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Come One, Come All: 7 Circus Novels Not to Be Missed

Julianna Haubner is an associate editor at the Simon & Schuster imprint, which she joined in September 2014 after completing the Columbia Publishing Course. She graduated from Colby College with a B.A. in English and history, and happily lives her life according to the three B’s: Books, Baking, and Bravo. A lifelong reader, Julianna is a compulsive borrower, buyer, and collector of literary and historical fiction, biographies, and cultural history. She’s on Twitter @jhaubner2, and is behind your favorite bookstagrams @offtheshelfofficial.  

Step right up, step right up! The circus is in town! There’s something mysterious and magical about a traveling troupe of extraordinary performers, and stories about them always make for entertaining novels. Soaring through the air and seeing the world, these unforgettable characters and their page-turning stunts are not to be missed—and will maybe make you wish you could run away to join them.


The Flying Circus
by Susan Crandall
Set in the 1920s Midwest, THE FLYING CIRCUS follows a trio of young pilots whose daredevil flights turn into thrilling performances across the Heartland. There’s Cora, a young woman left penniless after her father’s death; Gil, whose traumatic experience in World War I fuels his stunts; and Henry, the son of an immigrant farmer who is trying to escape his past. As their act grows and the three of them travel from place to place, the secrets they keep threaten to tear them and their makeshift family apart.
The Flying Circus
Susan Crandall

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The Trick
by Emanuel Bergmann
In 1934, a rabbi’s son in Prague joins a traveling circus, becomes a magician, and rises to fame as the Great Zabbatini—but living dangerous times, when he’s discovered to be a Jew his battered trunk becomes his only hope to survive. Seventy years later, a ten year-old boy in Los Angeles named Max finds a scratched up LP of Zabbatini performing, and becomes determined to find him.
The Trick
Emanuel Bergmann

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel
by Heather O'Neill
Pierrot and Rose are twins, abandoned in a Montreal orphanage, who have a dream of running away and creating their own circus, performing for crowds of adoring and enthralled fans. But as teenagers, they are separated and sent to work as servants, pulled into their city’s dark underworld as they struggle to survive. Still, they’re determined to make their dream of a circus come true, and when they and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls command the stage, the world will never be the same.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel
Heather O'Neill

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The Orphan's Tale
by Pam Jenoff
A powerful novel of friendship during the second world war, THE ORPHAN’S TALE is the story of Noa, a teenager who joins a German traveling circus after she is forced to give up her child and leave home. To earn her keep, she learns the flying trapeze, angering the lead aerialist, Astrid. But despite their rivalry, the women form a close bond, and when the secrets they keep threaten to be revealed, they must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another’s lives.
The Orphan's Tale
Pam Jenoff

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The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb
by Nicholas Rinaldi
After being discovered at a young age by P. T. Barnum, Tom Thumb becomes an international sensation, traveling the world and entertaining czars, kings, and presidents alike. It’s in his employer’s famed museum that he meets Lavinia Warren, and as the two fall in love, marry, and embark on a honeymoon tour across the war-torn United States, their fame grows but so do the dangers following them.
The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb
Nicholas Rinaldi

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Nights at the Circus
by Angela Carter
Sophi Fevvers is the toast of Europe’s capital cities, courted by the Prince of Wales, and painted by famous artists. She is not royalty, but close—she is an aerialist in a circus that captivates audiences all over the world. She is also, she claims, part swan. When an American journalist joins the troupe on tour to find out the truth, a dazzling romance and drama unfolds.
Nights at the Circus
Angela Carter

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Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury
One of Bradbury’s best-known and most popular novels, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES tells the suspenseful tale of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show and its sinister arrival in Green Town, Illinois, which ushers Halloween in a week early and promises secrets and wishes to the unsuspecting citizens—but with a dangerous and destructive price.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Ray Bradbury

The show is about to begin.The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes. . .and the stuff of nightmare.

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Church of Marvels
by Leslie Parry
Moving from Coney Island to the Lower East Side, Parry’s sparkling debut novel follows four outsiders—a night soiler, two sisters separated by tragedy, and a young woman trapped in the infamous Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum—whose lives become increasingly connected as they navigate the hardships, dreams, magic, and mayhem of turn-of-the-century New York.

Read the full review of CHURCH OF MARVELS.
Church of Marvels
Leslie Parry

This novel is set in vibrant, tumultuous turn-of-the-century New York City, where the lives of four outsiders become entwined, bringing irrevocable change to them all. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, to a brutal, terrifying asylum, this ravishing debut takes readers back to a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger.

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