From the Publisher: An unexpected discovery takes eighty-four-year-old Lily Davis Woodward to 1945, and the five days that forever changed her life. Married for only a week before her husband was sent to fight in WWII, Lily is anxious for his return, and the chance to begin their life together. In honor of the soldiers' homecoming, the small Georgia town of Toccoa plans a big celebration. And Jake Russo, a handsome Italian immigrant, also back from war, is responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned. But after a chance encounter in a star-lit field, he steals Lily's heart and soul--and fulfills her in ways her socially-minded, upper-class family cannot. Now, torn by duty to society and her husband--and the poor, passionate man who might be her only true love--Lily must choose between a commitment she's already made and a love she’s never known before.
My Take: Just so you're not confused, this is not literary fiction, this is not even literary women's fiction, we are in Nicholas Sparks territory here, one hundred percent. That said, it's a damn good read.
Author Jeffrey Stepakoff has a clear love for both the setting (Georgia) and the conceit (Jake's passion for the magic of fireworks). Stepakoff (who wrote for and produced several major TV series, including Dawson's Creek) writes in the introduction that he got the idea for the book from a man (who founded a major fireworks company) that he interviewed for a TV pilot. That man was passionate about his work and his inspiration was his wife of sixty years. Swoon.
I won't say that the character development or the plotline is particularly daring (though there's a nice twist at the end) but the emotion inherent in it rings clear and true. Lily thinks she has her life figured out but it's not until Jake crosses her path that she realized that she has denied so much of who she is in order to be the person her town, Toccoa, expects. Her agony over whether to chose duty (her husband, soon to return) or her true desire (Jake) is heart-wrenching.
And that agony isn't dealt with in a purely escapist way, either. I felt the novel did a fair job of asking whether we can be true to ourselves and still respectful of how we were raised and what people expect of us. Running off and leaving it all behind is very rarely what real life entails and Fireworks Over Toccoa engages with this reality nicely.
Fireworks Over Toccoa / Jeffrey Stepakoff / St. Martin's Press / HC, 2010