Circling The Sun by Paula McLain….Review

circlingthesunI received an advanced copy of this book from Ballantine Books (an imprint of Random House) through a Goodreads First Reads contest. It will begin sale on July 28, 2015.

Circling The Sun is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Beryl Markham, known in the same circles as Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. Beryl was conveniently left out of Karen’s (pen name Isak Dinesen) autobiographical Out of Africa, even though she was very much a part of Karen’s story. After reading Circling The Sun, I understand why Karen may have chosen to not include her.

Regardless, Circling The Sun stands completely on its own. I was quickly lost in the story, the pictures Paula’s words painted of 1920s Africa, Kenya, and the land Beryl considered home. Not fitting the role polite society of the time expected of her, Beryl remained true to herself at all costs, despite many losses and many scandals. Following her heart led her to become the first female licensed racehorse trainer, the first female to hold a professional pilot’s license, and the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic east to west. Unfortunately many of the same choices led her to loneliness and heartbreak, although she did have the pleasure of knowing one true love – if only for a little while.

The story is told from Beryl’s point of view and gives some insight to the loneliness, fear, and sometimes desperation she often felt when making decisions others saw as bravery and fearlessness.As I read this novel it bothered me a little that I did not become as emotionally vested in Beryl as I often do when I read something I enjoy as much as I did this book. But as I was finally brought to tears in the last few chapters, I realized it was not the writing, but Beryl herself who held everyone at a distance – including me as the reader.

This book took me on a beautiful, if heart wrenching, journey and I am pleased to have read it. It is added to my ‘keeper’ shelf and I am sure I will re-read in the future. (I will also be adding Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, and Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa to my ‘to read’ list.)

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The Siege Winter – Review

I wothe seige wintern this book through a Goodreads First Reads contest. Although a bit different from my normal taste these days, I was eager to sink into this historical fiction, a genre I don’t read as often as I’d like. I was not disappointed. The book begins with a seemingly important, though not clearly identified, man on his deathbed, eager to relay a story to a scribe before he passes, taking all his secrets with him. I immediately was reminded of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant – not for the story line, but the way it is presented. This is a well written tale of secret identities, murder, greed, and the levels one would go to in quest for the throne in twelfth century England. I was drawn in by the relationships between characters, loyalty, love, the bond that comes from fighting for a common goal – and against a common enemy. Definitely enjoyed this book and recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction novels, as well as to anyone who is new to the genre.

**The author Ariana Franklin passed away before completing this novel. Her daughter, Samantha Norman, finished the writing and brought it to press. I am sure her mom would be proud of the finished product.