Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 2019 Wrap Up

Ah, October! The best month of the year!

As always, I prepared a long list of spooky reads to match the mood of the month. Here is a photo I shared of all of the books I had compiled. I did not actually intend to get around to reading all of them, which is good because I definitely didn't read all 10!



Here are brief reviews for the books I managed to finish:

Title: The Tyrant's Tomb
Author: Rick Riordan
Narrator: Robbie Daymond

Synopsis: Apollo and Meg have a detour on their journey: they must make it to Camp Jupiter and bring the camp bad news. While they are there, they must solve the communication problems the demigods are having and stop Caligula's fleet from destroying Camp Jupiter.

Thoughts: I am Rick Riordan trash and basically love all of his books. This series is probably my least favorite of all of his (so far), but that doesn't mean much because I still really enjoy them. I always recommend his books to anyone who likes mythology.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Title: The Vampyre
Author: John Polidori
Narrator: B.J. Harrison

Synopsis: This is one of the oldest vampire stories. It follows the journey of a young man, Aubrey, who is determined the make the acquaintance of mysterious Lord Ruthven. Having managed to secure some degree of familiarity, they agree to travel Europe together, but Aubrey might find that his mysterious companion hides some dark secrets.

Thoughts: I wanted to read this book for two reasons: 1, Ruthven is a great character in Vivian Shaw's  Dr. Greta Helsing novels and 2. this was written by a man who was an acquaintance of Mary Shelley! I read a book sometime last year that was all about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley and he was discussed. And I guess the third reason is because it's one of the older vampire stories that has been published. It was short and pretty dark, but I rather enjoyed it. My one complaint was the narrator who made Ruthven sound vaguely Transylvanian, when he was meant to be from England.

Rating 3-31/2 stars out of 5 stars


Title: Grave Importance
Author: Vivian Shaw

Synopsis: Greta is called to a remote hospital and spa in France that specializes in the treatment of mummies. She takes the temporary position only to discover that many mummies are having some type of fit that weakens them and no one knows what is causing it. Meanwhile, Ruthven is afflicted with a mysterious curse and is sent to Hell to be treated. Oh, and the world might be ending.

Thoughts: I love these books. I think they are so fun. It almost feels like a guilty pleasure to read them. But I also enjoy them because there are other characters referenced, like Ruthven from Polidori's the Vampyre and Varney from the Victorian serial story Varney the Vampire. They can be a little spooky, but they are still entertaining. I hope she writes another one for me to read next October!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Title: First Grave on the Right
Author: Darynda Jones
Narrator: Lorelei King

Synopsis: Charley Davidson is a private investigator as far as most people know. But she is also a Grim Reaper. She can see the spirits of those who die and aren't able to move on right away. Using this handy skill, she can help solve crimes better than anyone else. Recently, a series of murders starts to shed light on a group that is kidnapping and selling kids. To make her life more complicated, the man she may or may not be starting to love is to be taken off life support if she can't figure out a way to save him.

Thoughts: So I had accidentally read the eighth book in this series several years ago because I did not realize it was part of a series. It was interesting enough for me to decide to pick this one up. If it hadn't been for her weird love life (I'm sorry, sex life since they basically never speak to each other), I would have enjoyed it much more. Her personal romance was (in my opinion) crap. But the rest of the story was good and often funny with several characters that I liked. But I do not plan to read any more. I just can't handle the romantic part of the story.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman

Synopsis: Nobody Owens walks a unique path between life and death. Raised by the ghosts and other denizens of the graveyard gives him a great appreciation of life and he grasps it with both hands.

