Winter Reading

A flurry of creativity and warmth swirls amid Viola Shipman’s Traverse City-based ‘The Secret of Snow’

It took me a while to get into Viola Shipman’s latest novel, “The Secret of Snow” (Graydon House Books). For the first 70 or so pages, it moves between the newsroom of a Palm Springs TV station and a meteorologist named Sonny Dunes and Sonny’s days growing up with her family and kid sister in northern Michigan. So many novels keep you guessing about the title far too long, and this one’s no different.

But stay with it. Author Shipman (Wade Rouse), above, provides a beautiful payoff.

Sonny Dunes is 50 years old, a celebrity in her desert town, and a cherished figure at her TV station. She loves her job and her co-anchors, but her station manager — a trust-fund-heir slacker — thinks he has a hipper, cooler way to do the weather. When the manager replaces her with a digital weather girl, Sonny flips out — on air. She’s not only toast at that station, but her reputation is ruined. The only place she can find a job is with an old college frenemy who runs the station where she grew up, in Traverse City, Mich. It’s a chilly landing from the nonstop blue-sky town she left.

Portrait by Kim Schneider

That’s where the story really begins, in winter, in the north country. After her new boss, Lisa, tells Sonny that her co-anchors are furious about her being hired as the highest-paid employee at the station, Lisa lays out a game plan: Sonny will broadcast from all of the region’s outdoor events and do perilous stunts like racing downhill in a cardboard sled, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. The new show will be called “Sonny in the Winter.” What’s more, one of her coworkers — who had been up for Sonny’s job — is bent on revenge.

But it’s not all horror. Sonny gets her groove back, a shy young cameraman at the station blossoms, and when Sonny’s secret of snow is revealed, it ties all the family questions together so poignantly that I wept.

As a person who lived in Traverse City for 15 years, I can say this book weaves in all the highlights of the region — the cherries, the festivals, and the little shops, eateries, wineries, and unique places that make the town so special. Also, as a person who has lost beloved siblings, this book really hit home. The writing is warm and wonderful, and if you love Michigan, you’ll love this book.

Best-selling author, humorist, and writing teacher Wade Rouse uses the pen name Viola Shipman for his novels to honor his grandmother, who inspires his fiction. He spends much of his time and pens many of his works at his home near Saugatuck.

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