The Lovecraftian mythos is full of nightmarish creatures, inevitable doom, and horrors beyond imagination -- so why not introduce it to kids?  C Is for Cthulhu, written by Jason Ciaramella and illustrated by Greg Murphy, takes the creatures and concepts of H.P. Lovecraft and turns them into an alphabet book, ostensibly for little kids.

The format of C Is for Cthulhu is summarized perfectly in its subtitle: "the Lovecraft alphabet book."  Readers taken on an A-Z trip through the alphabet, with every letter described and illustrated by something from (or relating to) the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
This is a simple concept for a book -- but it works quite well.  The illustrations and descriptions are cute, as if written for little kids (but knowingly contrasting with the source material).  There isn't a lot of depth here, and I'm a little disappointed the alternating letter descriptions don't rhyme, but C Is for Cthulhu is good for plenty of chuckles (if not necessarily for little kids).
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



There's a familiar comedy trope where an ordinary person discovers that someone close to them who seems normal is actually a spy: a spouse (Killers), both spouses (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), an old friend (Central Intelligence), a sibling (The Brothers Grimsby).  Keeping Up with the Joneses is the latest entry in this formula.

Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zack Galifiakanis and Isla Fisher) are a happy, perfectly ordinary suburban married couple.  He works at human resources for an aerospace company, is friendly with everyone, knows everyone's name, and can't get anyone to join him for "indoors skydiving."  She's an interior designer working from home.  They live in a cul-de-sac where everyone's friendly, and when their two sons leave for camp Jeff and Karen feel a bit of empty nest syndrome.
Things pick up when the house next door is purchases by Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Godot), a couple who seem almost too perfect.  They're both beautiful, talented, and live amazing lives: He's a travel writer, she writes a food blog and helps starving orphans overseas, and they both speak multiple languages.  Jeff wants to be Tim's best friend, while Karen thinks they're too perfect and starts snooping around.  Of course Tim and Natalie are spies, and soon Jeff and Karen are drawn into a world of shootouts, car chases, and international espionage.

There's not anything new in Keeping Up with the Joneses -- and not a whole lot done well.  The actors do as much as they can with the material they have, but many of the jokes fall flat and both the action scenes and physical comedy are uninspired.  There are a few chuckles here and there, but Keeping Up with the Joneses generally settles for mediocrity.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's time for some film noir with The Square, an Australian film where bad plans go very, very badly for all involved.

Ray Yale (David Roberts) is the foreman for a leisure resort (the movie's title square), working hard (and taking kickbacks for influence in his work).  He's also having a passionate affair with Carla Smith (Claire van de Boom), his neighbor across the river.  However, they both have commitments to other people: Ray is in a mundane middle-class marriage, while Carla is involved with Greg "Smithy" Smith (Anthony Hayes), a criminal who hangs around with a rough crowd.  Carla wants Ray to leave his wife and have them run away together, but Ray is concerned about the money they'd need to start a new life together.

When Carla finds a bag full of cash, she and Ray come up with what they think is a perfect plan: Carla will take the money, then Ray will have arsonist Billy (Joel Edgerton) set fire to Smithy's house, Smithy will think the money burned up in the fire, Ray and Carla will be beyond suspicion, and the lovers can run away together, flush with money -- and no one will get hurt.
Of course the plan goes awry, from Ray's failed attempt to cancel the plan to several unexpected consequences.  Before you can say "bad idea" Ray is receiving blackmail cards, Carla starts getting paranoid about who knows about her affair and their plan, and Billy is pissed off that he's in far deeper than he planned.  Then Smithy finds the bag his money was in...
The Square is simple and effective.  While there's not a lot of character development here, the actors are effective and the story spirals nicely out of control.  The Square works nicely as a suspenseful drama where absolutely nothing is as simple as it seems.  (There are plenty of dvd extras, from behind-the-scenes and making-of features to the short black comedy film "The Spider.")

