Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi, and welcoming you to join in on book discussions in the comments. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums. Please enjoy!
In addition to hot weather and going on vacation, summertime is known for its annual rollout of Hollywood blockbuster movies. Of course with blockbuster movies comes the run of tie-in companion novels, perfect for reading while lounging poolside or camping out on the sofa in the cool indoor AC. If you’re looking to extend your enjoyment of a favorite flick or maybe don’t care about going to the movies but are still looking for something entertaining to read, I’ve got some books here that should do just the trick!
Hammered by critics but largely enjoyed by the general movie-going audience, the film adaptation of Blizzard’s seminal Warcraft video game series has also been adapted into a 300-page novel. What the novel lacks in visual flash and sizzle, it makes up for with greater substance, richer characterization, a deeper relationship with the characters and their motivations. Christie Golden, no stranger Warcraft novelization, captures the story with faithful accuracy to series lore, scribing a fantasy tale about the first dealings between the orcs of Draenor and the humans of Azeroth, and their mutual contention with the allure and corruption of fel magic. I like how well the story deals in moral ambiguity rather than sticking to the familiar script of orcs bad, humans good. There is honor, love, and valor on both sides, just as there is betrayal, corruption, and frailty. Durotan, chieftan of the Frostwolf Clan, shines above the rest as the story’s central figure; even as the orc, he was the character I found most compelling. It’s only fitting that Durotan scored the leading role in the official prequel novel bearing his name. Warcraft fans and readers of fantasy fiction in general should definitely pick up copies of both.
Shane Black’s buddy flick The Nice Guys gets a scintillating novelization by Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai. The story takes place in 1970s Los Angeles, where the death of a famous porn star and the investigation of a missing girl lead to a broader conspiracy. At the center of the neo-noir storm are Holland March, a drunken P.I. whose own daughter calls the world’s worst detective, and Jackson Healy, a tough guy enforcer-for-hire. After March’s investigation leads to a visit from Healy to intimidate him from pursuing the case, and Healy is later attacked in his own home by a couple of thugs asking about the same girl, the two eventually form an unlikely partnership to get to the bottom of whatever the hell’s going on. Thanks to Ardai’s sharp, snappy prose, the chemistry of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling sizzles on the page, allowing you to clearly visualize the physical comedy and conflicting personalities of the two leading men without actually seeing them on the big screen. The relationship between March and his daughter, who is constantly helping her dad out of his seemingly endless string of fuckups and also dealing with a variety of adult situations no child should be involved with, is a definite highlight. I might even go so far as to say that 13-year-old Holly is the real star here. Overall, The Nice Guys is a crime-comedy caper well worth a read.
Marv Wolfman, who novelized Batman: Arkham Knight last year and certainly is no stranger to DC Comics, is back in the DC universe with the official novelization of WB’s cinematic answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. When Enchantress and her bro Incubus take over Midway City, turning civilians into an army of walking alien barnacles with thousands of eyes, U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller assembles a team of nutjobs and psychopaths–the proverbial worst of the worst–to take on deadly black ops missions under the command of Colonel Rick Flag and the nanite bombs implanted in their necks to keep them in check. Should any one of them ever step out of line, boom, there goes their head. The first third of the book is all setup, introducing the individual backstories for the squad of disposable antiheroes which consists of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Slipknot, and Katana. Yeah the Joker’s in there too, but like the film his role isn’t given nearly enough page time to truly resonate. While much of the characterization is paper-thin and the inevitable attempt to make the squad members sympathetic figures falls flat, the stories for Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and El Diablo are written well enough to win your attention. Harley’s charming psychosis in particular steals the show, as she often does. I have a feeling many DC fans will enjoy the novelization more so than the movie it’s based on.
This year’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, gets the movie novelization treatment from author Nancy Holder, who spins a fun, fright-filled yarn about three scientists and an MTA worker who join forces to investigate paranormal disturbances across New York City. The novel does a nice job of flashing black to incorporate more of Erin’s childhood, how she got the nickname “Ghost Girl” and her early friendship with Abby before their falling-out. The actor expressions, physical interactions, comedic timing, original cast cameos, and of course the iconic music and sounds are a large part of the Ghostbusters appeal, so without those elements some of the charm is lost in the translation to text narrative. That said, the story is written with a lot of heart and humor, the character personalities gel together nicely, and there are some legitimately spooky moments that are particularly fun during nighttime reading in bed. As a light, leisurely summertime read (the 258 pages fly by) Ghostbusters hits the spot.
