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Jeffrey Stepakoff – Fireworks Over Toccoa

April 12, 2010

36. Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff (2010)

Length: 260 pages
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction

Started: 01 April 2010
Finished: 02 April 2010

Where did it come from? From the publisher for review.
Why do I have it? I was looking for a guilty pleasure read, and it looked like it would keep me interested. (Also, it had fireflies on the cover. I am not made of stone. Look at how nicely it matches my blog header!)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 05 March 2010.

Summary: Lily Davis Woodward, the only daughter of one of the leading citizens of Toccoa, Georgia, got married at 17, only a few weeks before her husband Paul left for World War II. Now the war is over, with Paul is returning home in a few days, and Lily must face suddenly having to fit into the adult life and marriage which suddenly seems stifling and confining. Then she meets Jake, the son of immigrant firework makers, who has been hired by the town to put on the Fourth of July fireworks display. They have an immediate and intense connection, and Lily finds herself opening up to Jake in ways that she knows she’d never manage with Paul… but how can she choose between the passion she feels with Jake and her sense of duty to Paul, her family, and her town?

Review: The melodramatic romance novel is not a favorite genre of mine, but I do enjoy reading them now and again, on a beach, or plane, or (in this case) just on my back porch on a sunny afternoon when my brain was not interested in anything more substantial. And, on that front, Fireworks Over Toccoa fit the bill: it was a fast, easy read, and if the plot was more than a little soapy, well, sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for.

I’ve only read two Nicholas Sparks novels in my time, but that’s the obvious comparison here. The similarities with The Notebook start with a bracketing story involving old people, and carry on from there, without really involving any original themes or conflicts. My main problem, though, was the writing. On one hand, Stepakoff’s is excellent at evoking his setting, and by the end of the book I wanted nothing more than for it to be summer so I could have a twilight picnic. On the other hand, Stepakoff has a bad case of “tell-but-don’t-show-itis.” On every page, we were informed what the characters were thinking and feeling, rather than being allowed to figure that out ourselves from the way they were talking and acting.

They simply didn’t make houses like this anymore, and being here always transported Colleen from where she was in her life to a place where she could reflect on it. Along with the house, its connectedness to nature and history, her grandmother’s steadiness, and the small-town ease of Toccoa all contributed to make this a place of peace and perspective for Colleen. –p. 18**

Maybe it’s a feature of the genre, but this kind of super-omniscient narrator providing us with explanations of every emotion just felt like overkill to me, and it leached away a lot of the power the story could have had without it. The thing is, there actually is a good love story buried underneath all the prose. It’s the kind of love story that is just begging to be made into a terribly sappy movie that my friends and I will all be embarrassed to admit to each other that we actually secretly really want to go see. And, given that many of Stepakoff’s past credits are in television writing and producing (including Dawson’s Creek, which I’m also a little embarrassed to admit that I secretly love), it seems like a natural fit. As a novel, though, it didn’t really do much for me other than provide a pleasant few hours’ distraction. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If Nicholas Sparks-ish romantic melodrama is your thing, then you’ll probably really enjoy Fireworks Over Toccoa. If not, then I doubt this novel is going to be the one to win you over.

One Final Note: Oh my goodness, was Stepakoff getting kickbacks from Coke? I understand that Coca-Cola was (and is) a major economic force in Georgia, but I swear to god, it seemed like it was mentioned by name at least once every few pages. Eeesh.

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Other Reviews: All About {n}, Booking Mama, Educating Petunia, Good Books and Wine, I Smell Books, Jenn’s Bookshelves, Lesa’s Book Critiques, The Literate Housewife Review, Polishing Mud Balls, Pop Culture Junkie, Readin’ and Dreamin’, Rhapsody in Books Weblog
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The two boys rode their mountain bikes along the soft uncovered lake bed between the Bartam’s Field subdivision and the old Holly Hills property.

Cover Thoughts:

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 54: “A git of a clean shirt made for him from wind-faded bedroom curtains that smelled of nebbolio on the vine.” – a red Italian wine grape that produces lightly colored red wines
  • p. 175: “She could smell the sweet scent of perique, the expensive tobacco that her father always smoked in his pipes.” – a strong, rich-flavored tobacco produced in Louisiana, usually blended with other tobaccos.
  • p. 192: ““We’ve scheduled a trousseau party on March 21 and the bride-elect simply loves white phalaenopsis.”” – any of various epiphytic orchids of the genus Phalaenopsis, native to tropical Asia, having clusters of showy, variously colored flowers.

**All quotes are from an ARC and may not reflect the final published text.**

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2010 7:15 am

    As a Georgian, the various mentions of Coca-Cola are wildly accurate. Actual Georgians drink the stuff like baby’s milk.

    • April 13, 2010 9:08 pm

      Omni – Oh, I’m sure it’s accurate, but as a non-Georgian, it felt a little excessive.

  2. April 12, 2010 9:21 am

    Thanks for your review – that’s probably not my kind of book. I was going to comment on the Coke, too – here in the South, every soft drink is referred to as Coke. If you say “I’ll have a Coke,” you’ll be asked what kind and they don’t mean regular or diet.

  3. April 12, 2010 11:52 am

    *can attest to all soft drinks being referred to as “Coke” in the South*

    I’ll probably not read this one – can’t stand Nicholas Sparks! – but I do admire the cover that matches your header. How could you resist?

    • April 13, 2010 9:06 pm

      Jenny – I might be a niche market, but cover artists now know how to get at least one sure reader. :)

  4. April 12, 2010 1:35 pm

    I have to say, for me it really wasn’t a great love story. I thought I might like this, but I need to learn that I really can’t do romance, I just didn’t buy them being suddenly, magically in love and her wanting to drive into a tree if she couldn’t be with him one more time after 3 days.

    • April 13, 2010 9:09 pm

      Jen – Good point. I guess I should have said that it was good romance, rather than a good love story… I always have to willfully suspend my disbelief whenever someone uses the L-word too quickly.

  5. April 15, 2010 2:13 pm

    I’ve got this one for review and I’m really hesitant since you’re not the first person to compare this book to Nicholas Sparks-type melodrama. Yeeeurgh. Cannot stand Sparks. I’ll give it 50 pages, max.

    BTW, another Southerner to confirm that all soft drinks are “cokes” in the South.

    • April 16, 2010 9:51 am

      Nancy – Good luck with it! (To be honest, I don’t know if you’ll need all 50 pages… although on the other hand, it’s a very fast read, so if it turns out not to be for you, at least you won’t have spent much time with it.)

  6. April 20, 2010 1:51 pm

    I liked this one more than I thought I would, as I don’t normally read romances. It was a lot less cheesy than Nicholas Sparks, in my opinion. I got sick of the references to Coke after awhile, LOL!

    • April 21, 2010 9:17 am

      Anna – It’s been so long since I’ve read any Nicholas Sparks that I probably can’t fairly compare cheese levels. I’m glad it wasn’t just me annoyed by the Coke references, though!

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