First Friday: Five great games!

I’m a huge fan of games, note I did not write board games, or card games or video games. I love them all. In this season of giving, whether to a loved one or to a toy drive, here are five games I highly recommend because not only are they fun, but they can also be adapted to accommodate a range of ages. I’m not part of any affiliate program. The links are there for your convenience.

  1. Labyrinth – The original German title translates as “the crazy maze.” Why? Because with each turn, the game board changes. As you race to collect treasures, you can work with or work against the other players to reshape the routes to the various treasures. It says 8 or up, but we started playing it when my son was 5 and he not only kept up with the adults, he usually beats us. This is a great game for spatial reasoning. Available at Toys R Us and other retailers.
  2. Perpetual Commotion – This is basically the card game I grew up calling “Nertz.” It’s a high-speed game with elements of solitaire that can easily be adjusted for younger players by dealing them fewer cards. You could also play in teams where one person is responsible for watching the feeder pile and one person flips the deck. It’s available at Amazon and other retailers.
  3. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! In this cooperative game, the highlight  is spinning a Goldbug, when sets off a timed search for objects hidden throughout the game board. Cards indicate if you will be looking for kites or hot dogs or something else in the overstuffed and often comical drawings of Richard Scarry. Unlike Hi-Ho-Cherry-O or Candyland, I have no urge to stick a fork in my eye to avoid playing this game. Available at Amazon and other retailers. 
  4. Apples to Apples – This game comes in myriad versions. I’m partial to the kids version, especially when playing with family because it contains cards such as “My mom” and “under the bed.” While the former should always be paired with “beautiful” or “nice,” the latter is best played on the person with the messiest room. Available at Creative Kidstuff and other retailers. 
  5. My last game I recommend this year skews older and is the newest one in my household, but also one became a quick favorite. Evolution: The Beginning. Even though the instruction book almost as overwhelming as those for King of Tokyo and Settlers of Catan (two other games our family loves), the card-based game play is straight-forward and fun. The artwork is beautiful and the structure of the game allows for multiple strategies to victory.  The action is low-key and it takes less than a half an hour making it a great way to wind down before bedtime. I believe it is a Target exclusive, but may be available through resellers.

So there you have it – some awesome ways to spend the time with friends and family throughout the winter. With these games, your only awkward discussions will involve what to play next.

If you have a favorite game, please share it below. Thanks.

Spotlight on Denise Devine

Now that October is over, my life returns to the normal level of chaos and I can once again operate my spotlight. This time it found author bestselling author Denise Devine and her newest release A Merry Little Christmas.

Merry Connor is struggling to feed her two children, pay heat bills and fix her secondhand car. Though she’s barely making it financially, life is good. That is, compared to two years ago when she lost everything—thanks to her lying, deceiving ex-husband. She’s come a long way since then and doesn’t intend to look back. Even so, it’ll be a long time before she trusts anyone with her heart again.

Tony Lewis hasn’t had a merry Christmas since his wife and son perished in a car collision three years ago. The holidays are lonely without his family, but his heart begins to mend when he meets Merry Connor and her two rambunctious kids. He can’t stop thinking about her and yearns to get closer to her. Will she turn him away once she learns of his connection to her ex-husband?

For a limited time, A Merry Little Christmas is on sale for $.99.

Buy Links:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK:

Amazon CA: 

D2D – iTunes:

Denise Devine is a USA TODAY bestselling author of romantic comedy, contemporary romance and she also loves to write inspirational fiction. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at thirteen and has been writing ever since. She writes about true love, happy endings and stories that touch your heart.

Presents or Gifts? Choose your #ChristmasTreats

christmas treats buttonWhat are our favorite Christmas Treats? Books, of course! Stop by each blog for a chance to win fabulous books & gifties for the Holidays!  

As part of the Christmas Treats giveaway hop, I’m giving away an ebook copy of Tidings of Love: 7 Holiday Romance Novellas, which contains my Winter Fairy, AND a $5 gift card to Starbucks so you can treat yourself to a yummy coffee drink.

As the end of the year giving season grips so many of us in its clutches, I’m often struck by the absurdity of the Christmas morning ritual of ripping off piles of shiny wrapping paper to unearth items I bought for myself a month ago. Since reaching adulthood, I tend to get a lot more presents rather than gifts. What is the difference you ask? I’ve given this a lot of thought. Probably too much thought for the relative weight of the issues, but here goes.

A present is presented to you. The giver gives you something you requested. They spent the money to buy a specific item on your list. Or maybe, they wrote you a check or gave you the cash to buy the item for yourself for the express purpose of having something to unwrap on Christmas morning. There is not much thought behind a ritual presentation of an item you want, but a present shows the giver listened.

