Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It Happened at the Fair (It Happened at the Fair #1) by Deeanne Gist

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?

Type: Historical Fiction
Heat: 1 out of 5
Rating: 4.5-5 out of 5

Amazon | Book Depository | BAM | Goodreads

Gist is one of those authors that just leaves me rather speechless--in an absolutely amazing and astonishing way. Blows me away and leaves me a whole bundle of emotions. And I love it! It Happened at the Fair was no different as two young individuals put everything they have on the line during the Chicago World's Fair in hopes of changing both their own futures and the lives of others.

The quick of it is that Cullen has come to the Fair to exhibit an automatic sprinkler system he designed--after losing his mother to a fire--and hopes will save lives. But he's having a rough go of things due to the noise levels at the Fair and having a severe hearing impairment. He's got to find success at the Fair or his family will suffer financially and the only hope he can see is learning to read lips with the help of a young teacher who works with deaf children and is facing her own struggles as she demonstrates techniques at the Fair.

I loved these two. Cullen is just one of those men who is so incredibly honorable and wonderful and lordy just makes you want to bundle them up and hold them. He's brilliant and strong but because of his hearing loss--and the struggles and frustrations it brings--is also incredibly vulnerable which just about did me in. And Della was a lovely heroine as well. She teaches deaf children to read lips and is just passionate and loves what she does. Cares for others deeply and wants the best for them.

I loved watching them work together. Della's patience as he learned to read lips. His wanting to take her around to exhibits and being her guide. The sweet and tender moments as love slowly starts to bloom and those when tensions were high and exploded. I couldn't help but want these two together. There's amazing chemistry between them but things don't go further than a kiss. It's a very PG read.

For me--though Della had her own issues to overcome-- this book really felt like it was Cullen's story as he battled with himself and the world over his limitations and his burdens. Any abnormality during that time was a severe risk and looked down on so hiding it was paramount for him. Seeing him deal with this and the emotions that would sneak out was absolutely gut wrenching and choked me up something fierce. Same with Della's struggles though they were limited. At the time sign language was looked down upon for making people stand out. And as she worked with Cullen her attitudes and beliefs that current methods weren't helping but hindering her students was hard to watch at times.

 I'm reading this series out of order but once again the setting and the history of the book just left me breathless. There was so much of the Fair in this book as the two explored--that was my only complaint from book two that there wasn't enough of the Fair--but this one definitely delivered. I can't imagine what an experience it must have been to see so many amazing sights and inventions and just the wonder of the grounds. But also the utter heart break that could happen. Fires, loss of life, the injustices done to those who were different, financial crisis of the time. It's a mixture of heartbreak and wonder and it just leaves me all in a tumble reading about it and how life was for these two. I can't really explain it right I don't think. I felt like I was there though. Gist just completely wraps you up in the time and place and the world her characters are experiencing. From sipping hot chocolates to exploring the exhibits. The hopes and despeation that could grip them. It's just an incredible thing to experience as a reader and Gist definitely has that talent.

At this point I am definitely a fan. I've avoided historical fiction for quite a while after some not so lovely starts with it but Gist has won me over and has me anxious to read more. I'm so very glad she has a nice backlist ;) 

Have you read Gist? What did you think?
Do you like historical fiction?
Have a favorite historical event you like to read about?
Do you enjoy heroes and heroines that aren't "perfect" in some way?

More Gist on herding cats!

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