling with, defining both them and the novel’s narrative at large. Main character Isabelle is an artist who has disappeared into a religious doomsday cult to complete commissioned paintings of child brides called the Twelve Maidens, and also “to make sense of my past, to understand myself, to make amends for the wreckage of my own life.” And main character Silva is Isabelle’s granddaughter who is trying to find and track Isabelle down in order to remake a family for herself. But both women are asking the same questions of themselves on the path of their separate journeys—trying to understand who they are after suffering trauma and loss. And unbeknownst to them, they are both mourning two specific things: the loss of the same man—Isabelle’s abandoned husband, Eamon, who raised Silva; and the trauma of suffering sexual assault. There is a lot of exploration of these themes in the novel, making particularly this sentence relevant to the page 69 test: “Maybe the only way out of the dark is to descend all the way into it.” Therefore, the page 69 test proves out eerily well for Sins of the Bees, even as captured in whitespace punctuated by only a few brief sentences.
Visit Annie Lampman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2020

"Hanging Falls"

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as president for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, was elected the 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and is also a member of Northern Colorado Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Women Writing the West. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Mizushima applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Hanging Falls, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Hanging Falls reveals much about the book and is a good indication of the whole story. Its setting is the fictional town of Timber Creek, a small community that lies high up in the Colorado Rockies. It occurs during the summer, and atypical monsoon-like rains have flooded the mountains surrounding the town.

Prior to this page the heroine, Deputy Mattie Cobb, found a man’s body floating in a mountain lake at the base of Hanging Falls, and she became drenched during a daring recovery. The series hero, veterinarian Cole Walker, assisted in packing the dead man down from the forest by horseback, and at the end of the day, they’ve succeeded in turning the body over to the coroner and are getting ready to drive home in Cole’s truck.

Mattie has been searching for her biological family, and the result of her filing her DNA with an ancestry database will be revealed on this page as well. She’d been planning a trip to San Diego to meet two members of her family that she can’t even remember—since she’d been abducted at the age of two—but the need to help investigate the current homicide has thrown a wrench in her plans. Robo, Mattie’s K-9 partner, is also along for the ride.

From page 69:
[Cole] began wiping the inside of the windshield. “I’ll get that heat back on your feet full force as soon as I can.”

“It’s all right,” she said, loving this man for always thinking of her well-being, something she’d experienced only from Mama T, her foster mother, before meeting Cole. She shifted to sit cross-legged, tucking her feet under her before settling into the warmth of the bucket seat. “This seat warmer is already doing the trick. This is heaven.”

“It certainly is,” he said, putting the truck in gear before reaching for her hand. “We have ten miles to go, and I have you all to myself.”

Robo settled down in the back and went to sleep while they rode in silence, Mattie savoring the cocoon of warmth and love that Cole had spun. But then her mind went back to the dead man she’d fished out of the lake. She wouldn’t be able to push aside the memory of his cold flesh and the terrible marks on his body anytime soon. What significance did the word PAY carved on his chest have? Would it eventually give them a lead?

How were they going to identify him and notify his family? Family notification had gained much more significance during the last few weeks since she’d found hers.

“I’m going to have to call Julia and tell her I can’t leave for a couple of days,” she said, worried about disappointing her sister.

“I heard you tell the sheriff.” Cole gave her a sympathetic glance. “Sorry this has come up at the last minute. But good grief, Mattie, a body in the lake? So you’re sure it wasn’t an accidental drowning?”

Cole must not have seen the condition of the corpse before coming up the trail to find her. He’d helped the department time and again with their investigations, and at this point she felt no hesitation whatsoever in discussing the case with him. “We’re sure. He has marks on his torso that might have been made by a whip of some kind. And someone carved the word pay on his chest.”

Pay?” Cole frowned as he considered it. “As in payback for something?”

“Who knows, but I think that’s probably it. For what, I have no idea.”
Each Timber Creek K-9 mystery has a murder to solve that stands alone, but there’s a thread that run through the series that tells Mattie’s story. I’m thrilled to share that Mattie has found a sister, and they will be reunited in Hanging Falls. But their reunion won’t be as joyful as one would think, since her sister and grandmother will reveal what little they know about what happened that fateful night when Mattie was abducted.

And what secrets are still hidden from them all.
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah.

My Book, The Movie: Hanging Falls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"Lionhearts"

Nathan Makaryk is the author of Nottingham, and a theater owner, playwright, director and actor, living in southern California. None of these pay very well, so he also has a real job teaching audio systems networking software to people who have no idea he's also a novelist and theater guy. He likes dogs and scotch because of course he does.

Makaryk applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Lionhearts (the second installment in the Nottingham series), and reported the following:
On page 69 of Lionhearts, we see a Nottingham Guardsman named Quillen who contemplates how much of a mark he can make on the world from his menial position of night patrol on the castle ramparts. He then dangerously dozes off in the cold and is awoken by another Guardsman, who happens to be something of a sociopathic killer. Their interaction would be extremely alarming to anyone who had read the preceding pages, but without that knowledge it just comes off as idle banter when read out of context.

There’s a good representation of the themes of morality in the novel, as well as some quirky humor—but on its own, it’s actually a little on the boring side! This is a quiet moment for this character as he’s transitioning between major plot beats, so there’s no action or a sense of urgency, and therefore not a great standard-bearer to represent the entire novel, which has tons of action and adventure.

And more importantly—as is true for any book with multiple POV characters—the Page 69 test can’t possibly provide more than a snapshot of a single character’s perspective. Lionhearts has six recurring narrators that cover all sides of the Robin Hood world, and the tone and writing style varies for each of them. Quillen is definitely the most reserved and introspective of these characters, while others are more emotional, violent, or (in the case of Prince John) just absolute brats.

So in this case, I’d have to say that the Page 69 test fails to represent Lionhearts as a whole. (However, if you jump a hundred pages forward to 169, there’s some pretty delightful swashbuckling at play!)
Visit Nathan Makaryk's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 14, 2020

"Don’t Look for Me"

Wendy Walker is the author of the psychological suspense novels All Is Not Forgotten, Emma In the Night, The Night Before and Don’t Look For Me. Her novels have been translated into 23 foreign languages and topped bestseller lists both nationally and abroad. They have been selected by the Reese Witherspoon Book Club, The Today Show and The Book of the Month Club, and have been optioned for both television and film.

Walker applied the Page 69 Test to Don’t Look For Me and reported the following:
Page 69 of Don’t Look for Me begins with these words from Molly Clarke:

I take a leap.

