Tuesday, October 31, 2023

"City People"

Elizabeth Topp’s debut novel, Perfectly Impossible, was a number one Amazon bestseller in literary fiction. Topp penned her first short story as a second grader at the Dalton School and continued studying creative writing at Harvard College and Columbia’s School of the Arts, where she earned a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing. Topp coauthored her first book, Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual, with her gynecologist mother while she worked as a private assistant, a job she still holds. Topp lives in the same Manhattan apartment where she grew up with her partner, Matthew; daughter, Anna; and their cat, Stripes.

Topp applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, City People, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book is our introduction to arguably the most sane, ‘likeable’ character out of the six Moms: Chandice. We learn on this page that Chandice is fighting cancer, which is unlike the other struggles in her life because there is nothing she personally can really do to win this battle. As a Black, female, corporate lawyer in America, Chandice has always had to work just a little bit harder to combat negative stereotypes, but cancer is not something you can work harder against. In this way, page 69 is a good introduction to City People, whose main themes are control, identity and equity. This group of women wish desperately to orchestrate the outcomes of their children’s lives through educational and social advancement, which functions as a scrim to conceal the way that they—and most of us—seek to choreograph our own lives. None of them is totally successful in this endeavor, but Chandice’s plight is the one that readers and myself were most sympathetic towards. They all behave and feel as if their lives are on the line, but for Chandice this rings the most true.
Visit Elizabeth Topp's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 29, 2023

"Lights Out"

Elise Hart Kipness is a former television sports reporter turned crime writer. Her debut mystery, Lights Out, the first in a series, is based on the author’s experience in the high-pressure, adrenaline-pumping world of live TV. Like her protagonist, she chased marquee athletes through the tunnels of Madison Square Garden and stood before glaring lights reporting to national audiences.

Kipness applied the Page 69 Test to Lights Out and reported the following:
Page 69 brings the reader to a scene at the city morgue. My main character, Kate Green, accompanies her best friend Yvette to view the body of Yvette’s husband, Kurt Robbins. Kurt was found shot dead in his Greenwich, CT mansion a day earlier.
I don’t know how long we sit. Ten minutes? Twenty? Yvette’s sobs turn soft and then stop. “Let me take you to the powder room, dear,” Patricia says. “You can splash some cold water onto your face.” Yvette and the woman walk down the hallway and disappear through another corridor.

I get up and step over to the door to the room where we saw the body. I turn the knob—it clicks and opens. “Hello?” I enter the brightly lit room.

“You can’t be in here.” The bald man in the lab coat appears from behind a cordoned-off area.

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to ask—did he suffer?”
The Page 69 Test works well because it highlights female friendship, which is an important theme in Lights Out.
Visit Elise Hart Kipness's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 27, 2023

"The Night I Died"

Anne Frasier is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with over a million copies sold. Her award-winning books span the genres of suspense, mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, paranormal, and memoir. The Body Reader received the 2017 Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original from International Thriller Writers. Other honors include a RITA for romantic suspense and a Daphne du Maurier Award for paranormal romance. Her thrillers have hit the USA Today bestseller list and have been featured in Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club. Her memoir The Orchard was an O, The Oprah Magazine Fall Pick; a One Book, One Community read; a B+ review in Entertainment Weekly; and one of the Librarians’ Best Books of 2011.

Frasier applied the Page 69 Test to her new thriller, The Night I Died, and reported the following:
From page 69:
They moved toward the three-story building—a sprawling black silhouette with a giant brick chimney in back, probably connected to a crematorium.

“Keep a low profile,” she whispered.

He hunched a little. “This is like the best first date ever.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s not a date.”

“Wishful thinking.”

“I’m practically old enough to be your mother.”

“I looked you up. I’m six years younger, which means you’d have to have had me when you were six, which would be even creepier than this town.”

His immaturity made him seem younger.

“This isn’t a date, and we aren’t partners.” He’d already proven himself to be untrustworthy. He would manipulate to get the story he wanted. She suspected his flirting was because he hoped she could get him an interview with Bonnie. Without at least one interview and hopefully many more, he didn’t have a strong story. Truman Capote interviewed hundreds of people for In Cold Blood, including both killers. It was what made the book so compelling.

