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Great Circle

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Great historical fiction with an engaging strong main character. I really enjoyed the shifting time perspective. Loved it.

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I struggled to finish this book. While I very much liked the character development and the story line, I felt the book was far too long at 609 pages. I also thought the supporting characters were much more likable than the two main characters, Marian and Hadley. I only started to feel empathy for the female leads in the final 100 pages. At that point, I just wanted the book to end. The book is beautifully written and well-researched. I wanted to love it, I just didn't.

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This book felt different from Shipstead's other titles in almost every way except it's scope. Great Circle managed to touch on a lot of different worlds and situations without feeling scattered. Lots of character development and introspection - balm for a book slump.

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I will give this book a four star but in truth, it is really a 3.5. While I understand the plot device of two time periods, I did not care for the Hollywood one at all. This is probably blasphemy, I also did not care for all the scenes that involve aviation. It just bored me. The first half of the book was much more interesting as Marion grew up in Montana, married, escaped, etc. The peak of the book where she goes on her Great flying quest kept putting me to sleep. Honestly there were no characters that I really grew to love. Marion was not very likable. Caleb, the most likable of all, but continually drift back to her but I think that is due to their shared history and knowledge of each other in their brokenness.
Thanks to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

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Great Circle
Maggie Shipstead
Knopf
Published 5/4/2021

This is a big story, and at over 600 pages it covers a lot of ground, both physically and emotionally. This story has two timelines: the first explores the life of Marian Graves, born in 1914, who becomes a pilot in a time when that was a rarity; the second is about an actress, Hadley Baxter who is playing Marian in a movie in 201?. There is a bit of a mystery in there, but it is mostly a story about finding your path when you don’t have parents to guide you. Both Marian and Hadley have suffered that loss, and both try to find their way, but Marian’s story is the more in-depth and meaningful.

I started reading this book in April in anticipation of writing a review before it was published, and I was off to a great start, but then the story started to become too…much, I guess. So, I put the book away for a bit and came back to it after life slowed down a bit, and I really got into it the second time. Sometimes, it’s all about timing! Anyway, I ultimately liked the book. There are some parts of the story that are a bit tedious, and both Marian and Hadley can be frustrating in their self-indulgence and the choices they make because of it. Yet, I found Marian’s story, in particular, to be interesting because of the barriers she faced and plowed through. Her’s is a story of resilience that at times is so heartbreaking that it is no wonder she becomes hardened by it, but she is still able to find herself and to find love.

Overall, I give the book 3.5 stars, and if you like an epic story with characters who, like all of us, are fallible and not always likeable but still gives you hope, then I think you will enjoy this book.

Thank you to Knopf and NetGalley for the ARC.

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This book sounded right up my alley. Set in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Montana the story switches from past and present about a female aviator and a modern day actress. I was super excited to get an advance copy but since I'm just now posting a review obviously it didn't hook me as much as I anticipated. I found the story to be hard to get into. The characters didn't capture my attention and I just found myself having to force myself to read. Overall, it was an interesting concept but it ended up falling somewhat flat.

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Maggie Shipstead’s latest novel, GREAT CIRCLE, was astonishing, sweeping, and unforgettable. Spanning decades and covering a plethora of complex topics- war, love, violence, addiction, loss, adventure, and more- GREAT CIRCLE introduced remarkable characters that I completely fell for. Shipstead crafts a robust story packed with so much substance and so many beautiful details. I would recommend this novel to anyone- but particularly fans of historical fiction and adventure seekers. Upon finishing this book, I immediately ordered Shipstead’s two prior novels. This one will stay with me and I’m sure I will come back to it to experience the adventure all over again.

Thank you to Knopf Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle follows the lives of two fictional women: Prohibition-era aviatrix Marian Graves and contemporary actress Hadley Baxter, who lands the role of Marian in an upcoming movie. When approached about the film, Hadley has just blown up her life by creating a scandal she knew would likely get her ousted from the franchise that made her career. Feeling a certain kinship with Marian (both were orphaned as infants and raised by dissolute uncles), she accepts the role, dreaming of Oscar glory for her participation in her first "serious" film. Alternating with Hadley's first-person account is the third-person narration of Marian's life, from the circumstances surrounding her birth to her fate decades later.

The bulk of the story is Marian's, and Shipstead fleshes out her life in such believable detail I found it hard to remember the character wasn't a real person. Although Marian's passion for flying underlies every part of her narrative, the book is less about her exploits as a pilot and the lengths she goes to achieve her aims and more about her journey of self-discovery. The author brilliantly illustrates the many factors in Marian's life that mold her into the person she becomes by her last flight. We develop an in-depth understanding of this remarkable character and are loath to let her go.

Hadley's chapters are briefer, and although they cover a shorter time period, her journey feels just as real as Marian's. She's pretty obnoxious at first, a stereotypical entitled Hollywood starlet, but as she becomes more involved with the film and the people behind its production, she develops a complexity that ultimately makes her more sympathetic. As with Marian, the author creates a multifaceted character in Hadley, one who feels real to the reader.

Shipstead's writing is gorgeous from start to finish, whether she's describing the countryside ("October leans into November. The trees are topped with gold, the cottonwoods bright as apricot flesh. The landscape flares and shimmers"); Marion's observations ("With the right instruments, you have a fighting chance of leveling out even if the cloud goes all the way down and brushes the earth like the marabou hem of a diaphanous white robe worn by God"); or Hadley's perceptions ("[S]he just sat there and stared like she was trying to turn me to stone with her mind. Or maybe she couldn't move her face. She's starting to have work done. In twenty years she'll be a skin balloon with eyeholes").

There's just enough of this lush writing to entertain, but not so much that it bogs down the narrative. Also interspersed are bits of aviation history as they occurred during Marion's timeline. For example, the author inserts a couple of paragraphs about Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight in 1927 that occurs just as 13-year-old Marion is becoming acquainted with a pair of barnstormers who take her on her first flights.

I occasionally find dual timelines confusing or annoying (sometimes the characters are too similar, sometimes the jump between them happens too frequently, sometimes I feel one or more storyline could have been jettisoned, etc.). Such was not the case with Great Circle. Switches between the two stories are so expertly crafted I'm hard-pressed to name a novel that accomplishes this feat more skillfully. At around 600 pages, the book is also quite long; however, I never felt like it was a slog. I'll sometimes come across a doorstopper and think about how it could have been edited into a more manageable length, but not this time; there's not a single sentence I'd have wanted left out. Although I wouldn't call it a page-turner, its pacing is excellent and it kept me engaged, start to finish.

Great Circle is one of my favorites of the year so far, and I'd unhesitatingly suggest it to anyone looking for an exquisite, character-driven work of literature.

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Great Circle is a beautiful story that unfolds over the course of a century as it interweaves the stories of two women:
Marian Graves was rescued from a sinking ship as a baby in 1914 and raised by her uncle in rural Montana. As a young girl, she falls in love with flying and eventually becomes a world renowned pilot who disappears over Antarctica in the 1950s while trying to complete the first north/south circumnavigation of the earth.

Hadley Baxter is a troubled former child star whose fame has reached new heights as the star of a Twilight-like franchise. But after her behavior gets her axed from the next film, Hadley signs on to portray Marian in a movie about her death and uncovers secrets about the pilot, as well as herself, in the process.

I alternated between reading the physical book and listening to the audiobook, both of which kept me enthralled. The author's way with words is artful and she manages to give every character interesting nuances that fully bring them to life. Marian is a heroine you can't help but love, a feminist who knows what she wants (to fly planes) and won't allow anyone or anything to get in her way despite the expectations and oppression of women at the time. Hadley is the opposite, a lost soul who has it all but makes self-destructive choices to hurt herself before other people can hurt her. While this book could have focused on Marian alone, Hadley's dive into Marian's life story gave it an interesting perspective - Hadley has all of the opportunities Marian would have loved but she can't figure out how to make herself happy. I loved how Marian's story concluded but I wish there had been more of a resolution to Hadley's that showed how playing Marian changed her.

Cassandra Campbell and Alex McKenna narrated the audiobook and they were both terrific. It was more than 24 hours long but I couldn't get enough. The story has it all - a shipwreck, bootlegging, unrequited love, secret identities, WWI and WWII, queer romances, and more, Don't be put off by how long this book is - it's an epic story that is well worth your time!

Thanks to Knopf Doubleday, Penguin Random House Audio and NetGalley for the copies to review.

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Wonderful and completely gripping stories. As it normally happens with these types of books, I found the historical story more compelling than the story set in the present day. Will definitely recommend to others.

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As many have said, this book is entirely too long. I was really invested in the story in the beginning, but it just kept dragging and I didn’t want to pick up the story. I didn’t mind the dual narrative and timeline, but I found myself comparing this to Beatriz Williams’s Her Last Flight, which I read not too long ago. I much preferred Her Last Flight.

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An Epic Story, but I had a hard time getting through it. It’s the story of aviator Marion Graves and her navigator Eddie Bloom who look to circle pole to pole in 1950 and the path of her life getting there. It’s also the story of actress Hadley Baxter who is cast to play Marion in a movie about her life 60 years later.

I really enjoyed the sections about Marion and her life leading to the flight in 1950. I found myself putting the book down a lot during the “Hadley” sections.

It’s a beautifully written book, and I very much enjoyed reading Marion’s story but it was hard to get through.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy. 3.5 stars

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This book is told through two timelines: the story of Marian Graves, a female aviator during WWII and the story of Hadley Baxter, a current day actress making a moving about Graves's life. I love the story of Marian and her brother Jamie. It was heartbreaking, inspiring and entertaining. But the story of Hadley contributed little to the story except to make the book way too long. Thankfully the book focused more on Marian, her rise from poverty, her escape from an abusive marriage and the pursuit of her dreams of flying.

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Incredible. It's sweeping and detailed. It's moving and heartbreaking. It's surprising and measured. It's a real epic and the best book I've read so far this year.

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What a good story. I really enjoyed taking this journey. The writing was amazing. I loved learning about the historical aspects. It was a slow start and it’s a hefty read which is rather daunting in ebook form to me. Thank you for the opportunity to read this story!

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This title was more literary than expected. I wanted more focus on Marian's desire to take to the skies during the dawn of aviation in the United States. I did enjoy those passage's in Shipstead's book the most. Beyond that the story really focuses on what abuse, emotional and physical, women go through to achieve their dreams which in the end, led to a somewhat depressing novel.

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4.5 stars

Wow, what a story!

Before I go into how much I enjoyed this book, let me start things off by honestly admitting that, actually, I “almost” didn’t end up reading this one, for various reasons.

First and foremost, I was intimidated by the page length — when I initially accepted an ARC of this book from the publisher in NetGalley, I had no idea that this would be a 600–page tome. With a TBR a mile high and so many books already lined up to read for the month of July, I definitely felt like I didn’t have the time to spend on a long book (this is exacerbated by the fact that I’m a “one-book-at-a-time” kind of reader who also has problems DNFing books once I start them, no matter how bad the book gets). Second, I was torn by the book’s premise. While I love reading about strong women protagonists, and epic historical stories are usually right up my alley, the part that made me wary was the overarching subject matter. Going into this, I knew that it would be about a female pilot circumnavigating the globe and undoubtedly, there would be a lot of technical language and details involving the mechanics of flying a plane and getting from one point to another (on the first 2 pages, before the story even starts, there is a detailed map charting the main character Marian Graves’ journey - which, being someone who has no sense of direction and is incapable of reading maps, I was completely lost even after staring at the map for several minutes) — given my lack of interest in aviation and airplanes / flying, as well as my general aversion to books that go a bit too much into the “science-y” side of things because much of it usually goes over my head and therefore impacts my ability to enjoy the story, this of course added to my anxiety about reading this book. Third, I had never read this author before and as such, didn’t have the benefit of a positive or negative reaction to previous works to sway me either way. In the end though, I decided to go for it — start the book and hope for the best. And now, after finishing this epic story, I can say for sure that it was absolutely worth the time and effort!

This book actually turned out to be completely different from what I expected (in a good way, of course). Surprisingly, none of the fears that I initially had about the book ended up materializing. Yes, there was a lot of technical detail about aviation and airplanes and flying, but it was done in a way that was accessible and didn’t detract from the story itself. Most importantly though, the story wasn’t just about that — in fact, it’s actually one of those stories that truly has something for everyone in terms of the themes and topics that it explores (i.e.: history, adventure, romance, relationships, complex family dynamics, war and sacrifice, love, heartbreak, contemporary societal and gender conflicts, etc.). So far, this is the only book I’ve read that can truly be classified as having a multitude of settings that span the depths of time and space — from modern day Los Angeles in 2014 to a doomed cruise ship in the North Atlantic in 1914, to Prohibition-era Montana, to London and Europe where female pilots helped ferry warplanes for the ATA during WWII, to the wilds of Alaska, to Vancouver (Canada) to Seattle and New York, to the icy depths of Antarctica, to the unknown expanse of the skies above and beyond the clouds — from land to air to sea, this is a story that traverses the globe in a “great circle” worthy of its title.

This magnificent, epic tale is beautifully written in prose that is lyrical, poetic, lively, descriptive, and as mentioned previously, also incredibly accessible, given its content. Normally, a big book such as this one would take me more than a week to finish, but I found myself so absorbed and invested in the story and its characters that I felt compelled to keep turning the pages, which resulted in me being able to finish this massive tome over the course of a 3-day holiday weekend. Maggie Shipstead is indeed a gifted writer — I admire so much of what she tried to do with this story, from the impeccable research to the near flawless execution of the story, to the well-developed, realistic rendering of the characters (especially remarkable given the fact that many of the characters in the story were actually unlikable) — all of it came together in fantastic, epic fashion.

With all that said, the one complaint that I did have — and the main reason for why I gave this book 4.5 stars rather than 5 stars — is that I didn’t really like the present day story arc involving Hadley Baxter. While I understand the critical role that Hadley played in terms of helping Marian’s story unfold as well as the parallels we are supposed to infer with their personalities and the paths their lives ultimately take, etc., I honestly could not bring myself to like Hadley. She came across as annoying to me and I actually had no interest at all in her background or her “struggles” in Hollywood where she is seemingly “misunderstood” by everyone. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I just couldn’t stand her — thankfully, the chapters about her were extremely short, so I was able to skim majority of the pages about her until I got to the passages actually related to Marian’s life.

With such an epic story, it’s pretty much impossible to relay its scope and magnificence through a brief review. This is a story that is guaranteed to be an immersive experience — a rewarding journey that is absolutely worth the time it takes to get to the end. I am definitely glad I got the chance to read this one and of course there is no doubt that I will be exploring Shipstead’s backlist now while looking forward to what she might have in store for us next!

Received ARC from Alfred A. Knopf publishers via NetGalley.

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Maggie Shipstead's new novel, Great Circle, is an intriguing book. Set in two time periods with two characters who have difficult upbringings, she works to tie the two stories together. This is a complex book with complex personalities. My favorite thing about this book is that I could not say I had "figured out" the two main characters even at the end. They both had grown but I was left with the sense that they both were still searching for how to be true to themselves. If you are a fan of historical fiction, some of the World War II elements will be familiar to you and ring true. I did enjoy the incomplete historical summaries interspersed throughout the book that helped explain the historical settings. Great Circle left this reader contemplating the positioning of women in society and how we still have a ways to go toward equality.

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Thank you to Knopf Publishing, Maggie Shipstead and Netgalley for my advanced reader’s copy of “Great Circle” in exchange for an honest review.

To start off, I am an avid historical fiction reader and a fan of long books. You would think I would be enamored with this 600+ paged novel spanning decades across our history. Trouble is it didn’t need to be that long. The book starts off stellar with a tumultuous beginning to baby twins Marian and Jamie Graves. I loved their wild and carefree upbringing as well as their forged friendship with Caleb (hints at triangle and circle references throughout). I was interested in Marian’s obsession with flying and her single-sighted goal to get there. Personally I was more drawn to Jamie’s storyline with his strong moral compass and artistic instincts as well as his beautiful connection with an unattainable girl.

Where I believe it went off kilter was with all the minutia about flying. Instruments, weather, technique, equipment and such were too detailed for my liking and seemed to bog the book down in details. If aviation is your thing, you will absolutely love it. For me, it was too much.

I also started with loving the modern storyline with actress Hadley Baxter playing the role of Marian Graves in a new Hollywood film. Where I think it lost track was in self-indulgence (drug-induced hallucinations that went off in crazy detail, affair after affair that didn’t seem to make character growth/decline any headway towards a better storyline).

For me this book could have been cut down 200 pages and kept the flow going at a fantastic pace. As it is, it does drag in sections which makes my 3.5 drop to 3 stars. I applaud the topics approached (strong female leads, adventure, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, femininity, sexuality, homosexuality, gender roles, alcohol abuse, death, war, love, family and so much more.). There was such a plethora of topics that I cannot even classify it as an epic tale because it seemed to run over the edges of that.

All in all, I’m glad I read parts as they kept me raptured but was extremely ready for it to be done by the end. If you like audiobooks, both narrators do a good job but be warned it is over 25 hours.

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An epic novel! Loved it.

Discussed on Episode 130 of the Book Cougar’s podcast.

https://www.bookcougars.com/blog-1/2021/episode130

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