Saturday, July 31, 2021

"For Your Own Good"

Samantha Downing is the author of the bestselling My Lovely Wife, nominated for Edgar, ITW, Macavity, and CWA awards. Amazon Studios and Nicole Kidman's Blossom Films have partnered to produce a feature film based on the novel.

Her second book, He Started It, was released in 2020 and became an instant international bestseller.

Downing applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, For Your Own Good, and reported the following:
Page 69 of For Your Own Good is the start of Chapter 17. Teddy Crutcher, an English teacher at Belmont Academy, is trying to get back to work after a little...chaos. The parent of one of his students turned up dead, and that's something he had to deal with. But now he's back in class, doing what he thinks he does best: Teaching.

This particular page in the book is an excellent introduction to who Teddy is. His students are reading the book The Outsiders, and he leads a discussion about the class differences in the novel. The two main groups are the Socs, the rich kids, and the Greasers, who do not have a lot of money. Teddy relates to the latter. He didn't grow up wealthy, was not privileged, and in his mind, he's the underdog. His students, on the other hand, are rich and entitled and attend a prestigious private school. Teddy isn't shy about letting his feelings known, though they are hidden within the context of the book the class is reading. As the discussion continues, Teddy leads his students to the point he wants to make: They are the Socs. He wants them to know that.
Visit Samantha Downing's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Lovely Wife.

The Page 69 Test: He Started It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 29, 2021


Richard Lange’s stories have appeared in The Sun, The Iowa Review, and Best American Mystery Stories, and as part of the Atlantic Monthly’s Fiction for Kindle series. "Apocrypha" was awarded the 2015 Short Story Dagger by Great Britain's Crime Writers' Association. He is the author of the collections Dead Boys and Sweet Nothing and the novels This Wicked World, Angel Baby, which won the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers, The Smack and the newly released Rovers. He received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow.

Lange applied the Page 69 Test to Rovers and reported the following:
On page 69 of Rovers, the two main characters of the book, Jesse and his mentally-challenged brother, Edgar, return to a Phoenix bowling alley where Jesse previously met a girl who is the spitting image of his long-lost love, Claudine. One thing to note about the brothers: They’re rovers, nearly indestructible beings who live by night and must consume human blood in order to survive.

From page 69:
Edgar sways and grunts and jabs at the flipper buttons on a pinball machine. Jesse’s at the bar. They’ve returned to the bowling alley after Jesse lay awake all day, buffeted by a flood of memories triggered by meeting Johona, memories he thought were lost to him for good.

There Claudine was, humming French songs in the moonlight; there she was, sipping champagne in a San Francisco hotel, New Year’s Eve 1902; there she was, the shine of her hair, the swish of her skirts, the seaside rhythm of her breath in sleep.

Time devours memories, gnaws the meat off them and crunches the bones. [AM1] Jesse’s always considered this a blessing. Better to be focused on the here and now when you’re forever on the hunt, forever being hunted. Better not to be daydreaming about Mama’s peach pie or a departed lover’s touch. But maybe he’s been wrong. Because tonight, for the first time in a long while, he doesn’t wish he was dead. In fact, after spending hours caught up in the torrent of reminiscence, he feels as if a crust of mud that’d been weighing him down has cracked and fallen away. That’s why, as soon as the sun set, he roused Edgar and said, “Let’s go back to that place we were last night.”
Someone opening to this page would get an intriguing glimpse of what the rest of the book is about, both in plot and theme. Jessie’s long-repressed grief over the death of Claudine and his desperate desire to save Johona, the girl from the bowling alley, from a similar fate are major motivators for his later actions, and this is the page where those drivers are introduced.

The page also contains an observation of the corrosive effect of time on memory, a theme the book returns to often, something inevitable in a story featuring characters who are essentially immortal and, some of them, already hundreds of years old.

Jesse’s decision to return to the bowling alley to see Johona again against his better instincts is the spark that ignites the book. When Johona winds up on the wrong side of a gang of savage rover bikers, the Fiends, all hell breaks loose, and Jesse, Edgar, and Johona are soon running for their lives across the American Southwest. Rovers is a supernatural-tinged revenge tale that I hope will both thrill and move readers, and this page, page 69, is where things start to get sticky.
Learn more about the book and author at Richard Lange's website.

The Page 69 Test: This Wicked World.

The Page 69 Test: Angel Baby.

The Page 69 Test: The Smack.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"Murder in a Teacup"

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to the new Tea by the Sea mystery, Murder in a Teacup, and reported the following:
By page 69, the scene has been set at Tea by the Sea tea room, the tea drunk, the scones eaten. Guests have arrived at Victoria-on-Sea B&B overlooking Cape Cod Bay. And the guests are not, to put it mildly, getting on. Meanwhile, Rose Campbell, owner of Victoria-on-Sea tries to have a pleasant visit with an old friend, and Lily Roberts, owner and head cook at Tea By The Sea only wants to make tender flaky scones and delicious sandwiches and pastries.
We heard voices coming from the drawing room and Éclair ran in to say hello.

“I’m calling an ambulance,” Trisha said.

“Are you sure? Maybe you should wait to see how he is in the morning,” Brian said.

“Of course, I’m sure. I know—”

I popped my head in. “Sorry to interrupt. Is it Tyler? Is he having delayed problems because of the crash this afternoon?”

“It’s my husband, Ed,” Trisha said. “He’s not well. He’s feeling sick.”

“Do what you want, Trisha,” Brian said. “I really don’t care. I’ve had enough drama for one day.”

“I hardly think it’s our fault your fool of a grandson stole a motorcycle,” Trisha said.

“I don’t think we want to get into that now,” Heather said. “But I agree with Brian. Let’s wait until morning. Oh, is that your dog, Lily? So cute. What’s his name?” She crouched down, holding out her hand, palm up, and clicked her tongue. Éclair’s little tail wiggled in ecstasy as she accepted the attention.

“I don’t need anyone’s approval.” Trisha pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I’m calling an ambulance.”

“I’m going to bed,” Brian said. “Wake me if something important happens. Darlene, are you coming?”

“Be right there.”

Brian walked past us, shaking his head. “Much ado about nothing,” he muttered as he went up the stairs. “Guy ate something that didn’t agree with him. Wimp.”

He passed Julie-Ann, coming down.

Trisha stood in the center of the drawing room, phone in hand. She glanced between one person and another, clearly undecided on what course of action to take.
Page 69 is a perfect reflection, I think, of Murder in A Teacup, as on this one page much of the conflict between the characters and their personal dramas comes out. By page 69 temperatures are flaring, old resentments are being remembered, and new ones created. Before we get to page 69, the B&B guests, a family visiting from Iowa, have enjoyed a full afternoon tea at Tea by the Sea. Apart from a minor accident when a teenage boy stole the gardener’s motorcycle and crashed into a stone wall (fortunately nothing hurt but his dignity) the tea appeared to have gone off without a hitch and everyone got on reasonably well. But on page 69 we realize that that might have been an illusion. One of the guests has taken ill, and the family feud raises its head again, when we see how everyone reacts to the news.

Page 69 also ends at a bit of a cliff-hanger. What will Trisha do? Call an ambulance, or let Ed sleep if off? Whatever ‘it’ is. And if Ed is sick, was it something he ate at Tea by the Sea? If so, what might be the consequences for Lily’s fledging tea room?
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

The Page 69 Test: A Scandal in Scarlet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 25, 2021

"The Shadow People"

After spending the 1990s as a homeless heroin addict in San Francisco, Joe Clifford got off the streets and turned his life around. He earned his MFA from Florida International University in 2008, before returning to the Bay Area, where he currently lives with his wife and two sons (Holden and Jackson Kerouac). His autobiographical novel, Junkie Love, chronicles his battle with drugs and was published by Battered Suitcase (2010). He is the author of the award-winning Jay Porter series, as well as several standalones including The One That Got Away, The Lakehouse, and the newly released The Shadow People.

Clifford applied the Page 69 Test to The Shadow People and reported the following:
The Shadow People centers around Brandon Cossey, a twenty-three-year-old recent college grad, who has returned to his adoptive home following the disappearance of his childhood best friend Jacob Balfour. Jacob, who suffers from schizophrenia, has vanished in the past. But never for this long. Jacob’s mother insists he’s been doing better, on his meds, holding down a job. Mom leaves for work. Brandon spends the night in his old childhood bed. In the morning, he pokes around his missing friend’s room, uncovering a homemade conspiracy periodical, Illuminations, which tells Brandon that Jacob is anything but well.

Page 69 is our introduction to the character of Francis Balfour, the family’s estranged equally mentally ill grandfather. Francis is a stranger to Brandon, who came to live with the Balfours when he was quite young, on the heels of his own troubled childhood, so he has no conscious recollection of the old man. Through a confluence of events, Brandon, with great reluctance and apprehension, will find himself on a road trip with Francis, as the two men set out to discover what happened to Jacob.

This is the second time I’ve done the 69 test, and I am again surprised by how well it’s worked. I can’t recall the specifics of the last time (or even what book it was for!), but I remember being struck by how appropriate that passage was. It is spot-on this time as well. Francis is a pivotal character in The Shadow People. Though the story is told via first person through Brandon’s eyes, in many ways, the book is as much Francis’s story, he its narrator, which leaves us, the reader, to determine just how reliable his version of events are. Francis is Brandon’s foil. Not just in terms of age, with Brandon twenty-three and Francis in his seventies. Brandon comes across as a straight arrow, a “what you see is what you get” kind of character. Francis is, well, out there. The two men have opposing attitudes and viewpoints about Jacob, life, and everything in-between. The novel hinges on whose POV we accept. While at first, the answer seems obvious—Brandon, the one who isn’t crazy—the tone and twists of the narrative play with that assumption. Maybe in a crazy world, one needs to be a little crazy to survive. It certainly helps in their search for Jacob to have someone like Francis, who thinks like a madman thinks, a variation on “takes one to know one.”
Visit Joe Clifford's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lakehouse.

My Book, The Movie: The Lakehouse.

Q&A with Joe Clifford.

My Book, The Movie: The Shadow People.

Writers Read: Joe Clifford.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 23, 2021

"When the Sparrow Falls"

Neil Sharpson lives in Dublin with his wife and their two children. Having written for theatre since his teens, Sharpson transitioned to writing novels in 2017, adapting his own play The Caspian Sea into When The Sparrow Falls.

A huge fan of animation, Sharpson writes Unshaved Mouse, a comedic review blog mostly focusing on animated film and comic book movies.

He applied the Page 69 Test to When The Sparrow Falls and reported the following:
From page 69:
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, and extended her hand.

StaSec is not in the business of shaking hands. I ignored her.

“I am to take you to identify your husband’s remains.” A look of mild confusion passed over her features but I continued. “Before we leave the airport I must ensure that you understand the conditions of your stay here.”

“All right,” she said, quietly.

I had been given a specific text to read to her. Fortunately, the morning light had improved enough that I could actually read it.

“You have been granted the status of natural-born human by special dispensation of the Parliament of the Caspian Republic”…
Page 69 (in the US edition at least) sees StaSec Agent Nikolai South meeting his charge at an airport, the visiting AI dignitary Lily Xirau. She tries to be friendly, he is curt and brusque and begins to read a long and increasingly absurd list of restrictions that will be placed on her during her time in the Caspian republic (“in the event of your death, in the eyes of the law you will be considered dead and will be legally obliged to remain so”). This continues until Lily interrupts South with a polite but firm suggestion that they continue this in the car where it's warmer so that she won’t have to stand on the cold tarmac.

I was genuinely surprised at how well this test worked for When the Sparrow Falls. We join right at the beginning of what will be the single most important relationship in the book, that of Nikolai South and Lily Xirau. We learn about StaSec, the anti AI ideology that underpins the Caspian Republic and perhaps most importantly we get the ambience of a paranoid Soviet era state. It’s also a very good introduction to Lily, gentle and polite but with a core of iron. It’s less representative of Nikolai, who here comes across as a rigid and inflexible government bureaucrat rather than the extremely canny and compassionate man he truly is. But all in all, I think Page 69 does a very good job of setting out the book’s stall. I’ll definitely be trying this out next time I’m down the book shop.
Visit Neil Sharpson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

"Flash Fire"

TJ Klune is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include the Green Creek series, The House on the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, Klune believes it's important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Flash Fire, the sequel to The Extraordinaries, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Flash Fire shows Nick Bell and his father—Aaron—having a discussion about the antagonist of the series—Simon Burke—and the history he shares with Jennifer Bell, Aaron’s deceased wife who is also Nick’s mother. Their familial histories are more intertwined than Nick knew, and he is learning the truth of certain events for the first time.

The “Page 69 Test” absolutely works for this book, and well at that. Nick’s relationship with his father has always been just as important as Nick’s romantic relationship with his boyfriend, Seth, but never more so than in Flash Fire. Aaron Bell is not a perfect man and has, in fact, made many mistakes, some small, some much larger. This is a big plot point in Flash Fire, the idea of trust and keeping secrets and the lengths people will go to in order to protect those they love. Aaron has kept certain things hidden from his son, but not because of anything malicious. As a single parent, he would do anything to protect his kid, even if that means going about it in ways that could potentially damage their relationship. In addition, it shows Nick finally being comfortable enough to ask questions he’s always wondered about but never found the courage to say out loud, given how fresh the passing of Jennifer is in both their minds. This particular scene also acts as a catalyst for Nick as he begins to understand that his father, while being honest here, is still hiding things, things that could affect the future of the Extraordinaries.

Flash Fire is about discovery, about dragging secrets from the shadows into the light, and dealing with the fallout from what’s revealed. It’s about trust and how tenuous it can be, and the hard decisions parents make in order to ensure their children are safe. Are they right? Are they wrong? Or does that even matter? There is power in truth, power in knowledge, and Nick’s past is about to collide with his present, changing the course of his future forever. It’s going to be a wild ride and I, for one, am so excited for the reader to see what happens.
Visit TJ Klune's website.

Q&A with TJ Klune.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 19, 2021


Hermione Hoby grew up in Bromley, in south London, and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a double first in English Literature. After working on the Observer’s New Review she moved to New York in 2010. She has written for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's, and others. She has also interviewed hundreds of cultural figures including Toni Morrison, Naomi Campbell, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Her debut novel, Neon in Daylight, is a two-time New York Times editors’ choice.

Hoby applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, Virtue, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel, appropriately enough for the lewdest number we have, includes a passage about sexuality. Our narrator, Luca, is in the studio of Paula, an older woman and artist who's interrogating him about his sex life. Luca has just recalled, but not divulged, an instance at a posh birthday party where he somewhat passively received a blowjob from a guy called Sandy. Here's the whole page in full:
I don’t know what happened to Sandy or where he is now. It’s hard to retain a sense of the reality of people, by which I mean their human fullness. Sandy, of course, would always be a full person to himself, a thousand different planes. But in my memory, he appears just as a mirrored blow job, one image repeated endlessly. One time years later, in the infinity room of a Japanese artist, I would have to suppress an erection I would never have been able to explain.

I don’t think the simple word bisexual even occurred to me in those years. The great flowering of queerness and sexual expression was well underway, a revolution of sorts as people all over social media claimed their pronouns and confirmed their identities, but I never considered how any of this might apply to me. One day I opened up Instagram and thought, Who’s this cute, butch-looking, eyelinered girl I seem to be following? My friend Tim had become Thalia—overnight, it seemed, but that was just the disjunctive nature of the stupid app. So I approved from the sidelines while failing to reckon personally with sexuality and its grayness. Or not grayness, maybe, but its many-colored mess, like one of Paula’s palettes at the end of the day, smudged and smeared into dingy browns but still flecked with flashes of vivid pigment. Generally, I liked the idea of a man admiring me and wanting me, but the carnal reality of bodies and what went where, made me squeamish. Women were softer, easier. Plus, the script of straightness was already written, making it easier to play the part. Maybe heterosexuality was nothing but a great shared failure of imagination.

I didn’t say any of this to Paula, of course. She was talking about love now. People love to talk about love as an absolute. She was saying love was like being both cut in half and multiplied by two. Cut in half because you lost a portion of yourself to it but doubled because the two of you became magnified.
I suppose this passage is fairly representative when it comes to Luca's personality: gauche, uncertain, thoughtful, hesitant. As for the book as a whole, Luca's vague bewilderment with shifting gender mores is only a minor current. Like most writers of fiction, I want it to be a book "about" many things. Not a hot take, but a very cold, very slow, geologic accretion of something.

As I reread it now and come across Paula wanging on about love as an absolute, I suppose - and hope! - that this bit speaks to that line above about heterosexuality - whose absolute quality is also, of course, a fallacy! What a vital thing that is, resisting absolutes. It's why I read novels and why I try and write them, too. With this book I was particularly concerned with the competing meanings of "the good life", as in, the life of comfort and pleasure on the one hand, and the life of ethical and civic duty on the other. The unrelenting hideousness of the previous administration made a lot of us ask whether beauty and duty can be reconciled - we should keep that question urgent.
Visit Hermione Hoby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 17, 2021

"Man on Fire"

Humphrey Hawksley has reported on key trends, events and conflicts from all over the world.

His work as a BBC foreign correspondent has taken him to crises on every continent.

Hawksley applied the Page 69 Test to his new Rake Ozenna thriller, Man on Fire, and reported the following:
On page 69 Rake Ozenna’s undercover special forces team has flown from Alaska to a remote settlement on the far eastern Russian coast. They are looking for documents that will eventually lead Rake to the discovery of a dreadful of modern warfare. The team is in the main government building searching files with Korav, the leader of the settlement. Outside, a vehicle carrying Russian enemies speeds toward them. There is a twist in that Korav belongs to the same indigenous Bering Strait tribe as Rake. Will Korav side with Rake, even if he is an American, or with the Russians. Rake has seconds to decide. His team is in lethal danger.

Readers would get a pretty good idea about Man on Fire at several levels from page 69. The pace is fast. Knife-edge choices need to be made is seconds. There is a sense that whatever is discovered here will lead to something far worse because Rake’s challenges are behind-the-headlines global threats. There is a hint of breakthrough on page 69 in that Korav and Rake share heritage that has been divided by White Man’s politics, and Korav needs something from Rake. His brother is missing. The chapter ends on a cliff-edge as the Russian enemy is moments away. Is Korav and ally or an enemy? How will Rake get his team out of this one?

Page 69 builds tension before a high-octane action scene in the next chapter. Before getting there, the reader will be taken to the landscape of the remote U.S.-Russian border where nuclear-armed superpowers face each other across the narrow Bering Strait. This is vivid scene-setting. Very few thrillers use this location and none in as much detail. As the narrative gathers pace, Rake’s flaws and determination are displayed. By page 69, the reader will have met Carrie Walker, Rake’s on-off girlfriend, the one woman he’s unable to get out of his mind. They are soul mates but they come from two very different worlds. The reader will have been introduced to Harry Lucas, a private security contractor, to whom Rake reports and Harry’s ex-wife. Baroness Stephanie Lucas of Clapham, the British foreign secretary, takes readers behind the scenes to battles and turf fights inside the corridors of power. Twenty pages earlier, readers would have glimpsed Ruslan Yumatov, whom one critic described as ‘a hard-ass, cold-stoned, iron-like man with unparalleled determination! You gotta love Yumatov, he is fierce!’ As the saying goes, a good villain makes the story. As for Rake, the great Nelson DeMille says simply, “We’re glad he’s on our side.’
Visit Humphrey Hawksley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The History Book.

The Page 69 Test: Man on Ice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 15, 2021

"The Boy in the Photo"

Nicole Trope went to university to study Law but realized the error of her ways when she did very badly on her first law essay because—as her professor pointed out—'It's not meant to be a story.' She studied teaching instead and used her holidays to work on her writing career and complete a Masters' degree in Children's Literature. After the birth of her first child she stayed home full time to write and raise children, renovate houses and build a business with her husband.

The idea for her first published novel, The Boy Under the Table, was so scary that it took a year for her to find the courage to write the emotional story. Her second novel, Three Hours Late, was voted one of Fifty Books you can't put down in 2013 and her third novel, The Secrets in Silence, was The Australian Woman's Weekly Book of the month for June 2014.

Trope lives in Sydney with her husband and three children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Boy in the Photo and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘Maybe I can live with Nana and Pop?’ he once said to Daddy.

‘They don’t want you either. No one in that family does. I’m the only one who truly loves you, Daniel, the only one.’

He is hungry but he won’t wake Daddy up. He gets angry if he’s woken up. He touches his cheek because he can feel he’s crying again and he’s not allowed to cry. He is not allowed to be ‘weak’. But sometimes it’s hard not to cry when there is a ball of sadness inside him all the time. He wishes he could make it go away but he can’t. He’s almost used to it now and he knows to only cry quietly so Daddy doesn’t hear him.

He wipes his face. He needs to be strong and he needs to be grateful that Daddy loves him. He can’t cry. He has to be strong and he has to be grateful.
This was quite fascinating to read and a pretty good test of what the novel is about, although it benefits from context.

In this passage readers are experiencing the world from Daniel’s perspective. When he is abducted at six years old by his father, Greg, he is a happy, loving child. Greg makes it his mission to turn Daniel against this mother and extended family. It is a necessary part of Greg’s control and in this passage the confusion and despair Daniel is feeling are very evident. He is seven years old and still longing for his old life.

He has little choice but to believe whatever his father tells him because he has been removed from everything else he has ever known. When Daniel returns at twelve, he is troubled and distant, but when reading through his chapters, it becomes apparent why this is the case. His experience of the world after being taken by his father shapes his personality and Daniel is the child around whom the whole novel revolves. The concept of parental alienation which is when one parent attempts to turn their child against the other parent is vividly on display here. Readers can hopefully feel Daniel’s bewilderment even as they witness the first in a long line of changes in his personality that turn him into the angry, aggressive child who returns home after six years. Here he attempts to find a way to be in the world, knowing his mother no longer loves him. And once Greg has convinced him of this-he has forever changed who Daniel is.
Follow Nicole Trope on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"The Cruelest Mercy"

Natalie Mae is an ex-programmer, a dark chocolate enthusiast, and an author of young adult novels. She has also been a freelance editor and a Pitch Wars mentor, and she feels it notable to mention she once held a job where she had to feed spiders. When not writing, she can be found wandering the Colorado wilderness with her family.

Mae applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Cruelest Mercy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gold satin drapes the giant four-poster bed instead of blue, and crystal-topped tables for dining gleam outside on the balcony, where practice swords and reading chairs once sat. Gossamer curtains shimmer like fireflies before the windows, an airy gold instead of silver.

I think of the dusty feed room I grew up in, the cot I slept on last night across from Hen. But it’s a little hard to appreciate that all this finery is mine when it feels like I’ve stolen it.

Jet watches me, the hint of a real smile in his eyes. “Now it’s a proper ballroom.”

I step in farther, past a couch with lion’s paws for feet, running my hand over its polished wooden back. Wishing I knew what to say. Wishing I knew how to fix this for him. I’m just starting to turn when a fuzzy head pops out from around the archway to the pool room, and Jade streaks over in a blur of spots.

Human! she squeaks in her sweet voice. Play! Toy?

“You’re here, too!” I scoop her up, though my heart still twists. “Now it’s perfect.”

Jade, like most kittens, is not impressed with this or any displays of affection, and wiggles incessantly. No love. Play! Play!

“All right, all right,” I grumble, setting her down. I scoop a feathered cat toy from the floor and throw it to the other side of the room. Jade tears after it, as fast as an arrow.

Jet watches her go, the afternoon light deepening his coronation tunic to a river blue.

I trace the cactuses carved into the back of the couch. “What can I do to help?”
Page 69 actually works decently well for the book without revealing any major spoilers! There are a number of things happening here, from the descriptions of the lavish new surroundings Zahru now possesses (and how drastically different they are from what she's used to), and also the building tension between her and Prince Jet, who she had just begun to consider in a romantic capacity -- except, as fate would have it, she's now unintentionally usurped his crown. You can see that relationship begin to strain here as Zahru struggles with how to make this right for him. And of course, I love to trail humor through my books no matter how dark they get, and the moment with Jade, Zahru's new kitten, hits on that.

Where this could be deceiving, though, is that this doesn't hint at the darker turn Zahru will take in this book, or how desperate she'll become to pursue what she believes is right in this story. This is a snapshot of a playful scene, but the issues the book will tackle will be much heavier. So readers could assume, if the test is to be believed, that the story will be light or floofy where it often is not. However, combined with the synopsis for the book, this might be the perfect way to see that there will be a balance of lighter moments throughout, which could help the reader decide if this was their kind of book!
Visit Natalie Mae's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Kinder Poison.

Q&A with Natalie Mae.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 11, 2021

"Her Last Breath"

Hilary Davidson was a journalist before she turned to the dark side and started writing crime fiction. Her novels include the Lily Moore series—The Damage Done, The Next One to Fall, and Evil in All Its Disguises—the bestselling Shadows of New York series—One Small Sacrifice and Don’t Look Down—and the standalone novels Blood Always Tells and Her Last Breath.

