May 3, 2013 21 Comments

STORY: Like his ancestors before him, Cullen McNamara is a farmer. Or this is what he tells himself. His father doesn’t want this life for his son. Taking out a loan, he arranges for his son to attend the world’s fair in Chicago, something Cullen balks at. 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 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 at 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.

It Happened at the Fair, by DeAnne Gist | Book Review

‘IT HAPPENED AT THE FAIR,’ BY DEANNE GIST. Review of the 2013 historical novel from Howard Books. All review text © Rissi JC

I’ve underestimated Deeanne Gist. There I’ve gone and said it. Way back when, I read her debut novel and my younger self did like it, however ever since then, it was never enough to visit one of her subsequent novels. How delightful it was to be a part of a tour promoting her latest. Gosh, golly, this book is interesting. The story is actually a unique one. Then there’s the quirks of both protagonists’. Something else I notice approximately halfway through is how the prose uses the characters as “background” rather than the setting. There is a turning point in which I feel as if finally the characters do come into their own – as if, finally, they fully bloom.

BOOK REVIEW | ‘Duchess’: A Historical Romance Set in the 1930s
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Certainly one of the best things about this story is how Deanne teases her reader’s without revealing everything too early. We are aware that the protagonists must be more than a name and narrative but must follow the subtle hints; 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, yet there is little chatter or reasons why for multiple chapters. Also interest is that readers don’t even meet Della until a handful of chapters in and even then, Cullen overpowers their banter. Because of their peculiarities not in spite of, these two are endearing and special.

Although she takes some liberties, this book is richly drawn in history and takes none 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. At the beginning of the book, to add a visual touch, there’s also some real photos which adds some fun as does the sassy cover art with its gorgeous, soothing hues.

What I Don’t Like

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.


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.

About the Book:

(Disclosure: this post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you to anyone who makes a purchase through these links. Read the disclosure page for details.)

Author: Deeanne Gist
Publisher: Howard Books
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Christian Fiction; Historical, Romance
Shop the Book: Bookshop.org | Goodreads
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5

With thanks to Litfuse and the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purpose.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

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  • Chelsey May 3, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    I just reviewed this book as well! I am glad to see that you loved it too! Awesome review :)

    Chelsey@Charming Chelsey's

    • Rissi May 3, 2013 at 11:04 PM

      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!

  • The Reader May 3, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    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!!

    • Rissi May 3, 2013 at 11:10 PM

      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. :)

  • Kristin May 3, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    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!


    • Rissi May 3, 2013 at 11:15 PM

      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!

  • Kellie May 3, 2013 at 7:13 PM

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

    • Rissi May 3, 2013 at 11:17 PM

      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.

  • Renee (SteelerGirl83) May 4, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    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.

    • Rissi May 4, 2013 at 2:58 AM

      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." :)

  • Kara May 4, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    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!

    • Rissi May 4, 2013 at 6:15 PM

      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.

  • Benlovesting May 6, 2013 at 4:07 AM

    Thank you for sharing :)

    • Rissi May 7, 2013 at 7:14 PM

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

  • Maria May 8, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    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!

    • Rissi May 8, 2013 at 10:28 PM

      …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.

  • Valerie May 14, 2013 at 6:51 AM

    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! ;)

    • Rissi May 14, 2013 at 8:01 PM

      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.'

  • Becca Bartuska November 4, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    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 :)

    • Rissi November 12, 2016 at 1:35 AM

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

  • […] Fair Play by Deanne Gist | I read the first book (through Litfuse) in this duo and remember really liking it. But, nowadays, despite it being on my […]

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