14 Best Carnival and Circus Books to Read Now

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I talk about my time at the Zoo quite a lot, but did I mention I also worked for the circus? Yep! That’s why this list of the best circus books was so much fun to compile with Jackie.

When it comes to carnivals and circuses, I’ve always had a sweet spot. I used to work with my Aunt Jann, our Instagram followers know her well, during the summers of my college years when she did the publicity work for the Los Angeles leg of the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus tour.

I organized press events like elephant baths in The Grove, clown readings at local libraries, and early morning show appearances inside the three-ring circus. It was the highlight of summers, but also TONS of work.

When reading the circus books and books about carnivals below, I’m often reminded of my time with the circus and all of the behind-the-scenes knowledge.

Did you know the clowns used to sleep on train cars? Or that the Elephants really did walk to the various arenas because that was the easiest way to transport them? And yes… all those clowns really can fit in those tiny cars!

Anyway, we hope you love the books in the list below and that they give you as much joy as they gave us! Let us know which is your favorite!

*Post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you. Some books have been gifted. All opinions are our own.

Ladies of the Secret Circus and more books about the circus and carnival books
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Circus Books for Adults

Circus of Wonder by Elizabeth MacNeal

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

Nell has always been different because of the birthmarks on her skin but she never expected that her father would use that difference to make a profit. When Jasper Juniper’s Circus of Wonder comes to town, Nell’s father sells her to Jasper as a leopard girl.

Jasper sees Nell and sets about making her into the star of his show and his ticket to stardom. When Nell starts to find friendship in her fellow performers and falls in love with Jasper’s brother Toby, the question is whether Toby can separate himself from Jasper and his past and whether Nell will take control of her story. As circus books go, this one is totally unique.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Have you ever loved a book so much that you couldn’t put it down but also didn’t want it to end? That is how I felt about the book!

⁣In 2004 Lara Barnes’s fiancé disappeared on their wedding day. As Lara searches for answers, she starts to unravel a family mystery that goes back to 1925. ⁣This book has everything. It’s a dark fantasy filled with mystery, disappearances, and magic. I don’t want to give more detail because I don’t want to spoil any part of this book- it was one of my favorite fantasy of 2021!⁣

Geek Love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

This book is my May pick for our reading challenge to read a book about a carnival or circus. I have to say that while I was happy to read this book that has been on my stack for so long, I didn’t love this book.

I felt like nothing good happened and the story was too outrageous for me. Did anybody else feel differently? I know that many circus books deal with the harsher side of the carnival side shows. While this was very well-written, it was not uplifting at all.

Historical Fiction Books about the Circus

The Orpan's Tale and more books about the circus and carnival books

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Noa has been cast out after becoming pregnant by a Nazi Soldier. She is forced to give up her baby as well and now finds herself living at a railway station and cleaning to earn her stay. When she finds a boxcar filled with Jewish infants being transported to a concentration camp, Noa grabs a baby and runs.

She finds safety with a German circus and must learn to become a trapeze artist to remain hidden in plain site. This is a powerful story about love and friendship.

water for elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I read this book long before we started the blog and I still recommend this animal book for adults to everyone as a must-read. 

It is the middle of the Great Depression and Jacob finds himself orphaned just shy of earning his Veterinary degree. He finds himself a job with a circus caring for a menagerie.

Here he meets Marlena, the beautiful star of the show, and an untrainable elephant named Rosie. I loved everything about this book from the romance and tension to the beauty of the animals and their relationship with the people around them.

This historical fiction romance was one of the first books we thought of for a list of the best romance novels of all time. It is no surprise that this one also found its way to my list of all-time favorite books.

The Ringmasters Wife and more books about the circus and carnival books

The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron

I will always have a soft spot for the circus so this novel picked me up when I needed it. The dual timeline is set 25 years apart about two different women at the center of the circus.

In the turn-of-the-century story, we get to meet Mable, the woman who will eventually become John Ringling’s wife. 25 years later, Rosamund is considering leaving her life as an English Lady behind to join the famous Ringling brother’s circus.

I loved when the women’s stories eventually intertwined. If you are looking for historical fiction circus books, check this one out!

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Carnival Books


Revelle by Lyssa Mia Smith

This prohibition-era historical fantasy novel was inspired by Moulin Rouge! It’s filled with romance, carnival performers, and a magical community on an island near New York.

Luxe (our Satine) can use her magic to create illusions to give people exactly what they want but what her family needs is money. When Dewey, a time-traveling smuggler, asks her to help him become mayor by pretending to be his fiance, she thinks her prayers are answered.

Until she meets Jamison, a poor commoner with no magic to speak of. They begin an illicit relationship that might spell doom for them all.

Why We Liked it: This YA historical fantasy novel held me captive. It was so original! If you are looking for young adult fantasy romance books, this one should be on your TBR.

Find this book in Jazz Age Novels / Circus Books / YA Fantasy Romance / Historical Fantasy

museum of extraordinary things

Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Coralie Sardien spends her days in a Coney Island freak show called the Museum of Extraordinary Things. There, appears as the mermaid in the museum run by her father. She is one of many attractions in the show.

One night, Coralie meets Eddie Cohen who has run away from his Orthodox community. What follows is a love story during tumultuous times in New York history.

This historical fiction carnival book is a must-read and one of the best books set in New York I have read. Alice Hoffman writes some of the best adult fantasy novels on this list. This is one of my favorite Alice Hoffman books.

Inheritance of orquidea divina

The Inheritance of Orquidé Divine by Zoraida Córoda

I do not know how to begin to describe this wonderful and complex adult fantasy. The characters are deep and the magic from this story seeps from the pages

The Montoya family is summoned to their grandmother’s house to collect their inheritance. They are hoping to obtain answers from her before she dies. They are used to living with secrets and unexplained phenomena.

But when Orquidea Divina is transformed into a tree before their eyes, they must seek the answers themselves.

the Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

What would you do if you knew the day that you were going to die? Would want to know?  The four Gold children find out the information that will shape their lives in this amazing magical realism book.

Beautifully written, the Immortalists follows Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya through their lives.  Ms. Benjamin does a superb job of creating different voices for each of these characters. They are so vivid and unique.  This family saga book about grief is un-putdownable and stays with you long after you have finished reading the last page.

If you want to host an Immortalists book club, we have a post that will help you make it spectacular.

Best YA Fantasy Books Like the Night Circus

night circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Every word captivated me from beginning to end and I couldn’t put it down. The story was magical- both literally and figuratively and the descriptions are so vivid.

The stage has been set for a magical competition between the pupils of two very powerful magicians. The stage: the night circus. The pupils, a man and a woman, are unsure of the rules, unsure of how to win or when the competition will end. As the competition continues, the opponents fall in love- a situation that only complicates their predicament.

This is magic in a way that I never imagined it before. The story has twists and surprises that left me wondering how I didn’t see what was right there all along.

Find this Book in Best Romance Novels of all Time / The Best Carnival and Circus Books / Books Like the Hunger Games / Books Like the Night Circus.

circus rose

Circus Rose by Betsy Cornwall

Rosie and Ivory have grown up in their mother’s circus and are returning to Port’s End. It is a place closest to any home after years of traveling. As the circus prepares for opening night, fundamentalists seek to stop the show from continuing. But, as the show begins, a massive fire strikes the tent and that is only the beginning.

This YA fantasy book is a queer re-telling of Snow White and Rose Red (not to be confused with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). It has been thoroughly reimagined and transformed in this book. It is a must-read for a list of books like The Night Circus


Caraval by Stephanie Garber 

When it comes to YA Fantasy books, this one is a classic. The story begins with letters from Scarlett to Legend, the leader of Caraval- a game played once a year in a far-off destination.

Every year, every time it is played, the game is different. Filled with magic and wonder, Scarlet plays this destination-based competition to win this year’s prize – her sister Tella – before anyone else can. This is a game filled with magic where the stakes become higher the longer Scarlet plays.

Why We Love It: This is the first book in a three-part series that gets better and more complex with each new book. This series of YA fantasy romance books is a must-read.
Find this book in Stephanie Garber Books / YA Fantasy Romance Books / Books Like the Selection / Best Puzzle Books

Best YA Fantasy books every fantasy lover needs to read.

Ultimate List of YA Fantasy

If fantasy books are your favorite books, then these are the perfect book lists for you. We carefully divided them into sub-genres.

The Engineers Wife

Books with Characters from the Circus

The Engineer's Wife and more books about the circus and carnival books

The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood

I had no idea that a woman was so instrumental in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Emily Warren Roebling is the focus of this historical fiction novel.

I loved learning about New York at the time of the bridge building and just how hard Emily had to fight for her right to be part of the building. It’s also humbling to understand the dangers of building back in the 1860s and 70s.

Men risked their lives for the betterment of society. On the lighter side, all the scenes with P.T. Barnum made me smile. I used to work for the circus after all! 

five people you meet in heaven

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Album

This short novel packs a huge punch as Albom attempts to answer the meaning of life.

83-year-old Eddie spends his days fixing rides at an amusement park. When he dies trying to save a little girl from a freak accident, he wakes up in the afterlife and meets 5 people he impacted while alive.

He thought he had lived a meaningless, unremarkable life. Instead, he finds out just how important he was to those around him as he learns secrets from his past.

This one-sitting read is like a warm hug. A must-read at some point in your life.

Non-fiction Books about the Circus

More Circus and Carnival Books

Which books about the circus and carnival made your to-read list?

circus books

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  1. I read a wonderful book about a young girl who has the genetic disorder that causes hair growth all over the body. She is concealed in the attic of her home by her family until she is sold into a traveling carnival or circus. Do you know the title and author of this book?