Monday, May 30, 2022

"Murder on the Spanish Seas"

Wendy Church has been a bartender, tennis instructor, semiconductor engineer, group facilitator, nonprofit CEO, teacher, PhD researcher, and dive bar cleaner. Her first suspense novel, Murder on the Spanish Seas, is set on a luxury cruise in the Iberian peninsula, and introduces amateur sleuth Jesse O’Hara, whose adventures are partly informed by Wendy’s expertise and international travels.

Church applied the Page 69 Test to Murder on the Spanish Seas and reported the following:
On page 69 of Murder on the Spanish Seas the main protagonist, Jesse O’Hara, and her best friend, Sam, have disembarked from their cruise ship and are leaving the terminal for a day drip into Seville. The page shares some of their driver Tano’s history of the region, and readers experience some of Jesse’s internal dialogue, which includes references to Bugs Bunny. There is also mention of a dangerous physical interaction that Jesse has recently had with a Russian, Boris, as well as a group of protestors blocking the driveway out of the terminal.

Browsers opening to this page would get a pretty good idea of the book, as it includes many of the elements that make up the essence of the novel: travel, danger, and the snarky running internal dialogue of the introverted, profane and often inebriated Jesse O’Hara.

The scientist in me wanted to know how other pages would fare with this test. I found that of the pages ending in “9”, most of them worked well. For example, page 19 describes a slapping incident between two Russians in a bar; page 29 finds Jesse O’Hara surprised by enjoying her time with Ander, causing her to think, “I wasn’t used to smiling this much, and my face felt funny. It reminded me of various professional conferences I’d gone to over the years, where the muscles in my face responsible for ‘smiling’, and ‘pretending to care’, became fatigued from overuse.” On page 129 the mysterious and potentially dangerous backpack makes an appearance, alongside the ineptitude of the ship’s security officer, who inspires Jesse to recount all of the Yiddish words for loser, and how strange it is that so many of them begin with the “schm” sound – schmendrick, schlemiel, schmuck, schmo.
Visit Wendy Church's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 27, 2022

"Exit Strategy"

Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer and the author of numerous books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of January Magazine.

Richards applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Exit Strategy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
There was more of this: bullshit words intended to help people who feel they are missing essential pieces find the parts of themselves they don’t have easy access to. “Everything you have dreamed about is possible. Everything desired can be yours.”

I sit there for a minute, letting the words sink in.

Everything desired can be yours.

Not everything.

Inexplicably, I feel an old sadness choke my heart, but it doesn’t last long. Then I push it aside. It’s a feeling that can drown you if you let it. I know. I’ve nearly drowned here before.
I’m so disappointed this time! It has been my honor on several occasions in the past to do the Page 69 Test and it has always provided a magically accurate snapshot of the book under discussion. This time? Nada. On page 69 of Exit Strategy we’re basically (metaphorically) in traffic: we’re at one place and heading another. If you read it in isolation (and don’t feel you need to) it doesn’t give any real insight to the rest of the book.

Except. When I think about it, it hints at the darkness of spirit we find the protagonist in this time. The sort of hopelessness that has come to her when she thinks about what has happened to her; when she considers her past and tries to get a hint about what’s ahead. Or even, is anything ahead? There are times in Exit Strategy when she contemplates that, as well. She thinks maybe she’s come too far. That there might not be a future for her at all.

I think Exit Strategy might be my darkest book yet. A lot of early readers have described the book as cerebral, and I guess that’s true. The action in the book focuses on a new kind of assignment: she’s supposed to protect, not kill the brilliant and beautiful CTO of a unicorn company. So that’s the main thread. Subplots focus on our protagonist, where she is spiritually. The book fills in a bit more of her backstory, too. And some of that backstory fills in the darkness. In a very beautiful review, the novelist Clea Simon described Exit Strategy’s main character as “wounded, laconic, and utterly irresistible.” Wounded and laconic? Yes. And nearly broken. And that’s just book two!
Visit Linda L. Richards's website.

