Title: Greenlights

Author: Matthew McConaughey

Publisher: Random House Audio

Synopsis: I’ve been in this life for 50 years, been trying to work out its riddle for 42, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last 35. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.

Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges - how to get relative with the inevitable - you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights”. So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is 50 years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops. Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears. It’s a love letter. To life. It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights - and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green, too. Good luck.

Review: Alright. Alright. Alright. What’s better than reading Matthew McConaughey’s biography? I’ll tell you. It’s listening to the Oscar-winning actor share his life story without a filter.

I wanted a break from fantasy fiction, and I needed some positive vibes, so I downloaded Greenlights on Audible. Curious, I pressed play. Within minutes, the intro had me hooked. McConaughey’s soothing voice warmed my soul like a crackling fire on a winter’s night. His “bumper stickers” moments gave me the pick me up I needed, and his kernels of advice burned bright.

Yes, there’s adult language, yes, there’s flowery prose, and yes, there were parts that rubbed me the wrong way…but I appreciated every second of McConaughey’s fascinating memoir. His raw and honest retelling took me on a wild ride. Live under the hand of a stern but loving father. Check. Build a giant tree house in record time. Check. Stay sane while living in Australia with overbearing strangers. Check. Discover one's destiny in wet dreams. Check. Yep. He talks about those too. Getting arrested—naked. Check. Bongos anyone? The list goes on and on. McConaughey’s colorful journey will keep Hollywood enthusiast entertained for hours, especially those who enjoy a hot cup of celebrity tea.

Matthew McConaughey is one of my favorite actors. I might not agree with all of his political and social views, but I respect his craft as an actor and an author. If you enjoy peering into the mind of celebrities, I highly recommend listening to this audiobook.

Triggers/Warnings: adult language

Plot: 5/5

Pacing: 4/5

Escapism Factor: 4/5

Emotional Connection: 4/5

Character Development: 5/5

Star Rating:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Completed Read: July 2021

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Title: Empire of the Vampire

Author: Jay Kristoff

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Synopsis: From holy cup comes holy light; The faithful hand sets world aright. And in the Seven Martyrs’ sight, Mere man shall end this endless night. It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness. Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order could not stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains. Imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope: The Holy Grail.

"A career defining moment for Kristoff. Prepare thyself for a mind-blowing masterpiece that makes you question...everything." J.M. Buckler award-winning author of the SEEKER OF TIME trilogy.

Review: This is a review for the ARC I received from the author.

YOU. ARE. NOT. READY. Hello, book hangover. I tried. I tried picking up another novel after finishing this mind-blowing escape, but nothing satiates my hunger. Ironic? Perhaps. I guess the joke’s on me. Thanks a lot, Mr. Kristoff. ;-) I refuse to explain the irony behind said statement because spoilers are NOT an option. One must explore this book without breadcrumbs. Trust me, Empire of the Vampire does not disappoint. Now, on to my review.

Words that accurately describe my experience while reading Empire of the Vampire: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust, and contempt. Author Kristoff’s stunning prose and captivating characters allow the reader to process the seven human emotions while immersed in a terrifying new world. Satanic villains lurk in the darkness, devoted followers fight the good fight, and morally grey characters question their faith and existence.

Our protagonist, though some may beg to differ, Gabriel De Leon, is unlike any character I’ve ever read. The silversaint’s internal battle pulled at my heartstrings while making me want to throw the book across the room. Once faithful and now faithless, De Leon’s spiritual journey was moving yet unnerving. Kristoff did a phenomenal job at diving into the mind of a man who longs for a tarnished badge of honor.

The secondary characters were unforgettable. Aaron, Dior, Chloe, Greyhand, the Beast of Vellene: the list goes on and on. Kristoff did not sideline these key players. They were integral pieces of De Leon’s journey, both internally and externally. I was so attached to Aaron and Dior that, at times, I literally had heart palpitations while reading.

Empire of the Vampire's pacing was utter perfection. I loved switching back and forth between before and present day. Each chapter left me on a subtle cliffhanger while the end of each book left me gasping. I couldn’t stop reading. I kept looking for excuses to crack open the book and fly threw another chapter.

Will this book piss off a few Christian readers? Absolutely. The Christian undertones are STRONG and blatantly obvious. But here’s the thing, Kristoff has never shied away from towing the line. He keeps that trend going in EoTV. If I had to take a guess, I would imagine De Leon’s spiritual dilemma is very near to Kristoff’s heart. That was a breadcrumb, folks.

Here’s the thing, every reader will have a different opinion, and that’s okay. It’s a fantasy novel. It’s not Kristoff’s job to explain each word or religious reference. I’m a Christian and I devoured this book whole. Regardless of one’s devotion, it’s normal for humans to question their faith. The raw and emotional account of this in EoTV hit every mark, creating an authentic reflection of the human struggle.

Should I discuss Kristoff’s prose? Yes, yes, I will. As a fellow writer, I’m constantly searching for books that will help elevate my craft. Empire of the Vampire is THAT book. I NEVER re-read books…ever…until now. EoTV was an educational experience. In my humble opinion, Kristoff’s prose is the gold standard in today’s literature. His words paint beautiful yet grotesque pictures simultaneously without adding unnecessary fluff to the narrative. His varying sentence structure is noteworthy. The smooth ebb and flow eliminates undesired lulls.

Honestly, I could gush all day about this masterpiece. Empire of the Vampire has moved into the top position of my 2021 reads, and I don’t see that number dropping soon. So, do yourself a favor and pre-order this book...NOW. This is Kristoff’s Oscar nomination, his career defining moment. You don’t want to miss out.

Triggers/Warnings: adult language, graphic content, graphic sexual content, violence, torture

Plot: 5/5

Pacing: 5/5

Escapism Factor: 5/5

Emotional Connection: 5/5

Character Development: 5/5

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Completed Read: May 2021

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Title: Kingdom of the Wicked

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson

Synopsis: Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe - witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family's renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin...desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister's killer and to seek vengeance at any cost-even if it means using dark magic that's been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked-princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia's side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women's murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems...

Review: This is a review for the Kingdom of the Wicked audio book I listened to on Audible. I’ll be honest, the narrator’s performance outshined the characters and plot. At first, the captivating premises intrigued me. A witch finds her twin brutally murdered. Desperate for answers, she makes a deal with a Wicked-prince of Hell who wants nothing to do with her. Kingdom of the Wicked had the makings for a steamy novel with my favorite enemies to lovers troupe, but it fell flat. Really flat. :-(

The writing held my attention until Lust came along. After a bizarre, drawn out scene, the steady pacing dragged, and the plot twists were no longer twists, for I predicted each one with little effort. The side characters lacked substance. Nana had so much potential. I wanted to learn more about her story. She had so much knowledge about Emillia and the prophecy but kept it hidden until the end. Huh? Why? At the beginning of the novel, Nana had a powerful voice, then suddenly she went on the back burner without any explanation. Emillia’s parent’s felt like lack luster stand-ins in a B rated movie, and the predictable villain’s actions were so out of character I had to read the reveal twice to make sure I missed nothing.

I did enjoy the sexual tension, but I wanted MORE. I cared only for Wrath and Emillia. The other characters kept hitting my snooze button. Perhaps book one is setting up the reader for some juicy tension in book two. One can only hope.

Author Maniscalco’s writing has definitely improved since her debut novel, Stalking Jack the Ripper. She left out the fluff and focused on impactful scenes which I really appreciated. Her visual and sensory descriptions were fantastic. I craved Italian food each time I opened the book. Did I want to reach out and touch Wrath's tattoos? Yes, yes I did. ;-)

I will continue reading this series because of Wrath and Wrath alone. I’m excited to see how he behaves in his own world.

Triggers/Warnings: violence, disturbing imagery

Plot: 3/5

Pacing: 4/5

Escapism Factor: 3/5

Emotional Connection: 3/5

Character Development: 3/5

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Completed Read: May 2021

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