Saturday, April 29, 2023

"The Weeds"

Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of the novels The Story of Land and Sea, a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and one of Vogue’s Best Books of 2014; Free Men; and The Everlasting, a New York Times Best Historical Fiction Book of 2020. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Paris Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Oxford American, Granta, and elsewhere. She received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is also the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. She lives in New Orleans.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Weeds, and reported the following:
The Weeds is unusually structured, broken into several hundred entries about individual plant species (all growing, as it happens, in the Roman Colosseum), so I was eager to see which flower would get the page 69 spotlight. It happens to be Hypericum perforatum, or St. John's wort, which is perfectly representative of the role of plants in this book: if used improperly, it's toxic (skin irritation! nausea! mania and/or death!); in the right doses, it's used as a folk cure for wounds and in modern treatment of depression. My two protagonists -- both female botanical assistants studying the Colosseum flora -- have an intimate understanding of plants' power, even if their male advisors ignore the women's instincts. On page 69, the protagonist from 1854 tries to insert a story about her grandfather's poisoned cows into the entry on Hypericum:
In my separate account for Deakin, I slip this in; surely a botanical student would search in a flora for tales of consequence. (Oh, I am taking to the feeling of consequence!) This journal is brown and bound—my notes for him are loose and tied with ribbon, so I will not mistake the two.

“I told you I wanted no more stories about your ancestors,” he says, the ribbon wrapped around his thumb.

“Yes,” I say, “but could plants serve as more than fact?”
My heart aches at how this page encapsulates her struggle for purpose. How rare was the "feeling of consequence" for women in the 1850s? How rare is it for women today? And when she asks whether plants have a larger meaning than science typically affords them, I hope by this point in the book readers will scream, "Yes, they do!" This is a novel that explores emotion, intuition, not just the data of the natural world but its narratives. Most of all, it asks how we can see weeds, and women, and ourselves in that broader, brighter light.
Visit Katy Simpson Smith's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Everlasting.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 27, 2023

"The Warden"

Daniel M. Ford is a native of Baltimore. He has an M.A. in Irish Literature from Boston College, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from George Mason University. He lives in Delaware and teaches at a college prep high school in rural Maryland. His previous work includes The Paladin Trilogy and the Jack Dixon novels.

Ford applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Warden, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"A dwarf, an elfling, a wizard, and a girl walk out of a bar...seems like the beginning of a joke."

"More like a tragedy...wizards don't leave a bar until there's only water left to drink."
This is page 69 of The Warden, and it starts exactly like a joke would. Aelis (wizard), Maurenia (elfling), Timmuk (dwarf) and Pips (girl) are leaving Lone Pine's inn to search for a bear that recently slaughtered an entire flock of sheep and sent the boy tending them running back to the village, injured and terrified. The catch is that Aelis has only just learned that local superstition means she can't actually harm the bear, just look for ways to scare it off.

I think readers turning to page 69 will get a great idea of what The Warden is about. Aelis is trying to find ways to grow into her new role as the Warden of Lone Pine, she's recruited some capable people to help, and she's going to be forced to think of creative ways to use her magical abilities that she's never anticipated. It's got jokes, Aelis reflecting on her training, and the friction between what Aelis knows she's capable of and what the villagers will accept from her.

Page 69 of The Warden is a shockingly good litmus test, I think. If you like what's happening on this page, you'll like the book. Aelis is confident, certain she can handle whatever comes her way, but she doesn't quite know how to help the people here, in the godsforsaken posting she didn't expect. She's met Maurenia...who she won't be able to stop thinking about or even staring at for quite a while...and Timmuk, both of whom will be strong presences throughout the series as companions. And this is one of the first times Aelis is forced to grow as a wizard, to use her magic in ways she isn't sure will work, but suit the demands of the moment and the people she's meant to protect. That's really the crux of the book and the entire series; Aelis learning that the best use of her considerable power is in service to her obligations to other people.
Visit Daniel M. Ford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

"We Love to Entertain"

Sarah Strohmeyer is a bestselling and award-winning novelist whose books include The Secrets of Lily Graves, How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True, Smart Girls Get What They Want, The Cinderella Pact (which became the Lifetime Original Movie Lying to Be Perfect), The Sleeping Beauty Proposal, The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives, Sweet Love, and the Bubbles mystery series. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Boston Globe. She lives with her family outside Montpelier, Vermont.

Strohmeyer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, We Love to Entertain, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test, I’ve come to appreciate, is accurately freaky. For example, on page 69 in We Love to Entertain, a key character – Erika – is reminiscing about a pivotal encounter between her boss and Erika’s former boyfriend, Colton. This actually turns out to be a major plot point later on. Plus, the passage illuminates the characters’ personalities, I hope, with a touch of humor.

