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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Book Review: A Class Apart by Stephen Henning

4-stars for this book!
A Class Apart by Stephen Henning is about British twins, James and Samantha, whose lives change forever after a terrorist attack on their school bus. Sam and James wake up in hospital and gradually discover they have extraordinary abilities. Meanwhile, strange events being unfolding at the hospital and the twins need to quickly come to grips with their new powers, to save themselves and everyone around them.

This book was exciting and stimulating. I really enjoyed the beginning scenes on the school bus, where we learn about the mouth breathers, the bullies, and the high school social hierarchy. Then, just when I was bonding with the school kids and settling in for a book full of teenage angst and relationships, a bomb exploded and it was a whirlwind ride from there.

If you enjoy fast-paced action books, with a supernatural element and a mystery, then this is a book for you. I was enthralled as I tried to figure everything out and follow the characters development into super-beings. Despite their amazing powers, the characters seem like real people, with solid back stories, and real life problems.

The book also felt very original to me. I liked that it was unpredictable and the characters discovered things long before I worked them out for myself. At one point I got a bit restless with most of the story being set in the hospital, and I lost track of all of the police officers and what they were doing. But it didn’t hamper my ability to enjoy the story and the pages kept turning themselves. I felt very satisfied when the loose ends were all tied up thoroughly at the end of the book (except for those leading to the sequel of course).

I also liked the multimedia aspect of the book. The Class Apart website has links to book trailers and news reports from the 24/7 Interactive News service which is featured in the book.

In summary, A Class Apart is a fun, enjoyable read, suitable for teenagers and adults alike.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

About Sandra

Sandra grew up in Sydney, Australia as a black-haired girl with two blonde sisters. She was not adopted, despite what they told her.

Sandra first discovered her passion for writing in primary school when she was forced to write a short story for a school assignment. She was surprised to discover she really enjoyed it and began to read and write avidly.

After graduating from university in Sydney, Sandra began working as a full-time statistician. Her days were filled with number crunching, while her evenings were filled with Fiona’s exciting supernatural adventures as she wrote the first book of the Dusk Duo series, The Ghostly Grammar Boy. The book is now available for free on iBooks, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

In 2011, Sandra moved to Tokyo, Japan, where she lived for three years and learned a lot about Japanese culture by making many mistakes. She wrote about her adventures in Japan on this blog.

Sandra now lives in Sydney, Australia where she continues to work as a daytime statistician and a nighttime author. She is currently working on book two of the Dusk Duo series, The Deadly School Camp. Have a sneak peak at Fiona’s next caper at the The Deadly School Camp page. She is also writing a romantic suspense novel set in Tokyo called The Sakura Vacancy.

Sandra loves to hear feedback from her readers and really appreciates the support of her blog followers.

Books

The Dusk Duo Series

Book One: The Ghostly Grammar Boy


For a dead guy with unfinished business, he was pretty cute.

Fiona is a completely ordinary fifteen year old from Canberra… at least that’s what she’d like you to think. She doesn’t want anyone to know her secret. She can see and touch ghosts and it’s all thanks to her pesky twin-sister Ella - who happens to be dead.

Following the mysterious death of a boy from the local grammar school, Fiona navigates the perilous high school social hierarchy to investigate. With the help of Ella, Fiona uncovers a dangerous web of family secrets and betrayal, and learns more about the perplexing world of ghosts and boys. High school is hard enough without having to sort out your dead sister’s love life as well…

Purchase The Ghostly Grammar Boy ebook
Read the first three chapters here for free!
Reader Reviews for The Ghostly Grammar Boy

The Ghostly Grammar Boy was awarded a five-star rating from the professional reviewers at Readers Favorite Website.



Book Two: The Deadly School Camp


Hannah was a bully when she was alive… she’s even worse now that she’s a ghost.

Fiona is back. She’s got a hot new boyfriend and the grudging respect of the popular group. She even has a confidante who knows her supernatural secret.

