Cover Image: Great Circle

Great Circle

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As a reader I am inspired by stories that set my imagination afire, bring chills to my spine, tears to my eyes, and comfort in this baffling world. Great Circle is that kind of novel.

As a genealogist, I am fascinated by the hidden stories of my ancestors. I can never learn enough to fully flesh out the details of their lives. What it was like to leave their homes and reinvent themselves in a new land? What lead to the seduction that left them unmarried mothers? How did they face the devastation of a child drowning in the canal they had to pass every day? I only know that they survived, for a while, and then they died, taking their secrets with them. As someday, I will, too.

Life throws us into despair--all of us. We give in and give up, or we resist and struggle to the surface of the water, take another breath, and reinvent our life in the after-world. Sometimes there is freedom in reinvention. Sometimes it saves us.

Great Circle is one of those massive reads that sweep us across time and history, a long journey into character's entire lives. They are orphaned or neglected and unprotected by unreliable adults, and make their way as best they can. They lose loves and are loved by monsters. Dreams are fragile and come with a cost. Again and again, they must reinvent a life with a new name or in a new place or with a new love or the end of a love.

First, there is the story of orphans Marian Graves and her brother Jamie who run wild with neighbor boy Caleb, their adult caretakers unreliable. When barnstormers pass through, Marian becomes obsessed with the idea of flying. Caleb cuts her hair so she can pass as a boy to earn money towards flying lessons by secret moonshine deliveries.

Barclay was a criminal, and he was rich, and he was used to getting what he wanted. And he wanted Marian from the first time he saw her as a girl. She entered into a dreadful bargain: he would pay for her flying lessons, and she understood the unspoken agreement that someday she would be his.

Trapped into an abusive and controlling marriage, Marian escapes, disappears into Alaska, reinventing herself as a bush pilot. When WWII broke out, she volunteers for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying warplanes. She meets Ruth, who becomes her great love, and Ruth's gay husband Eddie. But it is Caleb she still turns to when broken.

After the war with its many losses, Marian is offered financing to fund her dream of flying around the world, pole to pole, she only trusts Eddie to be her navigator. After Antarctica, they are believed to have been lost at sea.

Then there is Hadley, also an orphan and abused by her uncle, who became a beloved child actress, and has a breakdown at age 20. Now, she has a change to reinvent herself in a movie about Marian's life, based on the journal Marian left behind at Antarctica before she disappeared.

Hadley goes on a quest to learn about Marian, discovering the truth of what happened on that great circle trip from pole to pole.

Marian's story gives Hadley a sense of freedom and control. And, and it can free us, too, showing us how to live with courage even in the darkest of times. How we must know what we want, and to always work for our dreams.

This past year has been a horror show of death and fear of death, political clashes and unimaginable chaos, outbreaks of hate and violence. We know full well the disappointments and pain of this world.

A story can help us to heal. To know we are not alone, that there is a way to get through the hell and live into a moment of joy and moments of grace that can be enough to live on. This is the gift of literature.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

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Wow. This is a beautifully written masterpiece! It is a very long and daunting read. The first few chapters were somewhat confusing and a little dry but it is totally worth pushing through! The book is written with two different timelines. One following Marian and her twin Jamie in the early 20th century, the other following Hadley Baxter (the women cast to play Marian in a film in 2014). I particularly like the interweaving of the women in the two timelines and their parallel stories. Both women want to break away from the cages that society have put around them relevant to the times they live. The changes that these women go through is told through a breathtaking story with adventure, thrills, romance, and bravery. The last 10% of the book I could not put down and found I had to keep picking my jaw up off the floor. Magnificent read! Highly recommend!! I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Fly on your wings like an Eagle;
Fly as high as the sun;
On your wings like an Eagle;
Fly, touch the sun.....From The Flight of Icarus

Usually in my experience any Author, such as Maggie Shipstead, that has attended the IOWA Workshop goes on to write fantastic novels. I haven't come across a writer who has gotten their MFA from there whose books that I haven't loved, yet. "GREAT CIRCLE," is an epic novel that is magnificently written and it is ambitious at 608 pages. I disagree with some of the earlier reviewer's whom have written that this starts out slow. I was captivated from the very first page and found the narrative to be immediately interesting.

It starts out with describing how if you were to take a knife or a saw and put it through any sphere and divide it into two perfect halves, the cut side of each half would be a great circle: that means that the largest circle that can be drawn on a sphere. An example of that is the equator is a great circle. On the surface of a sphere such as a ball or the earth, the shortest distance between any two points most often than not will follow an arc that is a segment of a great circle.

