This article appeared in the August 2011 issue of NY Resident.
Happiness Key * Fortunate Harbor * Sunset Bridge
It was love at first sight. The beautiful palm fringed beach and the lounging ladies on the cover of Happiness Key by Emilie Richards caught my attention two summers ago. It was the first time I had heard of the author, who I later learned has written more than 60 novels ranging from romance to mystery to women’s fiction. She began writing with her fourth child on her lap in 1983. Her former career as a therapist helps her create realistic characters and explore social issues and relationships on a deeper level. I devoured the novel in one weekend and eagerly waited for the following summers for the sequels. This July, the last in the series, Sunset Bridge (Mira Books, 510 pgs, $14.95) with a tag line, “If you have friends, you have everything,” hit the stores just in time for beach weather.
Happiness Key is the first in the trilogy about the unlikely friendship between four completely different women who live on a barrier island called Happiness Key on Florida’s Gulf coast. When asked why she chose to write novels set in Florida, Richards said, “I grew up in Florida, but I never set a novel on the southern Gulf Coast, where I'm from. So it definitely seemed time, and frequent visits back home set those wheels in motion.”
When leading lady Tracy Deloche’s husband goes to prison for fraud, her only option after divorcing him was to give up her fancy life in LA and move into one of the five ramshackle cottages on the Key. Originally intended for development, the 25 acres of Happiness Key is the only property to her name and Tracy is presented with a chance to rebuild her life. Luckily, she is not without help from her neighbors. Janya Kapur, who leaves her family in India for an arranged marriage to a man she barely knows, is trying to adapt to a new culture. Alice Brooks, is dealing with her own issues when her son-in-law and granddaughter move in after her daughter goes missing. Then there is headstrong Wanda Grey, hoping to save her marriage and start a pie business. All four women are trying to mend from the heartbreaks, twists, and turns of life. But now, they have each other’s help.
Whether finding the family of a deceased neighbor named Herb Krause in Happiness Key or helping new tenants Dana and her daughter Lizzie who come with a deep secret in Fortunate Harbor, or supporting one another as each aspires towards her own happy ending in the face of an impending hurricane in Sunset Bridge, the four women confront difficult truths about their own lives and discover that life is truly better with good friends and of course, Wanda’s delicious pies.
In all three novels, environmentalism plays a key role. The land Tracy inherits from her ex-husband is fine property for development, but it is also ones of the sanctuaries in Florida. Thanks to Marsh Egan, a lawyer heading the non-profit Wild Florida, Tracy cuts a deal to protect Happiness Key from developers. Richards remembers, “A kayak trip along a mangrove trail on one of my visits renewed my interest in Florida's environmental issues, and I suspect Marsh and Wild Florida were born that day.” She continues, “ Just today I spent hours looking up specifics about rising sea levels, climate change, and it's inevitable effect on Florida's beaches and cities. Spreading the word isn't only important, but it's mandatory. The news is not good. Florida is unbelievably fragile on far too many levels–as is the rest of our planet.”
When Tracy begins to fall in love with macho nature loving Marsh, despite his penchant for all things outdoors and her desire for the finer aspects in life, one can’t help but root for their love to succeed. Tracy, after having been in a superficial marriage learns to love again. Marsh, who has also been married with a kid, begins to trust Tracy to be there for him and his son. In Richards’ novels, relationships of all kinds- Wanda’s with her daughter, Janya with her arranged husband, or Alice with her granddaughter - touch upon subjects such as partnership, aging, motherhood and marriage.
With romance and suspense in equal doses, vivid descriptions, well-developed relatable characters and engrossing interwoven storylines, Richards’ Happiness Key novels are perfect for reading on summer days. They are all the more better with a sweet slice of lemon meringue pie.
Richards, who currently lives in Virginia, enjoys visiting New York.
Richards’ parents were born in the city (Bronx and Brooklyn). She recently discovered that her great-grandmother, an Irish immigrant, ran a boarding house in Auburn in the 1800s. So she will be making more visits in the near future. Let’s hope she uses the trips for her next series.
For more information, please visit www.EmilieRichards.com.