10 Books That Take You Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of Carnivals

July 26 2016
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Come one, come all! Step right up and see what’s under the big top! Try your luck at a game of chance!

Few things capture my imagination more than popcorn-smelling circus tents and the lights and sounds of the carnival midway. These places always seem full of mystery, romance, and oddity—and what the patrons see is only the beginning. These ten books will transport you to dark and glamorous carnivals and circuses, where nothing is as it seems.

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen

During the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski quits veterinary school and finds himself working at the second-rate Benzini Brothers circus, where he must contend with August, the mercurial animal trainer; Marlena, his performer wife; and Rosie, a bull elephant. There he finds danger, love, and the dark world behind the glamour.

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Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen

During the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski quits veterinary school and finds himself working at the second-rate Benzini Brothers circus, where he must contend with August, the mercurial animal trainer; Marlena, his performer wife; and Rosie, a bull elephant. There he finds danger, love, and the dark world behind the glamour.

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Joyland
by Stephen King

College student Devin Jones takes a summer job at the Joyland carnival hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart, but he winds up facing the legacy of a murder, the fate of a dying child, and revelations about life that will change his world forever.

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Joyland
Stephen King

College student Devin Jones takes a summer job at the Joyland carnival hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart, but he winds up facing the legacy of a murder, the fate of a dying child, and revelations about life that will change his world forever.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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Geek Love
by Katherine Dunn

Carnies Al and Crystal Lil breed their own freak show, using drugs to mutate their unborn children. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy; Iphy and Elly, the Siamese twins; albino hunchback Oly; and Chick, outwardly normal with a dangerous gift. Their traveling act inspires devotion and revulsion as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry.

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Geek Love
Katherine Dunn

Carnies Al and Crystal Lil breed their own freak show, using drugs to mutate their unborn children. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy; Iphy and Elly, the Siamese twins; albino hunchback Oly; and Chick, outwardly normal with a dangerous gift. Their traveling act inspires devotion and revulsion as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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Swamplandia!
by Karen Russell

Ava Bigtree’s family has run the gator wrestling theme park Swamplandia! for generations, but when matriarch and headliner Hilola dies, the family fractures. Ava’s father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a ghost known as the Dredgeman, and her big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival theme park called The World of Darkness.

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Swamplandia!
Karen Russell

This blazingly original debut novel takes us to the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Set against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life, it is an utterly singular novel about one family’s struggle to stay afloat and one unforgettable young heroine on a harrowing odyssey.

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The Museum of Extraordinary Things
by Alice Hoffman

Coralie Sardie’s father runs a Coney Island freak show where she appears as “the Mermaid,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. When she meets Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant photographer, they become embroiled in a moving story of young love in tumultuous times.

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The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Alice Hoffman

Coralie Sardie’s father runs a Coney Island freak show where she appears as “the Mermaid,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. When she meets Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant photographer, they become embroiled in a moving story of young love in tumultuous times.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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Carniepunk
by Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, etc.

A star-studded urban fantasy anthology featuring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and more, these short stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

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Carniepunk
Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, etc.

A star-studded urban fantasy anthology featuring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and more, these short stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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The Gracekeepers
by Kirsty Logan

In a world mostly covered with water, Callanish, a Gracekeeper, performs shoreside burials. North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. Then a sudden offshore storm changes their lives forever.

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The Gracekeepers
Kirsty Logan

In a world mostly covered with water, Callanish, a Gracekeeper, performs shoreside burials. North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. Then a sudden offshore storm changes their lives forever.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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The Tumbling Turner Sisters
by Juliette Fay

In 1919, the Turner sisters embark on an unexpected adventure when, with the family on the brink of financial ruin, their mother decides that the vaudeville stage is their only chance for survival. Gert, Winnie, Kit, and Nell soon find a new kind of freedom in the company of performers who are as diverse as their acts.

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The Tumbling Turner Sisters
Juliette Fay

Read with a Whiskey Sour

Pour yourself a whiskey sour and dive into the world of this compelling historical novel set against the turbulent backdrop of American vaudeville. In THE TUMBLING TURNER SISTERS, four sisters embark on an unexpected adventure in the company of traveling vaudeville acts in a last-ditch effort to rescue their family financially.

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The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

At a mysterious circus that only performs at night, a competition is underway between Celia and Marco, powerful illusionists who have been groomed by their sinister mentors for a battle in which, unbeknownst to them, there can only be one survivor. When they fall for one another, will their love be stronger than the forces that compel them to destroy each other?

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The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern

“The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.”

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The Palace of Curiosities
by Rosie Garland

Eve, born covered in thick fur, and Abel, a mysterious man pulled from the Thames with few memories of his past, have been cast out of Victorian society. When they join Professor Josiah Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities as The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, they begin a journey that will entwine their lives forever.

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The Palace of Curiosities
Rosie Garland

Eve, born covered in thick fur, and Abel, a mysterious man pulled from the Thames with few memories of his past, have been cast out of Victorian society. When they join Professor Josiah Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities as The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, they begin a journey that will entwine their lives forever.

Amazon logo Audible logo iBooks logo

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MENTIONED IN:

10 International Thrillers Sure to Cure Your Wanderlust

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | January 27, 2022

8 Surreal Books That Read Like a Dream

By Maddie Ehrenreich | January 26, 2022

Author Picks: 5 Mum-Noir Books Deftly Exploring Motherhood

By Katherine Faulkner | January 25, 2022

7 Essential Books to Read on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

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