Will pulled a penlight from his pack, and they both crept along the building, remaining under cover of its even darker shadow.
Uncanny! This hits in all the right ways. It tells us that they are investigating something. It immediately reveals their awkward yet playful relationship, along with some character traits. It even lets us know they are in a creepy town, most likely unfamiliar to them. We can even surmise that Will is a reporter and the female is working a case. What I found especially interesting about this test is that the page before and after told the reader very little. So it’s a big yes from me for page 69!
Visit Anne Frasier's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Body Counter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

"The Search For Us"

Susan Azim Boyer (she/her), author of Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win, writes young adult fiction featuring Iranian American heroines she never encountered growing up, who make messy, complicated choices that rapidly snowball into avalanches. She hails from Nebraska but grew up in Los Angeles before spending several years in San Francisco and the next twenty in Sonoma County. She now lives in the Coachella Valley with her husband, Wayne, and her Pug mix, Teddy. Their son, Alec, lives in New York.

Azim Boyer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Search for Us, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Samira FaceTimed Tara, who popped on-screen in the purple polka-dot, ruffle-cuff dress she had just purchased from Stitch Fix. “Why haven’t you answered my texts? I’ve been worried about you.”

“Don’t talk. Just listen. And look,” Samira said and turned her iPhone toward her laptop. “Did you get something like this from 23andMe, too? Is it a mistake?”

Tara squinted. “DMs? Yes. I get them all the time, they—”

“Look at the first message!” Samira shouted.

Tara squinted again. “Oh my God, Sami, you have a sibling.”

Samira turned the iPhone back toward her. “No. It’s a mistake, right? Or, like, spam.”

Tara futzed with the tag on her dress while trying to hold her phone. “Sami, no. It’s not a mistake, there are no ‘mistakes’ in DNA. Either you’re a match or you’re not. If it says you have another sibling, you have another sibling.”

For a moment, Samira couldn’t breathe. She’d been knocked off her feet without warning. Her mind went uncharacteristically blank. She uttered a sentence she hadn’t uttered in ages. “Wh-what am I supposed to do?”

“Open the message,” Tara commanded.

Samira sat there staring at the screen, immobile. She could be opening Pandora’s box. “I should call my mom first.”

“Click first, call later,” Tara said, taking remarkable control of the situation.

Samira clicked and stared intently at the screen, reading and rereading the message, unable to speak.

“What does it say, what does it say?” Tara asked, pulling the tag off her dress with her teeth.

“It’s . . . a boy. I mean, he’s a boy. I mean, he’s my brother, my brother is a boy. You know what I mean.” Her brain was totally scrambled.
Wow! Uncanny. This page would tell a browsing reader exactly what this book is about!

This page is the exact moment that Samira and Henry, half-siblings searching for their father who are instead matched to each other through a DNA test, are connected for the first time! It’s very indicative of the rest of the book, except that the chapters alternate between their points of view, and it’s also reflective of the tone: equal parts emotional and comedic.
Visit Susan Azim Boyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 23, 2023

"Fox Snare"

A Korean-American sf/f writer who received a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University, Yoon Ha Lee finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas. Lee’s novel Ninefox Gambit won the Locus Award for best first novel, and was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke awards; its sequels, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun, were also Hugo finalists. His middle grade space opera Dragon Pearl won the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature and the Locus Award for best YA novel, and was a New York Times bestseller. Lee’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as Tor.com, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Audubon Magazine, as well as several year’s best anthologies.

Lee’s hobbies include composing music, art, and destroying the reader. He lives in Louisiana with his husband and an extremely lazy catten.

Lee applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Fox Snare, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The medic was unamused. “I’m sorry, who are you two and what are you doing in my sick bay?”

“Pardon me,” the older woman cut in smoothly. “I’m Yang Miho, assistant to the minister of defense. I’m part of the diplomatic party that will be taking this fine vessel to the border world of Jasujeong. I thought I’d take a tour…”

A twinge of headache returned as Miho steered the medic away from us and toward an office. I’d met her before. It must have been at that disastrous party. I hoped I hadn’t offered her mortal insult and now she was snubbing me as a result. but then again, I wasn’t a person worth the effort.
Fox Snare is the third of the Thousand Worlds trilogy, so I suspect it’s going to confuse people coming in without having read either Dragon Pearl (book one) or Tiger Honor (book two)! On this page, Cadet Sebin is trying to figure out what’s fishy about Yang Miho, and why their friend Min is also acting so suspiciously - but without the context set up earlier in Fox Snare (and, in fact, in the previous two books) the poor reader will have no idea what’s going on! Whoops.

That said, I had so much fun with Fox Snare, which I pitched to my editor as “fox spirit and tiger spirit try to survive after crash-landing on a contested death planet amid diplomatic tensions”! I’m always down for death planets. Min, the fox spirit in question, is bearer of the powerful Dragon Pearl, which can rapidly terraform a planet. Sounds great, except the Thousand Worlds’ dragons don't like the fact that she’s broken their monopoly on terraforming (and they’re much slower). When Min and Sebin join a diplomatic mission to ease tensions between the Thousand Worlds and the rival Sun Clans, the meeting is sabotaged - and if they don’t escape the death planet, war may be next.
Visit Yoon Ha Lee's website.

The Page 69 Test: Revenant Gun.

My Book, The Movie: Ninefox Gambit.

Q&A with Yoon Ha Lee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 21, 2023

"Last to Leave the Room"

Caitlin Starling is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Death of Jane Lawrence and The Luminous Dead. She writes genre-hopping horror and speculative fiction.

Starling applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Last to Leave the Room, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Lachlan Woodfield’s name glows in the midnight dark.

Tamsin sits at her dining room table, alone. She stares down at her phone, hands clawing against her scalp. Her braid hangs half-undone, hair tangling under her clenching fingertips. She’s shaking again, has been shaking since she got out of the basement and hasn’t stopped once. There’s a sweating gin and tonic at her elbow. She hasn’t taken a single sip.

It was stupid, locking the thing downstairs. Her laptop is down there. All her equipment is down there. The damn door is down there, and who knows what else might come through it. Can the thing open it at will? It must be able to. Anything else…

What? Doesn’t make sense?

None of this makes sense.

Maybe, when she unlocks the basement, the thing will be gone. Left, or never existed at all. The unhinged imaginings of an overwrought mind. It didn’t work with the door, but she wants to believe now. Needs to.

But if it’s still there, she needs a plan.

Lachlan would come if she called. She can see it clearly: Lachlan on her doorstep, black gloves in place, as always. Lachlan, gun in hand, ready as Tamsin unlocks the basement. Or maybe she’d use a knife; a gunshot would wake the neighbors, and Lachlan is nothing if not mindful about appearances. About management.

Lachlan can fix this.

Myrica Dynamics will spread that thing wearing her face out in a lab somewhere. And she’ll be right there with them, cutting into its flesh. She doesn’t have the medical training, but she’d insist.
The actual page 69 in Last to Leave the Room is the start of a new section of the book, titled, THE DOUBLE. Very relevant, but lacking a bit of meat! So I jumped ahead to the first page of text after that, where our protagonist, Dr. Tamsin Rivers, is trying to decide what the hell she’s going to do about her doppelganger, who has just walked out of a door that didn’t exist a week ago, in her basement that is rapidly distorting in dimensions, all of which she has concealed from her employer’s “problem solver”, Lachlan Woodfield.

This page is a perfect encapsulation of Tamsin’s character: obsessive, stressed, and determined to find a way to be in control of the uncontrollable. This isn’t the first time she’s been tempted to call Lachlan for help, but each time, the uncertainty of what Lachlan will do to her inevitably isolates Tamsin that little bit more. Here, finally, she seems poised to reach out. But will she?

We also get a tantalizing glimpse of the doppelganger, which Tamsin considers a “thing”-- not a person. That dehumanizing remove is half self-defense, half arrogant exceptionalism. Tamsin’s relationship with her doppelganger is proprietary; it’s wearing her face, but even without training, she feels as if she deserves to help in its dissection. Yikes!

Here, at the start of this new section of the book, we have Tamsin isolated and about to make a decision that could unravel her entire life. So will she call Lachlan? Or will she decide, once and for all, to fix her problems herself?
Visit Caitlin Starling's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Luminous Dead.

The Page 69 Test: The Death of Jane Lawrence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 19, 2023

"Thin Air"

Kellie M. Parker grew up traveling the United States and Europe as a US Navy brat. She attended high schools in three states and was too nerdy to ever sit at the cool kids’ table. With books as her most reliable companion, it was only a matter of time before she decided to write one herself. She has college degrees in biology and nautical archaeology but has always found her sense of adventure most satisfied by a great story.

Parker lives in west Michigan with her husband and four kids. She writes about brave, smart teens trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. When she’s not plotting her next fictional murder, she can be found baking, gardening, tackling DIY home projects, and reading to her kids.

Parker applied the Page 69 Test to Thin Air, her debut YA novel, and reported the following:
If you’re wandering through the bookstore and randomly open Thin Air to page 69, will it give you a good idea what the book is about? Let’s try it. Here’s a snippet of what you’ll read:
“Olivia Mitchell. One: My father bought all those awards I’ve received from Lancashire.”

She inhales sharply but otherwise stays still, staring at a spot on the floor. “It’s not true.” Her voice trembles.

“Two: My older brother had better grades, more accolades, and better athletic stats than I do.”

“Three: I lied about what happened in the car accident that killed him.”

My heart aches for her, and I shift my weight from one leg to the other to avoid giving in to the impulse to hug her. Somehow, I’m pretty sure Olivia’s pride wouldn’t let her appreciate sympathy.

The scholarship is probably the farthest thing from my mind at this moment as the voice pauses between names. Dylan is next, and it’ll be me soon after.

No matter how horrible the others have been, I still don’t want to hear my own name. Don’t want everyone else to hear the truth about me. Or the scholarship committee, for that matter.

“Dylan Roberts.”
Page 69 drops us right into an intriguing scene in which it’s clear that secrets are being revealed about the characters in a public way against their wishes. Of course, from this page alone, we don’t know who these characters are or where the action is taking place, but we do learn a little about the main character. We learn that she’s sympathetic, from her desire to comfort someone else, and we learn that she’s keeping secrets she doesn’t want the others to learn. There’s also the mention of a scholarship committee that will also overhear her secrets if her name is announced. This fact suggests that she and the others are competing for a scholarship, and that they’re currently being observed or overseen in some way by the committee.

And, in fact, all these observations from page 69 are correct. The characters are boarding school students on a luxury flight to Paris, where a private foundation will select one winner for a four-year scholarship to the college of their choice. On the way, someone takes over the audio system on the plane and rattles off a list of secrets they’ve each been keeping, clueing them in that someone on board knows far more about each candidate than they should. The main character, Emily, sees winning the scholarship as her best chance to escape the poverty her family has recently fallen into, so the last thing she wants is for the scholarship committee to find out the truth about her. As the story progresses, things go from bad to worse when students start dying. Emily must figure out who to trust and who is a killer if she wants to reach Paris alive.

While page 69 might not provide a complete introduction to the book, it does give a good feel for the secrets, interpersonal dynamics, and mystery that drive the story. A browser who flips to this page will hopefully be intrigued and want to find out who is torturing these poor characters by revealing their secrets, and whether Emily’s name will be called next. You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Visit Kellie M. Parker's website.

Q&A with Kellie M. Parker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

"Let the Dead Bury the Dead"

Allison Epstein earned her MFA in fiction from Northwestern University and a BA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as an editor. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets. She is the author of historical novels including A Tip for the Hangman, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, and the forthcoming Our Rotten Hearts.

Epstein applied the Page 69 Test to Let the Dead Bury the Dead and reported the following:
From page 69 of Let the Dead Bury the Dead:
Felix pushed away from the window, but he'd misjudged his balance. Light-headed, stomach turning, he stumbled over nothing, and if not for Sasha's hastily offered arm, he'd have fallen. Furious, he twisted from Sasha's grasp. He'd be damned if anyone touched him. Not with the smell of smoke still lingering in his mind, and the screams, how could he remember so clearly the sound of something he'd never heard—

"Sasha, I swear to God," Felix said quietly, "if you don't leave me alone this minute, I don't know what I'll do."

Before Sasha could respond, he fled the room, and did not stop until he reached the sanctuary of his own bedroom and locked the door.
I'd give the Page 69 Test a B- for Let the Dead Bury the Dead, I think! The page shows the emotional fallout from an exchange between Felix, the son of the tsar, and Sofia, a mysterious stranger who's just turned up at his palace. Sofia's words make him question whether Russia's triumph over Napoleon was a victory after all, or if the pain the country has gone through could still lead to something dangerous. That conversation—and the supernatural vision that may or may not come with it—forces Felix to realize that his family's rule might not be the best thing for his country, which is the catalyst for his whole character arc.

Of course, that's all two pages back. So if this was the Page 67 Test, this would be perfect!

But there's a preview of something meaningful on page 69 also, and that's how Felix's epiphany will affect his relationship with his romantic partner Sasha. This page has Felix literally pushing him away instead of trying to find a way forward together, and those divisions are only going to get deeper and more complicated as the story unfolds.

The paragraph on page 69 after the one I quoted shows Felix drinking heavily and hiding from his problems instead of dealing with them like a responsible adult, which is extremely representative of his character and also the rest of the book.
Visit Allison Epstein's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Tip for the Hangman.

The Page 69 Test: A Tip for the Hangman.

Q&A with Allison Epstein.

My Book, The Movie: Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 16, 2023

"Home at Night"

Paula Munier is a literary agent and the USA TODAY bestselling author of the Mercy Carr mysteries. A Borrowing of Bones, the first in the series, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and named the Dogwise Book of the Year. The sequel Blind Search, inspired by the real-life rescue of a little boy with autism who got lost in the woods, was followed by The Hiding Place in 2021 and The Wedding Plot in 2022.

Munier applied the Page 69 Test to her new Mercy Carr mystery, Home at Night, and reported the following:
Turn to page 69 of Home at Night, and you’ll find revelations about Euphemia Whitney-Jones, the celebrated poet who even in death casts a long shadow over Grackle Tree Farm. My heroine Mercy Carr has her heart set on calling the place home—even when Elvis aka the world’s smartest dog finds a dead body in the library. She’s determined to make the old Victorian pile on thirty acres of Vermont woods her own, even if it is cursed by an unhappy history.

On page 69, you learn that Euphemia grew up in the 19th century limestone mansion, before moving to the south of France and establishing a famous—or should I say infamous—literary salon. Mercy's Uncle Hugo knew Euphemia and visited her in Provence during the Cold War. The colonel describes their brief encounter, her legendary salon and the luminaries who flocked to it. As it turns out, Grackle Tree Farm is full of secrets that Euphemia has taken with her to the grave—and it's up to Mercy to dig them up.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

My Book, The Movie: A Borrowing of Bones.

The Page 69 Test: A Borrowing of Bones.

My Book, The Movie: Blind Search.

The Page 69 Test: Blind Search.

My Book, The Movie: The Hiding Place.

The Page 69 Test: The Hiding Place.

Q&A with Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: The Wedding Plot.

The Page 69 Test: The Wedding Plot.

Writers Read: Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: Home at Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 14, 2023

"For Girls Who Walk through Fire"

Kim DeRose writes dark, magical stories about strong, magical girls.

She grew up in Santa Barbara, California, where she spent childhood summers reading books and writing stories (which she was convinced her local bookstore would publish). She now lives in New York City, where she spends all seasons reading books and writing stories.

DeRose earned her MFA in film directing from UCLA, and currently works in digital media.

When she’s not reading or writing she can be found listening to podcasts on long walks, drinking endless cups of coffee, and spending time with her family.

DeRose applied the Page 69 Test to For Girls Who Walk Through Fire, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Which guy do you want to take?”

“I’ll take the one with the surfer hair,” Madeline answered, applying a final coat of lipstick before tucking the tube away in her dainty purse. “Trevor, or whatever.”

“Sweet, I’ll take the faux-hawk,” Elliott answered in a jokey frat boy voice. But Madeline didn’t react. Elliott could see she was visibly anxious but also trying to remain calm. “Do you know people here, or something?”

“What?” Madeline glanced over at her. “At the party? No. I mean, I don’t think so.” She ran a hand over her hair. “I don’t know.”

“Well, are you sure you’re cool with doing this? Because we could always get—”

“I’m fine,” Madeline assured her crisply, tossing back her hair.

“Hey.” Elliott put a hand on Madeline’s shoulder to make her stop. “Those people in there? Whatever you’re worried they’re thinking? Fuck them.”

Madeline rolled her eyes, like, Oh sure, because it’s that easy.

“No, seriously,” insisted Elliott, looking Madeline dead in the eye. “You are a goddamn witch now.” She held up her right palm as a reminder. “So. Fuck. Them.”

This time Madeline took in her words. She nodded, then shook herself out a little. “Okay. Let’s just get this over with as fast as possible.”

A sentiment Elliott fully agreed with; she had zero interest in sticking around at some lame-ass rich kid’s high school party.

Though if she was honest with herself? She was also a little nervous. And her pep talk hadn’t been solely for Madeline. Chloe was right, this wasn’t Elliott’s scene. Being around private school kids always made her self-conscious, like she wasn’t as good or as smart…
I think page 69 gives readers a fairly good sense of the book—though some key elements are missing.

In this scene we have our protagonist, Elliott, and her first coven recruit, Madeline, getting ready to enter a high school party on behalf of another coven member, Chloe. This scene makes clear that it’s a big deal for both Elliott and Madeline to be setting out on this endeavor, though they each have very different reasons for their anxiety.

