Thursday, December 31, 2020

December 2020 Wrap Up

 Wrap up and send off! 2020 has been a pretty crazy year. Hopefully next year will be a little better.

Let's start off with some short book reviews.

Title: These Ghosts are Family
Author: Maisy Card
Narrator: Karl O'Brian Williams
Synopsis: Stanford Solomon is getting on in years and he decides to share his secret with his family that will affect all of their lives--he is actually Abel Paisley who was pronounced dead decades ago. His daughter from Jamaica turns up to be his home health aide and is under the impression that her father is dead. The stories of several different people meet and entwine together.
Thoughts: This was a book club selection. It was strange because it was hard to define a plot line, but it was very good and it was interesting. We discussed it and the consensus was that those of us who read it (we have two selections every month and most of us only read one) liked it. The ending was interesting to discuss. And the narration was very good!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: V. E. Schwab
Synopsis: Addie is desperate to change her fate, so she makes a deal with one of the world's darker entities for total freedom. But he twists her wish (as they do) so that she will always be forgotten. She perseveres through 300 years and ultimately arrives in New York in the present day. It is here that she meets someone who remembers.

Thoughts: I have been hearing raves about this book all year so I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I generally love her books, so I expected to like this one. And I did! It was strange and interesting and went much faster than I expected. It was a very interesting book and I liked Addie's creativity in finding ways to leave her mark.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Mr. Dickens and His Carol
Author: Samantha Silva
Narrator: Euan Morton
Synopsis: A fictional story about Charles Dickens. He is coming off of a book which was a flop and ends up more hard-off for money than he is used to. In order to bring in some money, his publishers convince him to write a Christmas story.
Thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this one. I didn't enjoy Charles' character very much and had a hard time getting through to the end. But I really enjoyed the last few chapters of the story.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Title: Booked for Christmas
Author: Lily Menon
Synopsis: Sophie is a romance writer and preparing to throw her annual Christmas party in her remote cabin. One unexpected guest shows up, the critic Evan Wolfe. Evan has written several reviews of her books that have been less than complimentary. But a huge blizzard traps them together in the cabin for the weekend. What starts out with harsh exchanges turns into something else.

Thoughts: So, I enjoyed most of her young adult books. I thought I would give this a try. It was really not for me. I don't love romance stories and books, this one was no exception. It felt contrived mostly, but it was a short story so I stuck it out.

Rating: Generously 2 out of 5 stars (Sorry, I will stick to her YA in the future.)

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Narrator: Tim Curry
Synopsis: I don't think I need to describe this classic!
Thoughts: One of my annual re-reads. I still love it and I still imagine the characters as Disney mice and ducks.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman

Synopsis: Georgie loves her husband, Neal. And she know he loves her. She's pretty sure, anyway. At the last minute, her job requires her to stay in LA to work and Neal takes their daughters to Nebraska for Christmas. Georgie all but moves back in with her mother, who thinks Neal left Georgie, though Georgie argues that this is not true. Desperate to connect with her husband, she keeps calling but can never get through. Until she tries her old yellow rotary phone in her childhood bedroom to call Neal's landline. And she gets through! To Neal in the past, during the Christmas week he had broken up with her and gone to Nebraska alone. Georgie hadn't talked to him the whole week, but he showed up to propose on Christmas morning. But now she is talking to past Neal. Is she supposed to change something? Fix something?

Thoughts: I LOVE this book. It is one of my very favorites. I cry all the way through the last few chapters (they are short chapters, its OK). I just love it so very much. After I finished reading it, I turned around a listened to the audiobook. So technically, I read it twice this year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Title: Royal Holiday
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Narrator: Janina Edwards
Synopsis: Vivian is convinced to travel to England with her daughter who has been hired to do holiday design work for some of the English royalty. While she is here, she meets handsome Malcolm, who has been working for the queen for years. An unexpected romance blooms between them.

Thoughts: This was a book bail for me. As I said, I don't really enjoy romance, but I wanted to try it because it was the holidays and it seemed nice and appropriate. But I just couldn't do it. It was contrived and convenient, which I don't much care for. I have heard good things about it though. If you like romance stories, you might enjoy this one.

Rating: None

Least favorite book read this month: Not counting Royal Holiday? Booked for Christmas
Favorite book read this month: Landline (of course)

It is also the end of the year. I read 87 of 80 books this year, which was great. I didn't quite complete the alphabet challenge, but that is alright, it was a bit of fun.

In 2021 I hope to read 75 books. My main reading goal next year is to finish some series that I never got around to reading the last book. 

And in January, I hope to participate in this Instagram challenge (or parts of it) hosted by a person I follow and a couple of her acquaintances. Check it out here and feel free to participate and/or follow!

I wish I could say I had other New Year's Resolutions, but I don't really. I want to say I will work out or I will eat better, but with my job the way it has been, I know I can't keep those. So I guess I will say that I will try to do better.

