This month, Book Club Favorites is reading Elizabeth Macneal’s newest book, Circus of Wonders. Macneal’s novel, packed with mystical elements and the pizazz of the Victorian circus, sparked an interest in other books of oddity and wonder. From stupefying tricks to miraculous freaks, the list of wondrous novels was hard to narrow down! If your club is looking for another novel about captivated creatures and fantastical feats, here are a few recommendations to bring to your next meeting.
Book Club Favorites: 7 Wondrous Reads to Make You Member of the Year
Travel back in time to Victorian London, when circus mania was sweeping the nation. Nell, a young girl from a coastal town, is sold to Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders as the “leopard girl” because of the birthmarks that cover her body. Jasper’s exploitations of his “human wonders” are the ticket to his coveted success. But with his fame, Nell’s also grows. Jasper is threatened by Nell’s ability to entertain the audience. Even his brother, Toby, is enchanted by Nell’s beauty. But despite Jasper’s growing greed, Nell knows her worth in the world and is prepared to fight for it.
From the #1 internationally bestselling author of the “lush, evocative Gothic” (The New York Times Book Review) The Doll Factory comes an atmospheric and spectacular novel where one woman’s life is transformed by the arrival of a Victorian circus of wonders.
Step up, step up! In 1860s England, circus mania is sweeping the nation. Crowds jostle for a glimpse of the lion-tamers, the dazzling trapeze artists and, most thrilling of all, the so-called “human wonders.”
When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders pitches its tent in a poor coastal town, the life of one young girl changes forever. Sold to the ringmaster as a “leopard girl” because of the birthmarks that cover her body, Nell is utterly devastated. But as she grows close to the other performers, she finds herself enchanted by the glittering freedom of the circus, and by her own role as the Queen of the Moon and Stars.
Before long, Nell’s fame spreads across the world—and with it, a chance for Jasper Jupiter to grow his own name and fortune. But what happens when her fame begins to eclipse his own, when even Jasper’s loyal brother Toby becomes captivated by Nell? No longer the quiet flower-picker, Nell knows her own place in the world, and she will fight for it.
A gorgeously wrought exploration of celebrity, power, and belonging, this is a historical novel unlike any other, with an unforgettable heroine at its heart.
Jess Kidd’s THINGS IN JARS is another fantastic read about a young girl held captive as an oddity. Christabel Berwick has been kept a secret by her father due to her supernatural water powers that have the potential to wreak havoc on others. She is so rare and wondrous that Sir Berwick has hidden Christabel from everyone, even the police. So when she mysteriously goes missing, Sir Berwick calls upon the greatest detective in the area, Bridie Devine—a flame-haired, pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire. As Bridie scours the streets of Victorian London, she is accompanied by her seven-foot-tall housemaid and a tattoo-ridden ghost. In her quest to find Christabel, Bridie also unearths some deep secrets of her own past, and is thrown into a mystical adventure.
In this “miraculous and thrilling” (Diane Setterfield, #1 New York Times bestselling author) mystery for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Book of Speculation, Victorian London comes to life as an intrepid female sleuth wades through a murky world of collectors and criminals to recover a remarkable child.
Bridie Devine—flame-haired, pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors in this age of discovery.
Winding her way through the sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing secrets about her past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot-tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where nothing is quite what it seems.
Blending darkness and light, Things in Jars is a stunning, “richly woven tapestry of fantasy, folklore, and history” (Booklist, starred review) that explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.
The Montoya family has a long history of secrets that no one has ever seemed to question. So when their matriarch, Orquídea Divina, knows that she’s dying, she invites her loved ones back home to bestow her inheritance upon them. But when she passes away without providing any answers, the Montoyas are left with even more questions. Flash-forward seven years: A hidden figure begins to threaten the Montoyas’ lineage. Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon must travel into Orquídea ‘s past to unearth the long-kept secrets of their ancestors and fight against this haunting entity to save their family.
Perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, and Sarah Addison Allen, this is a gorgeously written novel about a family searching for the truth hidden in their past and the power they’ve inherited, from the author of the acclaimed and “giddily exciting” (The New York Times Book Review) Brooklyn Brujas series.
The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.
Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.
Alice Hoffman is the queen of sprinkling bits of mystic and magic into spellbinding books. In THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS, Coralie Sardie’s father owns a Coney Island freak show known as The Museum of Extraordinary Things. With Coralie’s excellent swimming skills, she is cast as a mermaid amongst other odd humans. Coralie’s world is changed forever when she spots a dashing Russian photographer snapping pictures near the Hudson river. While Coralie is mystified by Eddie and his striking looks, she become entangled in his secrets, as his photographs of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire bring suspions.
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.
Prepare to be captivated by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar‘s mysterious and mystical novella. Every day during the summer of 1974, Gwendy Peterson treks up a steep iron staircase to Castle View. When one day she finally reaches the top, a voice calls out to her. She sees a man dressed in black with a small hat propped atop his head. In time, Gwendy’s nightmares about this hat will worsen, and the strange events that unfolded at the top of Castle View will be known.
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is told as a series of memories, recounted by ninety-three-year-old Jacob Jankowdki in his nursing home. At twenty-three, Jacob, orphaned and lonely, hops aboard a train and stumbles upon the dazzling world of the circus. The band of misfits take Jacob in and put him in charge of caring for the animals. While tending to them, Jacob meets Marlena, the star of the equestrian act; August, her twisted animal trainer husband; and Rosie, a seemingly untrainable elephant. As Jacob becomes immersed in this strange world, he finds a way to tap into Rosie’s intelligence. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, and the greed of August and the circus manager, friendship and love bloom for Jacob. Packed with passion, this circus book by Sara Gruen is a must-read for all book clubs.
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.
Helen’s husband has died, leaving her as a single parent to their nine-year-old son, Alexander. To escape the sadness in their lives, Helen and Alexander travel to Greece, where they explore the city of Mystras and meet Elias, a mysterious tour guide and the town’s only resident. For eight hundred years, his family has outrun the Lusignan family, who are cursed by a deadly disease that worsens with each generation. The only cure for the curse is Elias’s blood. With only one member of the Lusignan family left, Elias is desperate to outrun him. But when he happens upon Helen, he unwittingly puts both her and Alexander in danger.
From the author of the “engrossing historical epic” (Booklist) The Scribe of Siena comes a thrilling tale set in the crumbling city of Mystras, Greece, in which a scientist’s vacation with her young son quickly turns into a fight for their lives after they cross paths with a man out of time.
After the death of her beloved husband and becoming a single parent to her nine-year-old son Alexander, overworked scientist Helen desperately needs an escape. So when Alexander proposes a trip to Greece—somewhere he's always dreamed of visiting—Helen quickly agrees.
After spending several days exploring the tourist-filled streets, they stumble upon the ancient city of Mystras and are instantly drawn to it. Its only resident is Elias, a mysterious tour guide living on the city’s edges…both physically and temporally.
In 1237, Elias’s mother promised his eternal service to the Profitis Ilias in Mystras in exchange for surviving a terrible illness. But during his 800 years of labor, he’s had one common enemy: the noble Lusignan family. The Lusignan line is cursed by a deadly disease that worsens with each generation, and a prophecy hints that Elias’s blood is their only hope for a cure. He has managed to survive throughout the centuries, but the line has dwindled down to the last Lusignan and he is desperate to avert his family’s destiny.
When Elias runs into Helen, he meets his match for the first time—but he unwittingly puts both her and her young son in danger as a result. With time running out and an enemy after them, Elias and Helen are forced to choose between the city they love, and each other.
Blending the historical romance of Diana Gabaldon, the rich detail of Philippa Gregory’s novels, and Dan Brown’s fast-paced suspense, Anticipation is a thrilling and satisfying read like no other.
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