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It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

About the Book:
Author: Deeanne Gist
Publisher: Howard Books
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Christian Fiction; Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5
Cullen McNamara is a farmer. Or that is what he tells himself – his father doesn’t believe nor want that anymore for his son. Taking out a loan, he arranges for his son to attend the world’s fair in Chicago. Coming as a shock, Cullen balks at the idea of leaving behind what his ancestors have done for generations – he knows where he belongs and it certainly isn’t on some Chicago street. Then he meets Della. On the verge of losing his hearing, Cullen is desperate. He doesn’t know how he’ll function once that happens so he takes a suggestion to take lip-reading lessons. Della is a teacher for the deaf who reluctantly agrees to give the man who rescued her lessons in exchange for him being Della’s escort around the fair exhibitions. Before either of them realize what all the time together may mean, Cullen finds his thoughts constantly shifting to his pretty teacher and Della begins to anticipate the nights she spends with Cullen.

I’ve underestimated Deeanne Gist. There I’ve gone and said it. Way back when, I read her debut novel and my younger self liked it, however ever since then, the pull or allure of that novel was never enough to visit one of her subsequent works of fiction. How delighted I was to be a part of a tour promoting her latest. Gosh, golly, this book was interesting. The story is actually a unique one forcing the reader to feel more “at home” in the historical trivia of the fair than being spellbound by the characters. Then there are the quirks of both protagonists’ that make them unique and virtually erases – in those moments – the overall feel that everything is “all about” the fair. Marking this was approximately halfway through the book the thought that flitted through my mind was how the prose used the characters as “background” rather than the setting, the latter being usually what most books color in to enhance everything else.  There was a turning point in which I felt as if finally the characters were slowly coming into their own – as if, finally, they were fully blooming.
Certainly what is the best asset of the story is how Deanne teases her reader’s without revealing everything before it should be. We are aware that the protagonists must be more than a name and narrative but are pulled along following subtle hints rather than told; she ignites and enchants our senses with a rad setting and in the last pages, a tender, beautiful example of all-consuming love. Common sense says there is a reason behind Cullen’s brilliant mind and specifically, inventing a sprinkler system, yet there is little chatter or reasons why for multiple chapters. Shifting into the deft perspective the author has of these characters, it was interesting how casual the interactions were between Della and Cullen. Readers don’t even meet Della until a handful of chapters in and even then, Cullen overpowers what little there is of background information and their banter – most of which is absorbed with the physical desirability instead of a blooming friendship, makes a unique statement. Tying into an interesting palette of a story is the unusual quirks of Della and Cullen not to mention names that are beautiful and well-suited. Della has an usual opinion of men drilled into her by her father and is afraid of close spaces, and Cullen suffers allergies and is losing his hearing. Because of these peculiarities not in spite of, these two are endearing and special.
Although she took some liberties – the author’s note in the back of the book – in order to better illustrate her story, this book is richly drawn in history and takes none of that for granted. Gist pays homage to an important event, weaving into the “fabric” of the story some unexpected (and sad!) dramatics as well as a leading couple easy to root for. Helping to place more of a visual ideal, there are photos of the fair at the beginning of nearly every chapter. It’s a bright spot in the design of the novel that lends authenticity to the book as is the sassy cover art with its gorgeous, soothing hues.
Fans of character-driven novels will find weaknesses (albeit of an inconsequential fashion). The fair takes precedence over everything. If there would be one glaring mistake, it’d be what comes between Della and Cullen. This isn’t really a criticism of the book considering most stories have this same “type” of motivator to create a last-minute will-they-or-won’t-they scenario.
Early on in the book, words miss letters in sentence conversations which is for the benefit of Cullen’s hearing loss. It was more a distraction than anything however, for the majority of the time it isn’t a factor as it is paced better. Far as authenticity goes, it was clever.
Between a literal picture and the deft talent of Deeanne Gist, ‘Fair’ is a must-read for any historical fiction lover. Perhaps the romance doesn’t blossom the same as some of its counter-parts, no matter, the writing and setting far outweigh any minor (really minor!) flaws this reader may have found.

Publisher 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?
What’s Next from Deeanne Gist: An 1893 Chicago World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character and ability to serve and protect. When he is overcome with debilitating abdominal pain, he stumbles to an infirmary only to discover the doctor is female. Female. But even worse, she has the nerve to diagnose him, the toughest man west of anyplace east, with constipation—an unspeakable ailment in mixed company. - via publisher,
Coming in 2014
With thanks to Litfuse and the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purpose.
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  1. I just reviewed this book as well! I am glad to see that you loved it too! Awesome review :)

    Chelsey@Charming Chelsey's

    1. Hey, Chelsey - saw your FANTABULOUS review earlier today. It was neat to read how your own life was mirrored in this story. Anytime a reader can connect on that level is something that brings more color and "life" to a book and it was fun to read your thoughts. :)

      Thanks for reading!

  2. This book has been on my to read list buy I wasn't sure if I would like it as I didn't like Courting Trouble but I enjoyed her other books. After reading this I think it will be better than I thought!!

    1. Sometimes when you read one novel by an author that didn't "connect" with you, then any books after that don't seem interesting. I can relate, The Reader - for sure! The only I've read by Deeanne was A Bride Most Begrudging and I liked it, just didn't adore it. However, this one was very good. The historical pieces are what the author focuses on and it works well.

      Hope you enjoy 'Fair' if/when you have a chance to read it. :)

  3. I can't wait to read this...Deeanne Gist's books were what got me into Christian historical fiction several years ago. I've loved every book she's written (except for one- The Measure of a Lady, and I haven't read Beguiled yet). Thanks for the review!


    1. Yay! I will be curious to know what conclusions you reach, Kristin. Be sure to let me know how you liked it. :)

      I've not ever read Beguiled either though it sounds like an excellent read.

      Enjoy It Happened at the Fair!

  4. Looks like a fun one to me! Love the cover on it!

    1. That it is, Kellie - and yes, indeed, the cover is lovely! It's different than most Christian fiction and that makes it nifty. :) Whoever designed is took care to create the right atmosphere, which succeeds wonderfully.

  5. When I first started I was wondering what was with the missed words but I really liked that she used that as sort of a prelude to learning that he was hard of hearing, as you noted it was definitely clever. I really enjoyed this book and was glad that it was as good as her earlier works. There was kind of a slump there in the middle with her "Trouble" series but her subsequent books have been great. I enjoyed your review very much!

    Renee C.

    1. Great observation, Renee - that does set up Cullen's "handicap" without the reader knowing what it means. It's a great incentive to keep reading and as a whole, this novel played that very well. Deeanne alluded to things without revealing too much too soon and it was a pleasant switch. :)

      Oh, I always thought her "Trouble" books sounded awfully cute, just haven't gotten around to reading them.

      Thanks for reading, Renee - enjoyed reading your review also. It's always fun to chat about the books we all read "together." :)

  6. Well! I am definitely intrigued. :) I do have to admit that I tried one of her first novels way back when and didn't really enjoy it. So I haven't been tempted to try another one. But this one definitely tempts me. And you know if Rissi recommends it, it's gotta be pretty good! ;)

    But seriously, I do think I'll check it out. Thanks bunches!

    1. I was like you, Kara. Deeanne's first novel was cute - I liked it better than my mom, but it must not have been "great" for me as I never went back to reading more of her books. Nonetheless, this one was really good. Full of interesting characteristics and of course, wonderful bits of history.

      If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy, Kara!!! :) Be sure to let me know what you think.

  7. Replies
    1. Thank *you* for reading, Ben and Ting. :)

  8. I absolutely love Deanne Gist! Have you read her book, Maid To Match? It's a really great one. I love your new header and colors!

    1. ...and I absolutely underestimated her, Maria. :) The only novel I've read by her was from way back when - something with 'bride' in the title. Having said that, I think Maid to Match does sound like a cute read and I probably have it lying around somewhere. Sadly, it likely got pushed to the back of the pile.

      Thank you! Appreciate the feedback on the header/design. It's always a fun process.

      Hope you enjoy this new book from Deeanne.

  9. Looks like a good one! Interestingly enough, I just finished "A Proper Pursuit" by Lynn Austin, and the 1893 Chicago Fair plays a big part in that one, too. It's certainly an interesting time in history. It's such fun to look back at big events like the fair... fiction has a way of bringing it to life for me that no history book ever could!

    Thanks for the book recommendation on GoodReads. This definitely looks like one I want to check out! ;)

    1. Aw, that's neat, Valerie! Ironic that I sent you a recommendation of a book in nearly the same time frame/setting! :) Never read that one by Lynn although I've liked some of her other books.

      Enjoy if/when you read 'Fair.'

  10. I read Maid to Match by her right after visiting the Biltmore estate for the first time. I really enjoyed it! I find her novels the perfect anecdote for when I need something FUN to read :)

    1. It's been YEARS since I read one of Deanne's novels, but they are fun reads. I 100% agree. :)


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