Up to this point in the story, we have met Molly Clarke as she travels along a back road in a desolate town, heading into a storm. She is in extreme emotional distress as realizations about her life and her family spin inside her head. We have also met Nicole, her twenty-one year-old daughter, who, two weeks after that stormy night, gets a new lead on her mother’s disappearance and decides to return to the town where Molly was last seen.

Page 69 finds the story approaching a crucial first twist when Molly learns something new about the place she found herself after walking away from her stalled car that stormy night, and accepting a ride with a stranger and his daughter. The leap she takes is to divulge personal and deeply painful information to the little girl named Alice who sits beside her. The disclosure provokes not only a disturbing reaction in Alice, it does what Molly had hoped it would do – it causes Alice to divulge her own secrets. And those secrets are shocking.

There is no question that this page marks the beginning of what soon becomes the most terrifying part of the book! Molly can no longer deny that she is in grave danger.

I would have to say the test is a success!
Learn more about the author and her books at Wendy Walker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 12, 2020

"The Second Mother"

Jenny Milchman is the USA Today bestselling Mary Higgins Clark award winning author of five psychological thrillers, including Wicked River and The Second Mother.

Milchman applied the Page 69 Test to The Second Mother and reported the following:
From page 69:
The ferry threaded its way through an array of boats competing for space in the water. Working boats; these weren’t luxury liners or speedboats for play or sport. Shiny with many coats of paint, lobster traps stacked on their decks, loaded down by coils of rope and blocky tanks. Striped buoys trailed long lines, which tangled amidst strands of kelp, both visible beneath the moving surface of the sea.
I think the Page 69 test applies almost perfectly to The Second Mother, highlighting many of the facets I hoped to put in the novel, in this one page and even just in the paragraph above.

The Second Mother is about a woman who has nothing to lose—because she’s lost everything—who answers a want-ad to teach in a one room schoolhouse on a remote island off the coast of Maine.

Julie packs up the few things she can take, drapes sheets over the furniture in her house, and moves with Depot, her enormous rescue dog (and the only creature she loves in the world) two states away and twelve miles out to sea.

But on Mercy Island Julie does not find the fresh start she hoped for.

The section quoted above shows Julie’s arrival on the island, so in a sense is the first major turning point of the plot. (I think of a “turning point” according to Robert McKee’s definition: a scene or event that sends the story hurtling in an entirely new direction). And elements whose complexity Julie can’t yet begin to grasp, still less how they will impact her—such as moving to a place dominated by fishermen and the lives they lead—are on display here as well.

These lines from page 69 also showcase the imagistic, visual language I got for as an author.

And finally, the paragraph ends with something I’ve been told permeates everything I write: an uneasy sense of ominousness and suspense that only tightens its chokehold as The Second Mother goes on.

I hope you will read the book and tell me if you agree that this test captures the tale as well as I think it does!
Learn more about the book and author at Jenny Milchman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Second Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 10, 2020

"Once Two Sisters"

Sarah Warburton is the oldest of four sisters, raised in Virginia, and an avid reader and knitter. She has a B.A. in Latin from the College of William and Mary, an M.A. in classics from the University of Georgia and another from Brown. Warburton has worked at independent bookstores--Page One Books in Albuquerque and Books on the Square in Providence--and spent ten years as a writer, which led her to become lead editor for UpClose Magazine. Her short story "Margaret's Magnolia" appeared in Southern Arts Journal, and her Pushcart prize nominated story "Survival English" appeared in Oyster River Page. Now she lives with her family--husband, son, daughter, and hound dog--in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia.

Warburton applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Once Two Sisters, and reported the following:
Page 69 takes place in a police station conference room. Zoe is seeing her parents and her ex-lover/current brother-in-law Glenn for the first time in three years. The reunion takes place under the watchful eye of a detective, because Zoe’s sister, best-selling novelist Ava is missing and Zoe is a suspect. (Emma is Zoe’s stepdaughter.)
I imagined our reunion so many times—him apologizing, desperately explaining, coming back to me. Never this. I can’t let him see how I care.

I turn toward my parents, their faces perfectly composed, ignoring all my drama. There’s no help here. I’m drowning all by myself.

Expressionless, my mother says, “You must feel overwhelmed. Do you need to sit down?”

My parents never have to worry that their faces will betray an emotion, as they clinically identify “anger” or “grief.” Now that I’m taking care of Emma, I use those techniques when she’s having a tantrum. I mirror her distress, affirm it, and distance myself from it. Because it’s never about the cookie she can’t have or the juice that spilled. The problem is too big for her to articulate. The problem is being a small, powerless thing in a world full of rules you didn’t make and don’t understand. I feel like Emma now, like everyone is trying to blame me or pry me open or get me to confess and I don’t know what is going on or what the rules are. Like one of those dreams where everyone has been talking about you behind your back, except that in this case, they really have.

At the risk of seeming defeated, I do sit down in the chair Detective Davies has pulled out for me. He sits down right next to me. His techniques are transparent. We’re the only two people seated, right next to each other, on the same side of the table. But I’m not stupid. He’s not really on my side.
Page 69 really captures the complicated relationship between Zoe and her parents, as well as her perception of herself as an outsider, completely on her own. Detective Davies considers her a suspect, Glenn hates her, and her parents are incapable of an emotional connection with her. The central relationship, the one between Zoe and Ava, isn’t actually on this page, although there are hints of the dysfunctional upbringing that helped create it and Zoe’s relationship with Glenn that fractured it. In a post-Gone Girl world, Zoe suspects that Ava’s disappearance is deliberate, and on page 69 she’s more worried about herself than her sister.

While other scenes have more action, the reasons that drive Zoe are all on this page. She ran away to start a new life because of her shame about Glenn and anger at Ava and her parents, and she returns to clear her name because of her love for Emma (and her husband Andrew). She finally has a shot at a functional, loving relationship, until Ava’s disappearance forces Zoe to confront her past literally, as happens on this page.

Throughout Once Two Sisters, whether we’re reading Zoe’s chapters or her sister Ava’s, we experience the world through their deep point of view. So on this page, where Zoe is assessing and commenting on Glenn, her parents, and the detective, it’s like she is talking directly to the reader. Of course, Ava and Zoe tell two different stories and that’s the fun.
Visit Sarah Warburton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Once Two Sisters.

Q&A with Sarah Warburton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 7, 2020

"The Beethoven Sequence"

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

His novels include Devil's Trill, Danse Macabre, Death and the Maiden, Playing With Fire, and Spring Break.

