There’s hardly anything unlikable about Grace Stanton. She has a cheerful, easygoing disposition, and is petite and attractive, but with every year needs more maintenance. She has managed to parlay a hobby blog into a full-time career that is on the verge of paying off big time, and still visits her widowed mother who owns a local bar called the Sandbox, which sits below the small apartment in which Grace grew up. After living in south Florida for several years, she and her advertising executive husband, Ben, chose to return to her hometown on Florida’s Gulf Coast as her lifestyle blog, GraceNotes, literally went viral, resulting in guest spots on “Ellen” and “Today,” site sponsors (ie. ad revenue!), and now a potential TV show based on her good taste, eye for detail and knack for showing others how to put a final (and oh-so-good-looking!) polish on their life. Grace is a talented up-and-comer on whom a lot of eyes are focused.
There is one thing not to like about Grace: her husband, Ben. As LADIES’ NIGHT begins, Grace awakens late one evening to an empty bed. Ben’s cell phone and keys are on the night stand, so he can’t be far. She explores their relatively new, 6,000-square-foot home (with lots of perks and freebies provided by blog sponsors) but can’t find him anywhere. Moving outside to the pool area, she sees no lights on in the apartment above the garage where her assistant, J’Aimee, resides. There is no sign of life anywhere --- until she opens the garage door and freezes two human cockroaches in their tracks: Ben and J’Aimee in flagrante delicto in the front seat of Ben’s $175,000 Audi convertible, a car he bought without consulting Grace after signing the pilot deal with HGTV. (Ben left his career in advertising to manage GraceNotes full time and always has his eye open for the opportunity to sell out.)
Naturally, this doesn’t go over well with Grace, who, maybe without her usual aplomb but with a definite flair, manages to get into the driver seat of the car, back it out of the garage, and drive it straight into the pool. Attracted by the noise of the disturbance, neighbors have appeared in windows and backyards, and, naturally, the police have been called. The young officer who responds is a GraceNotes fan, so he treats Grace with tender understanding. She takes his advice to remove herself from the situation and heads to her mother’s to lick her wounds. The next morning, she is appalled to see local NBC anchor Camryn Nobles reporting live from Gulf Vista, the gated community where she and Ben reside. A replay of the 911 tape is broadcast along with footage of the car in the pool.
What happens next to Grace is very difficult to watch, er, read. Over the next three days, she discovers that all of her bank account PIN numbers have been changed, her credit cards canceled and gym membership terminated. When she drives home in an attempt to get fresh clothing, she finds that she is barred from the community and several attempts to get past the security gate fail miserably. The ultimate blow is when she tries to log on to GraceNotes and her password no longer works. Grace is effectively and completely locked out of the burgeoning empire she built. In order to fight back, she calls the best divorce lawyer in town, a man she went to high school with and even dated once. But guess who has already retained him? That’s right: Ben.
"True to her track record, Mary Kay Andrews has another great summer hit on her hands. Readers will become so emotionally vested that they are likely to finish it in one sitting, preferably on a beach!"
The injustices keep piling up. With no access to her clothes, Grace is forced to resort to thrift shop togs. With no cash, she turns to helping out her mother in the bar in exchange for room and board. Her attempts to start a new blog, TrueGrace, are foiled at every turn by Ben and J’Aimee, who either figure out how to change the password or post pornography links on it. They besmirch her reputation in the industry with potential advertisers, and when she finally manages to block them from TrueGrace, they steal every idea and post she uploads. When her court date finally rolls around, she learns she will be going before a renowned “woman hating” judge, Cedric N. Stackpole, a pompous ass who married into a Florida fortune and wields his anything but impartial gavel any way he wants. He most definitely doesn’t care for women who take revenge on cheating husbands, like Grace did. He practices no reason or logic in the courtroom and lays the burden of the incident at Grace’s feet, refusing to even hear the groundwork for a divorce settlement that would enable her to start over until she attends and finishes a six-week session of “divorce therapy.”
When Grace begins her “divorce recovery group,” she meets other women and they quickly discern their commonalities. They have all reacted badly to philandering husbands; can hardly afford the $300-$900 per session Dr. Paula Talbott-Sinclair is charging them; and have all been sent to her by Judge Stackpole. Shortly before the good doctor passes out from who knows what, they meet Wyatt Keeler, the lone man in the group who has also been “sentenced” by Stackpole after a public fight with his white-trash estranged wife over the custody of their young son. Leaving Talbott-Sinclair snoring on her couch, the group retires to the Sandbox where the real therapy begins over margaritas.
The women, and Wyatt, continue these after-session sessions --- with Rochelle, Grace’s mom, playing the unofficial role of therapist --- over the course of the next few weeks. Camryn Nobles, the NBC anchor who covered Grace’s incident, is part of the group. With a nose for news, she unearths the fact that Talbott-Sinclair isn’t even licensed to practice in Florida and has fled here from the Pacific Northwest after a prescription pill problem halted a flourishing pop-psych career. And why does the Judge only refer people to her? The group all tries valiantly to move on, with constant encouragement from each other, and Grace is no exception.
Finally, just when this reader could take no more anxiety on behalf of these characters, the clouds over Grace’s head finally start to part. On an early morning jog, she has discovered a run-down Florida “cracker” house with potential. After a brief conversation with the landlord, she decides to take on its renovation as her first project for TrueGrace. She throws herself into the process, spending all of her time there stripping floors, sanding cabinets, picking paint colors, and nursing back to health the stray dog left behind by the last renters. She also begins a flirtatious friendship with Wyatt, who not only has an impending custody battle on his plate, but lives with his aging father and is trying to revive the botanical garden/nature park that has been in the family for decades. But who wants bicycle-riding parrots when putt-putt and jet skis beckon?
True to her track record, Mary Kay Andrews has another great summer hit on her hands. Readers will become so emotionally vested that they are likely to finish it in one sitting, preferably on a beach! It also seems to have all the key components of a rom-com screenplay. Could this finally be the MKA book that translates well to the big screen? This reviewer can definitely see it playing out there with great success and forecasts that same success for LADIES’ NIGHT, a rollercoaster ride that hits on ALL counts with an interesting and current storyline, inventive plot and genuine characters. This is truly a book you don’t just read, you feel it. Now pass the margaritas!
Reviewed by Jamie Layton on June 7, 2013