Well friends, it’s August and we here at Three Houses Press are taking a much-needed summer break. We’ll still be posting our monthly podcast next Wednesday, so be on the lookout for that! However, as we work on recharging and taking advantage of the last few weeks of summer, we wanted to share with you a report on what we’ve been reading this summer. Without further ado, here’s a peek at what I’ve been reading and my thoughts on each.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
The first time I encountered The Hobbit was in second grade. One of my classmate’s dad came in and read us the first two chapters. When I got home from school that day, I begged my grandmother to take me to the library and borrow The Hobbit. She read me one chapter before bed every night for the next two weeks. It was magical.
I haven’t given The Hobbit a reread in over 10 years, but I spontaneously picked up a copy earlier this summer. I wanted one with the HMH logo on the spine out of pure nostalgia. Despite a TBR pile the height of a New York skyscraper, I decided to give my latest acquisition a reread instead. What surprised me most during the reread was how The Hobbit feels like embarking on a brand new adventure and stepping into an old friend’s house all at once. It is simultaneously exhilarating and cosy.
Earlier this summer, I wrote about how Bilbo Baggins is the perfect example of an imperfect hero. He is at times quite unlikable, but you can’t help but root for him to succeed. The brilliance of The Hobbit isn’t just in Tolkein’s remarkable grasp of language or his ability to build a world as unique and complete as Middle Earth. The true brilliance of The Hobbit lies in its characters. Tolkein’s characters, no matter how small, are well developed and memorable. It seems incongruous that a single book filled with 13 dwarves could make each one of those 13 distinct from one another. Generally, when an author creates that many side characters, only a handful are actually fleshed out enough to be distinctive. Conversely, it takes other authors several books to develop multiple side characters to the point where readers can tell them apart (i.e. Harry Potter). Tolkein, however, manages to give each character in The Hobbit his own personality and unique characteristics in only one book and he does it in a way that never slows the pace or inflates the plot. It is, quite frankly, a masterclass in character development. It’s also a masterclass in fantasy writing, but we’ll save that for another time.
Disney’s Land by Richard Snow
Richard Snow’s Disney’s Land is one of the best narrative nonfiction books I’ve read in a while. It’s an in-depth, well researched retelling of the building of Disneyland. Disneyland is a subject that has been written about numerous times since it first opened on July 17th, 1955. Yet very few of the books I’ve previously read on the topic of Disneyland’s birth are as engaging and thorough as Disney’s Land.
Snow’s accounts of the conception, construction, and opening of Disneyland are so detailed that they put readers right in the action. There are entire chapters devoted to the various architects, designers, and artists who brought Disneyland to life. From Admiral Joseph Fowler, to Harper Goff, and Marty Sklar, Snow introduces readers to the people who contributed to Walt’s great experiment. The Imagineers that are all too often forgotten, except for the truest of Disney Parks fans.
Sixty-six years is miniscule in the grand scheme of history, yet there are very few people still alive today who had the opportunity to work directly with Walt Disney during the creation of Disneyland. Bob Gurr is one of few original Imagineers still alive today and he turns 90 this year. Congrats Bob! However, despite the dwindling numbers of original magic makers, there is a surprising amount of documentation and first-hand accounts that have been preserved, which Snow uses quite effectively in Disney’s Land.
Whether you’re a theme park person or not, the impact that Disneyland has had on American culture is undeniable. Disney’s Land is not just an engaging and insightful read, it’s also a lot of fun. On my most recent trip to Disneyland, I found myself hunting down the small details and touches mentioned in the book. It’s these little things that make Disneyland so unique. Did I take this book with me to Disneyland in July to get a bookstagram-worthy photo for my personal Instagram account? Yes, yes I did.
Maul: Lockdown by Joel Schreiber
I feel as though it’s been fairly well established on this blog that I like Star Wars. In fact, like is too tepid a word for the level of fandom I have for Star Wars. I can’t remember the exact day or month or year when my mom—yes, my mom—first introduced me to the galaxy far, far away. However, what I do know is that the first time I heard the opening strains of John Williams’ main title and the bright yellow script burst onto the screen, I was forever hooked.
