"Ladies' Night," by Mary Kay Andrews. St. Martin's Press. 458 pages. $26.99
Grace Stanton has a successful business, a handsome and clever husband who runs it for her, and a million-dollar mansion in Florida. She is about to lose them all.
It begins when she finds her husband having sex with J'Aimee, her attractive young assistant. Furious at this betrayal, she drives his $175,000 Audi Spyder R8 convertible into their swimming pool and walks out. Her mother owns a bar called The Sandbox, and lives in an apartment above it, and Grace moves back home.
She promptly discovers that Ben had retaliated for her destruction of his prized car by stealing her business, locking her out of their home, freezing her bank account, canceling her credit cards and leaving her flat broke. She hires a lawyer and files for divorce, and her case is assigned to a judge known for his dislike of women, Cedric N. Stackpole Jr. Stackpole rules that she has to go to a divorce counselor named Paula Talbot-Sinclair before he will rule on her case. She has no choice.
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Also in her therapy group are three other young women, one of whom is the TV reporter, Camryn Nobles, who first put the story of her dramatic break-up on the evening news. More significantly, for those who expect that these "beach read" novels will have a love story, there is a good-looking guy named Wyatt Keeler who operates a run-down animal attraction known as Jungle Jerry's. All of them have been betrayed by their spouses, have been assigned Judge Stackpole to handle their case, and been ordered by Stackpole to have six sessions (at $300 a pop) with Talbot-Sinclair before he will grant their divorce. Despite Wyatt's involvement, they refer to their sessions as "ladies' night."
Grace does the writing and photography for a blog known as Gracenotes, which features her decorating and cooking skills and is making carloads of money. Suddenly she finds that her husband and former assistant have hijacked her blog and are spreading scurrilous stories about her. All of her former clients have turned against her, and she seems to have hit rock bottom.
But there would be no story if she simply gave up. She launches a counter attack with a new blog (TrueGrace), takes on an exciting new decorating project, and finds herself -- despite her betrayal by one man -- attracted to another. All is going well until the house she is renovating is trashed by vandals and set afire. At the same time, her new boyfriend's estranged wife breaks up with her new lover and begins a massive campaign to get her husband back.
As one would expect, there are enough complications to fill up more than 450 pages of this somewhat padded novel. One of the ladies is an alcoholic who almost kills Grace in her drunken attempt to wipe out her husband's lover. The therapist turns out to have a somewhat shady past and an improper relationship with the judge, and the TV reporter risks all of their futures in her efforts to pull off a major expose. Grace has some steamy sex with Wyatt in between break-ups, she has conflicts with her mother and some of the other group members, but it all turns out well in the end.
There are a number of writers who can be counted on for books like this, usually published during the summer and most of them by women with three names and varying talents. Andrews, whose nine novels include "Spring Fever," "Summer Rental," "Savannah Breeze" and "Hissy Fit," can be counted on for a capably written if somewhat predictable story. If you like this sort of thing, you'll like it.