Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover


10 books that changed my life and a giveaway for you!

I think it’s pretty clear that books are some of my favorite things ever. And while I read a lot, I sometimes wonder if I read the “right” books. I mean, there are dozens of classics I’ve never read (even though every year I promise I’ll read some of them) and when I see books like My Ideal Bookshelf, I get so intimidated because a) I’ve never heard of half of the books people mention and b) they seem way above my intellect. And then I get sad.

And that lasts 5 minutes. 

Because even though I might not read the right books, I read the right books for me. That’s pretty much all that matters. 

book quote

So when my friend Sally (who blogs at Tiny Apartment Design) nominated (asked?) me to list 10 books that changed my life, I was first nervous and apprehensive but then excited and enthusiastic. Because I want you guys to know what books have made a difference to me. It’s hard for me to say that these books changed my life, per se, but they have all had a long lasting impact on me and have affected how I think about life, writing, storytelling, and made me feel all the feels (or some combination). 

These are my books in no particular order except the way PicMonkey cooperated:

10 books

  1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  2. Rest Rabbit Rest from the Sweet Pickles series
  3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  4. Alex: The Life of a Child by Frank Deford
  5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton 
  6. Late, Late at Night by Rick Springfield 
  7. The Pact by Jodi Picoult (I could also have picked The Storyteller)
  8. Our Town by Thornton Wilder (I know it’s a play but it counts to me)
  9. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  10. Start by Jon Acuff

 Honorable mentions include:

  • Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I’m sure the list is longer but we have something important to get to. 

Like free stuff.

gift card giveaway

Now that you know some of the books that impacted my life, I want to help you find the next one to impact yours. To do that, and to thank you guys for being THE BEST readers ever, I’m joining with a bunch of other bloggers in a giveaway. From me, you get a $25 gift card to Amazon (my favorite place to shop) and another gift of your choice, not to exceed $10 (nail polish, Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts gift card, more money to Amazon…whatever you want). Just complete the entry form below and when you’re done, keep reading to see what awesome stuff 8 other bloggers are giving away. You know you want it.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


 1. Ellie: Ellie Petrov / 2. Sarah: Beauty School Drop Out / 3. Shelly: DIY Mama / 4. Karen: Book Delight / 5. Lisa: Expandng / 6. Dean: Mrs. AOK / 7. That’s me! / 8. NJ: A Cookie Before Dinner / 9. Kathleen: Kapachino

Good luck!

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Friday Favorites: Celebrity Memoirs

I’m taking a break (again) from my normal Friday Favorite format (hooray for alliteration!) to bring you a special edition. This time, we’re focusing on books. Specifically celebrity memoirs. 

I love a good memoir. Not a huge fan of biographies, although I do have Jim Henson’s and Steve Jobs’s on my bookshelf, waiting to be read, but a good celebrity memoir can make for an interesting and fun read. Some are really well done. Others, not so much. It does get on my nerves a bit that we’re getting to a point that if you’re even a quasi-celebrity, you’ll write a memoir because that’s just what you do (ignoring the fact that you might not be all that interesting. Like me. If I ever become famous, I will not write a memoir because it would be the most boring one of all time. I’d call it Vanilla With Sprinkles (which, incidentally, was what I was planning on naming this blog before I came up with stand out, creatively superior “Jana Says”)). 

I don’t think everyone needs to write a memoir. Which is why I’m happy to weed out the good ones and make some recommendations. Life is too short to read crappy books.


A note before we get started: there are many, MANY celebrity memoirs I have not read so this list is culled only from ones I have read. There are a number that are on my to-read list and we’ll get to those at the end of the list. Also, there are a bunch of memoirs that I have read that I loved but are not included in the list because they were not written by celebrities but I think you should read them anyway (ex., Adam Shepard’s Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream, Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Dave Cicirelli’s Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual LiesJared Dillion’s Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, Rob Sheffield’s Love Is a Mix Tape and Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. This is turning into quite an extensive list. Maybe it needs its own post.)

In no particular order, here are my favorite celebrity memoirs so far: 

tony danza

Tony Danza. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. I know. Tony Danza? How could this possibly be enjoyable? But trust when I say that reading about his experience as a teacher for a year in a Philadelphia public school is time well spent.

nikki sixx

Nikki Sixx. The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. Every kid who takes health class should be required to read this because it’s the most accurate, honest depiction of drug addiction I have ever read. It’s amazingly engrossing and disturbing and you find yourself (often) wondering how he survived.

rick springfield

Rick Springfield. Late, Late At Night. You guys already know how much I love this book. I’ve gushed about it before and there’s no way I wasn’t including it. 

the glass castle

Jeanette Walls. The Glass Castle. I don’t know that she necessarily qualifies as a celebrity but this book was so damn fantastic I’m highlighting it. This book made me feel all the feels: sadness, anger, hope, laughter–the whole gamut. When you can hit the whole range like that, you’re a book that needs to be read. And it’s apparently in development to be a movie with Jennifer Lawrence. 

