Friday, March 29, 2024

"The Waves Take You Home"

María Alejandra Barrios Vélez is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of Manchester and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and scruffy dog, Gus.

She was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow, and her stories have been published in Shenandoah Literary, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, Fractured Lit, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Offing, and more. Her work has been supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Kweli, Caldera Arts, and the New Orleans Writers’ Residency.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Waves Take You Home, her debut novel, and reported the following:
If readers open The Waves Take You Home on page 69, I believe they’ll get an accurate sense of the book. This is a very emotional passage, where my main character, Violeta Sanoguera, encounters her past love, Rafa, in the kitchen after she burns herself. This is the first time she has been in her family kitchen in many years, and the grief of her Abuela passing, and trying to have everything perfect for the reception has really gotten to her.

After many years, Rafa is now a doctor who enters the scene rushing to help. The pain of the burn and all the feelings from seeing him again are pretty accurate to the emotional turmoil in the book. There is also the lingering intrigue of what will she do with the ghosts of her past?
His name burned on the tip of my tongue. A name I had swallowed again and again back home in New York. The name that tasted bitter like regret. Bittersweet like a secret. Rafa.

This couldn’t be, I hadn’t seen him since that night. Hadn’t heard from him, apart from the gossip that the mellas told me sometimes when I was home.

He ran to me and took my hand between his. What was Rafa doing here? My vision was blurring from the pain, and although I wanted to focus on reality, my head felt woozy and I couldn’t form any real thoughts.

“Ay, Vi,” he said, examining my hand. “This looks bad; did you press your hand on the pan?”

I nodded, my cheeks wet even though I didn’t know when I had started crying. “Vi,” he said.

The word cut me like a slap, after all these years. I had pictured this encounter many, many times in my head, but I couldn’t have imagined that it would be like this. “What…?” I shook my head, trying to wake myself up. “What are you doing here?” Rafa smiled; I could see the concern in his almond eyes. “I’m here to pay my respects. Anton, wait, do you know if Doña Emilia kept an emergency kit in the kitchen?” Anton looked at him for a couple of moments, as if he couldn’t fathom what Rafa possibly could be doing in his kitchen.
In this case, page 69 works well in showing one of the places where the book takes place: a kitchen in the Caribbean and the relationship between one of the main love interests, and the main character. If readers are into the longing of this scene, and second chance romance, I think they’ll love The Waves Take You Home!
Visit María Alejandra Barrios Vélez's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

"The Vineyard Remains"

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

Moleti and Wells applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Vineyard Remains, and reported the following:
If readers open our book to page 69 they will get an accurate idea of one side of the book. The story is told via two POV’s and on this page the reader will see a glimpse of one of our two main characters, Angela, who underwent childhood trauma and experiences a secondary trauma that has her mind spiraling. This section of page 69 gives you an extremely accurate sneak peek into the emotions she struggles with for the rest of the book. It is unclear to Angela what exactly happened in the moments following the birth of her child and that is the driving force of her journey throughout the book.
Angela remembered seeing the monitor dropping, but she also worried she was blocking something else out. She thought back to the crying sounds, but the memory was clouded with uncertainty. Angela felt a combination of detachment and apathy, secretly relieved not to be bringing a baby home, yet simultaneously feeling an overwhelming sense of emptiness alongside her genuine grief. Maybe the overwhelm was just her mind playing tricks, but she feared she unconsciously harmed her baby before her gram went away.

“I think I hurt her,” Angela said, her anxious admission further terrifying her.
The Page 69 Test worked in terms of revealing the book theme as well as one of the characters struggles as she wakes up in a psychiatric hospital, reflecting on her stillborn baby, and the emotions that the incident provoked. Right away, it lets the reader know that this isn’t a typical Martha’s Vineyard beach read, it’s a book about the darker underbelly of these islanders’ lives and would have them wanting to know more. The Vineyard Remains contrasts an idyllic setting with the complex family secrets, which makes for a pacey and intense read.
Visit Addison McKnight's website.

The Page 69 Test: An Imperfect Plan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 24, 2024

"Murder Marks the Page"

Karen Rose Smith is the author of the Jazzi Swanson Mysteries, the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mysteries, the Caprice De Luca Home-Staging Mysteries, and the Tomes & Tea Mystery Series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder Marks the Page, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Murder Marks The Page, book 1 in my new Tomes & Tea cozy mystery series, is representative of the cozy as far as its setting. This series is located in the lake resort town of Belltower Landing in New York State. The page gives a hint into my sleuth, Jazzi Swanson’s, free time paddle boarding with her bookstore and tea bar partner and best friend, Dawn. Page 69 reveals the friendship between them. They’re exploring a lake channel on their SUPs, spotting red-winged blackbirds, watching the sun sparkle on the blue water before a busy day at their store, Tomes & Tea. Jazzi is also worrying about a date she accepted for that night, unsure it was the right thing to do.

Since my novel is a cozy mystery, the browser who is reading page 69 would not catch a glimpse of the murder mystery. Jazzi Swanson, daughter of Daisy Swanson, the sleuth in my Daisy’s Tea Garden series, was adopted. She is now twenty-five years old and finding a life of her own. She was introduced to another adoptee who is searching for her biological father. Brie made contact and consulted with Jazzi on how to handle her first meeting with him. In addition, deciding it’s time to get serious about dating and starting a family, Brie is using a dating app. When Brie is murdered, strangled with her paddle board leash, Jazzi is drawn into the investigation. There are elements on page 69 which would lead the reader to guess the sport of stand-up paddle boarding could be somehow involved in the murder plot.

So does the Page 69 Test work with my cozy? Possibly…if the browser understands cozies and can unearth a few elements running through the novel from a single page of Murder Marks The Page. My readers have followed Jazzi growing up in Willow Creek, Pennsylvania in my Daisy’s Tea Garden series. They met her when she was fifteen and searching for her birth mother. They followed her through that search and how she and Daisy juggled mom, birth-mom and Jazzi’s relationships. She matured in that series and was prepared to go off to college at the end of it. On page 69 of Murder Marks The Page, my readers will recognize her name and will possibly want to read about this young adult Jazzi who owns a bookshop and tea bar with her best friend in a resort town on a lake.
Visit Karen Rose Smith's website, Facebook page, and Instagram page.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Rose Smith & Hope and Riley.

The Page 69 Test: Staged to Death.

The Page 69 Test: Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

"The Inheritance"

Joanna Goodman's novels include the #1 national bestseller, The Home for Unwanted Girls, which was on The Globe & Mail’s Fiction bestseller list for more than six months, as well as The Forgotten Daughter and The Finishing School, both national bestsellers. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review, as well as excerpted in Elisabeth Harvor’s fiction anthology A Room at the Heart of Things.

Originally from Montreal, Goodman now lives in Toronto with her husband and two kids.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Inheritance, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“It looks like a crime scene,” Arden says, turning on the lights.

“It probably is a crime scene,” Tate reminds her.

Virginia’s bedroom is still exactly as it was left the night of the assault. The duvet and sheets are still in a heap on the floor, with pillows and clothes strewn everywhere. Also on the floor are the lamp from her bedside table, some books, the portable phone and base, and shards of broken glass stained with red wine. There’s still blood on the sheets and mattress.

Arden’s been here once to collect a bunch of her mother’s things, but she didn’t have time to clean up. It was the day after the assault and Arden was still in a daze. She grabbed as much as she could for her mother and fled. It’s the first time Tate is seeing it.

“I’m going to wash all the bedding,” Arden says, bending down to collect the pieces of glass on the floor.

“Do you think you should?” Tate says. “What if his DNA is on it?”

“Really? This isn’t an episode of CSI.”

“Seriously, Arden. Who knows? Just put the fitted sheet in a plastic bag. You can wash everything else.”

Tate puts the lamp back on the table, gathers the books in a pile. “What the hell do you think happened here?”
Interestingly, the Page 69 Test worked perfectly for the back story of my novel. The page actually thrusts the reader right into the heart of the drama unfolding alongside - but secondary to - the main story, which is the courtroom drama surrounding the inheritance case. I do think reading this page would set the reader up to expect a novel about a sexual assault and specifically about elder abuse, but ultimately it doesn’t say much about the main storyline or about any of the primary themes of the novel. In that sense, I would have to say in that sense, the “test” is not a great indicator about the book as whole.

What I do love about how this experiment works for The Inheritance is that the first line stands alone as an exciting entry point into a juicy suspense novel. It looks like a crime scene. What a great first line to set up a mystery/crime novel, which is definitely a key component in The Inheritance, if not the primary one. I think the rest of the page also builds on the suspense of the first line, establishing a compelling mystery about what happened, who did it happen to, and who did it? I also love that there is mention of DNA on page 69, and ultimately, DNA will prove to be the crux of the entire inheritance case. In that way, it does drop a significant clue and foreshadow what’s to come in the main story as well.
Visit Joanna Goodman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"The Swan's Nest"

Laura Rhoton McNeal holds an MA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and has worked as a freelance journalist, a crime writer, and a high school English teacher. She is the author of the novels Dark Water, a finalist for the National Book Award, The Practice House, and The Incident on the Bridge. She and her husband, Tom, are the authors of Crooked, Zipped, Crushed, and The Decoding of Lana Morris.

McNeal applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Swan's Nest, and reported the following:
If you turned to page 69 of The Swan’s Nest, you would be in Jamaica, in a carriage, with Lenore Goss and her brother, Andrew, who are arguing. Andrew has suggested that Lenore marry one of Elizabeth Barrett’s brothers so that the two families can have a large enough sugar plantation to offset the cost of paid labor (rather than slave labor, which was still used in Haiti, the United States, and Brazil, making sugar from those places cheaper on the world market).

Lenore responds,
“I can’t marry one of them, even if they asked me. I don’t want to stay here for the rest of my life.”

“Why not? There is so much for you to criticize! So much reform for you to recommend.”

“You don’t do any of the things that I recommend.”

“Because I have been here much longer than you have, and you recommend the silliest things.” When she had told Andrew about her grand scheme, a utopia in which the races were equal and Little Egypt was held in common, he had laughed. “You couldn’t kill and cook a goat, Nora. Or wash clothes in the river and wring them out with your soft little hands. Or cut the heads off our dinner fish. And if you say that you could, which I can tell you’re about to do, believe me when I say you couldn’t cut cane for a single week without killing yourself."
The scene represents the nature of the book quite well: a brother is arguing with a sister about what is economically practical. All of the sister-brother relationships in the book have that tension—who is the smart, rational one, and who is absurdly reckless, and what will come of that?

I think this page also reveals what is un-Victorian about my book. In the novels of Jane Austen and the Brontes, which I love and admire, the West Indies are always off-stage. What happens there is unknown to the female protagonists, and money just appears from that place to change their lives for the better. But Elizabeth Barrett knew what happened on her family’s sugar plantation, and she loathed being inextricably dependent on what it earned. She wished the money in her family had come from somewhere else--anywhere else. She was unable to travel, as her brothers did, to see Jamaica and try to behave humanely in an inhumane business, so I invented a female character who could and did: Lenore.

I think of the woman on the cover of the book as Lenore, in fact. So I thank Marshall McLuhan for his weird but bizarrely effective tip.
Visit Laura McNeal's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Laura McNeal & Link.

The Page 69 Test: The Incident on the Bridge.

My Book, The Movie: The Incident on the Bridge.

My Book, The Movie: The Swan's Nest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2024

"The Scream of Sins"

Chris Nickson is the author of eleven Tom Harper mysteries, eight highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and six Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to The Scream of Sins, the newest Simon Westow mystery, and reported the following:
A part of page 69 of The Scream of Sins:
‘We’ve sent word to your parents.’

She hung her head. ‘They’ll hate me.’

‘No they won’t,’ he said softly. ‘They’ll be overjoyed to have you home again. Did you manage to sleep?’

‘Yes, sir.’ The guilt licked at her face. She was here in comfort while her sister….

He asked a few things, hoping for some sort of clue that might identify the man who’d bought Harriet or where he lived. But Emma had been too scared to notice much. They were in a barn or a stable. The air had felt wide and open, maybe a farm, not near a town. The man had worn good clothes. He seemed very old, but she couldn’t guess at his age. What would be old to a girl of eight? A big man, she thought, but no idea how tall or broad.

Simon listened, never pushing, absorbing every scrap, trying to build a picture. But in the end there was little.
This gives a teaser of one of the strands of the book. Simon Westow is a thief-taker in Leeds. Emma is a girl of eight who’s asked Simon’s young assistant Jane to help her find her younger sister, Harriet. The two were kidnapped, and Harriet has been purchased from the kidnappers by an old man.

It gives little away and makes no mention of the other strand of the plot. Do they intertwine in the end? In that regard, it gives a reader a good idea of one part of the book, and starts the journey into a very dark and violent tale that, in someways, overshadows the rest of the book – and no apologies for that. This strand is really Jane’s story, one that brings her into sharp relief, both in her relationship with Simon as well as others. It makes her realize she’s no longer the person she’s long believed herself to be, and that helps introduce another important new character.

Who are Emma and Harriet? You’ll need to read the book for that. Will there be any kind of happy ending? Not for many, maybe not even for Jane, at least in the normal way. But much of it pivots around the contents of page 69.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

The Page 69 Test: Brass Lives.

The Page 69 Test: The Blood Covenant.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Will Rise.

The Page 69 Test: Rusted Souls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

"The Romanov Brides"

Clare McHugh is the author of two historical novels, A Most English Princess and The Romanov Brides. After graduating from Harvard College with a degree in European history, she worked for many years as a newspaper reporter and later magazine editor. The mother of two grown children, she currently lives with her husband in London and in Amagansett, New York.

McHugh applied the Page 69 Test to The Romanov Brides and reported the following:
On page 69 of my book, one of the two main protagonists, Ella, princess of Hesse, is visiting her grandmother, Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle in spring 1883. Ella is contemplating becoming the wife of Grand Duke Serge, of the Russian Romanov family. Her grandmother fiercely opposes this match. Ella’s uncle Leo, who has recently defied the Queen’s objections to marry himself, is sitting down to chat with Ella about her future.

On page 69, readers will be immediately immersed in the atmosphere of my novel, and presented with the stakes of the narrative. The central question is this: Should members of Queen Victoria’s family—including the two young princesses of Hesse, Ella and Alix—follow the monarch’s sometimes capricious direction as to who they should, or should not, marry? Uncle Leo is about to line himself up on one side of this question. Also, on this page, a central reality of these princess’ lives—a reality they are ironically unaware of—is mentioned. Uncle Leo, it is revealed here, suffers from bouts of uncontrolled bleeding. Readers will recognize that this in the hereditary disease hemophilia, which Alix of Hesse will bring into the Romanov line, with tragic consequences.

I love how, on page 69, we are awaiting Uncle Leo’s input on the most important decision of young Ella’s life, should she marry Grand Duke Serge or not? On this choice so much of history turns, as the novel will reveal. I wrote the book as a kind of prequel. We all know how Nicholas and Alexandra’s story ended: assassinated in a basement in Yekaterinburg. How did it begin? With Ella—and the fateful choice that a young woman had to make with very little understanding of the world.
Visit Clare McHugh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 10, 2024

"Fruit of the Dead"

Rachel Lyon is author of the novels Self-Portrait with Boy—a finalist for the Center for Fiction's 2018 First Novel Prize—and Fruit of the Dead. Lyon's short work has appeared in One Story, The Rumpus, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. She has taught creative writing at various institutions, most recently Bennington College, and lives with her husband and two young children in Western Massachusetts.

Lyon applied the Page 69 Test to Fruit of the Dead and reported the following:
By page 69 of Fruit of the Dead, Cory has just agreed to work for a few weeks as a nanny for Rolo Picazo's two children, Spenser and Fern. She has signed his NDA, and he's driven her from all she knows to the rocky coast of Maine. It is nighttime and, far from any electric lights, Rolo seems particularly menacing to Cory: "In the fog and dark, with a child’s sleeping head on each of his broad shoulders, he is very other. She knows he is a big man, but he looks bigger here, more sinister. The contours of his face seem unstable somehow, as if his outlines have been drawn with thread." However, a boat appears, shining its light across the sea...:
In its illumination the beach and dock take on their familiar textures, sand and splinters. The water shines opaque as foil, and Rolo goes dimensional again at last, just some fattish aging dad holding his tired daughter, sweat darkening his pits, fog-demon no longer.

Under the lamppost in the boat’s nose stands a hooded figure, dwarfed by a massive lifejacket and anchoring the craft with a ferry pole. A cigarette glows in the shadow of its hood. It raises its unoccupied hand in eerie salute and, in a wry, time-sanded voice, greets them all: Ahoy.

Sherry, Rolo says. How’s tricks?

Business is booming, the captain replies, deadpan, and secures the boat with a length of rope to a piling. Hey, kids.

Spenser says, I went to sleep-away camp.

You’re a big boy now, the captain observes.

Snared a new sitter for the kids, Rolo says, indicating Cory.

Great, says the captain without interest, and pulls open a door in the gunwale: All aboard.

Spenser climbs in, followed by Rolo, balancing Fern. The boat rocks. Where the smooth wall in the hull hinges open there has been secured a handmade mechanism: the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. As they pass, the captain pulls it open, and the dummy’s weighted eyeballs roll, the better to watch as Spenser, then Fern, deposit their tokens in its mouth. The coins clatter within, metal against metal. When the captain releases the head it snaps shut again, cartoon eyes bobbing.

Rolo extends a hand. Cory hesitates.

His outstretched fingers beckon impatiently, slapping his palm. Come on, he says. Sherry doesn’t have all night.
This scene is a particularly surreal one. Sherry (our counterpart for Charon, who ferries the dead across the river Styx), and her tricked-out boat, are written with intentional campiness, and campiness is not for everyone. While the book is semi-satirical in certain ways, and can be campy from time to time, I wrote from both Cory and Emer's perspectives with minimal irony, because I feel strongly that too ironic a tone will minimize a character's humanity. This is a long way to say that, while this scene is crucial—Cory is making her final decision, whether or not to enter Rolo's isolated world—I don't feel that Fruit of the Dead passes the Page 69 Test. Tonally it contains only one facet of the overall book, and plot-wise, there are more telling scenes.
Visit Rachel Lyon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Self-Portrait with Boy.

My Book, The Movie: Self-Portrait with Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 8, 2024

"Sisters of Belfast"

Melanie Maure holds a Master’s in Counselling Psychology and lives in central British Columbia. She is second generation Irish and spends a great deal of time in Ireland, which is an enduring source of inspiration for her work.

Maure applied the Page 69 Test to Sisters of Belfast, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Fresh air,” she says, “the best medicine.” She slips into her coat, reaches into the pocket, and feels to familiar loop of beads nestled, waiting.

“Mrs. Doolin, would you mind if I stepped out for a breath of sea air?”

Gabby is seated on the floor with the twins. Aelish is not sure how she got down there and even less certain how she will get up.

She waves Aelish off. “We’re right as rain here, Sister. Tide’s out—it’s a good time to treasure hunt,” she say, clutching the babies’ round bellies. They squeal with glee, and the sound sends Aelish out the door with tiny bubbles coursing across her skin.

Arriving at the water’s edge, she turns into the wind, glances down at the small crabs skittering about. A penny-sized triangle of amber glass twinkles among the rocks and swaths of kelp crisping in the sun. It has been worn smooth, made matte from sand and salt.

“Izzy will like this.” Aelish drops it into on her wellies.

The fishing community’s old Catholic church sits at a precarious angle, clinging to the hillside. I promise to get there and receive communion after a visit with Isabel today, she vows before perching on a large stone for morning devotions. Crabs dart like tiny thieves between rocks, and gulls drift overhead. She ponders Declan’s question about Isabel, whether she mentioned “not doing so good.” Although Izzy did not write of any struggles, Aelish intends to broach the subject on today’s visit now that her sister is stronger.

Halfway through the third decade of the rosary, she hears shouting. Aelish continues to pray, assuming the fishermen on the pier to be the source of the noise. The indecipherable ruckus becomes more precise. Aelish is startled to hear her name.
While I don’t think this test gives the browser a whole idea of Sisters of Belfast, it is a page that could pull the reader in, primarily based on the final line. It might also give the browser a sense of foreboding—a peaceful scene with questions about secrets looming at the edges. Maybe because I know the story, I could, in fact, say this page encapsulates the novel by saying Aelish is always seeking peace and safety. Still, it remains precarious, mostly due to the connection with her twin sister.

From the time the girls were orphaned during the Belfast blitz, this has been their core struggle. They long to keep each other safe and have very different and deep-seated beliefs about what that safety should look and feel like. For Aelish, the church and the life of a nun is the answer. Meanwhile, for Isabel, the church is the most significant source of threat and danger. What binds them is also what tears them apart--their love for one another.
Visit Melanie Maure's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 7, 2024

"The Devil and Mrs. Davenport"

Paulette Kennedy is the bestselling author of The Witch of Tin Mountain and Parting the Veil, which received the prestigious HNS Review Editor’s Choice Award. She has had a lifelong obsession with the gothic. As a young girl, she spent her summers among the gravestones in her neighborhood cemetery, imagining all sorts of romantic stories for the people buried there. After her mother introduced her to the Brontës as a teenager, her affinity for fog-covered landscapes and haunted heroines only grew, inspiring her to become a writer. Originally from the Missouri Ozarks, she now lives with her family and a menagerie of rescue pets in sunny Southern California, where sometimes, on the very best days, the mountains are wreathed in fog.

Kennedy applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Devil and Mrs. Davenport, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Loretta turned to look. It was the Robberson house. The bare-bulbed porch light cast a shallow cone of yellow across the sagging porch and overgrown yard. The house's dark upper windows winked forebodingly. "I don't know about that one, Char."

"Why not?"

Loretta remembered Phyllis's gossiping and conjecturing about the man who lived there--that he might have had something to do with Darcy's kidnapping and murder. She thought of the man--she didn't even know his name, only that he was the Robbersons' nephew--tall, pale, thin, and balding. The few times she'd seen him, he'd put her in mind of an undertaker. Might he be capable of the crime? As a light came on upstairs, and she saw the man's shadow move behind the curtains, Loretta felt ashamed that this unkind part of herself had reared up. She reasoned with herself to slake the shame. She was only being protective. Not judgmental like Phyllis.

Pete would be home soon. They needed to hurry. She took Charlotte's hand and gently coaxed her forward. "There are three more houses on this side of the street. We'll go to them and then head home. You need a proper supper before you eat this candy. How about tomato soup and grilled cheese?"
I think the Page 69 Test works well for the The Devil and Mrs. Davenport in that it conveys the undercurrent of suspicion running through the fictional Missouri town of Myrna Grove following the murder of a young woman. Even though there's a lot of nostalgia for the 1950s, paranoia was rampant in America at the time, tucked away under the congenial facade of suburbia. Readers opening to this page, which takes place on Halloween night, would get a sense of the overall feel of the entire novel. Prying neighbors, families with dark secrets, the nature of good and evil--and how closely they intersect, even in the actions of well-intentioned people--are all central elements to the plot of The Devil and Mrs. Davenport. This scene may only be one small part of the whole, but it gives readers a taste of what they can expect from the rest of the story.

The Devil and Mrs. Davenport is about a young midcentury housewife and mother, Loretta, who begins hearing the voices of the dead after a short illness. Wondering if this new ability is her longed-for calling from God, Loretta seeks counsel from her husband, an ambitious Bible college professor, who says her gifts are only fevered hallucinations, or worse yet--delusions of Satan. Unable to ignore the messages from beyond, Loretta finds support and encouragement through Dr. Curtis Hansen, a parapsychologist who helps Loretta embrace her abilities and hone them, leaving Loretta at a turning point. She can either heed her calling, in defiance of her husband's wishes, or ignore the pleading spirits and return to her dutiful, isolated life.
Visit Paulette Kennedy's website.

The Page 69 Test: Parting the Veil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

"Murder at la Villette"

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 21 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, and two World War II-set novels featuring American markswoman Kate Rees. Black has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime.

Murder at la Villette, the 21st installment of her mystery series featuring Parisian private investigator Aimée Leduc, is Black's new novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Murder at la Villette and reported the following:
From page 69:
Aimée could do this. Couldn't she?

"Unrelated. But can you tell me what Melac requested?"

Emile expelled air from this mouth. "He wanted crimes in the nineteenth for the years 1986-1994. Homicides specifically related to le Balafré."

The serial killer. Again.
Page 69 in Murder in La Villette would show a vital clue in my detective's investigation. Her ex, the murder victim, was looking for information on le Balafré, the serial killer who'd eluded the police for thirty years.

Page 69 to me plays fair to the reader since we find a clue, a breadcrumb that Aimée Leduc will follow to find more crumbs and lead to her unmasking the serial killer and who's responsible for her ex's murder. She's a suspect, the stakes are high for her if she doesn't find the real perpetrator so here, and throughout the book she's finding bits and pieces, crumbs, trying to figure this out and exonerate herself.
Visit Cara Black's website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

My Book, the Movie: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

The Page 69 Test: Murder below Montparnasse.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Pigalle.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Pigalle.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Champ de Mars.

The Page 69 Test: Three Hours in Paris.

The Page 69 Test: Night Flight to Paris.

Writers Read: Cara Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 3, 2024

"Knife Skills"

Wendy Church is the author of the Jesse O’Hara and Shadows of Chicago Mysteries series. The first book in the Jesse O’Hara series, Murder on the Spanish Seas, was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Mystery/Thriller novels of 2023, and received a starred review.

Church's newest books are Murder Beyond the Pale, the second Jesse O’Hara mystery, and Knife Skills, the first Shadows of Chicago mystery.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Knife Skills and reported the following:
On page 69 of Knife Skills, the main protagonist, Sagarine Pfister, is trying to get listening devices installed in a restaurant, while a Russian mobster is there doing the accounts. Sagarine’s worried that she’ll be caught.

This is a pretty good indication of the book’s main plot: A chef reluctantly helps the FBI take down a dangerous Russian gang, where much of the action takes place in a restaurant, and there is an element of suspense.

Of course there are other storylines, and characters, including Sagarine’s roommate who works for the Chicago PD, and writes ‘female centered pleasure books’ in her spare time, as well as a creepy stalker, and a romance between Sagarine and one of the Russian gang members. But page 69 lays out what Kirkus summed up in their review: “Audiences who wish the TV series The Bear could make room for Russian mobsters are in for a treat.”
Visit Wendy Church's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

Q&A with Wendy Church.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Beyond the Pale.

Writers Read: Wendy Church.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 2, 2024

"The Haunting of Velkwood"

Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, Reluctant Immortals, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, Pretty Marys All in a Row, The Invention of Ghosts, and Boneset & Feathers. She's a Lambda Literary Award winner, and her fiction has also received the This Is Horror award for Novel of the Year as well as nominations for the Premios Kelvin and Ignotus awards.

Originally from Ohio, Kiste now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, their calico cat, and not nearly enough ghosts.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Haunting of Velkwood, and reported the following:
From page 69 of The Haunting of Velkwood:
“What’s it supposed to be?” I asked, gazing up into the neon glow.

“Anything you want,” she whispered, her hand suddenly entwined with mine, her touch softer than velvet. I remember staying that night at her apartment, a weird little warehouse loft in the Strip District, and how we drank too much rosé. I slept on the couch as always, one room and a million miles away from her. Even when Brett and I were in the same place, there was always an unbreachable chasm between us. She was right there, but she still felt like just another ghost.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said the next morning, but I pretended not to hear her as I walked out the door.

I’m still thinking about her, as Jack and I climb into the car so he can drive me back to Velkwood Street. There’s no welcoming committee joining us this time—it’s just the two of us.

I hear Brett’s voice again, echoing inside my head. Why do you bother with boys like him?

Except Jack’s not quite like the other guys I’ve known. He’s certainly not normal, that’s for sure. Nobody ordinary has ever been this obsessed with ghosts. As we turn out of the driveway, I notice something on him. A necklace dangling over his T-shirt, a charm at the end of it. A titanium compass. Only it’s bent a little in the middle so that north doesn’t quite point in the right direction anymore.

“From your aunt?” I ask, and it’s a total guess, but Jack smiles, and I know instantly that I’m right.

“You asked me before what she would think about all this,” he says. “And I think she’d love it. This neighborhood. Everything we’re doing here.” He hesitates before adding, almost sheepishly, “She always wanted to prove that ghosts were real.”

“And you told her you would try, right?” I gaze at him. “At the end of her life, you told her you’d find her again?”
This is definitely a great page to get a feel for The Haunting of Velkwood. My book has already been described more than once as a character-driven story, and this page in particular definitely conveys just how much this is a tale about the people involved with this ghostly mystery rather than only about the ghosts themselves. We come into the page during a brief flashback where our main character Talitha and her sometimes best friend Brett are at an art installation that Brett helped to organize. Brett and Talitha’s friendship—and all its many complications—is so critical to the novel overall, and this page shows a bit of their backstory that illuminates just how emotionally fraught their relationship really is. Then, in the present day, we see Talitha about to return to the haunted neighborhood of her past, all while she’s bonding with the lead researcher Jack who’s desperate to learn more about ghosts. Their back-and-forth dialogue is indicative of their budding relationship and shows the different reasons why someone might want to pursue a neighborhood filled with phantoms. Perhaps most importantly, Talitha’s voice is also on full display here on page 69, which helps to give readers a taste of what they can expect from the book as a whole. So I’m very pleased to report that in my opinion, The Haunting of Velkwood very much passes the Page 69 Test!
Visit Gwendolyn Kiste's website.

--Marshal Zeringue