Erika’s boss is Hayley, aka Holly, Barron, a reality TV star wannabee who’s rehabbing an estate she and her husband, Robert, stole legally acquired from a crazy sad sack down on his luck and who’s now vowed revenge. Erika’s a local girl, a Vermonter, who desperately wants to escape this claustrophobic ski town that continues to judge her harshly (and unfairly) for an incident in her past. She’s hanging all her chances of leaving on the success of this show.

By this juncture, readers are aware Holly and Robert have disappeared mysteriously shortly after their wedding. Erika’s just trying to keep everything together when she remembers a minor annoyance that might turn into a major logjam – a handcrafted Vermont farm table promised by her former boyfriend, Colton, that has failed to be delivered. And Colton himself appears to have gone AWOL, too.

Here’s her memory (on page 69) of Holly and Colton’s first encounter:
Now his skin was leathery brown and his baby fat had disappeared into chiseled muscle. He’d ditched the polyester purple dress shirts with coordinating ties in favor of a worn moss-green tee that showed off his toned biceps. A thin, braided bracelet of ocean plastic in the same deep blue as his eyes circled his wrist, and when Holly made a comment that was mildly profound, he’d twitch his Cupid’s-bow lips in deep, spiritual understanding. He smelled faintly of patchouli mixed with goat soap and his most recent bong hit.

“Feel this.” He took Holly’s hand, extended her index finger, and traced it along a watermark at the bottom of the bowl. “That’s the original wood grain and it tells a whole story of the tree’s history, its age, even the weather in which it grew.”

“Oh, wow,” Holly moaned. “I’ll never look at another piece of wood the same way again.”

Colton gently released his grip while maintaining her gaze. “Not just any wood...”

Do not say it. Don’t you dare say it, Colton Whitcomb, Erika thought, grimacing.

“My wood.”

Yup, he said it!

By the end of their visit, Holly had commissioned a massive Vermont farm table for $7,500 and even wrote out a check for half that as a deposit. Colton promised to keep her apprised of the table’s progress with regular updates; Holly said she’d like that. Before they parted, he gifted her a pine cone pendant he’d made himself that was supposed to bless the wearer with eternal life and fertility.
This excerpt captures the essence of We Love to Entertain’s theme about how the greedy with lots of money and connections like Holly and Robert Barron use the locals for their own advantage without pausing to contemplate the consequences of their avarice.

Though We Love to Entertain was written to be fun with the thrills and laughs of a rollercoaster (at least, that was the goal, there are actually a few serious concepts I explore. I am someone who came to a pristine place like Vermont as an outsider and then became an insider as Town Clerk. I’ve witnessed people lose their homes due to financial misfortune. In fact, I bought such a house myself at a tax sale – the inspiration for this book. So, I am among the guilty.

As the population expands, as the rich get richer and the middle class fades, the gap between the haves and the have nots grows wider and deeper. Holly Barron thinks nothing of paying $7,500 to a local guy to make a table as a show prop. For Colton, this consignment means life or death. Literally.
Visit Sarah Strohmeyer's website.

My Book, The Movie: We Love to Entertain.

Writers Read: Sarah Strohmeyer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 24, 2023

"The Lost English Girl"

Julia Kelly is the international bestselling author of historical fiction and historical mystery novels about the extraordinary stories of the past. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Kelly called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lost English Girl, and reported the following:
When I wrote The Lost English Girl, I decided to tell the story of a family dealing with estrangement during the early years of World War 2 through the POVs of three characters who spend most of their time on the page apart from one another. At the beginning of the war, Viv is dealing with the impossible decision to send her young daughter away from the danger of air raids in Liverpool, while Joshua decides to leave behind his expat life as a New York City-based jazz musician and join up back home in Britain.

On page 69, readers find Joshua in the middle of his recruitment interview for the Royal Air Force. Although the recruiter points out that musicians can try to join the RAF band, the Squadronaires, Joshua feels compelled to join as air crew, making it more likely that he will see action. His decision to enlist is driven by a deep need to atone for his previous decision to pursue his dream of making it as a musician in New York, leaving his new wife, Viv, behind after she refuses to believe in his wild ambitions.

