“Half a reason to die” by Chip Duncan (#shortstories)

from SelectBooks:

“Half a Reason to Die”  is a collection of eight short stories by the acclaimed documentary filmmaker and photojournalist Chip Duncan. Though a work of fiction, the series of stories is drawn from real people, locations, and events that the narrator, a person with a background in journalism, has experienced.
This book harbors the stark and eerie realities around the world with stories that include: a German woman in exile confessing her loss of a lover from the early days of World War II to a piano prodigy entertaining a patient dying of cancer in a New York City hospital. Each story provides continental anecdotes of courage, humor, or even heartbreaking truth. Readers will get lost in each character’s stories through biting dialogue that reveal glimpses of the inner workings of these unique people.
The voices heard in Half a Reason to Die are weaved together by a journalist’s natural curiosity for a story and the collective, extraordinary voices of humanity. Duncan vividly adds to the immense illustrations—written and spoken—of the unique people we recall encountering in our own travels or everyday life.
“They’re unusual characters from a variety of places,” says Duncan, “and all are based on real-life events I’ve experienced along the way.”

Half a Reason to Die is an unusual and highly entertaining group of stories taking the reader on a dramatic ride around the world, each piece told by first person narrators with a background in journalism.

My thoughts:

I didn’t read the entire book of eight stories, not because I didn’t want to, only because my TBR is quite frankly ‘out of control’.  I did however want to read at least one of the stories before publishing this blog post.

My review of “Death on a harvest moon” (the seventh story in the book)

This is the story of a journalist who has corresponded with a prison inmate for many years. The latest letter he receives is – somehow – a game changer.  The prisoner, Jack Degatano, has been incarcerated since 1979 and is serving three consecutive life terms. While in prison he has earned his master’s degree in sociology. His guards consider him to be a loner who is quiet, unassuming, and polite.

“Prison smells like death”

This most recent letter causes the journalist to ponder on what it must be like to live within the confines of a small prison cell without having any view of the outside world. For the first time in their many years of correspondence, he wonders if Jack Degatano could indeed be innocent…

Chip Duncan’s prose is skillfully wrought, not surprising as he makes his living through the magic of words and images. Current affairs and modern technological advances are mentioned with the purpose, I assume, to bring home the point that the prisoner’s life is completely devoid of everything the common citizen takes for granted daily. Journalistic ethics and the vagaries of fate are just some of the themes running through this eminently readable short story.

If this story is any indication of the other seven stories contained within “Half a reason to die”, I believe that the book will be relished by those who enjoy literary short fiction.

I received a sample of the book from the publisher Select Books Inc. (ISBN: 9781590794081) as I wanted to promote this author and his writing.

Chip Duncan is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker with a penchant for overseas assignments. His professional journeys have taken him to many extraordinary lands, including documentary work extending from Peru to Afghanistan. His previous work includes the book Enough to Go Around: Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan & Darfur as well as numerous films broadcast worldwide.

Chip Duncan can be contacted via e-mail at Chip@DuncanEntertainment.com

Posted in book reviews, Literary fiction, Short stories | Tagged | 6 Comments

“It can’t be October already” by Jeffrey Archer

The best-selling author of such works as “Kane & Abel“, “A matter of honor” and the popular Clifton Chronicles series has written a humorous yet poignant short story.

The story includes delightful illustrations and portrays Pat O’Flynn, a homeless man who gets arrested on purpose every October in order to procure a warm, safe environment during the winter months.  The officials who encounter him as he goes through the legal system all proclaim “It can’t be October already” upon seeing him due to his predictability.  The poor fellow valiantly tries to tell them a joke, but never reaches the punchline as they have heard it all before… With Archer’s trademark twist at the end, this story is sure to be enjoyed by many.

Succinct prose and pathos blended with humour make this story an enjoyable read.

This story is included in the book “Cat O’ Nine Tales” and other stories”.

My thanks to the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) for granting me access to a digital copy of this story via Netgalley.

