Saturday, April 30, 2022


Bonnar Spring writes eclectic and stylish mystery-suspense novels with an international flavor. A nomad at heart, she hitchhiked across Europe at sixteen and joined the Peace Corps after college. Bonnar taught ESL—English as a Second Language—at a community college for many years. She currently divides her time between tiny houses on a New Hampshire salt marsh and by the Sea of Abaco.

Spring applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Disappeared, and reported the following:
From page 69:
defuse the situation, do whatever he thinks needs to be done. I’m working blindfolded here.”

“How can Mr. Ohana contact you?”

I leave my number, but considering my difficulties in getting a signal, I add, “If Gil can’t reach me, I’ll call back tonight.” Then I suggest that, if he wants to act quickly, he could contact Sam Monatti at the American Consulate in Casablanca. “Gil might have to light a fire underneath him to get him moving, but I’ll bet he’s better equipped to do that than I am.”

She gives me Gil’s cell phone number. “I’ll alert Mr. Ohana, but please call as soon as you find his wife.” The secretary finishes on a hiccup, and we both know she’s not saying— “or if you don’t find her.”

I walk down to the car again and start it with relief. Not all I hoped for, but it was easier not to have confronted Gil directly. Better to get his efficient secretary to relay the story minus my emotional baggage— like, what the hell have you gotten my sister mixed up in?
Page 69 in Disappeared is the half-page conclusion to Chapter 11. It’s the end of a phone call between Julie, the main character, and her brother-in-law’s secretary. Julie’s sister Fay had disappeared from their hotel room in Marrakech three days earlier.

Snooping through Fay’s belongings and questioning the hotel staff has provided Julie with clues to her sister’s whereabouts—but no idea why she went there. When Julie narrowly eludes a knife-wielding attacker, she realizes she is in danger if she passively waits for her sister in town. She flees to Fay’s remote destination, only remembering in the last town she’ll pass to contact Fay’s husband, whom she blames for the trouble her sister is in. Her parting thought is what the hell have you gotten my sister mixed up in?

When Julie hangs up the phone, starts her car, and drives away, that’s the last communication she’ll have with the rest of the world. She’s on her own, heading into the Sahara Desert. While short on words, the action on page 69 of Disappeared is a watershed moment, marking the end of Julie’s quest for her sister in the modern world of telephones, restaurants, internet, and rental cars. And the beginning of the ordeal at the heart of Disappeared.

An intriguing instance of the Page 69 Test!
Visit Bonnar Spring's website.

Q&A with Bonnar Spring.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"Our Little World"

Karen Winn received her MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also holds a doctoral degree in nursing. Born and raised in New Jersey, she now lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

Winn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Our Little World, and reported the following:
On page 69 in my debut novel, Our Little World, my twelve-year-old protagonist, Bee, and her sister, Audrina, are in lockdown after the disappearance of a neighborhood girl, Sally. It’s 1985, pre-World Wide Web, and the only way any neighborhood kids are getting information about what happened is through old-school phone gossip. Because Bee was there at the lake when Sally went missing, and because she is friends with Sally’s older brother, Max, Bee finds herself, unexpectedly, the center of attention. She relishes this position of power and slowly reveals bits and pieces of information to her friends: what it was like at the lake that day, the last thing Sally said to her, even the current situation at Sally’s house when she visits Max.

This Page 69 Test works to a certain extent: Readers will understand that a child has gone missing; that it’s an unusual event in this otherwise safe and small, tightknit community; that Bee, my protagonist, was there at the lake when Sally disappeared; that it’s likely the 80s (since Bee’s family just got call waiting on their home phone); that it’s likely New Jersey (since one of the neighborhood fathers works for New Jersey Bell Atlantic); that Sally’s family is incredibly distraught (the dirty dishes are piling up); and that Bee is relishing the new attention she receives. Where this Page 69 Test falls severely short, however, is the lack of attention to the complex relationship Bee has with her sister, Audrina—which is the central focus of the novel.
Visit Karen Winn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2022


Taylor Brown grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His books include In the Season of Blood and Gold (2014), Fallen Land (2016), The River of Kings (2017), Gods of Howl Mountain (2018), Pride of Eden (2020), and Wingwalkers (2022). You can find his work in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Garden & Gun, the North Carolina Literary Review, and many other publications. He is a recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction and the founder of He lives in Savannah, GA.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to Wingwalkers and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Now, let us make sure you meet the King’s requirements.”

Bill balked. These hated scales, his bane.

“Are you aware, sir, that the average height of a medieval knight, based on surviving suits of armour”—here he added the British u in his mind—“was but sixty-five inches from sole to crown?”

“Well, you had better be sixty-six to join the Royal Air Force. A man must reach the rudder pedals, after all. On the scale, please, and remove your shoes.”