But when school bully Hannah is murdered at year ten camp, Fiona’s life is thrown into turmoil. Fiona has to work with the recently departed Hannah (who still manages to be annoying in the afterlife) to catch the murderer. The problem is, none of the adults will believe her and now the murderer wants her dead as well…

The Sakura Vacancy

This is a romantic suspense novel still in progress, due for completion July 2015. The book is about Hailey, a ditzy Californian girl, who leaves her disastrous love-life behind for a high-flying job in Tokyo. Hailey struggles to settle in, but the trouble really begins when she meets a handsome foreigner with a secret agenda. Keep checking back here for more information and sneak previews.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Things I didn't expect to be corrected on

It’s no surprise I made a lot of mistakes when writing my first book The Ghostly Grammar Boy. During the revision process, I was lucky enough to receive detailed feedback from many family members and friends. I also hired an editor to review the final draft. Between all of us, we found hundreds of plot holes, logical inconsistencies, scientifically implausible events, awkwardly worded sections, spelling, and grammar problems. All of these were fixed for the published version. But there were some pieces of feedback that surprised me more than others. These are three things I didn’t expect.

1. I'm an Aussie but I write like an American


The Ghostly Grammar Boy is about a fifteen year old school girl called Fiona who can see and talk to ghosts. I used to watch a lot of shows like Gossip Girl so my natural instinct was to make the main character an edgy, American teenage girl, at a ritzy US high school. Then I remembered I’m an Aussie! For my book to have an honest voice, I should draw from my own experiences of growing up in Australia. So I made the main character a teenage girl at a public school in Canberra.

Having decided to make the book true blue*, the last thing I expected to hear from my editor was that my book sounded American. There were so many Americanisms my editor even offered to Americanise the whole book for consistency. Apart from all the US spelling I’d accidentally used, I’d also used a lot of American words, for example Fiona had ‘bangs’ instead of a ‘fringe’, fell on her ‘butt’ instead of her ‘bum’, and goes to the ‘bathroom’ instead of the 'loo’ or ‘toilet’. One of the ghosts even materialised carrying a baseball bat - unlikely in cricket-obsessed Australia.

2. Too raunchy but also too innocent


During the book, Fiona experiences her first kiss. I wanted to make the book interesting for teenagers and not too censored so I made the kiss scene steamy and detailed. Embarrassingly, I was told by several people that it was too much – it was too graphic and not appropriate for my intended audience. I removed the details and toned down the scene. On the other hand, I also received feedback that Fiona’s high school friends were unrealistically innocent. I’d written that none of them had ever had a boyfriend, been kissed, or been to a party with alcohol. After hearing this comment, I quickly made Fiona’s friends lose some of their innocence.

3. Old, old, old


When I first started writing The Ghostly Grammar Boy, Facebook was mostly unknown in Australia, smartphones and iPads weren’t invented, and The O.C. was the most popular TV show. By the time I finished, my book was littered with references to previously popular things, long since forgotten. An example is when I referred to a good swimmer as a ‘Thorpedo’. The last medal Ian Thorpe won for Australia was eight years ago.

*True blue means honestly Australian

The Ghostly Grammar Boy ebook will be published on Amazon and Smashwords on 15th September 2013. The book will be available for free for a limited time to the readers of this blog. Check back here again next week for the coupon code and link!







Sunday, 1 September 2013

Hats off to the kiddies, fatties, and oldies

Everyone in Japan has climbed Mt. Fuji, except me. School groups, unfit tourists, and baby boomers in colour co-ordinated hiking outfits – they’ve all done it. During climbing season, Mt. Fuji is so crowded the path becomes one long pedestrian traffic jam. So I figured, if everyone’s doing it, surely it can’t be that hard. This year I’m going to conquer Mt. Fuji too.

As a token amount of preparation, I decided to practice on Mt. Mitake last weekend. And by token, I really mean token: Mt. Mitake’s altitude is 929m, and the hike takes five hours, compared to Mt. Fuji’s 3700m altitude, twelve hour course. My cousin Mark (who has a hilarious blog about his student life in Spain) was stopping over in Japan that weekend and joined me.

The hike started with a series of staircases that went vertically up the mountain… and it didn’t ease off from there. Hours of relentless staircases and torturous slopes later, we finished and I was exhausted. My legs were shaking, I could hardly breathe, and I didn’t think I could even step on the train to get home. Meanwhile Mark looked like he’d been for a casual stroll around the park. I started to have serious doubts about my plans.

The next day, I limped in to my Japanese lesson, and told my teacher about my Mt. Fuji goal. She almost hit the roof. ‘Mt. Fuji isn’t easy! It’s incredibly dangerous and difficult, especially outside of climbing season!’ she said. (I’d purposefully planned my trip to be a few days after the official hiking season ended so the crowds wouldn’t slow me down.) She explained that outside of hiking season, the mountain huts shut, the rescue services stop, and the weather on Mt. Fuji becomes dangerous and unpredictable. Since it was outside of the season and I was clearly not fit enough to complete the course, she strongly advised me to cancel my plans.

After two years with my Japanese teacher, I’ve come realise she is usually right about all things Japan-related. So I cancelled my trip to Mt. Fuji. I’d like to blame the off-season timing, but the truth is, it’s a serious hike and I need more training. To the kiddies, fatties, and oldies who have conquered Mt. Fuji, you have my total respect. If I can ever walk again, one day I’d like to join your ranks. But not this year.
My new walking sticks won’t have the honour of poking Mt. Fuji this year

Friday, 9 August 2013

The phones must be crazy

Yesterday the silence of my office was shattered when a hundred smart phone alarms went wild. The early earthquake warning system had triggered. My Japanese colleagues called out “Shindo nana!” in shock, meaning an earthquake of the most catastrophic level was about to hit.

The early warning system is supposed to give us a few seconds notice to get to safety. But instead of diving under our desks like we’d been trained to do, we all just stood there giggling and waiting for our doom. Secretly, I wanted to get under my desk but I didn’t want to look like a coward. I felt like it was 2011 again, in the seconds after the earthquake alarms had gone off, and just before the big earthquake hit. Back then I hadn’t learnt about the dangers of losing face, and had immediately dived under my desk.

While we waited to die, we teased the people whose phone alarms had triggered later than everyone else’s. For once I wasn’t the one with the most outdated technology. After a while the giggling died down, and it seemed like nothing was going to happen and we’d have to get back to work. I mostly felt relieved but a small part of me felt disappointed there was nothing more to break up a dull Thursday afternoon.

Later I found out on the news that the alarm had been triggered by a loud noise near one of the earthquake sensors. Maybe some deviant popped a bag behind the head of the Japanese meteorological agency and gave him a shock!

My earthquake emergency kit was lonely when I didn't join it under the desk.

There's no escaping Tokyo

 Sometimes I really feel the need to get away from the crowds of Tokyo and escape to the peaceful Japanese countryside. Last weekend I went to the rural apple-growing prefecture of Aomori (715km north of Tokyo) to watch the Nebuta festival with some friends.

Aomori is on the coast, so the first thing we did when we arrived was to look for local sushi. We wanted to eat the best, freshest fish - straight from the sea, and into our mouths. We found a great sushi bar where the fish were as delicious and fresh as anything we’d eaten in Tokyo, and a bargain at country prices!

Surprise! A crab was hiding in the miso soup. 

When we arrived at the festival that evening, there were hundreds of performers dressed in traditional costumes getting ready for the Nebuta parade. We were excited to see them and stopped a few Aomori locals to get a picture with them before the show. But as it turned out they weren’t from Aomori at all. Like us they’d travelled from far away to spend the weekend in the country.

Aomori imposters with other Aomori imposters

Finally we went to get a seat at the parade. I thought we wouldn’t have too much trouble with crowds because it was a small town but it was packed out like Shinjuku station at peak hour. Tokyo had found me after all. The event had drawn the masses from the capital. Luckily I’ve learnt a few things about walking through crowds, so I had no problem and the crowds added to the excitement.

Tokyo relocates to Aomori

The parade was amazing - huge floats made of Japanese paper and carried by man-power, surrounded by dancers and musicians in traditional costumes. We discovered that if we cheered loud enough the floats would walk over to us and bow.

Even the floats bow in Japan

I highly recommend the festival in Aomori as a great thing to see. But book early because the rest of Tokyo will be there with you!