The Family Outdoor Games with Oriental Trading Company

1:28 PM Sarah Koves 0 Comments

With the Olympics, one of my favorite events, quickly coming up upon us and many family picnics and scout parties in summer, I wanted to share with you a great idea on making memories that last.

 I have received products in exchange for this post, but the opinions here are 100% mine! 

Selecting Teams and Set Up

I would suggest drawing straws or having teams be by family unit. I despise selecting captains and having them choose teams as someone always gets picked last. I like using a box of colored straws to have people draw for teams. Once teams are drawn, have teams select names and show their allegiance with these neon bandannas.

You will also need to spray paint a line in the grass (or use another kind of marker) that will be used for several of these games. The Tick Tac Toe and Yard Bend Game will need paint or chalk prep work before you begin- these are great tasks for the older kids to help with. I also recommend having a large poster board to keep a tally of points for each event.

The Events

I have six events here, but there are many more outdoor activities that you could add to the events list. You could also set the games up at night for an added challenge and use torches and glow sticks to light the events.

Bocce Ball

Grab this Bocce Ball Set and assign the adults on each team one of the three colored balls. You an do a winner takes all or set a leveled number of points (1st=25, 2nd=15, 3rd=5). If the kids want to participate, have adults and kids pair up and play in teams of two.

Have more than three teams? No problem, just grab two sets or play two rounds.

Team Tug of War

Spray a line across the grass, line each team up, grab this Tug of War set, and pull.  This is a great teamwork game that kids and adults can play together.  If you have more than two teams, play in rounds: winner takes on third team or play two heats with the winners facing off.  Assign points the same as Bocce ball: winner takes all or placed points.

Slip and Slide Races

This might be my favorite game of them all: slip and slide races.  This double water slide is perfect for kids (and adults) to race each other.  Have everyone suit up (or not if you prefer) and have pairs face off.  Use the same spay painted line in the grass from tug of war as your starting line.  

Have kids and adults from different team pair up to face off.  You will need to assign a judge to declare a winner in each race.  Winner gets 5 points for his or her team.

Tick Tac Toe

A brain game for even the smallest of team members.  With the Tick Tac Toe Set, the only prep is to use the stencils to chalk (on cement) or spray paint (on grass) the 3 by 3 board.

Teams can face off in heats with points for the winners at the end or each team can select a player to represent.

Yard Bend Game

What could be more fun that a family game to test your flexibility (adults proceed with caution as you might fall and not be able to get up).  The best part of the bend game set is that you can create a board as large as you need to accommodate the size of the teams.

I would suggest a kids and an adults heat of this game.  Step up to the end of the board and begin.  One by one the players will fall until only one winner is left!

Giant Ring Toss

The Jumbo Ring Toss Game comes with flags that have point values on them.  Have everyone line up and toss a ring.  Each person gets a turn and their team gets the points they score.  Play one round, two rounds, or more.


Grab a dozen medals or trophies to award the teams.   Winning team gets bragging rights as well.

Or you could go with my favorite option: 

Check out my summer board on Pinterest for many more activities.

What fun outdoor activities do you and your family do during summer?

Giveaway, Book Review, and Author Interview: Summer of Irreverence

9:49 AM Sarah Koves 0 Comments

Summer of Irreverence - The Rock Star

Straight-laced, veterinary surgeon, Summer Wynters is ready to break the rules. And who better to break them with than the most irreverent of all men, mega rock star Malcolm Angel? With one last summer free from work obligations, Summer moves to New York City, and at the coaxing of her friend, pretends to be a model so she can spend one wild night with Malcolm. 

Rock star, Malcolm Angel, tortured by a dark past, may be the poet laureate of romance, but he, like science-minded Summer, has never believed in romantic love. How could he? With his history, he doesn’t deserve to be loved.

When Summer’s honesty, kindness, and exuberance for life changes his perspective, the two discover they are in deeper than either dreamed possible. But when Malcolm discovers Summer’s been perpetuating a lie, will he forgive her? Even if forgiveness is possible, can a man immune to love teach someone else to believe in it?
 I have received a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions here are 100% mine!  This post contains affiliate links.