The North and South Poles are points that are directly opposite of each other. They are intersected by an infinite number of great circles.

The book is written in parallel narratives of both Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie and they alternate with Hadley Baxter. Hadley is written in the present which for the purposes of this fabulous historical novel is the year 2014. It starts out with Hadley who I got discouraged every time her character sections came up. She came across to me as a spoiled, boring actress whom she ranted on and on about who she was sleeping with or what boyfriend or fellow actor she was angry about. Her only importance to the story was that she was raised by her Uncle Mitch which was to have in common with Jamie and Marion who was also raised by their uncle. Both Uncle's left the children to their own devices. Marion and Jamie Graves who were born about the time of the First World War and grew up with their uncle in Missoula, Montana. Hadley lived in California and was an adult the whole time. If I was to leave out one character to edit this down I would remove Hadley entirely. Her only purpose was that she was going to play Marion Graves in the movie about the great aviatrix, Marion.

Marion was born to fly. From the time she was a young teen she watched a couple of barnstormers who were pilots that raised money by performing aeronautical shows or charging to give the public who watched them perform rides. Marion witnesses this in Missoula and she makes up her mind that she is going to take any job that she can whether it be collecting bottles at first to raise money so she can take flying lessons by a pilot. Her dream is to be a pilot in a mans world. Later she drops out of school and is one day at the local brothel where the prostitutes put make up on her face and a rich businessman that makes a lot of his money distributing moonshine decides that he wants Marion. His name is Barclay. He makes Marion beholden to him by being the benefactor that pays for her flying lessons with a man named Trout. Marion doesn't want to owe Barclay anything so she makes a deal that she will fly Barclay's moonshine in exchange for her flying lessons but he doesn't let her go that easy.

Marion and Jamie are twins and they are very close. Their friend Caleb is a hunter and good friend's with both Marion and Jamie. These three character's are really well developed. Jamie is a kind and gentle soul who won't eat meat because he doesn't want to kill the animals. Where Marion is a fast learner and determined to become a pilot which she does and she is a quick learner and talented, Jamie is a quiet, polite artist. When Marion gets older and she is off with Barclay, Jamie goes to Seattle where he meets and falls in love with a tall girl with her two friend's that stop by his sketch pad where he has set himself up doing portraits of people who pass by. He meets the love of his life and he draws all three of the girl's portraits. The one he has his eye on and is attracted to comes back and finds him the next day and gives him the money because she and her friend's forgot to pay him.

My main critique of this book in my humble opinion is to edit out Hadley's character. I didn't find one thing redeemable about her character. I think the many characterizations are brilliant besides her. I don't really think she is needed in this story at all. The rest of the character's are relevant. I highly, highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and it is written for both men and women. It is a little longer than it has to be. I was glued to my chair reading this but towards the end it seemed a little too long. I did love the story so I think that this will appeal to a wide audience. I hope that it wins an award. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I know that I will read it again someday. I will be gifting all of my reader friends and family with this when published. Pre-order your copy now so you will have it the date that it is available.

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Thank you to Net Galley, Maggie Shipstead and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for generously providing me with my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review of this magnificent epic story. I am very grateful for getting a chance to preview this early.

#GreatCircle #MaggieShipstead #KnopfDoubledayPublishingGroup #NetGalley

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“I needed the relief of being someone who wasn’t afraid... we were both products of vanishment and orphanhood and negligence and airplanes and uncles. She was like me but wasn’t. She was uncanny, unknowable except for a few constellations I recognized from my own sky.”

It is nearly impossible to describe this novel without using the cliches of the “big, great book”. But having just tuned the final page, I will say that this one left me with a lump in my throat, and shattered by the (satisfying) ending I did not see coming.

Dual timelines with overlapping characters is a highly successful way of weaving the tale between an early 1900s character, and the contemporary actress who plays her in a movie adaptation. This reader felt rewarded after a lengthy backstory setup - not an easy, breezy exercise - as the plot moved forward at an accelerated pace.

Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie grow up in Missoula Montana after a heartbreaking start to their young lives. Their friend Caleb is a secondary character who anchors so many of the plot threads, and is one of my favorites.
Fast forward to Hadley Baxter, a volatile pop-culture actress, who has her own self-discovery to attend to.

The evolution of female aviation in the 20th century kept me glued to the pages, and the scenes, especially in Alaska and Antarctica, are impressively written. Ms. Shipstead takes on gender stereotyping and same sex relationships with great skill and imposing results.

