Books for Breakfast #107

Book Reviews

Spice and Wolf, Vol. 1 by Isuna Hasekura & The Johnstown Girls by Kathleen George

Spice and Wolf 1

I’ve noticed that this anime has been seemingly super popular in a lot of circles. I never got around to really watching it though, aside from the first episode, but Alex found it boring and fell asleep, I got into other series more heavily, and it ended up on the back burner. Although, I will always read a light novel of an anime, even if I haven’t seen the anime! Since I’ve heard such good things about the series as a whole, I figured that maybe I’ll enjoy the light novel a lot and then I’ll watch the anime later to compare. (Like books to movies) and on that note (Spoiler alert: The manga/light novel/source material is almost always better)

The series follows Lawrence, a traveling merchant trying to make his way in the world. He dreams of eventually settling down in a city and setting up shop, since traveling all the time gets rather lonely. During a trip, he ends up meeting a God of harvest that feels shafted by the village that once relied on her. They blame her for everything that happens to the crops, even though she can’t make every year a good harvest or it would stress the ground and crops. She’s a bit bitter and to escape the town, she ends up hiding out in a bale of hay that Lawrence has traded. Shocked upon seeing her in the back of his cart, he ends up agreeing to help her make her way back north, so she can see the lands that she grew up in.

Although, carrying around a woman with wolf ears and a tail, isn’t the best idea with the church gaining power and cracking down on olden Gods and traditions.

I thought the first book was going to be slow. In fact, I actually thought the whole series would be rather slow going and mellow. I wasn’t expecting action, death, and deception RIGHT OFF THE BAT! I must say, I was very pleasantly shocked by this book and I already went out and grabbed books 2 and 3! I am ready for more awesome action and character development! I haven’t gotten around to watching the anime yet, but it’s also on my list now, especially after reading this book. Now I know that I have some awesome scenes to look forward to seeing acted out!

Johnstown Girls

This book was given to me by my mother, who got the book signed by the author at an event she attended. The book takes place in the area of PA that I grew up around, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, I know these places well. The book is fiction, but the events are real. The book talks about the floods of 1889, when thousands of people lost their lives when twenty million tons of water nearly leveled the city of Johnstown, PA. The story follows a dysfunctional couple, Ben and Nina, who are both reporters, and a news piece to remember the floods. The piece revolves around a 103 year old woman, Ellen, who was a survivor of the flood, and how she lost her family in the chaos…although, she seems to think that her sister also survived.

It’s so weird reading a book that is set somewhere you used to live. They talked a lot about Pittsburgh, and I knew the street names, the burrows, and they even talked about Caliban’s Books on Craig Street! (Literally right around the corner from where I used to live!) I walked up and down Craig Street every day for five year, reading about it in a book was so surreal! So in that way, I really enjoyed the story, not to mention, learning more about local history (even in a fictional setting) was really interesting.

The only draw back of the book, in my personal opinion, was all the relationship tension between Nina and Ben. Ben: separated from his (basically) emotionally abusive wife and children. Nina: Junior reporter struggling to deal with the fact that Ben has a family yet still sleeping with him, while also trying to hide it from their workplace, but also finds herself drawn to a single, attractive, volunteer fireman? I think the story could have been done without their added drama, the story of the floods and survivors tales (Ellen’s stories about her past and the floods) were way more engaging then the soap-opera drama that was Ben and Nina’s personal lives.

If you ignore Nina and Ben, Ellen has a very interesting story. She’s 103, she survived a horrible event that altered history at age 4. She lost her family, was taken in by rather harsh relatives, and still managed to live a very fulfilling life. She held onto secrets about the day of the flood for nearly 100 years, not wanting to shame her relatives. Not to mention, the flood itself was interesting. The reason the flood of 1889 happened in the first place, was because of a shoddily created man-made lake up in the mountains above Johnstown that was a “retreat” for the wealthy of Pittsburgh. The dam holding the water back didn’t pass inspections, but wasn’t actually fixed, causing it to break during a large rainstorm. I knew the names of the rich folks who used that resort, their names were the names of my campus buildings!! It was so bizarre to read! To think that the flood probably could have been avoided if those people actually used their money to fix the dam, which you know damn well they could have afforded. Some did donate money to help with rescue/aid efforts, but in my opinion….too little, too late.

It’s a good story, I probably enjoyed it more than most since I’m from that area and knew all the landmarks mentioned. It might be slightly less engaging for someone who isn’t from around that area, but still a great book none the less! (I guess I’m a little biased, since I love reading books that take place somewhere I know, it makes things feel more personal!)


By Jess

A bookworm since the tender age of whenever I stopped chewing on books and started actually reading them. A cat-mom, graphic designer, and introvert originally from Pittsburgh, but now resides in the humid, hot, state of Texas. Cheers!

  • Kay

    I feel like I automatically enjoy books more when they mention my state/areas I know haha!

    • There is something exciting about it, kind of like you’re in on an inside joke or something!