10 January 2019

I Did Not Even Exist!

Before I get into the review, I just wanted to share one of my New Year's resolutions with you guys: to read 20 books by the end of the year. That may not seem like much, but I've only just gotten back into reading regularly, and even though I don't have kids yet, my life is pretty busy! So, I think that's a good goal.  :)

For my first book of the year, I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now, I know I just did a review on The Sociopath Next Door, which can be sort of a lot to take in, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn't exactly the warm and fuzzy book most of us would want to read after reading about sociopaths. But, I literally just grabbed whatever book was next on my bookshelf, and this was it. So, here we go!

Image result for Dr. jekyll and mr hyde book, signet classic

The very first time I read this story was at my grandparent's house in Florence, Oregon. At that time, I didn't really understand much of the deeper meaning behind this story. Back then, it was the book that brought about the classic scary story: a scientists who creates some sort of medicine or potion that turns him into a monster. Since Stevenson penned this story, it's become an iconic mystery plot that we all know, even if we haven't ever read the book!

The gist of the story is just as I described: Dr. Jekyll is a respected, honorable doctor in London who creates a concoction of drugs that, when ingested, changes his form and even his very being into an evil man, Mr. Hyde. In essence, Dr. Jekyll created a way for his rather bored self to become submissive to a stronger, younger, and more evil desire within him (Mr. Hyde). Dr. Jekyll is a man with morals and honor. Mr. Hyde has neither, and is full of rage, hatred, and manipulation. 

Dr. Jekyll is aware of what Mr. Hyde does when he's 'alive', and the transformation becomes sort of an outlet where Dr. Jekyll can do whatever he wants as Mr. Hyde and get away with it because no one would suspect caring Mr. Jekyll. Eventually, however, Mr. Hyde starts taking over, transforming at will almost, and he is a completely separate person from Dr. Jekyll, only using the doctor's physical frame to keep him alive. At such a point, the doctor exclaims, "I did not even exist!" 

As I read this story, I thought of probably one of the most common interpretations of the plot: the Christian view of letting the inner evil within you take over. You see, Dr. Jekyll's experiment was more out of curiosity: could he physically separate the good and evil inside into two different forms? Once Mr. Hyde was born, it because easier for Dr. Jekyll to transform, to give way to Mr. Hyde. However, at one point, Dr. Jekyll had had enough of Mr. Hyde, and he shut the monster away inside for months. During that time, Mr. Hyde grew impatient and antsy, and when the doctor gave way once again, Mr. Hyde sprang forth with greater rage than before. And so he did every time since until the doctor lost all strength to fight against the monster he created. 

Such can we be if we give way to the evil and temptations we face within ourselves. Giving way to evil out of curiosity or in a seemingly small and harmless way puts that taste in our mouth, gives a hint of what we can do as a 'different person'. Of course, we're not changing forms like Dr. Jekyll did, but we can in essence become a different person, driven by instincts and desires of the evil instead of the good. 

While this is a common and fairly straightforward comparison, I really enjoyed what Dan Chaon discussed in his afterword -- probably because they coincide with what I just read in The Sociopath Next Door. In his afterword, Chaon talks of serial killers, like Jack the Ripper, and how they are a real-life example of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation. You seem, most serial killers don't appear as serial killers. They are usually the friendly, nice guys at work or around the neighborhood (I use guys here just in the example, but I'm not saying that serial killers are only males). That's their Dr. Jekyll mask. Then we find out that they have killed people, and it's almost as if their former identity "did not even exist." 

I'm sorry to use a somewhat graphic example; that's the one Chaon gives in his thoughts. But the same could be for just about anyone, not just serial killers. It could happen on even the slightest of ways when we find out someone did or said something that doesn't seem like them- it's as if, in that moment, their Mr. Hyde took over, that they are not the person we thought because they simply acted as someone else. 

