VGBlogger’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Comic Books and Novels

VGBlogger_HolidayGiftGuides_Banner

Welcome to part three of our holiday gift guides for geeks and gamers. In this installment we share some of our gift ideas for avid readers, including top recommendations in comics, novels, storybooks, and game and movie tie-ins. Also stay tuned for some additional updates as I finish up a few more in-progress reads over the next couple weeks before Christmas.

Read our ongoing Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks and Gamers series for more shopping ideas at the following links:

Gaming Hardware and Peripherals Gift Guide
Strategy Guides and How-Tos Gift Guide
Art and Coffee Table Books Gift Guide
Gadgets, Stocking Stuffers, & Beyond!

Halo: Last Light – Buy from Amazon or Gallery Books:

Halo_LastLight

Author Troy Denning makes his Halo novelization debut in Last Light, a riveting new chapter in the sci-fi universe now under the care of 343 Industries. Last Light takes place after the end of the Covenant War, on the planet Gao, where a string of mysterious murders has struck deep inside a maze of caves which has become something of a tourist attraction for its rumored presence of miracle cures. Veta Lopis is brought on as a Special Inspector to track down a serial killer believed to be operating beneath Gao’s surface, while coincidentally (or maybe not so much?) the UNSC has sent in a team of Spartans on a classified mission to recover a hidden Forerunner artifact. Lopis conducts her investigation under the watchful eye of the Spartan Blue Team, relentlessly interrogating the squad–the victims’ cause of death indicates that one of the Spartans may be a prime suspect for the murders–as they secure and examine the crime scenes and putting the pieces together in her brilliantly deductive mind despite constantly having her questions replied to with a firm and frustrating, “it’s classified.” What starts out as an episode of “CSI: Halo” quickly explodes into a story of political intrigue, rebellion, and all-out war, though the murder-mystery underpinning is always there to drive the plot forward and keep you dangling in suspense. Denning does a wonderful job of creating a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere, as well as writing characters that are interesting and well developed. The at times adversarial, at times respectful relationship that develops between Lopis and the Spartans, who are portrayed as god-like super soldiers while also showing their human personalities and frailties, makes for a worthy narrative extension to the Halo universe. Last Light is a fantastic read for Halo fans and general sci-fi geeks alike.

Halo: Saint’s Testimony – Buy from Amazon or Gallery Books:

Halo_SaintsTestimony

From Halo‘s franchise development director comes this digital-only novella about Iona, a Smart AI scheduled for deactivation before the onset of her rampancy, a sort of data corruption dementia that occurs within all artificial intelligences seven years from their inception. In an effort to avoid having her kill switch flipped, Iona has filed a legal appeal for full citizenship and human rights, taking her unprecedented case to a judge in a tribunal looked on closely by an audience of bureaucrats, lawyers, scientists, and government higher-ups. What transpires is a fascinating, philosophical courtroom drama that in a way mirrors some of the social injustice and civil rights battles going on in the real world today. Iona’s nuanced personality and dialogue makes you think of AI on a more human level and ponder how “alive” they really are. Do they dream? Do they have feelings? Should they be given the same basic rights afforded to humans? Saint’s Testimony tackles the subject matter with a nuance and depth of characterization that defies its sub-30-page length. This may be a short story, but it resonates as much if not more so than any of the full-length Halo novels or video game storylines.

XCOM 2: Resurrection – Buy from Amazon or Insight Editions:

XCOM2

Serving as an interquel to bridge the gap from XCOM: Enemy Unknown to XCOM 2, XCOM 2: Resurrection sets the stage for what’s to come by introducing players to the sequel’s plot in which humans have surrendered Earth to the aliens and a faction known as ADVENT is misleading humanity with its alien-sympathizing propaganda. Thought to be disbanded, XCOM begins to rebuild anew as a smaller guerrilla resistance force fighting back against the alien occupation and ADVENT deception. The book is only a little over 200 pages, which means the story flies by without fully developing or giving the chance to grow attached to any of the characters or events. A number of characters die in battle, but you don’t get to know them on a deep enough level to really grieve their losses like you would losing a soldier to permadeath in the games. On the upside, the pacing and flow of the action and character interactions is quick and engaging, to the point that the book becomes a page-turner that you just want to keep reading to see what happens next. There is an unexpectedly complicated love story between the story’s two central characters at the heart of the book that is far more compelling than I would have expected from a love story in a military sci-fi narrative. The characterization may not be super in-depth, but the overall story is a fun extension of the XCOM universe that I think fans of the games as well as general sci-fi action will enjoy.

