Picture this: Colorful cottages nestled on pristine white sand. Palm trees and bougainvillea. Bluffs rise above the beach, and at 5 o'clock every day, someone blows in a conch shell to mark the coming of happy hour. Welcome to Crescent Cove, California.
Focus your attention on Beach House No. 9, a beautiful place that veteran romance author Christie Ridgway invented for “two yearning hearts” to fall in love, as she tells me by phone from her home in Southern California. She lives about an hour south of the beachfront community that inspired fictional Crescent Cove, the idyllic setting introduced in an eBook novella, Beach House Beginnings.
Now, readers can journey from the slush and snow of winter to summertime in SoCal in a back-to-back trilogy: Beach House No. 9 (January 29), Bungalow Nights (February 26) and The Love Shack (March 26).
A lifelong Californian, the author believes that two people can fall in love anywhere, but she also thinks “some palm trees and some coconut-scented oil in the breeze might help things along a little.” That’s exactly what happens in the Beach House books, though the path to happily ever after is never easy.
Ridgway, who has written 40 novels and is BookPage’s own romance columnist, based her setting on the real-life Crystal Cove in Orange County, which was once a location for silent films and is now a state park. Her research trips sound like something out of a dream: lunch at a beachside restaurant, trips to avocado groves and gourd farms.
Reality check: It must be noted that the research trips weren’t always totally dream-like, since Ridgway was laid up with a broken leg from a fall for much of the writing of Bungalow Nights, and her “wonderful, loving, loyal” husband drove her around to see the settings for the trilogy while she was on crutches. Still, Ridgway is sunny about the less-than-ideal experience. “I couldn’t put any weight on my leg for three months. So I remember thinking to myself, this is kind of a bummer—but I could take myself away every day and go write about Crescent Cove, which I’m sure was very helpful.”
Ridgway is especially adept at writing the sort of snappy banter that showcases the confidence and brains of heroines.
In Beach House No. 9, the first full-length book in the trilogy, we meet Jane Pearson, a buttoned-up book doctor (with a weakness for shoes) who has been recruited to work with Griffin Lowell, a war journalist under contract to write a memoir about his harrowing experience in Afghanistan. Griffin is by all appearances a (handsome) wild man, turning Beach House No. 9, where he’s staying for the month of June, into Party Central. Jane can hardly get him to speak of his time embedded with American troops, let alone commit to putting his memories down on paper.
In spite of Griffin’s impenetrable façade—he’s either playing the tough guy or the partier, or closing up completely—it eventually becomes clear that he’s suffering from PTSD. Jane, patient and kind, seems to be the only person who can get him to face his demons and show his true personality. It doesn’t hurt that the two share an electric connection and just can’t keep their hands off each other. Parallel to this plotline is a tender and wrenching story about Griffin’s sister, Tess, and her husband, David, who have reached a bit of a stalemate in their marriage.
Though Ridgway’s books are packed with witty dialogue, sexy love scenes and a setting that will have readers fantasizing about margaritas and suntans, the stories are much more than easy, breezy reads. They pack an emotional punch, dealing with forgiveness in relationships, second chances and the trust we must have in the people we love.
“A lot of the situations in the Beach House trilogy are really about the differences between men and women, and how they yearn for the same things,” Ridgway says. “I’m fascinated by that because I feel like men are not naturally emotional, and yet they still put themselves out there. They want to be with these women that open their hearts.”
Ridgway knows this from personal experience. Beach House No. 9 is dedicated to her husband; her brother and her brother-in-law; and her two sons, 20 and 23. The dedication reads: “I’ve seen what’s underneath those all-guy exteriors—deep family bonds and strong yet tender hearts that are reflected by every hero in my stories.”
In addition to those guys, Ridgway turned to military men for inspiration, including her father-in-law, a retired Naval aviator. She also did a lot of reading on PTSD, coming to the conclusion that “all service people—the people who are carrying weapons, people who are journalists or doctors and nurses—everybody is affected by what they see and what they experience.”
The other books in the series focus on other couples from Griffin’s circle and the community of Crescent Cove—like the combat medic who stays in No. 9 in July and falls for the daughter of a fallen officer; or Griffin’s photojournalist twin brother, who has kept up an old-fashioned letter correspondence with the rental property manager of the beach houses.
Each of these relationships, though distinct, is marked by believable romantic chemistry—an authentic attraction that Ridgway conveys by describing “the great attention to detail that two people have for each other,” she says. Ridgway is especially adept at writing the sort of snappy (and sometimes silly) banter that showcases the confidence and brains of her heroines—like Jane, who is all business, until she just can’t resist Griffin’s charms.
Perhaps it was fate that a woman who was supposed to be born on Valentine’s Day (she was actually born on February 4), and who grew up reading love stories, would one day become a romance novelist. The way Ridgway talks, it seems like writing romance must be the best work in the world.
She almost squeals when I ask about her favorite part of the job. “I’m just such a lover of reading romance novels,” she gushes. “It’s so fun to create the kinds of books that have given me so much joy. I never tire of them.”