Tuesday, January 21, 2020

HFVBT Interview: Carrie Callaghan, Author of Salt the Snow

I'm very excited to welcome Carrie Callaghan, author of "Salt the Snow," here to A Bookish Affair today! What inspired you to write "Salt the Snow?"
I came across Milly Bennett somewhere in some previous research, and her amazing life story stuck with me. She did everything from going undercover as a maid in San Francisco to chasing a man she loved to Hawaii to running a newspaper in China during the civil war there to picking up her life and starting entirely over in Moscow in 1931. She was so brave but with such a soft, big heart, I knew I wanted to tell her story. 
Even better, her story raised important questions about being true to your beliefs and learning to love yourself – themes that still resonate today.
Book number two! What is the biggest lesson you took with you from "A Light of Her Own" into this book?
I was terrified to publish my first book, particularly since that meant “coming out” as a writer. I was sure people would be mean! But the experience was completely the opposite. Everyone in my life was so kind and supportive, and I realized that my fears were more about my insecurities than about anyone else’s views of my writing. So now I’m still scared, but not quite as petrified. Like Milly, I’m learning to love myself.
Milly's Soviet Russia is a huge departure from Judith's Netherlands. How did you adjust to writing in this new time and place?
There was SO much more information, in some ways, it was a little daunting! I had hundreds of Milly’s letters to read, as compared to only second-hand records about Judith’s life (and her paintings, of course). But on the other hand, the culture and life of Soviet-era Moscow was, in many ways, more foreign than 17th century Holland. The biggest challenge there, once I figured out what story I was going to tell, was trying to write the novel in a way that reminded readers that even though we know what happened to the Soviet Union, Americans in the 1930s had no idea what the future held. Particularly since that was during the Depression, and American capitalism seemed, as Milly would say, washed up.
Who is your favorite secondary character in "Salt the Snow?"
Ah, I love Zhenya, Milly’s husband. He was such a gentle and tortured soul. Milly’s archives contain some letters from him, and my heart breaks for what he went through. It’s such a pleasure to take inspiration from the unique characters of history and to try to recreate their complex lives.
What was the most interesting/ weirdest thing that you found out while you were writing “Salt the Snow?”
I was surprised by how sexually liberated Milly was. We often assume men and women who lived before the 1960s were caught in sexual straightjackets, but that wasn’t the case. Milly had more boyfriends than I could reasonably fit into the novel, and she wasn’t shy about writing about her exploits to her friends back home. 
What is your favorite quote from "Salt the Snow?"
I love the scene that gives the novel its title. It comes as Milly is walking home through the frigid streets in the middle of the night (and is taken from a real experience Milly had):

She turned a corner, and ahead of her shuffled a bundled figure. Milly slowed, cautious. He had a bucket slung over his arm and a sheepskin cap pulled low over his face. He dipped his hand into the bucket, then swung his arm, bent at the elbow, in a circle. He repeated the motion, scattering salt on the sidewalk like seeds on furrowed ground. As Milly approached, she could see the deep lines of his face, worn by the sun. He paused as she passed by, then continued wordlessly sowing the salt upon the snow of the walkway, as once he had surely sown seeds on some farm. Milly turned and watched as he reenacted that vanished life here in the city, sprinkling salt at midnight to keep the relentless snow at bay.

Monday, January 20, 2020

HFVBT Review: Salt the Snow by Carrie Callaghan

Title: Salt the Snow
Author: Carrie Callaghan
Format: ARC
Publisher: Amberjack
Publish Date: February 4, 2020
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "American journalist Milly Bennett has covered murders in San Francisco, fires in Hawaii, and a civil war in China, but 1930s Moscow presents her greatest challenge yet. When her young Russian husband is suddenly arrested by the secret police, Milly tries to get him released. But his arrest reveals both painful secrets about her marriage and hard truths about the Soviet state she has been working to serve. Disillusioned, and pulled toward the front lines of a captivating new conflict, Milly must find a way to do the right thing for her husband, her conscience, and her heart."

My Two Cents:

"Salt the Snow" is the fascinating story of American journalist Milly Bennett, who has a myriad of world changing events that she has covered over the years. The story that seems to tempt her most is the story of the creation of Soviet Russia. She is attracted to the idea of something so different from the American dream and finds herself going to search for a way to be a part of it all, even when it puts her life and the lives of some of those that she loves in danger. This is an interesting story with a lot of historical detail about a not often explored perspective.

Milly Bennett is a fascinating character. She's brash. She's outspoken. She always holds her own opinion up high regardless of who it bothers. On top of being an American where Americans are not necessarily welcomed, she is an American female journalist, all three descriptors that are easily held against her throughout the book. She's a strong character, who is unafraid of standing up for her beliefs. I really enjoyed following her through this book.

Most of the book takes place in Russia as Milly is trying to figure out why her husband, Zhenya, has been arrested. As the story unfolds, we see that their marriage is unconventional and it may be that which has caused him to be arrested. We get a lot of insight into how Milly must navigate the system in order to figure out what has happened and to try to fix things. We also get a view of her journalist side, which was definitely interesting to me!

Before this book, I knew very little about Americans who went to Soviet Russia at the beginning of it because they were excited about what this new economic model might offer them. I love when historical fiction explores something that is off the beaten path and this part of history certainly is for me. I really wish that the book would have explored a little bit more about why Milly was so intrigued by this and why she continued to be intrigued even when her husband ends up in jail based on breaking or potentially breaking the new Soviet roles. The insight into the attraction would have been helpful to the story line.

Overall, this was a really solid story with a memorable character that whet my appetite for more!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Review: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

Title: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author: Anissa Gray
Format: eBook
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: February 9, 2019 in hardcover (Paperback is out today!)
Source: Publisher 

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The Butler family has had their share of trials—as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lillian can attest—but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives.

Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband Proctor are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened.

As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters."

My Two Cents:

"The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls" is one of those books that I feel like I saw a lot last year but never read the synopsis. The cover is so unmistakable though and definitely pulls you in. When I was given the opportunity to read a copy, I was captivated by the synopsis. What happens to a family when its defacto leader, Althea, is suddenly taken away and it's up to her sisters, Viola and Lillian to take her place and more importantly raise her two teenagers, Kim and Baby Vi. The circumstances are terrible and each person is trying to find their own footing again. This is a good story of love and resilience!

This book took me a little bit to get into. I was trying to figure out the placement of the characters and what roles they all played. You have a lot of different points of view to include the letters that Althea and her husband, Proctor, write back and forth to each other while they are in jail. At first, I was thrown off by all of these different narratives but eventually you see that much of the book is concerned with the characters figuring out who they are while the readers are putting together the same question. This ended up being very effective for me.

I love a good family story and this book definitely fits that bill! Viola, Lillian, Kim, and Baby Vi aren't really sure what to make of their new situation without Althea. Each of them are trying to navigate and often seem to be failing at their new roles. We see each of them, even the adults, grow in different ways throughout the book. We get insight into each of these characters throughout the book. I really felt for this family and you are certainly pulling for them throughout the whole book!

This is a great pick for those that love character-driven stories and complicated family matters!


Monday, January 6, 2020

2019 Favorites

Dearest Readers, I could not get myself together enough to tell you about my favorite reads of 2019 in 2019 but let me tell you about these fantastic books now. In no particular order, here they are! I hope you're able to pick up a few of them and read them.

Let's Go Swimming on Doomsday by Natalie C. Anderson

Four Days of You and Me by Miranda Keneally (So this one isn't out until this spring but it's adorable and I loved it and you must read it when it comes out).

Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onuwachi

Once More Unto the Brech by Meghan Holloway

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

The Chef's Secret by Crystal King

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihira

Learning to See by Elise Hooper

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Becoming by Michelle Obama

American Princess by Stephanie Marie Thornton

Call Sign Chaos by Jim Mattis and Bing West

What should I definitely put on my 2020 TBR list?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Reading Challenge Update!

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!
I'm still trucking on this challenge and it is now very safe to say that since we're in 2020, this challenge is going to extend into 2020. The beauty about these reading challenges is that because it's something I chose to do on my own, it's okay if it takes longer than a year. I am still really enjoying this challenge and it has definitely opened my eyes in a few ways:
  • Oh, man, do we have a long way to go when it comes to diverse books. It has been so difficult to find books set in certain countries as anything in English translation seems to be hyper-focused in certain areas of the world (U.S. or Europe).
  • It has made me mad that I don't know more languages! I can't tell you how many times I've read a synopsis of a book that seems super promising only to realize that the book hasn't been published in English, the only language that I can read well. I can understand Spanish but a whole book would be quite the slog.
  • I'm not sure if I'm going to explain this well but I had an ugly realization about myself that I was getting frustrated by the amount of stories I was finding that were set in a certain country but about people from somewhere else. It forced me to take a step back and really think about what I was trying to accomplish with this challenge in the first place, which is simply to understand the world we live in just a little better and reading stories set in some place where the characters are not from is definitely a part of understanding the world a bit better. See, this is the thing I love about books: they can force you to examine your own perspective and biases in surprising ways - so good!
I read books from this many countries in December:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 134 books for this challenge so far.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

This is 2020!

I feel like 2020 kind of snuck up on me! Between traveling the last half of November and then running head first into holiday preparations and work being super busy, I feel like I haven't had a chance to just sit down and well, breathe. I'm hoping to take the intention of slowing down a little bit to heart in 2020. I wish you nothing but the best for the new year!
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