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


GIRLS ON GAMES by Elisa Teague

So, what's it like being a woman in the world of gaming?  What progress has been made towards gender equality, and what horror stories do women have?  What great stories do women have from gaming, and what do they experience in the workplace and at conventions?  Girls on Games: A Look at the Fairer Side of the Tabletop Industry by Elisa Teague is a collection of essays by women is various professional positions in the gaming industry (including several essays by Elisa Teague herself).

Girls on Games has a very diverse number of perspectives on what gaming means for women.  Some essays deal with sexism and feminism head-on, as in "What Army Does Your Boyfriend Play?" "Pitching (a Game) like a Girl" and "Being 'Girly' and a Gamer.  Yes, You Can Be Both."  Other times gender barely enters into the discussion.  There are inspiring stories about the love of and experiences in gaming, and awful stories of seixst treatment professionally, at game stores with assumptions that women are there for their boyfriends or don't know anything about the games, or at conventions where, no matter their experience or role there, women are assumed to be "booth babes."  (And one actual "booth babe" has an essay here as well.)  There is even discussion of sexuality, from one company owner who's polyamorous (and a hippie) to the woman who wrote the first transexual character in Pathfinder.  And the "fake geek girl" stereotype comes up an awful lot.

Girls on Games is a very informative and useful book about what it can be like for women in the world of gaming.  There are as many looks at game design and professional advancement as playing Magic: The Gathering at a local store or attending gaming conventions.   And despite the many examples of sexism, the book resists the urge to bash the male gender: There's plenty of praise for good guys in the gaming world, plus the introduction is by Mike Selinker and there are several relevant cartoons from John Kovalic.

There were a few distracting typos in the book, but overall Girls on Games is a very good take on a side of gaming that often doesn't get enough attention.  The tales and experiences here are informative, funny, scary, intelligent, show a love of gaming and offer solutions on how its problems can be solved or improved.  Girls on Games should be a must-read book for anyone interested, personally or professionally, in the world of tabletop games.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch
(who, thanks to Kickstarter, has an autographed copy of the book)



Saddle up, pardners!  While the characters in Knights of the Dinner Table usually play in the sword & sorcery world of Hackmaster, they've occasionally delved into the Wild West.  The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- Outlaw Trail collects many of those adventures, along with dozens of pages of new material.

The Cattlepunk Chronicles starts with B.A. being talked into buying the new Hard Eight game Cattlepunk by Weird Pete.  B.A. sees it as a chance for the players to be less reliant on magic and more creative.  But for players Bob, Dave, Johnny Kizinski and Brian, it turns into massive numbers of characters being rolled up, in-game player kills and grudges, and an almost instinctive impulsive to rob any bank the characters see.  B.A. abandons the game after the players' antics; but when his cousin Sara later joins the group (replacing Johnny), she talks B.A. into returning to Cattlepunk.  But Sara and B.A.'s desire to play lawful characters is continually overrun by the other players' outlaw characters...

The Cattlepunk Chronicles is a nice collection showing what happens when horrible fantasy players become, well, horrible Western players.  We have not only the Knights engaging in some of their worst behavior, but also B.A. being talked into buying more and more product and Sara trying and failing to get the Knights to role-play.  There are players slaughtering each other (and rolling up new characters whose sole purpose is revenge), the introduction of recurring "villain" Red Gurdy Pickens, and campaigns and towns getting destroyed.
Fortunately, all of this bad behavior and trainwrecks of campaigns is pretty damn funny.  The Knights' antics are just as funny with six-shooters as with magic swords, and having these strips together instead of scattered through the KODT run gives a better sense of unity.  There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, from the characters loading up on quirks and flaws to get building points ("Inappropriate sense of humor, male pattern baldness, speech impediment, lemur-phobia") to the continual grudges and betrayals.  And even when B.A. gets what he thought he wanted, it still blows up in his face.  The Cattlepunk Chronicles -- Outlaw Trail is terrific fun for fans of KODT, bad gaming, or Westerns gone wrong.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch