Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Tree of Life by Dawn Davis

Title: The Tree of Life 
Author: Dawn Davis 
Publisher: Friesen Press 
Pages: 304 
Genre: Historical Fiction

Two accidental time travelers explore Canada in 1939 in THE TREE OF LIFE, the first installment in the Tower Room series by Dawn Davis.

As THE TREE OF LIFE opens, Charlotte Hansen and her friend, Henry Jacobs, are hanging out in the old mansion where Charlotte and Leo, her grandfather, live. Henry is there to practice the piano, and Charlotte is waiting for him to finish so that she can supervise his work on a massive school project researching the 1930s. When Leo leaves the house to pick up his friend Gwendolyn Fenton—whom Charlotte does not like—the two eleven-year-olds prepare tea and cookies for the grown-ups’ visit and then rush to the Tower Room. The room is located on the top floor of the mansion. Charlotte is not allowed in the room without permission; but she is headstrong and ignores the directive. After leaving the tray of tea and sweets on the tabletop, Charlotte pulls Henry underneath the table with her.

The children soon hear Gwendolyn telling Leo about a magical brooch from her childhood. Suddenly, a large hand grabs Charlotte, who clutches Henry tightly before the hand thrusts the pair into nothingness. After Charlotte regains consciousness, she and Henry meet the younger version of Gwendolyn, a spoiled force of nature determined to appropriate the brooch her late mother left her brother. The friends learn that they are still in Rose Park, the neighborhood they both call home, but the year is 1939.

As Charlotte and Henry realize that they have traveled backward to move forward, the purpose of their time travel is revealed: Charlotte is there to help Gwendolyn resolve the pain of her past. During the adventure, Henry advocates against the anti-Semitism and racism of that time, and Charlotte learns to look beyond her own desires to help a person in need.

The idea for THE TREE OF LIFE and the Tower Room series came to the author after she attended a centennial celebration at her daughters’ school. “What might happen,” Davis thought, “if two children lived their research instead of simply reading about it? This one step outside the restrictions of time became the foundation for the series.”

As in THE TREE OF LIFE, the next three books will highlight different time periods in Canadian history, with the one constant being the appearance of Charlotte and Henry. Although the children will appear in each book with different names and bodies, they will be easily recognizable as eternal soul mates, and the harbingers of love and connection for those who have stumbled and lost their way.

* Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.


