Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Reading Wrap-Up

Hello, all!

We did it, friends. 2020 is finally coming to an end after lasting two million years. This was definitely a trying year for everyone, but the one bright spot was that it was my most productive reading year ever. I managed to read 280 books this year, which is just crazy to me and a number I don’t know if I’ll ever hit again. (Well, who knows, if this quarantine stays in place, maybe!)

As always, I used GoodReads to track my reading (feel free to add me on there!), so here’s a little look back at my stats. I always find it interesting to see what my average rating for the year is. I felt I read a lot of 4/5 star books this year, so I thought it would be slightly higher, but it ended up being about the same as it was last year.

Speaking of high ratings, let’s get into some of my favorites from this year.  Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if any are on your list to read:

-Kings of the Wyld- Nicholas Eames: This was a hilarious fantasy romp following a group of mercenaries who used to be the most fearsome band but who are now way past their prime, but something happens forcing them to dust off their weapons and head out for one more quest.
-My Favorite Half-Night Stand- Christina Lauren: You all know my love of Christina Lauren books. They’re always just so fun and this one about a woman falling for one of her best guy friends through a dating app was no exception.
-The Happy Ever After Playlist- Abby Jimenez: After the death of her fiancĂ©, Sloane can’t get her life back on track, but then a dog literally falls into her lap and his handsome owner might be just the thing she needs to feel alive again. This is a companion novel to The Friend Zone, but I actually read this before that one and it was still easy enough to follow.
-Beach Read- Emily Henry: Neighbors January and Gus are both writers but couldn’t be more opposite. She writes romance, and he’s more hard-hitting fiction. They decide to try out each other’s genres to cure their respective writers’ block, and adorableness ensues.
-The Song of Achilles- Madeline Miller: This is a breathtaking telling of Achilles and the Trojan War and it completely broke me.
-The Tourist Attraction- Sarah Morgenthaler: A cute quirky girl falling for a grumpy diner owner in a small Alaskan town? Sign me up.
-The Diviners- Libba Bray: This is the first book in a historical fiction/mystery/supernatural series that I put off for way too long and am now kicking myself for. The 1920s New York setting really adds to the grimy feel of the story and the writing is top-notch.
-The House in the Cerulean Sea- TJ Klune: I don’t think I’ve ever read such a heartwarming or charming book. Everything about this was magical and I loved every second of it.
-Thunderhead- Neal Shusterman: This is the second book in the Arc of a Scythe series which I binged this year and it blew my mind.
-A Song of Wraiths and Ruin- Roseanne A. Brown: Two characters who are unknowingly trying to kill one another? A competition element? And ancient magic? Yes, please.
-The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue- V.E. Schwab: I will probably never stop gushing over this gorgeous book.
-Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood- Sarah J. Maas: Obviously, this one was going to be on here. I’m forever trash for whatever SJM brings out.

I also thought it might be fun to include some reading goals for 2021:

-Read 150 books: I always tend to set my reading goal very low and then surpass it in a few months, so I figured I’d be a bit more realistic this time.
-Read more Non-Fiction: I don’t usually gravitate towards non-fiction, but I read a few memoirs this year which I enjoyed, so I want to continue that in the coming year.
-Read more books on my shelves: I want to cut down on the unread books I have on my shelves, so I want to read at least one a month.
-Cut down on my Netgalley requests: It’s so easy to request every e-ARC that slightly interests me, but then all of a sudden I have 20 books to review and then I get stressed, so I only want to request books I really want to read.

I also want to shake up my reading tracking for 2021. Aside from GoodReads, I also use a bullet journal where I break down by month what audio books, e-books, and physical books I read. I want to be able to take that info and include it into my yearly wrap-ups as well, but unfortunately, my brain is hardwired to turn to mush when it comes to numbers, so I went on the hunt for something else to use that would track that for me and I found it! I stumbled across this reading log by Book Riot which is essentially a Google sheets doc where you input all the information for whatever you’re reading (title, format, length, author info, etc), and then it will convert all that into percentages and pie charts. I’m really excited to try this out and get an even better breakdown of my reading habits.

Let me know how your reading year went, what some of your favorites were, and if you use anything to track your reading as well! Have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

December OwlCrate Review

Hello, all!

The theme for this month was "Love is a Battlefield" and let's get right into it.

I'm always freezing, so these Serpent & Dove inspired leg warmers are going to come in handy. These were designed by @paperbackbones, and I like how the only bookish part of these are the buttons, so even if you're not the biggest fan of the book, you can still get use out of these.

I've said before that I'm not a fan of woodsy scents, so I found this Of Fire and Stars inspired hand creme by Fiction Bath Company to be slightly too strong, but I do like the packaging.

