Monday, February 27, 2023


Though Molly Greeley earned a degree in English from Michigan State University, she spent a number of years working in cafes, law offices, and for insurance newspapers before finding the courage to write her first novel. Her work has been called "Intricate, masterly, and delightfully imaginative" (Library Journal), "Exquisite" (Austenesque Reviews), and "Nuanced" with a "hint of D.H. Lawrence" (BBC Culture). Her books have been Indie Next picks and have received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal.

She lives in northern Michigan with her husband and three children, and can often be found with her laptop at local coffee shops.

Greeley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Marvelous, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Catherine ate Papa's stories up like warm bread. They sustained her between his long trips abroad, though her mind creaked with hunger by the time he finally returned, laden with gifts for her and Maman. Gifts, and still more stories. He brought the world into their home, impossibly wide and smelling of river stink and road dust and spices.

He spoke of things both prosaic and astonishing: roads so riddled with holes they had to journey entirely over fields; a swindling spice seller. Twins born joined together at the waist, still living when Papa passed through their town and held aloft by the local priest as proof of their mother's heresy; already dead when he traveled back the same way.

A boy brought to court from a far-off, primitive country, the son of a savage king; a prince covered in hair like a dog, head to toe, a marvelous brew of human and animal who was welcomed by the French king, and then educated, civilized, tamed.
I'd say page 69 of Marvelous gives the reader a hint into one protagonist's - Catherine's - character; it shows, at least, something of her background and that she longs to know more of the world. It also introduces the reader to Pedro, the book's other protagonist, albeit obliquely, as he is the little hairy boy Catherine's father tells her about. The page hints as well at the culture of superstition in which the time period of the book is steeped. However, if a reader opened to this page without having read the book's description, they wouldn't have any sense of Marvelous as a historical take on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.
Visit Molly Greeley's website.

Q&A with Molly Greeley.

The Page 69 Test: The Heiress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 24, 2023

"Ripples in Time"

Julie McElwain is a national award-winning journalist. Her first novel, A Murder in Time, was one of the top 10 picks by the National Librarian Association for its April 2016 book list, and was selected as the mystery to read in 2016 by OverDrive Inc., a digital distributor serving more than 34,000 libraries around the world. The novel was also a finalist for the 2016 Goodreads' readers choice awards in the Sci-fi category, and made Bustle's list of 9 Most Addictive Mystery series for 2017. Town & Country magazine recently selected A Murder in Time as one of 35 best time travel books.

A Murder in Time has been optioned for television/movie development.

A Twist in Time and Caught in Time — the second and third installments of the In Time series — were released in April 2017 and July 2018, respectively. Both novels were selected by The National Librarian Association for their Must-Read lists. Betrayal in Time earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

McElwain applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel in the In Time series, Ripples in Time, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gritting her teeth, Kendra pushed forward, dodging sharp elbows and fingernails and even more vicious slaps as she began disentangling the ladies. Lady Evelyn’s chest heaved as Kendra shoved her back. The redhead cowered against the wall. She raised her arms to protect her face, sobbing hysterically.

“Stop it!” Kendra blocked Lady Evelyn from launching another attack.

McBride stepped forward to grasp Evelyn’s flailing arms. “Calm yourself, Lady Evelyn!”

“She stole my bracelet!” Lady Evelyn thrashed against his hold, her pale eyes blazing at the cringing woman. “Bran-faced bitch! Light-fingered trollop! You know she is, Mr. McBride!”

“That’s enough, Lady Evelyn!” McBride said sternly. “Will you be still?”

Lady Evelyn clenched her hands into fists. Her chest was rising and falling with quick breaths.

But at last, she nodded. McBride waited a few more seconds, to assure himself that she would obey, then released her to go to the weeping woman, gently helping her to her feet.

Kendra caught a glimpse of the face through the tangles of long red hair. Not a woman—more of a teenage girl, though she could be as old as twenty. Perhaps the same age as Lady Evelyn.

Cinnamon-colored freckles were scattered across a face now streaked with tears. Her body was boyishly thin in the plain beige gown that she wore.

“Come now, Miss Sybil.” McBride patted her awkwardly on the back. “Hush. You’re working yourself into a state.”

“She’s a sneak! A spy!” shouted Lady Evelyn

Kendra positioned herself between Lady Evelyn and the girl named Sybil, prepared to forcibly subdue Lady Evelyn if she had to. The commotion was drawing an audience. Several women wearing the same beige gowns as Sybil crowded the doorway. Two women had their hair hacked off in uneven tufts close to their scalps.

A burly young man pushed himself through the knot of women. “Do ye need help, Mr. McBride?”
Ripples in Time is the 6th installment of my genre-bending Kendra Donovan mystery series, which finds my time-traveling protagonist in a pivotal period. Kendra appears to have accepted her new life in the early 19th century, having recently agreed to marry Alec, the Marquis of Sutcliffe. Yet as her one-year anniversary of being transported to Regency England approaches, the FBI agent begins to believe there’s a chance to return to her own timeline. Even as she deals with this tantalizing possibility, Kendra becomes embroiled in a new mystery when the Earl of Craymore is mortally wounded on the Duke of Aldridge’s estate. The scene on page 69 takes place in the madhouse, where Craymore has had his sister, Lady Evelyn, committed. The asylum itself is a dark reminder of the horror that Kendra harbored when she first arrived in this era, terrified that she was going insane or would be thought insane if she revealed the truth about herself. While this is only one step in the investigation, the scene is more representative of Kendra herself—fierce and fearless as she steps in to take control of a volatile situation.
Visit Julie McElwain's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caught in Time.