My Book, The Movie: Endings.

The Page 69 Test: Endings.

Q&A with Linda L. Richards.

Writers Read: Linda L. Richards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

"Wild Prey"

Brian Klingborg has both a B.A. (University of California, Davis) and an M.A. (Harvard) in East Asian Studies and spent years living and working in Asia. He currently works in early childhood educational publishing and lives in New York City. Klingborg is the author of two non-fiction books on Shaolin kung fu; Kill Devil Falls; and the Lu Fei China mystery series (Thief of Souls and Wild Prey.)

He applied the Page 69 Test to Wild Prey and reported the following:
In Wild Prey, Lu Fei’s search for a missing woman leads him all the way from the city of Harbin in Northern China to the hidden lair of a warlord in the jungles of Myanmar.

On page 69, he has tracked the woman’s phone to a Chinese seaside resort town before the trail goes dead.
The custodian unlocks the door, and inside, Lu finds shelves chockablock with old coats, scarves, hats, toys, earphones, glasses, and a huge bin of cell phones.

“This many?” he says in dismay.

“People lose phones all the time,” the custodian answers. “Or some idiot steals one, and then discovers he can’t unlock it, so he just tosses it.”

Lu sorts through the bin, parsing out the Xiaomi models, of which there are more than a dozen, but none are the same model as Meirong’s. Another dead end.

He thanks the custodian and finds a noodle stand in the station for a quick lunch. As he eats, he notices a dirty and disheveled old lady digging through a nearby garbage can. He watches as she plucks out bits of uneaten food, recyclables, and anything else that catches her fancy. He sets down his chopsticks and approaches her with a friendly smile.

“Hello, Auntie. How are you today?”

The old lady gives him a suspicious look and starts to gather up her junkyard treasures and put them in a rolling cart.

“Don’t be afraid,” Lu says. “I mean you no harm. I’m looking for something. A phone that may have been thrown away last Saturday. Perhaps you found it in one of the garbage bins?”

She mutters to herself and starts to wheel the cart away. He catches up. “There’s a reward.”

The old lady stops. “Reward?” Her expression turns cagey. “How much?”

“Er . . . a hundred yuan?”

The old lady snorts and continues walking.

“One fifty,” Lu says. He trots after her. “Two hundred. Final offer.”

The old lady stops. “Let me see the cash.”

“Really?” Lu sighs. He counts out two hundred. The old lady holds out a grimy hand. “No,” Lu says. “I don’t even know if you have the phone.”

“I have lots of phones. Lots!”
While this passage doesn’t feature any important plot points, it does underscore that Wild Prey, for all its detours into exotic locales, deep undercover work, endangered animal trafficking, and jungle fighting, is at its heart a story about Lu Fei’s quest to discover the fate of an innocent young woman.

It also shows something of my intention to make the setting intrinsic to the action and flow of the narrative. While Wild Prey is a crime novel and thriller, it is also a window into a different place and culture. Every person Lu Fei encounters, every big city or remote village he passes through, every plot twist is in some way informed by the cultural backdrop where it takes place.
Visit Brian Klingborg's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wild Prey.

Q&A with Brian Klingborg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 23, 2022

"Two Nights in Lisbon"

Chris Pavone is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Expats, winner of the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel, The Accident, The Travelers, and The Paris Diversion.

His novels have appeared on the bestseller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and IndieNext; have won both the Edgar and Anthony awards, and have been shortlisted for the Strand, Macavity, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize; are in development for film and television; and have been translated into two dozen languages.

Pavone applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Two Nights in Lisbon, and reported the following:
On page 69, the protagonist Ariel Pryce has shown up at a restaurant to confront two Lisbon detectives. Earlier in the day, she'd gone to the station to report that her husband John seemed to be missing, not answering his phone or texts, and she was worried. It’s now dinnertime, and over the course of this day Ariel had become more and more desperate, then she discovered evidence that something bad has happened to John, which in this scene she presents to the police, who remain dubious.