2020 was a strange year. In some ways, my life didn't change too much since I had recently moved here and didn't know anyone or any places to go. So I didn't go anywhere. And then the pandemic happened and I still didn't go anywhere! My work life blew up to insane levels though. On one hand, I suppose it is good job security, but on the other hand it is exhausting. Luckily it is mostly work that I enjoy doing.
Because of the pandemic, several of my friends started meeting virtually and we have been meeting every week since March. While I would love to see them in person or be able to grab dinner or a drink, it has been really nice to feel so connected to them. We haven't been so involved in each others' lives for quite some time I think. That is something positive that came out of all of this and I am very grateful.

On Christmas Eve Kevin proposed to me and I said yes (obviously). He is the best person I have ever met and just the type of person I want to spend my life with. I feel very lucky. And it was a nicer way to help ring in (unintentional pun) 2021.

I hope 2021 brings good things (better things anyway) to everyone. We survived 2020. Happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2020

November 2020 Wrap Up

Another whirl-wind month. It went so fast. Let's see.

I am still working a bunch of extra hours each week, but I did take a few days off near the middle of the month, which was very nice.

The election has really been something else this year. I can't wait until next year, though.

Because of the pandemic, we won't be able to see family and friends this holiday season, so I have been working on getting holiday gifts together so I can send them out.

And this month was a bit lack-luster in the reading department. I only finished two books, though I am nearly finished with two more. But here are the whole two that I finished!

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Synopsis: Abigail arrives in a small port town in America where she meets R. F. Jackaby, a unique sort of private detective who can see supernatural creatures.  In search of a job, Abigail becomes Jackaby's assistant. Her first case is to help investigate a series of gruesome murders that are not all they appear to be.
Thoughts: This book has interested me for a while. Plus, I needed a "J" book for the alphabet challenge. I listened to this as an audiobook and I actually think that was a mistake. I hated the way the narrator read Jackaby's character. So I know that isn't the author's fault, but it made it a rougher experience. I thought the story was pretty good though, I would consider reading more of the series.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Title: The Tower of Nero
Author: Rick Riordan
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Synopsis: After saving New Rome and rescuing various oracles, Apollo and Meg must now confront Nero and Python. He and Meg realize that they may not survive this mission. Luckily for them, they have some unexpected allies.
Thoughts: This series has not been my favorite of Rick Riordan's books. I don't mean that in a bad way, I just love his other series' more than this one. Don't take this for "I didn't like this book/series," I still love all of Rick Riordan's books. That being said, I was happy to see some more familiar characters and experience some new adventures.  I think this series was darker and maybe more serious in some ways than some of his others. I don't know why I feel that way, but I do. I did tear up a few times, so it must have been pretty good.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5 stars

Favorite book read this month: The Tower of Nero
Least favorite book read this month: Neither, really

Alphabet challenge: I completed "J" this month! And that is probably all I will manage to do. I have holiday books that I want to read in December, so I am not planning to finish Q, U, and Z. That is alright though.

I have now read 81 books towards my goal of 80 books, which feels great after not meeting my reading goal last year.

December is starting though, and I always love December. For one, it is my birthday month. Also, Christmas and Hanukkah are coming up, which I always enjoy. I love the decorations and the festive air (and it sometimes makes me wish we got more snow down here so it would add to the atmosphere! But that would also mean I need to drive in it, which I am less of a fan of). December also means winter/holiday reads. Here is my TBR for the month:
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Booked for Christmas by Lily Menon
  • Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
  • A Universe of Wishes by Dhonielle Clayton (editor)
And if I have time, I will try to read a book for my book club if I think I can finish by early January. Then I can go to book club! Remotely, of course. But January will mark a year that I have been in the book club, so that's pretty cool.

That's about it for my November. What are your social distancing holiday plans? I want to have a digital holiday party where we can get dressed up, hang out, and drink cocktails via zoom or a similar platform. What do you think?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

October 2020 Wrap Up

 My favorite month. Which is a little different during a pandemic. But I have still enjoyed the decorations, crafts, movies, gifts, and especially my spooky reads.

My mom and I exchanged haunted house advent calendars. We bought two from Michael's and we each took one home and painted it. Then we filled the little drawers with goodies and mailed them to each other. It has been a cute and fun way to celebrate the month! Here is the one I sent to her: 

I also had several little gifts for Kevin and he was sweet enough to give me several Halloween gifts, too! He also got into some of the decorations, so we both enjoyed the month together. On Halloween, we took a gingerbread Christmas village and made it a gingerbread Halloween village. And I got to FaceTime with my mom to see her in costume as well as my brother, his daughter, and his girlfriend in their super cute jellyfish costumes! And I got to chat with four of my best friends virtually and just hang out.

Work continues to be killer. I've lost a decent amount of weight due to working in the B3 so much. I've been trying to gain it back by eating Halloween candy ;) Despite that, and how hard it can be, and how much it makes my back and sometimes my legs hurt, I actually enjoy working in the B3. It is something that I always wanted to do and I'm still glad that I get to do that and get to work with infectious diseases, which is my scientific passion. So even though some days/weeks are hard, I do feel like I get a lot out of it. 

I had a list of books that was rather ambitious. I knew I wouldn't complete them all, but I did read some great ones this month! Here are some short reviews. (Maybe consider some of them for your spooky reads next year.)

Title: The Sundial
Author: Shirley Jackson
Synopsis: Following the funeral of one of the Halloran family members, Aunt Fanny has a vision foretelling the end of the world. But everyone in the Halloran mansion will be saved. The Halloran family and their guests figure out what it will mean to be the only ones left on earth.
Thoughts: This was a book club read. We always have two books to choose from (and some people read both) and I picked this one because it is Shirley Jackson and because the book club meet was at the beginning of October. I enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but hadn't read anything else by her. This book was... strange. I read it very quickly and thought about it in between. I'm glad I read it as part of a book club because we had some good laughs discussing it. Even though I found it odd and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, it was definitely interesting and I enjoyed it over all.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Title: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
Author: Kiersten White
Narrator: Katharine Lee McEwan
Synopsis: Elizabeth Lavenza becomes companion, best friend, and confidante to Victor Frankenstein. To be saved from her abusive caretaker and secure her future with the Frankensteins, she has to become exactly who they need and want her to be. Behind the facade, she is calculating, smart, and quick. But who is she really?
Thoughts: I loved this book. It was so weird and creative. I loved the mashup of the classic story with Mary Shelley herself. It was clever and I really enjoyed it. If you like Frankenstein (or even if you didn't like it), this book is still enjoyable. I only read Frankenstein once, years ago, and didn't much care for it and I don't remember enough of it. But I was always interested in Mary Shelley and how she came to write Frankenstein. Despite not loving the book, I do admire Mary Shelley. And this was just a great new perspective on the whole story.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Horrid
Author: Katrina Leno
Synopsis: An author letter came with this book that I am going to copy here: "Have you ever seen a flower so beautiful you wanted to taste it? Read a book so perfect you wanted to rip a page out and eat it? Loved something so much you wanted to consume it, to let it live inside you forever? This is a story about those obsessions, and about spooky autumn nights, and about old family secrets. This is a story about a girl with a little curl of hair right in the middle of her forehead. This is a story about what it means to be consumed--with love, with beauty, with fear. Maybe read it with the lights on..."
Thoughts: This was the September Owlcrate book (and this box has been one of my favorite Owlcrates, too). I don't like horror, despite my love of Halloween, so I was skeptical, but it sounded really good. Plus, I have always loved the poem about the girl with a curl  in the middle of her forehead: "And when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid." And it is young adult, so I figured it would be more "horror-lite." But I did not get the ending and the redemptions and wrap ups that I was wanting. But that was oddly OK with me for this book. It was creepy and weird, but I must have enjoyed it because I ate this book up! (Not literally.) It was strange. Not my normal read, but I liked it and I am glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Strange Practice, Dreadful Company, and Grave Importance.  
Author: Vivian Shaw
Narrator: Susanna Hampton
Synopsis: Greta Helsing is a doctor, but her clientele are a bit different: vampires, ghouls, mummies. She treats the undead (or "differently alive," as she says in the second book) and provides them much needed medical care. But a cult of violent monks, crazy vampires, and creatures from alternate universes are causing mayhem and going after the very creatures that Greta cares for. She and her supernatural friends might be the world's only hope.
Thoughts: These were re-reads because these books are fun. I enjoy them and I like the references to other classic horror stories. I own the books and decided to listen to them this time around. It was nice to hear how some of the names are pronounced (or can be pronounced, I suppose). This series has gotten me to read other classics like the Vampyre and Varney the Vampire. I recommend this series for sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Eventide
Author: Sarah Goodman

Synopsis: Following the death of their mother and the subsequent madness of their father, Verity and her younger sister, Lilah, are sent to a small town in Arkansas. But once they arrive in the small farm town, they are separated as Lilah is adopted by the local school teacher and her uncle, and Verity is sent to work on a farm until she turns 18 in a few months. But there are strange things happening in the town. And the general suspicion the local people have for the woods is just weird. Until Verity starts to uncover old secrets, including old secrets about her own family.

Thoughts: This came in a book box I tried in October (Unplugged Book Box). It sounded like a good book for October, so I picked it up. Parts of it seemed historically inaccurate. It was an alright story, but not my favorite. I still liked it enough to finish it, but thought it was just OK overall.

Rating: 2 1/2 to 3 stars out of 5

I worked on reading more of Varney the Vampire, but the whole collection is soooo long and old-fashioned. It is going to take me several Octobers to actually finish it. I also started A Wicked Magic, but didn't get very far, so I will pick it up again next year. I started Jackaby, also, but I am far enough in that I will finish it in November.

Favorite book read this month: Probably the Greta Helsing trilogy
Least favorite book read this month: Eventide
I have now read 79 books towards my goal of 80 for the year. I will consider raising my goal a little.
 For the alphabet challenge, I completed letter E, started letter J, and I will probably count V for Varney the Vampire, even though I didn't finish it. 

That's all for October. I hope everyone else had a good spooky month!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Disease Post: Plague

OK, I am going to try for this post. I hope you are ready for a long one.

The plague is my very favorite infectious disease. It is so interesting and the history of it is devastating and fascinating. And what better way to celebrate the month of Halloween than talking about the Black Death? I mean, have you seen plague doctor outfits? They are terrifying (and I LOVE them). And yes, I do have a plague doctor costume, thanks for asking. 

It also helps me be a crazy rat lady since rat fleas (and/or other rodent fleas) are the primary carriers of plague. My rats do not have plague or fleas though, don't worry.

Plague of Marseilles- costumes for plague doctors. Credit- Wellcome Collection and Attribution 4.0 International

Plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. Y. pestis is a gram-negative (does not have peptidoglycan in its cell walls) rod or coccobacillus (round rod). It is a facultative anaerobe, which means that it "prefers" to have oxygen, but can survive without it by switching to fermentation for energy. This makes them fairly resilient little bugs.
Plague plush from Giant Microbes.
Historically, the plague has caused massive amounts of devastation worldwide and is still present all over the world. I will include a brief history later. 
Yersinia pestis is a zoonotic disease, meaning humans get it from animals and/or insects. In this case, the carriers are fleas.
Plague infographic from the WHO

How is it spread?
The infectious dose (or how many bacteria are needed to establish an infection) is not known, but is suspected to be quite low.
There are three different forms of plague: pneumonic (respiratory), septicemic, and (the famous) bubonic.
Let's start with bubonic plague and septicemic plague because they are similar. People get these by being bitten by an infected flea or by contact with contaminated animal tissue and/or fluid (like skinning or handling a plague-infected animal). Bubonic plague can turn into septicemic plague as the bacteria infiltrates the body and, therefore, the blood stream. And it can become pneumonic plague, too, if the bacteria spread to the lungs. Bubonic and septicemic forms do not spread from person to person.

Pneumonic plague can develop as mentioned above, or can be caught directly through respiratory droplets in the air. If a sick person or animal is coughing (or even just breathing), they release infectious bacteria into the air in tiny respiratory droplets. These can be inhaled by another person or animal, establishing an infection in the lungs. This form can be transmitted person-to-person, but usually requires close contact. You can find more detailed information about transmission from the CDC.

Image from the CDC

As I mentioned above, there are three forms which will present with different symptoms, though all three will present with a fever, chills, weakness, and (often) headaches. Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are seen in some cases, too.

Bubonic plague has an incubation time of seven days or less from infection until the time a person shows symptoms. This form is characterized by the presence of one or more bubos. A bubo is a lymph node that  becomes inflamed, swelling enough to be visible. These are usually located in the neck, armpit, and/or groin. The bubos are tender and painful. From here, the infection can start to infect the bloodstream to develop into septicemic and/or pneumonic plague. Without treatment, estimated death rates are between 50%-70%.

Septicemic plague is the infection of the blood. It is not generally the initial infection that is established, but there are many records of people getting the plague this way. Once the bacteria is in the blood stream it can get just about anywhere. The CDC also notes that people may bleed into the skin or other organs and tissues will start to die and possibly develop gangrene (and turn black=the Black Death). One of my text books (Medical Microbiology by Murray et al.) estimates that 75% of people who have or develop septicemic plague die without treatment.

Pneumonic plague is generally the most worrisome. The incubation is shorter, generally 2-3 days. After the initial symptoms, patients will develop respiratory symptoms within a day or so. According to the CDC, the respiratory symptoms include: shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, and possibly bloody mucous. This is the only form of plague that can spread person-to-person and it is highly infectious. Most sources estimate that the death rate of pneumonic plague is 90% or more if not treated quickly (within 18-24 hours, according to the WHO).
Prevention and Treatment:
The good news is that plague is easily treated with a few common antibiotics! However, it needs to be caught as early as possible, especially for pneumonic plague. People do die even with treatment, especially if treatment is too late.

But plague, if there are no bubos, looks like lots of other illnesses. Diagnosis is helped if your doctor knows you have been exposed to fleas or wild rodents, especially in endemic areas (meaning it is "native" to those areas, like much of Asia, Africa--especially Madagascar, and the Southwest United States). 
Your pets can also become infected by the same means people can and your pets can spread it to you. Flea control is important and it is best to avoid wild rodents, especially ones that appear ill or have died. Wear gloves while handling dead animals that may be infected.

There is not great prevention besides that. There was a vaccine available in the United States, but not anymore. It did not protect against pneumonic plague. I'm sure there are groups working toward a vaccine, but no one knows if/when one will be available.
The plague of Florence, 1348; a scene from Boccaccio's Decameron. Etching by L. Sabatelli the elder after G. Boccaccio. Credit: the Wellcome Collection and Attribution 4.0 International

The plague has been around for centuries. It was also used in early biological warfare (bodies of plague victims catapulted into cities or enemy camps). Italian Gabriele de'Mussi gave an account of the Black Death origin in 1346: the Mongol army hurled plague-infected cadavers into the city of Caffa. This transmitted plague to the inhabitants, and those who fled took the plague with them towards Europe. This is explained by Mark Wheelis in his paper Biological warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa. Ultimately, it is suspected that the Black Death originated somewhere in Asia, though theories of exactly where differ.

There are three main plague pandemics (Perry et al). The first was in the early middle ages (the Plague of Justinian from 541 CE until the mid-700s) and is one of the earliest records we have of the plague. It is suspected to have originated in China and spread to Egypt and then to Constantinople. At the peak of the first pandemic, it is suspected to have killed 10,000 people per day and killed about 40% of citizens. A bit later, in 588 CE, there was another wave that spread it through the Mediterranean and about 100 million people died.

The second pandemic was the one most people are familiar with, from the 14th century to the 19th century. What is known as the Black Death started in this time period. The plague spread from China or somewhere in Asia along the Silk Road, infecting Asia, Europe, and Africa. China lost about half of its population, Europe lost a third to a half of its population, and Africa lost about an eighth of its population. For the record, people at the time did not call the plague the "Black Death," that is a more modern term. They called it the "great pestilence" or the "great mortality" mostly.

The third pandemic was in the 19th and 20th centuries. A wave began in China in 1855 which spread through China, to India, killing more than 12 million people in the two countries. From there, the plague traveled to Russia, causing a large outbreak in Siberia in 1910. It was during this pandemic, in the late 1800s, that the plague bacterium was identified and isolated. Alexandre Yersin is credited with the discovery and the bacteria was eventually named after him.
Part of the fear of plague has to do with its potential as a bioterrorism agent. This is part of what keeps this on the select agent list in the United States.

As mentioned above, cadavers of plague victims were intentionally thrown into the city of Caffa, causing an outbreak and causing the disease to spread. This is not the only time that this was done in the history of warfare.

I remember learning about this in history and in my biodefense class. This sentence sums it up fairly well, though it does not go into all the cruel experiments that the Japanese performed on the Chinese. "In World War II, the Japanese military experimented with plague in human subjects at their clandestine biological research facilities in Manchuria, and on several occasions dropped Y. pestis-infested fleas from low-flying planes on Chinese civilian populations, causing limited outbreaks of bubonic plague and initiating cycles of infection in rats" (Dennis, David T. Plague as a Biological Weapon).

The end-goal with Y. pestis as a biological weapon was to successfully aerosolize it, to cause pneumonic plague. I have in my old class notes that "aerosol release of Y. pestis would be odorless, colorless, and likely to be unnoticed until the first victims fell ill," but I have not been able to locate a source yet, so take it with a grain of salt. 
It was estimated by a committee of experts that "intentional release of 50 kg of aerosolized Y. pestis over a city of 5 million would... cause 150,000 cases of pneumonic plague and 36,000 deaths...[and] without adequate precautions, an initial outbreak of pneumonic plague involving 50% of a population could result in infection of 90% of the rest of the population in 20–30 days and could cause a case fatality ratio of 60–70%" (Dennis, David T. Plague as a Biological Weapon).

About the bacteria:
I was always interested in the bacteria itself and its interactions with flea and animal hosts. That isn't talked about much because people are concerned with the diseases of people. The flea is initially infected by taking blood from an infected host. I won't get into technical details, but so you know, it does affect the flea by blocking digestion until the flea regurgitates the bacteria when they bite another host. The blocked gut of the flea will eventually kill it. Animal carriers are often symptomatic and can also die of the plague.

There are some genes that the bacteria has that they can switch between based on which host it is in to help it adapt to either the temperature and environment (like pH) of the flea versus animal hosts

The bacteria switches between gene expressions based on the host and the host temperatures. Generally, the bacteria grows best at lower temperatures but can switch gene expression to help them survive and grow at normal human temperatures.

Fun Facts:
The plague doctor mask had the beak which was to be stuffed with flowers, spices, and/or herbs--anything that smelled nice because the belief was that disease traveled through bad smells or miasma.

The plague doctor outfit did actually afford them protection, but not because of the potpourri in the mask. The mask protected their faces from respiratory droplets. They also covered themselves from head to toe in mostly leather, which fleas could not bite through.

Books and Media:
There are several books and such concerning the plague that are great.

For educational purposes, The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague by Dorsey Armstrong from Great Courses is amazing. It goes into details of spread and impacts of the plague (during and after) on society, art, economics, and more. You can get it through Great Courses or through Audible. 
This Podcast Will Kill You did a two-part episode on the plague that is very good.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly is said to be good. I have not read it yet, but I would like to.

The Black Death by Philip Ziegler sounds great, but is another one that I have not read.

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Arguably, this account is not entirely credible as the author wrote it 57 years after the fact. But he did experience the plague and it is considered to be an accurate account of the time. It was good either way.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. This is a historical fiction novel, but it is based on a real town in England that isolated themselves when they found that the plague had reached them. A friend gifted this book to me years ago and it was enjoyable.

The Plague by Albert Camus. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read this book yet, though I want to, obviously.
Crow Boy by Philip Caveney is a fictional story about a modern boy in Edinburgh who travels back in time to 1645, during a plague outbreak. I enjoyed this one, even though the plague doctor was fake and kind of evil.

This is a silly video that will get the original song stuck in your head forever, but it's funny. We watched it at some point during my Masters program: Black Death (Hollaback Girl) aka Fleas on Rats.

There are so many more books that I have not yet read. If anyone has a particularly good suggestion, please drop it in the comments. And if you know of anything about plague doctors, I definitely need to know!

I hope you enjoyed my plague post. If you made it this far, thanks for reading!
Perry, Robert D and Fetherston, Jaqueline D. Yersinia pestis--etiologic agent of plague. 1997.
Medical Microbiology sixth edition by Patrick R. Murray, Ken S. Rosenthal, and Michael A. Pfaller
Armstrong, Dorsey. The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague. 2016. Great Courses.
Dennis, David T. Plague as a Biological Weapon. 2009.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

September 2020 Wrap Up

 So I finally, FINALLY got my diphtheria post up. I don't think it is one of my best because I wrote it in fits and starts. But it's alright. I need to do more, but I'm not sure what disease I want to do next. I would love to do a special plague post, but plague is my very favorite and I want to do it justice. But October and Halloween time (my favorite time of the year) would be a great time to do it. I will have to think on it and see if I can pull something together in time. If work doesn't keep drowning me.

Speaking of October and Halloween, it is about that time of year! I have been working on my October reading list (and I read the Night Circus this month to prepare). And the Graveyard Book is always on my list, but I ended up starting and finishing that this month, also. A bit early, but it made it feel more like autumn so it's OK. I will post my list at the end of this post. Quick book reviews first.


Title: The Princess and the Fangirl
Author: Ashley Poston
Narrators: Eileen Stevens, Emily Lawrence, and Caitlin Davies
Synopsis: This is the second book in the Once Upon a Con series. Jess Stone was a popular Indie film actress until she was cast as Princess Amara in the new Starfield movie. But she hates Amara and is afraid this part has put an early end to her career. But when someone starts leaking the script for the next Starfield, it might be her fault and she has to stop it. Enter Imogen, normal person and president of the #SaveAmara movement. And when her pink pixie cut is covered, she looks just like Jess Stone. And Jess hatches a plan to have Imogen pose as her while Jess poses as Imogen to try to track down the missing script.

Thoughts: This was a re-read since I read Bookish and the Beast and re-read Geekerella. This one may be my favorite in the series (so far? Will there be more? I hope so). It's just fun and cute and fluffy and nerdy, so obviously I can't resist.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Synopsis: Starr is a sixteen year old girl who attends a higher class, predominantly white high school, but she lives in a poor, Black neighborhood. She feels like her two worlds do not mesh together. And when she witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, and the aftermath, she finds she may be right. Her family and friends get dragged in with her and we follow her journey to find her voice.
Thoughts: This book needs to be required reading for everyone. I have had it on my reading list for a long time now, and I'm glad I finally picked it up. I should not have waited so long. It was heartbreaking and touching. It's hard not to fall in love with Starr's family and be sucked into her world. And because she is torn between worlds, it makes it more accessible to white readers. We learn to see and love her family and her home. And because she is still figuring out how to navigate the aftermath of Khalil's death, it gives us white readers (who know little to nothing of these situations) to learn and grow with her. I cried SOOOO much during this book, but sometimes they were tears because I was so touched. It was heartbreaking, and redeeming, and very educational. Seriously, everyone should read this book.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Title: The Shadow Crosser
Author: J.C. Cervantes
Narrator: Ozzie Rodriguez
Synopsis: In the third book, Zane's adventures continue. He and the other godborns are meant to get training at a special camp arranged by some of the gods. But two of the other gods are trying to kill all of the (arguably) "good" gods and make them sacrifices. The godborn are called in to save them, even if they have to go through space and time to do so.
Thoughts: I'm not sure if this is a trilogy or not, but I believe it is. I have enjoyed these books a lot. They are good stories, informative because they are all about the Mayan gods, and they are fun. I definitely recommend the whole trilogy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale

Synopsis: This mysterious circus appears overnight without warning and it is only open at night. The circus itself is magical and builds a fan following. But there is more going on in the circus than most people are aware of.

Thoughts: I have read this book a few times. I just love it. I love the writing and most of the story (I'm not the biggest fan of Marco and his romance(s)). It is magical. I want to go to this circus so badly. And to the midnight dinners.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Title: Star Daughter
Author: Shveta Thakrar
Synopsis: Sheetal has a secret that she must keep from most of the people around her: her mother is a star and Sheetal is part star. Her father, aunt, and best friend know, and it is starting to become harder to keep it hidden. Her powers start to burst out of control, driving her to join her mother in the sky to solve her problems. Once in the sky with her star family, she becomes entangled in family dramas and a competition that she must win.
Thoughts: This was a recent Owlcrate book. It just sounded so good and I love Roshani Chokshi's books, so I was excited to read this one. I will say that it was a bit more lack-luster for me than I was hoping. But I still enjoyed the story and the magic. It is a bit reminiscent of some of Roshani Chokshi's books, so if you like her books, you may like this one. But it was pretty good and the book is really pretty!
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Synopsis: The story of Nobody Owens who 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 while his story is sad and sometimes very lonely, he grasps life with both hands, knowing he will see his family in death. I suppose he never really misses out on anything.