The Lost English Girl is a book about the journey of forgiveness, both for other people and of ourselves, and this page shows Joshua taking his first steps along that path.
Visit Julia Kelly's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 22, 2023

"Ukulele of Death"

E.J. Copperman’s new novel is Ukulele of Death, first in the Fran and Ken Stein Mystery series. Copperman also writes the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series, currently represented by And Justice For Mall and soon to be joined by My Cousin Skinny. When not otherwise occupied, Copperman lives in New Jersey.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Ukulele of Death and reported the following:
I just read page 69 of Ukulele of Death and I’m horrified to say if I read just that I’m not sure I’d buy the book. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s mid-plot and basically an interrogation. Still, there are a few features I (as a reader) might find interesting or endearing.

The page is a moment when Fran Stein, our narrator, is interviewing the head of a group that concentrates on rare stringed instruments, because she’s looking for a somewhat rare ukulele (which you might infer from the title).

Fran being Fran – and there’s plenty you don’t know yet – she can’t help, um… embellishing her account of the interrogation.
“I pictured Foster as a man in his fifties with a mustache behind a cluttered desk in a home office,” she says. “But for all I knew he might very well have been a hipster with ironic facial hair picking a steel string guitar in a recording studio and taking a moment out to talk to some crazy lady about a Hawaiian instrument because he found it amusing. Phones are inexact instruments.”
Would that get Reader Me to plunk down some cold hard cash for this novel? I don’t think it’s an especially good indicator of the book as a whole, but it’s not so atypical that you won’t get a flavor of Fran’s style, which has been described (not by me) as “equal parts snarky, witty and loving.”

And you don’t know the really good parts yet.
Visit E. J. Copperman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Ukulele of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 20, 2023

"Our Best Intentions"

Vibhuti Jain is the author of Our Best Intentions, a New York Times Book Review acclaimed debut novel, a USA Today “must read”, and inaugural NPR 1A book club selection. Vibhuti lives with her husband and daughter in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she works in international development. She began her career as a corporate lawyer in New York and holds degrees from Yale University and Harvard Law School. She grew up in Guilford, Connecticut.

Jain applied the Page 69 Test to Our Best Intentions and reported the following:
Page 69 is an excellent entry point into the heart of Our Best Intentions. What a fascinating test!
She’d arrived to find her pristine office unlocked and two detectives plus a handful of police officers and school district officials, including a lawyer, crowded into it. They’d dragged in stray chairs and were presiding over her immaculately organized desk like it was a communal workstation. Some of them had looked up when she walked in, and one – maybe both – of the detectives had acknowledged her with a nod. She received a cursory briefing from one of the detectives. A run-on sentence that went something like: a student, Henry McCleary, has been stabbed, he’s in the hospital, in the ER, his family is with him, they’re upset, their lawyer’s here, two bystanders were on-site, both students, we have them, a friend of his and a girl, who called 911, there’s a third student, an African American girl, she’s the stabber, we believe – here Mabel could swear the detective had paused, just for a second, to scan Mabel’s practiced poker face (her jaw clenched, but she knew how to wear impassivity) before continuing – she appears to have run off and is presumed dangerous. There was no opportunity for questions (of which she had many). It concluded with “Good that you’re here. It’s an active situation. We’ll let you know what we need,” followed by another nod, as if to say, “Run along.”
Our Best Intentions is written from multiple perspectives, primarily following the Singh family, Babur “Bobby” Singh and his teenage daughter, Angie Singh, but it also includes the views of other characters from the community. The passage on this page is written from the perspective of high school principal Mabel Burrowes. Mabel has just learned of a horrific assault that happened on the high school football field. She feels instantly sidelined during the police investigation and is conscious of the racial undertones in the police’s assumptions, themes that recur throughout the novel.
Visit Vibhuti Jain's website.

Q&A with Vibhuti Jain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 18, 2023


Elizabeth Graver’s fifth novel, Kantika, was inspired by her grandmother, Rebecca née Cohen Baruch Levy, who was born into a Sephardic Jewish family in Istanbul and whose tumultuous and shape-shifting life journey took her to Spain, Cuba and finally New York.

Graver applied the Page 69 Test to Kantika and reported the following:
From page 69:

“It’s what we call the orfes.”

Rebecca shakes her head.

“The huérfanos, the foundlings left at the door of the church.” And the lady makes the sign of the cross.