Thoughts: I read this book (or listen to the audiobook) every year. That is how much I love this book. I love Bod and his adventures and the people he meets. And no matter what, I always cry at the end. This is definitely one of my very favorite books. It is beautifully written and I cannot recommend it more highly.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Title: A Madness so Discreet
Author: Mindy McGinnis

Synopsis: Grace has been institutionalized in an asylum in Boston for being mad. And maybe she is a bit mad, but for good reasons. Finding her past and horrible family secrets too much to bear, she locks away her voice. Following a series of mishaps, she ends up marked a trouble patient and is locked away in the cellars where she makes friends with another patient there who helps her find her voice again. Her sharp mind is discovered by a visiting doctor and he smuggles her away to be his assistant when he goes to solve murders. She ends up in a different institution in Ohio. For the first time, she feels that she has friends and a purpose. But she can't avoid her past forever.

Thoughts: OK, confession time. This was the very first Owlcrate book that I ever received. And I got that in the October box four years ago... I have not read all of my Owlcrate books, mostly because I have so many books to read that I can't get to them all right away. I'm not sure why I never got around to reading this one. The only reason I did was because someone suggested it as a sort of eerie October book that wasn't scary. And I'm glad I finally read it. I didn't really know what to expect, but I ended up really enjoying it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Title: The Bone Houses
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Narrator: Moira Quirk

Synopsis: Aderyn is trying to keep her family's home. Her uncle became indebted to the greedy local lord who is holding Ryn responsible for paying it when her uncle disappears. Her brother and sister help where they can, but they realize that Ryn's grave digging won't be enough to pay off their family's debts. Then she meets Ellis who wants to enter the mythical woods around the town to make maps and try to discover hints to his past. And he offers to pay Ryn to guide him. Seeing this as her way out, she willingly takes Ellis into the forest. But there are good reasons that everyone avoids the forest of the Other King.

Thoughts: This was a September Owlcrate book. But I ended up listening to it because I didn't have time to read the physical book. Overall I enjoyed it. I liked the names especially. Listening to it was a very good idea and I recommend the audio. I very much liked Ryn and Ellis. And while I guessed the outcome of a few things, the characters were likable and great. And there are zombies (essentially). I don't do zombies, so I was pretty worried, but it was actually interesting.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5 stars 


Favorite book read this month: Besides the Graveyard Book which is one of my favorites ever? Grave Importance
Least favorite book read this month: First Grave on the Right

I started Varney the Vampire, but that book is a huge undertaking that I wasn't prepared for. I will have another go at it next year. I also started The Hearts We Sold, but didn't manage to finish it by the end of the month. I will go ahead and finish it though since I am more than half way through. 

In other news this month, I lost my little Zosi. He hadn't been doing great health-wise and he was getting to be an old little rat. He died on the morning of his second birthday and he was the last of my Littles to go. It has made for a less-than-ideal October. I miss him (and his brothers) so much. But here is an adorable picture of him. He had the best face: the brightest eyes and cutest crooked ears. He was also super sweet and was always licking my hands and fingers. Kevin said that if people who didn't like rats could meet him, he would change their minds. He was a special little guy.


In good October news, my momma came to visit me in my new city. We had a nice weekend trying some restaurants and going on a Ghost Walk Tour! Very seasonal!

Kevin and I managed to get to a little local pumpkin patch that had lots of cute games and activities and farm animals to pet. And we got some of the coolest pumpkins! I had never seen a green pumpkin! Or one that is quite this shade of peach:


Sorry I didn't manage to get a disease post up this month. I had lots of internet problems at home (it kind of comes and goes much of the time) and I have been very busy with work. I will do my best to get a post up in November. I just have to decide which disease I want to do!

So that is about it for October! I'm sad that my favorite month is over, but I already have a list of possible October reads for next year!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

September 2019 Wrap Up

September marks my first month in my new home state. It's been a busy month of moving, organizing, cleaning, job hunting, and adjusting to living with my boyfriend. It's been hard to find a routine so far, but I know it will come with time. And I did manage to find a position in a laboratory here and it is a very exciting opportunity!

I hadn't been working out, though I finally got back into Insanity once we had enough space for me to do a video. Until I got a nasty cold and then started working, so I stopped again more or less. And I have still been working on my bullet journal. It has been something that I actually enjoy and look forward to working on/filling out. I was originally afraid that it would end up feeling more like a chore.

