Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: It Happened At The Fair by Deeanne Gist

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Gambling everything—including the family farm—Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the fair’s Machinery Hall makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading.

The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?

My Thoughts:
The 1893 World's Fair is a captivating setting, with an atmosphere full of energy and wonder. It's quite a fascinating look back at an important event in America's history, and I enjoyed watching Cullen and Della experience the various fair exhibits. There's just so much to see and do, even the exhibitors themselves look upon the fair with awe!

I found Cullen and his hearing difficulties very intriguing, yet sad. I greatly sympathized with him, as I have a relative with similar struggles and I know how hard it can be. The novel gives quite a bit of insight to the issue of lip-reading vs. sign language, which was quite enlightening as I was previously unaware of the debate. Something that really shocked and appalled me was that people associated Cullen's hearing difficulties with a lack of intelligence! This absolutely blew me away, and ultimately drove my sympathy level for him even higher. Cullen handles the issue admirably, but the ignorance of some people in the era is tragic.

The level of affection shown between Cullen and Della is a bit higher than most novels in this genre, yet there's nothing blatantly inappropriate. (Unless you count some stolen kisses in a broom closet!) I would probably classify it as very very slightly "edgy", but I feel that it fits the overall atmosphere of excitement that the fair has. 

I do have to confess that a couple times the descriptions of the actual fairgrounds became a bit overwhelming and I found my attention wavering...however, these times were few and far between, and my enjoyment of the characters far out-weighed these small issues.

This is only the second book by Deeanne Gist that I've read, and it's made me realize that I need to check out more of her works to see what I've previously missed. She weaves an entertaining story, filled with characters whose plights you don't soon forget. I very much enjoyed It Happened At The Fair, and I feel confident any lover of historical fiction would also enjoy it!

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Thanks to the publisher (Howard Books) for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.

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