Rebecca has witnessed the motion hundreds of times but never made it herself, despite itching to—not in school at Sion, not even when playing at teacher-nun with Lika, though they made crucifixes out of twigs and tea towel habits for their heads. Now her hand inscribes the air from forehead to chest, left to right. How easy it is, the gesture graceful, prayerful. Will her Dyo forgive her? Will the Christian one, called “Dios” in plural by the Spaniards because he’s multiple, three-pronged, if he exists and takes notice of a girl like her? The sign of the cross comes almost too naturally to her, the practiced gesture of the Conversos who stayed in Spain, some of them living as Christians in the outside world but lighting their Shabbat candles in the cellar, out of sight. The Torah may consider the chameleon an impure animal, but God put chameleons on the earth for a reason, and Rebecca, who used to make a game with Lika of spotting the lizards in the garden in Büyükdere, has always been impressed by their ability to go from leafy green to stony gray to twiggy brown.

Soy Marie Blanko Camayor.” She keeps her gaze steady. “De París, Francia.”

Encantat.” The lady nods but does not extend her hand. “Do you have a job for me?”

“I am sorry, senyoreta. I do not.”

“But I do beautiful work. You said so yourself.”

“I’m sorry.” The dressmaker peers down the street and ushers her away. “I told you, there is nothing for you here.”
The Page 69 Test works like a charm here, dropping us inside a scene full of things that matter to Kantika. The setting is Barcelona, 1924. Rebecca Cohen, the novel’s central character, has recently moved from Istanbul to Spain following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, when conditions deteriorated for Turkish Jews and her family lost its fortune.

Spain is a peculiar and unexpected destination for a family of Sephardic Jews since hundreds of of years prior, it’s the country that slaughtered or expelled their ancestors or forced them to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. The Cohens—whose migration path mirrors that of my actual family—end up in Spain because they have few other options, but they also have complicated ties to the country in the form of language, songs, and customs that have endured, if also taken on new forms, across centuries of diaspora.

In this scene, we find Rebecca looking for a job as a dressmaker and being told by a shop owner that she’ll never find work with a Jewish last name and should change her name to Blanko—as in white, blank, clean. Rebecca, raised in cosmopolitan lstanbul where she attended French Catholic school with Christian, Muslim and Jewish girls, is—by both character and necessity—a shapeshifter. She is multilingual, endlessly creative, and gifted at presenting herself in different ways. Here, she’s also desperate for work and getting her first glimpse of the antisemitic and fear-fueled sides of a country still haunted by its past and heading toward the Spanish Civil War and Fascism.

In this scene, we see Rebecca’s gutsiness and the lengths to which she’ll go to survive, even thrive, but also the considerable costs. “Kantika,” the novel’s title, means “song” in Ladino or Judeo-Spanish, Rebecca’s first language. On page 69, we get a multilingual almost-song, the prose tripping between Ladino, Catalan and Castillan (and, on nearby pages, also French).

We witness a trying on of selves, names and modes of dress that speak to a wider story fueled by a polyphonic set of reinventions, as well as by the need to hide and mask. At the center, a set of age-old questions, but funneled here, I hope, through a highly specific history and cast of characters:

Who am I? Where do I come from? Who, what, when, where is home?
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Graver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The End of the Point.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 16, 2023

"Only the Beautiful"

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling novelist with more than three-quarters of a million books in the hands of readers in eighteen languages. Her novels include Only the Beautiful and The Nature of Fragile Things (starred reviews, Publishers Weekly), The Last Year of the War (a Library Reads and Real Simple top pick), and As Bright as Heaven (starred review, Library Journal.) She attended Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their yellow Lab, Winston.

Meissner applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Only the Beautiful, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The doctor turns to one of the boxes next to him and lifts off the lid, revealing a portable gramophone with a shiny silver crank that he obviously turned in preparation for my session. Dr. Townsend sets the turntable spinning and lowers the arm with its needle onto the record already placed there. Music from Tommy Dorsey begins to fill the room. It is a bright, happy tune. I instinctively put my hands over my ears as ribbons of sky blue begin to fall all around the insides of my mind.

“Put your hands down, Rosie,” the doctor says, plenty loud enough for me to hear.

I slowly obey, lowering my arms as the music continues to play and the colors swirl like flags in a breeze.

“I’d like to know what you are seeing,” Dr. Townsend said.

I swallow hard. “I don’t see anything.” I tighten my grip on the armrests of my chair and hold his gaze—and my breath—willing the colors to fade.

The doctor stops the turntable and switches recordings. The next beautiful array of sounds I recognize from Celine’s set of Christmas albums. “The Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite fills the space around me, and instantly magnificent puffs of yellow and pink and scarlet began to burst like fireworks in the folds of my mind.

“Tell me what you see, Rosie,” Dr. Townsend says.

“Nothing!” I shout. “I don’t see anything.”

