thaliasbooks

Thalia @ Pictures in the Words

I'm Thalia! I run a book blog called Pictures in the Words and I hope to be an editor for YA fiction. I'm a GoodReads refugee!

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The Martian
Andy Weir
Progress: 31/369 pages
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter
Progress: 193/432 pages
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
J.K. Rowling
Progress: 43/766 pages
The Children of Húrin
J.R.R. Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien
Progress: 313/313 pages
Never Eighteen
Megan Bostic
Progress: 200/200 pages

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Review)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire  - J.K. Rowling

You guys, I have good news! There here is a Harry Potter book I actually liked! You were beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen, huh?

 

My string of short reviews isn’t over quite yet, since I finished this book more than a year ago. I have definitely learned my lesson that my reviews are next to worthless if they aren’t written within at least a month of finishing the book (unless I’ve taken extremely detailed notes, which I certainly didn’t do here). Considering I’ve been a few chapters into Order of the Phoenix for almost a year now, I might just reread this one to get back into the swing of things; if that’s the case, I’ll definitely write a more detailed review then!

 

This is where Rowling’s writing finally begins to mature and Harry starts to feel some genuine emotion. Goblet of Fire has always been my favorite of the Harry Potter films, and I’m incredibly relieved that I enjoyed the book. The overall plot of the series finally began to kick in, and it felt much less like a string of happy-go-lucky mysteries than the first three books. My biggest complaint with the series has been that I don’t love Rowling’s writing (still true) and I feel I have no emotional connection with Harry. While my feelings on the writing haven’t changed quite yet, I am ecstatic to see development from Harry, and I’m thrilled to know that whatever happens in the next book, at least I’ll finally see Harry actual feel something genuine and realistic. This book cracked him open so much more, and it’s nice to begin to feel excited again about reading these books, which I know contain stories I already love.

 

Overall: The more I think about it, the more I believe I should reread this book before diving into Order of the Phoenix again, just so I can get the excitement back again (and write a better review than this). I was told when I started the series that I should consider just skipping to Goblet of Fire, and boy, turns out they were right! I’m finally excited to be reading Harry Potter instead of wondering why I don’t just watch the movies instead.

 

Read the review on my blog:

http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/168547037247/harry-potter-and-the-goblet-of-fire-review

Stand-off (Review)

Stand-Off (Winger) - Andrew Smith, Sam Bosma

I am finally reviewing a book I actually read this year! However… I finished it in May, so here’s to the (almost) last shorter-than-normal review. I borrowed a copy of this book from a teacher, so I don’t have any notes or ability to flip back through it and remember my thoughts better; I’ll still give this my best effort at detail, though!

 

As you may remember, Winger was one of my favorite books. It’s not a book that someone like me typically goes for as Ryan Dean West is not typically the type of character I enjoy reading. However, something about Andrew Smith’s ability to craft him as this realistic, perfectly imperfect guy just struck a chord with me. Winger also ripped my heart out unexpectedly, which always scores points with me.

 

When I discovered that Winger had a sequel, I had to read it right away. Fortunately, the teacher I was working with let me borrow it, and I got to reading right away. I got through the first third no problem, but then it took me several months to pick it up again. When I finally did, I binged the last part in a day or two. I worried that I had outgrown Ryan Dean, but I was delighted to discover that Andrew Smith still had the ability to make me laugh out loud and cry within mere pages of each other.

 

Stand-off explores a lot of themes related to grief and especially avoiding grief. Ryan Dean goes through a lot of things he can’t quite explain, and this book is about him trying to understand himself again and dealing with the fact that he doesn’t want to be miserable for the rest of his life. I completely empathize with NATE (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) because I experienced the same thing after one of my friends passed away in high school. I thought this novel was excellently crafted, and it is a great follow-up to Winger. However, it lacked the same sparkle, and I found myself missing that all-encompassing enthusiasm for the book. It had an overly-satisfying ending, in that everything wrapped up with a pretty, little bow, and the resolution seemed forced to me. After the unexpectedly world-shattering ending of Winger, I could have stood an ending less-than-ideal than this one. It felt like Smith really wanted to end this story, and he wrote out a resolution that would leave no room for speculation or further wondering. I loved the ending of Winger without the idea of a sequel, so having a sequel that perfectly wrapped up the story I’d loved so much was fairly disappointing.

