The Secret of Snow
by Viola Shipman
Release Date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House
Number of pages: 372
Source: NetGalley and Harlequin
Ages 13 and up
CW: death of a sibling
When Sonny Dunes, a So-Cal meteorologist who knows only sunshine and 72-degree days, has an on-air meltdown after she learns she’s being replaced by an AI meteorologist (which the youthful station manager reasons “will never age, gain weight or renegotiate its contract.”), the only station willing to give a 50-year-old another shot is one in a famously non-tropical place–her northern Michigan hometown.
Unearthing her carefully laid California roots, Sonny returns home and reaclimates to the painfully long, dark winters dominated by a Michigan phenomenon known as lake-effect snow. But beyond the complete physical shock to her system, she’s also forced to confront her past: her new boss is a former journalism classmate and mortal frenemy and, more keenly, the death of a younger sister who loved the snow, and the mother who caused Sonny to leave.
To distract herself from the unwelcome memories, Sonny decides to throw herself headfirst (and often disastrously) into all things winter to woo viewers and reclaim her success: sledding, ice-fishing, skiing, and winter festivals, culminating with the town’s famed Winter Ice Sculpture Contest, all run by a widowed father and Chamber director whose honesty and genuine love of Michigan, winter and Sonny just might thaw her heart and restart her life in a way she never could have predicted.
THE SECRET OF SNOW
Author: Viola Shipman
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House Books
“And look at this! A storm system is making its way across the country, and it will bring heavy snow to the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes before wreaking havoc on the East Coast. This is an especially early and nasty start to winter for much of the country. In fact, early models indicate that parts of western and northern Michigan—the lake effect snowbelts, as we call them—will receive over 150 inches of snow this year. One hundred fifty inches!”
I turn away from the green screen in my red wrap dress and heels.
“But here in the desert…” I wait for the graphic to pop onscreen, which declares, Sonny Says It’s Sonny… Again!
When the camera refocuses on me, I toss an adhesive sunshine with my face on it toward the green screen behind me. It sticks directly on Palm Springs, California.
“…it’s wall-to-wall sunshine!”
I expand my arms like a raven in the mountains taking flight. The weekly forecast pops up. Every day features a smiling sunshine that resembles yours truly: golden, shining, beaming.
“And it will stay that way all week long, with temperatures in the midseventies and lows in the midfifties. Not bad for this time of year, huh? It’s chamber of commerce weather here in the desert, perfect for all those design lovers in town for Mid-Century Modernism Week.” I walk over to the news desk. The camera follows. I lean against the desk and turn to the news anchors, Eva Fernandez and Cliff Moore. “Or for someone who loves to play golf, right, Cliff?”
He laughs his faux laugh, the one that makes his mouth resemble those old windup chattering teeth from when I was a girl.
“You betcha, Sonny!”
“That’s why we live here, isn’t it?” I ask.
“I sure feel sorry for the rest of the country,” says Eva, her blinding white smile as bright as the camera lights. I’m convinced every one of Eva’s caps has a cap.
“Those poor Michigan folk won’t be golfing in shorts like I will be tomorrow, will they?” Cliff says with a laugh and his pantomime golf swing. He twitches his bushy brows and gives me a giant wink. “Thank you, Sonny Dunes.”
I nod, my hands on my hips as if I’m a Price Is Right model and not a meteorologist.
“Martinis on the mountain? Yes, please,” Eva says with her signature head tilt. “Next on the news: a look at some of the big events at this year’s Mid-Century Modernism Week. Back in a moment.”
I end the newscast with the same forecast—a row of smiling sunshine emojis that look just like my face—and then banter with the anchors about the perfect pool temperature before another graphic—THE DESERT’S #1 NIGHTLY NEWS TEAM!—pops onto the screen, and we fade to commercial.
“Anyone want to go get a drink?” Cliff asks within seconds of the end of the newscast. “It’s Friday night.”
“It’s always Friday night to you, Cliff,” Eva says.
She stands and pulls off her mic. The top half of Eva Fernandez is J.Lo perfection: luminescent locks, long lashes, glam gloss, a skintight top in emerald that matches her eyes, gold jewelry that sets off her glowing skin. But Eva’s bottom half is draped in sweats, her feet in house slippers. It’s the secret viewers never see.