Faulkner chewed the inside of his mouth, looking from the man to the scale. He had tried everything to grow taller. Milk and spinach and bunches of bananas, even ginseng powder purchased behind the glazed and dangling ducks of Chinatown. Now he snorted in disgust and pulled off his shoes, a sharp-toed pair of Johnston & Murphy derbies he’d bought in Memphis for twelve dollars and a half, and stepped onto the device with first one foot, then the other, testing the surface like pond ice. The needle wound lazily toward the 120-pound mark but lost momentum, hovering at 113 pounds. The one-legged lieutenant drew a ruler from his tunic and held it atop Faulkner’s head, tracing it toward the hash marks stamped into the measuring bar.

“You are standing on your toes, sir.”

“I can’t help it,” said Bill. “I have very tight tendons.” “Stand flat-footed, Mr. Faulkner, and now.”

His heels clapped down hard, jumping the needle, and the officer waited for the device to quit shaking before he took his measurement.

“Sixty-five and one-half inches,” he said. “Half an inch short. I’m sorry, Mr. Faulkner, but I’m afraid you don’t meet the minimum requirements of the Royal Air Force.”

Faulkner leapt off the scale. “You must be mistaken, sir.”

“All cadets must be at least five and one-half feet tall, or sixty-six inches.”

“So round up.”

“The RAF does not round.”

“So fudge it. Surely you fudge.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Faulkner, but we cannot use you.”
Does the Page 69 Test work in this case?

Absolutely! Crazily enough, this is not only one of my favorite scenes in Wingwalkers, it's one of the very best pages to introduce the reader to the book as a whole. In fact, it's one of the pages I plan to read in my live events to give folks a taste of the novel.

The scene takes place in New York City, 1918. Based on biographical and anecdotal information, it's a reimagining of the day that 20-year-old William "Bill" Faulkner traveled to the Fifth Avenue office of Wing Commander Lord George Wellesley of the Royal Air Force to enlist as a fighter pilot in the Great War. He was afraid that he needed to be a British citizen to serve in the RAF, so he affected an accent, forged a recommendation letter from a "Reverend Mr. Edward Twimberly-Thorndyke," and added the "u" to his surname -- he was actually born William Falkner!

Wingwalkers follows much of Faulkner's life from an aviation perspective -- a huge, largely unknown inspiration for him -- from his boyhood building model airplanes, to his time in the RAF, to his early aviation-influenced work, to the Flying Faulkners -- a barnstorming troupe he helped to create with his youngest brother, Dean Swift. Faulkner's story alternates with that of a husband-wife barnstorming duo, wingwalker Della the Daring and former WWI ace Zeno Marigold, as they attempt to coax their ailing biplane across the country during the Great Depression. As Faulkner is coming up in the world, Della and Zeno are heading west, and their lives will intersect at some point -- based on a true tidbit from Faulkner's biography.

Overall, I'd have a hard time choosing a better page than this one to introduce someone to the book!
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

Q&A with Taylor Brown.

My Book, The Movie: Wingwalkers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2022

"The Fervor"

Alma Katsu is the award-winning author of seven novels. Her latest is The Fervor, a reimagining of the Japanese internment that Booklist called “a stunning triumph” (starred) and Library Journal called “a must read for all, not just genre fans” (starred). Red Widow, her first espionage novel, is a nominee for the Thriller Writers Award for best novel, was a New York Times Editors Choice, and is in pre-production for a TV series.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to The Fervor and reported the following:
From page 69:
She went around the room looking for more. She found it in some places, not in others. Not like dust that floated freely on the air. It was in the bed, under the covers. In the tea towel where the eating utensils rested. Sprinkled in their neatly folded clothing.

She remembered the feeling of the grit forced into her mouth.

And then she saw it: a tiny translucent spider running up her sleeve. Then a ripple of movement on the folded towels as a line of spiders ran, looking to hide in another stack of cloths.

They looked familiar, these spiders. Where had she seen them before?

She had just turned to run and find the nearest neighbor, to warn the others, when everything suddenly spun out of control. Down was up and up was down. She felt like she was being flipped like a giant omelet and now she was lying on the floor and the room was still spinning violently, in a way she’d never felt before. In a way that felt like it would never stop.

Save my daughter. She must not spend the night in this room.

But there was no one there to tell. To warn.
Page 69 is the end of a chapter, and so not a full page. It gives a sense of the threat—strange little spiders where they’re not supposed to be, and because they’re unusual you’re not sure if they’re real or not.

I don’t think it’s a good representation of what the book is about, only because the book is told from four points of view (POV), the four main characters plus journal entries from a fifth character. If you only read the chapters of from one character’s POV, you’d only one side of the story.

This piece is from Meiko’s POV. Meiko is a Japanese woman sent to America by her family to marry a Japanese man starting a business in Seattle (at that time, there were 30 Japanese men for every Japanese woman on the West Coast). Meiko falls in love with and marries her betrothed’s white friend, Jamie. Jamie, a pilot, enlists after Pearl Harbor, and Meiko and her daughter are sent to one of the internment camps. It’s here in Minidoka where Meiko encounters the almost invisible spiders and an outbreak of a mysterious disease called the Fervor.

