Wednesday, November 29, 2023

"Sunset, Water City"

Chris McKinney was born and raised in Hawaiʻi, on the island of Oahu. He has written nine novels, including The Tattoo and The Queen of Tears, a coauthored memoir, and the screenplays for two feature films and two short films. He is the winner of the Elliott Cades Award and seven Kapalapala Poʻokela Awards and has been appointed Visiting Distinguished Writer at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Chris McKinney applied the Page 69 Test to Sunset, Water City, Book 3 of the Water City Trilogy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The eyeless boy is on a wooden chair across from me, one I made when I was a child. The seat is crooked, and the legs are uneven. It’s so worn, it looks like it’s about to collapse under him, but Jon is as calm as usual. His thin cane sits across his lap.

“What happened to you?” he asks.

“How long was I out?” I pant.

The boy shrugs.

“Minutes? Hours?” I ask.

“Time is inconsequential to me.”

“You carried me here?” I ask.

The boy shakes his head. “You walked. Or maybe wobbled is the better word. Then you simply lied down and closed your eyes.”

I don’t remember this. I never really do. I’ve lost time in the past. Every instance I’ve patched into my father and felt his death coming.
My page 69 of Sunset, Water City is essentially a quest starter. The main character, who has a computerized implant in her head that is connected to her father’s implant, senses that he’s in danger. Saving him has become a tiresome habit for her. He has grown tiresome. However, she will go, and she will take Jon, who she has just met, with her. She doesn’t know or trust Jon, but he is the first person she’s seen who has been able to free himself from the digital hive mind of Akira Kimura. It’s a terribly inconvenient moment for her. On one hand, she wants to discover how Jon has liberated himself. On the other, she must go rescue her father.

Page 69 is a solid representation of the book in general. It exhibits the unhealthy codependent relationship between the main character, Ascalon, and her father. This is evident throughout the book. It also shows that Ascalon is in a constant state of inner conflict. She’s a nineteen-year-old kid forced to make tough choices in a post-apocalyptical world populated by barbaric tribes and digital zombies who, at the behest of Akira Kimura, are removing all traces of human history. Ascalon wants to end Akira’s control over these people, but her father always seems to get in the way. To Ascalon, finding Jon is key to achieving her goal, so she must keep him close, but is she putting him in danger when she takes him with her to go save her father? These are the kinds of hard decisions Ascalon needs to make throughout Sunset, Water City.
Visit Chris McKinney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

"Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord"

Celeste Connally is an Agatha Award nominee, and a former freelance writer and editor. A lifelong devotee of historical novels and adaptations fueled by her passion for history—plus weekly doses of PBS Masterpiece—Connally loves reading and writing about women from the past who didn’t always do as they were told.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He paused. “You are well aware of the way to the lavender drawing room, Petra. Whom or what did you wish to find instead?”
My page 69 of Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord is only half a page, ending chapter seven, and for those who like some romance with their mystery, I think it’s a very good representation of what to expect from my headstrong, Regency-era protagonist, Lady Petra Forsyth, as well as my historical mystery in general.

This scene takes place at the Duchess of Hillmorton’s spring ball and finds Petra caught in the act of her first attempt at investigating by Duncan Shawcross, her childhood friend turned frenemy, as well as the duchess’s illegitimate grandson.

The paragraphs show just how well Duncan knows Petra, and how much he cares for her, even as he enjoys needling her a bit. As for Petra, they show that, despite some earlier claims, she’s not immune whatsoever to Duncan like she thought.

But even more, this short scene proves that Petra’s determined to discover what has really happened to her friend Gwen, Lady Milford, who has been reported as having died from a fit relating to her melancholia. That is, until Petra happens upon her friend’s former footman, who claims to have seen Lady Milford alive.

All in all, the Page 69 Test rings true in my opinion, displaying Lady Petra’s independent nature and her willingness to seek out the truth, all while showcasing her complex relationship with the man who knows her and respects her best. Most of all, however, this interaction with Duncan serves as one of the lines Petra crosses, going from the sheltered daughter of the Earl of Holbrook to committing herself to her path of becoming a clever and tenacious amateur sleuth.
Visit Celeste Connally's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 17, 2023

"The General and Julia"

Jon Clinch is the author of the acclaimed novels Finn, Kings of the Earth, The Thief of Auschwitz, Belzoni Dreams of Egypt, Marley, and The General and Julia. A native of upstate New York, Clinch lives with his wife in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The General and Julia and reported the following:
A curious browser opening to page 69 of The General and Julia would be plunged straight into dialog, which is kind of a tough place to get your footing. That said, it turns out that the conversation happening on this page is central to a number of issues that are important to the book, and it will take only a little bit of orientation to clear that up.

