Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Deeanne Gist - It Happened at the Fair

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 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?

Comment: I've liked the majority of books by this author I've tried so I was quite eager to read this one as well. Added to my expectations was also the fact the theme made me very curious: a man looking for a tutor so he could read lips since he was loosing his hearing.
This is also the first buddy read of the year with my friend H.

In this book we meet hero Cullen McNamara, a young man who works in his father's farm but he he has quite a bad time because he is sadly allergic to many of the things related to farming. Unknowingly to him, his father signs him up at the upcoming great fair in Chicago, so he can show everyone his automatic sprinkler invention, something he has developed after the death of his mother in a fire.
Cullen doesn't think he has what it takes to succeed but his father spends a lot of hard earned money which is non refundable so Cullen reluctantly attends the fair but his invention is at the machinery hall, a very noisy place which further affects his difficulty in hearing.
Hoping to gain more if he can understand what people say, he hires Della, a female tutor for the deaf, also with an exhibit at the fair, so she can help him lip read. But how can he focus if the woman is quickly becoming his best friend and someone he is falling in love with?

First things first, this is a romance but it is quite clear the author has researched a lot about the 1893 Chicago fair so the information is as accurate as possible. My copy's edition also has pictures of the fair and that certainly helps readers to better imagine where the characters were and how their movements happened.
I think it was very rewarding to be able to follow the plot while the historical information was also an important part of the story and, even better, how the author managed to insert everything without it looking as if the importance was only the true historical data.

At the end of the novel, the author also included some notes of her research and I found those very informative and special, and the experience of reading this book was even more special, not as much for the information itself but because it helped me to imagine the whole writing process.

Of course, though, that the biggest element I was curious about was how the romance would be developed and I must say, apart from one little detail, I was quite happy with it.
I must say (and the cover also indicates it) this is a so-called "clean romance" so nothing physical happens between the protagonists except kissing and some inferring to closed doors activities at the end but I'm certain this is not a surprise for those who have read the author before. For those who don't, nothing is detracted from the romance, for the author provides enough clues about how far they are into their feelings here and there and there is no need for explicit content, in my opinion.

The love story between Cullen and Della is sweet, slow burn and not as central as one might imagine. I'd say the beauty is in the little things, the subtlety of some scenes.
Cullen is one of those heroes we can't help but like because he is a good man, he has principles, he has vulnerabilities but he defends what he believes in and tries to be there for Della when necessary without imposing his own thoughts on her. At a time a woman was not primarily liked for her personality, he lets her be herself and that is very appealing.
Della is a little more difficult to describe, she is everything a heroine is supposed to be, she acts correctly in regards to what is right but I admit I expected her to be a bit more fleshed out.
Their romance is more about a joining of souls rather than inevitable matchmaking.

There are a few things I'd change or improve. 
I thought the book would focus more on the lessons Della gives Cullen and although the subject of how deaf people were to be thought of was present enough to be a subject, I'd have liked more on it.
Cullen doesn't share one special information with Della which brings out a conflict close to the end and I think the same conflict could exist but dealt with differently.
There is a lot of descriptions of the fair and of what people could do while participating but the events Della and Cullen see/visit seemed to be a little too convenient for the plot. I understand why but it felt a little too much, considering they both worked there anyway. 

I liked this story despite the little things I might change. I think the author did a good job, she has thought about all the necessary elements... if only she could think about evolving to mainstream historical, perhaps her romances could be a little sexier. I'm not saying she should write sex scenes but without the "clean" label, perhaps even hints could be more obvious. I think the love story within her novels might be even more powerful with the right words/clues.
Still, if her style continues as such, I will still like her way of telling a story and I'll read the other book set during the Chicago fair for certain.
All in all, this was a very entertaining novel to spend time reading.
Grade: 8/10

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