Crimson Peak – Buy from Amazon:

CrimsonPeak

Author Nancy Holder adapts Guillermo del Toro’s gothic thriller starring Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Charlie Hunnam into a surprisingly well-written novelization that holds up strong entirely on its own merits. I haven’t seen the movie, nor did I ever intend to before reading the novel. Now that I have read the story and become familiar with the characters and setting, though, I am eager to check out the movie once it’s out on Blu-ray/DVD. Thick with atmosphere and full of suspense, drama, mystery, horror, deception, and romance, Crimson Peak is a must-read for fans of gothic storytelling, regardless of familiarity with the movie it’s based on.

Predator: Incursion The Rage War Book #1 – Buy from Amazon:

PredatorIncursion

Based in the Aliens vs. Predator universe, Predator: Incursion is the opening salvo in Tim Lebbon’s The Rage War trilogy. Things get off to a somewhat slow start and it takes some time to ease in due to the way the narrative shifts with each chapter to show the burgeoning conflict from the perspectives of at least half a dozen different characters, but once you get a chance to meet the entire cast and understand their personalities and motivations, the story begins to develop a lot of tension and intrigue as the reasoning behind the Yautja’s sudden invasion of the Human Sphere comes into focus. Are the Yautja just out on the hunt for human blood? What are these “fire dragons” that threaten their home planet? Might the Yautja and humans actually be able to come together and form an alliance against a common foe? Incursion has plenty of intense and bloody action between Colonial Marines, Yautja, and Xenomorphs, but the story’s driving force is the rich and compelling human character interaction that keeps the story grounded on a human level as it builds to a satisfying conclusion that will leave you waiting on pins and needles until The Rage War continues next year.

Alien Next Door – Buy from Amazon:

AlienNextDoor

Xenomorphs are always portrayed as vicious extraterrestrial creatures of terror and violence (see the novel mentioned above), but what if the antagonist beings of the Alien franchise were assimilated citizens of Earth? Alien Next Door, an adorable children’s-style picture book, depicts this side of a Xenomorph just trying to live out its daily life in peace like any human. The text-less story shows scenes of the Alien painting eggs for Easter, decorating a Christmas tree, munching down a tasty bowl of Promethe-O’s cereal for breakfast, going to the movies, taking a shower, feeding its pet cat Jonesy, reading a bedtime story to Ripley as she sleeps in stasis, dressing up like Predator to visit Swag-Con incognito, and letting a little girl play jump rope with its tail. Obviously, given some of the species’ signature physical traits, the Xenomorph’s attempts at normality don’t always go according to plan, like when it attempts to spit polish the dishes only to melt a hole in a plate with its acidic saliva. Oopsie!

Assassin’s Creed: Underworld – Buy from Amazon:

AssassinsCreedUnderworld

Right on cue with the annual franchise video game launch, Oliver Bowden has a new Assassin’s Creed novel out in book stores. Taking place during the Industrial Revolution time period of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Underworld follows the events from the eyes of Jacob and Evie Frye’s mentor, an Assassin deep undercover in an attempt to take out the Templars. The book only just came out this month so I haven’t gotten the chance to read it yet, but I’ve enjoyed every other Assassin’s Creed novel by Oliver Bowden (oftentimes more than the games they’re based on) so it seems like a safe bet that this latest installment will only continue the trend.

The Life After – Buy from Amazon, Oni Press, or comiXology:

LifeAfter_Vol1 LifeAfter_Vol2

You’ve totally heard this story before. A dude named Jude is trapped in the purgatory for suicides. At first Jude is stuck in the rut of routine everyday life, until one day he “wakes up” and finds that he can touch other people and see a vision of their past, namely their final, gruesome act of suicide as well as the trigger point that led them to take their own lives. Enemy of both heaven and hell, he fights demons and clockwork seraphim alongside his partner in afterlife crime, Ernest Hemingway–yes, THE Ernest Hemingway. Yep, this story is so “been there, done that.” Not! Bold and imaginative in both illustration and storytelling with just enough humor to balance its dark nature, The Life After handles mature subject matter with a unique flair that must be experienced. The first 10 issues are currently available across two softcover volumes, with the ongoing next act of Jude’s story continuing with single issue releases in the Exodus: The Life After series.