I am always thrilled when an author is willing to talk about their favorite books and their writing process.  Being able to share what 'real authors' do is great for my students.


Who is your favorite author?  Why?

My favorite authors are Charles Bukowski and Ernest Hemingway for adult books, and Mo Willems and Shel Silverstein for kids. I love these authors for their ease of language and their brutal honesty, while still making us feel.

Who is your favorite or least favorite character in your book?  Why?

I have fallen in love with both my lead characters, but my favorite character would have to be mega rock star, Malcolm Angel. Malcolm was a wonderful character to create, because there are so many levels and so much depth to him. Although he harbors immense amounts of pain, Malcolm tackles most situations with humor and maturity. He is confident and sexy, but when he finally meets a woman who means…something more…he strips off his fa├žade and is brutally honest. He is real and intense.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I think if you’re blocked, the best thing to do is get away. I think a block is your subconscious telling you it’s time to look at something else. Physical exercise keeps the thoughts flowing. Holding downward-facing dog in yoga will always clear your brain!

What advice do you have for young/student writers?

Write, write, write (to practice), and take an acting class! I know it sounds crazy, but acting coaches can teach you how to break down characters more thoroughly than you ever imagined possible. Once you see what an actor needs to find in a character, it makes it easier to see how to build one.

Explain your revision process.

I edit as I go. Then I go back and read through the chapter to make sure it works. But I’ll always go back and tweak the first chapters as more chapters are written—I’m definitely not one of those authors who can write a chapter and then hand it to someone else to read! That first chapter is still being adjusted while I’m writing the epilogue.

About the Author

I am a bestselling author, and a NYC girl at heart. I write “gritty romance,” in the genres of YA, NA; women’s fiction; and romance. I’m also the author of The Letting and The Coupling, books 1 and 2 of The Letting series. I began my career as an award-winning playwright, and I am a proud member of RWA, PAN. I have my BA in English and my MA in Theatre. 

I am a fan of Luna Bars, decaf coffee, yoga, Hemingway, and Bukowski—and the loves of my life are my husband and my two young girls.

To find out more about me; Summer of Irreverence, the first book in The New York Artists Series—standalone novels about strong, artistic men, and the smart, unexpected women they fall for; The Letting series; and what’s coming soon, please visit:

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Giveaway and Book Review: Blood Orchid

3:00 AM Sarah Koves 0 Comments

Blood Orchid (Night Flower #2)

Tied to Justin with bonds stronger than blood, Melissa De Vire heads into her new life with fear and anger. Anger at Emily, at Katherine and most of all, anger at Justin, fuels her resolve to find a cure for the curse. From the English court in 1752 to the fires of the French Revolution, Melissa struggles to survive her new existence and find forgiveness for Justin as clues to a cure begin to surface.
 I have received a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions here are 100% mine!  This post contains affiliate links.

As a fan of period novels.  Blood Orchid didn't disappoint me when it comes to historical romance.  England and France in the 1700's was the perfect setting for this book.  As a quality sequel to book one, the character development of Melissa and Justin continues as their adventure moves forward.

I defiantly know some students in my classes that I will recommend this book to.

About the Author

When I was a child, I made up games and characters when my sister and I played with dolls. As I grew older, I would make up scenarios and scenes, fully intending to write them down but never finding the time. In my late teens, I discovered the world of role playing and settled into an avid ‘geeky’ life of D&D, comics, sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Years passed and I finally gave voice to the stories in my head. I write romance, fantasy, action and adventure. I love tales of steampunk and history, tales of magical powers and dark curses lurking in the shadows. Though The Black Lotus is not my first attempt at a novel, it is the first I have finished.
And some fun facts about me:

I sew.

My favourite Disney film is Atlantis.

I’ve been a film extra and stood 5 feet away from Sam Rockwell.

Babylon 5 is my fave sci-fi show.
I cried at the end of Toy Story 3.

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Giveaway, Review, and Author Interview: Beyond the Rising Tide

3:00 AM Sarah Koves 0 Comments

Beyond the Rising Tide

Kai met Avery only once--in the moment he died saving her life. Now when he's not using his new healing powers to help people, he watches helplessly as Avery's life is unraveled by his death. To help her, he risks everything by breaking the rules, dangerously blurring the barriers between life and death. 
 I have received a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions here are 100% mine!  This post contains affiliate links.