Thoughts: How many times have I read this book? Every year for the last seven maybe? Anyway, I always love it so much. And no matter what, I always find myself thinking about it and about the characters. And I always cry at the end. One of my favorite books.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Favorite book read this month: New book? The Hate U Give, but I always love the Graveyard Book and the Night Circus.
Least favorite book read this month: Star Daughter. Not because it was bad, it just wasn't my favorite.
I have read 72 books out of my goal of 80. So I am well ahead of schedule, which is awesome. After last year, I am glad to be doing better!
I didn't make any progress on my alphabet reading challenge. I still have six letters to complete, but hope to complete two in October. I'm not sure I will quite finish, but that's OK, it is just for fun.

Here is my reading list for October (after taking out the Graveyard Book). And I doubt I will be able to read all of these, but I will select all of my reads from these:

I have already started the Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein and I am nearly finished with the Sundial (a book club selection that we are discussing next week). There is another book club book to read in October for November, but I don't plan on reading it because priorities, obviously. I need to read Jackaby and Varney the Vampire to help with my alphabet reading challenge. Some would be re-reads. And I am looking forward to reading Horrid. It might be more scary than my usual, but it sounds good.

I'm excited for my favorite month of the year!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Disease Post: Diphtheria

This is a disease that I have always found interesting and horrifying.

Image credit: CDC/Sarah Bailey Cutchin

The disease diphtheria is caused by a bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The part that causes the most problems is the toxin that the bacteria produces (diphtheria toxin). However, not all C. diphtheriae actually have the toxin gene (but this is still infectious and dangerous without the toxin). There are also other Corynebacterium species that can carry the diphtheria toxin, but they cause infections in animals (CDC).

The bacteria is a gram positive (it has a peptidoglycan cell wall) bacillus (rod-shaped bacteria). It is an aerobic bacteria, meaning that it requires oxygen to live.

How is it spread?
There are two different types of diphtheria infection: cutaneous and respiratory.

The cutaneous infection can occur when the bacteria gets in the skin. This can happen if a person comes into physical contact with someone else who has a cutaneous infection, which causes infectious ulcers on the skin. It is also possible to catch it from a surface that has been touched by someone who is infected.

The respiratory infection is the most worrisome type of diphtheria infection. People catch this from inhaling the bacteria via respiratory droplets in the air.

C. diphtheriae is present worldwide. Humans are the only known reservoir, but vaccine non-compliance and the presence of asymptomatic carriers keeps the bacteria around.

The cutaneous infection is less deadly. The bacteria colonizes the skin and gets deeper into the skin through breaks or cuts. A papule develops and then becomes an ulcer that is usually chronic and slow or non-healing. There can be redness, pain, and swelling according to the Mayo Clinic. The ulcer may be covered with a grayish membrane and is infectious. According to the CDC, this form rarely results in more serious disease.
Diphtheria ulcer on a patient's leg. Image credit: CDC
The respiratory infection is the one most people talk and worry about. Symptoms usually start within two to five days of exposure and generally begins with a sore throat, malaise, and low-grade fever (WHO, CDC). The toxin (more on that shortly) causes dead tissue to build up in the throat, eventually forming a "pseudomembrane." According to the CDC, "[The pseudomemebrane] can cover tissues in the nose, tonsils, voice box, and throat, making it very hard to breathe and swallow." As you can imagine, difficulty breathing can lead to many other issues. According to the CDC, without treatment up to half of patients will die of the disease. Even with treatment, the CDC states that one in ten will still die of the disease. And just for the gross out factor: the pseudomembrane can start to slough off and further block your airway. Yuck!
Child with a swollen neck due to diphtheria. Image credit: CDC.
The toxin, diphtheria toxin, causes the most problems. The toxin inhibits protein synthesis (keeps cells from making proteins, which are needed for just about everything that happens in your body). "If the toxin gets into the blood stream, it can cause heart, nerve, and kidney damage," according to the CDC. Some of this damage can be long-lasting, even after the infection is cleared.

Prevention and Treatment:
The best prevention for this disease is the vaccine. Keeping up immunization and getting booster shots are the most important ways to keep diphtheria infections to a minimum. The vaccine is a toxoid vaccine, meaning it is actually a vaccine for the toxin, not to the bacteria itself. It is often included with the vaccine for tetanus and/or pertussis: Tdap, DTaP,  DT, and Td vaccines.

For treatment, antibiotics like penicillin or erythromycin can help get rid of the bacteria. But it is important to neutralize the toxin. There is a diphtheria antitoxin available for this and sometimes people will get injections made from the blood of people who have cleared the infection in order to stimulate antibody production to the toxin and bacteria.

So that's C. diphtheriae! I always liked to use diphtheria as a supporting argument for vaccination. Along the lines of: "Do you know what happens to you when you get diphtheria? The skin in your throat sloughs off and then you die."

Medical Microbiology sixth edition by Patrick R. Murray, Ken S. Rosenthal, and Michael A. Pfaller

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

August 2020 Wrap Up

 Hello everyone!

Well, I feel like the worst blogger in the world. I still have not completed the next disease post and I delayed this one until basically the last minute and am posting it late.

Work is still killing me. I've had to take on a bunch more responsibility lately because we had someone higher up leave for a new job and the rest of us are still pretty new and trying to figure things out. I'm still working overtime every week and having to go in on most weekends. It is a lot. And I'm always so tired when I get home that I'm not even reading as much as I normally would. Or I just re-read books because it reduces my anxiety levels.

My anxiety has been pretty high lately and I'm still adjusting and figuring out how to cope. It just make life a litte more difficult than I would like and I feel like life is just waaaay to hard to keep up with right now. Hence, late blog posts. Sorry. Thanks to those of you who stick around anyway.

So here is what I have read in August:

Title: Dark Lord of Derkholm
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Synopsis: In a magical world in which all residents (wizards, kings, and so on) must cater to the man who runs their world: Mr. Chesney. But the residents are tired of Mr. Chesney and his pilgrim parties laying waste to their world. According to the oracles, Mr. Chesney can only be stopped if Derk plays the part of the Dark Lord and his son, Blade, acts as a wizard guide. With the help of the rest of their family (including Blade's griffin siblings), they try to bring an end to Mr. Chesney's control.
Thoughts: I wanted to read more books by Diana Wynne Jones and this one and its sequel were pretty highly recommended. I'm really glad I read this one, I really enjoyed it. It was sort of strange and took me a while to really understand the world, but it was great. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: You Should See Me in a Crown
Author: Leah Johnson
Synopsis: Liz Lighty has always felt awkward at school. After she fails to get a scholarship into her chosen college, she has to find another way to get the money she needs. So she decides to run for prom queen. Her friends are doing their best to support her, but they think she needs to stay away from the new girl at school, Mack. But Liz isn't sure she wants to stay away from Mack.
Thoughts: This book was a bit of a slow start for me. I don't know if I wasn't paying enough attention right at first or if the writing style is really that different. But at first, I felt like I couldn't keep track of what was happening. It was just a phase (or just me), because once it got going, it was very enjoyable!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Bookish and the Beast
Author: Ashley Poston
Narrators: Caitlin Kelly and Curry Whitmire
Synopsis: A beauty and the beast retelling in modern times. Rosie is busy between school, work, friends, and college application essays. Meanwhile, Vance has been banished to a small town as punishment following a tabloid scandal. Their paths collide as Rosie finds herself in debt to Vance and his caretaker. Rosie and Vance can't stand one another, so what will happen when they are thrown together so much.
Thoughts: I like these books. They are cute and sweet and sometimes very silly. It has been a while since I read the first two, so I didn't quite remember everything, but this is a new story so that isn't very important. Vance was a total jerk generally, but I kind of liked him. Overall, it was a fun, sweet story.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Title: The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly
Author: Jamie Pacton
Narrator: Jess Nahikian
Synopsis: Kit Sweetly has dreams of becoming a knight at the medieval-themed restaurant that she works at, but only men are allowed to be made into knights. But being a knight comes with a pay raise that Kit needs to help her mom and brother make ends meet. She rounds up a group of people who "can't" be knights and gets her brother (who is a knight at the restaurant) to train them. They intend to hijack the show to show what the Girl Knight and her friends can do.
Thoughts: Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. I thought it would be so good, but it fell a bit short for me. I'm not quite sure what it was that put me off. Overall, the story was alright, but I felt like it could have been better.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5

Title: Year of the Griffin
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Narrator: Gemma Dawson

Synopsis: Eight years after the pilgrim tours have stopped, the Wizard University has been trying to re-learn how to teach more than just how to cater to Mr. Chesney and the pilgrims, but they are having a tough time. Derk's griffin daughter, Elda, starts at the university. She and her friends end up trying to help their teacher, Wizard Corkoran reach the moon.

Thoughts: This is the sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm. Diana Wynne Jones has a unique writing style in that you are sort of dropped into the lives of these characters. You don't get all the backstory right away because the characters' lives have been going on. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I think it is a unique and interesting way to write stories.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Title: Geekerella
Author: Ashley Poston
Narrators: Eileen Stevens and Tristan Morris
Synopsis: A Cinderella re-telling in modern times. Elle has been in love with the old show, Starfield, all her life. But they are making a re-boot movie and the guy chosen to play the main character, Carmindor, is a teen heartthrob. Darian, the aforementioned heartthrob, is a true Starfield fan, too, but has been told by his agent (and father) not to let on. But he wants the fans to accept him.
Thoughts: This was a re-read for me. Once I finished Bookish and the Beast, I wanted to go back and re-read the first two. I enjoyed this one just as much the second time. It was fun and cute and a pretty creative re-telling.
Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Favorite book read this month: Dark Lord of Derkholm or You Should See Me in a Crown
Least favorite book read this month: The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly

I did not make any progress on my alphabet reading challenge in August. Luckily I only have J, Q, U, V, and Z to finish and I already have a couple of titles planned.

I have read 66 books towards my goal of 80. I think I'm doing pretty well.

Unfortunately, nothing much else has been going on. Just work and trying to play with my rats. And starting to prepare for Halloween! September 1st is day one of Halloween, after all!

One fun thing for Halloween: my mom and I are doing Halloween advent calendars. We found wooden ones at Michael's and we are each painting one and putting treasures in the drawers. Then we are going to mail them to each other! Long distance Halloween celebrations! I am still finding some small treasures that will fit in the drawers, but I am excited! I will post pictures in October (if I remember).

I hope everyone had a good August and I hope September will be even better!