Elias applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Beethoven Sequence, and reported the following:
These are the final sentences of Chapter 8 of The Beethoven Sequence:
In his whole life, he had received one letter from his father, which he memorized, verbatim, in its entirety. It was on the reverse side of a postcard of a grizzly bear, which his father sent him when he and his drinking buddies went on a guys’ road trip to Yellowstone National Park, leaving his mother and him at home. The letter read: “Hey Lonny, What do you think of the size of this sucker, huh? Your Dad.”
These three sentences encapsulate the profound psychological trauma suffered by the book’s tragic protagonist, Layton Stolz, from his childhood onward. As such, they provide insight into how an otherwise decent man with good intentions could go off the mental rails and descend into a world of paranoid defensiveness, even as his cult-like idolaters grew into the millions.

With a father who neglected and belittled his son, even on his own deathbed, for having higher aspirations than he did, Stolz was emotionally damaged early on. His mother, also abused by the elder Stolz, was his sole provider of love and protection, until, on his eighth birthday, she slapped him on the face for a minor slight, revealing her pent-up rage. The pain of rejection from that slap lasted the rest of his life and sealed his fate.

For a man like Layton Stolz, a mentally imbalanced political outsider who never held public office, to become president of the United States may seem improbable, even horrifying. One of my goals in writing The Beethoven Sequence is simply to pose the readers this question: What if?
Learn more about the book and author at Gerald Elias's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 5, 2020

"The Day I Disappeared"

Brandi Reeds is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of Trespassing and Third Party. Under the pseudonym Sasha Dawn, she writes critically acclaimed young adult novels of psychological suspense, including Panic; Blink, an Edgar Award nominee; and Oblivion, which was chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens, recommended by the School Library Journal, endorsed by the American Library Association, and selected by the 2016 Illinois Reading Council as a featured book.

Reeds applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Day I Disappeared, and reported the following:
Page 69 in The Day I Disappeared details Detective Jason Guidry's desperation to solve cold kidnapping cases. He's discussing the cases with Holly, whom he believes to be the kidnapper's first victim. We also learn that while a man was convicted for Holly's kidnapping 20 years ago, new evidence suggests they got the wrong guy.

This page is actually a pretty good representation of what readers can expect to read about on a high level in regards to the reason for the story (the possibility of a serial kidnapper); however, it doesn't come close to touching on the personal stories woven throughout the cold cases--Holly's in particular. The page doesn't mention Holly's mother, Cecily, either, whose account of Holly's kidnapping 20 years ago is germane to the conflict at hand. Readers using the Page 69 test might mistake this book for a crime novel, when really it's much more of a domestic tale at the heart of a crime.

While page 69 neglects the characters driving the story, it does touch on the location of the work. The midwestern landscape becomes a character itself, and I hope conveys that the region may consist of small town after small town, but each Main Street is a vein in a larger entity. Small towns, therefore, become vast. The enormity of the world is also a repeating theme in The Day I Disappeared.
Visit Brandi Reeds's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 3, 2020

"The Warehouse"

Rob Hart is the author of The Warehouse, which has sold in more than 20 languages and been optioned for film by Ron Howard.

He also wrote the Ash McKenna series, which wrapped in July 2018 with Potter’s Field. Other entries include: New Yorked, which was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose, South Village, and The Woman from Prague.

Hart applied the Page 69 Test to The Warehouse and reported the following:
On Page 69 of The Warehouse, Paxton is being briefed about his job as a security officer for Cloud by his new boss, Dobbs. It digs into the authoritarianism of the company, while at the same time reflecting Paxton's "go along to get along" attitude, because he's just sort of accepting that this company requires total obedience and will ruin your life if you mess up, and he's just happily taking notes, looking at the bright side of things. So it definitely speaks to one of the main themes of the book. That said, if you were just reading this and using this as your decision to buy it—I'm not sure how compelling it would be? It's very much being dropped into the middle of a scene without a whole lot of context. But as a concept is interesting. I would hope the writing and the creepy vibe is compelling enough to make a reader interested enough to check out the rest!
Visit Rob Hart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

"Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook"

Celia Rees is an award-winning YA novelist who is one of Britain's foremost writers for teenagers. Her novel Witch Child has been published in 28 languages and is required reading in secondary schools in the UK. Rees’s books are published in the US by Candlewick and Scholastic. Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook is her first adult novel. A native of the West Midlands of England, she lives with her family in Leamington Spa.

Rees applied the Page 69 Test to Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook and reported the following:
Page 69 is a significant point in the novel. The first page of Chapter 6 and a whole new section of the book.

It is a transition. My heroine, Edith Graham, is literally embarking on a new life. She has left England and is in Europe. The Chapter title, Blue Train, Hook of Holland – Hamburg, sub heading 4th January, 1946, marks time and place; we know the year and the season (immediately post war, mid winter); it places her physically: she is on a train heading for Germany. It also places her psychologically and emotionally: she is leaving her old life behind and is heading into the unknown. It is a Janus moment: a few days from New Year and on a train you can look forward or back. A blue metal token gives her a place on the train. She has a ticket to ride.

Under the chapter heading is a menu, accompanied by a recipe:
Blue Train Picnic

Broodje kroket

Rookwurst (Smoked Sausage)

Mustard

Hard-boiled eggs

Genever

Broodje kroket: Not unlike a rissole, flecked with parsley. Made with leftover meat, minced or chopped, mixed with onion but bound with a béchamel then formed into a fat sausage, crumbed and deep fried. Eaten in a bridge roll with mild dutch mustard.

More like a rissole than a croquette. Find under Meat (66, 63). Can be baked at Regulo 7 (or 6 depending on the oven) or fried for 9 or 10 minutes (turn after 5).
Each chapter is headed by a menu and/or a recipe, signalling that food is very important in the novel. Not just food, but the menus and recipes also contain meaning, some of it obvious, some of it hidden. In this case, we can recognise that it is Dutch, a snack, seasoned with mustard and accompanied by hard boiled eggs – a picnic, in fact. There is also Genever, the Dutch name for Gin (the English word derives from it). Not usual with a picnic, but we need to read on to find out more.

The accompanying recipe is written in precise notes. The font is different from the body of the novel, denoting that this is a personal document of some kind. The recipe is accompanied by comments which translate it to the more familiar British rissole and guidance on how to cook with reference to a particular cookery book, page references, temperature (regulo) and timing all presented as numerals. The references to Rissoles and 'Regulo' date the book to mid Twentieth Century Britain.