What a book.  I wasn't sure when I first started it if I was going to be able to get into this novel with its supernatural side.  I mean, a boy who returns from the dead for the girl he saved?  Yes, I was skeptical, but Sarah Beard did not disappoint.    The supernatural element is so softly interwoven into the tale that you don't even see it as something impossible.

The character development, especially the survivor guilt of Avery, is superb.  I enjoyed following the characters through the changes they experience.

Beyond the Rising Tide is certainly a novel that I will recommend to students.  Students in general will like this book, but even more than that are the students who have experienced loss.  This novel, I believe, could be a refuge to students that have lost someone close to them and feel that loss heavily.

I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with Sarah about her favorites (her own books and others) and her writing process.  She has some great advice for student writers.


Who is your favorite or least favorite character in your book?  Why?
Far and away, my favorite character is Kai. He’s far from perfect, but his flaws are ones that make him endearing. He’s loyal and a bit sarcastic and feels emotion with uncommon depth. He’s impulsive and reacts to things in the extreme sometimes, but he’s also noble, selfless, and willing to sacrifice anything for the people he loves.

How do you handle writer’s block?
When I get stuck in a story, it’s usually because I’ve come to a crossroads and can’t decide between two or more possible directions. To give my mind some time to work it out, I’ll work on a different part of my story, or go for a walk, or do something mindless like dishes or laundry, and usually the answers come and then I can move forward. When the answers don’t come, I’ll talk it out with my critique group and usually they can help me decide on the best direction. And sometimes I’ll just choose a direction and write it, and by doing so I’ll realize that the other option was better. Sometimes you have to write a scene to know that it doesn’t belong in your story.

What advice do you have for young/student writers?
I’m full of writing advice, but to keep your eyes from glazing over, I’ll just highlight what I feel are the most important things: Learn the craft. You can write a million words and never become a good writer if you don’t take the time to learn how to write well. Take advantage of the many educational resources out there. Books on writing, writing conferences, online articles and blog posts are all inexpensive ways to learn about writing. Join a good critique group. Read a lot. Write a lot. Be patient and get comfortable, because it will be a long journey. In fact, once you decide to be a writer, the journey never really ends.

Explain your revision process.
My revision process is long and tedious, but it’s during revisions when my stories really begin to take their true shape. Once I’m finished with a first draft (my first drafts are hideous), I go back and rework sentences and paragraphs to make them prettier. As I revise, I begin sharing chapters with my critique group and then implement the suggestions I feel will make my story stronger. Then I’ll read through again and watch for things like flow, pacing, consistency, and logic. I’ll read through it a few more times, each time focusing on different things, like making dialogue snappier or adding subtle foreshadowing or tightening up passages. In one of the final rounds, I’ll search for filler words like “that” and “just” and remove them if possible. Then I’ll print the entire manuscript and read it, because I always catch things on paper that I don’t see on the screen. And lastly, I’ll read it one more time out loud, for the same reason. After all this, it gets sent off to my editor, and a whole new revision process begins!

What book/author has influenced you the most? Why?
This is a tough question, because I’ve been influenced by many different authors. Three who’ve made a big impression on me and my writing are Daphne Du Maurier, Maggie Stiefvater, and Gayle Forman. Daphne Du Maurier is a master of subtle manipulation. Her words make you feel certain emotions, and when you look back at the passages to try and figure out how she made you feel so sad/angry/scared/happy, sometimes you’re not even sure how she accomplished it. Maggie is also good at this, and her language is gorgeous and packed with symbolism. And Gayle Forman is the queen of FEELS. Her words invite you to step inside the story and become the character and feel everything they feel.

