Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder-a world where women tame magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. But each daring feat has a cost. Bound to her family's strange and magical circus, it's the only world Cecile Cabot knows-until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate love affair that could cost her everything.
Virginia, 2005: Lara Barnes is on top of the world-until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. Desperate, her search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother's journals and sweeps her into the story of a dark circus and a generational curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations.
Constance Sayers is the author of the Amazon best-selling novel, A Witch in Time (2020 Redhook/Hachette) as well as The Ladies of the Secret Circus (2021 Redhook/Hachette) that received a starred review from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Her books have been translated into six languages.
A finalist for Alternating Current’s 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, her short stories have appeared in Souvenir and Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women as well as The Sky is a Free Country. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
She received her master of arts in English from George Mason University and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts in writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She attended The Bread Loaf Writers Conference where she studied with Charles Baxter and Lauren Groff. A media executive, she’s twice been named one of the “Top 100 Media People in America” by Folio and included in their list of “Top Women in Media.”
She lives in Washington DC. Like her character in The Ladies of the Secret Circus, she was the host of a radio show from midnight to six.
I enjoyed this author's other book, A WITCH IN TIME, so much that I was really excited when I found out I could get a copy of her new release, THE LADIES OF THE SECRET CIRCUS. AWIT is more of a straightforward romance, similar to THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE or A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, but I would say that TLOTSC is more of a mystery/drama with some romantic elements, kind of like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS or THE NIGHT CIRCUS.
In TLOTSC, there are two timelines. There's the story of Lara, whose tale begins when her fiance mysteriously disappears on the day of their wedding. As it turns out, he disappears on a day when lots of other people have disappeared, too. Lara also has supernatural abilities and family ties to a mysterious circus. As it turns out, the three things might be connected, all circling back to two sisters and a sinister man.
The second timeline is about one of the sisters, narrated in a series of journals. These were few and far between, which made me sad because, to me, it made up the creepiest and most interesting part of the book. I don't always like stories about circuses because I think they can be too twee, but this one was really creepy and kind of awful. It gave this story fun Gothic vibes and I'd definitely recommend it if you like circus stories.
Personally, TLOTSC took me a while to get into. Then by the time I got to the middle, I didn't want to put it down. At the ending, it started to drag a little and got kind of strange. This is one of those books that feels very idea-heavy, like the author got a really cool idea but wasn't sure how to finish the story and just threw something together. I wasn't all that keen on the ending, but I really enjoyed the build-up and the characters were decent. I just think that A WITCH IN TIME is the stronger of the two books.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
Personal rating: 3.75 If you found a bleeding ticket that promised an unforgettable.. killer experience. Would you go?
Lara, a descendant of a secret circus family doesn’t have much of a choice.
Wow, this book is smart. Constance Sayers made it up to me after her previous book had me looking the other way. Luckily, The Ladies of the Secret Circus has such a strong central story driving it along that I ultimately didn’t mind the contemporary real world environment which I'm typically not fond of. Review to come on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/hollyheartsbooks
Dear novel, you had me at circus. I must admit, it wasn’t love at first page. In fact, at first there was some apprehension that you might turn out to be some sort of a women’s fiction situation with light magic involved, you know, the girly whimsical option. But to you credit, dear novel, you went darker and further and turned out to be way, way more exciting than I originally anticipated, so thank you for being awesome. I’m glad we met. This one sat around my kindle taunting, promise a potential adventure but putting off with its girth. And it did, in fact, turned out to be a pretty long read, two days instead of one, but absolutely worth the time. Once you get past the initial estrogen laden set up, this novel’ll take you places, magical places. Like 1920s Paris, like a circus so secret it’s in its name with a most unusual of owners that was created for the most unusual of reasons in the most unusual way. The story follows several generations of Cabot family, from the 1920s to mid 2000s. Once high flying (literally) and now fairly regular women, who each share a romantic tragedy. Is it a mystery? Well, not quite, but it’s in there. It does begin with a vanishing groom. But then it goes off to tell a story so wild, so beguiling, so original…it’ll absolutely transport you, much like a proper circus ought to. The thing is there really isn’t a way to talk about all of these exciting plot elements without giving something away and it’s best (by far) to go into this novel knowing next to nothing about it, outside of the fact that it’s very, very good. I’m not sure if I ever read the plot summary past the word circus and if I did, I promptly forgot it by the time I decided to read the book and was very glad for it. This way the book got a chance to surprise me, which it did, regularly and pleasantly. I loved the direction it ended up taking, the gorgeously vivid descriptions, the historical aspect of it, the supernatural angle of it, it was a great adventure all in all. The characters were good too, but frankly the circus stole the show, absolutely. Nothing came close to how spectacularly imagined and lavishly executed The Secret Circus was, not even the titular ladies of it. Le Cirque Secret is a thing of darkly menacing beauty. And definitely worth the visit, if you dare. For fans of books like Night Circus and all those who prefer their fairy tales dark and magic deadly and romance tragic, this is the ticket. Step right up, enjoy the show. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of The Ladies of the Secret Circus.