I love how OwlCrate adds in these wooden ornaments by Juniper and Ivy Designs every year! This one was inspired by The Wrath and the Dawn, which I've never read, but I still really like this and I'm excited to add it to my collection.

I've been getting more into puzzles during this year, so now I can add this one designed by Tiara L'Hommedieu with characters from An Ember in the Ashes into my rotation as well!

I don't know about you all, but I tend to bake a lot more during the holidays, so this little rolling pin designed by Michelle Gray was fun to get. The etchings are inspired by Spinning Silver which I haven't read that so I'm not entirely sure what they're supposed to be, but it's cute nonetheless.

The book this month was These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. This is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai, so it's filled with rival gangs, star-crossed lovers...and monsters? I've heard a lot of hype around this, so I'm interested to see how it plays out.

This edition also came with this beautiful artwork on the reverse of the dust jacket which was a really nice touch.

Let me know what you thought of this months box!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Top 5: Christmas Songs

Hello, all and Happy Holidays!

I haven't done a Top 5 in a while, and since I genuinely love Christmas music, I thought I'd do another list of some favorites. 

1. "Underneath the Tree"- Kelly Clarkson: I didn't even know Kelly Clarkson had a Christmas album until last year, and that is criminal on my part since this song is such a jam.

2. "One More Sleep"- Leona Lewis: I listen to a lot of Spotify Christmas playlists during this time of year, and this one always seems to be on it and I just think it's so fun and catchy.

3. "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"- *Nsync: What girl growing up in the '90s didn't have this Christmas album? It's essential.

4. "Run Rudolph Run"-Chuck Berry: I'm dancing from the second this starts to the moment it's over. This has been one of my faves since I was young and I have to play it at least 50 times during the holidays.

5. "Fairytale of New York"- The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl: Now, unfortunately, some of the lyrics of this song are not the best, but this is one that I think plays in pretty much every Irish household during this time of year.

Let me know some of your favorite holiday songs!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Got Bit By the Redecorating Bug

Hello, all!

I don't know about anyone else, but after quarantining for 9 months now, I've gotten pretty sick of staring at the same four walls all day everyday. When I first started working from home back in March, I did everything in my room. I'd work at my desk during the day, and then move to my bed afterwards to watch TV or read, so things got old real quick.

I decided a few things then: 1. I had to find somewhere else to work (I've since moved to my dining room), and 2. My room needed a spruce up. So, I've slowly been trying to revamp. I started with new bedding, then a new bookcase and record storage, and a few new fake plants (I really wish I could get real plants, but alas, I was cursed with a black thumb).

My next step is decor, so I was super excited to get to work with Photowall for this post. (Big thank you to them!) Photowall is a wonderful site that has everything from wall murals and wallpaper to canvas prints and posters. They have such a vast collection of designs so there's sure to be something for everyone. 

I love a print, so I was instantly drawn to that section. There were so many to chose from, but once I saw this Elton John one I knew that was it. I love how minimalistic it is and "Tiny Dancer" is one of my all-time favorite songs. I also think it pairs well with this Parlour Tattoo Prints Johnny Cash print I've had for years.

There's options on the site to get your print framed, but I opted to do it myself since I like all my prints to have the same frames, but they did look like really nice quality. Since there's so many different sections to peruse, I think these would make the perfect gift for anyone in your life. The prices are also super reasonable. You can check out their site here (if you use the code 'nerdybynatureblog2020' you can also get 25% off!), and once again, huge thank you to them for working with me!

Has anyone else been updating their spaces during quarantine? If so, let me know what you've done!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Most Anticipated Book Releases of 2021

Hello, all!

I’ve always seen other people do their most anticipated releases for the coming year, and I thought it might be fun to throw mine into the mix as well. I’m going to try not going too in-depth because I don’t want to bombard you all (I know it's already a lot-- sorry!), but I will link to their GoodReads page if you want to check them out. Some are coming out in the latter half of 2021, so there wasn't a ton of info out yet, but I still wanted to include them. Also, I categorized this based off the release dates listed on GoodReads, but we know with COVID that things can change at any moment. I'm also sure there's a ton more I'm missing, but this is what I'm going with for now.

Let me know if anything catches your eye or if any of these are on your list as well!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Well Played Review

Hello, all!

One of my favorite reads last year was Well Met by Jen DeLuca (you can read my review here), so it's no surprise the follow up, Well Played, was one of my most anticipated releases this year. 

Pub Date: 9-22-20
Adult - Contemporary

While all of Stacey's friends are getting engaged or popping out babies, she's stuck working a mindless job and living in an apartment over her parent's garage. This was definitely not how she pictured her late-twenties to be. She thought she'd be a big shot in the fashion world by now, living in a crowded city, but when her Mom became ill she threw away her plans and laid down roots in her small town. Willow Creek isn't all bad, though. In fact, some of Stacey's best memories come from working the taverns at the local Renaissance Faire every year. It doesn't hurt that she's spent the last two summers hooking up with the hottest guitar player, Dex MacLean, either.