They needed to work on our outfits for school on Monday.
There was to be a parade in the playground, a decade fashion show parade. Since most of the parents refused to scour the bins at Good Will for appropriate clothing, Henry and Charlotte were the only ones so far who had volunteered. Technically Henry did not volunteer. Charlotte signed his name in invisible ink and was planning on informing him later this afternoon. She would tell Henry that he would get special marks for being in the parade (a lie) because Henry was motivated only by marks. Their grades were already as high as they could go, mostly for bringing in a lot of old junk from Charlotte’s great aunt Dilys’s decaying trunks; printed spun rayon dresses, white nubuck open-toed Cuban-heeled shoes, step-by-step instructions on how to pluck out all your eyebrow hair and draw on fake eyebrows that had a larger arch, one of the first ballpoint pens ever made (1938), a picture of a chesterfield suite in mohair that cost $1.95 at the Adams Trade-in Store Special, and a spring hat with a lilac ribbon purchased at Fairweathers for $2.00 and still in the bag. In reviewing her list, Charlotte found one item to be extremely interesting. In the 1930s, a hat cost more than a chesterfield.
It irked Charlotte that she needed to refer to her lists to remember how many items she had collected because Henry never needed this crutch. He could recite any list, any page of a book, any tiny print on a newspaper, even if he had only seen it once and for less than a second.
That’s because Henry had a condition called eidetic memory bog.
A bog is a swamp, a very damp place where unpleasant things grow and multiply. This was Charlotte’s way of describing the interior of Henry’s skull.
Eidetic memory: an article in a newspaper, a children’s story, musical notes from dingy old manuscripts, the script on a Chinese menu, junk mail forced through the mail slot, recipes, etc. etc. misc., all absorbed, imprinted, collated and filed away for future reference, word perfect. Although Henry denied it, Charlotte believed he had this disease because of his permanently crossed eyes. Therefore his brain was unable to process information the way the brain of a normal person (like Charlotte’s) did by sucking up facts through perfectly aligned eyeballs and expelling it all through the very same portals. Henry’s out-take portals were plugged by all the surgeries he had when he was a toddler, and Charlotte feared that someday Henry’s brain might explode from all the useless information he could not eliminate.
A handful of people knew he had this illness, and Henry utilized it sparingly.
“Because I appear to be blind, I overcompensate by having an unusual ability to retain data that may or may not be useful in the world at large,” Henry once told Charlotte. “Is that so unusual?” 
Of course she immediately had to set him a test.
Henry was lounging around on Charlotte’s bed, breathing her air and staring at her ceiling and moving his lips in a really annoying way so she said: “Let me show you something.”
He ignored her for a while but finally cranked his head over to where Charlotte was stitching together a hole in the leg of one of her stuffed animals.
She dropped the dog and held the World Book up to his face.
“Look at this.” She pointed to the section on German wirehaired pointers. She let Henry look at the article for three seconds and then she whisked the book away and sat cross-legged on the end of her bed because Henry was taking up all the middle space.
“What about it?” he asked.
“What kind of dog is a German wirehaired pointer?” Charlotte asked.
“A hunting dog,” he replied immediately.
“How did it come to be?”
“It’s a cross-breed which means the dog was developed by breeding a German short haired pointer with a poodle pointer.”
“And how much does it weigh?”
“About twenty-five kilos.”
“Does it like having its ears scratched?”
“How many times a day do you have to take it out for a walk?”
“What do you do if the dog howls in the middle of the night?”
Angry silence.
“How long does it take the average German short haired pointer to devour a bowl of food, and what happens if one freshly cooked pea is buried in the midst of its food?”
Confused silence.
“What good does it do you to be able to memorize this anyway?”
Superior silence.
“Facts are meaningless,” she said. “Experience is everything.”
“Shut up,” Henry said. “There is only one fact that is significant. I blend in. I get along just fine.”
In fact, Henry did not get along just fine, and if it weren’t for Charlotte, he never would have survived at Rose Park Public School.
For some reason the mere presence of Henry on the playground at school annoyed a few of the boys in the grade five class, the ones who weren’t very bright—Tyler MacKenzie in particular. Tyler invented a few colourful names which he felt best described Henry’s exterior; cross-eyed creep, frogman, slimebucket, and monster boy were a few of the favourites. These insults usually bounced off Henry, drifting into the air like soap bubbles, which then quietly burst, leaving Henry unharmed. He didn’t seem to hear the words directed at him. But once Henry made the mistake of getting in Tyler’s way. He was standing at the southern end of the playground reading a book he had projected onto the wall of the school, the same brick wall Tyler and his friends were using to see who could slam a baseball the hardest.
Henry didn’t know he was in the way because he was not present to the reality of the moment.
He returned abruptly when Tyler stood before him, blocking his view of the wall.
“Hey, slimebucket, we’re playing a game here. Move.”
Henry didn’t.
“Or maybe we could use you as a target and just aim for your nose.” Tyler touched Henry’s nose lightly with his fingertips. “That would be easier to hit than the wall.”
Henry brushed aside the grubby fingertips and stared straight at Tyler.
“Smell,” he said, “is stored in the limbic area of the brain.” His voice was measured and precise. “That’s why whenever I smell dog shit, I think of you…”
“In fact, all our memories and emotions are stored in the limbic area,” Henry told Charlotte five minutes later as they were both hurried off to the nurse’s office. Charlotte got an elbow in her eye trying to defend Henry whose upper lip had been cut right open.
He continued to talk as blood pooled in his mouth.
“The emotional content we all have stockpiled is extremely personal,” he said matter-of-factly, shifting the ice pack from the staffroom freezer to spit in the yogurt jar from the daycare centre. “And everything we possess inside here,” he said, tapping his forehead with three fingers, “is warehoused instantly with no conscious intervention on our part at all.”
So much for blending in.

Dawn Davis is a writer living and working in Toronto, Canada. Before becoming a writer, Davis worked as a teacher after completing her education at York University and the University of Toronto.
The Tree of Life is Davis’s debut novel, and the first book in her Tower Room series.

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Vienna's Will by Mark McCullough

Title: Vienna’s Will 
Author: Mark McCullough 
Publisher: Createspace 
Pages: 254 
Genre: Memoir

New author, Mark McCullough, shares his inspirational journey through chronic depression and addiction in VIENNA’S WILL ( After struggling for years to control the negative thoughts that he attempted to quiet with drugs and alcohol, Mark’s life changes when he finds the unconditional love of a little girl and her mother.