Davidson applied the Page 69 Test to Her Last Breath and reported the following:
From page 69:
I found the printout of Caro’s email. “I got a message from my sister yesterday. She wrote it just before she died. You need to read it.” I slid it across the table so that he could.

“You got this yesterday?” Villaverde raised a dubious eyebrow. “She died over a week ago.”

“Caro set the message up to go out if she died.”

“How do we know this is legit? Anybody could set something up online.”

“My sister is the only person in the world who’d make these references to our family.”

He gave it a quick once-over. “She called you Dodo in it. That’s your nickname?”

“It was when I was in kindergarten. She was Caro and I was Dodo. That’s what our parents called us.” I didn’t understand why he was zeroing in on the least interesting part of the message. “There’s more to it than that. I keep thinking of Mom, and how you never believe you’re going to end up like one of your parents, until you do.” I took a breath. “That’s a reference to a letter my mother wrote a long time ago. It’s the real reason I know this email is from my sister. Literally no one else knows these details about my family.”

“What details?”

At that moment, it would’ve been easier to strip down to my underwear and hurl myself out a window than tell him the truth. But what choice did I have? “My father used to hit my mother. They argued all the time, and it would get physical. Especially when he was drinking, which was pretty often back then.”

“Were the police ever called?”

I started to laugh, before I caught myself. “We were supposed to act like it didn’t happen. In my family, it was a bigger crime to tell an outsider about private stuff than it was for my father to hit my mom in the first place.” My parents were immigrants from Northern Ireland; nothing was more sacred to them than their code of silence.
In this scene, Her Last Breath’s main character, Deirdre Crawley, has finally gone to the police with the disturbing message she received from her sister, Caroline, on the day of Caroline’s funeral. Deirdre has been reluctant to get the NYPD involved, but after trying to investigate herself and hitting a wall, she feels like she has no choice.

Part of the reason Deirdre didn’t want to go to the cops is because she doubts they’ll believe her. Caroline’s note told Deirdre not only that she was afraid of her wealthy husband, Theo, but that Theo killed his first wife and got away with it. At this point in the story, Deirdre has already confirmed that the note is legit, Theo was married before, and that his first wife is indeed dead. For Detective Villaverde to go back to Square One and question the legitimacy of the letter is frustrating for her and feels like a waste of time.

But there is more to Deirdre’s discomfort than meets the eye. She’s afraid of the police digging into her family history, which is mentioned in the letter. Detective Villaverde is not wrong to focus on that and to force Deirdre to spell out what Caroline is referring to. Deirdre is a character of action, one who wants justice, but she’s also terrified of revisiting her past. She would rather be alone and remain estranged from her family than discuss the abuse that happened when she was growing up. That code of silence she talks about her parents having is something she definitely inherited from them. But in this scene, Deirdre starts to understand that she can’t keep family secrets buried if she wants justice for her sister.
Learn more about the book and the author at the official Hilary Davidson site.

The Page 69 Test: The Damage Done.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Always Tells.

The Page 69 Test: One Small Sacrifice.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Look Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 9, 2021

"Death on the Night of Lost Lizards"

Julia Buckley has loved reading and writing since childhood. She is still a sucker for a great story, and, like any bibliophile, she loves libraries, Scholastic Book Fairs, the smell of ink, pads and pens, typewriters, and books you can't put down. She lives in a Chicago suburb with her husband Jeff; she has two grown sons and a beautiful daughter-in-law.

Buckley applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Death on the Night of Lost Lizards, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Death on the Night of Lost Lizards contains a bit of a spoiler for readers of the series, but it also identifies a very powerful central reality of the books: the psychic power of Hanna's grandmother. Runa Wolf, who was introduced in Book 2, had asked Hanna's grandmother to read her tea leaves. The older woman foresaw not only that Runa was pregnant, but that her baby, a girl, would face some unknown danger. Page 69 of Book 3 finally reveals the nature of that danger.

Browsers opening to this page wouldn't get a sense of the full story, which emerges as a rather complicated web, but would get a sense of several things. First, they would take note of the fact that Runa is confiding in Hanna. The two had grown closer by the end of Book 2 but this confidence marks a new intimacy in their relationship. Second, the reader can see a new maturity in Runa, whose previous priorities had been utterly different. Third, it is clear that both Runa and Hanna have complete faith in her grandmother's ability to see truths unavailable to others.

While page 69 does not reveal anything about the central mystery, it does focus on an underlying thread woven throughout the series. Themes of family, conflict, hope and the importance of making the right choice will be echoed in the larger mystery. These themes are symbolized as well by a tapestry which hangs in the tea house depicting the world tree or vilagfa, which depicts the upper, middle and lower worlds (similar to heaven, earth and hell) and implies that people's choices determine bliss or suffering.

The series is set at Christmas time, and the holiday backdrop also emphasizes the importance of hope and goodness within the human soul.
Learn more about the book and author at Julia Buckley's website.

My Book, The Movie: Death on the Night of Lost Lizards.