He leans toward me as the recording continues, the music becoming more enchanting with every measure. “I could attach electrodes to your head and monitor your brain waves and I could prove that I know you’re lying,” he says, gently and yet forcefully. “You’re seeing the colors right now. I want to know what you see.”

“Stop, please stop,” I beg.

“Tell me what you see.”
Only the Beautiful is the story of two women in the late 1930s—a pregnant teenager with a sensory anomaly working on a vineyard in California and an American ex-pat working as a nanny to a disabled child in Nazi-occupied Vienna—who are both impacted by the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. This movement, highly popular in the US in the early twentieth century, was a scheme to control the collective gene pool; meaning “beautiful” people were highly encouraged to have children and those seen as inferior were not only discouraged from having them but in many cases were prevented from having them.

The Page 69 Test reveals much about prejudice, a theme which is all over the pages of this book, and about how insanely cruel it is to assume you are better than someone else just because you decide you are. In this scene, a doctor in a state hospital known for sterilizing people without their knowledge or consent is having a “therapy session” with the main character, Rosie, who was born with synesthesia—a rare, condition where two or more senses can be tangled. In Rosie’s case, the senses of hearing and vision are woven together in her mind: when she hears a sound, she sees colors. Sadly, in 1939 little was widely understood about the condition and anything divergent that wasn’t understood was often seen by eugenic thinkers as a debilitating flaw. For Rosie, this ability which has brought such beauty to her life will put a target on her back. She will have to be bolder and braver than she’s ever been before to protect herself and her unborn child from forces that see her as imperfect, defective, un-beautiful…
Visit Susan Meissner's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Susan Meissner & Bella.

The Page 69 Test: A Bridge Across the Ocean.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Year of the War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 14, 2023

"Sunset and Jericho"

Sam Wiebe is the award-winning author of the Wakeland novels, one of the most authentic and acclaimed detective series in Canada, including Invisible Dead (“the definitive Vancouver crime novel”), Cut You Down (“successfully brings Raymond Chandler into the 21st century”), Hell and Gone ("the best crime writer in Canada"), and Sunset and Jericho ("Terminal City’s grittiest, most intelligent, most sensitively observed contemporary detective series").

Wiebe’s other books include Never Going Back, Last of the Independents, and the Vancouver Noir anthology, which he edited.

Wiebe’s work has won the Crime Writers of Canada award and the Kobo Emerging Writers prize, and been shortlisted for the Edgar, Hammett, Shamus, and City of Vancouver book prizes.

Wiebe applied the Page 69 Test to Sunset and Jericho and reported the following:
Sunset and Jericho is about class warfare. Two murders take place on the same night, on different beaches in Vancouver. A very rich man and a very poor man. It falls to PI Dave Wakeland to find out who committed these crimes, why, and how the two deaths are connected.

On page 69 of Sunset and Jericho, Wakeland reports a break-in at his office to the police. He thinks it’s linked to the death of Jeremy Fell, the ne’er-do-well brother of the mayor. The killers have sent him a warning. The task force members, Gill and Dudgeon, feel otherwise. They treat the break-in as a red herring, and a waste of their valuable time.
I took them down to view the electrical room.

“This door’s usually locked?” Dudgeon asked me.


“But the key is just lying around your office.”

“It’s in a drawer in a locked office, under video surveillance. Was I supposed to have an Indiana Jones boulder to protect it from being stolen?”

“You’re the security expert,” Gill said.
Page 69 doesn’t tell the reader much about the overall plot, but it does illustrate one of the main conflicts between Wakeland and the authorities. Sunset and Jericho pits the city’s wealthy against a mysterious group of violent young radicals. Wakeland is caught in the middle.

What happens when the rich become so insulated, so indifferent, and the city so unaffordable, that people start lashing out, striking back? In a situation like that, what’s the meaning of justice? And what happens when the detective has more in common with the perpetrators than the clients and victims? That’s the situation Wakeland finds himself in. As this passage suggests, he’s very much on his own.
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

The Page 69 Test: Invisible Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Cut You Down.

Q&A with Sam Wiebe.

The Page 69 Test: Hell and Gone.

Writers Read: Sam Wiebe (March 2022).

My Book, The Movie: Hell and Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

"Escape Orbit"

Patrick Chiles began his writing career with the self-published novels Perigee and Farside, which were acquired by Baen Books in 2016. His subsequent novels, 2020’s Frozen Orbit, 2021’s Frontier, and 2023’s Escape Orbit, have established him as a rising talent in the realm of realistic, near-future science fiction. Having a fascination with practical space travel and a love for Cold War technothrillers, his novels feature plausible technology while leveraging his military and airline experience to create stories with engaging, relatable characters on astonishing adventures: “ordinary people, doing extraordinary things.”

