November 16, 2020

Game Review: Escape the Room The Cursed Dollhouse

Since I wrote a haunted house themed Puzzling Escapes book, I absolutely needed to try The Cursed Dollhouse escape room board game. I’ve already played the previous two Escape the Room board games. Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor was a good start, although the puzzles were too familiar and easy. Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat was much, much harder—mostly because it contained tons of rope puzzles, which I’m terrible at. Even though neither was my favorite escape game, I was willing to give the newest one a fair shot.

The Cursed Dollhouse is a game that has to be played after the younger kids are in bed and curious pets have wandered off to another room because the game has so many fun pieces. In fact, the entire box transforms into a dollhouse. The assembly is quick and straightforward. After just five minutes, we were able to begin playing. The house contains five rooms full of puzzles that players work through, one at a time. The entire game takes at least two hours to finish, but the disjoint rooms provide plenty of stopping points. I appreciate all the cool details in each area and enjoyed solving the varied and challenging puzzles. Some of the puzzles quite subtle—a detail I love in any style of escape room.

A number of people have complained about the price of The Cursed Dollhouse. At $43, it is a little high compared to other at-home escape room experiences. However, I believe the quality components, complex puzzles, and entended gameplay absolutely justify the higher cost. In a lot of escape room board games, several pieces get destroyed as part of the gameplay. However, Escape the Room provides printable replacement components on their website, making the dollhouse replayable. After resetting your dollhouse, you can pass the whole game to another escape room enthusiast!

Or display it on a bookshelf like I have, cause it’s just that cool.

I recommend The Cursed Dollhouse to board game fans and every person who’s ever enjoyed a logic puzzle.

October 12, 2020

New Launch: A Haunted House Puzzling Escapes Book

Since my last book update, my third Puzzling Escapes book launched, I started working on another one, and am ready to launch the new one as well. I figured October would be a good time to release this book, and I hope you like it!

What was supposed to be a simple visit to an old house has turned into a nightmare. As soon as you get inside, the door slams shut behind you, leaving you and your friend Bang trapped. As you struggle to find a way back out, strange things keep happening, and you're pretty sure you saw a ghost. Will you be able to solve all the puzzles to escape the haunted house or will you get trapped forever?

Inspired by escape rooms, Puzzling Escapes locks the reader in a rich and fascinating scenario full of riddles and clues. Grab a pencil and a group of friends—or jump in alone—and try to escape. Solve the wide variety of puzzles in any order, all in one go or in several sittings. If you get stuck, you can ask your friend Bang for a hint or even have him solve the puzzle for you. Everything is contained in this book so there’s no need for a special app or internet connection.

September 28, 2020

I'm not okay

Whenever I’m having a tough time with something, I look up articles and blog posts from other people who have been in the same situation. Seeing someone else go through similar struggles and finding a path forward lets me know that my problems are not unique. Right now, no one is sharing the same hurdles as I am. It makes me feel isolated and alone. But after some thought, I realized, the people who are as overworked and burnt out as I am don’t have time for an interview or to post about their current situation. So I’ll give it a try.

Note—Although this post is a bit of a vent, the primary reason I’m sharing this is to update everyone on where I’ve been.

When COVID became a big deal, the school system shut down. I got an email on Friday stating my son would be bringing the entire contents of his desk home that same day and the school would shut down for two weeks. Whenever the public school system closes, my daughter’s preschool follows suit, so I had both kids at home again. Initially, it felt like an early summer break, apart from not going to the pool, library, store, playground, etc. After a could weeks home, the preschool started having twice-weekly virtual class. Another four weeks after that, the public school devised a plan of virtual learning.

To put it mildly, it didn’t go well. I had a hard time remembering when virtual lessons started and put a bunch of timers on my phone so I wouldn’t miss them. My son couldn’t handle being on camera at all. Technically, he hasn’t finished second grade yet.