This passage is perfectly representative of the book. Here we see the disbelieved, frustrated, and increasingly panicked protagonist, begging to be believed. We see the compassionate but nevertheless skeptical authorities who can’t really help her. We see a piece of physical evidence that something has gone awry with John’s day, but it’s unclear what. We also see a bit of Lisbon atmosphere in the restaurant where this scene takes place, the tempo of a Portuguese day, typical cuisine, a glimpse of lifestyle, all of which are important to the way I try to transport readers.

Less overtly, we also see a hint of gender-dynamic conflict, which is one of the core themes of the book. But we also see a subversion of the expectation: one of these cops is a man who doesn’t believe this woman, but his disbelief isn’t because he’s misogynist, or ungenerous--he’s neither--but rather because Ariel’s predicament is simply not that sufficiently compelling.

This conversation also presents the full panoply of Ariel’s problems at this point in the story: not only is her husband is missing, and no one believes that he's in trouble, but maybe she doesn’t know John as well as she should. There’s an atmosphere of tension, and fear, and the sense that time is running out. As the narrative later unfolds, the reader will come to understand that Ariel is facing other serious problems as well, but on page 69, this scene reflects the whole world of her troubles, which turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Visit Chris Pavone's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Chris Pavone & Charlie Brown.

The Page 69 Test: The Expats.

The Page 69 Test: The Accident.

The Page 69 Test: The Travelers.

The Page 69 Test: The Paris Diversion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 21, 2022

"Mercury Rising"

R.W.W. Greene is based in New Hampshire, USA. He is a frequent panelist at the Boskone Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention in Boston, and his work has seen daylight in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Jersey Devil Press. Greene keeps bees, collects typewriters, and lives with his writer/artist spouse Brenda and two cats. He is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association of America.

Greene applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mercury Rising, and reported the following:
Sixty-six, sixty-seven, sixty-eight… Sixty-nine!


Yeah, this test is not going to work on Mercury Rising. Page 69 is a section marker, a mostly blank page containing the twice-body-copy-sized words:


Squeeze Box

January 27, 1976

I suppose some meaning can be made of it. A reader would get the timeframe of the book. ‘Squeezebox’ as one word is slang for an accordion or a concertina. As two words, it's the title of a song by The Who. The lyrics are rife with sexual innuendo. There are no accordions in the book, but neither does Pete Townshend make an appearance.

There are aliens in the book, or at least the fear of them. There is a fair amount of paranoia in there, but it has nothing to do with the Cold War. In fact, there was no Cold War … because of the aliens. No Vietnam War, either, and the Kennedys didn’t die. Cleveland did, though. It might have been aliens, but it also might have been Nixon. Opinions are mixed. The protagonist of the book is pretty sure it was Nixon, mostly because Duke Carlotta, the crime boss he works for said so, and when he and a killer named Prick go to put the squeeze on-

Wait. Squeeze? Maybe this Page 69 thing works better than I thought!
Visit R.W.W. Greene's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2022

"Dreaming of Flight"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dreaming of Flight, and shared the following:
From page 69:
He literally ran through his egg route after school the following day, jogging down the sidewalks. Jumping over the cracks.

When he had sold the last dozen, he sprinted to Marilyn’s house, where he stood on her landing, panting desperately.

He knocked, still panting.

He leaned his hands on his own knees and gasped, and gasped, and gasped.

When he looked up, she was looking down on him.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, this is odd.”

He wanted to answer, but he couldn’t speak yet.

She looked past him and down the concrete stairs, probably to the spot where his empty wagon sat. He didn’t bother to look around to be sure what she was seeing. He was too busy breathing.

“Well, I know you didn’t come to sell me eggs,” she said.

He shook his head, still not ready to speak.

“It hasn’t been a week, and besides, you’re all out.”

Stewie opened his mouth, but no words came through. Only noisy, raspy breathing.

“I’ll just wait here until you’re ready to explain yourself,” she said.