It is a good representation of Meiko. She’s unsentimental. Practical. She can’t leave the camp, though she’d like to. She worries about her daughter, who seems to be getting more eccentric by the day, resembling Meiko’s own father, a scientist. Her first duty is always to her daughter, not herself, as we see here as she loses consciousness after being exposed to the spiders. She realizes the residents of Minidoka are being used in some kind of horrible experiment and that it’s up to her to save them.
Visit Alma Katsu's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

The Page 69 Test: The Hunger.

The Page 69 Test: The Deep.

The Page 69 Test: Red Widow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2022

"Last Dance on the Starlight Pier"

Sarah Bird is the author of eleven novels. Her latest, Last Dance on the Starlight Pier, is out this month from St. Martin’s Press. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on one woman—and a nation—struggling to be reborn from the ashes.

Bird applied the Page 69 Test to Last Dance on the Starlight Pier and reported the following:
Oh, this is fun! Except that, oop, Page 69 has exactly one word on it: “Houston.” Let me cheat and move on to page 71 where we find actual text and discover that this is a fabulous place to slice into the story since it covers a major pivot point.

My protagonist, Evie Grace Devlin, arrives at the Houston train depot “still in shock” after the short trip train she was forced to take from Galveston. She has just been expelled from her nursing school in Galveston right before she attained her dream of becoming a nurse.

This return to Houston is a huge defeat for Evie since the city represents everything she’d hoped to leave behind: a voracious, narcissistic, stage mother and the grim life and even grimmer future she would have in her slummy Houston neighborhood, Vinegar Hill.

I love that on this page, we also get a sense of the times when Evie scans a few headlines. “13 Million Out Of Work: Hoover Orders Wages/House Cut for Employed.” “Funeral Planned for Lindbergh Baby.” “German Nazis Assault Journalists.”

Obviously, I think the Page 69 Test works superbly for my novel. It catches my protagonist at just the moment when her world has crumbled and she must either accept her defeat or keep struggling for a better life free of her suffocating mother.

Page 69 is where Evie Grace begins her journey through the astonishing world of the dance marathons. It is in Houston that she connects with a marathon promoter, is hired as a nurse, and meets the world of vivid characters who will, eventually help her find what she thinks she needs: her nursing degree. Along the way, they will also give her what she truly needs most in life: her family of choice.
Visit Sarah Bird's website.

Q&A with Sarah Bird.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2022

"Saint Death's Daughter"

C.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in Queens. She is author of the World Fantasy Award-winning Bone Swans: Stories (2015), an audiobook narrator, and the singer/songwriter Brimstone Rhine.

Her new novel is Saint Death’s Daughter.

Cooney applied the Page 69 Test to Saint Death’s Daughter and reported the following:
From page 69:
Straightway, the mouse skeleton leapt off her hand and ran at Sari Scratch, cheeping and squeaking. Or not squeaking, exactly: the noises it made were much deeper than they should have been—as if they were sounding out from the bottom of an oil jar.

To her credit, Sari did not scream, but stared down at her undead admonisher, first in incredulity and then—to Lanie’s surprise—growing delight. She slid off her ivory throne, careless of the fancily flocked skirts of her suit, which had, upon closer inspection, a pattern of purple velvet birds applied to the purple taffeta: violet-backed starlings perhaps, or purple honeycreepers. Like the suit, the material itself was high Rookish fashion—aristocratic fashion—right out of Rookery Court. Bold, to sport such fashions in Liriat.

Lanie watched with narrowed eyes as Sari sank to hands and knees, stretching out a hand on the ground, palm-up, and crooning to the mouse skeleton in a surprisingly gentle voice, “Come here, pretty one. Come, uncannyling! Come to Mordda Sari!”

But the mouse, far from obeying, shied away from her, scampering back a few feet till it stood at a safe distance, whereupon it rose onto its hind legs and began scolding her again. Sari laughed, looking up at Lanie from the floor and shaking her head.

“I’ve never seen its like, Miss Lanie. And I’ve seen wonders.”

Ever susceptible to compliments, and today even more so, Lanie beamed. She was about to thank her most graciously for the compliment, and to explain all about embroidering with yellow fire, and how delicate and perfect was this particular act of panthauma, when Nita’s boot came down on the mouse.

Lanie gasped. She jerked away from the window and crossed half the room in a bound. She knew the mouse couldn’t feel any pain. But still! The indignity!

Nita flung up a hand, halting her. Lanie strained, as if fighting an invisible barrier. But there was no barrier, only a small part of her that was still practical, that could still fear, holding her back.

Sari, who had not yet risen from her genuflection, craned her neck back to stare at Nita. “Now, Mistress Stones, was that really—”

She stopped. Nita was glaring down.




Lanie shielded her eyes as her sister seemed to ignite, from her wizardmarks outward, until she stood at the center of her own conflagration.
If browsers open your book to page 69, would they get a good (or an inaccurate) idea of the whole work?

Okay, so--ha!--the answer to this question is both yes and no. I think readers would get a pretty good taste for the flavors, nuances, characters, and plot threads of Part One: On Death and the Stoneses.