The Page 69 Test: Betrayal in Time.

Q&A with Julie McElwain.

The Page 69 Test: Shadows in Time.

Writers Read: Julie McElwain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

"The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights"

Kitty Zeldis is the pseudonym for a novelist and non-fiction writer of books for adults and children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY.

Zeldis applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights is the first page of a chapter told from Alice’s point of view; she’s reflecting on her relationship with Bea, and thinking about her past in New Orleans, and even before, in the small town of Belle Chasse, LA. Alice is a girl to whom much harm has been done; both her mother and sister were prostitutes and when her mother dies, she follows that sister, Helen, to a brothel. But though Helen thinks Alice will fetch a high price with Bea’s customers, Bea is adamant in her refusal to let that happen. Alice is relieved; she’s still so young, yearning for affection and stability but also fearful and guarded because of how she’s been hurt. She forms a bridge between Bea and Catherine, and plays a pivotal role in causing the terrible rift that comes between them and ultimately in their reconciliation. So a lot of the story hinges on what we learn in this chapter, and page 69 is where it all begins.
Visit Kitty Zeldis's website.

The Page 69 Test: Not Our Kind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 20, 2023

"Please Report Your Bug Here"

Josh Riedel worked at tech startups for several years before earning his MFA from the University of Arizona. His short stories have appeared in One Story, Joyland, and Passages North, among others. He lives in San Francisco, California.

Riedel applied the Page 69 Test to Please Report Your Bug Here, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You can trust them,” she said. “They’re like us, more interested in what you can do with tech than how much you can make.”

I appreciated Noma’s favorable view of me, but it wasn’t like I was that altruistic. I still wanted a paycheck. I still needed a paycheck. “What if the Corporation finds out?” I asked. “Any potential deal could fall through.” I worried if the Corporation couldn’t acquire us, they’d clone our app and crush us. We wouldn’t be the first.

“The Yarbons won’t leak this,” Noma assured me. “You’ll see when you meet them. I want you to visit, before an acquisition makes that less possible.” We made plans to ride BART together into West Oakland the next morning. “This is their warehouse,” she said, handing me her phone, open to a satellite image. The warehouse was nestled near the train tracks, close to the Port of Oakland, where cargo ships arrived with supplies from the other side of the world. I handed her phone back. “Meet at Civic Center?”

“Sure,” she said, sliding her phone into her pocket. “But be patient. I’m taking the N.”

- - -

Two N MUNIs passed Civic Center station, seventeen minutes apart, and Noma still hadn’t shown. I waited for a third before taking the escalator up to ground level to find reception. A few texts appeared.

Have to fly home for Dad’s bday

Mom scheduled party for today even tho we agreed on Sunday (his actual birthday)

Go without me

I emailed directions

Back on the BART platform, a group of Santa Clauses passed around a flask as we waited for the train. It wasn’t even lunchtime and they were already drunk. I boarded a different car. Coffee and vomit stains on the seats, toenails and stray hairs on the carpeted floor.

At Embarcadero, a woman about my age sat down next to me.
This is a fairly decent introduction to Please Report Your Bug Here. It features our narrator, Ethan, and Noma, his coworker at DateDate, a dating app startup, talking about whether they can trust a third-party--the Yarbons--with a secret. That seems fairly enticing! Unfortunately, if a browser didn't know anything else about the book, they wouldn't know from this page alone that the secret is that Ethan and Noma have discovered a mysterious bug in DateDate that transports people to other worlds, nor would they know that the Yarbons are members of an off-kilter art-tech collective called Yarbo.

Please Report Your Bug Here has been called a literary sci-fi thriller, but it's also a novel about work, and this section on page 69 highlights that. Ethan appreciates Noma's view of him, but he also admits that he needs his job to support himself. In other words, while he's interested in tech, that's not the only reason he's working in startups. He needs money to support himself and also to pay off the six-figure debt he amassed as an art history major at Stanford. This tension between work that you love and work that earns you money is central to the book. As is the fact that this is a San Francisco novel, which this brief section captures. Anyone who's ever lived in San Francisco knows that the N can take forever to arrive, that BART might not always be the cleanest place (though the new cars we have now are nice!), and that SantaCon is, well, kind of annoying!

All in all, I'd say the Page 69 Test works fairly well for my novel, touching on the fact that Ethan and Noma have a secret to keep, as well as the themes of money, work, and San Francisco.
Visit Josh Riedel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 18, 2023

"Boundless as the Sky"

Dawn Raffel's books include The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, two short story collections, the novel Carrying the Body, and a memoir. Her stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including O, The Oprah Magazine, NOON, BOMB, Conjunctions, Exquisite Pandemic, New American Writing, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, Best Small Fictions, and more.

Rafffel applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Boundless as the Sky, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Streamers and Signs

Shhh. Quiet.

High overhead, the Sky Ride is empty. The aerial cars hang vacant, inert. Birds perch on a few. In the heat of the day and in the sizzle of the night, thousands of people will rise above Chicago, the city’s gritty industry, the World’s Fair (“The Century of Progress”), the Great Lake, with views stretching north to Wisconsin and south to Indiana, the sweat and heavy perfume of one another’s bodies. Salt. Breath.
Marshall McLuhan must be smiling from the hereafter. Page 69 opens the second part of the book, which is the titular novella. The themes of flight, birds, and industrial “progress” pervade the whole book. For that matter, so do salt and breath.

Although Boundless as the Sky is fiction, it hews closely to real events from 1933. The Century of Progress, with its signature Sky Ride, was as described. People who couldn’t spare a dime during the Depression somehow scraped together the 25-cent admission fee for a vision of hope—a valentine to a future in which technology would solve our problems.

Additionally, the book was inspired, in part by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. While the first part contains a number of fictional metropolises, perhaps none is as fantastical as the World’s Fair, which was a kind of temporary city within the city of Chicago. Not only is The Century of Progress long gone, but the Chicago that existed in 1933 is now an invisible city, reposing underneath the surface, breathing through its pores. In hindsight, 1933 looks quite different than it did in the moment, but perhaps we find ourselves in a similar moment now.
Visit Dawn Raffel's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Strange Case of Dr. Couney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 16, 2023

"Playing Dead"

After losing their home during a California wildfire, Peggy Rothschild and her husband moved to the beach community of Los Osos along the central coast. When not at her desk or out walking, you can usually find her in the garden. Rothschild is a member of Sisters in Crime National and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Playing Dead, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“We train, then hangout. It’s only once a week now. I think Lupe likes having a set day because it guarantees she gets some social time, and since we call it a training session, it gives her an excuse to leave work on time. You know how she usually stays late—except on cooking class days. And now dog-training days.”

His brow furrowed.

“Don’t worry—I’m not charging her.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t think…” He cleared his throat. “I still can’t believe she and Andy didn’t know their dog was deaf until you told them.”

Surprised he was bringing up old news, I shrugged, then rose and took my empty plate to the kitchen.

Miguel’s phone burred. He checked the screen. “Sorry. Gotta take this.” He cleared his throat. “Vasquez here. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” After a long pause, he spoke again. “Okay. Be right there.” He tucked his phone inside his pocket and grabbed his jacket. “Gotta go. Got a lead on a stolen Maserati.”

The tension in his jaw was gone—as were the furrows crossing his forehead. Maybe pressure from the mayor was why Miguel seemed on edge. I set the plate in the sink and rounded the counter. “At least we did the uncivilized thing early.”

He bent down and gave me a quick kiss. “It’s no ‘We’ll always have Paris,’ but I can live with that.”

I snort-laughed and walked him to the door. The three dogs roused themselves to follow. “You be careful.”


After he’d left, the house felt empty—in spite of the dogs. I rinsed our plates and tucked them into the dishwasher. Drying my hands, I grabbed my laptop and sat cross-legged on the sofa. Harlow hopped up, followed by Noodle. Buster settled nearby on the floor. Surrounded as I was by canine goodwill, I still missed Miguel. Even if he’d been acting squirrelly tonight.
While the Page 69 Test does give the reader a taste of Molly’s personality and hints at her growing concern that her boyfriend is hiding something, there is no mention of the main mystery. (I was curious and checked the first book in the series, and found page 69 there was also more about the character than the mystery—so I’m consistent!)

The mystery begins when Molly and her two dogs attend Playtime Academy for their very first time and find a dead body. It doesn’t take long before Felicity, a fellow agility participant, is arrested for the murder and she asks Molly to take in her dog. Molly agrees, but that doesn’t make Felicity any more willing to explain what was behind a very public fight she had with the victim. In spite of Felicity’s stonewalling, Molly doesn’t think her new friend is a killer.

Molly’s friendship with her agoraphobic neighbor is growing—along with her canine family and dog-training service. Between looking after J. D., a variety of dogs, and a lost kitten, Molly delves into the victim’s life hoping to find a motive for murder. She also tries to pry the story behind the fight out of Felicity. As Molly talks to more people, she learns the victim was almost universally despised. The victim’s husband doesn’t seem to miss her and neither does her dog. As unlikeable as the woman may have been, Molly can’t give up until she’s cleared Felicity’s name.
Visit Peggy Rothschild's website.

Q&A with Peggy Rothschild.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

"When You Wish Upon a Lantern"

Gloria Chao is an acclaimed author and screenwriter. Her novels include When You Wish Upon a Lantern, Rent a Boyfriend, Our Wayward Fate, and American Panda. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths. When she’s not writing, you can find her on the curling ice, where she and her husband are world-ranked in mixed doubles.

Chao applied the Page 69 Test to When You Wish Upon a Lantern and reported the following:
From page 69:
I fill our teacups, and Liya taps the table twice with three fingers to thank me. It’s a tradition my family doesn’t do, but I’ve noticed that all the Huangs do it. The story goes that Qianlong, the emperor of the Qing dynasty, once traveled in disguise to observe his subjects. After he poured tea for his companions, custom dictated they should bow to him in thanks, but they couldn’t do this without blowing his cover. So instead, they tapped three fingers on the table, with two fingers representing prostrated arms and the third representing a bowed head. Now the tap translates to a silent thank-you to the person who pours tea. I believe it stems from Cantonese culture, and since Liya’s mother’s side is from Hong Kong, I’m guessing the tradition started with her and was picked up by her nainai and father too, even though they’re Taiwanese.

While sipping steaming teacups of oolong, Liya and I brainstorm ideas until Mr. Chen explodes up to our table with fanfare, clapping his hands and doing a little dance. From behind him, Jack appears with a glistening Peking duck.