Q&A with Julia Buckley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 7, 2021


Tracy Clark is the author of the highly acclaimed Chicago Mystery Series featuring ex-homicide cop turned PI Cassandra Raines, a hard-driving, African-American protagonist who works the mean streets of the Windy City dodging cops, cons, killers, and thugs. Clark received Anthony Award and Lefty Award nominations for her series debut, Broken Places, which was also shortlisted for the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List, named a CrimeReads Best New PI Book of 2018, a Midwest Connections Pick, and a Library Journal Best Books of the Year. In addition to her Cass Raines novels, Clark’s short story “For Services Rendered,” appears in the anthology Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors. A native of Chicago, she works as an editor in the newspaper industry and roots for the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks equally.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to Runner, her new Cass Raines mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
There was an unmarked cop car idling a couple slots from my car when I got to it, and I stopped to watch as Detective Dan Hogan got out and walked over to me.

“I know I said I didn’t mind the extra eyes, but things are getting a little crowded, aren’t they?” He said.

“I’m playing catchup,” I said. “Shaw seemed like an important person to talk to.”

“And? Did you get anything?”

“I think I would have gotten more if I’d been official.”

Hogan chuckled. “Missing that star, Raines?”

I shrugged. “Not really. Still, I got nothing from Shaw other than a lot of ass covering. He did his job – according to him, Ramona’s the problem.”

“I got that too last time out. I thought I’d come back and try again, see if he could tell me a little more.”

“Speaking of crowded fields,” I said. “Shaw’s spoken to Martini, did Martini mention that to you?” “Martini? What the hell was he doing here?”

“Maybe you should ask him?”
Page 69 of Runner marks the opening of chapter eight. There is only a half-page of text on page 69, but it shows my PI, Cass Raines, on the case and pushing forward. Cass is searching for 15-year-old Ramona Titus, who has run away from her foster home. She’s been in the wind for over a week.

Cass has just spoken to Ronald Shaw, the girl’s case manager at a for-profit agency that specializes in placing older kids in stable homes, but she suspects Shaw hasn’t told her the truth about his last contact with Ramona. Hogan, the detective working the missing persons case for CPD, is overworked and understaffed, and beginning to chafe at Cass’s encroachment. The Martini in question is Frank Martini, is a retired cop who spends his free time “helping out” on kid cases, using his numerous street contacts as sources when he should be fishing or playing golf.

Three detectives, one girl, no leads, at least up to page 69. At this point in the story, Cass is up against it. It’s the middle of a Chicago winter and Ramona is nowhere to be found. The clock is ticking. Page 69 is the build-up to a huge tension point in the book. Hogan’s feeling crowded, Cass has bupkis, Shaw is stonewalling her, and Martini is everywhere he isn’t supposed to be. But Cass is beginning to get the feeling, here on page 69, that her simple runaway case may not be all that simple. Ramona didn’t just run away, she fled. Why? And from whom? For the answers to those questions, you’ll have to make it to page 97.
Visit Tracy Clark's website.

Q&A with Tracy Clark.

Writers Read: Tracy Clark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"Lights Out in Lincolnwood"

Geoff Rodkey is the New York Times best-selling author of many children’s books, including the Tapper Twins and Chronicles of Egg series; We’re Not From Here; and Marcus Makes a Movie, a collaboration with actor Kevin Hart. He’s also the Emmy-nominated screenwriter of Daddy Day Care and RV, among other films.

Rodkey applied the Page 69 Test to Lights Out in Lincolnwood, his first novel for adults, and reported the following:
Some context for what’s happening as page 69 of Lights Out in Lincolnwood begins:

Fiftyish suburban dad Dan Altman is in an overcrowded New Jersey Transit commuter train en route to Manhattan on an unremarkable Tuesday morning…when the train suddenly loses electrical power, and everyone’s phones, laptops, and other electronics mysteriously go dark. After a few moments of bewilderment mixed with irritation on the part of the commuters, they hear and feel (but mostly don’t see) an airplane crash in the middle distance, which plunges the entire train car into a collective panic.

Dan’s seated at a rear-facing window, and the terrified young woman next to him demands that he open the window’s emergency exit. While trying to stand up and turn himself around in the cramped space, one of Dan’s AirPods falls from his ear and out of view. As page 69 begins, he’s still trying to maneuver himself into a position where he can pull the emergency exit lever:
He also felt a competing—possibly irrational, yet strangely insistent—urge to locate his missing AirPod.

Dan began to shift clockwise, putting his foot back down on the floor and bending his knees awkwardly to negotiate the 270-degree turn that would leave him facing the window. As he turned, he kept his eyes down, hoping to catch a glimpse of the little white earpiece.

“I just dropped my—”

OPEN THE FUCKING WINDOW!” his seatmate shrieked. He looked back at her, startled—and got a brief glimpse of her eyes burning with fury, so close to his that he could see tiny red veins spiderwebbing the whites around her dark brown irises.

Then he hit his head on the luggage rack.



“I’m trying!”

A few feet away in the aisle, people were yelling and pushing as they tried to shove their way toward the back of the car, away from whatever it was that had so terrified the passengers up at the front windows.