Based on the hokey popcorn blockbuster sequel to a hokey popcorn blockbuster, ID4-2‘s story translates to novel with all the markings of an outlandish, end-of-the-world sci-fi tent-pole. Clock ticking down to doomsday? Check! Ships narrowly escaping through closing hangar doors a split-second before they shut? Check! Cocky pilot banter? Check! President Whitmore giving one of his patented ra-ra speeches? Check! The classic kiss-the-girl ending? Check! It pretty much follows all the same story beats and set pieces as the original ID4, everything’s just done on a larger, far more absurd scale. The early build-up is a bit sluggish with setting up too many characters that have empty roles, add comic relief that really isn’t that funny (like the annoying accountant dude Floyd Rosenberg), or, in the case of the new crew of pilots Dylan Hiller, Jake Morrison, Charlie Miller, and Rain Lao, collectively try to fill the swag void left by the departure of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller but just aren’t ever that engaging. Thankfully David Levinson, Thomas Whitmore, and Dr. Okun are still around to carry the day. Whitmore’s relationship with his daughter as he declines and the visions he, along with others like Okun who were touched by the aliens’ telepathy, suffer from are the plot’s driving force and emotional heart. Like the movies, the book’s good for dumb, humanity-rising-up-against-all-odds fun. Nuke a bag of popcorn, and munch away. For additional backstory, be sure to check out the Crucible prequel novel as well as the Complete Independence Day Omnibus.
If learning about the movie magic behind Independence Day: Resurgence is more your thing than reading the novelization of the story, Titan Books has just what you’re looking for with the official art and making of book. It’s great, not only because it’s packed with actor/designer commentary, movie stills, set photos, and concept artwork for all of the aliens and tech in the sequel, but also because it calls back to the original film with profiles of heroes and survivors of the first war, including Steven Hiller, David Levinson, President Whitmore, Dr. Okun and his “Freak Show,” and Jasmine Dubrow, as well as materials showing the set and prop design for the aliens, spacecraft, and the iconic White House destruction scene. Only around 50 of the 176 pages are dedicated to the first movie, but just having that initial context is something ID4 fans will appreciate. There are some gorgeous Resurgence concepts for things like the AI ship, the final battle with the Alien Queen, and various dogfight scenes, but my favorite parts of the book are the classified case files, written in the voice of David Levinson’s character, that recap a full history of the first alien invasion and fill in the timeline of events after the invasion, leading into the sequel. Check out the gallery below for a sneak peek inside.
Aliens turned 30 years old in July. Now that’s a movie birthday worth celebrating, even if we’re a month late to the party here. Titan Books commemorates the occasion in style with this coffee table art book featuring premium quality behind-the-scenes photos directly from the set of James Cameron’s iconic action-horror sequel to Ridley Scott’s legendary sci-fi horror thriller. The book’s 144 pages are plastered with large, pristinely printed photographs of the cast and crew at work in key scenes like Ripley’s awakening, Hadley’s Hope, the Alien ambush, the medical lab, the epic powerloader fight, and even rare scenes that didn’t make it into the final movie, in addition to their interactions between takes, receiving direction, going over the script, celebrating birthdays, or just joking around. Text is kept to a minimum in order to let the glorious set photography shine, but the captions that accompany the shots offer interesting details about how scenes were shot, how props were constructed, camera types and lighting techniques that were used, and various other random tidbits like a rundown of all the items hidden away inside Hicks’ locker. Actresses Carrie Henn (Newt) and Jenette Goldstein (Private Vasquez) also share wonderful stories about their thoughts filming certain scenes, dealing with tough conditions and unwieldy props/weapons, and relationships with the director and other actors. Fans couldn’t have wished for anything better from an Aliens 30th anniversary tribute.
Writer and historian Scott Tracy Griffin follows up on his earlier work, Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration, with this comprehensive, thoroughly researched tome dedicated to every single film and serial appearance featuring the Lord of the Apes. That’s over 50 productions in all, from the original black and white silent Tarzan of the Apes that started it all back in 1918, to Disney’s animated feature films, to the 2016 Hollywood blockbuster The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie, all crammed inside this one heavyweight coffee table book. Each movie is accompanied by full-page, full-color printings of the original poster artwork, set photos and movie stills, and in-depth background about the movie itself as well as the various actors and actresses who have played Tarzan and Jane over the years. Tarzan cinephiles are sure to go bananas.
From our full review: “You don’t necessarily need to be a huge fan of the movie itself to enjoy these books. Obviously there will be a greater attraction to them if you did like the film, but really as long as you’re a DC Universe nerd and hold a special place in your heart for Batman and Superman, you have legitimate cause to check these out. The Art of the Film more so if you really want to learn about what went into Zack Snyder’s world building process, as well as the motivations the actors and actresses brought to their performances. And the Tech Manual, well, it’s packing enough gadget porn to make any Bat-fan feel all hot and bothered under the cowl.”
From our full review: “Anyone with an interest in animation and how movies are made absolutely needs to have this art book in their library. Anyone who simply likes to look at beautiful things can’t go wrong either. It’s both fascinating and inspiring to read about the movie-magic tricks that were used to bring texture, lighting, effects, and different styles of movement to the stop-motion sequences, and to see the process of how a single scene comes together, from painting, to storyboard, to color script, to final render, right before your eyes. The care and passion that went into bringing The Little Prince from book to the Hollywood stage jumps off of every page. If the art book is an accurate indication, moviegoers are in for a marvelous treat.”