Liya and I exchange excited glances.
This test works somewhat for my book. This is actually an important scene, but there isn’t enough context set up from just reading this page. However, it is a good representation of the book in that When You Wish Upon a Lantern features some of my favorite Chinese traditions, food, holidays, and folk tales, and you get a small taste of the first two here.

What’s actually happening in this section is that Liya and Kai have recently resumed their friendship after several months apart, and Liya has just confided in Kai that her family’s wishing lantern store is struggling. Together, they’re brainstorming ideas for how to increase revenue, part of which will be them teaming up to grant the wishes of the store’s customers in secret. This was a practice Liya had done with her beloved grandma until she passed away six months before the story began. And since Nainai was also family to Kai, he is the perfect person for Liya to resume the tradition with. By letting him in on this secret, she’s opening her heart up again. Soon, sparks will fly and Liya will realize she has a secret wish of her own that she doesn’t know how to grant—to be with Kai.
Visit Gloria Chao's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: American Panda.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

"Prize Women"

Caroline Lea grew up in Jersey in the United Kingdom. Her fiction and poetry have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the Fish Short Story Competition and various flash fiction prizes. She currently lives in Warwick with her two young children. Her work often explores the pressure of small communities and fractured relationships, as well as the way our history shapes our beliefs and behavior.

Lea applied the Page 69 Test to Prize Women, her fourth novel, and reported the following:
The story of Prize Women sounds outrageous: Toronto 1926 and a rich lawyer dies, leaving his vast fortune to the woman who can have the greatest number of babies in the ten years after his death. The fact that it is inspired by true events makes it even more shocking and it was certainly devastating for many of the women involved in the notorious ‘baby race’ who found themselves hounded by reporters and put on trial in a hugely-publicised court battle, but little of this drama is evident on page 69.

The page falls at the end of a chapter and focuses on the moment when Lily, a vulnerable outsider first meets wealthy, glamorous Mae. The difference in their circumstances is clear in the description of Mae, who is beautifully dressed and emerges from a sleek motor car, after Lily, dust-covered, travel-worn and homeless, has journeyed hundreds of miles by cart and train with her small child. The contrast between the two women’s worlds will be vital as both mothers find themselves caught up in the madness of the competition, but there is also a moment of connection that feels crucial: as different as the women’s circumstances are, they are both exhausted mothers, judged by their appearances and forced to conform to the ideal of being a ‘good’ mother and a ‘respectable’ woman.

While a reader might capture a glimpse of these themes from reading the short extract on page 69, they wouldn’t get a sense of the court battle which propels the novel, nor the way that the two women are pushed together and then pulled apart by their desperate need to win the fortune. The page doesn’t capture the enormous respect and love that grows between the women, nor the way in which they are torn in so many directions by the competition and the catastrophic events around it. The scenes where Lily is questioned in court and judged by journalists feel vital to the story, and also to modern discussions about bodily autonomy. Page 69 of Prize Women might give the impression of a purely historical novel, frozen in a specific time; however, the themes of female bodily autonomy and closely scrutinised motherhood still feel searingly relevant nearly a century later.
Follow Caroline Lea on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Woman.

Q&A with Caroline Lea.

The Page 69 Test: The Metal Heart.

Writers Read: Caroline Lea.

My Book, The Movie: Prize Women.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 13, 2023

"The Ambassador"

Peter Colt was born in Boston, MA in 1973 and moved to Nantucket Island shortly thereafter. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Rhode Island and a 24-year veteran of the Army Reserve with deployments to Kosovo and Iraq. He is a police officer in a New England city and the married father of two boys.

Colt applied the Page 69 Test to his new Andy Roark mystery, The Ambassador, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my new Andy Roark story finds him in a poor part of a poor town on the waterfront. Andy is looking for the prime suspect in his new case. He stops into a diner looking for information about his suspect who lives above it. Andy is a foodie and fans love the descriptions of the meals he has. I wanted to describe him having a bad meal. I also wanted to use that bad meal to underscore the shabbiness of the town he is in. It is a seedy place for his suspect to hide out in.
The food came. The toast had been in the toaster too long and had been scraped off to make it look presentable. The home fries alternated between overcooked or soggy. The omelet had three pieces of green pepper, a lot of onion and four cubes of SPAM.
Page 69 of The Ambassador while emblematic of the writing doesn't give the reader much in terms of what the story is about. It is more of an "atmosphere" than a "plot" page. It does give some insight into the protagonist and his studied, "take life as it comes" attitude. After his time in Vietnam Andy has a hard time getting worked up about anything. Even when he is in a dangerous situation or facing a villain he is very calm. The fact that the meal is so terrible is just a footnote in his day whereas for many people it would require complaining to the waitress or might put their day in a negative light. For Andy it is just part of the ebb and flow of life.
Visit Peter Colt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Back Bay Blues.

Q&A with Peter Colt.

The Page 69 Test: Death at Fort Devens.