“I’m half dressed for bed already anyway,” she says with a dramatic sigh. Eva is very dramatic. “And I’m hosting the Girls Clubs Christmas breakfast tomorrow and then Eisenhower Hospital’s Hope for the Holidays fundraiser tomorrow night. And Sonny and I are doing every local Christmas parade the next few weekends. You should think about giving back to the community, Cliff.”
“Oh, I do,” he says. “I keep small business alive in Palm Springs. Wouldn’t be a bar afloat without my support.”
Cliff roars, setting off his chattering teeth.
I call Cliff “The Unicorn” because he was actually born and raised in Palm Springs. He didn’t migrate here like the older snowbirds to escape the cold, he didn’t snap up midcentury houses with cash like the Silicon Valley techies who realized this was a real estate gold mine, and he didn’t suddenly “discover” how hip Palm Springs was like the millennials who flocked here for the Coachella Music Festival and to catch a glimpse of Drake, Beyoncé or the Kardashians.
No, Cliff is old school. He was Palm Springs when tumbleweed still blew right through downtown, when Bob Hope pumped gas next to you and when Frank Sinatra might take a seat beside you at the bar, order a martini and nobody acted like it was a big deal.
I admire Cliff because—
The set suddenly spins, and I have to grab the arm of a passing sound guy to steady myself. He looks at me, and I let go.
—he didn’t run away from where he grew up.
“How about you, sunshine?” Cliff asks me. “Wanna grab a drink?”
“I’m gonna pass tonight, Cliff. I’m wiped from this week. Rain check?”
“Never rains in the desert, sunshine,” Cliff jokes. “You oughta know that.”
He stops and looks at me. “What would Frank Sinatra do?”
I laugh. I adore Cliff’s corniness.
“You’re not Frank Sinatra,” Eva calls.
“My martini awaits with or without you.” Cliff salutes, as if he’s Bob Hope on a USO tour, and begins to walk out of the studio.
“Ratings come in this weekend!” a voice yells. “That’s when we party.”
We all turn. Our producer, Ronan, is standing in the middle of the studio. Ronan is all of thirty. He’s dressed in flip-flops, board shorts and a T-shirt that says, SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT! like he just returned from Coachella. Oh, and he’s wearing sunglasses. At night. In a studio that’s gone dim. Ronan is the grandson of the man who owns our network, DSRT. Jack Clark of ClarkStar pretty much owns every network across the US these days. He put his grandson in charge because Ro-Ro’s father bought an NFL franchise, and he’s too obsessed with his new fancy toy to pay attention to his old fancy toy. Before DSRT, Ronan was a surfer living in Hawaii who found it hard to believe there wasn’t an ocean in the middle of the California desert.
He showed up to our very first official news meeting wearing a tank top with an arrow pointing straight up that read, This Dude’s the CEO!
“You can call me Ro-Ro,” he’d announced upon introduction.
“No,” Cliff said. “I can’t.”
Ronan had turned his bleary gaze upon me and said, “Yo. Weather’s, like, not really my thing. You can just, like, look outside and see what’s going on. And it’s, like, on my phone. Just so we’re clear…get it? Like the weather.”
My heart nearly stopped. “People need to know how to plan their days, sir,” I protested. “Weather is a vital part of all our lives. It’s daily news. And, what I study and disseminate can save lives.”
“Ratings party if we’re still number one!” Ronan yells, knocking me from my thoughts.
I look at Eva, and she rolls her eyes. She sidles up next to me and whispers, “You know all the jokes about millennials? He’s the punchline for all of them.”
I stifle a laugh.
We walk each other to the parking lot.
“See you Monday,” I say.
“Are we still wearing our matching Santa hats for the parade next Saturday?”
I laugh and nod. “We’re his best elves,” I say.
“You mean his sexiest news elves,” she says. She winks and waves, and I watch her shiny SUV pull away. I look at my car and get inside with a smile. Palm Springs locals are fixated on their cars. Not the make or the color, but the cleanliness. Since there is so little rain in Palm Springs, locals keep their cars washed and polished constantly. It’s like a competition.
I pull onto Dinah Shore Drive and head toward home.
Palm Springs is dark. There is a light ordinance in the city that limits the number of streetlights. In a city this beautiful, it would be a crime to have tall posts obstructing the view of the mountains or bright light overpowering the brightness of the stars.