Chiles applied the Page 69 Test to Escape Orbit and reported the following:
Page 69 opens with Traci, Roy and Noelle commiserating over a backyard cookout. Readers may recall them from Frozen Orbit, and here they’re developing a mission to find their lost crewmate, Jack. This may not be one of the more action-packed chapters of Escape Orbit, but it does a lot to flesh out the characters and dig into their backstories and motivations. Traci is torn in several ways; their last adventure left her with a traumatic brain injury which has kept her off the crew rotation ever since. Yet here she is, contemplating going back into deep space on an unsanctioned mission to find a man who she has unresolved feelings for, and Roy is about to take her on a flight home to say goodbye to her parents. I enjoyed writing this chapter because it takes the characters out of the high-pressure astronaut environment to show more of their humanity, in particular Traci’s misgivings and how it affects her relationship with her parents.

While still firmly hard sci-fi, Escape Orbit is more of a space opera than its predecessor. I wanted to explore the themes of exploration, the impact of artificial intelligence, and the character’s devotion to each other. It is more character-driven than Frozen Orbit, and I had a lot of fun telling the story largely from Traci’s point of view. Jack also has an interesting and unusual point of view, which I won’t spoil here, but I will say his isolation has left him inexorably dependent on his ship’s AI. Page 169 would be another great spot for readers to see where the story’s going, it’s where Jack has reached a critical milestone and has some life-changing decisions to make. He’s stumbled into an amazing discovery which is nothing like what he'd expected to find, and pressing ahead will literally take him farther than he ever imagined. The question is will anyone be able to follow?
Visit Patrick Chiles's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Patrick Chiles & Frankie and Beanie.

The Page 69 Test: Frozen Orbit.

The Page 69 Test: Frontier.

Q&A with Patrick Chiles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

"The Lioness of Boston"

Emily Franklin is the author of more than twenty novels and a poetry collection, Tell Me How You Got Here. Her award-winning work has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Guernica, JAMA, and numerous literary magazines as well as long-listed for the London Sunday Times Short Story Award, featured and read aloud on NPR and named notable by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Franklin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lioness of Boston, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Lioness of Boston, we find Isabella Stewart Gardner, pregnant and wishing she were able to leave the house to visit the new Boston society of natural history, which she has watched being built over the previous months. On this page, she is finding solace in plants, and — rather unusually — she is digging in the dirt, putting plants into tea cups when her father-in-law arrives and finds her crouched and covered in dirt, which was very unsuitable for a society woman in the mid-1800s in Boston.

This page is not particularly demonstrative of the larger story. However, strangely, on the next page, page 70, there are two lines that work quite well in that regard. Her father-in-law asks, given her disheveled state, and the way she is choosing to put plants in tea cups, if perhaps Isabella "has a bit of the artist in her." "I shook my head. I think people use that word when someone is unpredictable or outspoken." Her father-in-law goes on to say he meant it a compliment. This is essentially what Isabella comes to figure out for herself as the book progresses.

While Isabella Stewart Gardner was not an artist herself, she had an artistic vision. She was also a misfit in a society, and prone to outspokenness and opinion, which was not looked upon kindly by Boston's elite. Eventually, both in her life, and in my novel, she finds her intellectual footing and embraces her artistic vision as a collector and someone who wants art to be available and accessible to everyone, culminating in her building the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Visit Emily Franklin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 9, 2023

"Girl Forgotten"

April Henry is the New York Times bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and fourteen novels for teens, including Two Truths and a Lie; Girl, Stolen; and The Girl I Used to Be, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and won the Anthony Award for Best YA Mystery. She lives in Oregon.

Henry applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Girl Forgotten, and reported the following:
Wow, page 69 is the most perfect page to stand in for the whole of Girl Forgotten. Seriously.
Transcript of Episode 1 of Who Killed Layla Trello: The Crime [Chapter 15]

Air date: September 13

Hello armchair detectives! Welcome to the first episode of Who Killed Layla Trello. I’m your podcast host, Piper Gray. Almost two decades ago, seventeen-year-old Layla Trello disappeared from a Halloween party here in Firview, Oregon. Nearly two weeks later her body was found in the forest a few miles away. She had been shot to death. And no one has ever been arrested for her murder.

So who killed Layla Trello? Was it a scorned boyfriend? A random stranger? An out-of-season hunter? Or could her murder be tied to something bigger? Listen in as I try to figure out what happened. I’m doing research, asking questions, and trying to track down those who might know the answers.
When new-in-town Piper Gray is walking through the shady cemetery on a hot day, notices Layla’s grave, and googles her. A fan of true-crime podcasts, Piper decides to start her own podcast after she learns her new school requires her to do a senior passion project.