My Book, The Movie: The Ambassador.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 12, 2023

"The Infinite"

Ada Hoffmann is the author of the space opera novels The Outside and The Fallen, as well as dozens of speculative short stories and poems. They are an autistic self-advocate, an adjunct professor of computer science, a former semi-professional soprano, tabletop gaming enthusiast, and LARPer. They live in eastern Ontario.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Infinite, and reported the following:
The Infinite is the third book in a trilogy about AI Gods, cosmic horrors, and the humans who become embroiled in a conflict between them. The protagonist, and leader of the human’s side, is a scientist named Yasira. Page 69 features not Yasira, but an angel character, Elu, trying to deal with a newly acquired angel prisoner who is having strange, urgent medical symptoms:
“Sedative,” he snapped. He didn’t usually snap, even at the bots. Of course, the bots weren’t sentient enough to care what tone of voice he used. One of them picked up a syringe and efficiently filled it, and he had just enough time to hesitate – they’d barely begun examining this man; could they guess his body weight accurately enough to calculate the dosage correctly? Could they tell if he’d had modifications to his metabolism, allergies, anything that they ought to know before drugging him within an inch of his life? – and then the bot plunged the syringe into the angel’s arm and hesitation became pointless.

He stared down as the angel of the Keres started to relax, as his moans of despair became softer.

“Is there a problem, Elu?” said Akavi, who was still up at the front of the cockpit dealing with the controls.
This scene is part of an important subplot, but the way that it connects back to the larger plot won’t be fully clear until Elu has had a few more minutes with the prisoner and has been able to hear the shocking revelations he brings. So if a reader flipped to page 69 with no prior knowledge at all, they wouldn’t get the best sense of what the series is about, but they’d get a good sense of the writing style, the science fiction setting, and the sense of anxiety throughout.

Meanwhile, if this reader had already read The Outside (book one) and The Fallen (book two), then they would be familiar with Elu and Akavi and why we should care about them, and they’d get a good sense of the kinds of adventures and conflicts that these two characters are continuing to have.

Overall, I would say that the success of the page 69 test for this book is about medium!
Visit Ada Hoffmann's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Outside.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 11, 2023

"A Killing of Innocents"

Deborah Crombie is a New York Times bestselling author and a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She now lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, two cats, and two German shepherds.

Crombie applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Killing of Innocents, and reported the following:
This is page 69 in its entirety.
Gemma stared at Louise in disbelief. “A nanny? That’s absurd, Louise. We can’t afford a nanny. And besides, we’re not—” She’d been about to say “posh” when Louise’s expression stopped her.

“Don’t tell me it offends your class sensibilities, Gemma. It doesn’t mean you’re shirking your responsibilities. This is not like the well-to-do shuffling their kids off to boarding school before they’re out of nappies. Charlotte had a nanny before she came to you.”

“But that was only after her mother went missing, and Naz couldn’t—”

“Manage on his own. He needed help. You need help.”

“Even if you’re right,” Gemma said after an uncomfortable moment, “it’s just not feasible. We don’t have room for a live-in. The boys are squashed together as it is. And someone even part-time would cost the earth.”

“You’ve paid Wesley.”

“Yes, but Wesley’s a friend. And it’s only been here and there, when it was convenient for him.” Wesley’s help had made a huge difference, she had to admit, but he was very busy these days with his own commitments. “It was nice to have him, though,” she added with a sigh. “The children love him. And he cooks.”

“I’m sure you could find someone who could help out with meals.”

“Kit would be offended,” Gemma said. “Wes cooking, he doesn’t mind, but otherwise he considers the kitchen his domain. He only tolerates Duncan and me.”

“Still cooking up a storm, is he?”

“Yes, and working in the cafĂ© with Wes on Saturdays, too.”

“It’s good experience. He’s growing up, Gemma. He needs time for himself as well as the family.”

“Yes, but—”
The page doesn’t have any bearing on the specific mystery plot so perhaps isn’t the best indicator of the novel as a whole.

It is, however, the perfect excerpt to showcase one of the ongoing series storylines, Gemma and Duncan’s blended family and the difficulties they face trying to juggle two very demanding jobs with caring for their three children. Louise Phillips is the legal guardian of their youngest, Charlotte, their foster daughter, and this gives us a little reminder of Charlotte’s backstory. We also see that Gemma has taken a desk job in order to be more available for the kids, and the questions raised in her conversation with Louise play an important part in the book’s conclusion, and will lead to important developments in future books in the series.
Visit Deborah Crombie's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Bitter Feast.

The Page 69 Test: A Bitter Feast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 10, 2023

"Every Missing Girl"

After a short career in law, Leanne Kale Sparks is returning to her first love—writing about murder, mayhem, and crime. Currently, she is an author with Crooked Lane Books and is working on a new series featuring an FBI agent hunting down her best friend’s murderer. The backdrop is the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the playground of her youth, and the place that will always be home. She currently resides in Texas with her husband, her German Shepherd, Zoe, and her Corgi, Win.

Sparks applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Every Missing Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The food court was busy with young families getting breakfast as they set out on their spring-break destinations. Trying to be inconspicuous while looking through the throngs of people was nearly impossible. Adam settled on the idea that people would just think he was looking for a table, even though he had no food. At this point, it didn’t much matter. He was intent on finding his niece. There was no other outcome.

He caught Kendall’s eye on the opposite side of the food court, but she shook her head.

Damn! Where could they have gone?

His phone pinged with an incoming text from Kendall.

Check the restrooms.

He saw she was headed toward the women’s restroom as he moved toward the men’s room. The pungent odors of urine and sweat assaulted him as he shouldered open the door. Men stood with their backs to him, legs apart, no one looking anywhere but at the streams coming from between their legs. It was a well-known fact that talking at the urinal could result in an ass whooping. The second rule of urinal etiquette: keep a urinal between you and the next guy.