 

Overall: As with Winger, I don’t recommend this to younger readers. Ryan Dean West may be fifteen years old, but I doubt I’d let my kid read it at fifteen. Use discretion because there is a lot of language and Ryan Dean West is a teenage boy who thinks like a teenage boy, but, unlike how I usually feel, it all contributes to the characters and the story overall. Stand-off wasn’t as brilliant as Winger, but it’s still worth reading if you loved the first book.

 

Read the review on my blog:

http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/165345904967/stand-off-review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Review)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

Alright, once again, I finished the book almost two years ago and because I was in school and had other nonsense going on, I took very few notes and put off writing the review until now. I have few details to give, which is especially depressing when you’re giving a low rating to a book that is beloved by thousands, if not millions, of readers. You want to have more to say to defend your opinion, but… well, yeah.

 

When I first tried to read this series at the age of thirteen or fourteen, Prisoner of Azkaban killed me. I quit partway through, and this is a big deal because I never just quit a book. I have not finished exactly two books since Prisoner of Azkaban all those years ago, and both of those were because they had graphic sexual content—obviously not the case here. Even the second time around, it took me months to finish this book.

 

This book is just boring. There’s not a lot happening, and it follows a very distinct pattern from the first two books. I enjoyed Lupin, but that was about it. There’s an incredibly interesting story lurking somewhere underneath the side plots and downright boring writing. Without the nostalgia of reading this as a child, I don’t have a lot of patience for the childish nature of the side stories and writing. Most of the story happens in a few exciting chapters, but everything else is muddled and boring. I get that these books are sentimental to lots of people, and I know there are things I love to read that others find boring, but this one was just kind of painful to get through.

 

Overall: Fortunately, I’ve already read Goblet of Fire, and I actually enjoyed that one. For me, this is where the childishness ends and we can move forward into a grown up and intricate plot. I’m relieved to put this one behind me and move forward with the series. I can’t count how many people told me to skip to Goblet of Fire to begin with, and they’re certainly right.

 

Read this review on my blog!
http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/161793118862/harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-review

31 of 369 (8%)

The Martian - Andy Weir

Let me preface this by saying that I loved the movie of The Martian. I went into it completely expecting science fiction suspense, and it was one of the funniest films I've seen in a really long time. 

 

So far, the book is much the same (thank goodness!). It's got quite a bit more cursing than the film (which bothers me, but oh well), but so far that's the only stickler for me. Mark is a sarcastic, deprecating narrator, but he's smart and witty. I'm trying to follow the science, but since I'm the type of girl who gets low Cs on science tests (when you're allowed to use Google), it's slow going and most of it goes over my head. 

 

This is slow going so far because I'm kind of easing myself back into reading for fun. I grew up listening to stories when I went to bed, and I've been listening to the same "Emperor's New Clothes" collection since I graduated from college. I decided to listen to Fellowship of the Ring, but since I always fall asleep before the chapter ends, I'm also reading along. So my main priority right now is reading a chapter of Fellowship a day, and this gets fit in between that.

 

Sorry Andy Weir, but Tolkien will always be bae. 

Finished!

Never Eighteen - Megan Bostic

Short version: This was boring and dull. It was anticlimactic, and I despise when first person present tense narrations switch over to third person narrations when the main character dies. BOO. 

 

It wasn't the worst book I've ever read, and I reserve one star rating for things I truly hate, so this doesn't quite fit the bill. But I wouldn't recommend this at all, so there's that.

spoilers!

The Unwritten Rule (Review)

The Unwritten Rule - Elizabeth Scott

(I would like to add that um, ANY book that has two people playing barefoot footsie on it repulses me immediately, and honestly, I couldn't expect anything more than two stars with that image in my head every time I picked it up.)

