Maskerade–Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett’s books are always so funny and playful. There are several different strands of characters that recur in different books. This one is one of the ones that follows the lives of small-town witches.

They’re looking for a third witch (their previous apprentice having recently married the king) and they have an idea for who would be a good apprentice. Unfortunately, she’s moved to the big city to pursue her dream of being an opera singer.

This book follows the concept of “Phantom of the Opera” but in the wacky, alternative world that is Terry Pratchett’s head. The apprentice, Agnes, is an exceptionally talented singer, but very large (the proverbial “fat lady” of the opera) and therefore, isn’t getting much in the way of parts. Another girl who started at the same time as Agnes is lacking in all talent, but has a rich family that donated to the opera house and is also beautiful, so she’s getting a lot of attention.

There’s a phantom in the opera that moves things around and demands access to a box every performance. But lately he’s started to get in a murderous mood and people are dying.

Christine and Agnes switch rooms, which is how Agnes receives the secret nighttime singing lessons from the phantom. For the performance, they have Christine sing quietly while Agnes sings loudly behind the curtain.

Meanwhile, the phantom continues to kill people, and the witches are in town to lure Agnes back. They come into the opera house and track down the phantom and pull Agnes out of the soul-crushing world of opera and everyone lives happily ever after. As indeed, is the Terry Pratchett way.

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The Maze Runner-James Dashner

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This is a famous book–they’ve made a movie about it, which I haven’t seen. And I think there are sequels and perhaps a second movie. I knew that it was out there in the world and basically that it was yet another YA dystopian world book. But that was all I knew.

I was completely surprised by the way the book unfolded. It is not what I expected. At all. Which is not to say it wasn’t good, just that it took me a bit of time to acclimate my inherent assumptions about style and concept from the title and genre to what was really happening.

In this book, there’s a big open area with a couple of buildings, fields, farmland, and a wooded area. This area is bordered on all four sides by huge concrete walls with openings into a maze that surrounds the open area. These walls move to close overnight. There are monsters in the maze, monsters that are at least partially man-made. They can sting you and you need a shot of medicine to survive that. If you can’t get the shot, you can’t survive. The monsters are mostly out at night, and since the doors close at night, no one goes out into the maze at night.

Everyone there is a teenaged boy and they are all delivered to the grove by an underground elevator which also brings supplies, with no memory of anything from before they arrived. The goal is to survive and find the path out of the maze. This is tricky because the walls of the maze move overnight, so they have to start fresh each day.

Then one day a child comes at a unexpected time, and it’s a girl, and she has a note that says, “She is the last, ever.” And then the doors stop closing at night and the monsters come into the grove and start taking children from the group.

Obviously, they need to pick up their urgency on solving the maze.

It’s a good book. It’s compelling and fast-paced. It’s easy to read and intriguing and I might even read the sequel.