I tried to low-key participate in Victoria Schwab's Schwabtember challenge to read a book (or more) that you've never read by her. I already love some of her books though, so that wasn't a chore for me! Here are the books I read this month. (Luckily more than I read last month...)

Title: Muse of Nightmares
Author: Laini Taylor
Narrator: Steve West

Synopsis: Sarai has been the Muse of Nightmares ever since her power made itself known and she used that to sow fear in the people of Weep. Now that she is a ghost and the man she loves is a "God," everything changes and their fates are held in Minya's bitter, angry hands. As the story unfolds, so does the history of the Mesarthim and how the gods traveled between distant worlds.

Thoughts: I enjoyed the development of the story and the characters, but at times things felt a little chaotic and disjointed. I'm sure some of that was intentional, given the subject, but it made some parts feel oddly drawn out and others seem resolved too quickly. But in general, I was satisfied with the ending.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars


Title: Spin the Dawn
Author: Elizabeth Lim

Synopsis: Maia is the only daughter of a talented tailor. She learns the craft and is very gifted, herself, but women are not meant to be tailors. When her aged, broken father is summoned to court to compete for the position of Imperial Tailor, she disguises herself as his and goes in his place. The competition will challenge all of her abilities and it becomes more complicated once she attracts the attention of the Imperial Enchanter. But it is the final challenge to create three impossible gowns that could prove her downfall.

Thoughts: This was a recent Owlcrate book that immediately caught my attention. Plus, Tamora Pierce gave it a favorable review. I really enjoyed it. In the beginning it struck me as being very Mulan-like, but the story changed after a while. I didn't always love the love story, but I did like the characters and the magic.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Title: Vicious
Author: V. E. Schwab

Synopsis: This is the story of Victor and Eli. College roommates and friends turned arch nemeses. During the end of college, they found a shared interest in rumored people with special abilities and eventually figured out how to create the proper circumstances to give people these abilities. A series of horrible events lands each of them with extraordinary abilities and lands Victor in jail. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison with the single-minded goal of stopping Eli. And Eli's goal has been to remove all extraordinary people from earth. Both sides have terrible powers and formidable teams, but only one can survive.

Thoughts: I picked this book up forever ago when I was still getting into Schwab's books. I had read the Monsters of Verity duology and loved it too much to get into her other stuff right away. I finally read her Shades of Magic trilogy which I also enjoyed, so I'm not sure why I waited so long to pick this one up. But Schwab hosted a Schwabtember challenge this month and it was the perfect opportunity to read this. And I loved it. It was intense and crazy. I couldn't stop thinking about it and wanting to know what happened next. As usual, V. E. Schwab has not failed to impress. I can't wait to get my hands on Vengeful.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (The only reason I didn't rate it 5 stars was because I loved the Monsters of Verity duology just a tiny bit better.)


Title: Two Dark Reigns
Author: Kendare Blake

Synopsis: The stories of the queens continues in the third book of the Three Dark Crowns series. Mirabella and Arsinoe have escaped the island, but something is trying to lure them back and they are not sure why. Jules is training her partially bound war gift and joins a rebellion against the old queens as the new Legion Queen. And Kat deals with the dead queens as well as the mist that is rising against her people.

Thoughts: I always wait a long time between these books because they are dark and intense so I always need a break before I continue. But this means that I forget things between reads. Some things did come back to me, but I probably should have brushed up a bit on the last book. That aside, this book felt different than the first two, to me. I think the shifting plotline is what did it. And maybe that is why I liked this one just a bit less than the other two. Despite that feeling, I still liked the book overall. There were parts that were dark and hard, which was expected, and parts that made me very worried for what happens next. And my main thought at the end was, "Everything is going wrong!" So that's where I left it. I do have the last book that I ordered specially from the Bookish Box. It is a signed first edition and came with lots of cool stuff inspired by the trilogy. I loved it. And the first book was received in an Owlcrate box years ago, so it is a little special, too. Anyway, I am looking forward to reading the last one and finding out how it all ends, but I am going to need to take a little break first!