She leaned one shoulder against the frame of the open door. Then she reached into her skirt pocket and absentmindedly pulled out a peppermint candy. It was the kind with the swirls of red in an otherwise white disk. She unwrapped the cellophane and popped the candy into her mouth. Then, as though suddenly remembering something she had forgotten, she reached again into the same pocket and produced another candy, which she held in his direction.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, and took it from her. His words, though breathy, sounded intelligible.

“Now how about you tell me to what I owe this visit?”

“Pardon, ma’am?”

“It means ‘What brings you here?’”

“Oh. That. I thought you might…”
I realize this page ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I didn’t mean to do that. What Stewie is trying to say is that he’s worried about her memory. She recently started a grease fire by leaving something on the stove, and he wants to be around to look after her. He tends to want to fix everything and everybody and make sure nothing ever goes wrong, so this is something he really can’t let go.

I do think it represents the novel fairly well in that both characters come through, considering it’s just one page. It shows off Stewie’s neediness and obsessive tendencies, and Marilyn’s prickliness and unwillingness to make things much easier for him.

There’s a bit more action and plot than comes through on this page, but this is characteristic of the relationship building that takes place. And really, if you’re not a fan of relationship building in fiction, this book is probably not for you. Most of what I write is character-driven and pretty quiet, though perhaps not as much as page 69 of Dreaming of Flight might lead you to believe.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

The Page 69 Test: My Name is Anton.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Perfect Things.

The Page 69 Test: Boy Underground.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

"Summer Love"

Nancy Thayer's many novels include Summer House, The Hot Flash Club, Beachcombers, Island Girls, The Guest Cottage, The Island House, and Secrets in Summer.

Her books concern the mysteries and romance of families and relationships: marriage and friendships, divorce and love, custody and step parenting, family secrets and private self-affirmation, the quest for independence and the normal human hunger for personal connections.

Thayer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Summer Love, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of Summer Love, four friends are at a beach party at night on Nantucket Island, drinking beer, dancing to loud music, having fun after a week of hard work. Sheila gets harassed by a drunken guy, and Nick, handsome and way out of Sheila’s league, comes to rescue her.

Sheila thinks: She never could understand why Nick rescued her. She knew he wasn’t romantically interested in her, but at least they were becoming friends, and she’d never really had a man friend before.

This test works almost perfectly. In Summer Love, four people in their twenties come to Nantucket to work for the summer. They live in the same basement dorm, get different jobs, and come from very different backgrounds. But over the summer, they become friends. Their lives change, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly. The test page could lead to a flashback in time, to the beginning of the book where the four first meet each other and awkwardly realize these are the people they’ll share the summer with.

This summer is a journey, and Sheila, Nick, Ariel, and Wyatt find their lives transformed in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
Learn more about the book and author at Nancy Thayer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Summer House.

The Page 69 Test: Beachcombers.

The Page 69 Test: The Guest Cottage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 15, 2022

"Mustique Island"

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the novels Mustique Island; Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico; and Le souffle des feuilles et des promesses (Pride and Providence).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She hosted the NPR WSNC Radio monthly program “Bookmarked with Sarah McCoy” and previously taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.

She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, their dog Gilly, and cat Tutu in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

McCoy applied the Page 69 Test to Mustique Island and reported the following:
From page 69:
No judgment, condemnation, spite, or shame. Just a woman partaking of God’s creation. How could that be wrong?

She slipped the straps of her dress over her shoulders and held it over her breasts a beat, Harry’s words—wobbly bits—resurfacing. She closed her eyes and listened to the tumble and crash of the cresting waves until the sound drowned out all thoughts. She let the dress drop then and walked forward into the surf. Bubbles tickled up from her belly button. The wind swept her hair back and kissed her lips briny. She put her arms out to either side, bare-chested to the horizon. The sun spread over skin that had never seen its light and warmed her like a giant ember.

You are beautiful, she thought to the sea, the heavens, and higher.

So lost in the moment, she’d forgotten Patrick until his shouts drew her to the shore.