I know, I know; you're shocked I requested (and was approved) after the skewering I gave A Witch in Time.
I'm pretty shocked myself. But, no worries, I didn't have high expectations. I've learned my lesson.
** Minor spoilers ahead **
Lara is about to get married to Todd, the love of her life.
When he disappears on their wedding day, Lara is left crestfallen and with more questions than answers.
But, a missing man is not an anomaly in this small town, which has seen little crime in over a hundred years.
Soon, Lara discovers her missing fiance is the least of her problems. Someone is after her. And this woman won't be easy to stop.
Okay, the good news (and there's some of that unlike in A Witch in Time and here's what I liked:
The world building was good, the description of the circus, the setting of old timey fun timey France.
All the main characters were women; Lara, her mother Audrey, Cecile and her sister, Esme.
I did enjoy the origin of Cecile and Esme's birth, how they came to be twins, and the sacrifice their mother made in exchange for their existence.
Their unholy sisterhood, encouraged and fostered by their demonic father, rages on as they grow up and become circus performers.
When Cecile discovers how she and her sister came to be, and the sacrifice made in order that they survive, she realizes she must shore up her strength and find the courage to face her sister.
What I did not like:
SOOO much filler and superfluous details.
Character development is essential in all stories, but sometimes there can be too much detail.
For example, instead of devoting a page to Lara's father's love of Jim Morrison, a sentence or two would suffice.
Or, how old and historic Ben's home is and how long he lived in it with his wife.
I love the elements of horror running throughout the book, but there wasn't enough.
I'm dark like that, but there was a lack of exposition as to how this circus came to be.
Why is Althacazur Satan's favorite? What is the true purpose of the circus?
For those forced to work in its arena to repent? Does it represent a theoretical circle of hell?
I was never scared, not even when Althacazur was exerting his power on his subjects.
I'm not sure if that was the author's intention but I wanted to be scared. I wanted to fear the power of the dark circus. Of what Cecile's father could do.
His personality and character was inconsistent; at times he was furious and took his pound of flesh; then his behavior would shift and he would mourn the loss of his mortal wife, Juno, like a lovesick teenager.
Reminiscent of the author's first book, the potential for horror and scares was there, but it's barely built upon and the spotlight is on 'romance.'
Here, like in her first book, he author demonstrates her consistency when Cecile falls for an artist.
Not surprisingly, I found myself more intrigued by Juno, their mother.
How did she meet Althacazur?
Did she know who (and what) he truly was? Why isn't she in hell for being married to a demon?
Is she in heaven?
I love the idea of a circus in hell filled with horrifying, terrible acts, a circus that disappears after a performance, a performance you must be invited personally to attend, and the necessary blood sacrifice in order to maintain the illusion of this secret circus.
But, as I mentioned before, what is the true purpose of the circus? To lure victims?
Why does it perform in the mortal realm? Why does it not remain in hell and accept 'volunteers' every time evil souls die?
The narrative dragged, bogged down with the minutiae of a minor or supporting character (hi, Teddy!) info dumping about their career and/or life, which made the book long, especially toward the end.
No one cares! Can we get back to the blood circus?
I would have really liked this more of the potential of blood and darkness had been fleshed out, but I didn't like any of the characters and my mind wandered as I read.
I liked this better than A Witch in Time but that's not saying much.
After a promising start, The Ladies of the Secret Circus turned out to just not be for me. I had hopes for an exquisitely dark and dreamy escape into a different world, and there are certainly elements of that, but they were lost to choppy writing and a disjointed plot.
An intriguing beginning: we meet Lara, who we quickly learn is in possession of a small amount of practical magic that she has inherited from the female bloodline in her family. She is also about to be married, but the day of the wedding, disaster strikes when her fiancé goes missing hours before the ceremony. His disappearance is clouded in eerie coincidence, and as the months move past and Lara begins to move on, strange things begin to happen all around her. It all seems to be connected to her past, and her family’s connection to "The Dark Circus," a travelling circus in Paris during the Belle Epoque, rumoured to be magical, and run by a demon.
Why is Lara magical? What happened to her fiancé? Why does she see and hear things that others don’t? Who is the mysterious man in the field? What does the enchanting painting that has hung in her family’s house, of her grandmother riding a horse in the circus, have to do with it all?
As the plot moves along in fits and starts, these questions are answered, but in such a way that made me think, “it was that easy? Why didn’t a character just say that in the first place?” Characters withhold essential, life-changing knowledge without purpose, then suddenly divulge crucial details for no reason other than Lara finally asking them. (And what took her so long to ask them in the first place?)
For the first two-thirds of the book, Lara’s magical abilities are both hinted at to be extremely strong, and that she will be the one to change things, but at the same time, she’s not very effective. When she finally faces Althacazur and things are revealed, instead of a satisfying, amazing explanation, I found myself disappointed. All that build up was essentially a house of cards, and Lara is, I’m sorry to say, frustratingly clueless. You know something’s wrong when you’re rooting against the hero, simply because they’re just not interesting enough.