Afterlife with Archie – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

AfterlifeWithArchie

Zombie stories have been around for a long time. Romero’s Night, Day, and Dawn of the Dead spawned a new genre of horror. Kirkman and Adlard’s The Walking Dead has reinvigorated the genre. What if you mix one of America’s icons of honesty and integrity with an undying swarm of zombies? You get Afterlife with Archie! Life is normal in the town of Riverdale until Jughead is bit by his dog after being resurrected by Sabrina the Teenage witch. Jughead then ventures into Riverdale High’s prom and promptly begins to chomp on his classmates. Gory and dark, Afterlife with Archie pits the wholesome redhead against some of the grisliest notions a teen should ever have to face. This is not your father’s, mother’s, or grandparent’s Archie! (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

Gotham Central – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

GothamCentral

If you are a fan of Fox’s Television show Gotham, then you need to do yourself a favor during the mid-season break, and pick up these fantastic detective stories. (The TV show was supposed to be modeled around this comic after all.) Focusing on the procedural aspect of police work, Gotham Central weaves tales of Gotham’s finest detectives and their partners (and occasionally calling for the Caped Crusader’s help) all while dealing with some of the Batman’s worst enemies. (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

Hawkeye – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

Hawkeye

Bro, bro, bro, seriously bro. This book is amazing bro! Despite Jeremy Renner’s depiction of the “World’s Greatest Marksmen” in the mostly decent Avengers movies, Matt Fraction and team have re-examined the reluctant hero and the challenges he faces when not globetrotting with the Avengers. Clint initially helps a neighbor in a less than glamorous tenement apartment and then ends up getting involved in a much larger gang war over the entire building. Of course that isn’t all that is explored in this 22-issue comic run. Kate Bishop is the young female Hawkeye who teams up with Clint, and she breaks out on her own adventures while trying to make a name for herself as the “new” Hawkeye. Bro, seriously, this story is legit and should not be missed. (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

Lumberjanes – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

Lumberjanes

Who says comic books have to be about super heroes fighting aliens or bad guys? Why can’t comic books be about young campers in a whimsical all girls camp site that also happens to be surrounded by some of the most magical and zany woodland creatures (both harmful and beneficial)? Lumberjanes is better than Adventure Time and should not be missed. (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

Rachel Rising – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

RachelRising

A young woman wakes up in a shallow grave and struggles to figure out how she got there. As the day goes on, she learns that she is dead but still moving. Rachel and her friends try to figure out who killed her and why she is still among the living. Terry Moore has managed to weave a beautiful tale of history and love and friendship into a dark and compelling narrative that dates back to the Salem Witch Trials. Of course what wild narrative like this would be complete without Lucifer in the body of a 10-year-old wanting to kill people all in an effort to save the world? Rachel Rising can be fairly gruesome but is mostly a tale of redemption and love and is presented in gorgeous black and white detail. (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

Nailbiter – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

Nailbiter

How can the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon be the home of over 15 serial killers? Is there something in the water? Is it genetic? Nature vs nuture? Nailbiter explores how a town glorifies and is horrified by dark secrets that have haunted the town for decades. Army interrogator Nick Finch travels to Buckaroo to find a missing friend and hopefully uncover some of the secrets in town. To do that means working with and against the latest serial killer, Edward Charles Warren, the Nailbiter! Nailbiter is a dark comedy with moments of true terror and plenty of gore. But the mystery is what keeps this story worth coming back to each issue! (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

The Cat with a Really Big Head – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

CatWithaReallyBigHead

Roman Dirge, who you may know for the Lenore: The Cute Little Dead Girl series, turns the sad life story of Joseph “The Elephant Man” Merrick into a charmingly oddball tale about a cat, named simply Cat, born with an enormous, deformed head. This hardcover graphic novel, presented like a classic children’s book, actually contains three short stories in one. In addition to Cat’s trials and tribulations with a supersized noggin, the book contains a nursery rhyme of sorts titled A Big Question, about a little girl trying to find out why she died. It also contains The Monsters in My Tummy, a story Dirge wrote and drew years ago as a release for the despair he was feeling after a painful breakup. In similar fashion to Tim Burton, Dirge has a way with words and illustration that is cute and endearing yet simultaneously bizarre and in some instances quite gruesome.

Assassin’s Creed #6: Leila – Buy from Amazon:

AssassinsCreed_Leila

The French Assassin’s Creed comic series continues with the North American release of the sixth hardcover volume, Leila. This is the concluding third installment of the series’ Egypt saga following modern-day Assassin Jonathan Hawk as he delves into the genetic memories of his Egyptian Brotherhood ancestor El Cakr, to track down the Scepter of Aset, Piece of Eden Number 24, in a final showdown with the Templars. These comics are not canon, but they do provide fun little diversions that introduce new characters and historical eras to explore apart from the main Assassin’s Creed continuity.

Captain Stone Vol. 1 – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

CapStone

For those who’ve grown tired of the traditional superhero comic, Captain Stone is the graphic novel for you. It tells of the unraveling life of the eponymous Captain Stone, a once-revered rock star of a superhero who single-handedly captured Saddam Hussein, took on the world’s most infamous drug kingpins, and was always the first to come to the rescue of people across the world during major natural disasters. He became a pop culture phenomenon, the subject of comics, novels, movies, an animated TV series, and merchandising, until allegations of illicit financial dealings and the admittance of his true identity in a live TV interview led to the former icon’s fall from grace. Now there has been an explosion at his secret base, and The Cap has gone missing. A surprise revelation spurs Charlotte “Charlie” Chance, who’s actually even more of a central figure to the story, to help find the missing hero. Captain Stone is a weird amalgamation of ideas; a parody of 90s comic superheroes mixed in with some political satire (like a cameo from a certain “Governator”), a family superhero/supervillain drama, and an alien invasion conspiracy. Even the art style and color palette changes literally with each passing page. The hardcover compilation of the first six issues even contains an art section showing mock Captain Stone comic pages, a movie script, an interview in “Playbunny” magazine, and adverts for his TV series and merchandising like collectible busts and figurines. It sounds like it would be schizophrenic and disjointed, but somehow it all comes together and just works at creating an eccentric, not-your-average-superhero world.

Samurai Collected Edition – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

Samurai

Spanning nearly 200 pages, Samurai Collected Edition, by author Jean-François Di Giorgio and artists Frederic Genêt and Delphine Rieu, is an omnibus of the series’ first four volumes. The story centers on Takeo, a samurai with a dark childhood shrouded in mystery, who sets out to find his brother and discover why he was left behind to be raised at a monastery. His quest begins with an attempt to reach the ominous-sounding Island with No Name, but early on he gets caught up in a conflict with a treacherous, banished general threatening to unleash a terrible power locked within the Vault of the 13th Prophet upon all of Imperial Japan. The artwork has a definite anime/manga style with a touch of Western influence. The sword combat scenes are bloody without being gratuitous, and there is a kinetic flow to the action thanks to the frequent use of angled cells that sort of mimic the slashing of a samurai sword. There are also some truly eye-popping environmental shots and multi-page battlefield spreads, including one towards the end that is fold-out scene across three full pages. Some light comic relief also comes into play through Takeo’s dopey sidekick Shiro, an unwanted tagalong like Donkey is to Shrek.

Fall of Gods: She is Gone – Buy from Mood Visuals:

FallofGods

“Fall of Gods’ compelling Norse tale is paired with a unique format that can only be described as a combination of a novel, graphic novel, and an art book. Or I guess you can think of it along the lines of a children’s storybook made more sophisticated for mature readers. The story unfolds like scenes from a movie distilled into a cinematographer’s picture book, with the narrative text printed on the left page and an illustration on the right page. Epically gorgeous though it may be, the artwork isn’t just for show. Each piece of art directly complements what is written on the opposite page, which allows you to visualize a snapshot of the world and let your imagination fill out the rest of the scene in your mind.” Read our original review in full here.

Norman Volumes 1 & 2 – Buy from Amazon or comiXology:

Norman_Vol1 Norman_Vol2

“Like the twisted offspring of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Chucky–he’s got the red-and-green striped shirt to go along with the mask and kitchen knife slasher villain combo–Norman stalks his victims in a storyline and setting that’s equal parts Scream meets South Park, complete with a myriad of pop/geek culture references and callbacks to B horror movie tropes. And yes, there’s even one kid who dies in horrible ways but then miraculously is brought back to life.” Read our original review in full here.