“. . . too far!”

The water’s roar and the thudding of her heart made it hard to understand what he was saying. She turned over her shoulder to hear better.

“That’s it.” He’d come in knee-deep, angling his camera. “Stay like that.”

The waves crested frothy over the coral, fizzing up like champagne. She reached forward to let the bubbles buoy her and liked knowing Patrick was behind. He wasn’t an anchor like Harry had been. Rather, he felt like the halyard on a sail. The sand beneath her feet gave, and she sank into the silkiness of the current’s push and pull.

“I got it!” he said.

But she remained facing the blue on blue, transfixed by a beauty that had nothing to do with her. This was something bigger. Beauty that could not be reproduced. Beauty that defied lineage and surpassed human comprehension. It overwhelmed her with its power and for the first time in her life, she honestly prayed.
This Page 69 Test is some kind of soothsayer mojo. It absolutely applies.

In this scene, my protagonist Willy May Michael walks off the beach of Mustique Island into the ocean so that her new ‘friend’ Patrick Lichfield (a famous photographer) can take her picture. It’s glamour and sex and beachy. But it’s so much more than that, too. It’s a woman feeling all the dichotomies faced in her era (1972) and the ones readers continue to face now (2022): the pride and shame in our bodies, the pleasure and sorrow in our emotions, the longing and loathing in our own desires, the push and pull of the world’s forces. Regardless of gender, what all of us really want is to be fully seen and accepted. That’s the vital marrow of life and the most beautiful part of existence. True freedom is being able to fully love and being fully loved.

Page 69 gives great insight into Willy May and the book as a whole. It’s about finding yourself while losing yourself. It isn’t all one or all the other either. Both are necessary. The shift of these forces is as much a part of the natural world as the tides.

Mustique Island is an escape that doesn’t just send the reader sailing into the frothy waves. It has a compass that I hope navigates readers to new heart territories.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Sarah McCoy and Gilbert.

The Page 69 Test: The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

The Page 69 Test: The Baker's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's Children.

The Page 69 Test: Marilla of Green Gables.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 12, 2022

"Comeuppance Served Cold"

Marion Deeds was born in Santa Barbara, California and moved to northern California when she was five. She loves the redwoods, the ocean, dogs and crows.

She’s fascinated by the unexplained, and curious about power: who has it, who gets it, what is the best way to wield it. These questions inform her stories.

Deeds applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Comeuppance Served Cold, and reported the following:
In Comeuppance Served Cold, most of page 69 is a song, a hate-filled street-chant aimed at the local shape-shifters.

Comeuppance Served Cold is a fantasy noir novella set in 1929 Seattle. Dolly White, the protagonist, has been hired by a powerful, wealthy man to keep his daughter from drinking and taking drugs until her arranged marriage occurs. The family has enemies, and one person in particular is very interested in the behavior of the rebellious daughter. Dolly has goals of her own, but she’s keeping them to herself.

On page 69 she and her charge, Fiona, are on their way to prepare for the engagement party when they pass a street demonstration against shape-shifters.

The chauffeur obligingly sings a couple of verses from the chant, which contain, among other things, references to weapons. Dolly questions the chauffeur about why shape-shifters are targeted in Seattle, and gets answers that mix casual bigotry with flat-out untruths, although it’s clear the driver believes them. The weapons mentioned come back into the story later on.

While page 69 doesn’t show the reader too much about the plot, it illuminates one of my themes perfectly. In the story I look at racism and hatred, specifically the deliberate fomenting of hatred against a group solely for the political or material benefit of others. Throughout the book Dolly has heard slurs against shape-shifters, but page 69 is a set-piece of the manipulation. I hope that Dolly’s skepticism also shows through—she’s not buying the shape-shifters-are-evil line for one little minute.

This page also shows us a bit of Fiona’s life and the household she was raised in. The reader sees why this young woman might have turned to alcohol and street-drugs. It’s clear Dolly’s going to be a disruption, and a big one.
Follow Marion Deeds on Twitter.

