Book Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa

Fireworks Over Toccoa

Jeffrey Stepakoff 
Hardcover, 272 pages
St. Martin’s Press
March 30, 2010
Note: I requested this Advance Readers’ Edition free of charge from the publishing company.


It’s July 1945. The fighting is over and the residents of Toccoa, Georgia are celebrating in the streets as the soldiers return home from the war.  Twenty year old Lily Davis Woodward knows she should be thrilled at the thought of her husband being among them.  But after spending only two weeks as husband and wife when they were seventeen before he was shipped overseas, Lily worries that he’ll come home a stranger.  After three years of waiting for her life to finally begin – to be a dutiful wife, to start a family, and take care of her perfect home – Lily is filled with anxiety and uncertainty just days before her husband Paul is scheduled to show up on her doorstep.

Then she meets Jake Russo, a young and handsome veteran of Italian descent (who speaks the language of the enemy), and her world is turned upside down in a heartbeat.  Jake’s family has been in the business of fireworks for centuries and the pair meet for the first time when Lily stops on the side of the road to watch some of his dazzling work as he tests his display for the upcoming July 4th town celebration.  Oblivious to the danger she’s in (“Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to stand under fireworks?”), Lily is tackled by Jake just as the debris rains down on her. 

A budding friendship quickly becomes more as Lily and Jake continue to see each other over the next few days.  As the daughter of a Coca-Cola executive/state senator father and proper southern mother, Lily knows what’s expected of her and that she’s treading dangerous ground as the affair goes on.  But she’s drawn to Jake’s passionate nature as he is drawn to her wild spirit.  They both know their time together is brief and Lily must make a choice.  Soon.  Can she give up her life and her husband, tearing her family apart in the process, for this man that she’s come to love in a matter of days?

Fireworks Over Toccoa was a delightful treat to read.  It’s not something I probably would have normally chosen, definitely not my style, but I loved every page.  Lily and Jake are wonderful characters and I was cheering for them to the end.  And even though Lily is thinking of leaving her husband who’s been away at war for this stranger, you sympathize with her completely.  And it was great to see the walls that Jake had built around himself during the war start to crack and tumble down as he opens up to Lily and gives her his complete trust.  They were both just really good people.  In fact, the whole book just seemed to radiate goodness and I have to say it left me feeling good too. 

I definitely got the impression that this would make a fantastic movie and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Jeffrey Stepakoff was a writer on The Wonder Years.  I could practically hear it being narrated, maybe in the voice of Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, only a bit more southern. 

I really enjoyed his writing style.  It was very visual and descriptive (I could always picture myself in each scene – the smell of Cherokee roses, the taste of sweet summer corn, fireflies dancing in the warm, balmy Georgia air) without being too wordy.  The scenes flowed together beautifully and I can’t think of a single part that was slow for me.  One thing I noticed was that  Stepakoff tends to use long sentences (which I love, by the way) that helped me get into Lily’s frame of mind as her thoughts become frantic and torn.  And there’s so much tenderness that you can feel as you read Lily and Jakes’ thoughts, it’s easy to let yourself become swept away in their romance. 

The themes of the book really resonated with me.  Duty versus instinct, following your heart or living up to your responsibilities.  And most of all, living for the moment because life is fleeting.  When Lily asks Jake if he thinks the war changed him he says, “What I’ve come to believe is that you have to cherish…this, the present.  Life and death…it’s a matter of a breath, a hearbeat…a single footstep.”  I think we all need to be reminded of that from time to time.  I know I do.



  1. Dionne Said:

    Wow, Jamye, great review! This is definitely one I want to read now too! I LOVED the Wonder Years–do you know if this author has written other novels? 🙂

  2. Jody Said:

    Great review! I’ve noticed this one a few times, looks good.

    • Jamye Said:

      Thanks! It’s definitely worth checking out.

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