This could be a personal thing, but I found the writing very jarring and unpolished. Lara’s thoughts interfere abruptly with action, and various characters have moments of dialogue that sound forced and robotic. The chapters that take place in Paris, during 1925, felt strangely modern. The tone swung back and forth between distantly vague and laughably melodramatic.
While I kept hoping the premise would deliver on itself, I finished this one disappointed.
The Ladies of the Secret Circus is an interesting and unique novel that grabbed my attention the whole time. The story alternates between the past and present. The past and present collide in an interesting twist. Paris 1925 there is a secret circus that only people with a ticket can see. Cecile grew up in the circus with her twin sister. Virginia 2004 Lara’s fiancé disappears on their wedding day. Every 30 years a young man disappears on this day in the same spot. Everyone has secrets that are revealed. Some secrets have been in the family for generations. I recommend The Ladies of the Secret Circus to anyone looking for a story of mystery, family secrets and magic.
Thank you Book Sparks and Redhook for The Ladies of the Secret Circus.
I bought Constance Sayers' book, The Ladies of the Secret Circus, on a major whim, and I'm so glad that I did, because while I thought that some of the transitions between the parts of The Ladies of the Secret Circus' plot that took place in the present and the parts of the book that took place in the past were slightly disjointed and a little difficult to follow at times; I still ultimately absolutely loved this book for the most part. While The Ladies of the Secret Circus is an adult book, the premise of the book reminded me a lot of Stephanie Garber's Caraval series in a variety of ways, and the Caraval series is definitely one of my all-time top favorite YA fantasy series; so I'm thrilled to have found an adult book that felt reminiscent of that series. This book was definitely an awesome and incredibly engaging thrill-ride from beginning to end! :)
My rating/score: 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads' rating system / 8 out of 10 on my own personal scoring system.
The Ladies of the Secret Circus is a tale of family secrets and a dark heritage — but it doesn’t quite live up to the mysterious air promised by the cover and synopsis.
Lara is eagerly awaiting her wedding to Todd, the man she’s loved since her teens. But her joy turns to heartache when she’s left waiting at the altar on her wedding day. Did he jilt her? Did something happen to him? His abandoned car seems to provide a link to a similar disappearance that occurred 30 years earlier. Dark forces seem to be at play. Could this be related to Lara and her mother Audrey’s talent for magic? Or the fact that their small town in Virginia hasn’t had a single murder case in decades? Or Lara’s strange memories of being visited as a child by an unusual man who made incredible things happen?
In the months that follow, Todd’s fate remains a mystery and Lara starts to rebuild her life, but a gift from her mother sends her on a strange journey. The gift is a small painting that’s been hanging in Audrey’s house for as long as Lara can remember — a portrait of her great-grandmother Cecile as a young circus performer.
When Lara takes the painting to be reframed, the art expert who handles it is astonished to realize that this may be one of the rumored missing paintings by the great Jazz Age artist Emile Giroux. He supposedly painted his masterpiece, a series of three paintings called The Ladies of the Secret Circus, before his death, but no one has ever seen the paintings. If Lara’s painting is authentic, then its value is in the millions, and its discovery will rock the art world.
But as Lara investigates, the connection to ancient magics is revealed, especially once she begins to read Cecile’s long-lost diaries. The diaries tell a story of a mysterious, otherworldly circus that only appears to those who truly seek it, and the strange, damned performers who populate the circus and seemingly can never leave. There’s a connection to Lara’s family, but it’s beyond anything Lara could have expected, and carries huge dangers for her and everyone around her.
While the set-up is promising, the book itself didn’t meet my expectations. Some of this may be me — I seem to have issues with magical circus settings, since apparently I’m the only person in the world who didn’t love The Night Circus. The big revelations in this book about the Secret Circus struck me as too out-there to accept. I have problems with books where the use of magic makes anything and everything possible — at some point, it stops feeling like any rules apply at all.
The connections to Lara’s family are confusing, and the origin of the connection is just kind of dumped on the reader earlier on. The how’s and why’s of it all just didn’t work for me. So many of the more fantastical elements are stated as fact, but without a sense of build-up or setting to make these aspects feel at all plausible. The identities of some of the circus performers are supposed to ground the circus in our own world, but without giving anything away, I’ll just say that these pieces struck me as absurd and funny, rather than dramatic.
I enjoyed the diary entries, with their 1920s Paris setting, but again, the constant name-dropping of artists and authors like Hemingway, Chagall, and Man Ray made me feel distracted and as if the author were trying too hard to make the story real. It just didn’t work for me — somehow the use of real artists in this fictional tale felt out of place and at odds with the story the author was trying to tell.
