Sunday, July 19, 2015

*Challenge Review* Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Photo credit: McLain/Goodreads

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: July 28, 2015
Pages: 384
Ages: 16+


Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.


I requested and received a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My book club at my husband's last duty station read The Paris Wife about two years ago and it simultaneously made me want to read everything Ernest Hemingway ever wrote and want to boycott everything he wrote because of his personal character. The Paris Wife was one of my favorite  book club selections, so when I got an email that there was a Paula McLain book on offer on Netgalley, I immediately requested it, and I'm thrilled I was approved.

Circling the Sun transports us to the British colonies around Nairobi in the early 1900's. McLain paints a vivid picture of what it was like growing up in the colony for a seemingly fearless girl. I truly felt like I was there with Beryl experiencing the joy and pain and everything in between.

This story is told in first person, which I think contributed greatly to making me feel like a part of Beryl's life. All of her frustrations about being a woman when women were still expected to stay home and care for their families became my frustrations and I rebelled by not cooking for my own family for most of a week. That's how deeply I felt Beryl's emotions. 

The things Beryl accomplished as a young woman despite the ridicule and censure from not only the other colonists, but the London nobility, helped to pave the way for equality for women today. I'm honestly a little ashamed to say that I had never even heard of her before reading this book. Her bravery and perseverance are quite admirable. 

Overall I give Circling the Sun 5 out of 5 stars because the descriptions were vivid, the story was compelling, and it left me wanting to read even more from Paula McLain. - Katie 

Buy the Book

About the Author

Paula McLain has published two collections of poetry, “Less of Her” and “Stumble, Gorgeous,” both from New Issues Poetry Press, and a memoir entitled “Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses” (Little, Brown, 2003). “A Ticket to Ride,” is her debut novel from Ecco/HarperCollins. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and has since been a writer-in-residence at Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and The Ucross Foundation Residency Program, and received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. Individual poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including the Gettysburg Review, Antioch Review, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. As well as teaching part-time at John Carroll University, she is a core faculty member in the low-residency MFA Program in Poetry at New England College.

Challenge Scorecard

I used Circling the Sun the fulfill my "book with a love triangle" category for the Popsugar reading challenge, because there seem to be about a million love triangles in the small colonial community. 

Other categories this book would fulfill include
A book published this year
A book by a female author
A book set in a different country
A book from an author I love that I hadn't read yet
A book based on a true story (at least to an extent)

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