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1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea. But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard 1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea. But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell's life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her. In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother? Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.


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1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea. But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard 1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea. But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell's life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her. In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother? Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

30 review for Circus of Wonders

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    After her brilliantly memorable debut, The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal's showcases that her writing just goes from strength to strength, as she once again returns to the Victorian historical era, this time putting the spotlight on Victorian obsessions with 'freaks', curiosities, and the exotic. This book shimmers with magic, illusions, interwoven with horror, where in a southern coastal town, Nell is markedly different from others with her body covered with birthmarks, she is shunned by othe After her brilliantly memorable debut, The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal's showcases that her writing just goes from strength to strength, as she once again returns to the Victorian historical era, this time putting the spotlight on Victorian obsessions with 'freaks', curiosities, and the exotic. This book shimmers with magic, illusions, interwoven with horror, where in a southern coastal town, Nell is markedly different from others with her body covered with birthmarks, she is shunned by others, believed to be a curse, thought of as a bad omen by her father. She holds on to her beloved relationship with her brother, picking violets for a living. Nell, the 'Leopard Girl', is to be betrayed by her father, torn from her life when he sells her to Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders. Jasper is blindly ambitious, selfish, seeking fame and fortune at any price, he and his gentler brother, Toby, are haunted by the brutal battlefields of the Crimean War, where Jasper served as a soldier, and Toby as a war photographer, the two bound tightly together by secrets, as they realised their dream of running a circus. Nell is initially so unhappy, but she is soon to wonder if this is not the best thing that could have happened her, as she soars high above the entranced audiences as she becomes Jasper's star attraction, becoming widely celebrated, shifting large amounts of merchandise, the media labelling her the eighth wonder of the world. She becomes close to fellow acts, including a group of women, like the wise bearded women, Stella, along with Peggy and Brunette, forming strong friendships and family, developing resilience and a more defined sense of identity. She develops feelings for Toby, but she is owned by Jasper, and his insecurities, jealousy and drive to profiteer is to be source of his unravelling. In a atmospheric, multilayered, and emotionally charged narrative, we learn of the backgrounds and past of Nell, the despicably controlling Jasper, and Toby, touching on issues of power, ownership, celebrity, exploitation, differences, sibling relationships, secrets, love, loss and circus life, amidst the rich descriptions of life, the position of women, the social norms and attitudes of the day, the society and inequalities of Victorian England. In this well researched novel, Macneal weaves her powerful spellbinding storytelling, immersing the reader in the Victorian period, and her magnetic, mesmerising, memorable and flawed authentic characters, none more so than Nell. The development of her character is a joy to behold, despite the challenges and obstacles that come her way, facing being all too obviously seen by others, yet to all intents and purposes, fighting being invisible, wanting to be seen for who she is. The author takes the reader beyond the macabre horror of the circus of 'freaks' into the thrillingly imagined world of the weird and the wonderful, the people and their lives behind the acts. This is a uncomfortable and unsettling book at times, but it just lured me in with ease with its beautifully written prose and emotional sensitivity, a historical novel of survival, hope, empowerment and acceptance in a world that can be so desperately cruel. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Diversity Elizabeth Macneal has written a superb historical fiction novel that is full of drama and adventure. Set against the Victorian obsession with oddities, freaks, and wonders, many captivating story threads bring us mystery, intrigue, and the enthralling draw of circus life and performance. Nell is a young woman living in a southern English coastal town with her brother and father. She was born with birthmarks across her body which received her the nickname ‘Leopard Girl’ and ensured her l Diversity Elizabeth Macneal has written a superb historical fiction novel that is full of drama and adventure. Set against the Victorian obsession with oddities, freaks, and wonders, many captivating story threads bring us mystery, intrigue, and the enthralling draw of circus life and performance. Nell is a young woman living in a southern English coastal town with her brother and father. She was born with birthmarks across her body which received her the nickname ‘Leopard Girl’ and ensured her life was one of loneliness, ridicule and ostracization. Her only comfort comes from her brother while her father considers her to be a curse. “It begins with an advertisement, nailed to an oak tree. ‘Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders!’ someone shouts. ‘What is it?’ ‘The greatest show on earth!’ “ When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes calling on their village, Nell’s father takes the opportunity of selling her to the circus for twenty pounds. Jasper owns and runs the travelling circus and his brother plays a supporting role without feeling ownership or authority. The relationship between Jasper and his brother Toby is quite complex and while there is a bond of family duty there are destructive tones of jealousy, manipulation, dominance, threats of abandonment, ridicule and retribution. The acute feelings of jealousy that are exposed from their childhood through the Crimean War, where Jasper was a soldier and Toby a war photographer, to their involvement in the circus, is never too far away and always bubbling under the surface. During their time in the war, they met a charismatic friend, Dash, who enthralled Jasper with his plans for a circus, but he disliked Toby and described him as a ‘dullard’ - probably very accurate. These relationships were to end in tragedy and a secret that Jasper and Toby maintained, although a price is exacted for the silence and the truth of how Dash died. Initially distraught with her sale to the circus, Nell finds herself amongst other people considered freaks but develops a belonging and a place where she can learn to celebrate her uniqueness. Along with the bearded lady, the tall, the strong and the small, she joins her surrogate family. Jasper eventually makes her a star and the undertone of jealousy finds another outlet and the three-way relationship between Nell, Jasper and Toby becomes more complicated where desire and attraction are not equally or noticeable applied. The full cast of characters is wonderfully developed with their mix of flawed and admirable traits. The relationships they form and the motives, duties, and concern they have is fascinating as events unfold that regularly challenge their lives. Circus of Wonders is a beautifully written novel with incredible depth and an engrossing storyline. It provides an authentic atmosphere with many of the Victorian views on power, ownership, society and exploitation on display. I would highly recommend this book and I reckon Circus of Wonders is set to be an outstanding best-seller for 2021. I would also like to thank Picador, Pan Macmillan, and NetGalley to provide me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    ‘’Have a long look, why don’t you?’’ Nell is unique, graced with a special kind of beauty. But the others cannot understand, they think she is an abomination, a cursed creature, lower than the low. When a circus comes to town, her father sees an opportunity to rid himself of a burden and sells her to Jasper, the man who aspires to be the greatest showman in the country. For Nell, this heinous ct actually opens the door to a new world. She finds a new family and freedom. But more often than no ‘’Have a long look, why don’t you?’’ Nell is unique, graced with a special kind of beauty. But the others cannot understand, they think she is an abomination, a cursed creature, lower than the low. When a circus comes to town, her father sees an opportunity to rid himself of a burden and sells her to Jasper, the man who aspires to be the greatest showman in the country. For Nell, this heinous ct actually opens the door to a new world. She finds a new family and freedom. But more often than not, the one who claims to have set us free is our greatest captor. ‘’In this age of wonder, epiphanies are born in the ecstasies of dreams and fevers.’’ Following the beautiful The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal excels again, creating a brilliant story in which History is seamlessly married to the Strange and the Oneiric. A tale where Light and Shadow coexist, set in the era of frenzy over circuses, curiosities and spiritualism, the age of doubt and progress. London is brilliantly seen in all its glory and filth. Wealth and poverty. The nobility parading its fat purse and the children dying in the streets, sick and emaciated, the ‘’all-conquering’’ Victoria with her enormous petticoats and the young mothers and prostitutes wasting away, exploited and abused. As Nell soars in the sky, Toby becomes a wonder, Pearl stands witness to the loss of innocence, Jasper fights with himself and memories of the Crimean War resurface, brutal and unforgiving. The demons of the past start dancing, opening the wounds that cannot be healed. The scenes that will remain in your memory are many, the writing is mesmerizing, the characterization is excellent. From our wonderful, wonderful Nell to the shadow of Dash, and I was happy to see a writer that didn’t glorify Victoria and her cruel behaviour. Life is made entirely out of our own choices, no matter the circumstances or the odds that may be against us. We decide, we act. The rest are empty excuses. Nell chooses and the closure is superb. Elizabeth Macneal’s novel is a literary wonder, taking place in the Circus of Life. This IS Historical Fiction. ‘’We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.’’ William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Act 4, Scene 1) Many thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ceecee