First, the voices we hear belong to Ulysses and Julia Grant. The year is 1862, a point midway through the Civil War, and the two of them are visiting the Missouri home of Julia’s father, Frederick Dent. Dent is an unrepentant and Confederate sympathizer, and he has just now been bitterly lamenting the deaths of two of his slaves. His concerns are purely financial, of course. In the dialog that follows, Grant speaks first.
“What bothers him more is that two of his prized possessions were bold enough to die.”

“Now, now. He mourns them as anyone would.”

Grant frowns. “Perhaps. Perhaps he only mourns the loss of his property.”

“I suppose so,” says Julia. “Sentiment has never made a dent in him.”

Her husband seizes on a chance to lighten the mood. “A dent, you say? Why, the man is nothing but Dent.”

“Oh, Ulys.”

“He is Dent from head to toe.”

Julia laughs. “All right. It’s never made on impression, then.”

“Fair enough.” They walk on and he opens a gate and admits her first. They proceed hand in hand into a field of tall grass with an apple orchard beyond it. As they go he decides that as far as the colonel is concerned, the two slaves may as well have run off. Dent must take it for the most terrible sin a negro can possibly commit: an act of free will. He makes no mention of it.

Julia returns to the original question. “What if you’re wrong about his finances,” she says, “and White Haven is truly in peril?”

“He could sell off land. He’d have less property to manage and more funds for handling it.”

“Of course! Then he could acquire a new man. Replace Monroe.”

“He could do that. If he insists on falling back on the old ways.”

“They’re the only ways he knows. Besides, you sound like an abolitionist.”

Grant pulls up short at the edge of the orchard. “I don’t care much for abolition one way or the other. You know that. My concern is putting down the rebellion.”
In my novel, Grant and his wife don’t spend a lot of time talking about the war or its causes. Their relationship is backgrounded by such matters, though. Not only does Julia’s father own slaves, he has put one of them into the daily service of Julia and Ulysses—creating a self-contradictory condition that will haunt the couple forever. Dent loves his daughter but hates her husband, which further complicates matters. And throughout, as he prosecutes the Civil War, Grant will wrestle with the roots and implications of his relation to slavery and its victims. A primary narrative arc of The General and Julia traces the clarification and maturing of that crucial relation, which makes page 69 as good an introduction to the book as any I can imagine.
Visit Jon Clinch's website.

The Page 69 Test: Finn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

"A Very Inconvenient Scandal"

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the New York Times bestselling author of 23 novels for adults and teenagers, and the recipient of Great Britain’s Talkabout prize, The Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson awards, and named to the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Her newest novel, A Very Inconvenient Scandal, the story of Frankie Attleboro, an acclaimed young underwater photographer reeling from her mother’s shocking death, whose famous marine biologist father shatters the family by marrying Frankie’s best friend, is out from Mira/HarperCollins.

Mitchard applied the Page 69 Test to A Very Inconvenient Scandal and reported the following:
From page 69:
“We’ve been talking that over,” Penn said.

“I know,” Ellabella said delightedly. “I was listening! I couldn’t bear to interrupt you!”

“And so?”

“I wanted to give this to Ariel.”

“That’s very nice,” Frankie said. “You can leave it with us.”

“I’ll just bring it to the wedding. Want to be my date, Penn? I’m currently single, as of May, the first divorced kid on the block. But you’ll have official duties, I suppose. I’ll just have to be a wallflower at the beach club. I’m a journalist now,” she said as she turned to Frankie, “as you may know. I work for the Coast Chronicle. The magazine. Do you read it?”

“I was in Scotland. Before that, Egypt. I don’t think they stock it at Al-Mahmal.”

“I’ll be the editor soon, when Liesel retires. If I can bear that. For my sins. Then The Atlantic…right? But right now, she wants me to do a feature about you and your art…well, your photos.”

About to cut this off gambit without an explanation, Frankie reconsidered. Publicity was publicity. In a wildly competitive media marketplace, the more people who saw her pictures, the better. How much of a scandal could Ellabella cause, even with her pen dipped in curare, writing a story about someone who took pictures of fish? A couple of months from now, the scandal of Mack’s marriage, if scandal it was, would be stale gossip. Still, Mack was who he was, and his influence on her own career was undeniable.
The test worked well! From page 69 of A Very Inconvenient Scandal, you do get a pretty decent idea of what the story is about. The major players are in action and the central conflict, the imminent marriage of Frankie’s widowed 60-year-old father Mack to her best friend, Ariel, is in plain sight.