I used to inhale Star Wars extended universe content as a kid and read most of the novels based on Luke, Leia, and Han’s adventures post-OT (original trilogy). Those novels have since been decanonized by Disney and relegated to “Legends cannon” status. A couple of years ago, I set out on a laborious journey to read (or in some instances reread) all of the Star Wars books ever published, Legends and New cannon alike. This process has been occurring on and off since March of 2019 and this June I finally read or rather, listened to, Maul: Lockdown by Joel Schreiber.
First, I must preface this by saying that if you don’t like or know anything about Star Wars, then this book is not for you. Second, if you do not like horror, this book is also not for you. I had no idea going into this book that it was going to be a Star Wars horror novel. Who knew those even existed? I didn’t.
Maul: Lockdown was gruesome, graphic, and spectacularly violent. I anticipated that any book featuring Sith lord Darth Maul as the protagonist would be violent. However, I did not expect that my stomach would literally turn at certain points while listening to this book. The stomach-turning elements of this book can largely be attributed to the excellent audio production. All Star Wars audiobooks are equipped not only with impeccable narrators, but also sound effects and John Williams’ scores. They’re wonderfully entertaining, even when the book is subpar or unpleasant. Maul: Lockdown is not subpar. In fact, I think it’s very well written and compelling. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to horror, but Schreiber has a good grasp on tension and expertly sets the scene for his prison of terrors in space.
I would recommend this book to die hard Star Wars fans who don’t mind when things in the galaxy get violent. I would also recommend this book for people who like horror, prison, or sci-fi stories. This book is a strange combination of the three and it actually works. There were definite parts I found difficult to get through, but in the end I ultimately enjoyed my experience reading this book.
Darth Maul is a character that I’ve always found fascinating. I’ve always wanted to learn more about him, but I don’t sympathize with him. It’s always a fun challenge for me as the reader to engage with books where the protagonist is someone that I can’t actively root for. How is the author going to try and convince me that the protagonist, who is an awful being, is the “good guy” in this story? And while Schreiber never convinced me that I should align with Maul or want him to succeed, he was ultimately the lesser of the evils depicted in the book. Maul: Lockdown is grisly and oddly compelling. Maul said it best himself, “you cannot imagine the depths I would go to to stay alive.”
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
As the resident romance aficionado here at Three Houses Press, I would be remiss if I didn’t report on at least one of the many, many romances I’ve read this summer. There was one romance in particular that utterly captivated my attention, which was The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley. Readers, I must confess that I have been sleeping on the brilliance of Jennifer Ashley for far too long. Yes, yes, I have been aware of her for years, but I had never read one of her books. Why? Pure oversight.
Many have recommended her books to me, particularly, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. However, for some reason, I just never got around to her books. Well, I am happy to say that Jennifer Ashley has finally made her way off of my TBR pile and straight into my heart because The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie has ruined me. Ruined me!
I want to talk about it so much that I can’t talk about it. It’s just that good. I laughed, I cried, and I sighed. Ashley is a master at writing characters. Not only are the hero and heroine incredibly realized, but the side characters are wonderfully conceived as well. The side characters are all charming and distinct in their own way—I particularly loved Beth’s lady’s companion Katie who had me laughing aloud several times.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie sweeps readers from London, to Paris, to Scotland, and back. Oftentimes when so much travelling is included in the span of a novel it can be difficult to establish a true sense of place. Ashley beautifully transitions between these locations, especially because each change of location has purpose and effectively advances both the plot and character development. Were there things about this book that didn’t work for me? Of course. I wasn’t crazy about the murder-mystery subplot, but I generally don’t love it when murder-mystery gets worked into romance #sorrynotsorry. But when this book worked, it WORKED. If you’re looking for a Victorian romance featuring a swoony Scottish hero, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, is the book for you.