Now published in 97 countries and more than 33 languages, Jeffrey Archer is firmly established, with international sales passing 330 million copies. He is the only author ever to have been a number one bestseller in fiction (nineteen times), short stories (four times) and non-fiction (The Prison Diaries).

Born in London, England in 1940, Jeffrey has been married for 50 years to Dame Mary Archer DBE. They have two sons, William and James, two grandsons and a granddaughter, and divide their time between homes in London, Cambridge and Mallorca.

Posted in book reviews, NetGalley title, Short stories | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cover Love: part 27 – Empty swings

The covers of novels entice the reader to enter a different world. Covers are, after all, the way the publisher hooks the reader into choosing one book over countless others.

In this, my twenty-seventh installment of ‘Cover Love‘, I’d like to show you books that feature empty swings on their covers.

Swings, when empty, can give off an ominous vibe, or can evoke a melancholy mood.  Alternately, they can be inviting and nostalgic. Here you will see examples of both and many, many, more.

Some of the following books I’ve already read, some are on my ‘to read’ list,
and some I chose only for their covers.

Some, perhaps, will now be on your TBR!

Just click on the cover to read the book’s synopsis from  Goodreads.

You might just find your next favorite book!

Stay tuned for Cover Love Part 28: “Sideways“

or… revisit any of the previous installments of

Cover Love – some of which I’ve updated recently

Posted in Cover Love series, Dustjackets | Tagged | 4 Comments

“Entry Island” by Peter May

Part present day crime novel, and part historical novel Entry Island is set alternately in the present day on the Magdalen islands, and hundreds of years ago in the Hebrides. Peter May has written a memorable novel that will resonate for many years to come. He writes with visceral empathy of island people and their often insular way of living.

The Magdalen Islands are a part of the province of Quebec, though they are closer to the provinces of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. They are actually quite near me (as the bird flies). I am writing this post from my cottage (heart symbol on map)

There has been a brutal murder on Entry Island.  Sime MacKenzie (pronounced Sheem) has been appended to the investigative team and travels to the island.  One of the team members, the forensic expert, is his ex-wife Marie-Ange, so there is more than a little personal tension present.  The break-up of his marriage has taken a harsh toll on Sime and he now suffers from debilitating insomnia as a result.

“He felt almost ghostlike, insubstantial,
lost somewhere in a life gone wrong.”

James Cowell, one of the islands most wealthy residents has been stabbed to death in his home.  His wife is the main suspect. When Sime first meets Kirsty Cowell he immediately feels a connection with her even though he has never met her before… then, through the course of the interview, she tells Sime that she has a pendant that is identical to the signet ring he is wearing. A ring that was passed on to him from his father.

“The blood is strong” 

Strangely, after meeting Kirsty, Sime begins to have vivid dreams of his ancestral heritage in the Hebrides, Scotland. Although he only sleeps one or two hours per night, his dreams are portrayals of the diaries which his grandmother read to him as a child.  They portrayed a devastating time in which the Highland clearances robbed the crofters of their livelihood and everything they possessed.  The brutality and unceasing hardship of life during this time was poignantly described by the author. Interestingly, the protagonist of these dreams/stories was also named Sime (Gaelic for Simon) and was his great-great-great grandfather.

Entry Island is home to just over one hundred persons and is just two kilometres wide and three kilometres long.  With such a small population, where everyone knows everyone else, it is not deemed necessary to lock doors. Evidence is scarce, but what there is of it points toward Kirsty Cowell as the murderer. Sime finds himself wanting to believe her protestations of innocence.

Then a local man goes missing.  Norman Morrison is 35 years old, yet has the mental age of about 12 years.  He lives with his mother on Entry Island and went to school with Kirsty Cowell.  Ever since then he has been a bit obsessed with Kirsty.  Could the missing man have some connection with Cowell’s murder?

“The air was filled with the sound of the ocean,
the slow steady breath of eternity.”

