Thursday, February 25, 2010

a review of "Fireworks Over Toccoa" [14]

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
(St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-58158-9)

I had read some reviews that compared this book to the work of Nicholas Sparks. And while I have only read a couple of his books..or was it just one that seemed like a couple...I can't say his books are really my cup of tea. But I also read some reviews that totally loved this book, so I decided to give it a try. Read on to see the outcome....

WWII is just coming to an end and the world is about to change. Thousands and thousands of soldiers will be coming home, often after years away, often very changed by their experiences. But things have not been standing still at home either. The people, their families, their wives, that they left behind have changed in these years as well. Homecoming will not be without problems.

Lily Davis was only 17 when she married Paul Woodward, just weeks before he left for the war. He was the perfect man. At least as far as Lily's mother, Honey, was concerned. Handsome, from a good family, on the fast track at his job at Coca-Cola, where Lily's father is an executive. But now the war is over and in just a few days Paul, a man she realizes she barely knows, will be home after more than three years. Lilly is feeling uneasy, uncomfortable in her place as the daughter of a prominent family in Toccoa, Georgia, not sure that the life that she see ahead, a life very much like her mother's, is what she wants.

Meanwhile, the ladies of the town of Toccoa have hired a firework company to put on a huge display on the 4th of July to celebrate the return of the troops. Of course, they will not be the only fireworks in this book. The man who has arrived for the job, with his big truck full of chemicals and mortars, is Jake Russo. He is the son of the owner of the fireworks company, himself just back a few weeks from the war in Europe. And Jake too is a changed man, changed by what he saw in the war.
"And Jake came home. But home wasn't the same, not for Jake Russo. He wasn't the same. Despite what those in Lawrence Country had read and thought they knew, they could never know what was now onside Jake Russo. He returned a stranger."
Seeing some test fireworks being set off in a nearby field, Lily heads off to check it out and the two, very soon-to-be lovers meet, have dinner of risotto and a bottle of wine over a camp stove and the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, there is the pesky matter of that returning husband, flying home in days. So Lily faces a choice...true love or duty.
"What was happening? Yesterday morning her life was perfect. She knew exactly what she wanted, husband and house on the hill. And she had it. She had it all. But that had changed. In a flash, in a few clicks of the minute timer, all her desires had changed and she wanted something else. But how could she be with this beautiful passionate dark-haired man and keep the rest of the world intact? She couldn't and she knew that."
What to do...what to do?

Freeport, Maine, not Toccoa, Georgia
So what is my take on this book? Well, it is mixed. There is quite a bit to like about it. Mr. Stepakoff is a beautiful writer...way better than Mr. Sparks in my opinion. His description of this small southern town, the capture of the culture just as the war is ending, seems perfect. His description of the hot summer days, the fireflys, the Cherokee roses, the kudzu growing over abandoned cabins and the legends of Indian princess are lovely. And his characters are quite good, perhaps my favorite being Lily's parents. There is a lot more I would like to know about those two actually.
I also found the parts about fireworks very interesting. I love fireworks, I admit it it, and would have been happy to have read a great deal more about the history and science of them.

My problem is believing in the "luminous love story", as one blurb describes it. Lily and Jake know each other one day before she decides to start an adulterous affair with a man who, while handsome and charming and no doubt a fine fellow, is really a stranger. What is she going to do, run off with him, living out of the back of that fireworks truck. Hmmmm...sorry, I couldn't quite buy it. Lilly is in many way a child, a spoiled child, who is drunk with the romance of her affair and not someone I could really like, which is usually fatal for me and a book. As she herself says,
"Being so near such ardor gave Lily a heady feeling, as though some kind of intoxicant was flowing into her bloodstream."
That is not love, it's being drunk and when you are drunk you often wake up to reality sick, with a very bad headache.

I think Mr. Stepakoff is a very good writer and I will be anxious to see what he writes in the future. His feeling for the south, for a certain culture, holds great promise, one I did not feel was fulfilled in this story.

This title will be released on March 30, 2010.

A few other, perhaps different, takes on this book...

Tutu's Two Cents
All The Pretty Pages
Educating Petunia
Pop Culture Junkie

My thanks to Amazon Vine for this book.


  1. I remember the first time I heard about this book, Amy @ My Friend Amy featured it as a "waiting for" book. It sounded wonderful. I DON'T like Sparks though, so I am glad this has separated itself from that trash. But like you, I tend to be a little snarky when I read about unrealistic lovey-dovey malarky. So I am torn at this point...(still great review!).

  2. Wonderful review. The minute I read your comment about them knowing each other for a day and luminous love story, it reminded me of The Bridges of Madison County. I think they were together 3 or 4 days and it was the love of their lives. Really? that's actually kind of sad. Strange things happen though. I've got this book on the tbr pile.

  3. I have seen reviewers compare this book to Titanic...because of the beginning of the book I did not go into... meets Bridges of Madison Co....which I never read.

    Hey, not everyone agrees with my take on the book..amazing as that is. So you might love it. Or not. ;-)

  4. I should be getting this soon, so I guess I'll see what I think of that affair. I do like books set in the South, though.

  5. I read this book also - I think my review is scheduled for next week maybe. I agree with most of your post, especially your assessment of Lily, although I wasn't as impressed with the prose as you - I thought some of it - especially the romantic bits - was a bit purple!

  6. Thanks for linking to my review--It's always interesting for me to see how others relate and review a book I really really went for. I'm not a Sparks fan--in fact I'm trying to remember if I ever read him, so that didn't get in my way. I took it as a love story, (not a bodice ripper) and went from there. Great review.

  7. Great review Caite. I'm kind of glad I passed on this, LOL!

  8. What is it with these people in books always falling in love in such a short amount of time? It drives me nuts! This sounds like a book that isn't quite my cup of tea. Good review though.


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