The Melody of Secrets: A Novel

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Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was ...

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The Melody of Secrets: A Novel

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Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria's cottage.

Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be--until James Cooper walks back into it.

Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria's world...

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers who find suspending disbelief an uphill slog will be more than challenged by this melodramatic story from Stepakoff (The Orchard) about Maria, a German woman building a new life after WWII. In March 1945, Maria, then a teenager who is working as a music teacher, has a brief but meaningful encounter with an American soldier, James Cooper, whose parachute lands close to her cottage, near the town of Nordhausen. But they don’t see each other again until 1957. Maria is now living in Huntsville, Ala., married to “solid... dependable” Hans Reinhardt, a German scientist aiding the U.S. in its arms race against the Soviets. Maria’s violin performances for the local musical society have made her a local celebrity. Cooper, now a test pilot for the Air Force, ends up being stationed in Huntsville as well, and the pair considers picking up where they left off. Maria’s music attracts the attention of someone even more gifted on the instrument—a precocious young African-American girl—leading to a manipulative subplot. The leaden prose does nothing to help this novel reach the pathos for which it aims. Agent: Dan Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Agency. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Orchard:

"An unforgettable story that will follow the reader’s heart for a long time." —Patti Callahan Henry

"A reminder of why I love to read." —Sandra Brown

"Stepakoff follows Fireworks over Toccoa with another warmhearted love story....The heavy focus on the leads' competing drives and ambitions lifts this above your standard romance, though readers with an itch for a solid love story won't be disappointed."—Publishers Weekly

"This is a truly heartwarming and emotional story, with characters so interesting and unusual the reader can’t help but keep reading until the final page has been turned."—RT Book Reviews

Praise for Fireworks Over Toccoa:

“A luminous love story that readers won’t soon forget . . . at once heartbreaking and triumphant—an affirmation of love.” —Emily Giffin

Fireworks Over Toccoa pinches the heart, telling a poignant tale of love and loss, of making choices and letting go.   With carefully-crafted characters, a lush and very real setting, this is a not-to-be missed book. Move over Nicholas Sparks!”—Karen White, New York Times bestselling author

Fireworks Over Toccoa literally explodes with life.  Its insights about place and love versus duty are as sharp as an eagle’s eye.  I absolutely loved every character and hated for their story to end.  Kaboom!  A brilliant first effort from Jeffrey Stepakoff!  Congratulations!”—Dorothea Benton Frank, NY Times bestselling author of Return to Sullivans Island

 “An impressive debut.”—Atlanta Journal Constitution

"A super-emotionally charged love story."—Romantic Times

“Read it in the tub.”—Redbook

"Fireworks Over Toccoa is the poignant recollection of a young woman's coming of age and finding love, set against the vivid tableau of small town America during the Second World War, Stepakoff skillfully crafts a remarkable tale of fate and chance, choice and consequences, rewarding readers with a mesmerizing experience."—Pam Jenoff, International bestselling author of The Kommandant's Girl and Almost Home

“Fireworks Over Toccoa is a terrific story—moving, whimsical and original, a real page-turner destined for the big screen.”—Joanne Harris, International Bestselling author of Chocolat

“An unexpected love affair of Lily Davis, a WW II bride, is brilliantly portrayed by Jeffrey Stepakoff. Filled with suspense and surprise, I couldn't put it down. As dazzling as the fireworks which brought this war-time couple together, their passionate love affair is spellbinding. I was mesmerized to the last page!”—Marjorie Hart, National Bestselling author of Summer at Tiffany

Kirkus Reviews
Stepakoff's latest throws together America's burgeoning space program, Nazi scientists and a talented violinist in a Nicholas Sparks–style romance. Huntsville, Ala., circa 1957, was an interesting place. In the heart of the segregated South, it was beginning to hear the rumbles of the civil rights movement. It was also home to a unique aerospace program, one manned almost exclusively by former German SS officers. At the close of World War II, there was a race to capture the famed Nazi rocket scientists--both the U.S. and the Soviets wanted them. Under their leader, Wernher Von Braun, the group went to the U.S. with all their secrets, and the U.S. government sanitized their past. Twelve years later, in Huntsville, the space race is on--the Soviets have launched Sputnik and now the Germans are to help launch the United States' own rocket satellite into space. Maria Reinhardt is contributing in her own way: An accomplished violinist, she and some friends have founded a local symphony. With her 12-year-old son Peter away at school and her husband, Hans, working in the lab, she has ample opportunity to revisit her past, which included American pilot James Cooper. Their brief end-of-war affair was unforgettable, but when the Allied forces came, Maria left with Hans (her older second cousin) rather than wait for James and risk capture by the Soviets. At the symphony's first recital, she spots James Cooper, in Huntsville as a test pilot. What prevents Maria from running away with James is her belief that Hans is a good man. But is he? Her friend Sabine makes a chilling discovery: Her own husband has hidden a chest of gold--in the form of wedding bands and gold fillings--in their bomb shelter. What about Hans? Did he know his munitions lab was attached to a notorious labor camp? If she finds out the wretched truth, will she run away with James? Stepakoff uses this sliver of history well, but the romance between Maria and James seems irrelevant (and frankly less interesting than Maria's moral dilemmas), which is a bad sign for a romantic novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250001092
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/29/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 570,888
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Stepakoff

JEFFREY STEPAKOFF has written for the Emmy-winning The Wonder Years, Sisters, and Dawson's Creek, for which he was co-executive producer. Author of the acclaimed novels, Fireworks Over Toccoa and The Orchard, he has also developed and written plays, TV pilots and major motion pictures. Stepakoff holds a BA in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MFA in playwriting from Carnegie Mellon. He lives in Georgia with his wife and three young children. His fiction is published in six languages.
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Read an Excerpt




“We have sixty seconds to launch, sir,” a nervous technician announced.