“Vividly imagined, this novel is the perfect mix of modern love story and literary fiction. One brimming with genuine emotion that had me re-reading passages simply because they were too beautifully written to experience just once.” --Julie N. Ford, author of With No Regrets

“This book is not only an engaging and satisfying supernatural romance, but also a beautiful story about life, death, and the gray places in between.” --E.B. Wheeler, author of The Haunting of Springett Hall

"This is one of those stories that stays with you long after the closing scene. It was beautifully imagined and vividly written and I absolutely loved it!” --Teresa Richards, author of Emerald Bound

About the Author

Sarah Beard is the author of YA novels PORCELAIN KEYS and BEYOND THE RISING TIDE. She earned a degree in communications from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing from VCFA. When she's not writing, she referees wrestling matches between her three boys and listens to audiobooks while folding self-replicating piles of laundry. She is a breast cancer survivor, a baker of sweets, a seeker of good love stories, a composer of melancholy music, and a traveler who wishes her travel budget was much bigger. She lives with her husband and children in the shadow of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. You can follow Sarah on twitter at @authorsarahb


Giveaway, Book Review, and Author Interview: 27 Days to Midnight

3:00 AM Sarah Koves 0 Comments

27 Days to Midnight
by Kristine Kruppa

Everyone in Dahlia's world knows when they're going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren's life, or her own. And time is running out.
 I have received a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions here are 100% mine!  This post contains affiliate links.

This book had me at the very first line- "The sky was bright and clear on the day of Dahlia Walker's death."  What a way to start a book!  And the hits just keep on coming.  The first chapter alone had five or six moments with me on the edge of my seat.

Watches that tell the amount of time you have left on Earth?  

The steampunk genre was new to me with this book, but I will continue to explore this unique genre.  The mix of a period piece (my favorite books and movies) and technology (another love of mine) made me happy right until the end.

I would certainly recommend this book to students.  It is a unique story with a strong female heroine, which I believe we always need more of in literature.

As a teacher of reading and writing, I am always interested in what authors have to say about the writing process and what their favorite books are.  I sat down with Kristine to discuss just this.


Who is your favorite author?  Why?
It varies. At the moment, my favorite writer is Victoria Schwab, author of A Darker Shade of Magic, Vicious, and a variety of other incredible books. Her writing style is amazing; sometimes I have to stop while I’m reading and marvel over a beautiful passage. But the characters are what really set her books apart. Victor Vale from Vicious and Lila Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic are so unique, so realistic, that I never want their stories to end! Victoria Schwab’s next book, This Savage Song, is due out in July.

Who is your favorite or least favorite character in your book?  Why?
Farren would have to be my number one. He tries to be fun and lighthearted, but he never stops thinking about the time on his watch. It’s always lurking in the back of his mind. I loved exploring both of those parts of his character while I was writing him. Keet, my second favorite, is very similar to Farren in that way. She’s fun and dark at the same time.

How do you handle writer’s block?
I take a walk. It seems like such a simple thing, but half an hour of strolling around the neighborhood with a notebook gets my mind moving every time. It helps me to take a step back from what I’m writing (or not writing) and think about things in a new way. I’ve had so many ideas while out for a walk!

What advice do you have for young/student writers?
Don’t write because you want to be published. Write because you love it, and because you can’t leave your characters or your story. A book can take years to finish. By the time you write it, revise it, and edit it again and again, you’ll know almost every word by heart. You have to love your story. If you do, you’ll make it the best it can possibly be, and publication will follow.
Explain your revision process.
I write my first draft straight through from beginning to end. Sometimes plot points, characters, or settings change as I write, and I note those throughout the story. When I finish the first draft, I immediately go back and fix all the things I noted. I let the story sit for two or three weeks to give myself some distance from it. Then I read the entire thing, editing and revising as I go. When I finish, I read it through again out loud to identify any places where the words don’t seem to flow. After that, I hand it off to a few trusted readers for feedback. I compile all their suggestions and use the ones I think will improve the story. Then I repeat the process with additional readers, edit the story again a few more times, and start sending it out to literary agents/publishers.

About the Author

Kristine Kruppa is a mechanical engineer, writer, and world traveler. Her days are spent designing cool new car parts, but her evenings are filled with writing and cats. She has traveled solo to seventeen countries on five continents. Her other hobbies include hunting for the perfect cup of coffee, exploring used book stores, and accidentally climbing mountains. To keep up with her adventures, follow Kristine on Twitter @kskruppa.

(Author photo credit: Sunny Wong)

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