In this selection, we have Lanie Stones working one of her greatest acts of necromancy to this point in the book: raising an entire family of mouse skeletons on one of her "surge days." (Surges happen four days a year, when magic floods the world, and wizards find it much easier to work their miracles). As a necromancer, Lanie feels towards her undead what most people feel when they watch baby animal memes: an instant, total tenderness and willingness to fight for their survival and well-being.

In the room with Lanie are Sari Scratch and her three sons, to whom the Stones family is deeply in debt, and who will take their house and lands if they don't work out some kind of a deal. We also have Nita, Lanie's older sister--a trained assassin, loose cannon, and minor magician in her own right--who is a danger to everyone around her even when she's in a good mood. (She's not, generally, in a good mood.) Nita doesn't think much of Lanie's powers; she considers her own superior: the ability to "fascinate" someone, after three heartbeats, into doing her will for a time.

There's a lot more to the book, the plot, and the characters--and not everyone in this scene will be alive by the end of the book. Not even the ones who are already undead. But I shall say no more, spoiling nothing.
Visit C.S.E. Cooney's website.

Q&A with C.S.E. Cooney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

"Two Storm Wood"

Philip Gray studied modern history at Cambridge University, and went on to work as a journalist in Madrid, Rome and Lisbon. He has tutored in crime writing at City University in London and serves as a director at an award-winning documentary film company, specialising in science and history.

Gray's grandfather was a captain in the Lancashire Fusiliers and fought through the First World War from start to finish, losing his closest friends along the way. Years after his death, Gray came across a cache of trench maps and military documents that his grandfather had kept, and in which he had recorded the events that befell his unit. Gray was inspired to write his thriller Two Storm Wood when the pull of his grandfather's legacy felt too strong to ignore.

The author applied the Page 69 Test to Two Storm Wood and reported the following:
Page 69 of Two Storm Wood is the last page of chapter 9, and consequently only 13 lines long. In it the main protagonist, Amy Vanneck, emerges from an abandoned dugout, where she has been sheltering from the rain with her companion, Kitty. The dugout turned out to be teeming with ravenous rats, and in fighting her way out with the aid of an entrenching tool, Amy has lost her hat and been covered with mud, filth and blood. She finds herself being stared at by a member of the Chinese Labour Corps, one of the thousands who worked on the battlefields of the Western Front both during and after the war.

These lines show something of the grim and gritty setting for Two Storm Wood, which itself forms a crucial element of the story. It also shows one of the main characters in action. However, the passage is not really long enough to give any hint as to why Amy is there, or what the story is about.

That said, this short passage does show us the beginnings of something important: namely, the main character’s nascent understanding of the world which she has chosen, against all advice, to explore. Amy is determined to learn the fate of her fiancé, who was missing in action during the last summer of the war. The horrors she uncovers bring her to an understanding of the psychological and emotional toll the war inflicted on the men who fought. This journey begins, as here, with an appreciation of the physical hardships and squalor of the front.
Visit Philip Gray's website.

Q&A with Philip Gray.

My Book, The Movie: Two Storm Wood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"The Fact of Memory"

Aaron Angello is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, Maryland. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theater at Hood College.

Angello applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications, and reported the following:
This is page 69:
Almost I moved into an apartment at 345 E 12th Street, in the East Village of Manhattan, in 1994, when I was twenty-one. Seven years later, I was living in Los Angeles, but I was in Colorado recording an album. During downtime in the studio, I read a book called Dream Brother, a biography of both Tim and Jeff Buckley. I had come to Jeff Buckley’s music late, only a few years before, sometime around the time he jumped, fully clothed, into the Mississippi and sang songs as the current pulled him toward his watery death. How I used to romanticize such things. I sat in the control room and read that Jeff Buckley, my musical god, had lived at 233 E 12th Street, a block from my old apartment. He moved there three or four years before I did, and his album Grace was released in 1994, so it’s likely he was no longer in that apartment. But he could have been. He could have been living a block away from me. He could have walked into Sin-é, sat down and had a beer while Nicole and I sat two tables away making snide comments about the grungy singer-songwriter who was performing that night. We could have passed each other on the street, Jeff Buckley and I, eaten at the same café, sat smoking cigarettes on the same bench in Tompkins Square. I had entered his world right as he was leaving it, becoming the Jeff Buckley that I would come to know a few years later via a secondhand CD. I remember reading that biography in the recording studio in Colorado, reading that he once lived a block from me, and being devastated by the prospect of nearness, by how frequently we’re on the wrong sidewalk.
The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications is a collection of very brief lyric essays and prose poems that, on the surface, aren’t directly related to each other. Each of the 114 pieces is a reflection on a word from Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet. However, when taken together, the individual pieces form a kind of fragmented memoir, a complex, cubist self-portrait. I don’t know if McLuhan was imagining a book like this when he suggested the test, but we’re going to try it out and see how it goes. The entry/essay on page 69 is titled “Almost.” It is from the line in the sonnet that begins the third quatrain, and is thus the volta, or turn, in the poem: “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising/happily I think on thee.” It’s this moment, in the sonnet, that the speaker in the poem shifts their perspective from one of disgust with the self to adoration of the beloved, and it’s interesting that this test lands on a word at this point of the poem. This mini-essay also records a moment of turn, of transition, from a kind of blissful lack of awareness to the sadness of recognition, from presence to longing, from looking forward to looking back.