Sad to say, overall this was a disappointing read for me. I loved the author’s previous book, A Witch in Time, and such high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, The Ladies of the Secret Circus started slowly and never fully pulled me in.
With the word “Circus” in the title and the promise of magic, I knew I had to read this book, and it surely did not disappoint.
As other reviewers have mentioned, it is similar to The Night Circus, but also, different. The story is not only told in alternating time lines (2004 & 1925), it is also told in alternating narrators (Lara & Cecile). The first few chapters, I was pretty unsure if I was going to like this book. I mean, what does a woman on her wedding day have to do with a Secret Circus? Thankfully I kept reading to find out.
This book has a little bit of everything- historical fiction, magical realism, fantasy, mystery all told in very dark undertones; and I loved everything about it! I would highly recommend this book if you like anything with sense of magic, darkness and, of course, circuses.
Thank you to Red Hook Books for my copy of this book via NetGalley
On my nightstand was this dual timeline that begins with missing men, a jilted bride, conflict between sisters, and the presence of magic and demons. Not my usual reading fare but the Eiffel Tower on the front made it my Easter buy at Wal-Mart. Paris in the Jazz Age has to be one of my favourite versions of that beautiful city. I enjoyed the contemporary story with Lara just as much as I enjoyed the storyline about her great-great-grandmother, Cecile. I felt myself getting lost in the magic and the mystery that swirled through the pages especially when it comes from the storytelling of Cecile's journals.
A magical circus of curiosities, family secrets, multiple timelines, and a dark, dark mystery will riddle readers till the end in this characteristic tale edging goth and horror elements.
Last year, I was fortunate to receive an early arc for Constance Sayers ‘A Witch in Time’ novel which granted me my first experience with the author’s writing. As a fan of timelines in stories, I enjoyed it quite a bit though there are noticeable differences between that novel and ‘The Ladies of The Secret Circus’. First off, the timeline segments in the previous novel were much longer, telling almost entire story entities in a flow picking up continuously back and forth as the novel progressed. In this new novel, the timelines are shorter and more easily manageable by content and they complement the main storyline more so as additions vs using it as a way of telling the entire tale.
‘The Ladies of The Secret Circus’ is structured with a main, contemporary thread that takes place in the years 2004 – 2006, set in the beautiful rolling hills of Kerrigan Falls, VA, and features the main protagonist named Lara Barnes who is about to get married to her longtime fiancée Todd Sutton and her mother Audrey, who is not in favor of their matrimony.
Premonitions of another timeline, featuring Lara as a young girl, tell that she is the chosen one and ‘the boy is not her destiny’ as a couple of strangers tell her so and appear to her throughout her youth. When Lara’s fiancée disappears on the day of their wedding, a world comes crashing down for her, but it also opens an old case for Ben Archer, local police chief, of a man who disappeared in an almost identical way 30 years prior, with a car left on the side of the road by nearby Wickelow Forest.
As time passes and Lara moves on with her life restoring her historical home, her mother passes down an old, framed picture of a family heirloom, painted by the famous Emile Giroux during the Jazz Age in the 1920’ in Paris. Not being fond of the painting in particular but accepting the gift, it turns out that this might be a valuable, highly sought-after piece with 2 counterparts, featuring scenes from the elusive ‘Secret Circus’. As the strangers from the other timeline tell her to go to Paris to investigate with specialized antique dealers, she is presented with two diaries in connection to the painting, the ‘Secret Circus’ and her family history, in exchange for answers about her fiancée’s disappearance.
What happens in Paris changes the entire pace of the novel. What has thus far been laying the groundwork to this secret that has haunted the ‘Secret Circus’, the person who wrote the diaries and the painter Giroux and which has arched into Kerrigan Falls, is now after Lara in hauntingly mysterious ways filled with a chase through the streets of Paris, a murder mystery and Lara’s very close call to death. What ensues in this last part of the novel is so richly textured, grotesque, and brilliantly composed, it will have you glued to the pages into the night.
What I liked about this novel was the connection between a mystery that has happened so long ago in another place and withstood through the currents of time via a generational curse that needed to be broken today. And though it takes the main character traveling all the way to Paris, the mystery unfolds mainly in this picturesque town in VA. This leads me to mention, that Sayers does an amazing job in her descriptive writings of either places present as well as in the past. As a lover of the Paris cityscape with its beautiful landmarks, boulevards, cobblestone streets, cafés, and different arrondissements, it was the perfect presentation of the concrete and flair.
Unexpectedly to me, there was a really, really dark side to this novel and the story of that curse that goes somewhere along the lines of making deals with the devil. In an ever-lasting cycle of the damned, the characters in the diaries are afflicted to perform and suffer till the curse is lifted. Of course, there’s always someone at the helm of the strings that make it all go around. Some very obscure elements were part of that ‘Secret Circus’ to reach fantastical limits and hone them into the contemporary moments of Lara’s life. I thought that was very well done and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
I liked this novel even more so than Sayer’s first book. It flowed faster, the mystery was much greater laden with suspense and added up to a page-turner starting mid-way. What I’m not exactly sure about is what genre I would sort this novel in. It is certainly fantasy, but also contemporary, historical, and a murder mystery. If you enjoy books by Alma Katsu or Danielle Trussoni, then I think you will like this as well.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Thank you.