 

This is yet another book I read almost two years ago, and I don’t remember it incredibly well. However, I do remember that this was cliché and used a dreadful stream-of-consciousness style narration that made Sarah, the main character, seem immature and incompetent.  (Yet another reason I despise present tense writing.)

 

The vast majority of this book is actually painful. Sarah is obsessed with Ryan, and her inner mind theatre is just a compilation of everything she loves most about him. She’s constantly thinking about him, obsessing over him, and wondering what it would be like to be with him. She is absolutely convinced he feels the same way for her (and because it’s a good ole stereotypical YA novel, he does), but they tiptoe around for stupid reasons. Ryan is actually the one I dislike the most in all this because his confession to Sarah is that he’s always had feelings for her, but decided to date Brianna anyway. I absolutely don’t understand that logic, and I have no sympathy for his “dilemma.”

 

The above encompasses about 95% of the plot; however, I decided to give this a two-star rating because The Unwritten Rule focused quite a bit on the actual friendship between Brianna and Sarah, and how destructive it really was. I have been in hurtful friendships before, and while I never had friends quite as cruel as Brianna, I sympathized with Sarah’s situation (outside of her whole trying to steal Brianna’s boyfriend thing). At the end of the novel, I felt like the story’s ending, while happily-ever-after in that Sarah and Ryan end up together, still has the friendship at the forefront. Sarah gets Ryan, yes, but the bigger thing she gets is freedom from a toxic friendship, and the realization that just because you’ve been best friends with someone for a long time doesn’t mean you need to stay friends with them forever. This was a lesson I had to learn in high school, and I felt like Scott could have been really successful if this story was about Brianna and Sarah, with Ryan floating somewhere in the background.

 

Overall: This wasn’t really a good book, although it ended up with a pretty good lesson in the end. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it because Sarah’s narration will make you want to stab something, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I have all of Elizabeth Scott’s books on my to-read list, and this one doesn’t make me excited to get to another one anytime soon. However, I think there’s potential, and maybe I just need one with a less cliché plot in order for it to really click for me.

 

http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/160956797922/the-unwritten-rule-review

72 of 200 (36%)

Never Eighteen - Megan Bostic

Hey, there's the classic haunted-house-cart-thing-we're-totally-gonna-kiss-but-wait-there's-the-end-of-the-ride moment. 

 

Austin's obsession with Kaylee is starting to outweigh everything else this story is supposed to be about. Also, he went to visit his friend Allie, who was raped. How do I know she was raped? Because as soon as Austin came over, she gave us a play-by-play of exact how it happened, where it happened, etc... For a girl who has supposedly closed herself off from the world, she opened up pretty fast to a guy she hasn't talked to in a long time.

 

Just... bleh. Everything about this is too convenient, too packaged, too Austin-saves-the-day. I don't like it. 

 

Also, is this day like, 100 hours long?? How did they have time to visit like, four or five different people, go to the county fair (complete with roller coasters, other rides, and food--that kind of expedition takes me about a whole day), AND drive to Seattle, eat dinner at the Sky Deck place at the Space Needle, etc... And then drive home... And now he's trying to convince Kaylee to take him somewhere else. Kaylee claims it's nine o'clock, but I don't see how that's physically possible. 

38 of 200 (19%)

Never Eighteen - Megan Bostic

I started this last night before bed, not quite sure what to expect. The description on my book is extremely vague, and I was immediately put off by Austin's narration. The narration itself is so vague that he sounds as though he's about to commit suicide, which puts this disgusting knot in my stomach as I read what he says, although I know he probably has some terminal disease he hasn't told anyone about.

 

The problems so far:

 

1) 38 pages and Austin has already made visits with three different people. To say goodbye? To convince them in one conversation to change their lives? I'm not quite sure what his purpose is here. So far, this book paints anyone who has experienced tragedy as hermits, unable to move on in any positive way. I guess Austin is supposed to miraculously fix them in his 30-second conversations with them. 