Though I can’t really say this essay is representative of the book stylistically, it does explore a lot of themes that recur throughout it. The sense of place here and the easy movement between locations – remembering the East Village from a recording studio in Colorado while living in LA (all of this being remembered in Boulder, several years later) – is very much a mode in the book. The places that formed me are prominent throughout, and the slippage between them is consistent, as it is in my memory.

Nicole shows up quite a bit as a character in the book; sometimes she’s named, more often she’s not. She was my partner for much of my twenties. We moved to New York together and became artists together. She appears briefly here, but she is always there, a consistent part of these Manhattan memories.

And then there’s the music. Music plays a prominent role in the book and in my life, not only because I was a musician, but also because I, like all of us, have quirky and very specific soundtracks to my memories. Songs work as catalysts of emotional memory for us more powerful than any madeleine. As one can read in the essay, Jeff Buckley’s music became incredibly important to me during the years I lived in Los Angeles, after I’d moved away from New York. He was what I aspired to be as a musician, though I was never even close to as good as he.
Visit Aaron Angello's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2022


Julia Spiro is a writer living on Martha’s Vineyard. Her debut novel, Someone Else's Secret, was published July 1, 2020 by Lake Union and is a #1 bestseller on Amazon.

Spiro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Full, and reported the following:
“It’s about nine o’clock. Life back at the retreat is over until dawn, but life here in Oak Bluffs is just beginning.” Page 69 is where Chapter 8 begins. Ava has recently checked into a wellness retreat where she will stay for six weeks, in an attempt to work through and overcome her eating disorder, as well as some personal demons she’s been battling. It’s only her first night and she feels so stifled by the retreat that she calls a taxi that evening and sneaks off to a busier part of the island, to a town called Oak Bluffs.

This test works well for my book. This page (and it’s a half page!) shows many of the book’s central themes and Ava’s core struggles.

The push-pull Ava feels between wanting to get better and wanting to say “screw it” is acutely illustrated here. The whole reason she’s come to the island is to heal, and yet she immediately rebels against this. It’s an example of how she’s often her own worst enemy, leading herself down paths that she knows won’t be good for her. More specifically, this page shows Ava’s actual vices. As she approaches Oak Bluffs, she’s excited by the “promise of anonymity and greasy food.” This really hits the nail on the head in many ways. Ava’s entire identity revolves around her public platform, and the pressure she feels to be a public figure, sharing all aspects of her life on social media. But what she really needs is privacy, peace, and a chance to redefine who she really is. And of course, this page demonstrates her addiction to food and how she uses food as a source of comfort.
Visit Julia Spiro's website.

The Page 69 Test: Someone Else's Secret.

Q&A with Julia Spiro (July 2020).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

"The Wise Women"

After two decades of working as an actor, Gina Sorell returned to her first love—writing. A graduate with distinction of UCLA Extension Writers' Program, she is the author of Mothers and Other Strangers. Originally from Johannesburg, she has lived in New York and Los Angeles, and now lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Sorell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wise Women, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Clementine's great with people," he said, his face lighting up. "I'm sure she'll kill it."

"Look, I don't want it to affect your decision, I just know that you've always thought highly of her."

"I do. But I'm a businessman. I said I wanted something fresh, and this is fresh. A new face, a new voice, it might be just what Rishi needs. We should at least give it a try."


"Okay, but if it doesn't work, we move on. Try someone else. I appreciate you giving Rishi another chance, but you don't owe me anything."

Not anymore, she thought, now that I owe you for helping me bail out my sister and my friend, again.

"Of course." He looked at her and waited, his hand on the check.

"And… I'll figure something out, about my fee," she said. "See if I can't cut back somewhere."

"Terrific, that's all I'm asking," Dominic said, pulling out his black American Express while Barb finished her drink, hoping it would wash away the bitter taste of compromise.
The Page 69 Test would give a good indication of what Barb, one of the three Wise women, is going through. Barb has always looked out for her younger sister Clementine, and just when she is about to ask Clementine to pay her back for a loan, she discovers that her sister's husband has funneled all of their money into his flailing start-up. Instead of taking a step back to take care of her own issues, Barb feels like she has to help Clementine out by getting her more work. The only way to do that is to get Dominic to continue working with her friend Rishi's marketing company, which employs Clementine. She uses the fact that Dominic has always had a crush on her sister to seal the deal and hates herself for it—but she's desperate. What nobody knows is that Barb, at the height of her career, is having money troubles of her own. She's overextended and worn out from taking care of everyone else.

In the novel, all three Wise women are facing a crisis of their own, reckoning with mistakes of their past that are affecting their present, and facing a future that looks much different than what they expected.
Visit Gina Sorell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

"The Sacred Bridge"

Anne Hillerman is the bestselling author of the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series. The Sacred Bridge is her seventh novel in the series, which was created by her father, Tony Hillerman. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is at work on her next novel.

