Read 12 Books in 12 Months with This 2020 Reading Challenge

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this post contains affiliate links. If you click any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought. Thanks so much for supporting me and my blog! (Click here for more info.)

I started actively tracking my reading on Goodreads in 2015, and in 2016, I first embarked on the infamous Goodreads Reading Challenge. I set a high bar for myself—I pledged 50 books that year—but as an English major with a full course load, I easily exceeded my goal. The next year, I topped myself with a personal record of 67.

Continue reading “Read 12 Books in 12 Months with This 2020 Reading Challenge”

Review: “Happier Thinking” by Lana Grace Riva

Disclaimer: I received a paperback copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this post contains affiliate links. This means I’ll get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought. (Click here for more information.)

“If that book is any good, let me know,” my fiancé, Ryan, said to me the day I found this book at my doorstep. “I want to read it.”

This is me letting him know.

Lana Grace Riva’s debut nonfiction self-help book, Happier Thinking, was published earlier this year, and I was honored when Lana approached me to be one of the first to review it. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!

Ryan and I have been actively trying to improve our mindsets lately in hopes of engaging in mostly positive thoughts over the course of our days, and I’d say we’ve been pretty successful — partially because we’ve been following the strategies outlined in Happier Thinking without even knowing it.

Throughout her brief book, Riva reiterates that conscious thought is the key to a happier lifestyle. She notes that a single negative event can ruin your whole day — but only if you let it. 

“The next time you catch yourself labelling a day as bad,” Riva advises, “stop and challenge this thought that the whole day is tainted.”

Instead of allowing yourself to “ruminate” in a cloud of your own misery, Riva suggests that you dwell instead on the positives of the situation — and there always is at least one.

“If you look hard enough, there will be something good lurking around somewhere. Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt[?]”

Riva spends most of Happier Thinking expressing this notion, and providing real-life examples that many can relate to. From describing frustrating mornings to dissecting airport inconveniences, Riva challenges the idea that a day can be ruined by a single event — or even a series of events. In doing this, Riva comes off as down-to-earth and personable — though at times, I wonder if she is trying to be a little too personable, to the point of leaving out key information.

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a psychology expert by any means, but as someone who has suffered from and been around others who have suffered from related mental illnesses, I would say that I have a general understanding of major depressive disorder.

To that effect, after reading Happier Thinking, I have to admit that I wouldn’t say the book is apt to fit the role of a guide for those who suffer from depression. There are simply too many holes and oversimplifications for me to consider it an informative, researched pamphlet: it is more like a blog post that collects Riva’s personal advice on how to be a happier person overall.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, per se, but I thought it was important to note that I wouldn’t recommend Happier Thinking as a guide for someone struggling with their mental health.

Moreover, I felt like many of Riva’s suggestions sound easy to someone with an already positive mindset — like myself — and that made me feel pretty good, like I had accomplished something by naturally being happy. But to someone struggling to find day-to-day motivation and happiness, this book would likely fall flat.

Related: Read 12 Books in 12 Months with This 2020 Reading Challenge

To me, this book seems to merely provide the goal: a change in mindset, a positive outlook, a lemons-into-lemonade attitude. But it doesn’t show me how to get there.

Riva does admit that while she wouldn’t consider herself a certified expert on the topic of happiness, she has done a lot of reading of psychology and mental health resources and journals, and I would have loved to see some of this information relayed in the book. 

Riva points out that she left it out in hopes of streamlining the work and making it easier to read, but I find that without this backbone, the book is made up of merely un-evidenced suggestions and anecdotal conclusions, neither of which provide a comprehensive list of steps to take to achieve the goal she describes. Without that, I feel like the work expects those with less positive mindsets to merely “flip a switch” to happiness.

Still, Riva does accomplish her goal of creating a quick read — I got through it in less than half an hour!

Overall, I would say that the concept of this book was a nice start — and this is certainly a strong beginning for a debut author who is still trying to find her writing voice. But if Riva ever chose to release a second edition of Happier Thinking, I would love to see it not only revised a bit for clarity and voice, but added to: I want to know more about the reason that conscious positive thinking works.

I also want to know more of her story: How did Riva become a makeshift expert in happy thoughts? What life experiences led her to this? This book is a great reflective nonfiction piece, and a great account of Riva’s personal mindset, but I want it to be more of a two-way conversation that allows me to see deep into the trenches of Riva’s mind. I want it to be real, raw, and vulnerable.

In that — and in evidenced content — Happier Thinking simply falls flat.

This debut book has so much potential, though, and I can’t wait to see what Lana Grace Riva has in store for readers next.

What’s up next in your TBR pile? Share in the comments below!

This article was published April 20, 2018.

My Spoiler-Filled Review of “NICE TRY JANE SINNER” by Lianne Oelke

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this post contains affiliate links. If you click any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought. Thanks so much for supporting me and my blog! (Click here for more info.)

Please note: Like the title suggests, this is a spoiler-filled review. If you don’t want to be spoiled, click here to read some of my more recent posts!

I should probably just come right out and say it: I freaking loved this book.

If you have read any of my last couple reviews, you’ll know that I haven’t really enjoyed any of the last books I’ve read — and honestly, that was putting me in a real reading rut. That’s why I was so excited when I started reading Nice Try, Jane Sinner, because it was captivating right from the start. 


First things first, we meet the wonderfully funny 17-year-old Jane Sinner, the book’s aptly named main character who has a lot going on: she is in her senior year of high school (in Canada) when she gets expelled over an apparent suicidal episode. She soon finds herself in the midst of what can only be described as an existential crisis; she was raised wholeheartedly youth-group Christian, and is now questioning her beliefs.

After being expelled from high school, Jane decides to finish up her required classes at a local community college, where she plans to later continue her education in psychology. At the community college, she becomes involved in a reality TV show called “House of Orange,” which kind of reminds me of an MTV reality show but with only 6 stars, less cussing, and less pointless drama.

Jane and her new co-stars are put up to a variety of challenges by the House of Orange (HOO) producers, and one of them gets “voted off the island” by their peers every few weeks. HOO becomes wildly popular in the area, but somehow not popular enough for Jane’s parents to find out about it until about halfway through the book.

Jane also has a devotion to her high school best friend, Bonnie, who remains in the back of her mind as a little subplot, as well as a connection with her little sister, Carol, who seemed to have taken Jane’s suicidal episode worse than anyone else.

So now you know the basics. Here’s what I thought:

Firstly, I loved that NTJS was written in such a unique style. The book is basically Jane’s diary, so we get to see her innermost thoughts, but there is still dialogue, which is formatted sort of like a screenplay would be.

I couldn’t get enough of that.

I felt like I got through the book so quickly because I didn’t have to deal with pesky dialogue tags around every corner, plus, the 17-year-old mindset of Miss Sinner kept the book’s voice youthful and humorous. It’s been a long time since I read a truly funny book.

I also loved how real the book was.

A lot of times, authors (particularly YA authors) try to throw in modern slang and buzz words — and when it’s an adult writer writing YA, that can be problematic. And awkward.

This wasn’t the case with this book. In just the first few pages, the author, Lianne Oelke, mentioned Facebook and Netflix, but unlike many other authors, it didn’t sound like she was our 50-year-old great aunt trying to “connect” with us youngsters. It was real and raw, and I have so much appreciation for that.

(The only thing I really couldn’t get behind as far as realism goes is how little interaction Jane has with her parents after moving out — and that they even let her move out knowing how the state of her mental health — but I’m attributing that to the fact that we can only see this story through the eyes of Jane, and she very well could just be leaving out the parts involving Mama and Papa Sinner.)

I also couldn’t get enough of Jane’s silly quips — in my notes, I called them “unexpected anti-clichés.” Basically, Jane messes up idioms on purpose: e.g., the domino that broke the camel’s back, or, letting the cat out of the building.

It’s stupid and silly and wonderful. Don’t fight me on it.

Additionally, Oelke writes in her author bio that she works in the film industry, and that’s pretty obvious by her writing style (screenplay-esque dialogue!), and by her sheer knowledge of film production, which was obviously integral to a story about a reality show.

It was honestly refreshing to read an author who knows what she’s talking about. 

This is Oelke’s debut novel, and I can honestly say that I will be picking up anything this woman writes from this moment forward. She’s that good. In fact, she could be the next Meg Cabot. (And I really hope she is! Can someone say movie deals?)

Until then, I’ll probably read Nice Try, Jane Sinner at least once more. Seriously. It’s that good.

I paid for my own copy of this book with my own money.

This article was first published March 12, 2018.

Review: Litsy, the New Photography + Tracking App for Readers

This article was published May 14, 2016. Click here to read my more recent posts.

When I was introduced to this iOS application by a professor of mine, I was intrigued. I had never looked into any social media network that was so new, but despite any apprehension, I decided to just jump in with both feet and try it out.

Continue reading “Review: Litsy, the New Photography + Tracking App for Readers”

My Top 5 Literary Pet Peeves | Here’s What I Absolutely Don’t Want To See In A Book

This article was first published May 9, 2016.

Perhaps it’s because I work with words, but when it comes to personal reading material, I’m beyond picky. I like fast-paced stories full of action and intrigue, and I don’t like the predictions I make while I’m reading to be right.

Of course, I’m often willing to give a book or screenplay a chance if others are ranting are raving—but there are some book-related pet peeves that I simply can’t get over. Here are five features of fiction that drive me totally bonkers:

Continue reading “My Top 5 Literary Pet Peeves | Here’s What I Absolutely Don’t Want To See In A Book”