Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Jake learned during his time at war that there are moments in one's life, critical moments, small moments, passing flutters of a second, in which decisions are made and actions taken, perhaps the slightest of offers extended, that at the time on the surface seem simple and transparent but upon consideration or reflection are proven to be instants that can change the course of everything.  (from Fireworks Over Toccoa, page 77 in the ARC)

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.


Bookfool said...

I've got this one on the stacks, but I'm not sure *which* stack. It got shifted when we moved furniture. Thanks for the reminder -- I need to seek it out! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The WWII connection was what caught my eye, as well.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Ever since Amy talked about this book in her "Waiting For" post a couple of months ago, the premise intrigued me (particularly with regards to the WWII portion). I'm not a real fan of romance per se, but in certain situations I can get wrapped up in it. The reviews have all been lukewarm to fairly positive, with everyone agreeing it is light. I'm not really sold one way or the other I guess, which probably means I won't read it. There are about 20 books I want to read NOW!

Suko said...

Anna, it does sound like you enjoyed this book, in spite of a few things (such as predictability). I don't read many romances either, except for Nicholas Sparks, and love stories which are part of novels and stories.

Alyce said...

I really have to be in the right mood to read stories like this. This really sounds like one that my mother-in-law would like though, so I'll have to remember to recommend it to her.

Blodeuedd said...

Nice review and it does sound like a good book, and I sure like romance too. Predictable ending, I guess I would have to read to know

Serena said...

Sounds like you really liked this one. I'm still reading it.

bermudaonion said...

The reviews for this seem to be mixed, but I still hope to read it soon. I pass Toccoa, GA every time I visit my parents, so the setting intrigues me.

Marie Cloutier said...

This is pretty much what I was expecting from this book- thanks for the review. I got a review copy from Macmillan as well but traded it because it didn't look like my thing. You've confirmed my suspicions, LOL!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm glad you liked it. I didn't regret reading it, and also cried at the end! And I liked Jake. So I would say I pretty much agreed with you on the main points! And seriously, they should get kudos for such a gorgeous cover!

Ti said...

I don't do romances myself but this one has been making the rounds and so many have had mixed feelings about it. I will say this, that cover is beautiful.

DCMetroreader said...

This book kind of reminds me of a Bridges of Madison County during WWII. I have this on my TBR list.

BTW I smiled at your comment at tearing up on the train as this has happened to me too (albeit on the bus). Guess it is an occupational hazard of reading while commuting. LOL

Staci said...

I gave my copy to a friend at work to read...I'll read it one of these days. I don't mind books that are predictable, sometimes that is exactly what I'm looking for!

Darlene said...

I've seen such mixed reviews on this book but I still want to read it one of these days.

Veens said...

I am not MUCH into Romance novels but the setting does make this unique. And I also really want to know how she really gets out of the mess :)

Maybe if I get it here, i will give it a try :)

Unknown said...

I don't usually read romance novels either but sometimes we do need something heartwarming and light to let our minds rest a bit. I am looking forward to reading this one.

Dana said...

I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this one, Anna. I've been torn over whether or not I want to read it... the plot didn't initially appeal to me but I like the WW2 setting so I might give it a try.

Violet said...

LOVE the cover, I love romance so I'm definitely adding this o my wishlist. Thank you for the review.

Esme said...

I really enjoyed this books-although I am not a romance reader. There was something magical about it for me.

Anna said...

Bookfool: Looking forward to your thoughts. There was actually more WWII content than I thought there would be.

Sandy: Sometimes predictable and light is exactly what you need. I think that, and the fact that it's well written, is why I enjoyed it as much as I did.

Suko: I used to read Nicholas Sparks, but his books just don't entertain me like they used to. I don't mind when romance is part of a bigger story, though.

Alyce: I agree that you have to be in the right mood for this one.

Blodeuedd: I think you'd like this one. Hope you get a chance to read it.

Serena: I think I ended up liking it more than you did. Enjoyed our lunchtime discussion, though.

bermudaonion: I think it would be neat to see whether his descriptions of Toccoa are accurate. I've never been there, so I can't say.

Marie: Glad to help! LOL

rhapsodyinbooks: I agree about the cover. I'm a sucker for a good cover.

Ti: It does have a great cover!

DCMetroreader: Crying totally blows my cover as a serious commuter reader! Glad to know I'm not alone. LOL

Staci: So true!

Darlene: I hope you give it a try at some point.

Veens: The setting attracted me right away, and as long as it's not one of those "bodice rippers" I'm okay.

lilly: So true! I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

Dana: I hope you give it a try, but I wouldn't read it solely for the WWII content because there isn't a whole lot. It's there, but it's not the primary theme.

Violet: I hope you get a chance to read it soon!

Esme: I'm glad you felt the same way I did about this book.