    It’s May 1866 and Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, full of living curiosities, comes to the coastal resort where Nell lives. Nell grows miniature flowers to sell in London and is regarded by locals as a ‘freak’ because of her prominent birthmarks. Nell’s father sells her to Jasper for £20 betraying her, giving her no choice and exerting his power and control over her. What follows is a captivating tale, full of atmospheric magic and mystery. The story is told by Nell. Jasper and Toby, Jasper’ It’s May 1866 and Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, full of living curiosities, comes to the coastal resort where Nell lives. Nell grows miniature flowers to sell in London and is regarded by locals as a ‘freak’ because of her prominent birthmarks. Nell’s father sells her to Jasper for £20 betraying her, giving her no choice and exerting his power and control over her. What follows is a captivating tale, full of atmospheric magic and mystery. The story is told by Nell. Jasper and Toby, Jasper’s brother. This is a mesmerising read that immerses you in the circus world of the late nineteenth century and interweaves the narrative effortlessly with the Crimean War where Jasper serves as a soldier and Toby photographs. The sections in the war, especially at Sevastopol show the horrors of this war and are very dark with Toby in particular deeply affected by it and riddled with guilt. The colourful circus storytelling provides a stark contrast to the war although there are some similarities of the emotions felt. The quality of the writing is exceptional, you feel the characters emotions, see the sights, sounds and smells of both circus and war which comes to life before your eyes. It feels like a fantasy in places which is reinforced via references to fairytales. The characterisation is excellent, Jasper is powerful, in control, his temper can be terrible, he has a voracious appetite for success and as a consequence overreaches. Toby lives in his shadow but shows on occasions demonstrates that he has far more potential than he has self belief. Nell transforms through the circus, she’s fulfilled, she realises she has potential, the life is exhilarating and exciting and she finds strong friendship from Stella, the bearded lady, as well as Toby. There are occasions where it becomes very tense as you wonder where Jaspers ambition will go next and the story builds and builds to a crescendo where it will go one of two ways. There is so much you could comment on in this book as it contains so much from love to jealousy and hate, guilt and sadness and strong fraternal bonds. The end feels right, it touches your heart and fits the narrative. Overall, this is a wonderful book. I love the colour of the circus, the complexity of the characters and the beauty of the writing which at times feels lyrical. It’s a fantastical tale which captivates and dazzles like the circus itself. With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Pan McMillan, Picador for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte May

    “All of history is fiction.” Nellie has grown up an outsider, covered in birth marks people often view her with disdain and ridicule. When she is sold by her own father into Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, she thinks her life is over. However, she grows to love performing and forming a kinship with the other acts as a family. She even finds love with the lumbering and shy Toby. But Jasper is greedy and ambitious, and when Nellie becomes more popular than Jasper himself, he gets nasty. Mean “All of history is fiction.” Nellie has grown up an outsider, covered in birth marks people often view her with disdain and ridicule. When she is sold by her own father into Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, she thinks her life is over. However, she grows to love performing and forming a kinship with the other acts as a family. She even finds love with the lumbering and shy Toby. But Jasper is greedy and ambitious, and when Nellie becomes more popular than Jasper himself, he gets nasty. Meanwhile we also have flashbacks from Jasper and his brother Toby’s time during the war and a secret they have carried with them. I loved all the different characters, the flaws, light and dark - this was an immersive novel that kept me gripped. It is a testament to what it means to be human and how we are all more than just the sum of our parts.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Well, that was certainly a departure for me! Set in Victorian England it is a haunting tale of yearning, empowerment, loss and redemption. These days some people go out of their way to appear different, to stand out from the crowd. In this story Nell, who’s skin is stippled with birthmarks, tries to be as invisible as she can, to deflect the stares of everyone she meets. Nell lives with her father and brother scrabbling to make a living selling miniature flowers and candied flowers. It’s a strug Well, that was certainly a departure for me! Set in Victorian England it is a haunting tale of yearning, empowerment, loss and redemption. These days some people go out of their way to appear different, to stand out from the crowd. In this story Nell, who’s skin is stippled with birthmarks, tries to be as invisible as she can, to deflect the stares of everyone she meets. Nell lives with her father and brother scrabbling to make a living selling miniature flowers and candied flowers. It’s a struggle. And one day Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes to her village. Jasper sees Nell and becomes obsessed with her, with the idea of her. He buys her from her father for £20 and promises her a ‘bigger’ life than she could imagine. This is, after all, Victorian England where freaks of all types are all the rage. After coming to terms with her fate, Nell is entranced with the idea of having agency over her own future, over people wanting to see her, to admire her, of no longer needing to feel ashamed of how she looks. The circus is filled with similar ‘freaks’ - the bearded lady, the giantess and so on. Jasper has a brother, Toby. Toby is quieter but taller and wider - a gentle giant, a lumbering oaf, and he too, has seen Nell and is entranced by her. Yet for all his larger size, Toby seems to live in Jasper’s shadow. It has always been thus, even when the both brothers went to the Crimean war. Jasper went to fight the ‘Ruskies’ with his new friend Dash and Toby trailed behind as a photographer, a job he still undertakes for the circus. Jasper designs a set for her where she appears to fly over the crowd and he calls her Nellie the Queen of the Moon and the Stars in reference to the markings in her skin. But Jasper has bigger dreams, he wants to own the greatest show on earth and entice the mourning queen to visit his circus. He borrows money and invests heavily in new acts, new equipment and a bigger ring. The queen eventually does come and then she invites Nellie to visit her. Not Jasper, only Nellie. And now that his creation has eclipsed him Jasper starts to unravel. The last straw is when he realises he cannot ‘own’ Nellie, her heart already belongs to his brother. Jasper, his mind in torment, risks it all one night with a new show, with new tricks and on that night all their lives will be changed forever. How does this awkward triangle, this man on the edge, the awkward brother and the woman who does not want to sink back into obscurity go forward. It’s both a happy story and yet heartbreaking as well. It is full of pathos and small victories. It actually quite hard to describe but it is a very character driven story. And the characters are so well drawn, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, their triumphs and failures. The Crimean war is also described in all its bloody glory and it certainly changed some of our main characters. The story itself is beautifully written and it certainly qualified as ‘something different’ in my reading. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kayla Jefferson

    Wow! What an amazingly captivating read. I so wish the ending had been different and Nellie, Toby and Pearl could have been a happy little family. A tale of heartache, love, jealousy, brotherhood and friendship. Never a dull moment in this book