In April of 1992, Mark McCullough’s distraught parents delivered their twenty-five-year-old son to Butner Federal Prison after he committed a bank robbery. The court had arranged for the prison to complete a psychiatric evaluation of the troubled young man. Mark had intended for the crime to result in his death.

The author explores a lifetime battle with depression that was a result of sexual abuse by men he trusted and cared for as a child. At ten years old, Mark was obsessed with playing baseball and greatly admired his coach, who treated him like a son. The young boy’s first experience with betrayal came one afternoon when the coach molested him. Mark held the secret of the abuse inside, and it fed his depression for years to come. Later, when Mark was attending a Catholic high school, a priest befriended him and soon revealed his true intentions for forming the relationship.

The anguish of abuse and depression that Mark suffered drove him deeper into a life of drug and alcohol dependency. When Mark moved to Boston to attend college, he dropped out of school after attending one class. Thereafter, Mark spent his time seeking his next high and a place to sleep at night. He sold drugs to support his habit, until one day a friend persuaded him to return home before his addiction killed him.

After returning home, the drug use continued and Mark became suicidal. The plan he conceived that was supposed to lead to his death landed him in prison instead. During the time that Mark spent in prison, he faced anxiety and violence, but he also found companionship, as well as support from the psychiatrist responsible for his evaluation.

Mark continued to struggle with his addiction and depression for several years after his release from prison. Then he met the woman who would become his wife and her then four-year-old daughter, Vienna. Mark credits them with changing his life. The love of his daughter, Vienna, pulled Mark from the darkness and renewed his gratitude for his life and his family.

Mark’s decision to share his story of addiction, abuse, and mental illness came after many years of keeping secrets from his family and loved ones. “Some of the experiences I speak of in the book, some of the things I thought would stay hidden within me forever, needed to be spoken about and explained to people in my life who care about me and love me.”

The author hopes that VIENNA’S WILL will shed light on sexual abuse, addiction, and depression and help other people to face these issues in their lives and in the lives of others. Mark says, “So much of what happens in the book has, in some way, affected a great deal of people in our society, but they feel resistant to express it or discuss it. Whether it’s them personally, a friend, a family member, or even a coworker, if the book inspires them to help themselves or others, it will have served its true purpose.”

In VIENNA’S WILL, Mark reveals that the love and support of his family, especially from his daughter, Vienna, has been a powerful catalyst in his recovery and his decision to embrace life after so many years of enduring emotional hardship. The author states that he often “smiles at the thought of a child and her unconditional love being strong enough to overcome all the events of the past.”

Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.


We approached a series of doors, then descended down a long set of steps and walked through a maze of never ending corridors. It felt as if we were plunging into the dark depths of hell, like we were headed to someplace that once you entered, you would never find your way back. A one way ticket to nowhere. Everything was concrete and steel. The light was bright in my eyes and showed every stain and blemish that had accumulated over the years. It all seemed unfit for an animal, never mind anything associated with the human race. The guard grabbed my arm and finally spoke. “Stop right here.”
I turned to face a door with a single keyhole and a small, narrow slit. It was marred with deep scratches and riddled with dents. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to know how any of it got there, nor the likely aggression needed to make its presence known. 
“I’m gonna take these cuffs off. No funny business, hear?”
He started to loosen the cuffs.
“How long do you have son?”
“I’m not sure. I’m here on an evaluation.”
He paused with the key still in the cuffs then said, “Opened ended, pending?”
“Yes, sir.”
He whistled and I could see him shaking his head from the corner of my eye. He keyed the cuffs, then the door, then he spun me toward him. I can’t imagine that was protocol but I’m sure in his eyes, I didn’t present much of a danger.
“What’d you do?”
“Robbed a bank.”
He paused.
I took a deep breath and exhaled.
“And you’re here on evaluation?” 
“Yes, sir.”
“Bank robbery with a gun and you’re here on evaluation?”
He shook his head, and sighed quietly.
 “Things didn’t go quite as planned.” I said.
“What’s that mean?”
I didn’t answer.
“Damn shame. It’d be better to have 5-10, at least then you’d know where you stand.”
He led me inside and closed the door behind me. As he did he said, “Look through the slot son. Down here.”
I knelt down and listened as he spoke through the opening that I would later learn is how my meals would be dispersed to me.
“I’m gonna give you some advice whether you want it or not. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Tell the docs’ you want to do your time down here, got me?”
“Have you ever been in prison son? In any jail of any kind?”
“No, sir.”
“Then believe me when I tell you this, anything down here is better than everything up there. Understand?”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“Just trust me. I don’t understand why you’re here, and I don’t much care to understand it. That’s not for me to judge. That’s not the man I am, but listen…. the yard is no place for someone like you. Good luck son, and God bless you.”
I heard his steps grow softer as he left me alone with his words. I knew what he meant but tried not to allow myself to process its true meaning. I turned to face my surroundings. My new home was approximately eight feet by ten feet. The bed was on my right and appeared to be molded straight into the wall. The mattress was thin and coated with stains. A stainless steel toilet sat to my left. I wasn’t certain, but it appeared that some type of satanic emblem was etched into the floor directly beneath my feet. I could hear screaming and pounding from somewhere down the hall and a guard screaming back telling whoever it was to shut the fuck up. I slid down the wall and slumped to the floor and for the first time realized my shoes were two different sizes. One a nine, the other an eleven. I looked back up at the setting before me and leaned back on the door and thought that I could actually hear my heart pounding. I was sure it was going to burst.

Mark McCullough is the author of the true story, VIENNA’S WILL. He began writing his story over twenty years ago and was encouraged by family and friends to complete the book. “Since its release, I have bonded with others who have had similar experiences and have found that the concept of perhaps helping someone else is not only an amazing feeling, it has helped with my own growth and understanding of what is truly important as well.”
Mark worked in the pool and spa industry for eighteen years then turned to his true passion of helping others. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys spending time with his dog and going to the movies or the local pizza joint with his daughter, Vienna.

Rath's Deception by Piers Platt

We're thrilled to be hosting Piers Platt's RATH'S DECEPTION blog tour today!

Title: Rath’s Deception 
Author: Piers Platt 
Publisher: Piers Platt 
Pages: 350 
Genre: Sci Fi/Thriller

On the cut-throat streets of Tarkis, orphaned teens like Rath end up jailed … or dead. So when the shadowy Janus Group offers Rath a chance to earn riches beyond his wildest dreams, he seizes it. But the Janus Group is as ruthless as the elite assassins it controls. Rath will have to survive their grueling, off-world training, and fulfill all fifty kills in his contract before a single cent comes his way. And ending so many lives comes with a price Rath can’t anticipate. It’ll certainly cost him what’s left of his innocence. It may well cost him his life.

For More Information

Rath’s Deception is available at Amazon.
Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Book Excerpt: 

