Author: Jeffrey Stepakoff
ISBN:  978-0-312-58158-9

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Sometimes it’s as if the gods are smiling down on me.  To preface this review, I am, was, and will always be, a huge fan of the television show, The Wonder Years.  The writing was so poignant and beautiful on that show, that when I read that the author of this book was a writer for that fantastic series, I was automatically thrilled.

We begin with two boys riding their bikes around a lake.  This lake is the product of a greedy government that took over a town and submerged most of the “Civil War” era homes under water, in order to create a gated community for the wealthy.  As the boys are riding, they spot the most beautiful colored glass in the water – which turns out to be the chimney of a cabin that long ago held the most precious moments of a young woman’s life.

That young woman’s granddaughter, Colleen, is being driven in to the “McMansion” landscape by her soon to be husband, Drew.  Drew is a doctor.  He’s handsome, sweet, perfect…the house is perfect…the lawns are perfect…Colleen’s life will be absolutely, by-the-book, perfect.  She should be ecstatic, but the strange feeling gnawing at her soul just won’t go away.  Leaving the place behind, Colleen travels to a big old Victorian located in Toccoa, Georgia – an hour away from her soon to be “perfect” existence.  Climbing the stairs of the large house, she hugs her grandmother, Lily.  As they walk into the large, comfortable house, Lily shows Colleen her wedding dress – for her granddaughter to use as she walks down the aisle to her “perfect” groom.  Spotting a newspaper, Lily picks it up and stares down at the strange article about the new Currahee Military Museum that has been set up at the Toccoa train depot – the terminus that servicemen marched through on their way to train at Camp Toccoa during WWII. 

Lily takes her granddaughter, Colleen, and practically runs to the train station.  In the article, it mentions that an old formula for an explosive shell was found buried in a glass jar in the Toccoa forest, and was on display.  Lily sits down with the woman in charge of the small museum to let her know that the written formula on the yellowed sheet of paper has nothing to do with war; the formula was from a time where love was the only thing on anyone’s mind.  The sheet of paper explains how to build “Lily’s Star;” the most beautiful firework that was ever made…created for Lily during a four day time period that changed her life.

The writer then takes us back to the 1940’s and we meet up with Lily as she’s setting up house for her husband’s return from the war.  Lily was married at seventeen to Paul Woodward who, after two short weeks, was sent to Germany.  It’s been three years since Lily has been in her husband’s arms, and she has mixed emotions about his homecoming.  She’d been his wife for only two weeks, and in the time Paul has been gone things have changed in Lily’s life.  She’s grown into a woman with thoughts, feelings, and emotions, that the genteel, perfect environment of small-town Georgia can’t seem to accept.

Lily’s parents are very wealthy and much loved in the small town.  Her mother, Holly, is the queen of the higher echelon that the townspeople cozy up to as much as possible.  She believes in rules and regulations, and wants her daughter to give up her silly, creative ways and become the true Georgian lady, and “perfect” wife that she should be. 

One evening, four days before her husband is scheduled to come home, a large booming noise echoes in the warm, humid July air.  The firework lights up the sky, and announces the presence of Jake Russo, a man with a past who travels the world alone, with only his inner demons to keep him company.  He comes from a long line of pyrotechnic wizards, and he’s spent his life creating light shows that stun, surprise, and make an audience dream of the wonders that exist outside their small towns.

The love story that ensues is among the most beautiful ever told.  The way this author describes everything from a small town where midsummer heat rises in waves off the asphalt while the old men play checkers at the Barber Shoppe, to the absolutely beautiful way he describes the cabin of Lily’s heart that’s surrounded by the protective mass of kudzu vines – every word was absolutely perfect.

Get this immediately and make a place for it on your bookshelf.  This is truly a novel full of suspense, thrills, beauty, and a love that’s completely unplanned…born under the stars.


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