It's an interesting thought, and I hope this Jekyll/Hyde parallel isn't something we run into on a regular basis with ourselves or those around us. We should certainly be who we are, be the same person no matter what, always living by the same morals, ethics, values, standards, etc. If we live a life of double identity, we are bound to come to the same end that Dr. Jekyll did: where one identity takes over the other, and usually it's the more wicked one that wins. A simple solution to avoid all that: just be you, and be good.  :) 

02 January 2019

Bookworm Review: The Sociopath Next Door

Hello, again!

It’s been a while, I know. Like I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading three books for the last little while, so it’s taken me a bit longer to get through at least one. But, I finally did it! And, boy, was it an interesting book.

Today’s book of topic is called The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, Ph.D. A few months back, my sister mentioned that she was reading this book, which she borrowed from my dad. As she told me about it, I got so interested in the topic that I just had to read it when she was done.

Image result for sociopath next door book
First off, Martha Stout is a psychologist, but don’t let that scare you away from reading her book. She writes in a very friendly and easy-to-understand way that helps anyone grasp psychological concepts. While this book is a little more technical in the fact that it’s non-fiction and discusses theories, etc., it is still a fairly easy read. The only reason it took me so long to read is because I’ve been reading two other books at the same time (and I really wanted to take my time with this one to make sure I fully soaked in all the information).

The Sociopath Next Door is a book about, well, sociopaths. Its main topic refers to the chilling fact that one in every 25 Americans is a sociopath. That statistic doesn’t mean much, however, if you don’t understand what a sociopath is and how to avoid or deal with them, which is what Dr. Stout talks about.

I think most of us understand the general concept of a sociopath. To be honest, I can’t quite define what I thought a sociopath was before I read this book because now the only definition I can think of is how Dr. Stout describes a sociopath: someone who has no conscious.

Not only do sociopaths have no conscious, but because they have no conscious, they can do literally anything and everything they want with no sense of guilt or shame or remorse.

That’s a scary thought.

But can someone really be without a conscious? I mean, we’re all given the ability to know right from wrong, right? If so, how does one come to be without conscious? God wouldn’t knowingly create evil in the world by sending some people to Earth without a conscious. So, is having no conscious really real, and if so, how does that happen?

Those are the exact questions Dr. Stout addresses in her book, and she definitely gets the thoughts churning. Yes, it is possible and real that someone can in reality be without a conscious. I know that seems unfathomable -- trust me, I still have a hard time believing that. But that’s part of what it means to have a conscious: it’s hard to imagine someone without it.
(I guess that means I do have a conscious, which is good).

To help us understand where sociopathy comes from, Dr. Stout reviews several theories that psychologists and scientists have tested over the years. The results: up to 50% of what causes sociopathy is genetics. The other 50% is unknown. Some say it could be from culture or lack of, specific home rearing environments, lack of physical touch as an infant… but all of these show that individuals from these situations do not function the same as a sociopath, which means that even though the may seem cold to ‘normal’ people, they still aren’t sociopaths. So, in short, the real reason of where sociopathy comes from is basically unknown.

But, that doesn’t mean we can’t spot a sociopath when we see one or know how to protect ourselves against them. Throughout the book, Dr. Stout gives several examples of sociopaths, and it’s really interesting to see how most of them are integrated into our society as seemingly normal people. It’s because sociopaths are excellent actors. They can pretend to care to the point where people care about them, which then makes it easier for the sociopath to manipulate others. It’s scary thinking that people use our emotions and sympathy towards others as a way to manipulate and get what they want.

And the scariest part: when we start to wonder if something is off, they (the sociopaths) make us feel like we sound crazy. So, we dismiss the thoughts and keep quiet. It’s called getting gaslighted. And that’s how sociopaths stay in control. It’s all a game to them: how much power, how much dominance, how much control can they have before we figure it out (but we’re not smart enough to figure it out, and they’ve got so much control over us that if we did, they’d just manipulate us into keeping our mouths shut…. or so they think).

This is all pretty intimidating and scary stuff-- thinking about how someone could manipulate your life in such a way. But Dr. Stout is determined to show what sociopaths are like so you can recognize them and cut all ties with any you find in your life. By removing yourself from them, you can avoid a lot of heartache, embarrassment, financial loss, and more.

Something I thought was really interesting is the idea of authority. If you think about an authority figure in your life, how likely are you to do what they say simply because you respect them and see them as an authority figure?

Dr. Stout gives the example of the experiment where students were brought into a room and told that the person in the other room had to repeat a list of words without messing up. Should they skip or forget a word, the student would give them a little shock, which would get a little stronger every time. The idea was to test just how far someone would go when being told what to do by an authority figure. Here’s what they found:
  • When the scientist who led the experiment was in the room, in a lab coat, etc. and told the person how high to make the voltage and when to give the shock, they did it the majority of the time.
  • When the scientist was not in a coat and was dressed more casually, people were more likely to stop earlier when they felt it was too far.
  • More educated participants stopped sooner because they felt they were on the same intellectual level as the scientist and thus didn’t have to take his orders.  

The results of this experiment are incredibly terrifying. It shows just how willing we are to go when someone we consider to be an authority figure tells us what to do. Why? According to Dr. Stout, it’s because we each have a conscious and assume all authority figures do, too, which means they won’t really lead us to do something that’s wrong...right?

“When someone is in a role (principal, parent, priest), we assign to the individual the integrity of their role… [this] makes it easy for sociopaths to manipulate.” Because we automatically assume that anyone in an authority role has the intended and assigned integrity, it’s super easy for sociopaths to slip under the radar. As mentioned before, sociopaths are excellent actors, so they can pretend that what they do is all with good intentions and for good causes, and we believe them because of the role they have.

Another important part of this is being able to identify the difference between fear and respect. Typically, when someone is in a position of authority, we assume they deserve our respect because we also assume that they have the intended integrity of their role. However, if we find that our ‘respect’ for someone is more out of a fear of what they do or may do, then that’s not right.

So, if we notice something is off and an authority figure is doing something wrong, or if our respect for an authority figure is actually fear, what do we do? Dr. Stout says to stand up for what you know is right. Point out that what the authority figure is doing is wrong. Once one person stands up against the flow of things, more people are likely to stop and think about what’s actually happening, and revolt against the sociopath and their game.

Characteristics of a sociopath
1. They love pity. Something that was really interesting to me was when Dr. Stout mentioned that she talked with a sociopath after he had been found out. She asked him what was most important to him, what he wanted most out of life. Without hesitation, he said, "Pity." Sociopaths play off of pity to get what they want. They are very charming and seductive, which gets us to like them in the first place. Then, they can use that emotional attachment we've made with them to make us feel pity towards them. As a result, we are more willing to let them, a pitiful person, get away with murder, so to speak.

2. They cannot love. Dr. Stout defines conscious as something that is "deeply and affectingly anchored in our ability to care about one another." "Conscious, and uniquely conscious, can compel us out of our own skins and into the skin of another, or even into contact with the Absolute. It is based in our emotional ties to one another. In its purest form, it is called love."

If conscious is the ability to love and have emotional ties with others, the lack of conscious is also the lack of love and emotional attachments. Even if we may have an emotional attachment to a sociopath, it’s important to note that the sociopath you care for does not reciprocate your feelings in the slightest. Why? Because they have no conscious.

3. They want power and control. Another key characteristic of sociopaths is that they are concerned with gaining power, control, and dominance. No matter how big or small the desired power may be, the control that sociopaths seek is that which makes someone else do something. For the dictator, they make others fight for them; they make others follow and live their rules. For the powerful employee in the office, it's the control that allows them to do something as bad as breaking a secretary's arm for refusing them and still not getting fired simply because they threaten the company's downfall without them. For the stamp thief, it's the simple control of making others jump when they realize they've been robbed.

On perhaps a more relatable level, the control and power that sociopaths seek can come in the form of a father or husband who wants his wife and daughter to be successful in everything, to make certain achievements, and to always look perfect so that he can say he has the best family. It comes from the spouse who always tells you that misunderstandings are your fault, making you feel more insecure about yourself and more easily manipulated into what they want. It’s the co-worker who sleeps with you only to use that secret relationship later to threaten the end of your career if you don’t do what they want.

4. Most sociopaths are not murderers. This fact was surprising to me, but it makes sense. When we think of sociopaths, most of us probably think of murderers simply because those are the sociopaths who get put in the news; those are the ones we hear of. But the reality is that most sociopaths are not murderers, according to Dr. Stout. In fact, most of them are a friend, co-worker, boss, spouse, or family member. That makes it all the scarier and all the more important to be able to recognize and separate yourself from sociopaths.

Covetous Sociopaths
One of the things I thought was most interesting in this book was when Dr. Stout talked about a certain kind of sociopath: the covetous sociopath. Throughout the book, Dt. Stout gives examples of sociopaths and talks about why they act certain ways. Not all sociopaths are the same. Some act out of a desire for power. Others act out because they feel they are superior and smarter than others, and by controlling others and telling them what to do, they show their dominance and superiority. Others, however, do what they do in a sociopathic way simply because they are jealous.

These sociopaths are called covetous sociopaths. Essentially, covetous sociopaths feel that they have been jipped in life. Whether it’s in their looks, their job, their income, etc., covetous sociopaths feel like they haven’t gotten what they deserve. As a result, they target people around them who they feel have what they don’t. By “targeting”, I mean that the covetous sociopath does and says things that will cause their envied friend or co-worker to fail in some way, to feel worse about themselves. By putting others down, the sociopath can feel justified. But unlike normal bullies, covetous sociopaths don’t have a little voice in their head saying when they’ve gone too far. Instead, they do it all with absolutely no remorse for hurting someone emotionally, physically, or mentally. And that means that there is no limit to what they will do to those they target.

I hope all of this talk about conscious-less beings has not scared you, but hopefully it’s made you a little more aware of sociopaths and their dangers. More importantly, I hope it’s made you want to read this book yourself. Seriously, guys. After reading this book and understanding more about what a sociopath is and how common they are, I feel like everyone needs to be able to know and recognize the signs so that they can keep themselves and their loved ones away.

I unfortunately know a handful of people who have had their lives torn apart by those I believe to be a sociopath. Of course, not every tragedy involves a sociopaths, but some do. And I hope we can help each other avoid more of those tragedies. Those who have conscious experience a “strong and steadying sensation of being part of something greater than oneself.” If that’s you, take part in something bigger by helping to protect yourself and your fellow conscious-filled humans.

Or you can get it here.

01 November 2018

Bookworm Book Review: Austenland

Hello, friends.
I have a new book review for you. Woohoo! 😊  Today’s book of choice: Austenland, by Shannon Hale.

Now, before you go and decide to close out this post because you’re not a fan of Jane Austen, let me just start by saying: I’m the same way!! But guess what, this book is absolutely wonderful.
A few years ago, when I was on a study abroad, a lot of my fellow travel mates kept talking about the recent movie Austenland and how hilarious it was. Since then, I meant to find the movie and watch it… but I never did. Then, in late September, I was at a sleepover party with our Young Women’s group, and I mentioned the movie. One of the other leaders said that I should read the book. Not only that, but she had it and let me borrow it!
I’m all about finding new books to read, and when she said that it was really great, so I figured I’d give it a chance. And let me tell you: I'm so glad I read it!! 

Have you ever been or known someone who is obsessed with Jane Austen novels? More specifically, have you or someone you know ever been obsessed with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? Let’s face it- we’ve all dreamt that a handsome, sophisticated man like Mr. Darcy would come into our lives and sweep us off our feet, making us constantly feel like we were the most beautiful and wonderful woman alive. Well, that’s Jane.
No, not Jane Austen. Jane is the main character of Austenland (although the character Jane very well could be a fair portrayal of Austen). Jane is the definition of a woman who is obsessed with Mr. Darcy. She knows it and she’s slightly ashamed by it, but she can’t seem to let it go… even when it ruins every relationship she ever has.
Then, out of nowhere, one of Jane’s relatives pays for her to go to a secluded resort called Austenland: a place where all the men dress in breeches and say things like “Have you ever considered that you might have this all backwards? That in fact you are my fantasy?” and “If I never had to speak with another human being but you, I would die a happy man.”
*Cue the wishful sigh and buckled knees*
As Jane goes through her visit at Austenland, she struggles to master the Regency manners and etiquette, all while flirting with the gentlemen around her (and the actors who play them). She knows everything in this place is fake and a game, yet the longer she’s there, she can’t help but wonder if her being here will cleanse her of her Darcy obsession once and for all… or if she might actually be able to find her own Mr. Darcy.

As a summary, I'm going to list just a few of my favorite things about this book:
  • It is a very quick and easy read; I finished in a matter of days. 
  • It is so funny! There were a few times where I literally laughed out loud, and many more times when I smirked to myself as I read in my work breakroom.
  • I love all of the connections that Hale makes to Jane Austen novels and style. She has a natural way of using satire to create a fun story that also somewhat pokes fun at the classic Jane Austen stories, characters, problems, and romance. 
  • The layout of the book is different and fun. At the start of each chapter, there is a short blurb about one of Jane’s past boyfriends…who, of course, didn’t stay around long because her obsession with Mr. Darcy got in the way. But these little blurbs are unique, and they are a fun way to learn more about the main character.
  • The story is so well told and uses such fun, clever language that I really could not put this book down! I never wanted to stop reading!

If you guys are looking for something that’s just fun and easy to read, Austenland is an excellent choice.

Alrighty! Well, on to the next book. Just so you all know, I am currently reading three different books… at the same time… so, it might be a while before I can actually finish one and write about it. But, just know that I’m still reading, and there are plenty more good books to come!

16 October 2018

Bookworm Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

Hello! It's me again.

And I've got another book checked off my list!

I actually finished this book several weeks ago, but the story and meaning are still fully fresh in my mind, and, honestly, I don't think I'll ever forget the things I pulled from this one.

Tonight's book of discussion: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. And get ready... this is a long one :)

Before reading this story, the only thing I knew about this book was that "the scarlet letter" was the letter A. That's it. I didn't know what is stood for, nor did I have the faintest idea of what this book was about. I never read it as part of my high school English class, but I was excited to finally get to this classic. 

In order to understand the lessons and takeaways from this book, you need to first understand a little bit of the story. I will try to not give away too much. 

The story is set in seventeenth-century Massachusetts in a Puritan community. Hester Prynne is punished for her sinful act of committing adultery, which resulted in her having a baby girl named Pearl. As Hester's punishment, she is imprisoned and, once released, must spend the rest of her days wearing a scarlet A on her clothes over her heart, thus labeling her as an adulterer for the rest of her life. As Hester begins her new life as an alienated woman, her husband appears, whom she thought to be lost at sea. Seeing the outward symbol of his wife's sin, her husband, who goes by the name of Roger Chillingworth, seeks his revenge on her and her lover. Hester refuses to give up the name of her daughter's father, even though it would ease her sentence. As a result, her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, must spend the next seven years secretly confronting his secret within himself. 

I won't go into more detail or explain the end, but I want to give a little history on Puritan beliefs and lifestyle. Puritans were very strict in their beliefs, and their laws actually tended to favor the men. In most cases, if a woman was charged of adultery, she would be whipped, imprisoned, and/or fined. On occasion, she would actually have to wear a scarlet letter on her clothes for the rest of her life. Not only was the woman physically beaten and financially deprived, but she was also emotionally tormented because the entirety of her punishment was in the eye of the public. The Puritans used to punish people in public as a way to "remind" the rest of the community what happens when you go against the law. 


As I read The Scarlet Letter, I couldn't help but wonder why is that a person should be publicly humiliated, disgraced, and cast out for one sin over another? Do we not all sin, just in different ways? 

I thought it interesting how the Puritan leaders felt it appropriate to alienate Hester for her sin when they and everyone else around them were probably sinning in other ways, such as pridefulness, idleness, coveting, and maybe even impure thoughts or desires. (The only difference is that they hadn't acted on those impure desires -- or hadn't been caught -- like Hester.) While I do believe that adultery is a major sin, I do not believe that it should be pointed out and displayed for all to see simply because someone succumbed to a different temptation than you did. 

As I pondered on these thoughts, I realized that I need to make sure that I'm not acting like a Puritan when I learn of someone's mistakes or sins. I have different weaknesses than others, and as such, the adversary will send different temptations my way simply because he knows that I have a greater chance of falling for something I already have a weakness for than something I already strongly refuse. The same goes for everyone else. Should I ever learn of someone else's mistakes, I should not think of them as the Puritans thought of Hester: a filthy, unwanted person. 

No matter who we are or how we sin, our worth as individuals and children of God does not diminish, and that worth should also not diminish in the way we see others. 

Along the same lines as that thought, part of Hester's punishment was wearing the scarlet A over her heart for the remainder of her days. As a result, Hester has a constant reminder of that one weak moment. Not only that, but she is constantly reminded of the guilt and shame that was associated with her "crime", as well as the feeling that she never belonged around the rest of the townsfolk. Her daughter, Pearl, only recognizes her mother with the scarlet letter, and she associates it as part of who her mother is. Even if Hester had repented of her sin, she would still have to wear her scarlet A. Would that not make it feel as if there was no hope of relief, no hope of removing the burden that sin puts on your shoulders? That's what it did for Hester. 

Now, Hester's crime involved another party, whom she refuses to give up. As a result, Arthur Dimmesdale must spend the next seven years pretending to be the person everyone thinks he is while he battles the inner knowledge and guilt of knowing what he's done and how that would change the way others see him. In fact, he says, "I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!" 

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine what it feels like to be Hester or Arthur? I don't have to think about it much to know that I don't have to imagine; I know what that feels like. We all do. My situation has never been exactly like that of Hester and Arthur, but I do know what it's like to sin, to do something you know is wrong and have that guilt almost branded into your heart like the scarlet letter was branded into Hester's clothes. I know what's it's like to walk around and know that what you seem to others is different than what you are inside (or at least what you think you are). Even though our sins aren't public like they are in The Scarlet Letter, they're public to us, and it can seem like everyone around us knows what we did and decides to walk on the other side of the street to prevent your 'sin from rubbing off on them'. 

The Scarlet Letter puts all of these feelings into a story that we can relate to because we've all been there in some form or another. We've all been Hester Prynne. We've all been Arthur Dimmesdale. But, in the end, we can overcome it, just like they both did, by willfully acknowledging our wrongs. We can accept that, yes, we messed up, but that doesn't define who we are. Instead, we take those situations and use them to repent, to change, and to become better. 

Sorry, one final thought. 
We cannot forget about Roger Chillingworth. His name is so appropriate for his role. When Roger first comes into the Puritan community and sees Hester there with the scarlet letter upon her chest and an infant in her arms, he knows what happened, and he instantly plots his revenge. In the story, Roger can be seen as a parallel to the devil. He slyly makes his way into Arthur's life ...and Arthur can feel that something is off about him. Posing as a medic, Roger acts like he is helping Arthur when he is rather doing all that he can to prolong Arthur's suffering and prevent him from admitting his wrongdoing. 

That's exactly what the adversary does. He knows exactly who we are and what we've done, and he's going to do everything in his power to make our guilt fester to the point where we feel that if we were to face our wrongs and repent, we would die from shame. But that's so not true! As one of my fellow Young Women's leaders would put it: that's one of Satan's BFLs (big, fat lies)! 

(note: spoiler alert coming!)
Just as Arthur found relief when we finally admitted what he had done, Roger had no control over him any more. Arthur's burden was lifted. The same is for us...except we don't have to wait seven years like Arthur did. We can find relief immediately, should we choose to do so. As this story shows, it's better to own up to our mistakes sooner rather than later, instead of giving them the chance to wear us down and tear us up from the inside out. 

That may all sound a little dramatic, but trust me, if you've been in a position like Hester or Arthur, you know that those feelings are no exaggeration. But there's always hope.  

Anyways, those are my two cents --or rather, 25 cents with how long that turned out to be-- about The Scarlet Letter. It really is a great book, and it's definitely one that will get you thinking. 

08 October 2018

Bookworm Book Review: Follow the River


It sure has been a while since our last visit. Almost a year, in fact.