With a heroic twist that nearly blew out his knee, Dan managed to turn all the way back around to face the window. But then his wedged-in messenger bag blocked him from getting his right knee up and completing the maneuver.

AirPods are backordered at the Apple Store. It’ll take weeks to


The third occupant of the seat was screaming at him now, too.
The Page 69 test works pretty well for Lights Out in Lincolnwood. It’s a dark comedy about a mass technological breakdown that might mean the collapse of civilization, a minor pain in the neck, or anything in between—and because the loss of power robs the characters of all their news sources, nobody in the story can get a handle on which threat level is the correct one.

As a result, Dan and the rest of the characters have to make their own decisions about what’s happening, and how urgently they should respond to the situation. If it’s an apocalyptic event, the correct response is going to look very different than it would if it turns out to be a short-term problem.

On a micro level, this is exactly what’s happening on page 69. Is the panic spreading through the crowded train car justifiable, in which case Dan’s getting the exit window open is a matter of literal life and death?

Or is the hysteria unwarranted, and the passengers’ lives aren’t actually in immediate danger (how far away was that plane crash, anyway)? In which case, maybe it isn’t that irrational for Dan to take a moment to find his AirPod and spare himself both the expense and the hassle of having to replace it later.

To be fair, Dan’s preoccupation with his AirPod is probably misguided under almost any scenario. But in the pressure of the moment, rationality is in short supply. And as Lights Out in Lincolnwood unfolds, this juxtaposition of minor everyday problems with major existential ones gives the book both its story tension and its humor.
Visit Geoff Rodkey's website.

Q&A with Geoff Rodkey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 4, 2021

"Best Class You Never Had"

Jim Cullen is the author of numerous books, including The American Dream and Those Were the Days: Why All in the Family Still Matters. He has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is a member of the faculty of the newly established Greenwich Country Day High School in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Cullen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Best Class You Never Had, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book captures a fairly typical moment. Best Class You Never Had is a genre hybrid -- a history of the United States told in the form of classroom dialogue, and embedded in a storyline about a veteran teacher finishing the last of his 40 years at Seneca Falls High School -- the high school is fictive, but of course Seneca Falls (site of the famed women's suffrage conference) is not. Seneca Falls is also the inspiration for the movie It's a Wonderful Life, and the story is sprinkled with Easter Eggs that refer to it.

From page 69:
Adams recorded the scene of his night with Franklin in the autobiography he began writing after his forced retirement from politics following his failed bid for re-election in 1800. I see him at his estate, Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts, an old man remembering himself as a younger one, with Franklin, who had been dead for ten years, alive and likeable. I imagine him chuckling at Franklin, and himself, as he remembers sharing that bed. I’m thinking that the memory of that night brings him pleasure and maybe even comfort in the long twilight of his life. Writing it down gives him something to do.

You two have a bus to catch. Now go savor the company of each other.

Sadie: Thanks, Mr. L.

Emily: Yeah, thanks.

Thanks, Mr. Adams. Thanks, Mr. Franklin. See you tomorrow.
In this passage, two students who are about to catch a school bus home check in on their teacher, Kevin Lee, to ask about an off-hand reference he made earlier to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin sleeping together, which in fact they did on the night of September 9, 1776, when they were delegated with negotiating a deal with the British government to end the Revolution -- they rejected a deal -- and shared a bed at an inn in New Jersey. In this passage, Mr. Lee imagines John Adams remembering that moment, based on his diaries. Adams came to resent Franklin, who maneuvered to have him sent home when the two were serving in diplomatic roles in Paris during the Revolution, but on that night he was amused by Franklin's theory that the best way to avoid a cold was to keep the bedroom window open, not closed.
Visit Jim Cullen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 2, 2021

"The Keepers"

Jeffrey B. Burton was born in Long Beach, California, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received his BA in Journalism at the University of Minnesota.

His many novels include The Finders, The Chessman, and The Eulogist.

He lives in St. Paul with his wife, an irate Pomeranian named Lucy, and a happy galoot of a Beagle named Milo.

Burton applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, is The Keepers, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Keepers, Special Prosecutor Peter Feist needs to meet with a confidential informant (CI) at Washington Park at midnight. His wife questions him as he's leaving the house but, as he's sworn to secrecy, he deflects his wife's queries by telling her how a close colleague of his has filed for divorce. A couple paragraphs then describe how Feist's colleague imagined herself in the perfect marriage, idyllic, that is, until she began viewing the video feed from the indoor security camera her husband had recently installed. And what she discovers on the video feed has her scampering to the office of the nearest divorce attorney.

Though it touches on a special prosecutor meeting with a CI at midnight, and there's something darkly humorous about the end of Feist's colleague's marriage, the page 69 test would not grant readers a good idea of the work as a whole. Peter Feist is not the protagonist and, of course, where are the human remains detection dogs?

The Keepers is about Mace Reid and the finders - his nickname for his pack of cadaver dogs - as they stay one step ahead of the powers that be that want Reid dead.
Visit Jeffrey B. Burton's website.

Q&A with Jeffrey B. Burton.

--Marshal Zeringue