(As an aside, Piper was named after a teen reader who loves my books. But now whenever I say “Piper’s podcast” out loud it feels like I’m starting that tongue twist about Peter Piper and his pickled peppers.)

For this book, I interviewed podcasters and learned how to podcast. I even created my own logo for the imaginary podcast.
Learn more about the book and author at April Henry's website.

My Book, The Movie: Girl, Stolen.

The Page 69 Test: The Body in the Woods.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Will Tell.

The Page 69 Test: Run, Hide, Fight Back.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl in the White Van.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 7, 2023

"The Lost Wife"

Susanna Moore is the author of several novels, including In the Cut, Sleeping Beauties, and The Whiteness of Bones, and four books of nonfiction. She lives in New York City.

Moore applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lost Wife, and reported the following:
From page 69:
...I did not see it at first, but the Dakota women live in two worlds as well, working with me in the dark house, making blackberry cobbler and polishing mahogany sideboards, then returning to their tipis. I wonder what they think. They will never tell me. And I will never tell them. That is why it is two worlds, not one.

I discovered that the teachers at the school for Indian children feed them out of their own pocket, and I have been giving them food and James's outgrown clothes, shirts and pants too small for most of them, which they cut into strips to make skirts and neckcloths. The missionary Dr. Williston has a log church three miles from here, and some of the Christian Indians attend service there every Sunday. He, too, gives them what he can spare. He has been in the valley for twenty-seven years.

The many newspapers we receive, some of them weeks old, are full of false reports, especially about the War. Only last week we read that General Joe Johnston, commander of the Confederate army, had been beheaded in a battle near Richmond, causing mostly jubilation, only to discover that he was alive, although he has been replaced by Robert E. Lee.

It is my birthday today. I am thirty-three years old, although I say that I am thirty. My husband gave me a pair of otter cuffs and a muff.

My life is a combination of fairy tale and newspaper report.
To my surprise and delight, page 69 is a very good introduction to the main character of the book, Sarah Brinton, and her life in Minnesota in the 1860s --- the page is full of information, which is of course not true of all pages. The inevitable estrangement between the world of the white settlers and that of the Sioux women who work for Sarah, and for whom she has a growing affection and trust. The Civil War, distant but growing in importance, both social and political, as the assumption by the Northerners that the War would be over quickly has proved to be untrue. Sarah's age. Her sense that her life is both fantastical and practical.
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Moore's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Life of Objects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

"Sunset Empire"

Josh Weiss is a first-time author from South Jersey. Raised in a proud Jewish home, he was instilled with an appreciation for his cultural heritage from a very young age. Today, Weiss is utterly fascinated with the convergence of Judaism and popular culture in film, television, comics, literature, and other media. After college, he became a freelance entertainment journalist, writing stories for SYFY WIRE, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and Marvel Entertainment.

Weiss applied the Page 69 Test to Sunset Empire, the thrilling alternate history sequel to Beat the Devils, and reported the following:
Nice! I can actually use page 69 this time. You may recall that the 69th page of Beat the Devils was a blank divider in between sections, prompting me to settle for page 65 instead. Sunset Empire, however, has honest to goodness words on page 69! Am I rambling? Yes, a little bit.

If you turn to page 69 of my second book, you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of a secret meeting between Morris Baker and the leaders of the various Chinatown tongs, which put aside their senseless quarreling long ago in the face of President Joseph McCarthy’s rampant, anti-Asian xenophobia.

Given how they helped Baker out of a tight spot with HUAC at the end of Book 1, they are now calling in a favor, asking the homicide detective turned private eye to find one of their members, a man by the name of Han Zhao, who has recently disappeared without a trace. It is during this scene that Baker meets Han’s young daughter, Mingmei and receives a photograph of the missing man. The young woman has taken over her father’s underworld operations in his absence, but does not wish for this to “become a permanent arrangement.”

Motifs of family and of shouldering adult responsibilities before one comes of age (i.e. the abrupt forfeiture of youth) are, I would say, the core thematic reverberations of Sunset Empire. As you’ll see, Mingmei Zhao is just one character in Sunset Empire forced to grow up before her time.
Visit Josh Weiss's website.

The Page 69 Test: Beat the Devils.