It's not that I have forgotten about you. I would have fleeting thoughts every now and then about writing something, but then I'd forget before I actually sat down and did anything, and the cycle repeated a couple of months later.

Then, today, something awesome happened. You know how just about everyone says they do their best thinking in the shower? Well, that's not me... until today. Although, I wouldn't call what happened 'thinking.' It was more of a mild epiphany.

There I was, taking a quick shower after the gym, and I was thinking about how I wanted to wrap up in a blanket and read all night. Then it hit me-- you should write book reviews about the books you're reading!

You see, I have this laundry list of books that I've been meaning to read, and only recently did I actually start getting into it. I absolutely love reading, but it's hard to find the down time to do it. But, I just decided that I would grab a book and take it with me everywhere I go, and every time I had a few spare minutes, I would read.

So, that's what I did.

And here I am! I've been reading some pretty great books, and I want to share them all with you as I finish them. Now, although I write just about every day at work, I have never done a book review. Like ever. So, don't set your expectations too high as I figure out how to do this. And keep in mind that these reviews are by no means professional or endorsed. It's simply me blurting out my thoughts about these books I'm reading.

So, without further ado, let's get started!

Book #1
Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom 

The story of Follow the River takes you on the terrifying and courageous journey of a woman who was captured by Shawnee Indians in 1755 and later escaped. Based on a true story, James Alexander Thom worked with the ancestors of the heroin, Mary Ingles, and traveled part of Mary's trail to provide a realistic portrayal of what Mary experienced. And, let me tell you, it is fascinating.

This book spares to time before jumping into the story. While the entire book is a captivating story and excellent history lesson, I must warn you that it can get quite graphic. Thom begins the story by jumping into the Shawnee's attack right in the first chapter... and he gets quite detailed about how some of the settlers were killed.

I'm not going to lie- as I read this first chapter, I wondered if I'd be able to make it through this book. I even put it away for a few days because I just felt icky about the incredible imagery that Thom provides. Eventually, though, I picked the book back up and kept reading. That first chapter is by far the most graphic, and there are only a few short instances throughout the rest of book where Thom gets a little extra descriptive.

Now, my goal is to not give anything away in case you choose to go read the book yourself. But, in a nutshell, about half of the story talks of Mary's capture and journey back to the Shawnee village, where she stays for a short time. The other half of the book talks of her escape and journey through one thousand miles of wilderness in early winter as she tries to find her way back home.

As I read this book, and as I reflect on the story, I am simply in awe of this woman. I've often wondered if I would have made it as an early colonist or pioneer. I don't think I would have. Yet here was this woman, captured only a few days before giving birth to her third child, who faced her worst nightmare yet still resolved to be the source of strength for the small band of prisoners. How she did it, I don't know, but it truly is amazing.

During the story, every ounce of Mary's emotions are twisted and torn apart. She faces the death of loved ones and friends. She faces the constant terror of upsetting her captors to the point where they would harm her, or worse, her children. She faces the struggle of being spared harm because of the Indian chief's favor towards her yet being despised by her fellow prisoners because of it. She faces the conflict of occasionally seeing the Indian chief as an actual human being instead of the man who ordered the massacre of her village. She faces and clings to the hope that her husband was not found during the attack, and the fact that she is coming back him. She faces the mental struggle of wanting to die because of physical pain and starvation, yet persuading herself to keep going one more night. She faces the life-crushing anxiety of wondering if she went the wrong way. She faces the degradation of being sold as property and the fear that her new owner would try to force himself upon her. She faces the agonizing separation from her children. She faces the terror of fighting for her life with the one she most trusted in her time of need. She faces the indescribable relief that comes from finding her way back home. She faces the uncomfortable reunion with her husband as a woman who no longer looks like the one he married.

I have never once faced anything even remotely close to what Mary Ingles faced so many years ago, but Thom's portrays her thoughts and journey with such skill that you can empathize and almost feel all that this woman feels throughout her incredible journey.

If you are looking for an inspiring tale of courage, heartache, and survival, Follow the River is it.