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5


Title: Soul of the Sword
Author: Julie Kagawa
Narrators: Brian Nishii, Joy Osmanski, and Emily Woo Zeller

Synopsis: Hakaimono has broken free and taken over Tatsumi's body. Historically, the Shadow clan would kill the former demon slayer in order to return Hakaimono's soul to the sword. But the leader of the Shadow clan recruits Yumeko to save the demon slayer, which she and her companions were already planning to do. They also need to find the secret temple and give them the piece of the scroll that Yumeko carries.

Thoughts: I enjoyed the first book, Shadow of the Fox, so I knew that I wanted to continue. I was pleased with the way Yumeko (sort of) saves Tatsumi and I liked some of the small side stories of some of the characters. I plan to keep reading so I can find out what happens to everyone now that I have become attached to the characters!

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5


Title: Soul of Stars
Author: Ashley Poston

Synopsis: This is the sequel to Heart of Iron. Di has been HIVE'd, the Great Darkness is coming, and Ana is presumed dead, but feels compelled to save the universe. And Di. Meanwhile Jax has to face the destiny he has dreaded and return to his home planet which he hoped to never see again. And Robb finally finds out who Jax really is. Will Ana and her crew full of misfits be able to stop the Great Dark before it consumes their worlds?

Thoughts: It has been too long since I read Heart of Iron, but I LOVED it. But didn't quite remember how everything ended... which is sad and I probably should have brushed up. I cried a few times while reading this one because I love these characters. I enjoyed Jax's arc and I felt like Robb really came into his own in this book. And I absolutely adore Siege. There were a couple things I found odd. One was Ana's search for Starbright to obtain their help saving Di which was never actually utilized, though I like the other characters that were added because of it. Also, Ana and Di's ending seemed a bit odd, but I'm just going to ignore it. Overall, I enjoyed it very much (though maybe not quite as much as the first one).

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Title: The Fire Keeper
Author: J.C. Cervantes
Narrator:

Synopsis: This is the second book in the Storm Runner series. Zane put out a call to other god-borns and that has started to bear fruit. Except that most of the gods want the god-borns dead and Zane just put them on the gods' radars. Plus his dad, Hurakan, is in trouble. He's not sure they will have time to save his dad and the god-born. And some powers are working against him and he doesn't know who he can trust.

Thoughts: This was another one that I should have refreshed my memory of the first book before reading this one. Luckily the author hits the key points from the last book very well. I enjoyed the overall story and the characters that were in this one, especially Ah Puch. I have some questions that I want answers to Ixtab's story and motives. I really enjoy learning the Mayan mythology. That's a huge draw for me. While I didn't love this book, I still really liked it and I am looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 3-31/2 stars out of 5


Favorite book read this month: Vicious
Least favorite book read this month: Maybe Muse of Nightmares? I read a lot of good books this month, so I don't feel that I had an obvious least favorite.

And next month is October! My favorite month and that means spooky reads! I will post a bit about what I plan to read on my Instagram, so please check that out.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Disease Post: Anthrax

Something a little different: our first bacteria!

Background:

Anthrax is a disease caused by a bacteria called Bacillus anthracis.

What is bacteria? A bacterium is a single-celled organism. The cells are a little like ours, but a bit more primitive. They are called "prokaryotes" which means "primitive nucleus." (Our cells are "eukaryotes," meaning "true nucleus.") This means that they do not have a nucleus that holds the DNA like our cells do.

Bacteria come in all different sizes and shapes. Bacillus anthracis is in the shape of a rod and is large (relatively speaking). It is Gram-positive, which refers to the way bacteria are stained before looking at them under a microscope. Gram-positive means that they stain with crystal violet dye because they have a cell wall made of peptidoglycan. I won't go into too much detail about peptidoglycan, but it is made of sugars and amino acids and is important in how the bacteria functions and how the immune system interacts with the bacteria.
Anthrax bacillus. Credit: the Wellcome Collection. The bottom two images show the long, rod-shaped bacteria the best.