Sime’s continuing dreams about his ancestors color how he views Kirsty and he finds that he has lost all objectivity. He fears that his feelings about her will jeopardize his career. Then while guarding the suspect overnight on Entry Island, Sime goes out for a walk and is attacked. His attacker is much as Kirsty described her husband’s murderer…

Cowell’s main competitor on the island also has a twofold motive for the murder. With Cowell gone he would benefit financially AND his wife was having an affair with Cowell.

Beautiful prose, a strong sense of place, and human empathy colour this novel. It is a perfect blend of modern crime thriller, historical fiction, and gothic love story. It is a story of fate, how our ancestors influence our present, and the continuity of family.  A novel of avarice, unimaginable hardship, promises kept, and finally, destiny.

 “Entry Island” is an outstanding novel that I highly recommend.

My thanks to the publisher (Hachette/Quercus U.S.) for granting me access to a digital copy of this book via Netgalley.

Listen and watch a video clip in which Peter May talks about Entry Island.

Read Peter May’s blog post about Entry Island – behind the scenes.

I also enjoyed Peter May’s “The Blackhouse”.  Click HERE to read my review.


from Quercus:

Peter May was born and raised in Scotland. He was an award-winning journalist at the age of twenty-one and a published novelist at twenty-six. When his first book was adapted as a major drama series for the BBC, he quit journalism and during the high-octane 15 years that followed, became one of Scotland’s most successful television dramatists. He created three prime-time TV drama series, presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland as script editor and producer, and worked on more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping drama before deciding to leave television to return to his first love, writing novels.

He has won several literature awards in France and received the USA’s Barry Award for The Blackhouse, the first in his internationally bestselling Lewis Trilogy.

He now lives in South-West France with his wife, writer Janice Hally.

Posted in book reviews, Favorite books, Historical fiction, Mystery fiction, NetGalley title, Page turners | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

The art of Timothy Adams Matthews

There is just something about books.  Bibliophiles everywhere don’t just like to read books, they like to collect books, discuss books, and yes… even look at pictures of books.

And don’t get me started on cats.  Cat people will agree that cats are splendid creatures who deserve to be immortalized in art.

Timothy Adams Matthews‘ paintings encompass two of my very favorite art subjects!

See for yourself!

About the artist (from his own website)

You can contact the artist by email :  timatthews80@gmail.com

or, via Twitter @timatthews80

Posted in Art with book themes | Tagged | 13 Comments

“Beneath the ashes” by Jane Isaac

The second in a series, this is a strongly characterized police procedural is set in the West Midlands town of Stratford, Warwickshire, England.

The protagonist, Detective Inspector Jackman, is a likeable and complex character – a man torturing himself with guilt over the accident that changed his life forever.  His wife was injured in an automobile accident while driving him home when he had had too much to drink.  Now she is living in an extended care facility suffering from ‘locked-in’ syndrome.   Jackman and his beloved daughter try to remain positive but this proves difficult with less and less real hope for her recovery. In this second in the series, Celia, Jackman’s daughter, is twenty years old and living away at university.  She brings her boyfriend home for the first time and Jackman has a difficult time getting used to the idea that his little girl is all grown up.

Also, this time around, Jackman is thinking of putting in for a promotion.  He hasn’t told his team, and he gradually has second thoughts due to the fact that he wants to be ‘hands on’ and not a paper pushing management drone.

“Beneath the ashes” begins with an intriguing scene. A woman in a cemetery with a knife… Clearly she is anguished.

We meet Nancy Faraday as she awakes on the floor of a farm kitchen.  Nancy, who works in a floral shop has for the last three months been going out with a man called Evan Baker.  Their relationship has developed quickly and Nancy thinks he may be ‘the one’.  Evan works at a local farm looking after the premises and animals whilst the owners are away having an extended trip to Australia. Upon awakening on the kitchen floor of the farmhouse where Evan is living, she realizes she has a nasty bump on her head and cannot remember anything about the night before. It would seem that while Nancy was unconscious, there was a fire in the barn and Evan’s body was found beneath the ashes.

Jackman and his team are tasked with the investigation which becomes murkier and murkier as time goes on.  It would seem that the man who Nancy knew and loved as Evan Baker was living under an assumed name.  Then the old barn reveals other secrets which could have a bearing on the case. Also, it is revealed that Evan had rented storage space in the barn to a man who has three collector quality automobiles – all of which were heavily damaged in the fire.

Meanwhile, Nancy is grieving. With still no memory of the events leading up to his death, she cannot believe that Evan is gone forever.  Then – she begins receiving threats.  She is accosted outside her flat. She receives a cryptic note through the letterbox.

She is again threatened in the supermarket, where she gets a glimpse of the man’s hand which has a tattoo with the letters CC..  With her friend’s support she goes to the police. She thinks the threats are related to her alcoholic mother, but the police have other ideas.

With threats, secrecy, revenge, adultery, rape victims, and turf wars in the drug trade, this mystery novel is not short on intrigue.

I enjoyed the read, but to be honest I liked the scenes with Jackman much more than the pages centered around the criminal case.  I really enjoyed the first novel in this series and plan to follow along with Jackman in future books. The third novel in the series is available now and its title is “The lies within”.

The first novel in this series, Before it’s too late was a great 5* read.  You can read my review here.

Sincere thanks to Legend Press via NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC for review.


Jane Isaac lives in rural Northamptonshire, England with her husband and daughter where she can often be seen trudging over the fields with her dog, Bollo.


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“The Caretaker” by Dan Klefstad

“The Caretaker” is a first for this blog.  I was very reluctant when the author approached me to feature it on Fictionophile, but when I began to read it, I just couldn’t stop.

This short story begins:

Dear Applicant

Congratulations. Out of hundreds of applications, yours stood out for your “unwavering persistence to get the job done.” Well put! No doubt, you will deserve the eight-figure salary and opulent benefits that come with this job. But I must warn you: The more you read, the more my employer will consider you a threat if you decline our offer. If you have no intentions of taking the job, delete this message now before reading further.

I mean really, how can you not read on?  It is a clever ploy for sure.

Without revealing too much, I can only say that the genre is one I never read (above graphic is a HUGE clue!).  It only took a few minutes to finish, but I think I’ll remember it for some time. The writing held my interest, which is impressive given that the subject matter is not at all to my ‘taste’.  Well done Dan Klefstad!

To see Dan read from his short story “The Caretaker”, check out this YouTube video.

You can check out Dan’s novels that are available on Amazon.com HERE.

To regular readers of this blog – Don’t worry, I haven’t been converted… LOL

About Dan Klefstad and his inspiration behind “The Caretaker” in his own words:
I am the morning newscaster and book series editor for NPR station WNIJ. After my on-air shift ends at 9 a.m., I interview authors from all over northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin — novelists, short story writers, poets, memoirists. Here’s my archive: http://northernpublicradio.org/topic/wnij-read-me

Each interview has been a master class in storytelling, and in the creative process, whether I’m interviewing someone with an international reputation (such as Robert Hellenga or Amy Newman) or a self-published writer from my neighborhood. I guess it made sense that I’d try to write my own stories. So, earlier this year, I published my debut novel, Shepherd & the Professor, on a traditional contract. Then I wrote this story, “The Caretaker” that I want to expand into a novel. The journal Crack the Spine was the first to express interest, so I went with them.

As for what inspired this piece…Let’s just say I’m a person who, like many others, works very hard and dreams of spending my “evening years” in peace and luxury — traveling the world, eating at the best tables, drinking the finest wines, and living life to the fullest. But I’m not there yet; I have several more years of work for an employer that demands much of me. But this employer, unlike the vampire Fiona, is on a mission to serve others. I am, of course, talking about public radio — independent, public service-minded journalism. It’s a mission I believe in — but, truth be told, it takes a toll. I’m sure everyone who works in the not-for-profit sector will identify with that statement.

I live in DeKalb, Illinois, with my wife Susan.

Posted in Short stories | Tagged | 18 Comments