It was unlikely a guy could bring a young girl in here with the amount of men milling between the toilets and the showers, but that didn’t mean the man didn’t have her locked in a stall, hoping anyone who observed them would mind their own business.

Just as Adam was about to pound on the first closed stall door, he heard his name being called.

“Adam!” Kendall hollered.

All eyes at the urinal turned toward him as he crossed to the restroom door. A few of the men snickered at him. One said, “Adam,” in a high-pitched voice. “Mommy’s calling you, Adam.”

Adam considered flipping him the bird but didn’t think getting his face shoved into a filthy urinal by the 350-pound man would benefit anyone, especially him. He pushed through the door and breathed in the fresh deep-fried aroma of the food court.

“Fletch called.” Kendall had started running through the food court. “They’re on the move.”

“How? We had exits covered!”

“Food court has exits.”
This is a pretty decent introduction to Every Missing Girl, if a browser had no idea what the story was about. On one front, the reader can gather Adam and Kendall are searching for a girl—Adam’s niece. There is also the sense that the young girl has been taken by a man, and that they are at a food court. In the actual story, the food court is at a large truck stop, but I can imagine the reader might figure it was a mall. Still, the main idea is there. A crowded area, searching for a child, and feeling helpless. And second, the reader will get a glimpse of Adam’s personality and sense of humor, even in a very dark moment.

I’m very excited to bring back Kendall and Adam in Every Missing Girl. And while it is book two in the Kendall Beck Thriller Series (The Wrong Woman; book one), it can be read as a standalone. Of course, if you want to really understand how this dynamic duo became unofficial partners, The Wrong Woman is a great introduction. I absolutely love this book. It was a challenge to write, but once I let the story unfold without trying to force it, and allowed the characters to dictate the course, it was pure bliss. Even the ending, while a major shocking twist, was exactly how it should end.
Visit Leanne Kale Sparks's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Leanne Kale Sparks & Zoe.

The Page 69 Test: The Wrong Woman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 9, 2023

"Stone Blind"

Natalie Haynes is the author of several books, including A Thousand Ships, which was a national bestseller and was shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. She has written and recorded eight series of Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics for the BBC.

Haynes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Stone Blind, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Stone Blind sees us inside a prison cell, focusing on a young woman named Danae. She has been locked up by her paranoid father, Acrisius, because he is convinced that her child will one day kill him. To try and avoid her even becoming pregnant, he has put her in a windowless cell. But on this page, we see that even solid stone walls cannot prevent something fated to happen: the god Zeus takes the form of a shower of gold and rains his way inside. Danae is grateful for the company, and one thing leads to another.

This is a pretty good test for my book - it is indeed full of encounters between gods and mortals, Zeus does very rarely resist defenceless women (although this is a much kinder sexual encounter than some in this book). It’s written in the third person, close to Danae but with a little detachment. There are quite a few narrative voices in this novel, so none can individually represent the whole. Later on there’s a chapter narrated by a crow, and a couple from the perspective of a snooty olive tree.

Page 69 is a scene-setting moment: the child Danae will give birth to is Perseus. His fate and that of Medusa, the book’s focal character, are entwined from the moment they are born. The sense of unavoidable destiny is written into this chapter: Acrisius is determined to stop Danae from even having a child. But of course these measures have no effect on a god. I guess a more representative page would show the gorgons themselves, but this one is a pretty good reflection of how I’ve chosen to tell the story: by always looking for the women in any part of it, and putting them at the centre of that chapter, to see what happens to a myth when your switch your attention from the men who have so often been the focus of myth retellings onto the women who are just as integral, but have tended to be relegated to the edges of the stories. This has been much truer in the (relatively) modern world than the ancient one - Ovid, Euripides etc had no problem putting women at the heart of a narrative. My technique is to try and reconnect with those versions and find a way to make them new.
Visit Natalie Haynes's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Furies.

My Book, The Movie: The Furies.

The Page 69 Test: A Thousand Ships.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

"The Severed Thread"

Leslie Vedder (she/her) is a queer ace author who loves fairytale retellings with girl adventurers and heroes! She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats.

When she's not reading or writing, you can find her watching anime and sci-fi shows, walking in the woods and pretending they're enchanted forests, or playing old video games. She always collects all the Skulltulas in Zelda and all the Dalmation puppies in Kingdom Hearts.

Vedder applied the Page 69 Test to The Severed Thread, the sequel to The Bone Spindle, and reported the following:
Page 69 drops into one of the perspective chapters from Briar Rose, the now-awakened sleeping prince, contemplating his magic and his connection to the ultimate villainess, the Spindle Witch.
The Paper Witch sighed, the bell in his hair tinkling as he released Briar’s shoulder. “Small wishes, Briar Rose—remember? For now, try to get some sleep,” he urged. Then he moved off, retiring to his blanket beside the fire. A cold pit sank in Briar’s stomach. He clenched his fist, sending a twinge of pain up his wounded arm. What was the point of having powerful magic if he could never use it to save anyone? What was the point of being a part of some great destiny if all it meant was that his life was never his own?

As long as Briar could remember, every Witch he’d ever known had urged him to tread carefully, to use just a drop from that great well of power inside him. He could still remember crouching next to his sister Camellia, her hands over Briar’s as she helped him trace the Divine Rose script, teaching him the mysterious language and all the secrets it held.