Writers Read: Marion Deeds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"The Last Queen"

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet, activist and teacher of writing. Her work has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing included in over 50 anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Bengali, Russian and Japanese; many have been used for campus-wide and city-wide reads. Several of her works have been made into films and plays. She lives in Houston with her husband Murthy and has two sons, Anand and Abhay.

Divakaruni applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Queen, and reported the following:
On page 69 the heroine, the beautiful Jindan, finds out from her brother Jawahar that her father Manna has lost a large sum of money gambling. Here is what happens next:
Today Manna seems oddly cheerful. He tells me that he has invited a guest to dinner. I’m surprised. He’s never done this before. He brings me fresh mutton and greens. Ghee to melt over the rotis.

“Cook properly, beti. It’s important.” He rummages through my clothes and tells me to wear the maroon lehenga, my prettiest outfit.

The guest, a merchant from a nearby town, is a portly man almost as old as Manna.

He doesn’t speak much, except to compliment my cooking and ask for seconds. After dinner, when the men go to the yard to talk, Jawahar creeps out and eavesdrops. Later he tells me that Manna was negotiating my marriage.

I’m aghast. “With that man? I won’t marry him! I can’t.”
Page 69 gives readers a good sense of the drama of the heroine’s early life, especially one important day. It intensifies an important conflict in the novel—between Jindan and her father, Manna—and gives the reader a glimpse into her strong personality, and her refusal to meekly accept whatever life hands to her. This quality will shape her life in the coming years.

The heroine of the novel, the beautiful Jindan, is in love with the king, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, for whom her father Manna works as a dog-trainer. But at this point she is unsure of the king’s feelings for her though he had shown a great deal of interest in her a while back. Since then, he has been away on official business, and she has not heard from him.

Jindan’s father Manna (who does not believe the king is serious about his daughter) wants to marry her off to an old merchant for quick financial gain—the man has agreed to pay Manna’s debts.

Jindan refuses. This is a good indication of her character. Though young, she’s already strong-willed and unwilling to obey her father’s dictates. This quality will push her into many adventures as her life unfolds.
Learn more about the book and author at Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's website.

The Page 69 Test: Oleander Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 8, 2022

"An Imperfect Plan"

Addison McKnight is the pen name for Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells. After over a decade of writing nonfiction, their common interests in women’s emotions and the cultural obsession with perfection sparked an idea for their debut novel, An Imperfect Plan. With six jobs and six children between them, they wrote their first book on Saturday nights and on the sidelines of their children’s games. They reside in West Hartford, Connecticut with their families.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to An Imperfect Plan and reported the following:
Unbelievably, page 69 of An Imperfect Plan perfectly surmises the theme of the book.

An Imperfect Plan revolves around a woman who uses donor eggs to conceive her twin boys and doesn’t tell her husband. Greta O’Brien, a wealthy hedge-fund manager is forced to confront the making of her family when tragedy strikes her teenage sons.

The first sentence on page 69 of An Imperfect Plan is very telling. Readers will get a very accurate idea of the whole work as Greta shares her secret with her closest friend.

“He doesn’t know about the donor, and I am never telling him,” Great said, instantly regretting that she’d shared such a big secret with her friend.

The rest of the page is dialogue between Greta and her friend, Audrey, who tries to convince Greta to tell her husband such an important fact.

“It isn’t right” Audrey persisted.

Greta ultimately ignores her friend’s advice which leads to the twists and turns of Greta’s story of motherhood and a family that she built on lies. Greta’s story goes back and forth with Colette’s. Colette is the woman who at age 40 went back to have her frozen eggs implanted only to find that they were gone…without her consent, unbeknownst to her, she believes her ex-husband sold her frozen eggs. As the story unfolds, the two women’s lives intertwine and the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, ultimately ending with the truth setting both women free.
Visit Addison McKnight's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 6, 2022

"The Wild Life"

David Gordon was born in New York City. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. It was also made into a major motion picture in Japan. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Purple, and Fence, among other publications.

Gordon applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Wild Life, and reported the following:
The problem with playing this game with a thriller is the risk of giving away an important plot twist – and I have had to refrain once or twice with past books. This time is different. Here is page 69 in its entirety:
“Nah,” Fusco grunted. “Just something the FBI asked me to keep an eye out for involving foreign girls. Nothing important.”

“Damn Feebs should do their own work, right?”

“You said it,” Fusco mumbled, thanked him, and hung up. Then, while he printed the file out, he switched to his burner phone and called Gio.
Hmmm. One is tempted to jump to page 169, or 269, but fair is fair and while it won’t make much sense to a random browser this is actually an important bit of story, which does tell us a lot about the world of the novel. As some of you may know, The Wild Life is the fourth in a series of books about a strip club bouncer and ex-Special Ops vet named Joe who sidelines as a fixer for the bosses of the New York underworld, handling problems for which normal folks would call the police: suspected terrorists, bomb scares, or in this case, a serial killer preying on high-end sex workers. In this scene, Fusco is a police detective and he is talking to Fry, a fellow cop. What we know, and they don’t, is that they are both crooked cops. Fusco is a gambler, indebted to Gio Caprisi who is Joe’s boss too, and Fry, a vice cop, is on the payroll of one of Joe’s suspects. In other words, they are both lying and trying to manipulate each other. This reflects the world that these characters live in, thoroughly corrupt, from the top down, and when those in power are the biggest villains, individuals are left to make their own way, live by their own codes, and help each other, or not.

That said, I do recommend page 169 and 269, which are both pretty action-packed!
Visit David Gordon's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

The Page 69 Test: Mystery Girl.

The Page 69 Test: White Tiger on Snow Mountain.

The Page 69 Test: The Hard Stuff.

Q&A with David Gordon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 5, 2022

"Child Zero"

Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, the Michael Hendricks thrillers, and thirty-odd short stories in a variety of genres. His work has been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories, named a New York Times Editors' Choice, appeared on more than fifty year's best lists, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Holm applied the Page 69 Test to his new standalone biological thriller, Child Zero, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Even in the dim light of the squat’s lobby, Lucas looked worse than Brian remembered, pallid and dope-skinny. Truth be told, he didn’t smell too good, either, his breath and sweat tinged with the pungent scent of methamphetamine. He wore a dingy pair of matchstick jeans and a sleeveless undershirt yellowed at the edges. His lank hair had been cut into a haphazard mohawk some time ago and left to grow out. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, the flesh around them the color of a fading bruise.

“Sorry for the runaround,” he said, “but me and mine can never be too careful. We ain’t exactly paying rent on this place, and some of our business is . . . delicate.”

“Delicate?” Mat asked.

“He means illegal.”

“No, I mean delicate—but that don’t mean it ain’t both.” Lucas winked at Mat conspiratorially. “So, kid, you got a name?”

When Mat hesitated, Brian said, “Kid is fine for now.”

“Suit yourself,” Lucas replied. “You know he ain’t got no shoes on, right?”

“Gee, I hadn’t noticed. Thanks for calling it to my attention.”

“There’s no need to get snippy, dude. I thought maybe I could help, is all. What size shoe you take, kid?”

Mat looked to Brian, who nodded encouragingly. “Seven, I guess. Sometimes seven and a half.”

“But a grown-up seven, right? Not, like, kid-sized or whatever?”

“Yeah,” Mat replied. “I’m twelve,” he added, as if that clarified anything.

Lucas smiled. “Cool. I can work with that. Follow me.”
Okay, I had to cheat a little, because the opening paragraph of this excerpt straddles the page break between sixty-eight and sixty-nine, and features some table-setting that seems integral to the scene. I compensated by lopping off the last paragraph of page sixty-nine, because it likewise carries onto the next page.