*This book was received as an Advanced Reviewer's Copy from NetGalley.
The circus is always an intriguing place. Performers, animals, a tent set up in the middle of nowhere; it's magical. Quite literally for this book.
Lara is all set to marry when her fiance disappears the day of the wedding. Devastated, she tries to get by with her life as normally as possible. Which for her isn't quite normal as her family has secrets; magical secrets. And one of those secrets has made a reappearance, wanting her to come to Paris, to his circus, where her family's mysteries may have answers.
Lara is kind of a behind the scenes character in this. While the story is about her and her family, she's used for driving the plot forward by doing the traveling, reading the journals of her family's history, and telling their story. That doesn't mean she's a bad character, but I feel like her true personality doesn't really get to shine through as much as you would expect. That being said, Cecile, Esme, all the others really come through do to the narrative in the journals. You get a sense of really knowing them. Even Audrey, Lara's mother, has a distinct personality.
I found the concept of the secret circus to be interesting and the family's history as it interweaved compelling. It was hard to sit this book down because I wanted to know what would happen, even if it kept getting more and more bizarre. The only thing I didn't really like were the romances in it; they just felt inauthentic or undeveloped and I had a hard time understanding the draw the characters had for each other. While some of them were necessary for the story, others I think could have been left out (sorry Ben) and the book been just as interesting. Overall though, the circus was described beautifully and I really think the details were done well; the carousel, difference in lighting and contrast descriptions, etc. all made for a very vivid picture. While there was a lot crammed in and nuances introduced, I think the story still flowed well.
A good book, and one that takes a very different approach to the circus.
This is a fun story that is mostly well written and goes by pretty quickly. I thought it was going to be part historical novel but the parts set in the past are very short- just a heads up for other readers expecting the same. I won't rehash the blurb here because it's fairly accurate with the exception that the parts centered on Cecile are maybe a quarter of the whole book (maybe even less).
The characters are all fairly likeable, and the setting is often beautifully described. I loved the descriptions of the cafe's and markets in France in the 20's, the descriptions of the circus and the costumes. Everything feels wonderfully magical.
I do feel like the book could have benefitted from some stronger editing. There were parts diving into Jason and Lara's history I sort of skimmed. It felt like some things were over-explained. I also think there were some parts that were definitely more "tell" than "show", however none of it was enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book.
I'd recommend this to fans of The Night Circus- it definitely evoked similar feelings for me. After digesting further- I'm hesitant to say fans of The Night Circus would enjoy this- the prose in TNC is certainly more polished and flows better (but the prose in this is still good). However, Le Cirque Secret is much more nightmarish and maybe less whimsical than that book. The magic system in The Ladies of the Secret Circus is also weak in comparison. That's all- maybe this book is something to consider for fans of that one.
I will likely read more by this author in the future.
This book had a lot of potential. Thank you to Redhook for an ARC.
There were pacing and plot hole issues that really glitched it up too much for me, and made it a disappointment.
The first 25% of it really grabbed me. I thought this was going to be even better than what I thought.
But it wasn't until the last 15% or so that I found that same pace, that same encompassing, attention grabbing momentum in structure and content that really had me.
The main character issue lay with Althacazur. There is so much potential for him to be this menacing, manipulative, dark, evil and knife twisting entity. Yet, he ends up being nothing more than a petulant child like the girl in Willy Wonka.
In the same vein, what should have been a dark, creepy and even frightening delusional state that Lara was in, in the circus, came of as somewhat absurd. Mussolini as a monkey? Lollipops that taste like Donkey crap? It was too long and just not the dark, evil place that the characters claimed it to be. Rather than coming across as demanding dark magic, it came across as an absurdity.
Lastly, there is no place in the magic system that allows for Esme to exist in Lara's home town- this safe haven protected by spells, and not be detected.
Can I think if reasons that would fit this plot and magic hole perfectly? Yes. But that isn't the readers job. And it kills everything the author built up to that point.
Alas, I really wanted to enjoy this one ... more, but ... but ...
So much about this I wanted to like ... and, yes, I'm my own worst enemy, ... but what I was hoping for, and (unfairly, I admit, somewhat expecting) was, I dunno, maybe something transcendent like Morgenstern's The Night Circus, or something strangely compelling like Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni or maybe something bizarrely disorienting and appealing like Clarke's Piranesi, ... but ... that's not what I found here.
What I found most frustrating is that the story had so much potential, but it just didn't reach me, didn't engage me, didn't hold my interest. Indeed, I struggled to read significant chunks of this in one sitting. And I never could my finger on just why: 50-100 pages too long? probably, and I'll blame the editor not the author for that... too much tell-as-opposed-to-show? more often than not... a less-than-compelling voice? maybe ... the author seemed most comfortable in the "journal" entries - maybe multiple first person narratives (adding more facets to the mosaic) would've helped, but I dunno.... flat prose? that's probably not fair, but ... given the murder mystery angle, this isn't literary or lyrical in the James Lee Burke or Tana French fashion... Ultimately, I just don't know.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if the author cashes in on rights for a movie or a mini-series (and, if she does, my hat is off to her).
If you love books with a magical circus setting, I highly recommend The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers. It's one of the best books I've read with this premise. It has all of my favorite things: Parisian setting, mystery, romance, and paranormal elements. I loved Sayer's debut, A Witch in Time, and her second book did not disappoint either. I am looking forward to reading more books from this author!
Sayers you’ve done it again. My bookish heart be still, you have freaking done it again. This is my second novel by this author and I think I can officially say that what’s next to come will probably be an auto-buy from me. Let me preface by saying this is dark, original, highly addictive and not a short novel. Be ready to grab your favorite blanket, find a comfy spot and a warm beverage because you are in for a provocative slow build. It’s also another novel that is best served going in blind. Read the synopsis but be wary of revealing reviews. The less you know the better and the more Sayers’ will sweep you away.
Sayers has a magical writing style that elicits vivid imagery and elegant atmosphere. The plot follows generations of the Cabot family between the 1920s and the 2000s and spreads out over three parts. Lara is left at the alter on her wedding day by a vanished husband. As she puts the pieces of her life back together new revelations on her past, her missing fiancé and a dark heritage start to surface. I did struggle a bit in the beginning with some of the more informational background facts of the family history and how certain things tied in. Lara made it worth it though, she was a beautifully intriguing character and I enjoyed having her investigate the family secrets and narrate the story of their lives. There is a very in depth cast of characters that come with backgrounds and parts to play for the overall plot. It may feel slightly daunting at first to hold everything together but once you flip that final page you’ll bask in the profound sense of closure and sadness that it’s over.
I also cannot begin to properly explain how much I love the heavier dose of magic in this book. I appreciate an author that can tie in the regular with the magical and make it feel smooth as the story flows. The journal entries were some of my favorite portions to read the deeper I got as well. And did I mention demons? It is SO hard to not say everything I want to say about this novel, but I really feel this needs that unknowing, dive right in enjoyment. I urge lovers of the deeply dark and magical to grab this novel!
Thank you Redhook for the beautiful gifted copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I was swept away by A Witch in Time and am equally enamored by The Ladies of the Secret Circus.
To the extent that I'm interested in circuses at all, it is as the setting of magical novels like The Night Circus, and Water for Elephants. The Ladies of the Secret Circus is going for the same audience, and like Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus, this one is magic-tinged. And, like Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, the story unfolds in two timelines. But it is there that the comparisons end, because both of the former novels were completely immersive and magical reading experiences. The kind of lightning in a bottle that is so rarely captured. Those are the books remembered for a lifetime. And The Ladies of the Secret Circus falls short of that very high mark.
Now that I've made that unfortunate statement, I will say that it was a perfectly pleasant, entertaining read. I enjoyed the plot and read a rather lengthy book in a single sitting. The thing is, there were a lot of magical and paranormal elements to the story. Things I don't believe in. These books have to work a lot harder to suspend my disbelief. And it succeeded to the extent that I enjoyed the tale told, but it failed to get me to truly care about the characters. There was no deep emotional engagement, no fear for the characters and what they had at stake. I enjoyed spending this dark and stormy night with Constrance Sayers, and I will almost surely read her next novel. But would it have killed her to write me the next Night Circus?
This started amazing and I was very excited about it. Then, somewhere shortly after 40% my interest began to wain. I pushed along hoping it would get good again, but when I kept falling asleep while reading and thinking about other things, I decided to give it up. I just lost interest.
Title: The Ladies of the Secret Circus Series: standalone Author: Constance Sayers Release date: March 23, 2021 Cliffhanger: no Genre: fantasy, magical realism
How do you really prove magic? And in the end, do you really want to?
There's something about a circus that's truly magical. The wonder and awe that it inspires makes it feel otherworldly. What if it truly was magic? Not a dazzling, exquisite kind, but one that is merely beautiful on the surface. Inside, it's a rotting, macabre thing that is filled with despair and lost souls. The blurb for this book fascinated me, so I knew I had to read it to discover all of the secrets that were inside. There's an ominous feeling hanging over you as you read which makes you almost not want to know them. Lara Barnes has no idea what secrets her family has been hiding for generations, but on the day of her wedding, she gets her first tragic clue.
After her fiancé disappears, Lara is determined to get to the bottom of what happened. She fluctuates between anger and sadness, not knowing if she was abandoned or if some horrible accident has befallen Todd. You really sympathize with her as you experience her loss and confusion. When she starts to see bizarre coincidences about the circumstances surrounding Todd's disappearance and others in Kerrigan Falls, things start to get even stranger. Not only have there been other missing people in the past, they are the only suspected crimes or tragedies to have occurred. The people in town have enjoyed an almost utopia like atmosphere where the only bad things to have happened are the mysterious cold cases that have almost been forgotten.
As the book wears on, it seems that rather than getting answers, the questions only build. Lara's mother Audrey seems to know things but won't divulge anything of importance to her. She goes out of her way to keep her in the dark, and many times her fear reveals that Lara is facing something she could never conceive of. Ben Archer, the chief of police seems to be the one person in town who wants to unravel the mystery as much as she does and a personal relationship grows between them over time. Although he hasn't had to put his investigative skills to work in their strange little town, he's sharp as a tack and it doesn't take him long to start to connect some of the dots.
The story has two timelines-one in Lara's 2005, and the other in her great, great grandmother Cecile's time in the 1920s. Cecile's flashbacks are told through her first person experiences in her journal. We don't get to see that perspective until a solid chunk into the book, but her story is the key to everything. Lara must know the full extent of her family history before she can understand what is happening in the present. The journal entries are exciting to read and more than a little fantastical. However, right from the start you understand that Cecile's doomed life is not a pleasant one.
The past and present are tied by a trio of paintings done by Émile Giroux. The paintings titled, The Ladies of the Secret Circus are the stuff of legends. They're told to depict Cecile, her twin sister Esmé, and a third secret circus performer. If they exist, they would be the only concrete evidence of the dark manifestation that was the subject of curiosity throughout the ages.
This is a difficult review to write, because so much of the plot is shrouded in mystery that I don't want to reveal too much. Part of the draw of this book is following along on this mindboggling riddle. I give the author serious props for her ability to create such an unpredictable, disturbing tale. I think that the best thing about her books is knowing that she will keep you guessing and feeling nervous for her characters. When you don't care at all, that's where you have a serious problem. I can definitely say that there is no chance of that happening here.
My one complaint about this story was Lara. Her one major character flaw was how impulsive she was which led to some very bad decisions. It's okay for a character to be flawed, in fact, it makes them more interesting most of the time. Especially if there is growth in overcoming that by the end. Lara did a couple of things that REALLY had me pulling my hair out and questioning her sanity. As well, her feelings of admiration for the secret circus were so puzzling to me. I mean, in a way it made sense because of who she was, but on the other hand, I couldn't fathom her draw to a place that was essentially a prison of torture. Logically you would think that anyone would be repelled. I guess I just couldn't relate or connect to who she was and I suppose that's okay. I don't necessarily have to as long as she makes sense. It was the choice she made at the end that I was left feeling very conflicted about. I didn't hate it, but I honestly didn't know what to think.
If you want a book filled with mystery and danger that won't be quite like anything else you've ever read, this one is for you. It's unsettling and grim, but oozing suspense from every chapter. A Witch in Time had some similar themes, though don't make the mistake of thinking this is too similar to Ms. Sayers' first novel. They both manage to be unique in their own right, so if you loved her first book, there's a very good chance you will love this one as well.
I . . . really wanted to like this book. I read an ARC of it (via Edelweiss) and was pumped for a demonic/witchy circus that spanned generations. But I felt like I got none of that. The actual circus was an extremely tiny part of the story, even though it felt like the book was building up to Lara witnessing the Secret Circus. The circus didn't come into play until the tail end of the book, and I was so excited for it until I got there, and there was zero description, zero flare, or pizazz. At one point, Lara and her demon ancestor literally take a Ferris wheel into Hell (which I was like yes, so cool, I'm ready), and then there was zero description about their surroundings, only names of places like the River Styx. There was no time taken to describe the setting and, for something as fantastical as a Secret Circus, there needs to be a fantastical description to go along with it.
Additionally, I didn't feel connected to Lara's ancestors' stories. There are random parts where there's a big chunk of diary entries from Lara's ancestor and, in my opinion, it would have been better to do a dual POV between Lara and Cecilia (I think that's her name) in order to actually capture the magic of the circus and keep that magic throughout the story.
I also thought the plot twist at the end was completely random and out of the blue.
Overall, I wasn't impressed by this book and have read other circus/magic books that are much more captivating and magical.
This book falls into many genres: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, & Fantasy....and even Mystery. I enjoyed the mystery part of this, but I also liked the creativity. The idea behind the secret circus was weird (dark & creepy) but I have to give it extra points for the super creative world building. It was well done. It made me wish I had a ticket to this circus.
I liked Laura, the MC. Her fiancé goes missing on her wedding day and you can just feel her pain. She tries to move on but others have already mapped out her future...or have they?
I liked the mom too. She also had secrets that needed to be unraveled. Some of the story was a little far-fetched for my liking, but the author anchored it firmly down into the story line. This kept it from stalling as I coasted along soaking it all up. So 4 stars.
This was a solid 3.5 stars for me. I rounded up to 4 because of the world building.
Captivating, magical and mesmerizing. The Ladies of the Secret Circus is a fascinating story about love, loss and magic that captured me completely. The story was unique and impossible to put down, it alternates between past and present and merge in a fantastic way. This is my first book from this author and it won’t be my last.
Thank you NetGalley and Hachette Audio for this ALC.
I enjoy books about the circus, but this one was not an ordinary circus. It contains evil, secrets, and horror. I found I just got into the whole story and it was really unique. Creepy for sure, but the Circus always carries mystery.
Lara is just about to get married to Todd, her long-time love. However, on her wedding day, he never shows up. Then his car is found empty, but there are no signs of him. She doesn’t know what to think. Lara has grown up in the quiet and safe town, Kerrigan Falls, Virginia. She knows she has magical powers, she can move objects and make things change. Her mother has the same ability. She wants Lara to keep it a secret. However, her life seems carefree and her dreams coming true.
When Todd is not found, Lara try’s to start life over again. Her mother gives her a picture of a woman that is her great-grandmother. When she shows the picture to an art dealer, he thinks it may be from the famous painter Emile Giroux. Lara also finds diaries written by Cecile Cabot, her mother’s grandmother. Suddenly, Lara world is turned upside down. She leaves for Paris, but does know she could be in danger. Evil lurks for many people in her family.
The very best parts of the book were hearing about the Secret Circus. Those were captivating to read about. There is also a love story for Cecile and it is uncertain how that will turn out. Cecile has a sister, Esme. Their father is quite cruel and both are frightened of him. The circus is special and glorious though.
So, the book then becomes a mystery. A detective is trying to find out how Todd disappeared. Is it a killer or something more, something very sinister?
This book was different and not the type I usually read, but I liked the plot. My only criticism is that there was a lot of skipping around in time and place and many characters. I really had to pay close attention. I would definitely recommend it if you are in the mood for a Circus with a mind bending theme.
Thank you NetGalley, Constance Sayers, and Redhook for providing a copy of this book.
I’ll be honest, I’m always a bit hesitant when it comes to fantasy that falls into the realm of magical realism because I am more of a in your face magic as well as exploring a new world type of person. That being said, I was so pleasantly surprised with how fantastic this story was.
And before I even get into this review, I will start by saying that if you go into this book thinking that it will be The Night Circus or make that comparison, you will be disappointed. This is a completely different story, and so much darker than I expected to be (which is well done).
This story alternates between two different timelines: 1925 Paris and 2005 Virginia.
The story opens in 2005 with the mysterious disappearance of Laura Barnes’ fiancé right before their wedding. Ben is the detective assigned to this case, and he is definitely in over his head since the crime rate in their area is abnormally low.
Honestly though, the mysterious disappearance of Laura’s fiancé pales in comparison to the person who is actually after Laura and is actively trying to destroy her. I found myself fully engrossed in this mystery aspect, and even though I wasn’t particularly blown away by the revelation, I still loved how everything unfolded.
The circus itself was incredible, but what set it apart from previous circus stories that I read was the fact that this circus is run by one of the demons of hell. I don’t want to give anything more away than that because I think that it’s something that you should experience for yourself.
I also really enjoyed the flashbacks to 1925 Paris where we follow Cecile Cabot. Her narrative really comes to life through the journal that Laura discovers.
Overall, if you’re a fan of genre-bending stories that aren't afraid to dive into the realm of magic and fantasy then this story will definitely be for you!
Thank you to Hachette Audio for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
I’d like to thank NetGalley and Little Brown Book Group UK for approving me for an ARC of this brilliant book. I read A Witch In Time in October and loved it so couldn’t wait to get stuck in. Luckily a few of my friends from my book group also had this one so we did a buddy read.
I immediately got sucked into Lara’s story and desperately wanted to know what had happened to all these men that had disappeared over time. Once she found Celeste diary I couldn’t put the book down! I found Lara’s relationship with Audrey very interesting and loved how it developed throughout the story, the final chapters had me welling up. As a main character I admired Lara’s determination to discover the truth and stare into the face of danger. To say she was brave would be an understatement.
Cecile and Esme’s story was fascinating. I loved the setting and was horrified but also captivated by the circus. Everything was described so beautifully that I could picture the show, the scenery and everything in between. Learning more about Althacazur was a pleasant surprise as well. We briefly met him in the ‘A Witch in Time’ so having him in this book as a main character provided clarity about him. Whilst he was without a doubt very evil, conniving and murderous I also found his sarcasm and wit very funny. I enjoyed reading Cecile’s diary entries and learning about her life in the circus and Esme was another character that I had a lot of sympathy for. Once you learnt her backstory you could see how much she had shouldered for her sister and why she had turned out the way she had.
Constance Sayer has only fed my obsession with circus books and witchcraft further. This was a beautifully written, captivating story that utterly terrified me at times. I am eagerly awaiting her next book and adding her to my auto buy author list.