 

2) Austin is in love with his best friend, Kaylee. This itself does not put me off, but the fact that he's supposedly been in love with her since elementary school and he's chosen not to tell her because he loves having her as a friend. However, the way Austin thinks about Kaylee is overwhelming. He literally took a picture of her when she was sleeping. She gets out of bed in her pajamas and he keeps "that imagine in his head as he goes downstairs to wait" (10). He's constantly thinking about kissing her or touching her. He NEVER thinks about her as a friend, just some hot girl he wishes had feelings for him. Trust me, I've been in the position Austin is in. It sucks, but it's not IMPOSSIBLE to forget about having feelings for a friend long enough to just treat them like your best friend. It's just creepy. 

 

3) He also doesn't treat Kaylee very well. I get that he's going through some secret something-or-other, but he expects her to do whatever he asks her to. So far, she's literally just driving him around. Every time she asks, "Can I come in with you?" when they go to someone's house, he just gives her a look and tells her that he needs to do this by himself. She's spent the whole book waiting in the car. She serves NO PURPOSE at this point except for Austin to have his thoughts about her when they're driving and to introduce the characters he's going to see. "I want to see so-and-so." "But you haven't seen so-and-so since this tragic thing happened!"

 

4) I hate present tense writing so much. I thought maybe as I got older and read more books written in present tense, my hatred for it would ebb a little bit. Not so.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Review)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  - J.K. Rowling

Okay. So, you know how sometimes you read a book that is beloved by almost everyone on the planet, but you’re not really as into it as everyone else because you have absolutely no nostalgia attached to the book itself or the author, but it’s also been so long since you read it that you can’t really put into justifiable words why you thought it just wasn’t that awesome, and you’re kind of afraid all the raging fans will jump down your throat but you’ve got no defense because of the aforementioned long-ago reading of said book?

 

That’s basically where I am with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

I absolutely can’t wait to be done writing reviews for books I finished almost two (!) years ago because I feel kind of like an idiot for how few notes I took and also for waiting so long to type up how I felt about these books. The Harry Potter series is one where I know I’m in the minority (like…way, way down there), but I don’t have much I can defend my opinion with because, like I mentioned, I made the amateur decision to take no notes.

 

So here is a short and simple review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Fortunately, I know I felt very similar to it as I did to Philosopher’s Stone in most regards. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it just didn’t stick with me. My complaint with Rowling’s writing style in these early books is that they’re far too immature, and they focus more on action-action-action than any thought process or reflection in the characters. This book was even slower than Philosopher’s Stone in reaching a climax, so I was pretty bored by the time we got anywhere exciting.

 

One of my favorite parts of the first book was the world-building, but that took a backseat to everything else in the sequel. There wasn’t the same draw into the wizarding world because we already knew it existed, so this book lost a lot of sparkle for me. In addition, I felt like there was an increase in annoying characters and a decrease in the ones I enjoyed—Hermione wasn’t around for a good chunk of the book, but I really sometimes cannot stand Ron or Ginny. They are easily two of my least favorite characters in the series so far, and this book focused in large part on them (either because Ron was always with Harry or because Ginny was involved in a large part of the conflict).

 

Overall: Definitely not my favorite Harry Potter novel, and unfortunately, I’ve already read Prisoner of Askaban prior to writing this review, and I know I enjoy that one even less than I did this one. However, I’m certainly not giving up on Harry Potter this time around; I’m determined to see this series through to the end at least once, and hopefully fans will forgive me since I’m reading these books for this first time with no childhood nostalgia.

 

http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/160495884247/harry-potter-and-the-chamber-of-secrets-review

Finished!

Stand-Off (Winger) - Andrew Smith, Sam Bosma

My relationship with reading has been totally off the rails, I must admit... I binged the first third of this book in one day, then left it alone for almost a month, then binged the last two-thirds between yesterday and this afternoon. The weather has been super nice here in the last couple days, so I got a nice sunburn by reading on my back porch yesterday, hahah.

 

Anyway, Stand-off was not quite the masterpiece that Winger was, but it still did an excellent job of continuing the story. It's not nearly as gut-wrenching, and you're left feeling pretty satisfied with the ways things turn out. I think my biggest complaint is that the ending (pretty happily-ever-after-esque) felt a tad bit forced, so I didn't quite believe in it. However, Ryan Dean did not disappoint as a narrator, and he was as witty and outrightly honest as he always has been.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed Stand-off, but I'm not sure it's one I would reread. I would go back to Winger again in a heartbeat, but this one didn't have that same pull to it. 

105 of 401 (26%)

Stand-Off (Winger) - Andrew Smith, Sam Bosma

Holy cow. It's been awhile since I read Winger, and I worried that maybe I would have outgrown Ryan Dean's absurd narration. Note: I have outgrown nothing, and he still has me laughing out loud.

 

Andrew Smith has created such a unique character with Ryan Dean, and I am so thrilled to find the changes in his character since the events of Winger. I've already laughed out loud AND cried (within about five minutes of each other), which is always a good sign. I'm so excited to see where this goes and to finally be back into reading!

 

Red (Review)

Red - Alison Cherry

This is yet another book I initially read about a year and a half ago, but since I remember enjoying it, I decided to reread it so I could review it better. To my relief, despite lower-rated reviews I read from friends, I found that I still enjoyed Red for all its goofiness and craziness.

 

The second I read the synopsis for this book, I knew I needed to have it. I’ve been dying my hair a coppery red since I was fifteen, and it’s actually astounding how many people feel slightly betrayed when they discover that I’m not actually a redhead. I’ve had “real” redheads poke fun at me, and while I don’t care if people know I dye my hair, I sometimes feel a little bit like a liar when someone (especially strangers) compliment my hair color. My reaction is always to say, “Thanks, I dye it,” like I want them to know I can’t take credit for it.

 

That could be why I enjoyed Red so much, despite its immaturity and its flaws. I usually don’t go for books that can’t convince me to believe in its world, but fortunately I found that Cherry convinced me quite easily that Scarletville is a real place, and the people there are really kind of messed up. Felicity is a perfect narrator for the novel because she changes the most, and she’s not intentionally cruel but just kind of clueless. Felicity learning that her hair color—and everyone else’s, too—doesn’t matter is a perfect metaphor for the insignificant differences we all have that we can get hung up on.

 

What I Liked: Spoilers!

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The Fill-in Boyfriend (Review)

The Fill-In Boyfriend - Kasie West

When I first read this in 2015, it was the only book I gave five stars that year. Admittedly, I wasn’t reading as much as I would have liked, and I’ve been in a hardcore reading slump since then, but still—one five star book is a little disappointing. I never wrote the review because things got in the way and I didn’t make time, but as I started looking back on my experience with this book, I started to worry that maybe I didn’t like it as much as I’d remembered. Maybe it was just the kind of book I needed at the time. Maybe it wasn’t all that great after all, and I was looking at it through rose-colored lenses.

 

That worry resulted in me picking it up again today to see how I really felt about it. And guess what? I loved it just as much as I did the first time! I read it (again) in one sitting, and I fell in love (again) with the characters and their stories. This is my first encounter with Kasie West, and I’d always been meaning to read so many of her books, but The Fill-in Boyfriend really sold me on absolutely everything. It is the perfect summer read—heck, it’s the perfect it’s-still-winter-even-though-it-should-be-spring-now read, too. It is the perfect chick-lit romance without shoving insta-love or cheesiness down your throat. I highly, highly, highly recommend it, and I’m so grateful that it will always be on my shelf for those days when I just need to escape reality and dive into something satisfying.

 

What I Liked: Spoilers!

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spoilers!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Review)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith

This is another book I finished about a year and a half ago, so my review will be rather short and to the point (as three-star reviews tend to be anyway).

 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was certainly the odd read, and not at all what I expected. I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was also written by Grahame-Smith, but Abraham Lincoln proved to be incredibly different. It still had all the quirky gore and fight scenes, but with the uninspiring narration of a biography.