A light flickered on the edge of Rath’s peripheral vision: his internal heads-up display had an incoming message.  <Urgent: mission update>
<New target: Deputy Ambassador Sorgens>
<Original target is not to be harmed>
Rath felt a bead of sweat form at his brow. He smiled at another group of guests and offered them his tray of canapés, simultaneously advancing through screens in his heads-up display to find a photo of Sorgens in order to identify him.
Okay, got it.
“We’re all done, thanks,” one of the guests told him.
“Of course,” Rath said. “Sorry.”
Guess I lingered a little longer than a normal server would have. He stepped away from the group, spinning slowly in place as if planning which group he would approach next.  There’s Sorgens – far side of the room.
Rath stopped at three other groups of party-goers, working his way around the outside of the room in a looping curve, careful to avoid heading directly for the Deputy Ambassador. As he left the third group, he rearranged the napkins on his tray, as if straightening them, and surreptitiously jabbed one of the canapés with a tiny hypodermic needle, before slipping the needle back into his sleeve. Then he turned and headed for the Deputy Ambassador, but a security guard cut in front of him. Rath changed direction smoothly and headed for a different group, but he kept Sorgens in his line of sight. The security guard was leaning in close to Sorgens, covering his mouth to whisper in his ear. Rath dialed up his audio implants.
“… credible threat. Intelligence is rated ‘High Reliability,’ so we’re taking it very seriously,” Rath heard the man say. The Deputy Ambassador blanched, his face turning nearly as white as his tuxedo shirt. “I’d like to get you out of here right now, sir.”
Sorgens turned to the other guests, and made his apologies. “I’m sorry – I’m afraid duty calls, there’s an urgent message that needs my attention.” He headed toward the room’s exit, closely followed by the guard.
Want a snack before you go? Rath thought, chagrined. He broke away from the group he was serving and walked briskly toward the kitchen, which was in the same direction Sorgens was headed.
Let’s hope the kitchen has another exit close to wherever Sorgens is headed.
Rath ducked inside – to his relief, he saw an exit at the far side of the crowded room. He dumped his tray into the first trash can he saw and elbowed through the servers and cooks, heading for the door.
“Hey, watch it, asshole!” a busboy protested, spilling several plates onto a steel countertop. Rath ignored him and continued toward the back of the room, pushing through the swinging door. Sorgens was just disappearing through a side door halfway down the corridor, while the guard positioned himself outside the door. That looks like a restroom. Rath walked toward the guard, who was watching his approach closely, hands behind his back.
Probably got a pistol in a belt holster back there, Rath decided.  So much for the frontal assault.
Instead he took a sharp right turn down a side corridor, disappearing from the guard’s view. Mechanical plates implanted within his face shifted, obeying Rath’s commands, while his hair greyed, and his skin tone lightened. In the space of three seconds, he looked exactly like his original target. He turned on his heel, and stepped back out into the main corridor, looking both ways before appearing to notice the guard.
“You,” Rath pointed at the man, “have you seen my deputy around here?”
“Sir?” the guard asked, confused. “Oh, yes, Mr. Ambassador: Deputy Ambassador Sorgens is right in here.”
“Ah, excellent,” Rath said, walking up. He was at least two inches shorter and thirty pounds lighter than the real ambassador, but people were slow to notice body type differences – if the face and hair matched, such discrepancies were usually dismissed. Rath’s voice matched the Ambassador’s as well. As ever, hearing another man’s computer-generated voice from his own lips made Rath’s skin crawl. “Let me just have a word, and then you can get him out of here,” Rath told the guard.
“Of course, sir,” the guard said, holding the door open for him.
Rath let the door close behind him, then strode over toward Sorgens, who was standing at a urinal along the wall. Sorgens looked up and saw Rath.
“You heard about the threat?” Sorgens asked.
“I did,” Rath replied. “Glad to see you’re on your way out of here.” He called up the targeting module in his heads-up display, and slipped a pen out of his pocket. The implement was known as a ballistic pen, built out of reinforced titanium for use as a close-quarters weapon, and modified by Rath to include a nerve toxin coating, for a faster kill. As Sorgens zipped himself up, Rath’s eye implant overlaid an anatomical model on his image, matching it to fit his size and body orientation relative to Rath, highlighting his bone structure and major organs. Sorgens turned away from the wall, and Rath stepped forward, putting his full body momentum behind the thrust. The pen punched between two ribs, directly into the highlighted outline of Sorgens’ heart, while Rath covered Sorgens’ mouth with his other hand, stifling his shocked gasp of pain. Rath left the pen embedded to minimize the bleeding, and, still covering Sorgens’ mouth, he grabbed him under the arm and dragged him silently across the room into one of the toilet stalls. He propped the dying man on top of the toilet, pulled the door shut behind him, and walked over to the sink, where the ambassador’s reflection stared back at him.
Need to wash this blood off my hands. But my guess is that guard is supposed to escort Sorgens out of the building, so it’ll be an easier exit if I pose as him.
“Everything okay, sir?” The security guard was pushing open the door.
Rath reacted instinctively, and bent over the sink, splashing his face with water as he shifted his hair and face to match Sorgens’. He stood up and reached blindly for the paper towels, and dabbed at his face as he completed the transformation. When he opened his eyes, the guard was eying him in the mirror.
“Ready to go, sir?” the man asked.
“Yes – let’s get going,” Rath told him. The guard glanced at the closed stall door and Rath tensed himself in readiness, but the man simply turned and walked back out into the hall, checking in both directions before motioning for Rath to follow.  That was close, Rath thought, falling into step as they headed off down the hallway. He’s going to be pissed when he finds out he personally escorted the killer out of the building.

 About the Author

Piers Platt is the New York Times bestselling author of "Combat and Other Shenanigans," a memoir of his year-long deployment to Iraq as a tank and scout platoon leader. Piers grew up in Boston, but spent most of his childhood in various boarding schools, including getting trained as a classical singer at a choir school for boys. He joined the Army in 2002, and spent four years on active duty. When he's not writing or spending time with his lovely wife and daughter, Piers works as a strategy consultant in New York city. His latest book is the sci fi/thriller, Rath’s Deception

  For More Information

Visit Piers Platt’s website.
Connect with Piers on Facebook and Twitter.
Find out more about Piers at Goodreads.