This scene also makes clear that they’ve recently become witches, and that being part of a coven is going to give them a much-needed sense of comradery and belonging.

Lastly, the scene hints at the book’s core premise: that these girls are using witchcraft to take guys down. But that last part is truly just a hint. Which guy do you want to take? An echo of what our coven has undoubtedly heard many guys say about girls as they enter a party.

What this scene doesn’t reveal is that the coven is freshly formed, that the girls barely know one another—they’ve sat together in the same sexual assault support group but are virtual strangers—and that Elliott has brought them together to unlock the power within The Book of Reflection (a spell book she found in her late mother’s belongings) with the sole purpose of getting revenge.

Readers also won’t know that this scene is quite important; it’s the lead up to the coven performing their first spell.

And will the spell work? Will the coven find what they are seeking? And, if so, will there be any sort of karmic impact or ramifications, or will they skip away unscathed and guilt-free? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.
Visit Kim DeRose's website.

Q&A with Kim DeRose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 12, 2023

"Beirut Station: Two Lives of a Spy"

Paul Vidich's new novel is Beirut Station: Two Lives of a Spy. His previous novel, The Mercenary, was selected by CrimeReads as one of the top 10 espionage novels of 2021. His debut novel, An Honorable Man, was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 Mystery and Thriller in 2016. It was followed by The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was widely praised in England and America, earning strong reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. It was shortlisted for the UK’s Staunch Prize and chosen as a Notable Selection of 2020 by CrimeReads.

Vidich applied the Page 69 Test to Beirut Station and reported the following:
Page 69 of Beirut Station brings together the two Mossad agents and their CIA counterparts in a makeshift mobile headquarters. The narrator is Analise, looks at the others. “Two old spies, she thought. A Cold Warrior and a Zionist, both in their sixties, which a long habit of lying courteously to each other, which bound them together and kept them at a polite distance – the most intimate of adversaries.” The older Mossad agent looks at Analise and says basically, “do you have the new plans?”

The Page 69 Test provides a strong clue about what the novel is about. Four spies convene together in a van in Beirut, and one asks the other, ‘have you got the new plans?’ The characters are spies, so the reader can assume that they are engaged in skullduggery, and the mention of ‘new plans’ suggests a mission that will be under taken. The page builds suspense about the nature of the operation: what is being planned? Who is the target? What is at stake?

Beirut Station is about a joint mission by the CIA and Mossad to assassinate a a reclusive Hezbollah terrorist who was responsible for the murder of William Buckley, the Beirut Station Chief killed in 1985. Analise Assad is a non-official cover officer tasked with getting close to the terrorist’s grandchild in order to uncover the terrorist's whereabouts. The story takes place in the midst of the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006. Inside the war story, there is love story. It’s also a story about the cycle of revenge in the Middle East.
Visit Paul Vidich's website.

Q&A with Paul Vidich.

My Book, The Movie: The Mercenary.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercenary.

The Page 69 Test: The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlin.

Writers Read: Paul Vidich.

My Book, The Movie: Beirut Station.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

"The Witch's Lens"

Luanne G. Smith is the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Vine Witch series, The Raven Spell books, and the newly released The Witch’s Lens. She’s lucky enough to live in Colorado at the base of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, where she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, a glass of wine at the end of the day, and finding the magic in everyday life.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to The Witch’s Lens and reported the following:
If you open The Witch’s Lens, the first book in The Order of the Seven Stars series, to page sixty-nine, you will land on a short scene very indicative of the main character’s journey in the beginning of the novel. Petra is a witch who’s been recruited for a supernatural mission, and is just getting a lesson on how to drive a stake through the second heart of an upír. These vampire-like revenants are reanimating among the ranks of the Austrian-Hungarian army on the eastern front of WWI, and she and her companions are tasked with ridding the battlefield of the cursed beings. Her instructor, whom some readers of The Vine Witch series might recognize from book three, has filled grain sacks with sticks, rocks, and pig manure to recreate the experience of forcing a wooden stake through bone and muscle. The upír are undead, so they often smell badly because of their rotting bodies, something the untrained witch needs to get used to when confronting the fiends. After her instructor explains all the rather violent techniques for killing an upír, Petra takes a moment to assess the man.

From page 69:
This sorcerer had an easy way about him. Not like Bako and Josef, who seemed to relish the physical part of being soldiers, with their sabers and pistols proudly hanging from their belts. The priest of the Order of the Seven Stars instead carried his confidence as his weapon, and yet there was humility on display too, from his modest wool robe lined with fox fur to the bashlyk on his head trimmed in goat hide. His wooden leg would seem to disqualify him from such a dangerous occupation, but she’d yet to see his affliction slow him down.

“Have you faced a great many monsters?” she asked, wanting to know more about him.

The man laughed in a way that told her he had been in many scrapes already. “A few,” he said. “But killing them isn’t always the objective. Not outside of the war, anyway. Sometimes we just need them to go back to being the shy creatures they normally are.”
Unfortunately, the upír are not shy creatures and they are not acting of their own volition. The team goes on to discover who’s behind the rise of the cursed beings, and in the effort to stop the villain learn his motives aren’t as clear as once thought.
Visit Luanne G. Smith's website.

Q&A with Luanne G. Smith.

The Page 69 Test: The Raven Spell.

The Page 69 Test: The Raven Song.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 7, 2023

"Dreaming of Water"

Born in India and raised in North America, A. J. Banner received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Her previous novels of psychological suspense include The Good Neighbor, The Twilight Wife (a USA Today bestseller), After Nightfall, The Poison Garden, and In Another Light. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and rescued cats.

Banner applied the Page 69 Test to Dreaming of Water, her sixth novel, and reported the following:
The first paragraph on page 69:
She held up her arms in the pale light of the bedside lamp and looked at them. They were clean, no scratches, and there were no scratches on her face. She knew what the cop had been looking for—evidence that Nina had been alive when Astrid had waded into the pool and had fought back. Evidence that Astrid had drowned her very own sister.
Astrid swore she would never return to Heron Bay, Washington. Under her watch seventeen years ago, when she was a young teen, her little sister, Nina, accidentally drowned in a shallow reflecting pool. The tragedy tore Astrid’s family apart and left her with deep feelings of guilt and regret.

But now, seventeen years later, she can’t ignore her aunt Maude’s urgent call to come back. Maude claims to have found a letter that will change everything about the past. She wants Astrid, a forensic document examiner, to authenticate the letter.

When Astrid arrives, she finds her aunt unconscious, maybe victim of an attack. While Maude lies in a coma in the hospital, Astrid searches for the letter and gradually comes to believe that its contents hold the key to her little sister’s death all those years ago. Did Nina drown by accident, or was she murdered?

In the scene on page 69, Astrid flashes back to the hours after Nina’s death, during which the sheriff questioned Astrid, and another officer took pictures of Astrid’s arms, a traumatic experience for a young teen who is already in shock. Astrid had just discovered her sister floating in the reflecting pool and had tried to revive her.

Years later, the trauma resurfaces as Astrid revisits the night in question and investigates what really happened. Eventually, she uncovers shocking secrets about the people of the town and her own family. Page 69 gives a good idea of the theme of the whole work, as the scene shows the origin of the trauma that Astrid has carried for years and addresses the basic story question: was Nina’s death accidental, or was it murder? Could Astrid have been responsible for her sister’s death?
Visit A.J. Banner's website.

The Page 69 Test: After Nightfall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

"Best Be Prepared"

Gwen Florio grew up in a farmhouse filled with books and a ban on television. After studying English at the University of Delaware, she began a decades-long career in journalism that has taken her around the country and to more than a dozen other countries, including several conflict zones. Her first novel in the Lola Wicks mystery series, Montana, won the Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction and the High Plains Book Award, and was a finalist for the Shamus Award, an International Thriller Award and a Silver Falchion Award. She has since released four other books in the Lola Wicks series and three standalone novels.

Florio applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Best Be Prepared, the fourth book in the Nora Best series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Nora put her foot down the next night when Luke asked if he could join her and Sheila at Betty’s.

She was still unnerved by his sudden swerve toward domesticity, even though she had to admit to herself that looked at one way, the house purchase made sense. But she didn’t like the way he’d surprised her and couldn’t help but wonder what other surprises might be in store as their relationship progressed. What if he was one of those guys who thought a traditional living arrangement meant traditional gender roles, too?
Page 69 introduces a growing dilemma for my protagonist, Nora Best. Her boyfriend of less than a year has shut down her discussion about the death of a local environmental activist with the news that he’s found a house – for both of them.