Honorable mentions: Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me?, and Joe Pantoliano’s Asylum: A Memoir About Hollywood, Mental Illness, and Being My Mother’s Son.

Coming up: Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Cary Elwes’s As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, and Danielle Fishel’s Normally, This Would Be Cause for Concern

#sorrynotsorry for all the links

In addition to everything mentioned here, there are dozens of memoirs I’ve read or have marked to read and I’ll probably do a follow up post to this some time next year. 

 Which ones do you guys recommend or think I should add to my ever growing list?

Coming up on Monday: More cheer mom series. Most likely a list of what to expect when you become a cheer mom.

Have a great weekend!

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Linking up with Amanda

Friday Favorites

Monthly book chat: November edition

Today’s post is all about books. Because today is the day you show us your books!!! And it’s also the day Steph and I share with you the books we’ve read over the last month.

book button linkup

Last month was a busy month, reading-wise for me. I not only blew past my Goodreads reading goal of 37 books but I added a bunch more. In fact, I read 8 books between the last books post and this one. I don’t know exactly how it happened except for telling you guys upfront that I read a bunch of not very long, YA books and I can typically polish off those in a day, maybe two. And I also had a ton of waiting time at appointments and cheer and tumbling practices and since I didn’t have errands to run, I read. 

I don’t expect this coming month to be as productive, reading-wise.

Of the books I read, I LOVED one (Me Before You), I really liked a couple, and the rest were just average. Unlike last month, there wasn’t one particular book that I hated, which is nice, but I don’t know that I’d highly recommend most of them. If you have a hole in your reading schedule, or you need a book to read on a moderately long plane ride, then they’d be good; they’re filler books. 

november books

Let’s get more specific:

  1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Jana Says: I loved this book. It’s powerful and sad and uplifting all at the same time. It turned out to be a timely read, with the Brittany Maynard story being front and center in the news, but I’m confident I’d feel the same way even if it hadn’t been relevant. Recommendation level: High. Read it ASAP.
  2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Jana Says: I adored the story and plot of this book. So different from anything I’ve read lately. I did struggle at times as I couldn’t stop thinking of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory narrating the book, and that bothered me. And Rosie sort of reminded me of Penny (a dark version of Penny. But Penny) and thinking of Sheldon and Penny together got disturbing. But it was good enough that I put the sequel on hold at the library. I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!! Recommendation level: High. Read it soon. 
  3. Looking for Alaska by John Green. Jana Says: This is one of the books I read in a day. John Green (who is so freaking awesome I can’t stand it) is a compelling storyteller and not only does he make you feel all the feels, I love that he makes teenagers complex and weird and smart and stupid; everything teenagers actually are. This book wasn’t nearly as sad as The Fault In Our Stars but if you’re not careful, it can make you a tad weepy. If this is ever a movie, I’d totally see it. Recommendation level: High. Great for a Sunday afternoon.
  4. Magnificent Vibration by Rick Springfield. Jana Says: Remember how I freaked out over Rick Springfield’s memoir? Well, imagine how excited I was to learn he wrote fiction. Then I read the book. And my balloon deflated. It’s not that it was a bad book, per se, but the story jumped around too much and some of the sections bugged me because they were annoying to read, although everything did eventually come together. Also, the narrator’s tangents about his…manly fantasies got to be bothersome. I truly wanted this book to be better. Recommendation level: Moderate. If you want something different and don’t mind lots of discussion about masturbation, have it.
  5. Reunion by Hannah Pittard. Jana Says: I learned about this author from Buzzfeed Books and she seemed interesting so I thought I’d give her latest book a try. The premise of the books isn’t anything special but the way she writes her characters definitely is. The narrator has alcohol, money, and relationship issues (she talks quite a bit about her credit card debt and her infidelity) and while you hate her at times, you feel for her, too. I wholly enjoyed reading her story. It’s a quick read, too. Recommendation level: High. Winner for main character who seems like a real person you could know.
  6. Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Jana Says: After loving Eleanor and Park and Fangirl, this one sort of disappointed me. I mean, I loved that she finally wrote about adults, and like John Green, she’s a wonderful storyteller, but I had a hard time buying the relationship between Georgie and Neal (the married main characters) which made it difficult to truly appreciate their struggle and their story. Recommendation level: Moderate. Don’t expect Eleanor and Park awesomeness in this one.
  7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Jana Says: I almost never say this but I think if I’d seen the movie, that would have been good enough. This book stood out for me only for it’s sappy YA cheese and the author really needs to learn from Rainbow Rowell and John Green how to write teenagers so they don’t sound like oversimplified assholes. However. There were parts of the story that were quite sweet and well written, and she wrote the family dynamics realistically and the out of body narration made for an interesting read. Recommendation level: Moderate. Or just watch the movie. I’m pretty sure it covers everything.