A gift is an item given from the giver’s heart. It is unexpected but thoughtful. The gift can be big or small, useful or not, but it expresses the relationship between the giver and the recipient.

I love giving gifts, but find it hard this time of year when I am under the obligation to shop and buy specific items for so many people. I spend a lot of time buying presents, but I try to include a few gifts as well. I shop for gifts year round, or more to the point, gifts shop for me. I can be purchasing the most banal household items and something will catch my eye. It could be a goofy paper napkin pattern or a sale on a flavored coffee that a dear friend loves. A gift something that will bring joy to a recipient, which in turn gives joy to the giver.

Books make terrific gifts and terrific presents. There are loads of books and other goodies up for grabs in the Christmas Treats hop. Enter my rafflecopter here to be entered for the ebook and giftcard and be sure to visit all the authors through the linky-list.


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First Friday Five: Picture Book Bonus

The last two weeks, I’ve treated you to book recommendations for Middle School readers and for Elementary aged readers. This week, I’m sharing five terrific picture books.  I’ve given priority to books that have been released this year. As before, I’m including buy links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble for your convenience. I do not benefit financially in these recommendations, I just want to share books I love to help those who are looking for a book to give to a child.

  1. The Book with no Pictures by B.J. Novak. Yup, I’m starting a list of picture books with a book that has no pictures. Trust me on this one. B.J. Novak, previously a writer for The Office, has a tremendous way with words and a wicked sense of fun. This is the book the kids in your life will want to spring on unsuspecting parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts, uncles and well, anyone as a bedtime story. The sense of mischief and fun appeals to kids all ages, including those of us experienced kids who have the gray hair to prove it.  Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  2. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers Have you ever looked at a child’s box of crayons and wondered what on earth happened to those once pristine pieces of wax? Jeffers’ playful illustrations are spot on and new readers will be surprised at the emotional depths Daywalt finds in the crayons. This is a terrific gateway for talking about emotions.  Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  3. I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems. Mo Willelms is the mastermind behind Knufflebunny, the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie, stars of I Will Take a Nap. Elephant and Piggie don’t look alike and possess many opposite traits (cautious versus impulsive) that can cause some conflict between the two, but friendship always prevails. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  4. Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat. This came out last year, but it didn’t cross my radar until my ninja loving son brought it home from the library. As I’ve said before, I think Dan Santat is a terrific illustrator and his vibrant images bring this twisted fairy tale to life. This is a fun book to read alongside an original version of Little Red Riding Hood and can lead to great conversation about empowerment and bullying. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  5. What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss.  It’s not every year you get a new Dr. Seuss Book! For me, it’s no Fox in Sox (my favorite Dr. Seuss), but it is a fun book to read aloud and share with the children in your life. A lot of children will relate to the problem of picking a dream pet and in this book, there are no real life consequences, so bring on the silliness and help kids spark their creativity. Amazon and Barnes&Noble    

 

Kids that are read to from day one are kids who grow up to be readers. Study after study shows the benefit of reading with children. From building vocabulary to creative problem solving, to building empathy, to creating a passion for knowledge, few tools on this earth are more powerful than a book. Please share the joy of reading this holiday season, whether with a special child in your life or by donating a book to a school, shelter, library or program like First Book.

I hope you have enjoyed this extended Friday Five series. If you have books to recommend, or thoughts on this list, please share in the comments.

First Friday Five I love #Maps

Give me a good infographic and I’m a happy girl. Put that same information on a map and I get downright giddy.  Here are five maps that I love.  Most are links because I don’t want to get in trouble, but they are all click-worthy.

  1. I cannot find the original maps created by Joshua Katz as part of his dissertation research, but this summary on Business Insider has some of my favorite linguistic maps that prove Americans really don’t speak the same language. Come for crustaceans, stay for the crayons.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/22-maps-that-show-the-deepest-linguistic-conflicts-in-america-2013-6
  2. Ever wonder what some of those languages you hear on the street are?  Slate put together a series of maps based on census data.  Maps like these are a great way to layer flavor into a contemporary setting.   http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/05/language_map_what_s_the_most_popular_language_in_your_state.html
  3.  Writing and need to make sure your character’s drink of choice is mainstream or freakishly weird? The good folks at finedininglovers.com can help.  https://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/food-drinks/infographic-united-states-of-alcohol/
  4. Not sure what holiday toy to buy for that great-niece in another state? Last winter this helpful map made the rounds based on google searches by state.  I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings. I will add to the Lego totals for Minnesota.
  5.  This last one may be the most awesome interactive map I’ve come across. ZatoNovo published a map by Brian Rowe that lets you enter a name and watch how the name changed in popularity over the last 120 years.  For fun, try female names like Jennifer, Cora, and Hermione. Maybe I’m easily amused, but this combines my loves of names, history and geography in one swell place. http://zatonovo.com/dataviz/baby_names