Air force colonel Mike Adams, a big man with an executive presence, nodded as he leaned forward on the control panel, looking out the thick plateglass window at the launch site below.

“Satellite beacon is active and operating,” another tech said, and the steady beep, beep, beep of a small satellite—the payload atop the slender rocket on the launch pad below—could be heard transmitting over speakers in the control room.

“What makes you boys think this one’s gonna fly?” Adams asked without bothering to look back at the half-dozen men in the small room. With his deep, low voice, at once folksy but commanding, Adams struck them as someone who in another life might have run a Nebraska cattle operation.

“My team has tested and retested every piece of hardware on that rocket,” a navy lieutenant said.

“And that’s in addition to the safeguards provided by each and every subcontractor,” a white-coated scientist added.

Colonel Adams scratched his belly, pressing it up against the control panel, eliciting a glance from the navy lieutenant.

It was clear that the lieutenant didn’t like his operation’s being second-guessed by some Pentagon administrator, no matter how superior, and he wasn’t going to make a secret of it—this project warranted Washington’s full support. “We have absolute confidence in the Vanguard rocket, Colonel.”

“You had absolute confidence the last two times you tried to launch her,” Adams said, finally turning to the men.

“Did we hit a few snags?” the scientist asked. “Sure. And we found them and fixed them.”

“Fifteen seconds!” a tech called out.

“Colonel Adams, that rocket down there is the sum of America’s best minds,” the navy lieutenant said, his tone deftly straddling reassurance and rebuke. “Have some faith, sir.”

Beep, beep, beep, the satellite’s transmission reverberated throughout the room. It was a sound filled with the promise of technology, the expense of tens of millions of dollars in funding, the dreams of a nation, and the security of a way of life.

“I have plenty of faith.” Adams looked back down at the slender Navy Vanguard TV3 rocket, seventy-two feet tall, steam rising from beneath her as the launch sequence continued. “It’s the people of this country that don’t. They don’t care about your snags and fixes. They just want to know why the Russians beat America into space. They want to know why they have a Soviet satellite flying over their heads right now when ‘America’s best minds’ can’t seem to throw a grapefruit over a barn, let alone get our own satellite up there. Gentlemen, this bird had better fly.”

“Five, four, three, two, booster is ignited, and—liftoff! We have a liftoff! Vanguard TV3 is a go!”

All the men leaned toward the glass window, watching with rapt attention, the stakes of this mission apparent on their faces.

*   *   *

All across America, people watched the launch on their television sets.

In Sacramento, a family of five gathered in their living room eating breakfast on standing metal trays, gripped by the images of the launch on their bulky black-and-white set.

In Manhattan, a young man threw open the front door of his apartment, tossed his hat, and ran into the kitchen to join his pretty wife, an infant in her arms. Without turning her face from the television, she reached out and took his hand.

In Wichita, a farmer in dusty coveralls stood on his front porch and peered in through a wide-open window at the television set in his living room, his family congregated around it. He wiped his brow, a look of wonder on his face.

*   *   *

On an unfurling ball of golden flame, fueled by just the right mix of liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol, the rocket began to defy gravity and rise, slowly, gracefully, like a ballerina going en pointe. It was a thing of grand beauty to behold.

In the control room, the glass window vibrating with the steady rumbling of the ascending rocket, several of the men began to applaud. A couple cheered.

About four feet over the launch pad, the pillow of roaring fire and smoke expanding underneath it, the rocket hung in midair, levitating, and then abruptly lost thrust, dropping back down to the concrete launch pad, fuel tanks rupturing and bursting, causing the entire rocket to explode and quickly burn up in its own flames.

Propelled out of their stupor by the oncoming debris, the men quickly ducked down as shrapnel flew up toward the control room window. A toaster-sized chunk of blackened rocket engine slammed into the glass, cracking it from top to bottom, leaving a web of wavelike lines in its wake.

Then there was silence, except for the beep, beep, beep.

Tentatively, the men rose, looked out the damaged window, and saw lying below in a nearby patch of tall grass, the small aluminum sphere that was supposed to be in the heavens above them. Thrown from the top of the rocket, it was dented and charred but still transmitting what now seemed a wretched earthbound sound.

Beep, beep, beep. It was mocking them.

Stunned, the men silently watched the widening trail of black smoke float out over the Atlantic in the distance.

Finally, Adams picked up a phone. “Get me the executive officer at Redstone.”

“You’re going to the army?” The navy lieutenant asked.

“We’re done here.”

The scientists and technicians immediately exchanged worried looks. No one wanting to be the first to object—it was common knowledge among them that former enemies were on staff at the highly classified Redstone army base.

“Sir—” The navy lieutenant raised his voice. “You can’t put the Germans on this.”

“I don’t have any other options.” Adams turned away, phone to his ear, looking down through the shattered glass at the disaster below.

Pushing aside the rolling chair separating their bodies, the navy lieutenant got in his face. “Colonel, with all due respect—and interdepartmental politics entirely aside—this is a matter of national security. The highest kind. You can’t put the Germans on this.”

Adams met his eyes and held them until it was very clear who had the power in this room. “Actually, Lieutenant, I can.”


Copyright © 2013 by Jeffrey Stepakoff

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2015

    re: highly recommended

    A lovely story with a ending I didn't expect. Thought it would end differently. A good book for a book club to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2013

    Excellent story!

    Great story, easy read. I immediatley fell in love with the characters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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