Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Wishing Bridge

The Wishing Bridge
  The Wishing Bridge
Author:  Viola Shipman
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2023. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1525812009 / 978-1525812002

Rating:   ★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "If there were one sound that defined my childhood, it would be the chiming of the glockenspiel."

Favorite Quote:  "It's about history ... We're all shaped by it. Most run from it. But it's still in there ... How you come to terms with it is what matters."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


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. The author's note lays out the themes for this book:
  • "I write winter and holiday novels that are 'ropes of hope' for those who need it most, a reminder that ... 'Life is short as one blink of God's eye, and in that blink, we too often forget what matters most.' Family. Friends. The holidays. Forgiveness, of ourselves and others."
  • "The Wishing Bridge is about the choices we make in life - some good, some bad - but realizing that if we have a strong foundation, it is never too late to cross that bridge in our lives to become the people we dreamed we could become."
These themes hold through the author's books. The books continue to be set in beautiful northern Michigan settings and continue to be about family and friendship. The stories continue to go in predictable directions, which is part of the expectation now.

This is a story about Christmas as much for the time of year as for its setting - Frankenmuth, Michigan. The most interesting thing I learn from this book is the existence of this very real town. It is noted as "little Bavaria" in Michigan and is home to the world's largest Christmas store, Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, which has been in existence since 1945.

This is also the story of a 52 year old woman, Henrietta "Henri" Wagner. She is portrayed as the daughter of the fictional version of Bronner's founder. The store is her father's dream, and she comes back to town to tear it down in the name of her career. In so many ways, this book reminds me of the move Up in the Air. The movie, starring George Clooney, is about a man whose job it is to fire people as companies are bought and sold. The book, like the movie, is about a reminder of what life is about. Let's just say, it's not about tearing down. That being said, it's a story that has been told before, and I wait to see if this telling brings in something new or unexpected. It does not.

What I have enjoyed about Viola Shipman's books is the characters having some dimensions and the relationships between the characters developing as the lesson of the book is learned. What I have also enjoyed is that the northern Michigan settings come to life and can be visualized. Unfortunately, for me, neither of these elements is completely successful in this book. 

It is difficult to describe why, but the thought that comes to mind is that the book, the characters, and the place remain two-dimensional. The depth and growth that comes even in other Viola Shipman books, does not come in this one. The image I am left with is a rushed crowd of people with all things Christmas, but not one that is identifiable or unique. The sweetness, warmth, and personal touch of the author's other books just seems missing in this one. I walk away from this one and anticipate the next, hoping it reverts back to the author's earlier work.

About the Book

Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri's boss makes it clear she'll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner's--their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store--to a massive, soulless corporation. It's the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.

Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner's offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She's running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career...or the most awkward family holiday of her life.

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.

Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels.

"A beautifully written story about second chances. Fans of women's fiction won't be able to put this down." --Publishers Weekly on The Secret of Snow

"Viola Shipman knows relationships. The Clover Girls will sometimes make you smile and other times cry, but like a true friendship, it is a novel you will forever savor and treasure." --Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author

"The perfect winter warmer!" --USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan on The Secret of Snow

About the Author

VIOLA SHIPMAN is the pen name for internationally bestselling LGBTQIA author Wade Rouse. Wade is the author of fifteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade writes under his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the working poor Ozarks seamstress whose sacrifices changed his family’s life and whose memory inspires his fiction. 

Wade’s books have been selected multiple times as Must-Reads by NBC’s Today Show, Michigan Notable Books of the Year and Indie Next Picks. He lives in Michigan and California, and hosts Wine & Words with Wade, A Literary Happy Hour, every Thursday.


Excerpted from The Wishing Bridge. Copyright © 2023 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House, an imprint of HarperCollins.

December 7

I hit the brakes, my car fishtailing on the slippery road. I come to a stop just inches from the car before me.

Ah, the hazards of winter in Michigan and Detroit drivers who think snow is a reason to hit the gas.

I cock my head and see an accident just a few cars in front of me. A man is out of his car, screaming into the window of the car he hit.

Merry Christmas!

I take a breath, sip my coffee—which miraculously didn’t spill—hit my blinker and wait to merge into the next lane.

That’s when I notice it: the abandoned house I drive by every day to work.

There are many abandoned homes in many forgotten neighborhoods in this proud city whose shoulders were slumped by the mortgage crisis, layoffs in the auto industry and never-ending

winters that used to be as brutal and mind-numbing as a Detroit Lions football season. Neighborhoods stand like ghost towns, and, in winter, they look even sadder, the grass dead, the green gone, broken glass shimmering in the sun before the snow arrives to cover their remains.

This particular home is a three-story redbrick beauty that looks like a castle. The windows are broken, the walls are collapsing and yet the wooden staircase—visible to the world— remains intact. I slow down just enough every day to admire the finials, worn and shining from the hands that have polished them over the years.

There is a line of shattered windows just above the ground, and as you pass by, you catch a glimmer of red in the basement. Coming the opposite way, you swear you can see a man smiling.

I stopped years ago to investigate. I parked, careful to avoid nails, and wound my way in high heels through the weeds to the broken window. I knelt and peeked into the basement.


A plastic molded Santa smiled at me. It was a vintage mold—like the one my grandparents centered in the middle of a wreath on their front door every year—of a cheery Santa with red cheeks, blue eyes, green gloves, holding a candy cane tied in a golden bow.