My Book, The Movie: Sunset Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 3, 2023

"The Home for Wayward Girls"

Marcia Bradley is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. An adjunct professor, she also teaches economically challenged teens and is proud that one of her Yonkers students is now a student at Sarah Lawrence. A former editor of Antioch's Two Hawks magazine, Bradley has been awarded residencies at Ragdale, Community of Writers, and Writers in Paradise. She lives in New York City.

Bradley applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Home for Wayward Girls, and reported the following:
From the middle of page 69, a scene with the protagonist Loretta:
“Please, please . . . “ Her whimper became a plea to keep Bull’s pointed teeth away from her body, to prevent-delay-stop, please please please stop the branch that dug deeper into the rips in her skin, digging and dragging in attack. William slammed the branch into her spine, her waist, then whacked behind her knees. She heard Bull’s growl, close and mean.

Loretta buckled in desperation. Sad and tired and not near strong as William, she crumpled to the ground. Her knees spilled to the hard dirt so infertile it could well be concrete.

Time choked, it too stumbled, like her laggard steps on the path from the bunkhouse. Loretta’s head zigged, auburn hair flying. Her head last to fall, it fell so slow. Later, she’d swear she’d seen her own self, her head zagging down down down until she hit the rusty nail sticking out of the wood frame of the vegetable bed that bore no leafy greens.

The nail! The nail! she tried to scream.

“Please,” she cried. “Please.” The words struggled from her mouth. Her father dragged her to her feet. That bent old nail, rusted, it ripped right through her long, mountain strong, not so pale-skinned neck.
Opening page 69 of The Home for Wayward Girls is like focusing a flashlight on one of the most consequential moments of Loretta’s life. The page displays the untenable conflicts she faces in the late 1990’s at seventeen years of age and foreshadows the choices she will ultimately have to make. When, in desperation, Loretta crumples to the ground, she stays aware of her surroundings. In this day and age of high-tech weaponry in action stories, it is simple hard ground she falls upon, pain inflicted from a tree branch, and a rusted nail that will scar Loretta for the rest of her days. It is this moment that guides much of her life’s journey.

The Page 69 Test works here because it reveals Loretta’s sad dilemma in the same manner a quick excerpt or even a piece of flash fiction can quickly amplify the tension and obstacles in a story. From the top of the page to bottom, we see Loretta facing horrific odds as she is attacked by her father alongside his frightening guard dog. It’s clear that the deck is stacked against her. Yet, this page matters even more because Loretta tells us that, “Later, she’d swear she’d seen her own self … hit the rusty nail,” and in this we know there is hope. Later tells readers that the protagonist will survive, that a future time is guaranteed. As the author, it was important for me to give hope continually throughout this book, and to show the reader that a better future awaits this young woman.
Visit Marcia Bradley's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Home for Wayward Girls.

Q&A with Marcia Bradley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 1, 2023


A cross between Dr. Dolittle, Nanny McPhee, and a type-A Buddhist, Laurie Buchanan is an active listener, observer of details, payer of attention, reader and writer of books, kindness enthusiast, and red licorice aficionado. Her books have won multiple awards, including the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Winner, the International Book Award Gold Winner, the National Indie Excellence Awards Winner, the Crime Fiction/Suspense Eric Hoffer Awards Finalist, and the PenCraft Award for literary excellence; they’ve also been a finalist for the CLUE Suspense/Thriller Book Awards.

Buchanan applied the Page 69 Test to, Impervious, her newest Sean McPherson novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When possible, Toni takes backstreets and residential streets to avoid street cams as she drives Emilio Acardi's Camaro to his apartment complex and parks it. She leaves the keys in the ignition, exits the car, and takes care closing the driver's door.

After pulling her hat low and her collar up, she peels off her latex gloves and shoves them into her pockets, then brisk-walks twelve blocks where she gets into her own car and drives home.

Again, avoiding street cams. It's good being a cop. You know where all the "eyes" are.

After an hour of keystrokes, a few phone calls, and two fingers of scotch, Toni sits back satisfied.

New Orleans is two cities, one gentrified and grand, the other devastated and despairing, both within a single municipal boundary.

She raises her glass. Gentrified and grand, here I come. Toni yawns and stretches like a content cat. I'm not about to have my "Family First" tattoo modified in squalor.
Uncannily, page 69 offers an excellent overall flavor of the storyline. In the case of Impervious, the Page 69 Test is a good shortcut for browsers.

Page 69 reveals a dirty cop mid-coverup and her plan to get away with having some incriminating evidence modified.

Intrigued? Here's a bit more enticement: The bride, the groom, the toast, the explosion.... What should be a joyous occasion turns lethal.
Visit Laurie Buchanan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue