My rating: 3.5 of 5 genies
Published: April 9, 2013
Series: It Happened at the Fair #1
Genre: Historical, Christian Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Howard Books
Purchase At: Amazon.com or The Book Depository
A transporting historical novel about a promising young inventor, his struggle with loss, and the attractive teacher who changes his life, all set against the razzle-dazzle of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
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 Palace 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?
I enjoyed reading It Happened At the Fair, but it isn't my best book by this author. Deeanne Gist gave me A Bride Most Begrudging, Maid to Match and A Bride in the Bargain, all of which are Historical Christian Fiction guilty pleasures of mine. I love her books because Gist knows how to write Christian romance provocatively without losing that faith aspect. At the Fair leaves me conflicted because it didn't hold as strong a faith value as her previous works.
Both Cullen and Della pray, Della even sings "Jesus Loves Me" when she gets nervous in confined spaces, but I couldn't connect with their brief instances of faith. I could not help thinking that they held a faith similar to that of many Americans at the time, people who didn't mind enslaving others and doing away with the rights of said people. They worried about propriety like any other individuals living then, but there was no sense of God really being there, and not much besides good character set them apart.
More things were overt and focussed on, like the Fair and it's beauty. Gist did a remarkable job bringing this piece of time to life and wrote splendidly of what the World's Fair had once been like. The exhibits, bustle and sights were exploding out of the pages. Still, Cullen and Della might as well have been figures in a Historical setting. It was a Historical novel by a well known Christian author, the book itself not necessarily being Christian.
That aside, I liked At the Fair. It was funny and smart, a novel to happily pass the time with. I wasn't a fan of the main conflict in the story, Cullen is engaged to marry a childhood sweetheart when he encounters Della at the fair. He had left the farm to sell his automatic sprinklers, striking out, but with his hearing slowly receding it doesn't take long before the suggestion is given that Cullen take lip-reading classes. Della is a teacher at the School for Deaf Children and the person Cullen beseeches to teach him lip-reading. They've met before, he having saved her life before, but it takes some convincing, Cullen agreeing to act as tour guide for Della, before she agrees to the lessons. There is chemistry between the two, but with Cullen keeping his distance due to his engagement, their affection wasn't as open as that of most couples. It was more like mutual attraction, and a very nice shirtless scene, before Della fall in love and then Cullen.
There is the matter of Wanda, Cullen's betrothed, but a confrontation eventually leads to a satisfying end. At first it was odd seeing Cullen go from displaying limited affection to full-blown gestures, kisses and all. In retrospect I do think this showed the extent to which he withheld himself out of respect for both Wanda and Della. He is an upstanding man with great character and a mind for innovation. There is opposition and a lot that he has to overcome, but Cullen handles it excellently. The way he doesn't engage with instigators like Bulenberg made me respect him.
Della didn't feel as real to me as Cullen, her real name is Adelaide and I spent some time figuring out where "Della" came from, but she is not a bad character. I think she could have been developed more, but by far not a bad job on Gist's part.
The story was good and complete with an interesting look into the spectacular World's Fair that made this a unique book for me. Still, it was more Historical fiction than anything else and I would have liked stronger characters with greater faith value.
3.5/5 genies: It Happened at the Fair is a great Historical look at the World's Fair, captured beautifully by a talented author.