However, this year, Stacey vows to make a change. She wants something more than just a hook-up; she wants the real thing. But could Dex be that person for her? One night, she drunkenly sends him an email, and to her surprise, he replies with words so tender and well-written that Stacey is beyond shocked. Who knew Dex felt this way for her? This sets off a year's worth of emails and texts that gradually get more and more flirty as the months leading up to the Faire grow closer. Stacey can't wait to finally come face-to-face with this new Dex, but she quickly learns the man she's been falling for isn't Dex at all.

Like I said, I really loved Well Met, so I was excited to be back in this world with these characters. I had high expectations going into this book, and while I did enjoy it, I didn't think it was as good as I was hoping. Stacey's a fun character to follow, she's bubbly and upbeat, but she also has these insecurities that she tries to hide from everyone. I'm not usually one for a catfishing scenario, but I actually liked the relationship she and Daniel built over their communications, and how it helped them develop a deeper connection. Speaking of Daniel, I thought he was just adorable. He's super sweet and thoughtful and he and Stacey meshed well together. I will admit, I do wish there were more real-life interactions between them to really sell the relationship because at times it didn't feel wholly believable, and I also think the story would've benefitted more with having less of Emily and Simon because they almost overtook the plot at points. Other than that, this was still a fun book and can't wait for the next one.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Feeling Festive Tag

Hello, all!

So Michelle over at A Geek Girl's Guide has done it again with the tags! She created one for the holiday season, and it was too fun for me to pass up. Be sure to head over to her page to see her answers as well!

When does it officially feel like the holidays for you?

Usually right after Thanksgiving is when I shift into holiday mode.

Do you have any traditions for the holidays?

I always have to watch A Muppets Christmas Carol as many times as possible, and I bake a lot more.

What foods do you associate with the holidays?

Cookies! I used to do what I dubbed "Heather's Baking Bonanza" where I would bake for days straight for all of my friends.

What’s your favorite holiday treat?

I really love a Snickerdoodle hot chocolate from Starbucks.

What’s your favorite holiday activity?

Watching tons of Christmas movies.

Do you decorate for the holidays?

Of course! I didn't go as all out as usual this year, but I still put up a few things around the house.

How do you spend Christmas Eve?

I used to spend it with my Dad's side of the family, but now it's usually just a low key night at home. I also always have to watch A Christmas Story since it's on a 24 hour marathon.

How do you spend Christmas Day?

With my Mom and brother. We do gifts in the morning, then my brother and his wife go to her family, and my Mom and I do dinner.

Here are the questions if you want to do the tag as well!

When does it officially feel like the holidays for you?

Do you have any traditions for the holidays?

What foods do you associate with the holidays?

What’s your favorite holiday treat?

What’s your favorite holiday activity?

Do you decorate for the holidays?

How do you spend Christmas Eve?

How do you spend Christmas Day?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Ready Player Two Review

Hello, all!

Oh, you guys, this one is gonna hurt. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is one of my favorite books, so I was very wary when I heard there was going to be a sequel. I went into Ready Player Two with low expectations because I honestly didn't think it could touch the first book, and yet the betrayal I felt when I finished was still so real.

Pub Date: 11-24-20
Adult - Sci-Fi

When Wade Watts won James Halliday's Easter egg hunt, his life changed forever. He went from a poor kid from the Stacks to a multibillionaire within moments. He and the rest of his friends in the High Five became co-owners of the OASIS, the virtual reality utopia where everyone spends their time. As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and Wade may not be up for the challenge. 

Days after the contest, Wade stumbles upon one of Halliday's personal vaults and makes a massive discovery. He not only finds a technological advancement that is sure to change their world forever but also another riddle that will once again send him questing through the OASIS. But this hunt is definitely unlike the first. Wade will soon discover this one is way more sinister and he'll have to face a dangerous rival who has no problem killing millions to get what he wants. It's not only the fate of the OASIS hanging in the balance, but the lives of Wade, everyone he loves, and the whole of humanity itself.

From the moment this book was announced, I knew there was no need for it, and I firmly stand by that. Ready Player One ended in such a great way that it was unnecessary to return to this world. Wade is like an entirely different character. He's no longer that loveable underdog you want to root for, but kind of a jerk who alienated himself from everyone he knew but acted like it was their fault. Besides the character issues, the plot itself was also very much like the first book. There was another scavenger hunt with another prize at the end, but this time with ten times as many pop culture references shoved down your throat. I'm normally a huge fan of pop culture references, but this time Cline went way too overboard so it felt like the story couldn't breathe on its own. Then you had the ending which was so cringe I thought my eyeballs were going to fall out of my head from how hard I was rolling them. The only reason I didn't rate this lower was that there were some fun bits, but ultimately, I'm going to pretend this doesn't exist. 