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Twitter | Goodreads | Blog | Instagram | A “freak” in a circus. Whose not heard of this in the past historical events? We still have “little” people being clowns and there were the big bearded ladies who were odd because of their total facial hair. Anything odd drew in the money. Little Nell was sold to the circus because she had a birthmark that made her look like a Leopard which rose across half of her body. It’s a good story. I enjoyed it. It’s obvious the author had done lots of research but th Twitter | Goodreads | Blog | Instagram | A “freak” in a circus. Whose not heard of this in the past historical events? We still have “little” people being clowns and there were the big bearded ladies who were odd because of their total facial hair. Anything odd drew in the money. Little Nell was sold to the circus because she had a birthmark that made her look like a Leopard which rose across half of her body. It’s a good story. I enjoyed it. It’s obvious the author had done lots of research but the ending let it down. I had purchased the book, but found it wasn’t taking my interest so I requested the audio off of Netgalley. It was much better and the narrator was very good and adept at keeping me fixed on what was going on. I just don’t think this book was for me, I was totally hoping this book would go in the direction I hoped but it didn’t. Just something was missing for me, a bit of punch or impact. Little Nell was a treat though and the elements in the book are magical.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    The 2017 cult hit film 'The Greatest Showman' inspired marginalized people about the solace that can be found by establishing your own community with others who don't fit in with larger society. But it also perpetuated a dangerous mythology about P.T. Barnum as a showman who wholeheartedly believed in this ethos and deeply cared about the welfare of the performers in his freak shows and circuses. Elizabeth Macneal's new novel “Circus of Wonders” presents a more complicated fictional story of suc The 2017 cult hit film 'The Greatest Showman' inspired marginalized people about the solace that can be found by establishing your own community with others who don't fit in with larger society. But it also perpetuated a dangerous mythology about P.T. Barnum as a showman who wholeheartedly believed in this ethos and deeply cared about the welfare of the performers in his freak shows and circuses. Elizabeth Macneal's new novel “Circus of Wonders” presents a more complicated fictional story of such an impresario with Jasper Jupiter who in 1866 aspires to create a show that will eclipse Barnum in its success and draw Queen Victoria to attend. He does this through mercenary exchanges purchasing individuals with physical aberration from their families, tyrannically working his crew and making dangerous deals to enhance the spectacles. Though this egotist's circus is at the centre of this novel, Macneal primarily focuses instead on the points of view of two far more sympathetic characters. A young woman named Nell feels isolated in her community because of birthmarks which speckle her skin and, though she's kidnapped by Jupiter, she comes to embrace the circus' opportunities and the sense of importance which comes from being refashioned into a wonder known as the “Queen of the Moon and Stars”. But she soon realises that this isn't necessarily an empowering form of celebrity, her newfound freedom has limitations and the public's adulation has a sinister side. Jasper's brother Toby has always been the more awkward and less favoured of the pair. From an early age they hatched a dream of forming a circus together, but Jasper's ambition supersedes his brotherly love and there hangs between them a secret from their days being involved in the Crimean War. The complicated relationship between Nell and Toby plays out amidst the rise to fame of Jupiter's Circus of Wonders. Read my full review of Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal on LonesomeReader

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Actual rating 2.5 stars. This was my most anticipated book of the year. I loved the author’s debut novel, The Doll Factory, so my expectations for this were incredibly high. Unfortunately, this proved to be something of a disappointment. I felt this book lacked magic, lacked charm, lacked darkness. I also felt a huge disconnect with the characters, with the main character Nell being the worst. I never felt like I understood her or her motivations. Jasper and Toby didn’t fare much better. They bot Actual rating 2.5 stars. This was my most anticipated book of the year. I loved the author’s debut novel, The Doll Factory, so my expectations for this were incredibly high. Unfortunately, this proved to be something of a disappointment. I felt this book lacked magic, lacked charm, lacked darkness. I also felt a huge disconnect with the characters, with the main character Nell being the worst. I never felt like I understood her or her motivations. Jasper and Toby didn’t fare much better. They both had a lot of potential, but it went largely unexplored. To me, the most interesting characters were the side characters, the “wonders” of the circus, and they didn’t get anywhere near enough page time. The pacing also felt off to me. There were huge swathes of the book where very little happened. It wasn’t until the last few chapters that things actually started to get interesting. It was a real shame, as this book had all the ingredients to be really great but for me, it fizzled out like a sparkler in a rainstorm. I know a lot of people will love it, but it wasn’t a great read for me, I’m afraid.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    This book was a terrific read, although not always an easy one, revealing the dark underside of Victorian entertainment. In a world where freak shows were a very popular form of entertainment, where people were regarded as something other and mistreated, comes our main character, Nell. In her we see initially a story of growing self determination, esteem and empowerment. As time goes by however, her perception of her so called freedom in the Circus of Wonders changes. The story revolves around t This book was a terrific read, although not always an easy one, revealing the dark underside of Victorian entertainment. In a world where freak shows were a very popular form of entertainment, where people were regarded as something other and mistreated, comes our main character, Nell. In her we see initially a story of growing self determination, esteem and empowerment. As time goes by however, her perception of her so called freedom in the Circus of Wonders changes. The story revolves around the developing relationship between Nell and Toby, the shyer of the two circus brothers. I liked the way the author mentions many real life characters from shows of the time. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Natalie "Curling up with a Coffee and a Kindle" Rampling

    This was an excellent read! A wonderful setting with captivating characters, and I loved the way the author showed the prejudices of the time throughout. I would say the plot slowed a little after the first half, but I constantly looked forward to the audiobook and the excellent narration. The writing was beautiful, and the whole combination made for an enjoyable novel.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Resh (The Book Satchel)

    Marvellous! Delight personified. Beautiful sentences Always a pleasure to come across books as these. Elizabeth's words are beautiful. The atmosphere of show, Victorian pleasure gardens, being captive while also marking a name for oneself. The plot is excellent with technical details of photography, stealing the stage, spectacles, the weird and wonderful, kidnappings, secrets. Lovely! Full review here - https://www.thebooksatchel.com/circus... 5 stars Much thanks to Picador for an e-ARC. All opinion Marvellous! Delight personified. Beautiful sentences Always a pleasure to come across books as these. Elizabeth's words are beautiful. The atmosphere of show, Victorian pleasure gardens, being captive while also marking a name for oneself. The plot is excellent with technical details of photography, stealing the stage, spectacles, the weird and wonderful, kidnappings, secrets. Lovely! Full review here - https://www.thebooksatchel.com/circus... 5 stars Much thanks to Picador for an e-ARC. All opinions my own

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    This one publishes this week, and I already have my copy pre-ordered. I can't recommend it enough 🎪 At turns magical and wonderous, tragic and cruel, this stunning novel will capture your imagination from start to finish. Mcneal's first novel, The Doll Factory, was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 and I couldn't wait for more from her. This was one of this year's releases I was anticipating the most, and I was so excited to get my hands on this very special early copy. I was entranced and e This one publishes this week, and I already have my copy pre-ordered. I can't recommend it enough 🎪 At turns magical and wonderous, tragic and cruel, this stunning novel will capture your imagination from start to finish. Mcneal's first novel, The Doll Factory, was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 and I couldn't wait for more from her. This was one of this year's releases I was anticipating the most, and I was so excited to get my hands on this very special early copy. I was entranced and enthralled throughout, and I adored our main character Nell, she completely stole my heart. I loved the way this story shows both the vulnerability and the strength of women. It is also a tale of brothers, with their experiences of the Crimean war subtly woven into a tale of Victorian curiosities. Highly recommend to lovers of Historical Fiction, and if you loved the Doll Factory then pick this up too, it's just as fabulous! 5 brilliant stars. Thank you so much to Picador for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Blah. Victoriana by numbers. Such a disappointment after how much I loved The Doll Factory! This felt most like Jamrach’s Menagerie, with traces of The Crimson Petal and the White and The Rose of Sebastopol. I hoped for more from the combination of circus freaks and Crimean War memories. I read the first 40-some pages and skimmed up to p. 90. None of the characters leapt out at me. Blah. Victoriana by numbers. Such a disappointment after how much I loved The Doll Factory! This felt most like Jamrach’s Menagerie, with traces of The Crimson Petal and the White and The Rose of Sebastopol. I hoped for more from the combination of circus freaks and Crimean War memories. I read the first 40-some pages and skimmed up to p. 90. None of the characters leapt out at me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus is one of my all-time favourites. The wit and wonder and grit of it. Macneal’s debut hit the note of visceral realism I crave in historical fiction, so I’m sure you can infer my excitement for this one. Mellow is the neatest way I can describe Circus of Wonders. It handles much of the same themes Macneal tackled in The Doll Factory - in fact, it is rather on the nose with its discourse of autonomy, possession and the Other – and it sets me wondering (probably Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus is one of my all-time favourites. The wit and wonder and grit of it. Macneal’s debut hit the note of visceral realism I crave in historical fiction, so I’m sure you can infer my excitement for this one. Mellow is the neatest way I can describe Circus of Wonders. It handles much of the same themes Macneal tackled in The Doll Factory - in fact, it is rather on the nose with its discourse of autonomy, possession and the Other – and it sets me wondering (probably unfairly) whether she really has a huge amount to say. The historical detail is unflinching when it comes to the real people exhibited in the Victorian circus; the entire basis of the novel challenges the modern romanticization popular culture loves to indulge in (Jen Campbell makes incredibly provocative videos about this issue). But for me, these issues were not suggested so much as stated, with sustained references to highbrow literature. So much introspection and dialogue revolves around this (thoughts and feelings that any decent empathetic person would understand) that it eclipses any potential nuance. I would have loved to have heard firsthand from the women in the circus. I don’t know whether there was a word-count to hit, but the prose felt strained. It was not as pacey or as compulsive as The Doll Factory, and my attention certainly waned towards the end. The skew into the Crimean war, to this effect, felt somewhat unnecessary. Although it illuminated one character dynamic, I would have appreciated more insight into the conflict itself and how the existential horror of the events might affect the individuals. The characters themselves are relatively safe and I can’t say I found them compelling. The ending is, however, reassuringly fresh. Fabulous escapism, but not one I think I will revisit in a hurry. With thanks to Netgalley and PanMac for the proof. Yes, I finally worked out how to link up my Kindle to my account!!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    1866. In a remote coastal village,tucked away in southern England,Nell picks violets for a living.Her life is one of spectacle and pointing fingers as she has birthmarks that speckle all of her body and face. Nells entire world is her loving brother and her devotion to the sea. Cue Jasper Jupiter and his amazing Circus of Wonders,who snatches Nell away after her father sells her,promising Jasper his very own leopard girl. Nell cannot believe those closest to her could betray her,and at first she ref 1866. In a remote coastal village,tucked away in southern England,Nell picks violets for a living.Her life is one of spectacle and pointing fingers as she has birthmarks that speckle all of her body and face. Nells entire world is her loving brother and her devotion to the sea. Cue Jasper Jupiter and his amazing Circus of Wonders,who snatches Nell away after her father sells her,promising Jasper his very own leopard girl. Nell cannot believe those closest to her could betray her,and at first she refuses to believe this is her new life but as time goes on and fame starts to wrap its tendrils around Nell,she perhaps could begin to accept this life of dizzying highs,more money than she could ever need,people actually wanting her attention,and even memorabilia with her name on it! However,fame comes at a heavy price and one that neither Nell nor Jasper could ever pay,for Jasper must fund his circus any way he can when an opportunity presents itself for him and his many wonders to be showcased in London and he will go to any lengths to secure his name in history... Meanwhile Nell sparks an unlikely friendship with Jaspers brother Toby who couldn’t be more different than his sibling, always seeming to only want to help Nell rather than see her as just another part of Jaspers oddities. Will Nell ever feel comfortable in her own skin, can Jasper and Toby run from their past forever or will a terrible secret come back to haunt them both.... Vibrant, mesmerising, wondrous and a pure pleasure, Circus of Wonders firmly cements Elizabeth Macneal as a true talent and story teller.🎪

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah (thegirltheycalljones)

    Thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for the advanced copy! Dnf-ed around 50%. I really wanted to love this book and it was close, but in the end, I was really interested in half of the plot. Everything related to Toby and Jasper was super intriguing, and I kept reading only because of them and their past history. What happened?? It kept me going for longer than I thought. Because everything related to Nell didn't really catch my interest. I haven't finished the book, so I can only talk for t Thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for the advanced copy! Dnf-ed around 50%. I really wanted to love this book and it was close, but in the end, I was really interested in half of the plot. Everything related to Toby and Jasper was super intriguing, and I kept reading only because of them and their past history. What happened?? It kept me going for longer than I thought. Because everything related to Nell didn't really catch my interest. I haven't finished the book, so I can only talk for the first half, but it was a good old special snowflake journey, and I never really got what Nell had that made her so special, so much more than any other member of the circus. Also, I couldn't care for the romance, or what could be the romance. I'd have rather read about the development of strong friendship and solid bonds between Nell and the troupe than this instant and sudden thing she had for The Guy (to stay spoiler free). It wasn't bad, and at other times I could have maybe finished it but these days I just can't go on if I'm not 100% hooked. Some people will probably like this book very much though, so give it a chance!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    3.5 stars

  20. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Robey

    A story of hope, greed and finding your place in the world. I loved Nell - she is such a captivating character. Her fight for acceptance is heartbreaking and emotional even amongst her own family. The sights and sounds described of Jasper and Toby’s war are so vivid, you can almost smell the burning and hear the cries. I loved the descriptions of the circus- almost fantasy like with the threads of fairytales spun through the story. Just magical.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kayleigh (BookwormEscapes)

    the best way I can describe it is that it’s got vibes of The Greatest Showman, but with much darker themes and the atmospheric setting of Victorian England! Nell and the other “curiousities” are the heart of the book and impossible not to fall in love with - they just radiate everything GOOD! Along with the circus they are brought to life in such vivid detail! There’s a real sense of foreboding to the circus owner Jasper’s POV, as he recklessly borrows from a violent loan shark to make his obses the best way I can describe it is that it’s got vibes of The Greatest Showman, but with much darker themes and the atmospheric setting of Victorian England! Nell and the other “curiousities” are the heart of the book and impossible not to fall in love with - they just radiate everything GOOD! Along with the circus they are brought to life in such vivid detail! There’s a real sense of foreboding to the circus owner Jasper’s POV, as he recklessly borrows from a violent loan shark to make his obsession with making his circus world-famous a reality. You know it’s going to terribly wrong but you just pray that Nell gets a happy ending!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    A very engaging read with some great characters, kept me turning the pages to see what happens to Nell. Two brothers who fought in the Crimea, dream of owning a circus together. When they realise their dream, things start to turn sour when a young woman called Nell, covered in birthmarks which mark her as different joins the band of "freaks" who work in the circus. Sadly I found the ending slightly disappointing as it felt rather rushed. But the great writing and fascinating story were compensat A very engaging read with some great characters, kept me turning the pages to see what happens to Nell. Two brothers who fought in the Crimea, dream of owning a circus together. When they realise their dream, things start to turn sour when a young woman called Nell, covered in birthmarks which mark her as different joins the band of "freaks" who work in the circus. Sadly I found the ending slightly disappointing as it felt rather rushed. But the great writing and fascinating story were compensation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jane Healey

    “Circus was life, desire, amplified.” Circus of Wonders is a glittering, begrimed tale of love and self-determination flush with richly detailed prose. Sumptuous, macabre, enthralling; a perfect slice of Victoriana. (If you loved The Doll Factory, you’ll love this even more ❤️🎪✨)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rozanne Visagie (Willow's Corner)

    *Disclaimer: I was kindly gifted a copy of this book by Pan Macmillan SA in exchange for an honest review. 'And now, we present the eighth wonder of the world, the most extraordinary display of nature ever seen before, Jasper Jupiter's very own Queen of the Moon and Stars-' When you think about the circus, images of extraordinary performers comes to mind; something that leaves the audience gasping and wanting more. Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory, gives us a Victorian historical fic *Disclaimer: I was kindly gifted a copy of this book by Pan Macmillan SA in exchange for an honest review. 'And now, we present the eighth wonder of the world, the most extraordinary display of nature ever seen before, Jasper Jupiter's very own Queen of the Moon and Stars-' When you think about the circus, images of extraordinary performers comes to mind; something that leaves the audience gasping and wanting more. Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory, gives us a Victorian historical fiction set in 1866 where people who were different were seen as oddities or freaks. Some of these people joined the circus and enchanted the audiences with their 'oddities'. One of these people included 19-year-old Nell who was born with birthmarks covering her entire body. Picking flowers for a living, Nell was always treated as an outcast in her small community, until one day when the circus came to her small village and her life changed forever. After her father sold Nell to Jasper Jupiter, Nell experienced freedom inside the tent walls; she experienced a sense of belonging amongst the other performers who were treated as 'freaks'. Nell had the audience at her feet and people became obsessed with her. Jasper, the owner of the circus chased success but to a dangerous extent. People favoured Nell and didn't give him a second glance, his own performer outshined him and he didn't like it. Constantly Jasper wanted bigger and better and didn't care what the price of success was, as long as he was bigger and better than the other circus owners. Toby lived in Jasper's shadow; as young children, they planned to have a circus together but that changed as the brothers grew older. In secret Toby despised Jasper for not following through with their childhood dream but Toby made peace with living in his brother's shadow since he was the only one who knew about Toby's secret. The story is told from Nell, Jasper and Toby's POV and the reader experiences the circus through the eyes of a performer, a ringleader and a photographer/assistant. This story is well researched and leaves the reader with a sense of wonder. The cast of characters especially the circus performers are interesting. I didn't like Jasper, he became over ambitious and is an example of how the high of success can become addictive. What I found heartbreaking was that the same Nell who was treated as an outcast by her village was now almost worshipped when she hung suspended in the air. The reality of how people changed their opinion when fame got involved is saddening. This story is beautifully written; every word on a page is a show that's planned to the finest detail. Every character knows his or her place and when it's showtime they keep you entertained from the first page to the last. This story has its share of love, loss, self acceptance and heartbreak but it's beautiful until the end. Get your ticket so that you can enter Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders and experience the captivating acts for yourself. This review is posted on my blog: https://willowscornerbook.wordpress.c...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gabbey (gabriellelovesbooks)

    Upon my finishing Circus of Wonders this evening, Leanne and I were discussing my thoughts on the book. She hit the nail on the head when she said that she "[loves] it when you pick up a book at the right exact time you need it." Indeed, I read Circus of Wonders on a spontaneous whim, and was quite blown away by the emotions it produced. Our main story is ushered along by a subplot; the metaphor of a supposedly 'happy family,' consisting of a wolf and a hare. The wolf and the hare come to live in Upon my finishing Circus of Wonders this evening, Leanne and I were discussing my thoughts on the book. She hit the nail on the head when she said that she "[loves] it when you pick up a book at the right exact time you need it." Indeed, I read Circus of Wonders on a spontaneous whim, and was quite blown away by the emotions it produced. Our main story is ushered along by a subplot; the metaphor of a supposedly 'happy family,' consisting of a wolf and a hare. The wolf and the hare come to live in the same cage, as a supposed ruse on Jasper's part. In truth, "The best part is there's no trick. [Jasper] will take a predator and its prey, and thrust them together when they're babies, scarcely weaned." Jasper muses that "It amazes him that he can suppress nature and instinct in this way." Interestingly, not only does this expose Jasper's 'god-complex' line of thought, but also, the question of "nature vs. nurture," which I have discussed many-a-time in past reviews. I loved the contrast between this book and the The Greatest Showman. The Greatest Showman revered and romanticised P.T Barnum. Conversely, Circus of Wonders highlights the exploitation and mistreatment of his acts. It genuinely irritates me when big moments in history are used as inspiration for writers, only for said history not to be factualized at the end/beginning of the book. I cannot tell you then, how refreshing it was to find an author's note dedicated to such facts at the end of Circus of Wonders. Elizabeth Macneal did her homework, people! And I am here for it! On a separate note, I've had The Doll Factory on my TBR for quite a while now. I hadn't managed to get around to it but, having seen that it was Macneal's debut novel (Circus of wonders being her second novel), it has just rocketed up my 'priority to read' list!

  26. 5 out of 5

    TheFrenchReadingGirl

    This book had everything I wanted: circus vibes, love and it broke my heart! Loved it!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mobyskine

    Another unexpectedly good read. I am always fond with reading historical fictions and this has captured me in both its setting and characters. Circus of Wonders' narrative was set in 1866 when circus was in its glitz and glamour. Nell has been kidnapped after secretly being sold by her father to a circus troupe. Having birthmarks speckle all over her skin, being told she was a curse and a bad omen of all her life, Nell found a new journey for herself as Nellie Moon; The Queen of the Moon and Sta Another unexpectedly good read. I am always fond with reading historical fictions and this has captured me in both its setting and characters. Circus of Wonders' narrative was set in 1866 when circus was in its glitz and glamour. Nell has been kidnapped after secretly being sold by her father to a circus troupe. Having birthmarks speckle all over her skin, being told she was a curse and a bad omen of all her life, Nell found a new journey for herself as Nellie Moon; The Queen of the Moon and Stars at Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders. As her fame grows, and she finds friendship (which she never really experienced before as people at her village observed her as a strange creature) with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her. Gripping and evocative, great well-rounded characters telling their stories from each perspective. Nell's story was engaging and poignant at the beginning. From a village girl to been described as the eight wonder of the world (I was not really into Jasper's intention in objectifying humans though) and knowing what she wanted for her own life-- her dynamic was compelling. That ordinary Toby, the quiet existence and his acceptance towards Nell was heartwarming. Not really a fan of Jasper but I appreciate his narrative in bringing me to know more about the circus business during the Victorian era. It gets interesting in the middle when Jasper's ambitious personality getting more ferocious. Totally into the brotherhood plot of both him and Toby although I was having a love-hate with Toby's character-- about his past and secret, I wish he can be more assertive and carefree :// No heavy conflict but Dash's making me curious as much as Stella wanting to know the real truth. Love the style of writing-- no overused phrasing, quite lyrical and I fancy the mesmerizing drama-ish vibe. Honestly love the epilogue, 4 stars to this!👌🏻 "Circus was life, desire, amplified. I can make you brilliant." (Jasper Jupiter) Thanks to Pansing Distribution for sending me an ARC of this book in return for my honest review!

  28. 5 out of 5

    dracula

    this book is both unsettling and riveting, the atmosphere is spellbinding, the writing has a preternatural touch to it and the characters were endowed with flaws but at the same time, are incredible. in this novel, nell is depicted as rather exotic, with an odd type of beauty that cannot be admired by the typical beings. she was seen as a lowly creature, someone undeserving and nothing more than unnecessary burden. she was sold to circus by her father, who attempted to get rid of his biggest bur this book is both unsettling and riveting, the atmosphere is spellbinding, the writing has a preternatural touch to it and the characters were endowed with flaws but at the same time, are incredible. in this novel, nell is depicted as rather exotic, with an odd type of beauty that cannot be admired by the typical beings. she was seen as a lowly creature, someone undeserving and nothing more than unnecessary burden. she was sold to circus by her father, who attempted to get rid of his biggest burden, that was nell herself, and she was invited into a new universe where her uniqueness was celebrated, rather than scorned upon. this book speckles with charm and is ornately crafted in such a way that words become alluring and enchanting. imbued with an exceptionally magical atmosphere laced with horror, this book glimmers with the power of adroitness and artistry, and binds us irreversibly with the characters and plot.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Ottessen

    Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. It's gripping and had me avoiding all adulting because I just wanted to keep reading. At one point I thought it was turning into a re-telling of P.T Barnum and his life, just with a different ringmaster, but it quickly proved me wrong. The story comfortably switches between the circus performers story, the Ringmasters story and past events during the Crimean war building the exact right amount of suspense and wraps up beautifully in the end. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. It's gripping and had me avoiding all adulting because I just wanted to keep reading. At one point I thought it was turning into a re-telling of P.T Barnum and his life, just with a different ringmaster, but it quickly proved me wrong. The story comfortably switches between the circus performers story, the Ringmasters story and past events during the Crimean war building the exact right amount of suspense and wraps up beautifully in the end. 5 stars from me!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bookclubforme

    Having loved 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘋𝘰𝘭𝘭 𝘍𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺, Macneal's new book was one of my most anticipated reads and wow was it everything I wanted it to be and more! Capturing all the excitement of a travelling circus, the story focuses on the coming of age story of Nell, who, after years of hiding away begins finding her worth when she is cruelly sold by her Father, only to find love and huge fame under the dazzling lights of the big top, as Jasper Jupiter's newest marvel - Nellie Moon: The Queen of the Moon and Stars Having loved 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘋𝘰𝘭𝘭 𝘍𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺, Macneal's new book was one of my most anticipated reads and wow was it everything I wanted it to be and more! Capturing all the excitement of a travelling circus, the story focuses on the coming of age story of Nell, who, after years of hiding away begins finding her worth when she is cruelly sold by her Father, only to find love and huge fame under the dazzling lights of the big top, as Jasper Jupiter's newest marvel - Nellie Moon: The Queen of the Moon and Stars 🌙 🌟 Empowerment and belonging are major themes of the story and it's so rewarding to watch Nell's character grow. However, exploitation and ownership are also explored through Jasper's self-absorption, the popularity of ogling 'circus freaks' and with Nell's fame threatening to eclipse that of her "creator". Macneal has woven together a cast of colourful characters with incredible story telling, which results in a novel that is magical, immersive and full of curiosity but also tinged in darkness and a presentiment of disaster. I found myself completely entranced the further I delved into the story, quickly turning pages, yet never wanting it to end. I've purposely not given to much away as I'd hate to ruin the thrill for future readers (you must read it) But it's safe to say it's firmly made its way into my favourites - I absolutely LOVED it!! ✨🎪

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