January 06, 2010

Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa

Fireworks Over Toccoa
by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Lily, age 17, married 2 weeks before her husband was deployed to fight in WWII. She loved Paul and he loves her. It's now been 3 years of being alone with her domineering mother and her strong but silent father. Her life has been in suspended animation, waiting for her husband to return so her life can begin. Then she meets Jake, the passionate fireworks operator hired for the big July 4th homecoming celebration planned for the soldiers. She is swept away in a whirlwind by Jake and now must decide which path to take: that of true love or of commitments already made.

I thought there was a lot of potential for a moving love story here. But there were a few strikes against it from the beginning. First I read it on the heels of Alias Grace which is a truly well crafted literary fiction with a lot of depth and historical context. Fireworks, indeed many novels, couldn't survive in its shadow. Second, I detest the idea of adultery in the name of true love.

One of the biggest things that bothered me was that the author kept butting in to tell me how passionate Jake was. There was little evidence to back it up. Lily could tell he was a passionate man after just a few minutes talking with him. Really? How? Because she looked deep in his eyes? Because he was incredibly handsome? Also, every hour that passed Lily's and Jake's feelings grew into a consuming fire that multiplied exponentially. It kept hitting infinity and then growing times 100, times 1000. Not good. It broke the first rule of good writing: show, don't tell.

There was so much potential. I was disappointed that I wasn't given more to enjoy. The characters could have been developed better; the setting could have been brought more to the forefront; the situation given more thought and depth. I was left wanting it to be more than it delivered. My mind kept saying, "Just like Bridges of Madison County except I don't really care whether she picks Jake or Paul."

I will give credit where it is due. I loved the character of Lily's mother, Honey. She was a true Georgian matriarch. She brought flavor to the story though she didn't serve much purpose beyond that. The research was there too. A knowledge of the area of Toccoa during the war years and the operation of fireworks was evident, as well as all the little details of an upscale household in the 1930s. There was a good base story. The skeleton was workable. The ending was well suited to the story. It just needed more padding.

I tend to be pickier about what I read. I want a love story to have some point beyond two hearts aflame coming together. There are many positive reviews that I've seen so this book could be a good fit for a lot of people. If you like a lot of romance and a little history, if you like moral dilemma, then you should check it out.

If the author reads this review I hope he will not take offense but will tuck these critiques into the back of his mind for future novels. I want more. Make me believe it. Make me care about these people. I want to sweat in the Georgia heat as I sit here in the damp, January cold of the west coast(It's 39* as I write this review). I want to cry for the difficult decision of a young woman who was married before she understood what a lifetime commitment meant. I want to understand why a man being too perfect is something to run away from.

This title counts for Something New in the 2010 Challenge.

I received this free review copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program. Thanks go to St. Martin's Press.


Jenny said...

Sorry this wasn't better for you! I was excited when I saw your synopsis - I don't know if I've read any books set in America after WWI - but I guess I'll hold out for something more fully realized.

bermudaonion said...

I suspected this book might be like this. I think I was right when I decided to skip it.

Ti said...

I skipped over this one myself. I think you wrote a very thoughtful review though. What you said at the end, directed to the author, is pretty clear and totally falls into constructive criticism. Well done.

Petunia said...

Jenny-I meant WWII. Sorry about that. I've edited the review to correct that. I'M writing a book set during WWI. I guess I had a brain malfunction last night.

BermudaOnion-Go with your gut. I'm trying to do that more.

Ti-Thank you. I tried to be as nice as I could about it. I wasn't angry about it like I can be with some books. I was sad that it could have been more with more attention. Oh well.

Susan O'Bryant said...

Thanks for sharing this thoughtful review. I'm sorry to hear that you were somewhat disappointed in it, but I think I'll still give it a go. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy and I'm looking forward to delving into the story, even with some of its possible shortcomings. I'm curious to see if I can relate a bit better to the setting because I'm more or less right up the road from Toccoa. And I'm looking forward to "meeting" Honey!

Lenore Appelhans said...

If it wasn't for the adultery, I would say my stepmother would like it.

Marie Cloutier said...

sorry this didn't work out for you. better luck with ER next time :-)

Zibilee said...

I loved your review of this book, it had a lot of heart and although you didn't like this book, I think your criticism of it was really solid and thoughtful. I hope the author does read this review and responds in the ways that you, as a reader, need him to. I also hope that your next reading experience is better.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Sorry this book was a little disappointing. Your review was great.

April said...

What an excellent review! I have seen this book everywhere and will be very anxious to get everyone's perspective on it.

Sandra said...

I don't like romance and I won't read a book based solely on one, it's just not enough for me. I need a lot more too so I understand. The premise sounds solid enough, and interesting. Too bad it didn't work for you. But it's always good to see an honest review.

caite said...

I just finished this book and reviewed myself. Not a bad book...except there was no way I could believe in the Grand Romance, which is a problem for a love story.