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Kingdom of the Wicked Review

Hello, all!

I've been a big fan of Kerri Maniscalco ever since I read her Stalking Jack the Ripper series, so I've been eagerly awaiting her latest release, Kingdom of the Wicked. It definitely has a bit of a darker vibe, but I'm so here for it.

Pub Date: 10-27-20
YA - Fantasy

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria have grown up listening to their grandmother's tales of demons and princes of Hell. The twins have never fully believed in the dangers of these stories, but being witches themselves, have still taken every precaution to hide their abilities from those in their Italian town who would wish to bring them harm. After a brutal string of murders occur where young witches have been found with their hearts ripped out, Emilia is more on edge than ever. When Vittoria misses dinner service at their family's restaurant, Emilia goes in search and finds her twin's body desecrated in the local monastery. Beside herself with grief and seeking revenge, Emilia does the one thing her grandmother always warned them about: she summons a demon.

Believing her summoning spell would bring forth a low-level demon, Emilia is shocked when instead she gets Wrath, one of the seven Wicked princes of Hell her grandmother has specifically told them to avoid. Wrath claims to be on Emilia's side and has his reasons for tracking down who's been murdering witches, but Emilia can't put aside this nagging feeling in her gut that something is wrong. The pair strike a deal to work together, and soon Emilia discovers a warmth to Wrath she wasn't expecting, but like she's been told since she was young, the Wicked are not always what they seem. Despite her misgivings, Emilia will do whatever it takes to avenge her sister, even if that means losing her soul in the process.

I really enjoy Maniscalco's writing, so I was looking forward to this one and it was so fun! This had a lot going for it: the setting was amazing, all the mentions of food had my mouth watering the entire time; the characters were well-developed and I loved Emilia and Wrath together, their banter was my favorite part; and most of all, the story itself was engaging. I loved the idea of a witch and a prince of Hell having to work together to solve a mystery. They had such a slow burn-will-they-won't-they thing happening and I couldn't get enough. That said, I did have a few issues with this. For one, it was a bit obvious who was behind the mystery itself so the big reveal at the end didn't have as much of an impact. Another thing was I found Emilia's grandma to be so frustratingly vague about their background to where it was detrimental to Emilia. So many moments could've gone better had she just been straight up with Emilia. Aside from that, I was still fully invested in this and can't wait to see what the next one has in store.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Astonishing Life of August March Review

Hello, all!

I was browsing the shelves of my library the other day, and I randomly picked up The Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson. I had never heard of it before, but I liked the cover, so I thought I'd give it a go. Friends, let me tell you, it was the best decision I've made in a while.

Pub Date: 4-7-20
Adult - Historical Fiction

August March came into this world under the most absurd of circumstances. His actress mother gave birth to him in between acts of a play and promptly left him in a basket in her dressing room before heading off to Hollywood. Found amongst the dirty clothes, he was taken in by the theater's aging laundress, Miss Butler, who would tend to him in between her duties but would leave him at the end of every workday to fend for himself. Along with Miss Butler, August found companionship in Sir Reginald Percyfoot, an actor who took August under his wing and taught him everything he knew (which wasn't much), but who also did so when it was convenient for him. Living in a theater proved to have a profound effect on August. Hidden in nooks and crannies, he was able to recite Shakespeare before the alphabet, his only friends being the rodents he shared a small cramped room with, but August soon wanted more.

When his beloved theater/home is demolished, August is forced to roam the streets of a post-war New York City, pick-pocketing whatever he could to survive. The next few years of August's life are a blur of stealing, booze, and women until finally Sir Percyfoot finds him and sends him to a posh boarding school to try and make him fit for the life he deserves. As August grows into a man, he starts to long for all the things he never had: a family, a home, someone to love. Then he crosses paths with a beautiful conwoman named Penny, and things may finally be looking up for August March. But is what they have real or the ultimate dupe?

I didn't know much about this going in, and I think that made me enjoy it even more. It's so surprisingly charming and slightly bizarre. You follow August through his life from a feral child living in a theater to a pretentious boarding school brat to an adult conman/thief, and while most of the time he's a snob with a high opinion of himself, you still can't help but love him. He's ridiculous in the best way. Aside from August, the rest of the cast of characters was enjoyable and also slightly over the top. I liked him and Penny together and how their lives had been entwined from a very early age. This is all about a young man trying to make the most of a bad hand he was dealt, and it's done so in a highly entertaining way. It's witty and funny and sad at times, but overall an amusing tale.

Rating: 4/5