That said, I’m pretty psyched with how Child Zero fares. I’ve made no bones about the fact that this book is a scientific thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton—but if you strip away the science, it’s essentially the story of a little kid with a big secret that some very dangerous people would do anything to learn.

Is that obvious from this excerpt? Probably not, but the scene provides some tantalizing hints. Who is this kid? Why is he barefoot? What the heck is he doing in some sketchy meth head’s squat?

If I have one reservation about this excerpt, it’s that it makes Child Zero sound more like a seedy noir than the mainstream thriller it actually is. Then again, I happen to like seedy noir, so I’ll take it.

Bottom line? If this passage was your cup of tea, or shot of whiskey, you’ll probably dig Child Zero… and if it wasn’t, you still might.

The kid’s name is Mateo, by the way, and he’s awesome—bright, scrappy, brave, and kind. If you wanna find out what happens to him next, you’re gonna hafta read the book.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killing Kind.

The Page 69 Test: Red Right Hand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 2, 2022

"Vigil Harbor"

Julia Glass's books of fiction include the best-selling Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award, and I See You Everywhere, winner of the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Other published works include the Kindle Single Chairs in the Rafters and essays in several anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Glass is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College. She lives with her family in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Glass applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Vigil Harbor, and reported the following:
My novel Vigil Harbor takes place twelve years in the future and is narrated by eight characters, each with a distinct voice and perspective, so open up at random to various pages and you may feel like you're looking at a series of different stories (in a way, you are, though they are tightly interconnected). Page 69 lands you inside a key memory of a key character, Connie McKenna, a wife and mother in her thirties whose only sibling was killed on a combat tour in Afghanistan, mere weeks after his father died of cancer. Here she recalls the tail end of her brother's funeral, over a decade earlier:
...I half wondered if they would applaud after the deafening gun salute. Equally repugnant and surreal to me were the Vigil Harbor colonial reenactors, our self-appointed "regiment"—seven of them, uninvited—who, at the start of the ceremony, staged a salute of their own, their ridiculous muskets aimed at the clouds. The smell of gunpowder, intensified by August heat, made me retch.

Afterward, as people walked to their cars, Reverend Chalmers stopped me and put a hand on my shoulder. He said, "Caleb gave his life for our country, and he rests now in the strong arms of a loving God."

I shrugged off the unwelcome hand and said, "He did not give his life. His life was taken." I saw my mother being helped into someone else's car by two friends who, like her, had been recently widowed.

I skipped the reception at the VFW. I drove to the big, bland sports bar in Knowles, where I knew that the afternoon regulars, intent on the Sox, would give me a wide berth. On the way out of town, only by happenstance, I drove most of the route Caleb and I walked together for the two years we overlapped at the High. The route takes you right past Memorial Park, a shady green lawn where slabs of marble and granite bear the names of boys cut down by the endless scythings of war. I never fully understood why Caleb enlisted (never mind re-enlisted), and as I drove past the park, I wondered if the statues and plinths and their conspiratorial message of manhood and duty and sacrifice had wormed its way into my brother's heart as he passed by twice a day going to and from school, a place he had longed to escape.

From the bar, I called my best friend from college. While I had frittered away the two years after graduation by working for a gig agency in Boston (trying to figure out what to do with my art-psych major) and cutting hair—a self-taught skill with which I'd earned pocket money since high school—Harold had found a bonafide job as the production manager of a newspaper in Traverse City, Michigan. When he moved there, it was nothing more to him than a thumbtack on a map, but he was willing to take his chances. And he loved it....
The town of Vigil Harbor, both its colorful colonial history and its rugged coastal topography, exerts a strong influence on those who live there. This is by no means a war novel, yet looking at page 69 in isolation reminded me that the legacy of America's many wars, along with the illusion of patriotic pride in a righteous might, is a theme woven throughout the book. Connie, her husband, and their eight-year-old son, though they live in what appears to be a secure, privileged community (so far mostly immune to the perils of the larger world) will be caught, by story's end, in the midst of an explosive crisis caused by wider political violence.
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--Marshal Zeringue