He had mastered the spells so quickly. Magic came to him effortlessly and obeyed his every whim, even complex illusions manifesting with just a twist of his fingers. But no matter how much he excelled, there were certain pages in the spell books that she would never show him, pages she had stitched closed with little roses in crimson thread.

Small wishes, she had told him over and over.
Page 69 of The Severed Thread does a good job of capturing the darkness that’s been eating away at the now-awakened sleeping prince. The Severed Thread is, at its heart, a fairytale retelling, and small wishes is a refrain that repeats throughout the book—sort of the witches’ version of be careful what you wish for.

What the Page 69 Test doesn’t capture so well is the action! The moment itself comes just after the MCs have escaped a collapsing ruin and a life-or-death battle, a moment for everyone to catch their breath before we head into more danger! The Severed Thread is a madcap adventure with a ride-or-die friendship between the two girl treasure hunters, Fi and Shane. Prince Briar Rose of the Sleeping Beauty story—while sweet and fun—is ultimately the love interest, while the girls take center stage.
Visit Leslie Vedder's website.

Q&A with Leslie Vedder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

"Chalice of Darkness"

Sarah Rayne is the author of many novels of psychological and supernatural suspense, including the Nell West & Michael Flint series. She lives in Staffordshire.

Rayne applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Chalice of Darkness, Book One of the Theatre of Thieves series, and reported the following:
I did find it remarkable – even slightly eerie – how page 69 of Chalice of Darkness homes straight in on the core of the plot – on the description of the Chalice itself when a main character sees it for the first time.

The extract hints at the darkness of the Chalice – at the legend, referred to earlier in the book, that a ‘wrongful’ owner would be dragged into a darkness, ‘from which he or she would never emerge’. This was a medieval way of warning enterprising thieves that if the Chalice were to be stolen, a very bad fate would befall those who stole it. Maude’s reactions to it show that this warning can still reach out – in this case all the way to the end of the 19 th century – the setting for most of the book.
‘I’ve never seen anything so lovely,’ said Maude, softly. The chalice fitted the box very neatly. She carefully lifted it out, and set it on the low table. The sunshine and the firelight fell directly across it, bringing to life the tiny figures engraved into the glass. Some of them had a religious look as if they might be bishops or cardinals engaged in some sacred ceremony; others wore circlets as crowns and held swords aloft, as if poised for battle. Still others were clearly Eastern figures,with exotic costumes and headwear.

The colours were glowing blues and deep reds and rich amber, and around the rim the glass had been formed into thin layers, resembling the petals of a rose. Maude turned it this way and that to see the details more clearly. It was possible to trace with a fingertip the outlines of the engravings – the figures and the swords and religious cups – and to feel and appreciate the silkiness of the glass itself.

‘It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,’ she said at last, but with the words a coldness seemed to brush across her mind. It was almost as if candles had been snuffed or gas jets turned down, draining all light and warmth. That was absurd – sunshine was still streaming in through the old windows of the room, causing the scents of polish from the nice old furniture to drift across the room, and the fire was crackling in the grate. The chalice, still held between her cupped hands, was lit to glowing life. But she had an extraordinary sense that a darkness was creeping closer. When she set the chalice on the table the feeling vanished, though.
Later on the page, a secondary plot-line is touched on – that of the sinister old Bastle House, the building that has already figured in the nightmares of Maude Vallow.
Connor O’Kane handed her the oilskin package. ‘This is the other part of the prince’s gift.’ Inside the package was a document made up of two or three thick pages sewn down the left-hand side with narrow green tape. Attached to the top of the page was a small card, with an engraved name, and a crest. Across it was written in rather sprawling writing:

‘For a very lovely lady and for the memory of our night together at Hymbre House which will always remain with me. E.’

Maude stared at this, then picked up the document. The lettering was elaborate, but it was easy enough to read it. Two names jumped out at her immediately.

Albert Victor Christian Edward Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale. And beneath it, Maude’s own name.

‘It’s all couched in legal terms,’ Connor O’Kane was saying, ‘and there’s no punctuation, because legal documents don’t permit that. But I think it’s clear enough.’

It was perfectly clear, and the part that was clearest of all was the sentence that said: ‘To be conveyed absolutely and in perpetuity into the soleownership of Maude Vallow unconditionally for her use as she sees fit all that piece and parcel of ground with the messuage dwellinghouse and other buildings delineated in red on the plan herein and known as The Bastle House in the County of Northumberland.’

Bastle House. The dark nightmare house. The black crouching lodestar she could see from Vallow’s topmost rooms, and that she had always known she would one day approach and enter.

And now she was its owner.
Hopefully the mention of this other strand of intrigue will attract readers’ imaginations and encourage them to read the entire book.
Visit Sarah Rayne's website.

The Page 69 Test: Chord of Evil.

The Page 69 Test: The Murder Dance.

Q&A with Sarah Rayne.

My Book, The Movie: Chalice of Darkness.

Writers Read: Sarah Rayne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 5, 2023

"A Dangerous Education"

Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of more than twenty novels, including A Splendid Ruin, Bone River, and An Inconvenient Wife. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest.

