Cover Image: Great Circle

Great Circle

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I have no problem reading books with 600 or more pages, but I actually dreaded reading this book and seeing I still had over 12 hours or reading! I did finish it just to see what happens to Marian, but I was turning pages very quickly to get to the end. The description of the book was great, but the story was mediocre.
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I don’t use the term epic lightly, but at 600 pages, this chonk was quite the epic. 

This book revolves (In circles, perhaps? Ba dum chhh 🥁) around Marian Graves, who becomes an extraordinary female pilot in the 1930s and ‘40s, but is famous for disappearing on her attempt to fly around the world at the North and South Poles. It also switches to the present-day, to a famous actress, Hadley Baxter who is playing Marian in a movie and is struggling to embody who she was as a person.

I won’t lie, the first 50 or 60 pages I was like, where is this thing going? There seem to be several side plots and I did have a bit of trouble keeping them straight during the entire book. I wish I had made just some rudimentary notes of who was who from the beginning. Also, keep pushing through if you’re not feeling it at first. Everything comes together and will make sense. 

This was a beautifully written book all the way through. Do I wish it was a solid 150 less pages? Yes. 😅 Do I also somehow wish that there were 150 MORE pages I could read of this story? Also yes. It was that good. 

The characters sometimes were too angsty and withdrawn and mYsTeRiOuS sometimes for my taste, but I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again - female characters 👏🏼do👏🏼not👏🏼 have to be likeable. 

No spoilers here as always, my friends, but the ending. THE ENDING. Perfection.
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I’ve seen so many positive reviews for this book so maybe my expectations were too high, to start. Unfortunately, I felt like this book was trying to be too much, and it just didn’t work for me.
I thought Shipstead did an incredible job of weaving past and present together through Marian Graves and Hadley Baxter’s alternating chapter voices. However, the number of characters was overwhelming, and a character map would have been a huge help! The theme of the “circle” throughout the book had potential, but several chapters focusing primarily on the concept of the circle dragged. The next hundred pages, not mentioning circles at all, left me puzzled.
Between the decades of aviation history, backdrops of Montana, LA, Seattle, New York, war-torn London, Pacific navy battles, 4+ main characters, frequent side paragraphs on circles, and then an added sexuality component, I felt like the book was both too short to cohesively fit everything in while also 200 pages too long (its ~600 pages). If you enjoy books with an aviation theme or a more lyrical writing style, this story would likely deserve a higher rating for you!
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You know those books that are so good that when you read them you feel like you are on a totally different plane.  Well, if that is something you are looking for, here it is. Honestly, it has been a long time since a novel has swept me away like “Great Circle.”  Filled with beautiful, lyrical writing, this book felt like a totally immersive experience.  The characters felt full and well developed and both storylines, which feel completely different in tone, were captivating.  

The story follows two women. One timeline starting around 1920 follows Marian, an aspiring pilot who is being raised, in the loosest terms, by her uncle, following her career and life as she grows up.  The second trajectory set in modern-day follows Hadley, an actress set to play Marian in an upcoming film.  The modern storyline reads like most contemporary fiction and whereas Marian’s story almost has a lovely built-in haze around it.   The opposing tones, almost jolt the read between perspectives, creating a great sense of anticipation. 

If you are a fan of “The Goldfinch,” “The Great Believers,” “The Shipping News,” or similar titles, you will want to pick this up. 4. 5 Stars. 

Thank you, NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Sometimes shocking but refreshingly uncensored, casually discussing topics that are often overlooked or considered taboo when writing about female adolescence and sexuality. 

A sweeping historical fiction with a dual timeline. This book is took me a long time to get through it but by 25% in I was hooked and attempting to race through it to find out more (a futile attempt...this one makes you take your time for it). This sometimes feels as though it is bouncing between 2 or 3 separate books as the chapters and timelines change because there is so much detail given in each timeline. This is an investment to read but worth the journey.
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I loved the style of writing and the richness of details and the vivid historical background.
Unfortunately I found this book too long and slow and the story didn't keep my attention.
Not my cup of tea.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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I just finished Maggie Shipstead.'s upcoming new novel,  "The Great Circle." I found the story to be quite descriptive and lengthy, but 100% worth the investment of my reading time.   The story is of two women, who live about 100 years apart in time but their lives are very parallel .in many ways and somewhat intersect..  I was glad I read this on my kindle  since Shipstead has  quite an impressive vocabulary. I found myself having to use the dictionary a bit, which I loved!   .  Thank you #netgalley and #knopf for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review..
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🛩Great core story diluted by distractions🗺

3.5 🌟 stars
The idea of a story dominated by a strong woman carving out an extraordinary, independent life drew me to this novel.  Aviatrix Marian Graves and her artist twin brother Jamie, their passions and loves, were the heart and soul of a compelling story lasting through the bulk of the twentieth century, packed with action and exciting times.  If only the book had been shorter and more focused on them.  I made it to the end but several issues made this read an uphill battle.

Generally, it was way too long.  The storyline is split between two timelines and I quickly tealized the contemporary one did not interest me.  I could see why the actress slated to play Marian in a biopic movie became an instrument for revealing issues in Marian's history that were not generally known, but in large the movie making and the actresses' personal life just seemed a distraction from the main event.

The narrative is written in the third person and I felt it created a distance between me and the characters.  Marian does seem purposely written as a self-contained, independent figure, but I felt a casual observer and I would have preferred a closer connection to the main characters, particularly Jamie and Marian.

I found the author's tendency to create passages of long lists unfortunate.  And it's obvious and admirable that the author knew so much about the period, places and planes that dominated Marion's life but sometimes the detailed sharing of her knowledge was too much.

Basically, the essence of Shipstead's story is excellent but I felt the execution could have been better and much more concise.

Thanks to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley for providing a complimentary advance copy of the book; this is my voluntary and honest review.
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The Great Circle flips between the early to mid 1900s following the life of Marian (and her twin brother) and her passion to become a pilot no matter what it took and present day following Hadley, an actress. I enjoyed this book but liked and connected much more to Marian’s story than Hadley’s. More time was spent following Marian and her journey and I also felt her character was more fully developed. 

Marian and Jamie’s mother passed when they were infants, and they were left in the care of their uncle in rural Montana. They were mostly left on their own and Marian falls in love with planes and flying when two barnstormers come through the town. She eventually is able to take flying lessons and from there has many different journeys in flying throughout her life. 

This book was longer than my typical reads at 600 pages; however, it didn’t drag, though it did take me a bit to get interested in it and to figure out the set up. 

I received a copy from NetGalley and this is my honest review.
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Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead, is a compelling historical fiction novel about a ground-breaking female aviatrix in the 20th century.  Marian Graves and her twin brother James are rescued as infants from a sinking ship in 1914.  They are sent to Missoula Montana to be raised by their father’s brother.  It is during her time in Montana that Marian learns to fly airplanes, and becomes driven by her ambition to soar higher and faster that dominates the rest of her life.
In the book’s alternating timeline, in 2014, actress Hadley Baxter is a starlet in Hollywood who is tapped to play the role of Marian Graves in a biopic.
The novel is truly sweeping in its scope, spanning several continents and historical periods, even referencing the glaciers that produced Missoula’s topography and the earlier Native American residents of the region.  The prose is lyrical and the featured strong female protagonist is a well-drawn complex character that, as a reader, I found sympathetic as her family relationships, loneliness, loves, and losses play out in the story.  The rest of the characters do not have a similar depth.  Hadley seems shallow, although there are threads of connections between her life and Marian’s that were interesting.  Most of the male characters are flawed and some are downright nefarious.
The book is clearly well-researched and beautifully descriptive but, in my opinion, too long.  I would have enjoyed it even more at a length of less than 500 pages.  But I appreciated very much the strong female protagonist and the alternating timelines that encompassed so much history of the past 100 years.  I would recommend this book to readers who look for the same genre.

Thank you to Alfred A. Knopf publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.  This is my unbiased review.
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I am in awe! Absolutely speechless! This book took me to heights I didn’t think I’d ever go. The writing is superb and the story is beautiful, raw and genuine. This book reminded me that we are all flawed narrators and that our story matters. This is the best book I’ve read so far in 2021!
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I LOVED This book. A unique voice in an era that has become saturated. If you are a fan of the Huntress or the Rose Code, you will LOVE This.
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This is my first book by Maggie Shipstead and I loved it!!!!!!!!!! If you are a fan of historical fiction this one is definitely for you. I highly recommend this book.
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I saw this novel mentioned several times online with readers loving it. I wanted to love it. I loved some of the strong characters. But the novel was too long to me and very slow to start. It took me awhile to get into it and even then it never pulled me in the way I had hoped it would.  It starts in 1914 in Montana and covers aviation, prohibition, war, art, and present day Hollywood. The main character is Marian and it covers her life and fascination with being a pilot.  I found Hadley and her Hollywood lifestyle  distracting from the novel.  I have seen where this novel has been selected for some book clubs and I do think it would, be a great discussion.  Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.
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Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead is a book that is truly epic both in time periods encompassed and actual length.  The book starts of with an actual tragedy in the 1920s of a sinking ship and the captain making the unconscionable decision to abandon his ship to save his twin babies.  You are then taken on a journey of more than 80 years from the far reaches of Montana, NYC, London and of course the clouds.  

The girl twin, Marian, saved becomes a famous aviator and pushes the boundaries of her gender almost from our first meeting with her,  Truly an unforgettable character.  We also meet the modern day actress, Hadley, cast to play Marian in a movie.  Hadley has her own challenges and the exposure to the life story of Marian can help her find redemption.

This book grabs hold of your heartstrings from the start and does not let go.  You also are educated gently on a history that few may know anything about.  Shipstead is a masterful weaver of past and present timelines in a way to bring much understanding.  Happiness and sorrow are intertwined with grace and these characters will not soon be forgotten.

I was provided a free advance reader copy from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review on Net Galley.  The opinions shared in this review are my own.
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This book does historical fiction very well: it creates a specific set of moments in time inhabited by characters who are of the moment, whether breaking through social conventions or being confined to the times. 

It also juggles stories of the past and present well showing the ways they are connected without seeming overly contrived.

The writing is polished and flows along smoothly with sophistication—forward momentum and specificity.

A recommended read! Sorry to see the story end.
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Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. Genre: Historical Fiction. Location: All over the world. Time: From early 1900s until 2015. Note: This is a really long book. Don’t get discouraged. It’s an epic adventure worth finishing!-
In 1914, newborn twins Maggie and Jamie Graves survive a ocean liner sinking in the Atlantic Ocean. Sent to Missoula, Montana, USA to be raised by their gambling, hard-drinking uncle, they lead a neglected life until 14 year old Marian falls in love with flying. She finds a benefactor in a wealthy bootlegger, which begins a tense and controlling relationship lasting for years. Her ultimate goal is to circumnavigate the globe from North Pole to South Pole.-
A century later, famous and troubled actress Hadley Baxter is chosen to play Marian in a film. An orphan herself, Hadley finds herself wondering about Marian’s true story.-
This is an epic story that spans decades and continents. While Marian is the main character, it also follows many other characters whose lives intersect with Marian and Jamie. It travels from WWI to prohibition to WWII and beyond. The characters change with the times, and Marian keeps her goal of flying first in her heart. One reason the book is so long is that the author includes many stories of real female pilots over the years. I almost think this could be 3 books: a book about daredevil Marian, a book about her sensitive artist brother Jamie, and a book about their wildly independent and lifelong friend Caleb. It’s 4 stars from me with thanks to NetGalley. Knopf Doubleday publication date: May 3, 2021. 🌵📚👩🏼‍🦳”-
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A captivating story! This book drew me in right from the beginning. Maggie Shipstead did an amazing job of keeping the reader wanting more and turning the pages. As the daughter of a pilot I have an even better appreciation for the love my father had being in the sky. This is a must read and I highly recommend it to all.
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The strength of this book, the prose, was also what made me dislike it some. I just don't think this book needed over 600 pages to tell the story. Shipstead's writing may be viewed as superior by a lot of readers, but honestly I just wanted it to end. This is not a usual review for me, because I tend to give 5 Star reviews as long as I'm happy at the end of the book. The only thing I was happy about was that I didn't have to read it anymore.
I did finish the book. I was surprised at the ending, which is good. However, I'm still asking myself why everybody in the book was either cheating on someone or sleeping with someone of the same sex. Just not for me.
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Great Circle is a richly spacious novel about a bold female pilot who feels simultaneously larger-than-life and intimately real. Marian Graves leaves behind a logbook from her final flight in 1950, when she attempted to circumnavigate the globe longitudinally. “My last descent won’t be the tumbling helpless kind but a sharp gannet plunge,” she writes, just before disappearing over Antarctica. A fictional character, Marian sits alongside historic aviators like Amy Johnson and Elinor Smith, whose tales are highlighted in asides, but her path is her own.

Marian’s early life is similarly dramatic. As infants in 1914, she and twin brother Jamie are saved from a burning ship and sent to Missoula, Montana, to stay with their uncle, an artist with a gambling problem. Two barnstormer pilots ignite Marian’s urge to expand her world, but flying lessons are costly and inappropriate for girls. Seeking direction and funding, she forms a reluctant attachment to Barclay McQueen, a wealthy, controlling bootlegger. Jamie, a vegetarian and pacifist, is equally captivating. Like Marian, he enters into relationships that spur him to confront his values. Their stories run alongside that of Hadley Baxter, a contemporary actress whose messy love life is sabotaging her career. By playing Marian in a new biopic, she hopes to begin anew. Hadley’s account initially feels superficial in comparison, but as she researches her subject, the timelines have an exciting interplay, and missing pieces click into place.

The characters’ journeys encompass many locales – 1920s Montana, wild remote Alaska, WWII England with the Air Transport Auxiliary, a cloud’s opaque, dizzying interior – yet the research feels weightless. The vast black crevasse Marian glimpses while flying over western Canada comes to symbolize life’s darknesses: how do we move past situations that threaten to swallow us whole? Imbued with adventurous spirit and rendered in gorgeous language, this is an epic worth savoring.

(from the Historical Novels Review, May 2021)
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