Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

I so wanted to fall in love with Jeffrey Stepakoff's debut novel, Fireworks over Toccoa. It has a gorgeous cover of two people dancing in a field with stars. Who wouldn't appreciate the story of a couple who find each other in a small Georgia town at the end of World War II? Me.

Lily Davis Woodward was the pampered daughter of Walter and Honey Davis. Walter was a Coca-Cola executive, who had the clout to get coffee even during the war. Honey was the ruling matriarch of Toccoa, Georgia. At seventeen, Lily married Paul Woodward, shortly before he went overseas, working for Coca-Cola throughout the war zones. She was young, impulsive, and is now nervously awaiting her husband's return. But, a pyrotechnician, Jake Russo, has also returned to the U.S. from the war, and he's now in Toccoa. Jake works for his family fireworks company, and he's getting the fireworks ready for Toccoa's 4th of July celebration. And, it's in the fields outside of Toccoa that Lily finds him, after following the fireworks.

But, Lily's granddaughter, Colleen, only discovers this story sixty years later, when two boys find a jar in an uncovered lake bed. When Lily says the jar belongs to her, she reveals a past that her granddaughter never knew. It's the story of a love, lost and found.

In order to do justice to a debut novel, I'll quote a couple of the blurbs. Dorothea Benton Frank said, "Literally explodes with life. I absolutely loved every character and hated for their story to end." Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, is quoted. "A terrific story - moving, whimsical, and original, a real page turner destined for the big screen."

Fireworks over Toccoa failed to move me. Here's my guilty confession. I loved Robert Waller's Bridges of Madison County. That was the romance that Fireworks over Toccoa tries to be, in my opinion. But, the characters in this book were too young and immature. Jake had life experience, but he never became a real character to me. And, Lily lacked the life experience to make this a passionate story. It's a story meant to be of contrasts. Lily's life was outlined for her. "Along with the charms of Toccoa came a very rigid set of obligations and rules," and she was expected to live by those rules. Jake lived by his father's comment, "A moment in the sky, forever in the heart." Stepakoff tries to build his story on these contrasts. It's meant to be a romance of lost love, "A moment in the sky, forever in the heart."

Try Fireworks over Toccoa. It didn't work for me. I found it lacking in passion and depth. I never felt the warmth or emotion in the book, and the theme of forbidden, lost love seemed tired. But, the authors quoted on the book must have felt otherwise. I'd love to know your opinions if you take a chance on a debut novel, Fireworks over Toccoa.

Addendum: Today marks the kickoff of the publisher's "sneak peek" campaign for Fireworks over Toccoa. Visit before March 30th for:

1) A note from author Jeffrey Stepakoff
2) An enormous online excerpt from the book
3) An audio excerpt
4) Crazy awesome sweepstakes (new info!)
a. 1 grand prize winner will win a romantic picnic basket for two complete with caviar, crackers & cheese, cookies, chocolates & truffles and MUCH more.
b. 300 runners-up will receive a copy of FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA

So, take a chance on winning the basket, or a copy of the book. Once you've read it, come back and tell me what you think.

Jeffrey Stepakoff's website is

Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff. St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312581589 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - My review copy came from the publisher, with hopes I would review it.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

That's too bad! Cute cover, as you mentioned. I'm in the mood for a romance with a little meat to it--sounds like this one won't fit the bill.

But I might check it out at the library...I grew up just a few minutes away from Toccoa, GA (in Anderson, SC). From that standpoint I might flip through it.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...


It looked very promising, and it appeared that it would be a meaty book. Try it from the library, and see what you think. Maybe you'll love it more than I did. The book just never captured me. You're right. Since you grew up close to Toccoa, you might find what I found missing.

Kaye Barley said...

Lesa - I was VERY interested in reading your comments. I have this book, which I won through, but have not read it yet. Interestingly enough - I was saving it for a weekend when I have nothing else to do and could curl up with it totally uninterrupted. I'll let you know what I think.

Melanie said...

I just read the book this weekend. I received my copy from Library Thing. I think I liked it more than you did, but it's defintly got issues - the changes in time and place in the beginning were confusing and the author did a lot of telling us about Lily's character instead of showing us and developing it. I've been in a reading slump and this was a good light read to get me going again.

bermudaonion said...

Well, darn, I've got this to read soon and I was hoping to see that you loved it.

Lesa said...

Kaye, and Kathy,

Please let me know what you think. As you can see, Melanie liked it more than I did, so I'm waiting to read your reactions.

Lesa said...


You hit the nail on the head as to why the book didn't move me. He told us about Lily, rather than getting inside the characters. Thanks!

caite said...

It is a nice cover!

I recently reviewed this look and pretty much agreed with you. There were aspects of the book I liked and I think he is a good writer (ok, maybe as someone commented, a bit of the purple prose) but I never bought into the 'great romance'. At all.

Mason Canyon said...

The book cover grabs your attention and makes you think this will be a great romantic book. Living in Georgia, I was hoping it would live up to that.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Caite. I'm going to check out your review. I didn't buy into the "great romance" either.

Lesa said...

Take a chance on the contest, Mason. Maybe you'll win a copy of the book, and you'll like it.

Tina said...

I read this one in January, and loved it. I'm not normally a fan of "romances" but it hit me just right.

I reviewed it here on Tutu's Two Cents and thought it was one of the best romances I've ever read. I agree with some of the criticisms that other reviewers had about the change in settings/time, but for some reason they didn't bother me because I was so engrossed in the story.

As I said, I don't read a lot of romance, so maybe it was just my time.

Lesa said...

Caite and Tina, Thank you. I went to both sites, and read your reviews. Caite's review was closest to my feelings about the book. But, I knew others would feel differently, and I hope some of my readers check out your review, Tina. In fact, I hope they give the book a chance, and find out what's in the book for them.

Like Caite, I really liked Lily's father. Neither of the main characters had the passion I remember from Bridges of Madison County. But, that was my grand romantic book that fit my time, Tina, and this one might be yours. Well, actually, I guess THE grand romantic book for me was Gone with the Wind, but I did appreciate the passion in Bridges.

Bonnie said...

I have this to read and the cover is very beautiful and it sounds like a good book. I'm sorry to hear that it didn't work for you. These are hard reviews to write, not every book works for every reader. I appreciate your honesty Lesa.

Lesa said...

And, the book might work just fine for you, Bonnie. Two of us were discussing Bridges of Madison County last night. She loved it as much as I did when she read it years ago, but she just did it with a book club, and said it didn't hold up. I said that's why I haven't reread it. It might not hold up for me either. So, sometimes it's even where you are in life. This book may be perfect for someone else.

Anonymous said...

I will forever think of Jeffrey as the "comma king". Just goes to show that anyone can publish a book nowadays.
I purchased the ebook, and, comma, as hard as I tried, comma, could,t make it to page 50.
I was expecting Nicolas Sparks. fireworks Over Toccoa made me cry, comma, only because I couldn't return it.

The comments on this site are better written, comma, than the book. What a shame, comma.

Lesa said...

Thanks for the amusing review, Anonymous. I wasn't fond of the book, but you couldn't even make it past page 50. I'm sorry you bought it. I wasn't expecting Nicholas Sparks; I was expecting an Adriana Trigiani readalike. We were both disappointed.

karinadykstra said...

The cover definitely got me to read the book! Parts of it were great, but it reminded me so much of Nicholas Sparks. So I re-read The Notebook and noticed ALL the similarities - right down to the luxury of daily leg shaving for Ally and Lily!

Lesa said...

The cover is what attracted me to the book as well, along with the initial comparison to Sparks. I didn't realize it was that similar, though!