When the actual summer break started, I was relieved. Typically, summers are awfully rough, but my kids were already home all the time, so at least I got a break from the school shuffle. Then the school system sent a huge package of work for my son to complete by fall. Ultimately, we decided not to do it. Our lives were already miserable and we were stressed to the max.

By the time labor day came around, the kids were so fed up with each other that my daughter locked herself in her room all day except to grab food and use the bathroom, and I was so worked up about the coming school year, I started having anxiety attacks.

I recall chatting with other stay-at-home parents who also planned to pick up career opportunities as soon as their youngest started full-day school. When I started writing, my daughter was an infant. Since her birthday is soon after the age cutoff, she couldn’t start Kindergarten until she was almost six. I essentially had an extra year with her home. I’ve been telling myself for years that once she’s in Kindergarten, I would finally be able to transition to being a full-time writer. But with the kids doing virtual school at home, that wouldn’t be possible. I can’t think about it too much because it makes me so upset.

Virtual school is very different from a typical school day and much more involved than it had been in the spring. There are virtual classes where the teacher and the whole class engage in a Google meet, there are posted lessons outside of the meets which the students need to read and do an activity (usually a quiz) to show they learned something, and there are computer learning programs which the kids do independently. The typical school day includes four hours of meets, thirty to forty minutes of computer learning, and an hour of independent study. Every week, there is one math homework assignment, two language arts, two science, and three related arts. It is way too much for my six-year-old daughter to keep track of, so I’m the one who reminds her when to log onto classes, grab the supplies she needs (since it’s not always announced in advance), read her assignments to her, and scan and email her work to her teacher.

Then there’s my son who’s in third grade. He is autistic. Typically, he gets lots of special education services in school and the teachers are there to keep him on task. Now it’s my job to sit with him all day and make sure he hasn’t logged off his computer and isn’t simply chasing one of the cats around his room. His schedule is incredibly complex and things get moved around a lot. Frequently, he refuses to even attend class or work on anything school-related. Every teacher has a unique meeting code. He’s still not a confident reader, so I need to read his assignments to him. He hasn’t mastered the days of the week. He refuses to talk on camera (which is especially a challenge for lessons with his speech teacher). He communicates with his teachers by drawing pictures on a whiteboard to show the camera and typing nonsense into the chatbox. I’ve never spent an entire school day with him at his school, but I’ve quickly realized that ‘least-restrictive-learning-environment’ doesn’t necessarily mean he’s learning.

I knew virtual school would be rough, but it is really rough. The kids have been home with me for over six months now and there’s no end in sight. Being a learning facilitator is an incredibly grueling job, especially with two kids who can’t read. I barely have any time to write.

My psychiatrist prescribed something to help with my anxiety attacks and I try my best to partake in self-care. But no matter how you slice it, life is fucking hard and incredibly unfair, and I’m barely getting by.

June 1, 2020

Announcing my Next Book: Cruise Ship

Right now, I think everyone could use a bit of escapism, which is why I’m particularly excited to announce my next book, Puzzling Escapes: Return to the Cruise Ship from a Deserted Island. I know I’m excited about every book I release, but I’m super pumped about this one. I’ve been wanting to do a vacation-themed puzzle book for a while that had a laid back feel, yet still contained interesting and challenging puzzles. So, let me introduce you to Cruise Ship, the perfect mix of laid back fun and edge-of-your-seat problem-solving!

Is there anything more relaxing than a cruise to the Caribbean? Wanting to add some excitement to your tropical vacation, you book a shore excursion that promises adventure. Instead, only one other person shows up, a fellow cruiser named Amala, your guide decides to cancel the planned activity and takes you both to an exclusive, private island. However, when you decide to return to the cruise ship, you learn that your boat has run out of gas. You must search for a way to escape, learning the secrets of the deserted island along the way.

Puzzling Escapes: Return to the Cruise Ship from a Deserted Island is scheduled to release on July 1st.