Hillerman applied the Page 69 Test to The Sacred Bridge and reported the following:
This excerpt [below left, inset] from The Sacred Bridge catches my two main characters, Sgt. Jim Chee and Officer Bernadette Manuelito, in one of the frequent telephone conversations they have in the novel. They are on the phone more than usual because I have separated them geographically, each solving complex crimes many miles apart. Chee is at Lake Powell, where he hiked to Rainbow Bridge-- a sacred place for many Southwestern tribes. His spiritual batteries re-charged, he stays on because he discovers a body floating face down in the icy water. Meanwhile, Bernie goes undercover to investigate what looks like an illegal cannabis operation. The excerpt also illustrates Bernie’s ongoing source of worry, her beloved and difficult Mama.

I expect that browsers who opened the book here should be curious enough to read on. Before and after this moment of calm, they’ll find gunshots, fires, kidnappings, and the other suspicious and sinister behavior expected in a mystery.

One thing I enjoyed about writing The Sacred Bridge was the challenge of balancing the parallel stories, weaving in vivid descriptions of this breath-taking, real-life scenery, and finding spots in the mystery for humor along with the necessary tension to keep the readers’ interest. The book also deals with some real-life issues including the tragic problem of missing and murdered indigenous women. The potential of cannabidiol products to help those with rare diseases, and the seemingly unavoidable conflict between holding a job and spending time with people we love all add to the mix.

This is the twenty-fifth book in the Leaphorn/Chee/Manuelito series, and I believe my Dad would be proud to see the characters he loved still at work!
Learn more about the book and author at Anne Hillerman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Song of the Lion.

The Page 69 Test: The Tale Teller.

Q&A with Anne Hillerman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Bitter Roots"

Ellen Crosby is a former reporter for The Washington Post, foreign correspondent for ABC News Radio and economist at the U.S. Senate. She has spent many years overseas in Europe, but now lives in Virginia with her husband. She is the author of the Wine Country mysteries and the Sophie Medina mysteries.

Crosby applied the Page 69 Test to Bitter Roots, the latest title in the Wine Country mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Quinn and I managed to park the Jeep in one of the last remaining spots on the large field behind the Red Fox Inn, which was where everyone parked for all of our big events until it filled up and you were forced to retreat to other fields outside of town and take a shuttle bus. We followed a happy, chattering crowd of families, couples, and friends heading toward South Madison Street, which had been blocked off from traffic and was now lined with small white tents where local artists displayed paintings, photos, jewelry, and sculpture for sale. The weather was glorious, one of God’s best days when you feel lucky to be alive, and for the millionth time I prayed for weather exactly like this next Saturday.
On page 69 of Bitter Roots, Lucie Montgomery and her fiancé winemaker Quinn Santori are taking a break from vineyard business to attend an arts festival in the nearby village of Middleburg, Virginia after a morning of heartache and bad news. A huge swath of grapevines is dead and must be ripped out and replanted, a loss of nearly $200,000 and three years of hard work. Lucie is angry at Jackson Landau, the nursery owner who provided the vines; she and a number of other vineyard owners are certain Landau was aware they might be diseased when he sold them. On page 70, she and Quinn run into Landau whose wife is one of the festival organizers and there is an ugly altercation. Landau refuses to claim responsibility for the vines after three years in Lucie and Quinn’s care; he also blames climate change for the withered vines.

Lucie suspects Quinn is not entirely on board with her and believes her fiancé has taken the side of Eve Kerr, a stunning blonde—and a Californian like Quinn—who also works with Jackson Landau. Eve seems to have persuaded Quinn that Landau’s, a family business with relationships that span generations, would never deliberately betray their clients. What troubles Lucie—and worries Quinn—is that Eve, who arranged to secretly meet Quinn the previous evening, has now disappeared. With their wedding only a week away, Lucie tries to stifle jealous feelings. But when Eve turns up dead and Quinn becomes a suspect, she wonders what her fiancé is hiding from her—and why.

I find the Page 69 Test to be an intriguing experiment—thank you, Marshall McLuhan!—but I am also a firm believer in hooking a reader from the first sentence (or possibly the first paragraph), which has to be a riveting attention-grabber. Here’s the opening of Bitter Roots:

"Julia Child once said that every woman should have a blow­torch in the kitchen. To that I would add: and a chain saw in the garden. Or the vineyard, should you own one. Blowtorches and chain saws say you’re a woman who means business. They say don’t mess with me."
Visit Ellen Crosby's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Vineyard Victims.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2022

"Girl in Ice"

Erica Ferencik is the award-winning author of the acclaimed thrillers The River at Night, Into the Jungle, and Girl in Ice, which The New York Times Book Review declared “hauntingly beautiful.”

Ferencik applied the Page 69 Test to Girl in Ice and reported the following:
Page 69 of Girl in Ice drops the reader into linguist Val Chesterfield’s early moments at the remote climate research station off the coast of Greenland, where a young girl has thawed from a glacier speaking a language no one understands.