The eighth book I read this month was Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think but I’m going to wait until next month to review it. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads however, there are a few exercises I want to try before I review it for you guys. They might change my mind.

So there you have it. All my October books, laid out for you in all their glory. Now it’s your turn. Show us your books (and nonbloggers, tell me your favorite or least favorite book in the comments):  


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My summer reading list

My daughter and I are just finishing up my favorite Little House book, The Long Winter. For those who haven’t read it, or have but don’t remember, part of that story is the Ingalls family basically skips Christmas. They do what they can, but they basically skip it because the trains have stopped running and there’s no hunting and they’re having to start rationing their food. However, a few weeks prior, Pa had gotten the mail and in the mail, Ma and the girls received magazines and newsletters. Stuff to read. And, knowing that having a substantial Christmas was not going to happen that year, Ma decided that she and the girls would save their new-to-them readings for Christmas day. As a present to themselves.

A) that is some major self-control and B) some of my favorite gifts are books. So, good thinking, Ma.


Books are so important to me, and I literally cannot remember a point in my life when I couldn’t read or had 2-5 books on my nightstand and another 234908 in my library queue, and now on my Amazon wishlist, too. My bookshelf is filled with books I’ll get to eventually. When I travel, packing books is as essential as packing toothpaste and underwear (maybe at one point I’ve forgotten toothpaste and/or underwear but never a book so maybe books are more essential). Some of my favorite summer memories are the rainy days at sleepaway camp when I would lay on my bed and read (and talk to my friends and nap and play jacks, too. But mostly read). Because summers are great for reading. I mean, all seasons are great for reading, but there’s just something about summer that makes reading that much better. Maybe because there are so many more places for reading–the beach, the pool, inside, a deck chair…so many more options.

I never really had a rhyme or reason for how I picked books. I would browse bookstores or stick with authors I already knew. But a couple of years ago, I started paying attention to the lists from Huffington Post books, my friends’ Goodreads lists, Amazon recommended books and I discovered books I ordinarily would not have. It’s how I found Gone Girl, The Sisters Brothers, Reconstructing Amelia, and The Fault in Our Stars. All 4 of those are books I highly recommend if you haven’t read them already.


This summer, I decided to do something I’ve never done before. I have put together my own summer reading list. I never had this from school and in the past, I would just read whatever would come up from my library queue. But this year, I decided I would create a targeted reading list and that list would be a combination of nonfiction books (memoir and self-help/informational type books) and fiction books. I like having a balance, and I usually read one fiction and nonfiction book simultaneously. Doing so feeds both parts of my brain.

Does that sound weird? Probably. That’s okay.

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Here’s my list. I already have several on hand while I’m waiting for the rest:


  • Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed (pictured)
  • To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (pictured)
  • All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (not pictured)
  • The Vacationers by Emma Straub (not pictured)
  • Golden State by Michelle Richmond (not pictured)
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (pictured)


  • On Writing by Stephen King (pictured)
  • Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott (pictured)
  • The Economy of You by Kimberly Palmer (not pictured)
  • The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey (pictured. Also, my daughter’s school teaches these habits so I figured it would be good to read what she’s learning)
  • Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim (not pictured, and from my pioneer reading list)
  • Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link (not pictured, and also on my pioneer reading list)
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (not pictured)

The only wrinkle in my very carefully planned reading list is the library not cooperating. I do have a few backup books in the event that happens. 

My list has 13 books on it. Not too unreasonable, I think. I usually average about 1-2 books per week, depending on the books. We’ll see what happens. At least there won’t be a test at the end.

So that’s good.


Found this on Pinterest, pinned from a Tumblr blog. Click the image for the blog.

Found this on Pinterest, pinned from a Tumblr blog. Click the image for the blog.

Do you have a summer reading list? What books are you planning on reading? 


Little House Book Club: Little House in the Big Woods

I’m so excited to bring you the inaugural post in the Little House book club series! Every month, on the last day of the month, we’ll discuss a book from the Little House on the Prairie series both on the blog and on Facebook. I hope that, even if you missed this month, you’ll join us for the next one! 

little house in the big woods

Confession: I have never once, not ever been a part of a book club. This is a completely new experience for me so please bear with me as I muddle through this discussion of the first book in the Little House series, Little House in the Big Woods. 

I’m not really sure where to start. For those who haven’t read the book, it essentially covers the Ingalls family during their time in the Big Woods (as they call it) in Wisconsin. The 5 of them–Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, and Baby Carrie–live, as you would expect, in a small cabin in the middle of the woods. For income, Pa traps furs and raises wheat. They have cows for milk, pigs for bacon and salt pork (a favorite of theirs), Pa hunts and fishes (but not in the spring and summer. His ethics, rather than the need to provide his family with fresh meat, kick in during those seasons), a garden, and pretty much everything a pioneer could ask for, including family and friends nearby. They work hard in the summer, spend quality time together as a family in the winter, and are generally happy.

Things are good for the Ingalls. 

Throughout the book, Laura describes in sometimes painstaking detail (no joke. It’s painful and tedious to read at times), what it was like to be a pioneer during her childhood. Particularly as it relates to food. Laura spends an awful lot of time talking about food. How it’s killed, prepared, what they eat and when, how it tastes, and how it’s stored. There’s one part in the book where she talks about how there’s meat and dried fruits and vegetables hanging in the attic where she as Mary played. Literally. They played among deer carcasses and used pumpkins as chairs and tables. And I could not get that scene from Rocky out of my head and also, it’s just weird. I like to think that maybe there were some creative liberties taken with that part of the book but honestly, I don’t know. It was kind of interesting, though, and demonstrated that they really did use what they had on hand for everything possible. Talk about making do.

Another part of the book that I enjoyed were the stories Laura told about spending time with their friends and family. It must have been fun to go to a gathering back then and actually interacted with people, rather than everyone sitting around on their phones. They talked, danced, ate, played, and took turns hosting. Hospitality was something to be enjoyed rather than a big nuisance. It made their pioneer life seem full and fun, rather than lonely and miserable. But what it also highlighted, at least when they were getting ready for that sugar dance/party, is that even back then, they still cared, maybe more than they should, about their appearances. It was hard not to notice a) that Laura gave almost no detail regarding what Pa or the other men wore and b) that she made it a point to discuss the fact that the ladies wanted to have small waists tucked inside their fancy dresses. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that they cared how they looked when they were going to be in public but it’s interesting just how little has changed for women in that respect.

Just something to think about. 

Three other parts of the book I enjoyed:

  • One, I liked how they pooled resources and labor with neighbors to work efficiently. Everyone got something out of it, and it made the work more efficient. They realized that if they worked together, they could get more accomplished and there was an understanding that helping was just something you did. You helped and got help in return. I think that’s something we can all do a little more of, realizing that not everything is a competition and we can be more successful if we work together. 
  • The tone of optimism. Throughout the book, even when Laura was getting reprimanded or a family member was stung by bees from head to toe (anyone else think of My Girl when they read that?) or there were wolves, nothing ever seemed that bad. There was hope that it would all work out and that everything copacetic. They were snug and cozy (two words I have grown to loathe as a result of this book). They wanted for nothing. Which makes it kind of hard to figure out why exactly they left and, having read the rest of the books in the series, makes me realize they spent their time after they left the Big Woods trying to recapture everything they had while they were there. Makes you realize that honestly, the grass isn’t always greener. 
  • When Laura slapped Mary across the face for picking on her for having brown hair. Nothing is wrong with brown hair, bitch, and you got what you deserved. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what I couldn’t stand about this book. Just a few quick items other than the ones I’ve mentioned (the overuse of the words “snug” and “cozy”, and the sometimes extraordinary detail Laura used to describe some of the most mundane things):

  • Pa. I’m going to say it. I don’t particularly care for Pa. I think he’s kind of an ass and his stories bugged me to no end. I thought they were mostly hyperbole and while I understand why she included them in the book, they kind of disrupted the flow of the main story for me. I also understand that Laura admires and respects her father, which is a good thing, but looking at things as an outsider, she seems to have put him on a pedestal that maybe he didn’t deserve. This opinion might also be influenced by having read the other books. 
  • Using the cow organs as toys. I get not wanting to waste anything but that just made me sick. 

Overall, I liked the book. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into their daily lives and their family dynamic. I also enjoy the fact that I can read this book with my 7 year old and we both get something out of it. Like the idea to make homemade butter

book club button

Did you read the book? If you did an you posted about it, share your post below (and make sure to grab your official Little House Book Club Member badge from the sidebar):

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