Thursday, March 25, 2010
Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
I don't usually read romance novels, but Jeffrey Stepakoff's debut novel Fireworks Over Toccoa caught my eye because of its World War II connection. And even though the war takes a backseat to the romance aspect of the story, I lost myself in the characters and their troubles.
Fireworks Over Toccoa centers on Lily Davis Woodward, who was only 17 when she married Paul Woodward and enjoyed only two weeks of wedded bliss before he was sent overseas to serve in World War II. He is gone for a little over three years. The book opens in Toccoa, Georgia, in 2007, with Lily's granddaughter Colleen, who soon will marry a seemingly perfect man and move into a perfect house and begin what could be a perfect life together. But something just doesn't seem right. Colleen is at Lily's house looking at her old wedding dress when Lily sees a newspaper headline about new artifacts being displayed by the Currahee Military Museum. According to Lily, the formula for an explosive shell, written in Italian and framed, actually is the formula for a firework called "Lily's Star" -- and it belongs to her.
From there, the book shifts to just before the 4th of July 1945, with Lily preparing for her husband's return from the war. Her father is an executive for Coca Cola, and as the daughter of a prominent family, Lily has a reputation to uphold -- and her overbearing mother takes every opportunity available to remind her of her responsibilities. In the midst of all the chaos at home and in the town of Toccoa as it prepares for the soldiers' homecoming, Lily follows the fireworks being readied for the celebration and meets Jake Russo, whose family owns the fireworks company hired to put on the show. Of course, the two are instantly attracted to one another, and the fact that Lily's husband is due home any day complicates things.
I finished Fireworks Over Toccoa two days ago, and I'm still finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. As expected, the book was pretty predictable, but that didn't stop me from shedding a tear or two after reading the final paragraph. It's a decent romance novel, and its wartime setting and unique details about fireworks made it enjoyable. But I'm torn about my feelings for the main character and her actions. Lily is a likable young woman; I admired her feisty personality, her unwillingness to fully submit to her mother's expectations. I can understand her confusion when she meets Jake, given that she has been alone for over three years and didn't have much time to get to know her husband before he went off to war. She was little more than a child when she met and married Paul, and she changed a lot in the years he was gone. However, she made a commitment to Paul, and his lengthy absence and the fact that they don't really know one another still doesn't make it okay for her to have an affair with another man. I must admit that I couldn't put the book down because I just had to know how Lily resolved such a messy situation.
Despite the predictability, I couldn't help but get caught up in the characters -- especially Jake, a gentle soul haunted by the horrors of war and afraid to open his heart -- and the warm, southern setting. Stepakoff does a great job making you feel as though you are fighting your way through the kudzu or in the center of the gossiping ladies in the hair salon. At the end, when I was conflicted about Lily's actions and her ultimate choice -- and wishing I had a tissue in my bag and wasn't tearing up on the train -- I realized that I enjoyed the book more than I expected to. Fireworks Over Toccoa is a good, light read for those who enjoy love stories, and for those who are like me and don't read too many romances, the book is short enough that it's worth giving a try.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Fireworks Over Toccoa from St. Martin's Press for review purposes. I am an Amazon affiliate.
© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.