The recipe has obvious significance (it is Dutch, we are in Holland) but it has meaning beyond that. It is written as though addressed to another – who might be? It contains a lot of numerals, more maybe than strictly necessary. Could that be significant?

Maybe. To find out – you'll have to read the book!
Visit Celia Rees's website.

Q&A with Celia Rees.

My Book, The Movie: Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Chasing Starlight"

Teri Bailey Black grew up near the beach in Southern California in a large, quirky family with no television or junk food, but an abundance of books and art supplies. She’s happiest when she’s creating things, whether it’s with words, fabric, or digging in the garden. She makes an amazing chocolate cherry cake—frequently. She and her husband have four children and live in Orange County, California.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Chasing Starlight, and reported the following:
Wow, this is uncanny. I opened to page 69, not expecting much, and found a pivotal point in my character’s story, when she decides to stay in Hollywood.
Kate wondered if she’d been too hasty, turning down the opportunity. Most people would give anything to be in a Hollywood movie.
This page also shows her make-it-happen Nancy Drew personality, as she figures out a way to get movie roles for the aspiring actors boarding in her grandfather’s old mansion.
And suddenly, Kate’s three years of debate team training kicked into gear, and she saw her leverage. “Mrs. Fairchild, you want me to do this movie so I’ll watch over Bonnie, and Clive Falcon wants me because my name will sell tickets. Well, what I want is for Ollie’s boarders to get roles, so I don’t have to go home to their envy every night, knowing they deserve it more than I do. That’s my condition.”

Mrs. Fairchild gave a startled laugh. “I don’t have that sort of power.”

“Then I won’t do it.” But as soon as Kate said the words, she knew they were an empty threat, because all at once she wanted to be in a Hollywood movie more than anything.
This test was a lot of fun. Next time I’m in a bookstore, I’ll be opening to a lot of page 69s.
Visit Teri Bailey Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 29, 2020

"Love and Theft"

Stan Parish is the former editor-in-chief of The Future of Everything at The Wall Street Journal and the author of the novel Down the Shore. His writing has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Surface, The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications. He holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and lives in Los Angeles.

Parish applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Love and Theft, and reported the following:
Page 69 is part of a flashback in which we understand how Alex Cassidy—the novel’s protagonist and leader of a world-class armed robbery crew—went from burglary to much bigger things. A nineteen-year-old Alex and his best friend, Clay, have just broken into a penthouse hotel suite in Atlantic City, but the couple they came to rob is being held hostage—not part of the plan. After jumping the hostage-takers, Clay and Alex are questioned by the wife, who remarks on Alex’s uncanny calm. Here’s the top of the page:
Alex shrugged again. He hadn’t felt calm, even if he’d looked it. His father, the reason Alex and his mother fled Miami, was a tall Italian restaurateur with a deep sadistic streak and a love of white linen suits and cocaine. He beat his girlfriend and son, but was especially cruel to Alex, whose fear he could sense. When Alex acted scared, he got hit, and the more afraid he seemed, the worse the beatings got. Alex learned to fake calm when his heart was racing, and eventually to exude calm in the face of violence.

Roberto emerged from the bathroom and shut the door gently behind him.

“Are you looking for work?” Maricel asked.

“What?” Clay said through a laugh.

“We’re about to begin operating through a small airport not far from here. We’ll need some hands there in the coming weeks. If you’re interested, of course. Our thanks come with no strings attached, no expectations.”

“You’re offering us jobs?”

“I need drivers who can handle themselves but not attract attention. Handsome young gringos would be ideal.”

“Drivers?” Alex asked. “What happens at the airport?”
What happens at the airport is large-scale international drug trafficking; Clay and Alex just saved the power couple behind a powerful cartel. Spoiler alert: The boys take the job.

In his offer to participate in this cool experiment, the author of this blog asks for a response to the Page 69 Test ranging from "Does not work at all" to "Uncannily, of the hundreds of pages in my book, page 69 is the very best single page to introduce a browser to what the book is about." I’m close to the latter camp. The page explains one of Alex Cassidy’s defining characteristics—he’s uncommonly cool under fire—and the dialogue that follows details the job offer that redirects and reshapes his life. It’s a weird, intimate moment in the aftermath of violence, which the book is full of. As a representative sample, you could do worse.

Love and Theft is a love story and a crime story. It’s also about the illusion of control and how our best-laid plans and intentions are null and void in the face of whatever fate, karma, the universe, etc. has in store. Alex Cassidy is good at his job because he’s a control freak who’s learned to suppress his adrenaline response, planning every job down to the smallest detail and executing without error. Eventually, like all of us, he’s forced to confront the limit of his powers, which is foreshadowed on page 69.
Visit Stan Parish's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Heatwave"

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Heatwave, and reported the following:
From page 69:
1971

For the last few weeks, Elodie has refused to eat anything I prepare for her. She is only two and a half but her willpower is astonishing, pushing away food even as her stomach grumbles with hunger.

‘So she’s a fussy eater,’ says Camille. I can almost hear her shrug down the line. ‘You were too, when you were little. God, the fuss about the grease at the top of Maman’s cassoulet.’

I smile briefly at the memory. ‘I know it’s common. I know children dig in their heels at this age. It’s just…’

‘What?’

‘She doesn’t do it with Greg. Only me. And I worry about her because when he’s away on one of his buying trips she doesn’t really eat at all. I’d have to force her and I can’t hurt her like that.’

‘She’ll get over it,’ says Camille, and I can tell from the slight pause before speaking that her attention has wandered. I wonder what she’s going to do with her afternoon, all of Paris waiting beyond her apartment door.
In one sense, it’s lucky that my page 69 happens to be the beginning of a chapter, which gives the browsing reader a coherent entry point. It’s also a flashback chapter and The Heatwave is punctuated by these: passages that spool backwards into the past from a present day in 1993. Fortuitously for the test, each of these sections offers readers a clue to the central mystery of the novel, which is what happened ten years earlier to narrator Sylvie’s troubled and troublesome eldest daughter, Élodie.

Here in 1971, Élodie is just a toddler but is already causing her mother anxiety - something which will only increase as the novel goes on. The reader should also get a sense of the claustrophobia Sylvie feels as a mother to a young child - someone who loves her daughter but who nevertheless feels a pang of envy at the idea of (her sister) Camille enjoying the freedom of an unencumbered afternoon in the city. It’s also pretty clear that (husband) Greg is often away, further establishing Sylvie as someone who is isolated and unhappy. Altogether this is a pretty neat introduction to the main theme of the book - maternal anxiety - though being so early on in proceedings (the flashbacks are presented chronologically) there isn’t much evidence of the darkness that will permeate later chapters.