I decide to cut through downtown Palm Springs to check out the Friday night action. I drive along Palm Canyon Drive, the main strip in town. The restaurants are packed. People sit outside in shorts—in December!—enjoying a glass of wine. Music blasts from bars. Palm Springs is alive, the town teeming with life even near midnight.
I stop at a red light, and a bachelorette party in sashes and tiaras pulls up next to me peddling a party bike. It’s like a self-propelled trolley with seats and pedals, but you can drink—a lot—on it. I call these party trolleys “Woo-Hoo Bikes” because…
I honk and wave.
The bachelorette party shrieks, holds up their glasses and yells, “WOO-HOO!”
The light changes, and I take off, knowing these ladies will likely find themselves in a load of trouble in about an hour, probably at a tiki bar where the drinks are as deadly as the skulls on the glasses.
I continue north on Palm Canyon—heading past Copley’s Restaurant, which once was Cary Grant’s guesthouse in the 1940s, and a plethora of design and vintage home furnishings stores. I stop at another light and glance over as an absolutely filthy SUV, which looks like it just ended a mud run, pulls up next to me. The front window is caked in gray-white sludge and the doors are encrusted in crud. An older man is hunched over the steering wheel, wearing a winter coat, and I can see the woman seated next to him pointing at the navigation on the dashboard. I know immediately they are not only trying to find their Airbnb on one of the impossible-to-locate side streets in Palm Springs, but also that they are from somewhere wintry, somewhere cold, somewhere the sun doesn’t shine again until May.
Which state? I wonder, as the light changes, and the car pulls ahead of me.
“Bingo!” I yell in my car. “Michigan license plates!”
We all run from Michigan in the winter.
I look back at the road in front of me, and it’s suddenly blurry. A car honks, scaring the wits out of me, and I shake my head clear, wave an apology and head home.
Excerpted from The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman. Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
It’s hard for me to pass up an opportunity to read a book about my home state of Michigan. Especially with the intriguing title such as this one has. This story was not what I had thought it would be and not what I was hoping for. The setting, the premise, and the secondary characters are all wonderful. My problems, for the most part, were with the main character. But I can’t lay all of the blame at Sonny’s feet.
This story starts out strong enough. Sonny is pushed aside in her career and has a bit of a meltdown…on the air. She decides (along with her agent) that it would be best for her to leave Palm Springs, where she’s lived most of her adult life, and return to Northern Michigan, where she grew up, to pick up the pieces and rebuild her career. Okay, I can get on board with all of this. I can even have sympathy for Sonny and her reasons for not returning to her hometown very often. There is a tragedy in her family that happened when Sonny was in high school that she blames herself for, it’s painful and uncomfortable for her to be in her childhood home and town. But Sonny is not a very sympathetic character.
I’m sure, for the most part, that is by design. Yet I feel the character is tipped beyond the point that is necessary. Her outright disdain for Michigan, winter, snow, and ice is very off putting. At one point Mason, a big bright spot in this book, says to her, “Stop stereotyping us. Maybe we’ll stop stereotyping you. Have you considered that maybe we’re just good people up here who love all four seasons just like Californians love the sun?” While that does make her reflect a bit, it still doesn’t put a stop to her selfish behavior or her attempt to get out of anything to do with winter…in Michigan in the middle of the winter.
Like I said, Mason was a bright spot. So was Sonny’s mom and a couple of people at the news station. They grounded this story in a way that it really needed. In fact, a letter Mason writes to Sonny is so touching and caring I can’t regret the time I put into reading this book. It was frustrating that the story was good enough that I wanted to see it through, but I kept running into problems with it keeping me engaged or even liking the main character. I was more invested in those secondary characters.
Being as I love Michigan, I thought I’d love a story about Michigan with plenty of descriptions. But I was wrong. At times, the author over described things. And, worse, had the characters over explain things. I mean, even if you’re not from a snowy stated, I think most people know how to build a snowman. We didn’t need Sonny’s narrative.
Again, there was something that held me to this story since I didn’t leave it unfinished even while frustrated. I just want a reader to be prepared that this is NOT a holiday book, as Sonny doesn’t even go back to Michigan until after the holidays. And it’s wordy when it doesn’t have to be.
**I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and given freely**
Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.
Connect with Viola Shipman
Author Website – Facebook – Instagram – Twitter – Goodreads
Buy The Secret of Snow
BookShop – Harlequin – Barnes & Noble – Amazon
Books-a-Million – Powell’s