Chance applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Dangerous Education, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a scene with the three senior girls at Mercer Rocks School for Wayward Girls—Maisie, Sandra and Jean—as they sneak out of the school in the middle of the night to go down to the beach to drink (as bad girls do) and discuss their plan for the new Home Economics teacher:
Silently, they go down the stairs. Sandy hands Maisie the flashlight she’s stolen; Maisie is always the leader. Jean tucks a bit of folded cardboard into the lock to block it so they can get back in. Then they race out into the night, past the tennis courts and the brick fireplaces and picnic tables and the big willow tree in the middle of the grounds. None of them speak. The only sounds are the rush of their breathing, the shush of their shoes through the grass. The school lights lend enough illumination that they don’t need the flashlight. But at the boathouse, where the path disappears into the grove of white oaks, Maisie switches it on. The beam bounces against the gray weathered planks of the boathouse, glints upon the chain blocking the steps, the sign reading “Danger. Keep Out.”

Jean slaps at her hand, forcing the beam away. “Stop it,” she says in a harsh whisper.

Maisie laughs quietly. “What’s wrong, Jeanie?”

“Turn it off,” Sandy says. “Someone will see.”

“Look—no one’s repaired it yet.”

“They’ve left it like that on purpose,” Jean says crossly.

“Turn it off,” Sandy says again.

Maisie keeps it on another moment to show that it’s her decision, not Sandy’s and not Jean’s, and then she does turn it off until they round the corner, until they’re out of sight of the school, and it’s really too dark to see the path—
Interestingly, this is one of the only sections in the book that is written in present tense, and it is one of four short sections written in the point-of-view of one of the girls—in this case, Maisie. While the vast majority of the novel is written in past tense, and in the point-of-view of Rosemary Chivers, their teacher, and details her past and her dilemma in getting too involved with this particular clique of girls, this snippet gives a very good idea of the book’s overall tone, which has mystery and gothic elements.

This scene also gives the reader a glimpse into the danger of the girls. It shows that Maisie is their leader, and begins to reveal the way they interact with each other. It also hints at the important role the boathouse has played in their past and will play in the novel’s unfolding. So, while page 69 is misleading in that it’s not indicative of the main character or action, it gives a very good idea of the overall mood and lends a nice creepy edge, which winds its way (hopefully) throughout the story.
Visit Megan Chance's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Splendid Ruin.

The Page 69 Test: A Splendid Ruin.

Q&A with Megan Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 3, 2023

"Before I Sleep"

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is the author of the hugely popular Morland Dynasty novels, which have captivated and enthralled readers for decades. She is also the author of the contemporary Bill Slider mystery series, as well as her recent series, War at Home, which is an epic family drama set against the backdrop of World War I.

Harrod-Eagles applied the Page 69 Test to the new Bill Slider mystery, Before I Sleep, and reported the following:
Page 69 contains the end of a conversation betwen DCI Bill Slider and his immediate boss, the language-mangling Det Sup Porson. In a new scene, Slider and his sidekick Atherton head for Burnham Beeches, a large woodland area near London to which circumstance has directed them to look for a missing woman. They have to go via the local police station and its gatekeeper, Slider's opposite number there, DCI Dalton.

Page 69 contains a good flavour of the book, starting with just a hint of good old Porson who, despite saying things like 'It's not rocket surgery', is really pretty smart and is always supportive of his people. He sees his role as standing between the working cops at the coal face and the constant shower of brown stuff from the highly-paid desk warriors above. Then there's the easy cameraderie between Slider and Atherton, who have worked together so long they can finish each other's sentences. On another page Slider worries about this and says, 'We have got to see other people'. And it suggests one of the frustrations of policing when a case crosses into another jurisdiction: having to follow protocol, avoid treading on toes, and curtsey to the local police gods. There always seems to be at least one rigid, rule-following pillock like Dalton to get in the way, slow you down, and, if possible, make you feel small. Slider, though, can never give up once he’s invested in a case. With the help of his heterogenous team and the witty, irreverent Atherton, he follows the faint trail left by the missing woman, Felicity Holland, to the bitter end.
Visit Cynthia Harrod-Eagles's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Secrets of Ashmore Castle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

"The 12th Commandment"

Daniel Torday is the author of The 12th Commandment, The Last Flight of Poxl West, and Boomer1. A two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award for fiction and the Sami Rohr Choice Prize, Torday’s stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and n+1, and have been honored by the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series. Torday is a Professor of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.

Torday applied the Page 69 Test to The 12th Commandment and reported the following:
From page 69:
On seeing the green of Upstate New York out the window of their U-Haul once we hit the interstate with Osman between us, Yael just stares outside.: I perceive what I see in her as excitement, but whether in that moment it's excitement or dread, it will eventually turn to fear. Repulsion. Repulsing. A taking-away. An addition of absence. The first months of August in Central Ohio brutal as prophecy predicted::
This is the beginning of the 69th page of the novel, which finds us deep in one of the longest excerpts from the prison journals of Natan of Flatbush, self-proclaimed prophet of his own group of outwardly Islamic, secretly Jewish mystics called the Donme. The rest of the page follows them in their move from a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, to their new rural enclave in Ohio. One note on Natan's voice-- he uses a punctuation system borrowed from early version of the Talmud, where instead of just periods and commas, there were :: and .: punctuations to delineate different length pauses.

There are lots of voices in this book! And they shift based on tenses: past, present and future. The main character, Zeke, finds his way into the Donme community as a reporter, and eventually, more, and most of the main narration comes through him. But we also learn a lot of the backstory of the book through Natan's journals. So we really only get a third of a sense of how the book sounds from this page. Which is weirdly enticing, I think.
Visit Daniel Torday's website.

--Marshal Zeringue