So far so good, but what a potential reader is definitely missing by not seeing a section from the present day is Sylvie’s acute dread in having returned to France a decade after fleeing. Without this knowledge, you might easily miss the sense of impending doom which propels the narrative along.
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

Q&A with Kate Riordan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Ironspark"

When C.M. McGuire was a child, she drove her family crazy with her nonstop stories. Lucky for them, she eventually learned to write and gave their ears a rest. This love of stories led her to college where she pursued history (semi-nonfictional storytelling), anthropology (where stories come from) and theater (attention-seeking storytelling). When she isn't writing, she's painting, crocheting, gardening, baking, and teaching the next generation to love stories as much as she does.

McGuire applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Ironspark, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Ironspark, we see Bryn in poor health with one of her peers in a mild panic over how to help her. I can’t say much more because it does spoil some of the scenes immediately before it.

I wouldn’t say this gives a full idea of the whole book, but I do think it nicely introduces some of the themes of connection. Bryn struggles to accept help and can even be blasé about needing it at all. The people around her tend to have a more realistic understanding of what is and isn’t okay to put yourself through. Much of her struggle in the book is going to be learning to let people in, as well as how far she’s willing to go to protect her family (for better or worse.) So, I suppose the test would get a B for Ironspark.

I think, if I had to choose a better section to represent the book, it would be a section where Bryn is struggling more with herself than with someone else, since the whole story is about Bryn coming to terms about how she relates to herself and others, as well as the pressures and responsibilities she puts on herself. I think, inevitably, every teenager has to come to terms with this sort of thing. Luckily, the typical American teenager doesn't have to fight fairies in addition to their personal growth.
Follow C.M. McGuire on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"The Queen of Tuesday"

Darin Strauss is the bestselling author of several books. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction writing and numerous other awards, Strauss has seen his work translated into fourteen languages and published in more than twenty countries.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Queen of Tuesday, and reported the following:
The Queen of Tuesday is a star-crossed lovers' story, about my grandfather Isidore and Lucille Ball. And, in a twist of luck for this test, it shows their second meeting. They'd kissed at a party, and she thought she'd never see him again. And yet, here he is.

What you need to know for this? She'd called him "Hold-on" at their first meeting. (Long story. 309 pages, to be precise.) This is when my grandfather surprises her at the door to a comedy revue in which she's starring. He's standing in an alleyway, waiting for her, and then.....
Lucille seemed at first not to know him. She blinked at the man with her lusterless blue stare until memory showed in her eyes: a school of bright fish darting straight for the surface.

Good god.

It was the man from the Coney Island party, taking off his hat. “Lucille,” he said.

He looked calmly unsurprised and suddenly very close and in front of her. Hello.

Lucille found herself in a brief fantasy, and in this fantasy Desi storms off and divorces her, and she doesn’t necessarily accept Isidore's courtship, not fully or at first, but she does, in spite of herself, begin to allow the man to take her out on the town, and yes she’s unmarried and disgraced publicly, but somehow she holds up all right, and the guy’s a good snuggler. All this in a millisecond.

She said, “Hold-on, is it?”

“I’m hoping it still is.”
I think this shows the tone of the book, the riskiness of their romance -- both of their spouses were nearby -- and the time period. (He's wearing a hat! And takes it off when addressing a lady!) I also hope the dialogue catches some of the spirit of that time, swing and cocktails and big eyes filmed in elegant black-and-white.
Follow Darin Strauss on Twitter.

Q&A with Darin Strauss.

My Book, The Movie: The Queen of Tuesday.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 21, 2020

"You're Next"

Kylie Schachte is a graduate from Sarah Lawrence College and an active member of the Pitch Wars online community as both an alum & mentor. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, cat, and giant dog.

Schachte applied the Page 69 Test to You're Next, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Kids in school thought I was weird. Scary. I’d never had a ton of friends, but there had been the usual crowd I ate lunch with and sat next to in class. Suddenly they didn’t want to talk to me, didn’t want to hear me go over my obsessive conspiracy theories yet again. But some people started bringing me cases to solve. They heard what I did for Lucy, and even though Matt Caine never got arrested, never paid for what he did, they all knew that I was right. I threw myself into the work, glad to tackle cheating boyfriends and stolen laptops if it meant I could ignore the dumpster fire of my life.
So, does the Page 69 Test work for You’re Next? I’m going to give a very author-y sort of answer which is...sort of.

Page 69 gives us a peek into the main character Flora Calhoun’s back story, as you can see in the quote above. Flora is a sixteen-year-old detective--a notion that probably leaves a lot of potential readers with some questions. What exactly is a teen detective? She doesn’t actually work for the police, right? How did this happen, and why are her parents okay with it?

A number of those questions are actually answered on page 69--we learn a bit about Flora’s troubled past, and how that led her to her obsession with justice. The quote above is a pretty good distillation of who Flora is and what she’s all about. You’re Next is very much driven by Flora and her worldview, so in that sense...yeah, if you’re down with what you see of her on page 69, you’ll probably enjoy the book.

A counterargument would be that You’re Next is a very fast-paced book, full of underground fight clubs, shadowed alleyways, and car chase scenes. Page 69 has caught the story in one of the rarer quiet moments, so you might not realize just how much of a rush the rest of the book is if you judge it by this page alone.

But lots of classic mysteries are solely focused on the pacing & solving the puzzle of the central mystery. In many Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler novels, for instance, we know very little of the protagonist and their interior life. It was really important to me that You’re Next not just be about the murder, but about the girl who decided to fight back. So maybe page 69 isn’t such a bad place to begin, after all.
Visit Kylie Schachte's website.

My Book, The Movie: You're Next.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"The Wright Sister"

Patty Dann's novels include Mermaids, Starfish and Sweet & Crazy. The books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Mermaids was made into a movie starring Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci. Dann is also the author of The Butterfly Hours: Transforming Memories into Memoir, The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss, and The Baby Boat: A Memoir of Adoption. Dann's articles have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, O, The Oprah Magazine, and numerous other publications. She teaches writing workshops at the West Side YMCA in New York. Dann is married to journalist Michael Hill and has one son and two stepsons.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wright Sister, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Wright Sister is a diary entry of Katharine Wright (an imagined diary entry - all this is fiction).

Katharine would be delighted by this challenge!
September 23, 1927.

September Storms

It is two am., and a raging thunderstorm is clapping down on us with jagged lightning zigzagging the sky like Orv's socks, but Harry is sleeping through it.

