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?
Wow! This was a spectacular story! And that is a huge compliment from me. Why? Because I've tried reading several of Ms. Gist's other books and have never been able to finish one before now. Have you ever had an author that loads of people rave over and you just can't get into their stories? There's just something about their writing that doesn't click with you? And you want to like them, you want to finish just one book of theirs, but you're unable to? This is exactly how it was with Ms. Gist's books and me. Fast forward to a few months ago when a fellow blogger (who had similar trouble with this author's books) happened to read this one and loved it, raved over it, and encouraged me to try it. So I finally did. "Just one more try," I decided. And yay!! I am so, so happy I read it!
The parts that reached out and grabbed me were all the details of the actual workings of the Fair itself. Ms. Gist spends paragraphs and pages describing the exhibits, the people, the rides, and all manner of behind the scenes particulars for us. Most chapters begin with a photograph or artist rendering of some portion of the Fair and then it gets described in the pages to follow. I love history. So of course I loved all the information I learned. I'm sure I studied the Chicago World's Fair in school, but I had forgotten most of it by now. Reading this made me feel as if I were standing right beside Cullen and Della, watching the Illumination Show, riding the moving sidewalk and the Ferris Wheel, touring the Manufactures Building, and the multitude of things available to do each day. It felt quite obvious that Ms. Gist had well-researched the Fair and her enthusiasm for it shown in every page. It made me enthusiastic as well! :)
Of course there is actual plot involved. There's Cullen and Della, both far from home and working at the Fair for different reasons, and watching them "meet cute" and frustrate and confuse one another, yet sweetly and hesitantly fall in love was fun. There's an instant spark between them and even with their bumbling, the inevitable happy ending follows along in due course. Their romance is wonderful (and I sigh in happiness with every reading of one scene near the end ;), yet the fact that it's taking place against the backdrop of this amazing time in history is really the hook of this story for me. Amazingly enough, the romance happily took a backseat to the extravaganza unfolding before our eyes. Ms. Gist's descriptions of Cullen and Della's many stop-ins at Blooker's Dutch Cocoa Company even had me craving some of that delicious cocoa!
So if you enjoy history and stories with the setting overshadowing the plot (in a good way!), then this is a must try for you! A fascinating time in history combined with a delightful romance makes for an absorbing story. One that will happily find a place on my bookshelf soon and there it will stay. :D
Weaving between the Machinery and Agricultural Buildings, a short, red-faced man pushed a rolling chair into her path. She quickly jumped aside, then followed its progress. In its seat was the man's rather large and portly wife, with a young tot in her lap. Two little girls in their Sunday dresses sat on each armrest, holding tightly to their mother. A young boy, not quite old enough for school, sat on the mother's feet, dangling his legs over the footrest.
Good heavens. They certainly were making the most of their forty-cents-an-hour chair rental.