The reader learns about Frankie, recently returned from the far-flung destinations where her job takes her and that her job is underwater photography. The location, while never stated, is Frankie’s family home, where her younger brother, Penn, still lives with their father.

There’s also a peripheral character, Ellabella, Frankie’s high-school nemesis, doing a magazine story. Ellabella is a mean girl who is really a vulnerable girl with a moat around her emotions. She becomes a force as Frankie digs into the mysteries that surround the past, particularly about Ariel’s deadbeat mother, Carlotta, back after a ten-year absence and possibly up to no good. Frankie’s character, a mixture of paranoid and practical, is clearly evident.

My agent loves to say that the DNA of the story has to be on every single page of a novel; and I think that this page illustrates that rule!
Visit Jacquelyn Mitchard's website.

My Book, the Movie: Two If by Sea.

The Page 69 Test: Two If by Sea.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Son.

Q&A with Jacquelyn Mitchard.

My Book, The Movie: The Good Son.

Writers Read: Jacquelyn Mitchard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 13, 2023

"Anything for a Friend"

Kathleen Willett has a B.A. in English from Holy Cross and a M.A. in English Education from Columbia University. An English teacher who grew up in New Jersey and London, Kathleen lives in Manhattan with her husband, two daughters, and a cat named Mr. Sparkles.

Willett applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Anything for a Friend, and reported the following:
On page 69, Maya and Carrie (former best friends with a fraught past, reunited after twenty years) are talking in Carrie's kitchen while Carrie cooks. Maya ruminates pensively on a memory from her daughter Lola's childhood-- specifically, about how she never watched the Care Bears show. It seems like she's experiencing some emotional pain as she shares this memory, and it's a situation where her reaction feels stronger than the seemingly light content of the conversation. Then, Carrie goes outside to her herb garden on the deck to pull some herbs for omelets-- and finds that the herb garden has been destroyed.

Ooh, page 69 is a juicy one! As soon as I saw what was on this page, I got excited. So yes, I do think that the test worked-- I think if a reader opened to page 69, they would get a good taste of the content of the whole book. It hints that Maya may be hiding something, as she recalls this aspect of her daughter's childhood, trance-like, and a look of unexplained pain crosses her face. It shows the tension and rivalry between Maya and Carrie, as the reason that Carrie is making omelets in the kitchen is to try to regain some footing over Maya, after Maya cooked an amazing dinner the night before. And it also contains a creepy, ominous plot event-- the herb garden being mysteriously destroyed, by who or why not yet known. I think this scene really speaks to the mood of the book, where the reader knows something isn't right but can't place their finger on what-- not yet, at least!
Visit Kathleen M. Willett's website.

Q&A with Kathleen M. Willett.

The Page 69 Test: Mother of All Secrets.

My Book, The Movie: Mother of All Secrets.

My Book, The Movie: Anything for a Friend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 11, 2023

"The Madstone"

Elizabeth Crook's novels include The Which Way Tree, The Night Journal, which received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and Monday, Monday, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014 and winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.

Crook applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Madstone, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test works perfectly for The Madstone.

From page 69:
How might I of answered that, Tot. I strain to be a person of faith and find my way to a life that means a thing or two, and most days I lack much idea what I aught to do to that end, other than pull my weight and make a living. I can’t answer questions like what she was asking of me, as who knows anything of the life after this one, if a person is honest, yet I wanted to help her find some measure of peace of mind. I will tell you, I was attached to my father before I lost him, and to my sister before she took off from my life, and to my step mother, of sorts, who tried to help raise me, despite we did not get along. I have been attached to folks I’ve met up with and taken meals with. Yet these cares was mostly slow grown and come to me over time, whereas what I felt for your mother, whilst she stood in that shred of light thrown from the moon behind, come at me all at once, and unforeseen. The questions in my mind of why she done what she did, and why she’d had hold of the gun, and what your father intended when he charged up to the door, those questions went to the back of my thoughts. The only thing I could think about was how I might stop her from being so scared.

You won’t be going to hell, I told her. You have my word on it.

This come out of nowhere and not from particular knowledge of what the Lord might say on the matter, but I figured the burden of guilt she carried might not be nearly as heavy in actual fact as what she bore it to be. I can’t say if she trusted my words, but the way she stood seemed to ease a little.

I said, If there’s anything I might do for you, I will.

She said, I was finding my way all right, but that’s turned.

Whatever I might, I will, I told her.

You’re nice to me, she said, and then owned that she had better get back to the house, as you was asleep and might wake and miss her, and I agreed, and she went out and left me asking more questions than I am accustomed to asking.
1869, in the hill country of Texas, Benjamin, a wise but uneducated young man, realizes he is falling in love with Nell. In the dead of night, she stands in the doorway of a wagon shed where he has been asleep and quietly confesses to him about a momentous crime she has committed. Burdened with guilt and fear, she asks if he believes she will be condemned to hell for having done it. Benjamin badly wants to put her mind at ease. The only aspect that doesn't quite fit with the book is the religious tone of the exchange, based on the question Nell is asking. Religion doesn't play a major role in the story.
Visit Elizabeth Crook's website.

The Page 69 Test: Monday, Monday.

The Page 69 Test: The Which Way Tree.

My Book, The Movie: The Which Way Tree.

The Page 69 Test: The Madstone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 9, 2023

"The Wild Between Us"

Amy Hagstrom is a writer and travel industry editor whose work has appeared in US News, OutdoorsNW Magazine, Travel Oregon, and Huffington Post, among others. A lifelong outdoors enthusiast, she served as a volunteer EMT with her local county search and rescue unit before launching her writing career. After raising three children in the Pacific Northwest, Hagstrom traded the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges for the Sierra Madre mountains, making her home in central Mexico with her wife.

Hagstrom applied the Page 69 Test to The Wild Between Us, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Turn to page 69, and you’re dropped into the heart of an emotionally-driven scene between my two point-of-view characters, Meg and Silas. It marks the first time the two, who will go on to have a complicated relationship, are ever alone together, and falls at the end of the first of many flashback chapters to their teenage years.

In a moment of flirtation, over-confident teenage Silas compares unassuming Meg to the constellation Cassiopeia, insisting that she, too, shines brightly when viewed from the right angle. Meg disproves his theory with her knowledge of Greek mythology, but even so, as Meg and her boyfriend Danny depart later that night, Silas sends her off with a new nickname.
…suddenly, he was by Meg’s side, pulling her cap down over her head with a playful tug.

“Good night, Cassiopeia,” he added with a smirk, and even though he said this loudly enough to bring Danny into the loop…the shared reference between them—just them—flowed over Meg like honey, seeping with a subtle warmth into every empty space under her skin.

“Good night,” she managed, and then stepped quickly out into cold air, welcoming the driving rain on her cheeks. She was not beautiful, and she was not luminous, that was ridiculous, and she had set the record straight, so why, Meg wondered the entire ride home, did she still feel the glow of being seen as such?
Because this scene gets to the core of how Silas sees Meg at this stage of their lives, and how Meg sees herself, it does a good job showcasing the heart of their story, but perhaps not the meat of their story. Throughout the course of the book, they are both irreversibly changed by the intensity of the Search and Rescue missions they find themselves at the center of, which is not represented by this scene. For this reason, I’d give a B+ score to this Page 69 Test.
Visit Amy Hagstrom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 7, 2023


Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and >Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases.

Margolin applied the Page 69 Test to Betrayal, his seventh novel in the series featuring Robin Lockwood, ex-MMA fighter and Yale law school graduate, and reported the following:
If a reader opened Betrayal to page 69 the reader would learn about Mandy Kerrigan's background, but would not learn much about the book. In Betrayal, the four members of the Finch family are murdered in their suburban home. Mandy Kerrigan, a former MMA world champion whose career is ending, is charged with the murders and attorney Robin Lockwood represents her. Ten years before, Robin was a ranked MMA fighter, who was attending Yale law school. Kerrigan knocked out Robin and ended her career as a fighter. Mandy is a very important character in the book, but page 69 would not explain why she is important or what the book is about.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Woman with a Gun.

The Page 69 Test: Violent Crimes.

The Page 69 Test: The Third Victim.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Alibi.

The Page 69 Test: A Reasonable Doubt.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at Black Oaks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 5, 2023

"All We Could Still Have"

Diane Barnes is the author of More Than, Waiting for Ethan, and Mixed Signals. She is also a marketing and corporate communication writer in the health-care industry. When she’s not writing, she’s at the gym, running, or playing tennis, trying to burn off the ridiculous amounts of chocolate and ice cream she eats. She and her husband, Steven, live in New England with Oakley, their handsome golden retriever.

Barnes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All We Could Still Have, and reported the following:
On page 69, Nikki is having lunch with her best friend, Sharon. Before meeting Sharon at the restaurant, Nikki had a big fight with her husband about trying IVF one last time. She invited Sharon to lunch to talk about the fight.
“I can’t wait. I’m running out of time.”