I think thunderstorms are one of the few times I actually pray for people who are in the air.
Here Katharine has been married less than a year, to journalist Harry Haskell. She often has trouble sleeping, so she sits in the bathtub, sometimes naked and writes in her diary. She has moved to Kansas City to live with her husband. This page definitely captures the spirit of Katharine - she is often at once thinking of her husband and her brother, Orville. Even though she and Orville live 600 miles away, she still sends him zig-zag socks she knits for him. Katharine, which she will tell you is spelled with an "A," is keenly aware of weather at all times, as if her brothers are about to set forth in one of their flying machines.
Visit Patty Dann's website.

Q&A with Patty Dann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"The Monsters We Make"

Kali White VanBaale is the author of the novels The Monsters We Make, The Good Divide, and The Space Between.

She's the recipient of an American Book Award, an Independent Publisher’s silver medal for general fiction, the Fred Bonnie Memorial First Novel Award, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for General Fiction, an Iowa Arts Council major artist grant, and the Great River Writer’s Retreat. She's also writes and publishes short stories, essays, and articles, and serves as the managing editor of the micro-essay journal The Past Ten.

Kali holds an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's a core faculty member in the Lindenwood University MFA in Writing Program and regularly teaches writing workshops at various conferences and festivals. In addition to writing and teaching, Kali is an advocate and state lobbyist for mental healthcare reform.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Monsters We Make and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Monsters We Make finds us, of all places, at the Iowa State Fair in August of 1984, just days after a local paperboy has mysteriously vanished one morning on his route. The story is told through three different points of view—Sammy Cox, a twelve-year-old boy who also delivers morning newspapers and is hiding a terrible secret, his eighteen-year-old sister, Crystal, and Dale Goodkind, a local cop assigned to the missing paperboy case. Page 69 falls in one of Sammy’s early point of view chapters and a scene where he’s spending the day at the fair with his mother and sister, and they’ve bumped into the cop who previously interviewed him about his paper route. Near the end of the page, while Sammy’s mother is deep in conversation with Goodkind, Sammy goes into a nearby bathroom where he’s accosted by a mysterious male—another boy or man, it’s unknown at this point—who has clearly been following him.
The bathroom door squealed open, followed by slow, heavy footsteps. The hairs on the back of Sammy’s neck prickled. His legs turned watery and his stomach cramped. He quickly zipped his shorts, dribbling pee on the front of the dark fabric.

He didn’t want to turn and look, he told himself not to look, but he did it anyway.

How had he known Sammy would be here?

Are you having fun?

The voice echoed in his ears, far away like in a dream.
I was highly curious to try this test on my own work, and was pleased to find that page 69 is, indeed, a strong representation of the story itself. The engine of The Monsters We Make explores the idea of one crime inadvertently exposing another, and Sammy’s character is central to the hidden crime that eventually becomes exposed with a devastating outcome. The scene on page 69 touches on both the mystery of the missing paperboy, but also continues to build the mystery of Sammy’s secret.
Visit Kali White's website.

Q&A with Kali White.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 16, 2020

"Mirage"

Since 1997, award-winning Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her SF and fantasy novels, published by DAW Books. Her latest fantasy is the standalone The Gossamer Mage (2019), out in paperback fall 2020. Currently, Czerneda’s returned to her beloved character, Esen, in her Web Shifter’s Library series, featuring all the weird biology one could ask, with Mirage out August 2020 and Spectrum, spring 2021.

Czerneda applied the Page 69 Test to Mirage and reported the following:
From page 69:
“May we have the room for a few minutes, Ally?” Paul asked.

“Sure. I’ll see if Henri needs a break.” She shrugged off her smock, hanging it on a hook next to the lab coat I should be wearing. “Wind’s picking up.” Ally nodded to the horizontal slit of window near the ceiling. I felt she’d understated the situation. Snow was going sideways in a white moving wall.

“That it is,” Paul acknowledged. “Thanks.” He closed, then locked the door behind her. “Lionel, if you’d order food for our guests?”

The other Human nodded, going to the com.

Lambo would resist, loudly and with colorful profanity, any sugges­tion he put together food trays for strangers, defined as anyone who hadn’t had the dubious pleasure of begging for food in person from the Carasian. I angled my ears to get the full benefit.

I’d underestimated the guile of our administrator. “Lambo, I may be going to the Sacriss System shortly and wish to reacquaint myself with their palate and preferences. Please prepare me a sample of food items suitable for Sacrissee and have them delivered to Paul’s office immedi­ately. If you can do it.”

“At last, a worthy challenge,” came the answering joyful bellow. “You neglected beverages. I will include those too.”

When Lionel turned off the com, Paul said what I was thinking. “Nicely done.” Then a sharp, “What’s wrong?”

For Lionel was staring at the panel. “There’s an alert. A request to the collection from your office. How—”

They looked at me.

Conceivably my fault. “Evan might have seen me enter my code,” I confessed, tail sliding between my legs. “In the Chow last summer.” If so, he’d an excellent memory for his kind.

Paul— who’d an exceptional one, particularly for my missteps and their consequences— merely chuckled as he stepped up to tap the in­terface controls. “I’ve authorized the request. Shunting it and the re­sponse here.”

We listened to the collection’s recording of the Sacrissee’s request.
I always find this an fascinating exercise, to sample an entire book via a specific page—that isn’t the first or last. Will it work? In the case of Mirage, page 69 offers a splendid peek at what this book is about, including several main players.

You meet Esen (the point of view character) in her Lanivarian form (google Portuguese Podenco for a sense of her shape, but add an almost Collie tail). There’s a reminder of two important staff members of the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture (Ally and Henri), and even if you haven’t yet encountered the giant Carasian (think lobster-esque) operator of the food dispenser? From this you’ve a good sense of why grabbing snacks can be complicated. You see how well Lionel has settled in as administrator—and that the earnest young diplomat from earlier books, Evan Gooseberry, continues to play a big role. I adore writing Evan.

You also witness the dynamic between Esen and Paul, her best and first friend. Esen, with the best of intentions, is prone to impulse. Paul is there both as teacher and supporter.

All as you glimpse the Library in action, for the Sacrissee have arrived in crisis. If they can’t find their answers here, they may be doomed…

All on page 69. Who knew?
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 15, 2020

"The Boy in the Field"

Margot Livesey grew up in a boys’ private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught, and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write. Her first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then Livesey has published the novels Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, The House on Fortune Street, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and Mercury.

Livesey applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, her ninth, The Boy in the Field, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Boy in The Field is the opening of section 12, from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Matthew. It shows him at a fencing lesson with a new opponent, Leon. At first he thinks Leon is a very clumsy opponent whom it will be easy to defeat but he soon discovers "that it was Leon’s very lack of grace, his awkward footwork, his faltering lunges that made it hard to anticipate his next move.”

I think page 69 gives a good sense of Matthew, of his intelligence and his powers of observation, but you learn nothing about his siblings - Duncan and Zoe - with whom he shares the novel. And you learn nothing about his quest to find the man who attacked the boy in the field.

One of my ambitions for the novel was to show how differently the three teenage siblings experience the same event. In that way page 69 does give a good idea of the novel although it suggests, misleadingly, that Matthew is the hero.

When I applied this test to Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart and Megha Majumdar’s The Burning, I was relieved to discover it worked in the same way, giving me a good sense of the author’s voice and of some of her characters, but not giving me access to the whole arc of the novel.
Visit Margot Livesey's website and Facebook page.

Q&A with Margot Livesey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 13, 2020

"Every Kind of Wicked"

Lisa Black is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner, beginning her forensics career at the Coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and then the police department in Cape Coral, Florida. She has spoken to readers and writers at numerous conferences and is one of two Guests of Honor at 2020 Killer Nashville.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Every Kind of Wicked, and reported the following:
On page 69 (at least of the ARC) forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner is at her office, the police forensics lab. It’s just before Christmas and, as in most offices, there is extra food and treats around so she can chow down and warm up after a trip in the county vehicle with its faulty heater. She has just been to the county medical examiner’s office to follow up on a case from that morning. A young man was found in downtown’s ancient cemetery, sprawled in the snow with what looked to be a single gunshot wound. He had no wallet, no identification save an employee’s ID tag that read “Evan” and a blank magnetic card with the local university’s logo on it.

But solving this murder already feels like more than a mere job to Maggie. The cemetery represents the first case that brought her into detective Jack Renner’s orbit, where a young, trafficked girl had been found. Jack and his extracurricular activities had taken care of the trafficker, but Maggie got caught in the process, and now she has been keeping his secret in order to keep her own. But it’s a tenuous truce at best, always ready to crumble under the weight of Maggie’s conscience or her ex-husband’s suspicion. Her ex is also a homicide detective and has made it his goal to detect where Jack came from and who he is.

While page 69 won’t tell you anything about Jack, it does tell you a lot about Maggie’s life as, aside from a snack, Maggie grabs the opportunity to decompress with her co-worker and BFF Carol. In a few sentences we see the variety of work the crime lab takes on; no matter how big or bizarre Maggie’s case may be, there are always other crimes to be dealt with at the same time. We get a hint of the equipment around her and how the lab is constantly humming—literally, as the machines work—with activity. After 25 years in forensics, I am proud to represent that steady, behind-the-scenes action on paper. At the bottom of the page Maggie tells Carol the really interesting thing about their dead guy: no ID, money, tattoos, or even jewelry—but a tiny key, taped to his ankle. Carol’s attention perks up at this discordant note and I hope it snags the readers as well.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (July 2020).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"The Doctor of Aleppo"

Dan Mayland is an author and professional geopolitical forecaster, helping nonprofit, private, and government organizations navigate a changing world. His Mark Sava spy series was informed by his experiences in the Caspian region and Middle East. Raised in New Jersey, Mayland now lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two children, in an old stone farmhouse he and his wife have restored.

Mayland applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Doctor of Aleppo, and reported the following:
Page 69 marks the beginning of a new chapter.

The year is 2012 and war in the Syrian city of Aleppo has just broken out. Rebel forces swarm neighborhoods, regime tanks roll through the streets, and fighter jets roar across the sky. But there are no front lines; it’s all chaos. Panic, jubilation, and gunfire abounds.

Against this backdrop, Hannah Johnson—a Syrian American woman—is trying to flee the city, but she’s stopped at a government checkpoint:
It was undeniably true, Hannah admitted to the army officer who questioned her, that she had been in the streets of Aleppo, in the middle of the night, on the very same night the rebels had launched their attack on the city. It was also true, she conceded, that she was one of only a handful of Americans who were still in Aleppo.

She didn’t deny it. Just as she didn’t deny that the Americans were probably using the CIA to secretly funnel arms to the rebels. But she very much did deny that she, personally, was doing any of the funneling, which is what they were accusing her of doing.
Does this page-69 excerpt give readers a decent sense of the whole work? I suppose, in the sense that the novel does focus intensely on both the history of the war for Aleppo and Hannah, who, along with the titular doctor, is a critical character throughout the book.

But I fear the passage could lead readers a bit astray in that, while I’ve written spy novels in the past—and this book does include a mystery element involving a Syrian intelligence officer—the CIA doesn’t play any real role in The Doctor of Aleppo. In fact, Booklist described the novel as, “A heroic and heartbreaking novel that concentrates on concepts of homeland, family, loss, and, above all, survival.”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether the “heroic and heartbreaking” description is apt, but as for the “homeland, family, loss, and, above all, survival” part? Yeah, that’s exactly what the book is about. The CIA, not so much.
Visit Dan Mayland's website.

Q&A with Dan Mayland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Last Call on Decatur Street"

Iris Martin Cohen grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and studied Creative Nonfiction at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of The Little Clan (2018).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Last Call on Decatur Street, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was spring, and we were on our way to jog the paved running track of Audubon Park. City Park was closer to both our houses but in our recent attempt at taming the growing lumps and curves of our teenage bodies, the track felt more official. The Uptown ladies speed-walking in pearls and sweating out last nights’ white wine, the rich Tulane kids in drum circles on the ground, the neat landscaping and broad two-mile path broken up with funny 80’s pull-up bars and exercise stations, it just made us feel both fancy and athletic, two feelings we both found hard to come by, and considered worth the drive.
I think this passage is representative of the book in that it describes a taxonomy of New Orleans of society, the way it uses the physical specifics of a place to draw out larger questions of class and race and exclusion. This particular section does have a teenage narrator which most of the book does not, although the novel does make different stops along the course of my main character’s growing up. Most of the book that is not in flashback takes place over a single night when she is a young adult so maybe those pages tell you more about the book. It’s hard to say.

A large part of this novel is Rosemary revisiting memories of her friendship with Gaby and trying to piece together, or failing to realize, what went wrong in their relationship and the ways that race and white supremacy and her own complicity in unjust systems have taken their toll. Page 69, a scene of the two of them jogging together as teenagers gives you a sense of the love these two girls share but also hints at the larger problems in the society they live in. I wanted to give a kaleidoscopic view of my city, from spring afternoons in the fancy parts of town, to midnight in a dive bar, to lazy summer days in the girls’ working class neighborhoods, a fancy French quarter Mardi Gras ball and more, and I think this page shows one of these snapshots.
Visit Iris Martin Cohen's website.

Q&A with Iris Martin Cohen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 10, 2020

"Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey"

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her most recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (2018). Her new novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, is based on a true story of the Great War.

Rooney applied the Page 69 Test to Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and reported the following:
From page 69:
On February 4, 1918, Colonel Averill led the 308th Infantry in parade up Eighth Avenue and down Fifth. A West Point instructor well-liked by the soldiers, he was determined to reassure the Manhattanites gathered on the sidewalks that the hordes plucked from their midst by the draft had been ennobled. The men seemed determined to prove it, too.

The crowd was huge and ready to be dazzled, despite a driving snowstorm and a bitter wind. Face upon cheering face appraised us as we filed by, snowflakes on our olive drab, slush under our boots. Marguerite and Bayard watched us pass, as did men from the Williams and Harvard Clubs, and men whom I had met on the street and taken home and then never met again. On the march, though, I had no impression of individual identities, either among the spectators or in our uniformed column. We seemed to become two huge organisms, one watched and the other watching, creatures at once new to the world and utterly ancient, enacting a ritual older than history itself.

Dazzle we did, and with such effectiveness that enlistments soared throughout the city during the next week, and the Army issued orders for infantry units all over the country to do the same in their cities.

I should have been proud. Instead all I felt was ineffable sadness, which—I did not understand at the time, but realize now, aboard the Toloa—was due to the fact that we were about to take these men whom we had improved so much physically and mentally to Europe and erase all traces not just of that improvement but of their entire existence.

Here at sea, I put on my dress uniform and hang my regular clothes in the tiny wardrobe. I might as well look the part of war hero tonight at the captain’s table, as it will be expected of me. The very last expectation that I’ll be required to meet.
I’m always up for an arbitrary challenge, so I’ve long been enamored of McLuhan’s book-browser’s shortcut. As fate would have it, this trick works magically on page 69 of Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey in that it offers a surprisingly comprehensive sense of the book as a whole, or at least the half of the book told in the first person from the Army officer Charles Whittlesey’s perspective.

Page 69 happens to be the very last page of Chapter 4 and as such it lets the reader see how the book is structured around Whit’s flashing back to his military experiences of the past from the deck of a Havana-bound cruise ship called the Toloa. The memories and emotions Whit reflects upon here—his love of the men he trained, his double life as a gay man in New York City in 1910s Manhattan, and his regret and sorrow over what he and his men went through on the battlefield in France—are the ones which drive his portion of the plot.

What’s not on page 69, though, is a mention of the book’s other equally important protagonist, the homing pigeon Cher Ami, who was deployed with Whit and his men, and who delivered a crucial message during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. The chapters of the book alternate back and forth between Whit and Cher Ami, each of them taking turns to revisit their recent history as they recall it. So when the reader turns from page 69 to page 70, they enter into Chapter 5 and get to hear once again from Cher Ami about her take on events.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 8, 2020

"Shadows in Time"

Julie McElwain is a national award-winning journalist. Born and raised in North Dakota, she graduated from North Dakota State University, and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for a fashion trade newspaper.

Her first novel, A Murder In Time, was one of the top 10 picks by the National Librarian Association for its April 2016 book list. The novel was also a finalist for the 2016 Goodreads’ readers choice awards in the Sci-fi category, and made Bustle’s list of 9 Most Addictive Mystery series for 2017.

The series continues Kendra Donovan’s adventures in Regency England with A Twist in Time, Caught in Time, Betrayal in Time, and Shadows in Time.

McElwain applied the Page 69 Test to Shadows in Time and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Educated guess. She would have stood out if she went to Aldridge Village, asking questions. A beautiful young woman without a chaperone?” She glanced automatically over her shoulder at Molly. “Someone would remember her. That’s also vital to a good con. When you’re doing research, you want to be low-key.”

“She may have disguised herself as a servant or someone from the lower classes, where she wouldn’t need a chaperone. Like someone else I know,” he said dryly, a not-so-oblique reference to the times when Kendra had made use of a maid’s uniform to go about London incognito.

Kendra dismissed that with a wave. “London is different than Aldridge Village. And she still would have been noticed, unless she disguised her looks. Possible, I suppose, but—” She stopped when Alec up a hand on her arm and looked at him “What?”

But now she saw what had caught his attention. They’d reached the crest of the hill. Below them was a charming glen, thick with woods, and a stream cutting through the fields. The land rose again in the distance, rolled green against the milky sky and dotted with bits of white.

“Sheep,” Kendra said.

“Not that.” Alec turned her slightly and pointed.

It wasn’t easy to see through the copse’s foliage. But there was enough space between the branches and leaves to identify something else: gray stone jutting upward.

A chimney stack.
In Shadows in Time, my main protagonist, Kendra Donovan, is confronting two mysteries simultaneously. She’s been asked to track down the missing manager of a brewing company, and she’s found her own world rocked when Carlotta, a woman claiming to be the Duke’s dead daughter, Charlotte, arrives. (In many ways, the former 21st century FBI agent has begun to regard the Duke as a father figure. And, as someone whose own parents abandoned her when she was a teenager, this development shakes Kendra up more than she cares to admit.)

While vague, Page 69 touches on both of these mysteries. Earlier, Kendra realizes that the missing manager, Jeremy Pascoe, was using another place to explore his interest in writing poetry, and she and her love interest, Alec, begin scouring the nearby countryside to find an area that matches the description Pascoe had shared with his mother regarding his writer’s retreat. While walking, their conversation veers to her suspicion of Carlotta, and they consider possible theories on how she could know intimate details of the Duke’s daughter. During their conversation, Alec even makes reference to Kendra’s unorthodox behavior of disguising herself occasionally to conduct investigations, which again reminds readers that Kendra is a modern woman stuck in the 19th century. She is trying to adapt, but she will never truly fit in, especially during an investigation. Their conversation is cut short when they see the chimney stack, indicating a cottage in the woods—in other words, a remote writing retreat. Page 69 is the end of the chapter, and it indicates both a sense of discovery and a slightly ominous note.
Visit Julie McElwain's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caught in Time.

My Book, The Movie: Betrayal in Time.

The Page 69 Test: Betrayal in Time.

Q&A with Julie McElwain.

--Marshal Zeringue