30 September 2015

Reading Challenge: It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

A book I own but have never read

Amazon Description

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 Review

It Happened at the Fair followed the pattern of Gist’s other recent novels, in that it’s more “clean fiction” than “Christian fiction”, and I’m sorry to see this (although at least this didn’t have the world’s worst sex scene, which is what her next book boasted. Authors, if you’re not comfortable writing a sex scene, don’t. A bad sex scene isn’t going to win you any readers, but may well lose you some).

There were other issues. I don’t like the “other woman” (aka the man can’t make up his mind) plot. There were a lot of misspelled words, meant to illustrate Cullen’s hearing problem. While I can see what the author was trying to do, I found it irritating. The novel seemed to end too quickly, partly because I could feel there were a lot of pages left, but these were actually the author’s notes (she did a lot of research, and it was excellent. I really enjoyed reading the notes).

The pictures of the Fair at the beginning of each chapter also annoyed me … not because of the pictures, but because the captions underneath turned out to be chapter spoilers (as an aside, she used these in Tiffany Girl  as well. I read that on my Kindle, and they were even more annoying on the Kindle than in the paper book).

The historical aspects of the Fair were interesting: automatic fire extinguishers, the Cold Storage fire, the debate between teaching deaf children lipreading vs sign language, the discrimination against the deaf. But being interested in the historical aspects isn’t enough. That’s not why I read fiction.

Deeanne Gist used to be one of my favourite authors because of her combination of excellent research, excellent writing, great plots and characters, and her ability to write Christian fiction that challenge the norm of “Christian fiction”. But while her last few books have been competent, they haven’t been memorable in the way books like A Bride Most Begrudging or Courting Trouble were memorable. The result, I’m sorry to say, is that she’s no longer a must-read author for me—one really good book out of the last four isn’t enough, not when her early books were all hits. I might read and review her next book, but I’m not going to buy it.

It’s not that It Happened at the Fair is a bad book. It’s not. It’s just not excellent or outstanding or memorable or a book I want to make all my friends read, and her early books were all those things.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book I own but had never read.

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