“Women our age get pregnant all the time,” Sharon said.

“They don’t.”

“Believe me, they do.” Something about the way she said it caused me to study her. Her cheeks reddened, and she looked away. I continued to watch her as she picked up a glass—the water glass. She hadn’t touched her beer. Every muscle in my body tensed. This couldn’t be happening. It wasn’t fair. “You’re pregnant.” It came out as an accusation.

She flinched. “Fourteen weeks.”

When she was pregnant with Cameron and Noah, she told me the day she took the home pregnancy test.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

She pressed her lips together.

“You don’t think I can be happy for you?”

“Are you?”

My throat burned the way it sometimes did before I started to cry. I hated myself. She was right. I wasn’t happy for her. I was pissed. I should have been the one who was pregnant. “You don’t even want another kid. You call Noah the little beast.”

“It’s a funny nickname. I love that kid to death. You know that.”

“No, all you do is complain about how much work the boys are. Noah’s impossible to potty train. Cameron won’t eat anything and has to be entertained all the time.”

“I don’t think you want to hear about the good stuff.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I feel guilty telling you about it.” She picked up her beer glass and took a sip.

I slumped against the back of the booth. We had always told each other everything.
All We Could Still Have is about a couple struggling to have a baby and the impact of the struggle on their marriage. Page 69 works because it shows that Nikki is obsessed with having a baby. Sharon shares what should be good news, but Nikki only thinks about the news in terms of herself. She also learns that her relationship with Sharon is changing because of her obsession, Sharon no longer confides in her. Though Nikki doesn't see it, the change mirrors what’s happening in her marriage.
Visit Diane Barnes's website.

Q&A with Diane Barnes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 2, 2023

"The Engagement Party"

Finley Turner is a debut suspense author. She made a career change to become an archivist at a university after leaving academia, where she studied cults and new religious movements.

When not producing and consuming all things morbid and dark, Turner can typically be found playing video games with her husband, and occasionally pausing to interrogate her rescue animals about what they're chewing on.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Engagement Party, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was surely outrageously expensive, like it had been designed to be worn to the Met Gala. It was beautiful--it just didn't look like me.

"You'll look great in that. You'd look good in anything," said Murray.

She handed the dress to me, and I picked up the long hem so it didn't drag on the floor. I rooted around in the fabric for a tag, searching for a size. Beatrice and I had extraordinarily different body types; despite both being thin and somewhat tall, everything else was different. My hips were narrow and my chest was flat, while she had a proper hourglass figure with a waist as cinced as her manners. There was no way one of her dresses would fit me. It would look terrible without the proper tailoring.

"It's a four. If you're wondering," she said.

"Oh, that's perfect. That's my size," I trailed off while I thumbed the embroidery. Why would she have a brand new dress in this size? I glanced at her, thinking she would be more of an eight.

"Now for jewelry..." She unlocked the glass case and studied her collection before tutting and opening a drawer below it.

A small silver revolver lay on a padded velvet pillow. It had Victorian-looking engravings along the sides, and the handle was a sleek mother-of-pearl that sparkled just like her jewelry. next to it were necklaces that I assumed were less expensive than the ones in the locked glass case. She plucked one from the drawer and held it up to the dress. It was a simple design of silver and clear stones---I tried not to imagine what the stones were and how much they cost.

"Stunning, isn't it?"

"It really is, thank you so much," I said.

"Let's get this down to Gloria to steam."
Bluntly, I don’t think The Engagement Party passes the Page 69 Test, especially for thriller readers that want their heart racing from page one.

While this page wouldn’t satisfy the reader’s need for adrenaline, I do like this scene because of the character interactions and build up of control that the Sedgemont family is attempting to gain over the main character, Kass. The page is telling us more about the disparity of wealth between the main character and her future family-in-law, especially her mother-in-law, Beatrice Sedgemont.

When Beatrice meets Kass, she’s immediately disappointed that she’s not at the same socioeconomic level as the uber-wealthy Sedgemonts. Beatrice is in charge of throwing the perfect and elaborate surprise engagement party, but it becomes clear it’s not to celebrate the couple, but rather to flex her money and power to her elite guests.

Throughout the book, Kass not only has to determine how much she can push back against Beatrice’s control and be herself, but she also has to fight the accusations that immediately begin flying when a dead body is found at the party. After all, who is more suspicious than the new interloper that isn’t following the unspoken rules of the upper class?
Visit Finley Turner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue