Book Review: Behind the Lights

Behind the Lights
by Helen Smallbone

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Helen Smallbone is the mother of seven children who are all adults now, three of which are well-known in Christian music—Rebecca St. James and brothers Joel and Luke of for KING & COUNTRY. In this book, she shares the story of her family, from moving from Australia to the US where everyone pitched in to keep them all afloat, to working together to put on Rebecca St. James’s shows once she got into the music industry, and to how for KING & COUNTRY got started.

One of the things I liked about this book was that way it was so conversational, like she’s telling her story in person. And she’s not afraid to talk about the mistakes made by her or anyone else in her family. I appreciate the way she ties every lesson learned into God and the Bible. Though very little of her incredible life is very relatable to me, I was still quite immersed in the book and was carried along with the ups and downs.

I’ve seen hints of at least Joel & Luke’s involvement in Rebecca St. James’s concerts, but the overall story of the entire family working at their oldest sister’s concerts and growing into their roles was the most interesting to me. It gives a lot of insight into what I’ve said since pretty much the first time I saw fK&C in concert—they put on some of the best live shows I’ve ever been to. And now I can see how their talent as performers had early roots. I’m really glad I read this book, and think that fans of Rebecca St. James and/or for KING & COUNTRY will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry (though I was fairly disappointed by some of what I read about that).

Thank you to Netgalley and K-LOVE Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Behind the Lights and for KING & COUNTRY
Publication date: April 12, 2022

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2019

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. First, a quick explanation about my reader-self. I used to read like crazy as a kid, teenager, and maybe the first few years out of high school. I don’t really know when it dropped off, but for most of my adult life, I’ve finished maybe 15 books total.

In the summer this year, I decided that I wanted, and in many ways needed to get back into reading. So I dove in, started building a TBR list that grew scarily fast, started posting reviews on my blog, and haven’t regretted it for one second. I re-discovered my love for reading almost immediately, and enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, how I felt about it, and what I plan to read.

The following list starts with my favorite 4-star reads from this year, then some 4.5-stars, and finally the only books I gave 5 stars to this year. I’m not including re-reads and am lumping series into 1 entry (even if I haven’t finished the series yet).

10. The Summoner Trilogy by Taran Matharu
I enjoyed this trilogy pretty early on. The Harry Potter meets Pokemon vibe was just too fun. Even with the heavy race and class politics and the inescapable brutal war that was looming, I enjoyed all 3 books in this trilogy. There’s a prequel that is billed as book #4, and I have plans to read it some time in the first half of 2020. (See my full review for the first book in the trilogy here.)

9. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’m currently almost halfway through my first reading of this series (finished with #3). Though I can tell I don’t love it as much as the majority of the rest of the world, I have been enjoying it for the most part. It’s possible that what makes it even more fun, though, is following each book with my first viewing of the movie, alongside my husband. It’s interesting to me that only 1 of the 3 I’ve read so far got 4 stars from me–the others were 3.5. And yet, when considering books to add to this list, I did decide that Harry Potter as a whole (so far) was worth putting on the list. (See full reviews for the books I’ve read so far here: book #1, book #2, book #3)

8. Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills
This is the first of 2 ARCs on this list. This book was exactly what I wanted it to be, and considering that it seems like a majority of the ARCs I read this year were busts, I was happy to be able to give this suspenseful romance a higher rating. (See my full review here.)

7. The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
This was another ARC and really surprised me. I loved the idea of reading a book about the advent of Christ from the perspective of the magi that visited Him not long after his birth. This is one that really stuck with me for a while after I read it (probably partly because it was the Christmas season and I saw & heard related things everywhere). (See my full review here.)

6. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I keep recommending this book to people. It was fun and engaging, and I know I will re-read it plenty of times in the future. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think is important to understand, in order to enjoy the book. Also, it’s billed as horror, but it’s not really scary, which doesn’t bother me personally, but may others. (See my full review here.)

5. The Martian by Andy Weir
I’d seen the movie years ago, and more recently a friend strongly suggested that I read the book too. I was so glad that I did, because for as good as the movie was, the book allowed me to feel even more connected to Whatney. Like my friend, I would really suggest that those who’ve seen the movie read the book too. (See my full review here.)

4. Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
Another one where I’ve seen the movie, and didn’t even know it was a book until I happened to see it at a bargain store this summer. With some all-too-real situations and flawed characters, this book is brimming with emotion and depth. I’ll admit that the ending was maybe a bit too easy for the real world, but that’s what fiction is for. (See my full review here.)

3. Lock In by John Scalzi
This was probably my biggest surprise of the year. I remember seeing this book sitting around years ago when my husband was reading it. I thought at the time that I should probably read it, because it was in the same genre as my writing, and even had parallels to my world-building. But being sci-fi, I kinda thought it would be dry and technical (yes, I judged it with a very limited understanding of the literary sci-fi genre). When I finally did read it, I loved it! (See my full review here.)

2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I actually knew nothing about this book or series before reading it. I’ve heard about it practically all my life, but mostly just in name, not with any kind of understanding of what it’s about. I fell in love pretty early in the book though, and by the end, I knew I had to read as much of this series as I could get my hands on, which I’ll be continuing with soon. (See my full review here.)

1. Illusion by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had a lot to say about this book and author recently and don’t want to start repeating myself. This was definitely my favorite book from this year. It was really nice to get a fresh reminder of why Frank Peretti is my all-time favorite author. I’m already looking forward to the next time I read this book. (See my full review here.)

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Book Review: Priceless

Priceless: She’s Worth Fighting For
by Joel & Luke Smallbone

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fiction

Priceless.png

“…you are a pearl of great price. Do not cheapen your own treasure.”

After a terrible accident claimed his wife, and bad choices result in the loss of custody of his daughter, James is desperate to get back on his feet so he can be with his daughter again. With reservation, he takes a cash job driving a truck for a delivery, but before he reaches his destination, he discovers that the cargo is human–two young, Mexican women. He follows through on the delivery, believing he is simply transporting illegal aliens, but at the end of the trip, there is no doubt that these young women are destined for something that no woman should have to be part of. He can’t just return home and leave them to their fate.

While the beginning of the book was a little difficult to get through, and it took some time for me to warm up to James, the overall story, and the message of this book, are well worth the read. I knew the basic story here, having seen the movie when it first came out 3 years ago, but didn’t remember the details, and found myself caught up in it as the story unfolded.

The book starts with the death of James’s wife, and then with his stupid decision to traffic drugs, which promptly lands him in jail. It’s depressing and a little painful to read. I assume it was specifically that way to get James to the point where he’d do almost anything to make some money, especially with the threat of losing custody of his daughter completely, once he’s out of jail. But it still took some time and deliberate plodding through to get to the beginning of the real story–when he discovers the women in the truck. Again I say, it’s worth it.

The writing could be better, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I can live with some weak sentences and a slightly confusing line now and then for something so important. The heart of this story was to shed light on the sex trafficking that is far too prevalent in the shadows in our world. Seeing what these women go through in various stages of being forced into prostitution is heartbreaking and really makes you root for James and his new friend Dale.

Speaking of Dale–he’s my favorite character in the book, but to be honest, I don’t know if I would have loved him quite so much if I didn’t remember him from the movie, played so well by David Koechner. Still, he is a great friend and helper to James, and it is mainly Dale who infuses the spark of faith in God back into James. While the Christianity presented in the book isn’t very strong, I think it comes across clearly enough, especially near the end.

I am not the most emotional person, but during the last 2 chapters, I think I cried more than I ever have over a book before. The message of the book can be summed up with this quote: “…there’s a God who knows exactly what you’re worth…” It was basically everything I would have wanted for an ending to this story. Sadly, it doesn’t end this way for most women in similar situations to this.

I definitely recommend this book for Christians to read, but really, for anyone who has a daughter, sister, or any female friends or relatives…or is a female herself. It really carries past the sex trade and into our everyday lives, affecting how we see ourselves, and how we value ourselves and feel we should be valued.

Find out more about Priceless and Joel & Luke (for King and Country)
Listen to “Priceless,” the song (it’s a shortened version and the video is a little spoilery, but the best one I could find on YouTube)

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

He/she is worth fighting for.

(Today’s prompt is the subtitle of the book I’m currently reading, Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone.)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

NaNoWriMo Day 22

The Words: 109 words written today. Today was another full one, with checking out of the hotel, a nice lunch, and then waiting in line for a concert. We stood out in the cold for 2 hours. My toes were in a lot of pain by the time the doors opened. I originally thought I could write by hand in a small notebook to pass the time while waiting in line. Turns out I couldn’t do much but bounce on my feet trying to stay warm. When we first arrived at the place where the concert was, though, we decided to wait in the car until the line started forming. That was when I wrote 109 words.

My goal since finishing my first novel has been 3333 words per day, to try to reach 100k this month. These last two low days have fortunately not derailed me, because I had such a lead on that goal, I’m actually right around par now. So tomorrow I should be able to start writing more normally again.

The Story: There was some narrative about how Jonathan’s apprentice is more like an assistant, not an officially recognized apprentice. Jonathan himself isn’t really ready to have an apprentice yet, but when he let a member of his War Games team who was also a blacksmith help him in the shop, the team gave him the title “apprentice,” so that’s what he’s called. Or something. I was just trying to find something to write about, so I may have rambled a bit.

Total word count: 74,809

Don’t forget to check out today’s NaNoToons if you haven’t already: 2015 – November 22nd

Seeds for NaNoWriMo Part 2

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

Below are today’s ideas to produce seeds for NaNoWriMo (or any writing project). Remember: the point is not to develop an entire plot. It’s simply to create inspiration. Write what is suggested for each numbered item, or whatever else may come to your mind. Then set that aside for now and do another one.

setting 4

1. Write a detailed setting based on the above picture. Try to include all five senses. Whatever your instincts or preferences for setting and detail, try to over-exaggerate the scene. Write it however you’re comfortable–with a person there to experience it, from a first-person perspective, or simply describe it from a distance.

2. Look over the following list of words and write a few paragraphs using as many of them as you can:
loquacious, truculent, dudgeon, jocund, crotchety, disconsolate, ambivalent

event 4

3. Write a scene from this image. What’s going on in this picture? Who are these people and what have they been doing on that stage? What is the atmosphere like? The excitement, the energy in the room? How does it feel to be at this event? What will happen next?

4. Take a walk around your block or down your street. Look for things you’ve never noticed before; pay attention to every little detail. When you get back, write down anything that stuck out to you, anything you may want to remember, be it about people, sights, or even sounds that you noticed on the walk.

people 4

5. Write about these two people. What are their names? What are they doing or talking about? What is their relationship to each other? How do they feel in this picture and why? Be specific.

6. Go back through all of the previous activities and make them all fit together. This doesn’t mean that they all have to somehow be worked into the same scene, or even the same day within the story. But find some way to connect them all to each other, some story that would encompass them all. Then write the synopsis (as broad or specific, long or short as you need it to be) that involves all five previous elements.

You do not have to stick with what you already wrote for any of the activities (except maybe for number 4); you can go different directions with any of them to make them fit together.


Though none of these seeds, or the ones that I still plan to post, lend themselves specifically to speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.), that doesn’t mean they are unusable if you plan to write in that genre. Most of the ideas that you will produce will be easily adaptable to another world. If you’re considering writing something in the speculative fiction realm and don’t already have a world to set it in, you may try this site, or look online for other sites that would help. I have built exactly one world, and I’m still not done tinkering with it. I have little to offer in the way of advice in this area.

Other posts like this one: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 26, 2015

Words/Time: None. For the first time all month, I did not a single bit of writing work today. Not on my story, not for Camp NaNo, not even for this blog (besides right now, but this doesn’t count). Normally I just don’t post if I do nothing, but today wasn’t a lazy day, it was a full day. Up very early, nap in the afternoon, then a 90-minute drive for a concert with my family. To be honest, I’m mostly just posting because I was so close to posting every day in July that I didn’t want a day with no chance to work to ruin it. And to share this picture:

fK&C Elkhart 056

for KING & COUNTRY in Elkhart, IN

Daily Challenge Check-in: January 23, 2015

Words: 810 writing. Nothing story relating, just some free-writing. I had kind of a down day today, so I found it therapeutic to just write in a notebook some of what’s been on my mind lately. I listened to the newest album from for KING & COUNTRY while doing so, and it is wonderful. This kind of writing is not something I do often, but it was kind of nice. And it counts for the challenge.