Spotlight on Winter Dreams

I’m cheating this week by stepping into my own spotlight, but I’m sharing the stage with the six other authors who appear in Winter Dreams 7 Heartfelt Holiday Romances

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Winter’s crisp cold is the perfect backdrop for holiday lights, snowball fights, and starry nights by the fire, curled up with hunky heroes. Let these seven couples show you how to find the warmth of red-hot romance.

  • Christmas Dinner: Amanda dreads returning home single for Christmas, but the only available man is her rival for the TV anchor spot. Can the holiday spirit turn animosity into love? By Robyn Neeley
  • The Winter Fairy: Recuperating ballerina Penelope Glazier can enchant the young girls in her class, but will her magic work on Carson Langley, the sexy but straight-laced single father of her most talented student? By Lola Karns
  • Holiday Hoopla: Halle is about to lose her gift shop, until banker Blake walks into her life, dangling an offer that could save it all, or cost her everything. By Dana Volney
  • Wynter’s Journey: Twelve years after tragedy tore Wynter and Sam apart, can another predicament bring them back together? By Jennifer DeCuir
  • The Winter Promise: War throws Lady Emma and Lord Robert together, where they must decide if they can listen to their hearts – or if they would be wiser never to trust each other.  By Jenny Jacobs
  • Winter Storms: Daniel’s sailing accident cost Carly her shot at Olympic dreams, while his own athletic success was unhindered. Now he’s returned and they’re stuck in the Cornish village where storms lash them from outside – and within. By Lucy Oliver
  • Old Christmas: Casey needs help from the magic that walks on Old Christmas Eve to find her way back home, and to the love she left behind. By Kathryn Brocato

 

We hope you enjoy this terrific way to discover new-to-you authors. With these diverse stories, you bound to find something to love, especially since the bundle is priced under a dollar (US).

Now available through Amazon (US), Barnes&Noble, Amazon (UK),  and Crimson Romance.

Deals like this are too good to last.

Bundle up with Winter Fairy!

My debut novel Winter Fairy is getting a new look and some great company in time to celebrate the holidays.

WinterDreamsfull

For less than a cup of coffee or cookie at a bakery, you can get Winter Fairy and six other holiday titles, Christmas Dinner by Robyn Neeley, Holiday Hoopla by Dana Volney, Wynter’s Journey by Jennifer DeCuir, The Winter’s Promise by Jenny Jacobs, Winter Storms by Lucy Oliver and Old Christmas by Kathryn Brocato.  For the cost of one full-price e-book, you can get all seven, plus the coffee and cookie. Now that’s a deal. Enjoy. You deserve it.

Available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Crimson Romance direct.

First Friday Five – Holiday Cheer Specifics

By now, you’ve likely been inundated with ways to simplify the holidays, bring on cheer, buy the most stuff for the least money and how to give thoughtful homemade gifts. ‘Tis the season indeed. Most of the articles and gifs serve to remind me of my handicraft foibles, and make me guilty that I’ve spent too much, too little or all my money in the wrong place.  Add in all too frequent encounters with any Alvin and the Chipmunks song, and the cacophony threatens to put this writer of holiday stories in a bad mood.  Sound familiar?

As an antidote, I’m sharing 5 specific things that reawaken my holiday cheer. Maybe they’ll work for you.

1. Spritz cookies.

From SouthernPlate.com

If your mouth is watering, then you know exactly what I mean. These buttery gems are not the easiest cookies to make. You need lots of butter, a cookie press, patience, and strong arms, but the results are worth it.

2. Cheese and Cracker Trays.  Count calories in January. For now, pass the espresso parmesan, or the warm brie, or the cheese curds, or the …. you get the idea.

3. Illuminated Trees.  I love twinkling lights, but whether in a front yard or a family room or on a city street, illuminated trees make my heart pitter-patter. Lights on a house or a building don’t have the same organic shapes.

4. Even though my mom never cooked chicken and collard greens, I have a soft spot for Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis, the song and the video.

5. And if all else, fails, there’s nothing like a cup of hot chocolate spikes with a candy cane.

This list has made me hungry. Time to put number 4 on the radio, drink some 5, set out some 2 to nibble on while I make 1 so they will be ready in time to take a stroll to see number 3.

What puts you in the holiday spirit this season, no matter what you celebrate?

P.S. – My holiday romance, Winter Fairy is being rereleased as part of  Winter Dreams: 7 Heartfelt Holiday Romances.

Talking with Cynthia Woolf

Today I’m welcoming multi-published author Cynthia Woolf. I asked Cynthia some tough questions about her contribution to the Sweetwater Springs Christmas anthology entitled “Sugarplum Dreams.”

Cynthia, what inspired you to write this short story?

I was contacted by Debra Holland. She asked if I’d be interested in participating an anthology of Christmas stories set in her fictional town of Sweetwater Springs, Montana in 1895. Well, I was thrilled. It’s not often that I get to work with other writers much less those of the caliber of Debra and the other authors involved in this venture.

The list of contributors is amazing and features an eclectic mix. What types of books do you enjoy reading?

I read mainly historical and erotica, with some paranormal and contemporary thrown in for variety.

Tell me about your favorite place to write. What makes it special?

I can write anywhere because I usually do most of the first draft in longhand. I wrote one of my first books sitting on the beach in Puerto Vallerta. That had to be my favorite place to write – on a beach. Anywhere on a beach.

The beach is one of my favorite places to read, but not this time of year. Since “Sugarplum Dreams” is a Christmas story, what do you love about the holidays?

I love decorating the tree and seeing the house after my husband gets done decorating it. I collect Christmas ornaments and it’s always fun to go through and see my treasures.

Fun! If you could wave a magic wand and make one thing about the holiday season disappear, what would it be? 

The need to have the Santa’s on the sidewalk ringing their bell for donations. Nothing would make me happier than to have the needs that they ring for satisfied. No more homeless needing shelter and meals, that would be it for me.

What a beautiful thought. On a lighter note, let’s play “Dump the purse” – what’s in yours? 

Oh, my goodness, that’s scary. I have a wallet, a cosmetics bag overflowing with stuff, I don’t use since I rarely wear makeup. There is wetwipes, glass cleaner towelettes, pens, notebook, trading cards of my books, sunglasses, three checkbooks,  pain medication, car keys, my phone and a metal credit card case (to thwart any would-be card number thieves), disposable tooth brush and toothpicks.  Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. Explains why my purse weighs ten pounds, huh?

Nothing light there. Dessert time!  Give me your “either—or” answers

  • Chocolate, fruit or other?  Chocolate
  • Warm or cold?  Cold
  • Buttercream or fondant? Buttercream
  • Cookies or brownies? Brownies
  • With nuts or without?  Without

Want to know more about Cynthia?

Cynthia Woolf was born in Denver, Colorado and raised in the mountains west of Golden. She spent her early years running wild around the mountain side with her friends.  Their closest neighbor was one quarter of a mile away, so her little brother was her playmate and her best friend. That fierce friendship lasted until his death in 2006.

Cynthia was and is an avid reader. Her mother was a librarian and brought new books home each week. This is where young Cynthia first got the storytelling bug. She wrote her first story at the age of ten. A romance about a little boy she liked at the time.

Cynthia writes historical western romance under Cynthia Woolf and scifi romance as CA Woolf.

TITLES AVAILABLE AS CYNTHIA WOOLF — TAME A WILD HEART, TAME A WILD WIND, TAME A WILD BRIDE, TAME A SUMMER HEART, CAPITAL BRIDE, HEIRESS BRIDE, FIERY BRIDE,  LOVE AND MISERY, a very short story

WEBSITE – www.cynthiawoolf.com

TITLES AVAILABEL AS CA WOOLF–CENTAURI DAWN, CENTAURI TWILIGHT, CENTAURI MIDNIGHT, CENTAURI SERIES – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, THE SWORDS OF GREGARA – JENALA, THE SWORDS OF GREGARA – RIZA, THE SWORDS OF GREGARA – HONORA

WEBSITE – www.CAWoolf.com

old farm in the mountains at winterRead on for more about SWEETWATER SPRINGS CHRISTMAS (note – authors are listed in alphabetical order)

E. AYERS – A CHRISTMAS FAR FROM HOME

Far from home and with love in their hearts, a young Wyoming rancher and the daughter of a Montana railroad businessman learn the true joy of Christmas is in giving.

LINDA CARROLL-BRADD – WISHES ON A STAR

Will a wish on a star foretell the future of a young suffragette and a visiting rancher?

MJ FREDRICK – ABIGAIL’S CHRISTMAS ANGEL

A lonely widow and a lonelier marshal make peace with their past.

DEBRA HOLLAND – THE GIFT OF MUSIC

Can two reserved people overcome their limitations and find love?

DEBRA HOLLAND – A FAMILY FOR IKE

An orphaned boy finds an unexpected family.