 

I am not very good at suspending my disbelief when the author doesn’t 100% convince me certain things are possible in the world they have created. Anyone who knows me knows I love fantasy and other unrealistic fiction, but you’ve got to get me to believe in your world before I can let myself enjoy something. Grahame-Smith’s world here is very much our ordinary world, except it includes vampires. This is fine, but I get stuck at the biography-but-still-a-narrative concept presented in this particular book. The book’s synopsis tells us that Grahame-Smith supposedly discovered The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, which explains passages of this book that are directly quoted from Lincoln in that diary. It does not, however, explain any of the perfect dialogue exchanged between characters throughout the book. It would have succeeded much more in its believability had it just been written like a narrative, without pretending to be a biography. The dialogue brings me completely out of the story because I am constantly reminded that there is no way the author of any biography could know exact conversations that happened between people hundreds of years ago.

 

Aside from this, though, the rest of it does sell you on its genre (biography), and I really would have enjoyed it much more without so much dialogue. I still felt emotionally attached to a lot of the characters, especially Lincoln’s family, and it was cool to see a “secret” side of history. I find conspiracy theories fascinating, and this felt very similar to that. I do generally enjoy Grahame-Smith’s writing (since I loved one of his other books), but this one wasn’t all that memorable for me and I would probably by-pass it when recommending books to someone.

 

There is only one other thing that made this impossible for me to believe, but since it’s a huge spoiler, it is going under a “read more” tab!

 

read more »

Who I Kissed (Review)

Who I Kissed - Janet Gurtler

This is another book that I finished approximately a year and a half ago, and I have exactly two status updates for it on Booklikes… This review will be short and to-the-point (as three-star reviews tend to be anyway).

 

On the plus side, I thought this was an interesting storyline that raises some awareness for kids with allergies. Eating a peanut butter sandwich and then kissing someone are not two events I would ever connect, and Gurtler brings the details together in a way that fits nicely. Sam’s family really made this enjoyable to me, and I always appreciate when parents or other family members take the spotlight sometimes in books (family usually ends up on the back burner in YA, unfortunately). Sam’s dad and her aunt helped her grow and find peace, which I appreciated.

 

(Spoilers ahead!)

 

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The Fine Art of Truth or Dare (Review)

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare - Melissa Jensen

(This is what it looks like when I graduate from college and I finally come off hiatus with my reviews!)

 

Anyway, so it’s been about a year and a half since I finished this book, which is shameful, I know. Unfortunately, my notes while reading this were not spectacular, so I will not be going into a lot of detail with my review here. I did enjoy The Fine Art of Truth or Dare, but I suppose one of the tests of how good a book is is how much you can recall its story and characters long after it’s over. The Fine Art of Truth or Dare has not really kept its place in my head very clearly, which is one of the reasons I didn’t give it a perfect rating. It was fairly average in storyline and character development, so it’s easily forgettable. (To be honest, I don’t remember the “truth or dare” part of this at all, which does not bode well for the memorability of this story.)

 

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare is about a girl named Ella who is obsessed with an old artist named Edward Willing—and I do mean obsessed. Although I completely understand her fascination with a long-dead artist, it took up way too much of the plot. I felt like more time was spent on uncovering the true life of Edward Willing than on Ella’s budding relationship with Alex. It’s not that I thought it made Ella unrealistic or I didn’t think it was interesting—I’d been going through similar experiences with one of my long-dead idols, Edgar Allan Poe, discovering his life was not quite the dramatic tragedy I’d wanted it to be—but it didn’t have a place in this particular story. It made it terribly difficult to root for the main couple of the novel when so much time was spent away from the characters’ interactions together.

 

That being said, I obviously still enjoyed the book quite a bit, and I think I would read it again someday. Ella’s friends, Sadie and Frankie, are so wonderfully written, and I found myself relating much more to Sadie than Ella, hahah. Ella’s self-consciousness and fears about liking someone who seems so far above her will be relatable to many teenagers who have felt inadequate while having a crush. The whole narration was certainly much better than many young adult novels out there right now, and it’s good if you’re looking for something light-hearted, but done fairly well.

 

See the full thing on my blog!

http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/158082101922/the-fine-art-of-truth-or-dare-review