Another important thing is that this bacteria forms endospores. Endospores (or just "spores") are dormant bacterial cells that cannot reproduce and are very resistant to anything that would kill a normal bacterium. This means that anthrax can survive in bad conditions and in the environment for a long time (usually a few months to a few years, but some can survive for decades). Once a spore enters a host, it can enter the active phase and start reproducing again. Once they are exposed to the environment again, they can sporulate and wait in the dormant state until they can infect another host.

Anthrax bacteria can contain up to three genes in their DNA that codes for different toxins. It is the toxins that cause symptoms. There are particular ways that these genes can be present and they can be transferred between the bacteria, but I don't want to go into too much detail about that. Just know that there are important toxins that can make an anthrax infection worse if the bacteria have any of those genes.

How is it spread?

There are a few types of infection that anthrax can cause: cutaneous (skin), gastrointestinal (in the digestive tract), inhalational (infected through the lungs), and, rarely, meningitis (infecting the nervous system).

Anthrax is mostly a disease of animals and is naturally present in soil all over most of the world. Human to human transmission is very, very rare. We see it in domestic livestock like cattle and in wild animals. Humans are usually infected through the skin or the lungs, often from animals that have the disease or animal products that are contaminated with anthrax.

Symptoms:

Let's break it down into the different types of infection.

Cutaneous: It takes about 1-7 days (incubation period) until a small papule forms on the skin at the infection site. It may become larger. They are usually painless. They can rupture easily and become ulcers and the base will become black, which is characteristic of cutaneous anthrax infection. As long as there are no complications and treatment is received, the lesions will heal just fine. This form is very rarely fatal and is one of the more common forms humans get.
Meat handler: skin lesion of anthrax. Credit: Royal Veterinary College and the Wellcome Collection

Gastrointestinal: This is often how animals are infected, by ingesting the bacteria, and it is an uncommon infection in humans. The incubation period is abut 1-5 days. There will be a fever and localized symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain. From here, it can spread to the blood stream (sepsis) and may cause secondary meningitis if it gets into the central nervous system. The gastrointestinal form can be treated, but is about 40% lethal without treatment.

Inhalational: This is the other infection type that humans get (relatively speaking, inhalational anthrax cases are actually quite rare). It is this form that makes anthrax so scary. Inhalational antrax infection is extremely dangerous and is nearly always fatal without treatment. And treatment needs to happen very quickly and aggressively. This type is about 92% fatal, even with treatment. Usually in this form, spores are inhaled and enter the lungs. They incubate for about 1-6 days. The first symptoms are flu-like (fever, tiredness, aches, headaches). As the disease progresses, there is a high fever, decreased lung function, respiratory distress, chest pain, and more. This form can also cause secondary sepsis and/or meningitis as the bacteria spread. While all forms of human cases of anthrax are rare, this one is the reason it is an agent for bioterrorism.

Meningitis: This form is rare and is mostly associated with gastrointestinal or inhalational infections. This happens when the bacteria infect the central nervous system via the blood stream.

Prevention and Treatment:

There is an anthrax vaccine, but it is not normally available to the public. People who usually have access are laboratory and military personnel and other people who may come in contact with infected animals. The vaccine can also be used after a person has been exposed, much like the rabies vaccine.

There are vaccines available for animals like livestock. Vaccinating these animals significantly reduces human exposure.

There are various antibiotics that can be used to treat the different types of infections. Doxycycline and Ciprofloxacin are commonly used, according to the CDC, but there are others. The treatment with antibiotics is very long and intensive to make sure that the bacteria and any spores are treated.

Sources:
Medical Microbiology 6th Edition by Patrick R. Murray, Ken S. Rosenthal, and Michael A. Pfaller
Centers for Disease Control: Anthrax
WHO: Anthrax