DEBRA HOLLAND – THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS

The town banker learns that perhaps some things are more important than money.

PATY JAGER – A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER

Ida doesn’t remember the last two years, but her husband is determined to find her and reignite their love.

JILL MARIE LANDIS – UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

A spinster discovers it’s never too late to embrace love and the surprises life has in store.

TRISH MILBURN – A NEW HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

A woman scarred in face and heart finds love with a cowboy.

LINDA MCLAUGHLIN – THE BEST PRESENT

A grieving ten-year-old girl anticipating a sad Christmas receives some surprises.

BEV PETTERSEN – THE CHRISTMAS CROSSING

With a little Christmas magic, two searching hearts discover they can bridge much more than a raging river.

TORI SCOTT – A PROMISE FOR CHRISTMAS

Faced with her first Montana winter without her husband, Rachel Tanner and her young son need a miracle.

CYNTHIA WOOLF – SUGARPLUM DREAMS

Julia Bosworth travels west to fulfill a special dream and finds her heart’s desire.

Sweetwater Springs Christmas is available through Amazon

A tradition of carols

Christmas carols evoke those long gone “days of yore” making the coldest of hearts warm a little during the winter holiday season, but did you know they are by and large an invention of the Victorian Era?

Although no-one knows for certain when singing carols took off, singing and dancing were important parts of the pagan traditions in pre-Christian Europe. As the Church in Rome spread from the third to the fifteenth centuries, they grafted elements of the pagan festivals onto the liturgical calendar, hence the proximity of December 25th as Christmas and the winter solstice. The songs from this period are lost to history as are many of the details of the celebrations.

Historians do know carols were sung. How? Because when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans came to power in mid-Seventeenth century England, they banned them. Cromwell set out to destroy all the trappings of the Roman Catholic Church and anything associated the church. Since Christmas appeared on the liturgical calendar, the celebration of Christmas largely disappeared from the public record. People may have caroled in the comfort of their home, but going door to door was a punishable crime. The Puritans brought their non-celebration traditions with them to America, so you were unlikely to encounter a band of roving carolers in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Caroling takes off in the nineteenth century, both in the United States and Europe. Myriad forces brought sweeping changes in what historians call “The Age of ISMs.” In the wake of industrialism, the American and French Revolutions , nationalism and romanticism, governments and other institutions recognized the power of public ceremony to bring citizens together, increase patriotic good will, and reduce civil unrest. Queen Victoria encouraged artists of the day to develop and promote a cozy feel-good holiday.  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, embodied the new Christmas ideal. Simple plainsong chants using words evoking the nostalgia ideal were laid over traditional melodies – think “Christmas is coming”.

The surge in civil pride meant many towns, cities and churches formed orchestras and choirs. People needed songs to sing. James Pierpont wrote Jingle Bells as a simple song for children to sing during a Thanksgiving program. The audience demand for a repeat performance at the Christmas concert ensured its holiday superstardom. The beautiful paring of word and melody of Silent Night almost didn’t happen. A broken church organ and the threat of a music-free Christmas Mass in Austria led Pastor Josef Mohr to ask a composer friend to develop a simple melody to accompany a poem he wrote.

With Thomas Edison’s 1877 invention of the phonograph, people could listen to songs performed and recorded thousands of miles away. Recordings “fixed” the sound. Listeners developed an expectation of how a song should sound and did their best to reproduce it.

By the time recording technology and radio entered most homes the mid-twentieth century, the Christmas nostalgia idea held tremendous cultural sway. Magazines and advertising showed people how Christmas should look; radio and phonographs created the soundtrack. Demand for additional music and a need to lift wartime spirits brought a new wave of “traditional” songs.  The much beloved White Christmas, imbued with irony by composer Irving Berlin, managed to both fun at Christmas nostalgia, even as it became part of the carol canon.

As pop-culture has grown more fragmented in the twenty-first century, I doubt we will see a new “traditional” carol gain enough traction to become a classic, but I have a suggestion.

“Winter Weather” is a personal favorite from the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Check out the cover – it looks like an LP but was initially released as a CD. When you play this tune, notice how it sounds like it could have been written a hundred years ago even though it dates way back to the late 1990s.  Hope this link works for you.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ_2UTLDlgo&list=PL436A7D26C6CADE6B

What are some of your favorite carols, new or old?

Note: I have drawn from multiple sources for this work, including, but not limited to: Kittler-Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Muir-Ritual in Early Modern Europe, Hobsbawm & Ranger eds. The Invention of Tradition, Slate.com, WhyChristmas.com

To learn more about my caroling past, visit me at http://www.crimsonromance.com/featured/do-you-carol/