Skipping to page 69 of Girl in Ice would be an eerily informative experience. You’d get the feels about Val’s sense of isolation in this desolate landscape. The other researchers, a pair of married marine scientists, are off on the ice cap, and Val is left alone with Sigrid – the thawed girl – and Jeanne, the mechanic, all day, for days on end. Val’s only job is to try to communicate with Sigrid, and she’s been failing miserably at it, since the girl is – for whatever reason – rejecting Val at every turn.

We learn that Val’s anxiety is ratcheting up; she’s begun to ration her pills.

But on this page – a breakthrough – Sigrid takes the lead by wrapping herself in warm clothes and – by her actions – she begs Val to let her go outside. She also says a word in her own language.

In an eerie comment, Jeanne remarks that (Sigrid) “just wants to go home…” What does Jeanne know about Sigrid that we don’t? Jeanne also uses the last pint of cream “before powder only” adding to the sense of isolation.
Visit Erica Ferencik's website.

Q&A with Erica Ferencik.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

"Atomic Anna"

Rachel Barenbaum's debut novel, A Bend in the Stars, was a Boston Globe bestseller, a New York Times Summer Reading Selection and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection.

Barenbaum is a prolific writer and reviewer whose work has appeared in the LA Review of Books, the Tel Aviv Review of Books, LitHub, and DeadDarlings. She is an Honorary Research Associate at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University and is a graduate of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator. She is also the founder of Debut Spotlight and the Debut Editor at A Mighty Blaze. In a former life she was a hedge fund manager and a spin instructor. She has degrees from Harvard in Business and Literature and Philosophy.

Barenbaum applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Atomic Anna, and reported the following:
Atomic Anna is a novel that tells the story of three generations of women who work together to build a time machine that they use to stop the Chernobyl accident and save their family. The women are Anna, Molly and Raisa and they are grandmother, mother and daughter. Page 69 jumps right into the middle of one of Anna’s first jumps in time. She travels from the Soviet Union in 1975 to America in 1991 and finds her daughter, Molly, only Anna hasn’t seen Molly in decades. She gave Molly up for adoption and sent her to America for a better life. In the scene on page 69 Anna finds Molly’s adopted mother and learns that Molly has had a hard life, that she’s a recovering addict – that Anna can’t just jump into the future and ask her daughter to help. Family isn’t that easy. She will have to work to save them, and to gain their trust so they will help her with the time machine.

The Page 69 Test works perfectly for Atomic Anna because it reveals that while my characters time travel, the book is really about their love for one another, family, and relationships. The section shows Anna confronting Yulia, the woman who adopted Anna’s child – the woman who was also Anna’s first love. It reveals Anna is rattled by seeing Yulia and also by learning that her daughter struggled with drugs and with America. Even more, it shows how Anna created an imagined life for Yulia and Molly in her mind, but that all she’d imagined was wrong. She thought they would live happily ever after, and on this page she learns that wasn’t the case. It stops her and makes her realize her journey won’t be as easy as she had thought it would be.

On the surface it’s easy to say Atomic Anna is about science and the quest to build a time machine but the true heart of the story revolves around Anna learning about her mistakes and trying to fix them – and that’s exactly what we see in this section. These aren’t mistakes around her work or time travel, they are mistakes in her personal life, with the people she loves. On this page, we see her understanding of the past shift, and how much it hurts her to see she’s failed her family. We also learn about two men who have intersected with the women in this book – Viktor and Yasha – and that they are unwelcome. It makes us wonder what happened and where they are and what Anna intends to do next.

The passage leaves us hoping Anna, Molly and Yulia will be OK but not knowing how or what might happen. To learn more, we have to keep reading and continue time traveling.
Visit Rachel Barenbaum's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Bend in the Stars.

The Page 69 Test: A Bend in the Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

"Crimson Summer"

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She's a winner of the RWA's Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers' Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.

Graham applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Crimson Summer, and reported the following:
Crimson Summer is the second book in a four-part series – with, of course, all books standing alone—with focus on murders committed with the killers focused on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Danger in Numbers began the series.)

I think it began with my fascination on the human mind—and what we believe. Let’s face it, we all tend to believe what we want to believe. And that can defy fact, science, and simple logic.

But the mind games involved in what people do can be terrifying. Growing up, the news gave us information on terrible things that had occurred involving cults.

One of my main protagonists, now an elite FBI agent with a specialty in cults, spent part of his childhood in one. His parents weren’t bad people—and when he discovered the body of a dear friend who had dared disagree with the leader’s dogma, his parents immediately and yet with care and discretion sought help from the FBI.

Yet, is there truly a madman out there creating a team of horsemen to become the ultimate power him or herself once his Apocalypse has been created?

Or is it someone else with an agenda having nothing to do with religion at all?
Amy pulled out her phone, but before she could dial, it rang.

She didn’t recognize the number; there was no caller I.D.

She didn’t answer with her name or identify herself as FDLE. She just said hello.

For a minute, there was nothing.

Then a soft chuckle sounded.

“Hello? No, ‘Larson, here,’ or ‘Amy Larson, FDLE,’ or perhaps ‘Special Agent Larson’?”

“Who are you and what do you want?” she said.

The soft chuckle sounded again. “I just wanted to hear the sweet and melodic sound of your voice, Special Agent Larson. Do you like to ride? Do you ever go horseback riding, Amy? Horses are such amazing animals, carrying even greater amazement on their backs, such as those with power. Oh! Yes, I called for more than a quiz on horseback riding.”

“Why did you call?” Amy asked, shaking her head at Aidan who was looking at her worriedly. She lifted a finger for him to wait before speaking.

“To hear your voice,” the caller said.

“Okay. You heard my voice.”

“Such an intriguing woman,” the caller said.

“You’ve heard my voice; why did you call?”

“Oh, well. I thought I should let you know that red horses have a great time in New York City. A really, really, great time!”

The line went dead in her hands.
If readers pop over to page 69, it certainly gives a taste of what is happening.
Visit Heather Graham's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 4, 2022

"Delphine Jones Takes a Chance"

Beth Morrey‘s work has been published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies and shortlisted for the Grazia Orange First Chapter competition. She lives in London with her family and Polly the dog.

Morrey's debut novel is The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

Morrey applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Delphine Jones Takes a Chance, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…something sickly alcoholic, we danced some more but by then the floor was sticky underfoot, and I didn’t want him to walk me home because I ashamed of our shabby basement flat when he lived in a big house on the edge of the park. But none of that mattered, when I could lie in bed later, winding a snaky curl around my finger, glorying in the image of us trussed together in the shadow of the library.

Teenagers sneak and mumble and avoid, but there was always a moment when you just wanted to cast off the cloak and be seen and heard. I really wanted to tell someone about that night, that perfect night, when everything went right. Not Sheba or Marni, because my interactions with them were always laced with sarcasm, loaded with studied nonchalance. Someone who would really listen, squeeze my hand tight and say, It sounds like he’s really into you! but follow it up with You will be careful, won’t you? There was no one to say it, which was maybe why I wasn’t careful at all, why I thought the golden glow would last, and cocoon me. So I didn’t shade my eyes, checking for pitfalls. I just blundered into the light, not looking where I was going, dazzled and entirely blind.
I’m fascinated by this format. It works! Page 69 of Delphine Jones Takes a Chance is brief – it ends a chapter so only takes up half a page. And yet that page is so revealing.

The passage recounts a key episode in Delphine’s romantic history, detailing an encounter with her first boyfriend Adam– a relationship that impacts on her whole existence, or so she believes. It highlights the fact that she is lacking emotional support, with both parents absent. It reveals an important theme of the book, which is class – Adam’s background is privileged, whereas Delphine always struggled for money and was denied opportunities as a result. And it foreshadows the derailment of Delphine’s life aged sixteen – the book is about how she comes back from that.

The final sentence on the page indirectly references a Plato quote about bewilderments of the eye – how going into the light, or coming out of it, can be equally disorienting. Delphine is scared of taking a chance, of risking going out into the open and broadening her horizons, in case it goes wrong, and she has to retreat again. The quote is used in the introduction to Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, which Delphine reads – she sees herself as the protagonist Charlie Gordon, her mind opening up, but in danger of being closed down.

There’s a later line of dialogue, uttered by Delphine’s friend Letty: ‘what are we but a series of evolutions?’ I think if I had to choose just one line that sums up the book then it would be that. But second place could go to ‘there was always a moment when you wanted to cast off the cloak and be seen and heard.’ The book is all about Delphine daring to cast off the cloak.
Visit Beth Morrey's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Beth Morrey & Polly.

The Page 69 Test: The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

My Book, The Movie: The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

Q&A with Beth Morrey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 2, 2022

"Dead Wind"

Tessa Wegert is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec near the border of Vermont and now lives with her husband and children in a hundred- year-old house in Coastal Connecticut. Wegert writes mysteries set in Upstate New York while studying martial arts and dance, and is the author of the Shana Merchant series, beginning with Death in the Family.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dead Wind, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I was frustrated, and disheartened. Every path was a dead end, each avenue blocked. Homicide cases involving dumped bodies were rarely closed overnight, but something about this one made me leery. Somehow, I felt like I was being played.
While investigating the murder of Hope Oberon, whose body was found next to a wind turbine on a Canadian Island just north of New York State, plainclothes detective Shana Merchant can’t stop thinking about Blake Bram. Bram follows her, both literally and figuratively, throughout this series, and in Dead Wind, Shana believes the serial murderer she’s been hunting for years could well be responsible for the death of a prominent local. As she delves deeper into the homicide, though, Shana discovers that Bram isn’t the potential threat in the quiet Thousand Islands town she now calls home. Dead Wind finds her struggling to suss out the truth both about her community’s buried secrets and the breadth of Bram’s crimes.

Page 69 of Dead Wind plunks readers straight into the action of an active homicide investigation, but it’s also reflective of protagonist Shana Merchant’s addled state of mind and sense of self-doubt. Can she summon the acuity needed to navigate this baffling new case?
Visit Tessa Wegert's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Dead Season.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Season.

Q&A with Tessa Wegert.

--Marshal Zeringue