I look forward to discussing this novel with other readers closer to its May 4th publishing date.
ARC was provided by Knopf Publishing via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I want to thank NetGalley for the ARC of this book.I really appreciated the chance to read it.
This is historical fiction, with the main characters fictional ones, and real life characters and events surrounding the story. It is a multi character/generational saga, with contemporary feminist themes .
Great Circle is the story of 2 women, separated by decades , both looking for the chance to be themselves. Marian Graves , whom we first meet in 1914,is a young girl, who wants to fly. She becomes an aviatrix in the 30's and 40's. Hadley Baxter is an actress, who we first meet in 2014. She was a child star, transitioned to movies, and wants to play Marian in an upcoming film.The stories are told alternately, going from Missoula, Montana in the 1920's to Hollywood in 2014, with ease. It also tells the story of Marian's twin brother Jamie, and her lifelong friend Caleb. The stories are intertwined and rich with detail. I do not want to give any spoilers, but I will say that there were some twists I did not see coming. I enjoyed this book, however I will say that the length(608pages), is a bit daunting. It was also jarring to switch time frames back and forth. There are a number of characters who appear, then disappear for long stretches, and you need to keep on your toes to remember how some of them fit into the story. I will say that it started slowly for me, and it took almost the first 100 pages for me to really feel the rhythm of the story and the characters. Once I did, the story took on a life of its own. I highly recommend this book.

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I could not finish this book. I had such high hopes and I’m very disappointed. But I am not at a place in my life to be able to read about as much abuse towards women as is in this book. Rape, incest, grooming, coercion. It was all too much. I wanted an epic drama of a female pilot flying around the world, and I could have done without all the sexual assault. Every female main character in a book does not have to experience this. I’m almost ready for publishers to start posting trigger warnings. Because these will be major triggers for many of your female readers.

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Book Review for Great Circle
Full review for this title will be posted at: @cattleboobooks on Instagram!

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Wow! What a saga! Marian's story is another testament to what determined woman can do to shape her future, achieve her goals and jump through hoops to live a life she longs for. I have a special place in my heart for women who were the unsung heroes of the wars, who did things what others could not do under such circumstances and who did this all without a speck of fear.

Marian was born into a not so loving family. She and her twin brother lost everyone but their uncle at the beginning of their lives. They were left to their own devices. Marian wanted to fly, Jaime wanted to paint. Finding resources to paint wasn't hard for Jaime, but resources for Marian to achieve her goals were limited. She ended up with people who wanted to chain her down under the pretense of giving her wings. She endured that until she collected enough feathers to the glue on her arms and start flying on her own. She was a wanderer and her place was in the skies.

Hadley's life started in a similar manner to Marian; her parents died in a plane crash and her uncle raised her (if you call that raising). She was the child start who tried to find her place in this world. After couple of "mistakes", she lost her role in major franchise and pulled into a project where this rich guy wanted to produce biographic of Marian because her mother wrote the book and his family had some place in Marian's life. While filming, Hadley started to uncover things about Marian not many people knew about and that knowledge completed the Great Circle for Marian

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This novel was totally different than Maggie Shipstead's other works. A historical fiction based on the aviatrix, Marion Graves and her twin Jamie. At almost 600 pages, and a slow start, it may take some time to delve in. But it's totally worth it. A beautiful novel. I love Maggie Shipstead.

*Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a an e-ARC of this brilliant novel.*

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What a great beautiful story.

This tugged at my heartstrings and my emotions. Marian's life is something worth telling over and over. And the way that this story approaches that is something so interesting.

If you love books by Kristin Hannah, Maggie Shipstead's GREAT CIRCLE is a must read.

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I received this book as an ARC with the promise to review. The story covers decades - from before World War I to after World War II. The author, Maggie Shipstead, has created a literary masterpiece! I love this book and the characters are so real and well-drawn - I would enjoy meeting and talking with them. The heartbreak and jubilation and sorrow will remain with me long after my reading has been finished I totally recommend this amazing book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a dark psychological twist.

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Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. Thanks to NetGalley @netgalley and Knopf Doubleday @doubledaybooks for giving me a digital ARC of this novel. Publishing date: May 4th, 2021.
Short Review: Great Circle is a sprawling epic focused on Marian Graves - a young daredevil obsessed with aviation - and her brother Jamie, who are being raised by their uncle. Marian learns to fly a plane in prohibition-era Montana, and gets caught up in a bad marriage to a rancher/racketeer, and involved in running moonshine across the Canadian border.
The quality of the writing itself is undeniable - the prose is lyrical and expressive, and the story is immersive. I did, however, find the novel a bit overly long (clocks in around 600 pages), so it takes some stamina to get through. I also wasn't particularly interested in the parallel plot about Hadley Baxter, an actor who is cast to play Marian in a movie about her mysterious disappearance, I just was more interested in Marian's aerial adventures!
#GreatCircle #NetGalley #maggieshipstead #advancedreaderscopy #knopfdoubleday #bookreview #alwaysreading #recommendedread #2021books

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Did not finish reading this. Too many timeline switches with different sets of characters - it was difficult to follow the story.

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Well, I would definitely call this literary fiction, because the writing was beautiful and lyrical. I really liked the historical part of this book, but couldn't really get into the contemporary parts - but that is common for me. I think that anyone with in interest in strong female characters (and who couldn't get enough of Amelia Earhart) would like this book!

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An engrossing saga spanning a century of an adventurous woman, her family, and the actress who inherits the role of a lifetime.

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The size of this novel was intimidating...not something I would have said a decade ago, before social media stole my attention span, but here we are. Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead, was so good that I was pulled into the book and never felt time passing. The story of Marian Graves, a daredevil female pilot in the pre-World War II era and her quiet, empathetic brother Jamie is gorgeously told, with historical details that bring it to life. The story of Marian Graves would have been more than enough to keep me reading, but the book alternates between her story and that of Hadley Baxter, an actress who in 2014 is cast as Marian in a movie about the pilot's disappearance over Antartica. Despite their very different careers and the different times in which they live, the two women's stories reflect the need for self-determination that has driven many women to reach for more than what society thinks they should have. A truly beautiful and epic book.

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I was pulled in from the beginning of this story about Marian and her life of being a female pilot and wanting to fly around the world. It's so much more than that though, we see the things that shape and make her. Maggie Shipstead always writes very beautifully and I think the writing and how we learn so much about these characters lives that really pulls you in. This book is long though and I feel like there were a few parts that could be whittled down some, but besides that it was a wonderful novel and I know many people will enjoy reading it.

Thanks NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC!

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We have a wonderful gift for women in this tremendously rich historical novel. Marian Graves, the archetypal independent woman that we all wish we could be, is the twin born out of a single night tryst between a ship’s captain and a beautiful and mysterious woman. Shortly after birth, her mother, her father the ship’s captain and her twin brother are taken onto an ill-fated voyage and the ship begins to sink as the result of a suspicious explosion in the cargo hold. Marian and her twin Jamie are rescued by their father, the captain, who takes them in a lifeboat, leaving others to perish as the ship sinks. Her father goes to prison, and after being released, abandons them to his brother, a drunk and a gambler who has little time for his wards. Marian grows to be a very complex young woman who longs for things that women just weren’t permitted to even dream of in the 20’s, to learn to fly. Her path to flying is a winding path and includes battles with her own gender roles, and leads her to the bed of a wealthy bootlegger who offers to fulfill her dreams at a price that further complicates her life. Marian’s life unwinds through the war as an ATA pilot, and leads to the bed of another female pilot, and a relationship that further shapes her life over the span of just a few years. While this might sound like the makings of a shabby TV show, it is so much more. Marian’s live and the lives of those in her orbit are spellbinding, and make for one of the best novel’s I have read in years. We see the many battles for identity for girls and women in the early to mid-twentieth century. Marian, an utterly believable character and is so richly drawn and is a character that is evocative of women such as Amelia Earhart who wouldn’t be kept down by their gender.

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I have really mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the writing was great. On the other, it is so much longer than it needed to be. There are entire plotlines that don't need to be there. Why do we need to know Marian and Jamie's parents at all, let alone how they met and why the kids were conceived and how the mother felt... they never knew their parents so it felt bizarre that we were forced to spend so much time with them. The book is purportedly about a pioneer female aviator who goes missing. I was excited to read that, and I enjoyed when the book finally got there in the last 10-15%.

There was just enough to keep me interested for the long, long, LONG trek to the actual point of the novel, but I imagine it would be a slog for anyone who wasn't invested in where the story was going.

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Maggie Shipstead just gets better and better. She has written an epic here and it is magnificent! The history of women in flight, prohibition rum running, WWII, the Artic, Hollywood moviemaking -- her canvas spans the world and six decades. It is full of interesting, believable characters who take up residence in the reader's heart and it is full of capital B big ideas -- the vast expanse of loneliness, obsession, control, devotion, family. Her ability to evoke a sense of place -- the wilds of Montana, the icy desolation of the Artic -- is award-worthy. It's all here and it's glorious, multiple stories to sink into, to hold your breath, to wipe your tears.

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