She’s torn between wanting to commit to a promising relationship but knocked off balance by such a big move without any prior discussion. Her best friend Sheila – the fellow teacher she’s meeting that night at Betty’s Bakery Café – dismisses her doubts, saying Nora has hit the boyfriend jackpot in Luke.

Although page 69 references a subplot, the test works well for Best Be Prepared.

The title refers to the book’s setting in a Pacific Northwest beach community highly vulnerable to a tsunami.

Ideally, the community – any community – would do whatever it takes to prepare for the worst possible scenario. But preparations are costly and would stand in the way of lucrative development, a scenario seen all too often in this time of climate change and destructive weather.

Throughout the book, Nora struggles with the seductive lure of the status quo, both in her personal life and within the larger community where she hopes to make a permanent home.

Her curiosity is squelched at every turn. Luke is oblivious to her concern about their relationship. Community leaders dismiss her doubts about the activist’s death.

The two situations mirror one another. In each case, Nora has to learn to trust her own inner voice and find the strength to ignore the considerable pressure – both at home and in the community – to look the other way.

This being a mystery, the consequences of course are deadly.
Visit Gwen Florio's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Gwen Florio & Nell.

My Book, the Movie: Silent Hearts.

The Page 69 Test: Silent Hearts.

My Book, The Movie: Best Laid Plans.

The Page 69 Test: Best Laid Plans.

Q&A with Gwen Florio.

My Book, The Movie: The Truth of it All.

The Page 69 Test: The Truth of it All.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 1, 2023

"These Still Black Waters"

Christina McDonald is the USA Today and Amazon Charts bestselling author of These Still Black Waters, Do No Harm, Behind Every Lie, and The Night Olivia Fell, which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio.

McDonald applied the Page 69 Test to These Still Black Waters and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test works really well on These Still Black Waters. The setting is a flashback to Neve’s childhood days, arriving in Black Lake for her last ‘normal’ summer. The scene shows Neve’s character as a child, as well as foreshadows how things are about to change, most importantly with her friend Bee.
I was a shy and anxious child, terrified daily by my father’s vivid images of the rapture and end times, of being left behind and getting my head chopped off or worse, committing unforgivable sins and being sent straight to Hell. He thought A Thief in the Night was a perfect Sunday School movie.

But Bee had the easy confidence that came with not having a lot of parental input. She invented our games, and I followed along. We climbed trees and built forts, caught fireflies, roasted marshmallows, went kayaking, and swung on rope swings into the lake.

But that day, when we arrived, there was no Bee. After a while, I made my way over to her house. Her mom answered the door, looking gaunt and grim, her cheekbones jutting like straight arrows. She gave me a one-armed hug. She was already half-drunk, her eyes glassy, even though it wasn’t yet lunchtime. She had a giant insulated thermos in one hand, and the reek of whiskey came off her in waves.

“Good to see you, doll!” she exclaimed, too loud. “Bee’s up in her room.”

When Bee opened her bedroom door, I gasped.

“Bee, wow, you look…amazing!” She was all angles and sharp lines. And her boobs were huge, or was her bra padded? Her pink crop top and short shorts left little to the imagination.

“Neve! I didn’t know you were back!” She threw her arms around me, then twirled dramatically. “It’s my new diet, doll.”

There was something about her mother to this new Bee—the sharp cheekbones, the padded bra, the airy use of the word doll. I didn’t like it.
While this page gives a good representation of character, I’m not sure it gives a good idea of the whole book, nor that it would make people grab the book and take it up to the cash register. They might be intrigued by the characterization, and readers interested in teenage dynamics might like it, but this one page doesn’t explore the plot in the most suspenseful way.

What it does do is set up the characters of Neve and Bee, who they are in relation to each other, and it foreshadows how much that relationship is about to change. It also shows what a troubled girl Bee was, and that Neve noticed, and followed her anyway.

I love that this page showcases Black Lake and how the girls’ relationship blossomed in this lakeside town. Black Lake is completely fictional, but the essence of it is loosely based on my visits to Lake Chelan (Washington State) when I was a kid.

We didn’t go for entire summers, just long weekends camping, but it had that small-town vibe about it, eating lunch at hamburger stands and building forts and swinging on ropes swings. We’d spend hot, sandy days at the beach, then eat our ice cream cones in the shade as they melted down our fingertips, and at night we’d roast marshmallows or catch fireflies. I really wanted to capture that feeling of nostalgia, that familiarity in the confines of this story, and I think this page does that.
Visit Christina McDonald's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Night Olivia Fell.

--Marshal Zeringue