I scanned the basement. Boxes were still stacked everywhere.

Tubs were marked Christmas!

In the corner of the basement sat a sign overrun with cobwebs that read Santa’s Toy Shop!

December 1975

“They’re here! They’re here!”

My voice echoed through my grandparents’ house. I ran to the front door, grabbed the first catalog, which seemed to weigh nearly as much as I did, and tottered down the steep basement stairs. Back up I went to retrieve the next one from Mr. Haley, the postman, who looked exactly like Captain Kangaroo.

“Don’t move!” I said, disappearing and returning moments later.

Then back down the stairs I scrambled once again.

Mr. Haley laughed when I returned the final time, out of breath.

“Last one,” he said. “Oh, and a bunch of Christmas cards for your grandmother.”

I bent over, panting, as if I’d just done wind sprints on the track.

“Tired?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No! Think of what Santa carries! Not to mention what you carry every day!”

“You got me there,” he said. “Here’s the cards. I’ll see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas!”

I watched him trudge through the freshly fallen snow, just enough to dust the world in white. If there’s one thing we never had to worry about in our town of Frankenmuth, it was a white Christmas. My dad said it was one of the gifts of living in a Christmas wonderland.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Haley!” I yelled, my breath coming out in puffs.

I shut the door, tossed the cards on the telephone desk sitting in the foyer and hightailed it back down to the basement.

I looked at the catalogs where I’d set them on the shag carpet and ran around them in a happy circle doing a little jig.

I turned on the electric fireplace. It was so cool, fake brick, and it just faded into the Z-BRICK walls. The flames seemed

to dance, even though they weren’t real.

I went over to the card table where my grandparents played games—bridge, canasta, hearts—and I grabbed my marker from a cup.

The red one.

The one I used every year.

The one Santa would recognize.

I took a seat on the orange shag and arranged the catalogs in a semicircle around me: the Christmas catalogs from JCPenney and Monkey Wards, and my favorite, the Sears Wish Book.

The catalogs were heavy and thick, big as the Buick my grandpa drove. They were brand-new and all mine. I began to f lip through the crisp pages, turning quickly to the ones that showed all the toys, clothes and games I wanted for Christmas.

I was lost for hours in the pages, dreaming, hoping, wishing. “Yes, yes, yes!” I said, my marker in constant motion.

“Are you using a red marker so Santa will see?”

I looked up, and my dad was standing over me. He was tall, hair as fair as mine. He had just gotten off work. He was an accountant at a car dealership, and he never seemed happy when he got home from work.

Until he came down to my grandparents’ basement.

“Of course!” I said. “Finn gets green. I use red!”

“So what do you want Santa to bring you this year?”

I patted the carpet, and my dad took a seat next to me. I began showing him all the things I’d marked in the wish catalogs.

“I want this eight-room dollhouse, and, oh! this Shaun Cassidy phono with sing-along microphone and this battery-operated sewing machine! It’s the first ever like this!” I stopped,

took a deep breath and continued, “And this dress, and this Raggedy Ann doll, but—” I stopped again, flipping through pages as quickly as I could “—more than anything I want this

game called Simon. It’s computer controlled, Daddy! It’s like Simon Says, and you have to be really fast, and…”

“Slow down,” he said, rubbing my back. “And what about your brother?”

“What about him?”

“What does he want?”

“He’ll want all the stupid stuff boys like,” I said. “Stars Wars figurines, an erector set, a Nerf rocket and probably a drum set.”

My father winced at the last suggestion.

“Maybe a scooter instead,” my dad suggested. “What do you think?”

“Good idea, Daddy.” I placed my hands over my ears.

He laughed and stood up.

“Hey?” I asked. “What do you want for Christmas?”

My dad headed over to the workshop he had on the other side of the basement. We lived in a small ranch house on the other side of town that didn’t have a basement, much less any extra room. My grandparents let my father convert this space a few years ago so he could pursue a second career and his true passion: Christmas.

“You know what I want,” he said with a smile.

My dad picked up a sign and turned it my way. It was a handcarved wooden sign that read Frohe Weihnachten! Frankenmuth is a Bavarian town filled with all things German: a wooden bridge flowing over a charming river, a glockenspiel that—on the hour—played the Westminster chimes followed by an entire show complete with dancing figurines,

a cheese haus and competing chicken-and-noodle restaurants. I was named Henrietta, my father Jakob, my brother, Finn. Only my mother, Debbie, escaped the German name game with the

very American moniker.

“What’s this mean, Henri?” my dad asked.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“And what do I want?”

“Christmas all year long.”

“Exactly,” he said. “Just like you. Except as a grown-up.” He looked at his sign. “That’s my Christmas wish.”

For a long time, everyone thought this was just a hobby of my father’s, sort of like other dads tinkered on car engines, went fishing or coached baseball. For an even longer time, people thought my dad was nuts.

Why would a man spend all of his time creating Christmas signs in July, or designing ornaments in March?

They didn’t know my dad.

They didn’t how serious he was, that he often worked until three in the morning from October through December and countless weekends the rest of the year.

“You have a good job, Jakob,” friends would tell him. “Don’t ruin your life over some silly notion.”

But my mom and grandparents believed in him just as much as I believed in Santa.

I watched my father work. As he did, he began to whistle Christmas tunes.

The world was finally catching up with my father’s dream.

He was now creating window displays for two of the biggest stores in town: Shepherd Woolen Mill and Koch’s Country Store.

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