The Martian – Buy from Amazon:

TheMartian

“This is primarily a tale of man against nature, yet on a deeper level–digging beneath the hardcore science and endearing humor–the story is ultimately about the resilience of the human spirit and the inherent bond that ties all of humanity together with the instinct to help each other out. And it’s because of this that The Martian, even as deeply rooted in real science as it is, is able to succeed on so many levels and appeal to a wide audience of readers. A love of science and space travel goes a long way, but even if you have never read a sci-fi novel or don’t particularly care for the genre in general, The Martian will win you over.” Read our original review in full here.

Abomination – Buy from Amazon:

Abomination

“A morbidly refreshing hybrid of historical fantasy and gruesome monster-story horror with touches of Lovecraftian influence, Abomination is the triumphant debut novel by Gary Whitta, who you may know as a former video game journalist, for his involvement with Telltale Games in helping craft the narrative for The Walking Dead series, and as the screenwriter of Hollywood blockbusters like The Book of Eli and After Earth.” Read our original review in full here.

24: Rogue – Buy from Amazon:

24Rogue

“Even though it takes place over twenty-four hours instead of only two hours–and yes, events do occur in real time–Rogue‘s narrative scope is more comparable to the interquel style of the 24: Redemption made-for-TV movie than a fully fleshed out season, which, frankly, is all I personally look for from a tie-in novel. Some fans may lament the lack of CTU melodrama and the broader character relationships of the TV series (those elements are a big part of the 24 aura), but overall I found that Rogue nailed the show’s pacing and blend of action, espionage, and political intrigue, so much so that I literally became hooked into binge-reading through all 346 pages within a couple nights, unable to stop until I found out what happened in the next hour, and the hour after that, and then the hour after that.” Read our original review in full here.

Fable: Blood of Heroes – Buy from Amazon:

Fable_BloodofHeroes

Blood of Heroes very much reminds me of the Fable series at large. It’s not super in-depth, and it does give off an impression of not quite reaching its full potential, but in the end its quickly-paced storytelling, fun fantasy action, and undercurrent of lighthearted humor are enough to win you over. Just don’t expect the epic scope and world building of Lord of the Rings or even Dragonlance.” Read our original review in full here.

Batman: Arkham Knight Official Novelization and The Riddler’s Gambit Prequel Novel – Buy from Amazon:

Batman_ArkhamKnight_Novels

“If I had to choose just one, The Riddler’s Gambit would be my first recommendation of the two Batman: Arkham Knight companion novels. However, both are fun, quick reads that retell and expand upon Batman‘s narrative in a more substantial way than comic books are capable of. Arkham series fans should totally check these out.” Read our original review in full here.

Gameknight999 Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure Series – Buy from Amazon:

UnofficialMinecraftersAdventure_Gameknight999_Trilogy

“Inspired by his son’s experiences in Minecraft and his own personal trials and tribulations with childhood bullying, author Mark Cheverton’s Gameknight999 series of novels takes young readers and Minecraft fans of all ages inside Mojang’s blocky sandbox world for an adventure that serves up a whole lot of fun fantasy fiction while also teaching proper online gaming etiquette and raising awareness about the impact of cyber-bullying, a critical issue facing kids in this age of omnipresent online interaction and social networking.” Read our original review in full here.

Charm, Poison, & Beauty – Wicked Fairytale Trilogy – Buy from Amazon:

beauty charm poison

Author Sarah Pinborough puts her own spin on the classic stories of fairytale princesses Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty in this surprisingly great three-part series. These are not the same “happily ever after” stories you grew up with. These are dark, erotic retellings that mix familiar plot arcs with sexual content and disturbing twists. Remember how everyone freaked out when wholesome Elizabeth Berkley from Saved by the Bell went on to star in Showgirls? Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty similarly shed their Disney Princess innocence for NC-17-rated roles–only these books, unlike Showgirls, are well written and engaging. Another clever touch is how the stories intertwine with one another and even incorporate references to other fairytale characters and stories (like Robin Hood and Hansel and Gretel).

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!