What could be a better setting for romance than a house renovation?
Ah, I hear the bitter laughter of all of you who’ve been through a reno with a significant other (or ex-significant other). But in Mary Kay Andrews’ new beach book, The Homewreckers, rehabber Hattie Kavanaugh’s affection for reviving crumbling houses leads not just to love but to a starring role on a TV show — not to mention clues about a 17-year-old mystery. So what’s a little dumpster fire along the way?
Mary Kay Andrews is the nom de plume of Kathy Hogan Trocheck, who was born in Tampa and raised in St. Petersburg. After a career as a journalist, mostly in Atlanta, Andrews turned to writing novels and soon found her way to the bestseller lists with what she calls beach books, which feature engaging characters, breezy humor and a mix of mystery and romance — often literally set at the beach.
Andrews’ last few books have had Florida settings, but this one is set in Savannah and Tybee Island, Ga., also familiar turf for the author.
Savannah, with its wealth of handsome older homes, is a perfect workplace for Hattie, who loves nothing better than renovating them. As the book begins, she’s flat on her back in the crawl space under a “157-year-old magnificent wreck” that she’s sunk way too much money into.
Her inspection of the corroding cast-iron pipes is interrupted when a man falls through the rotten kitchen floor and lands on her.
The man is Mo Lopez, who produces a reality TV series for HPTV (Home Place Television Network). He’s in Savannah hunting for a new series idea after his most recent show, Killer Garage, tanked. When he sees a three-story Queen Anne Victorian surrounded by scaffolding, he walks through an open door for a closer look — and crashes through the floor.
Despite Hattie’s aggravated response, Mo immediately proposes a show idea, starring her: Saving Savannah, a reality series in which she rehabs old houses for the camera — and makes her fortune.
Hattie throws him off her job site, but it’s not long before she loses the Victorian, and all the money she’d invested in it, plus money from her beloved in-laws. Although she’s only 33, Hattie’s a widow. After her husband, Hank, died in a motorcycle accident, she became even closer to his parents, and she works for father-in-law Tug Kavanaugh’s contracting company.
She needs to recoup her losses fast, and soon she and Mo have a deal for the show. Scrambling for a new project, Hattie finds that a neglected beach house on Tybee Island’s desirable Back River is being sold for unpaid taxes. She scrapes up enough to buy it — money from the network won’t arrive until later — and gets to work.
The once-beautiful house had been handed down through generations of the Creedmores, an old Savannah family, but intrafamily feuds led to it being sold. Holland Creedmore Jr., known as Little Holl, whom Hattie knew back in high school, is furious and doesn’t hesitate to threaten her when she refuses to sell it to him.
Mo, meanwhile, is wrestling with his boss at the network over the show. Rebecca wants to change the title to The Homewreckers, and she wants a co-host, an HPTV star named Trae Bartholomew. “Picture this,” Rebecca tells Mo, “We’ve got your girl Hattie. She’s cute as a button and wholesome as southern-fried freckles. And then we bring in this gorgeous L.A. designer. He’s a blond, big-city drink of water. ... Homewreckers is at the space where a dating show meets a flip show. Think mash-up of The Bachelorette and Flip or Flop. Get it?”
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Mo gets it, to his chagrin, since he’s crushing on Hattie. He’s also been around her enough to know she’s fiercely independent and focused on her work, and that Rebecca’s romance subplot could go way off the tracks.
But soon Trae, alternately obnoxious and charming, is on set, and they’re all working on an impossibly tight schedule to make the network’s fall season deadline. Then demolition work in a bathroom reveals something that had been shoved down through the old-fashioned razor blade slot into the wall: a wallet.
Hattie and her best friend and assistant, Cass Pelletier, recognize the ID in the wallet right away. It belongs to Lanier Ragan, who was their favorite teacher at St. Mary’s High School, the cool young teacher all the girls felt they could talk to.
While they were her students, Lanier Ragan disappeared from her family’s home one night, leaving her husband and 4-year-old daughter sleeping. She’s been missing without a trace since 2005.
Will the wallet solve the mystery of Lanier’s disappearance? Will the police presence on the job site hopelessly throw off the project schedule? Will Hattie figure out who seems to be sabotaging the renovation? And in the romantic triangle that forms among Hattie, Trae and Mo, who will get their heart broken?
No spoilers, but I can tell you you’ll have fun finding out.
If your mom loves beach books and/or home renovation TV, The Homewreckers might be a fine Mother’s Day gift. Put the cherry on top by taking Mom to meet Andrews and get a signed copy of the book at one of two events the author has coming up in the Tampa Bay area.
By Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin’s Press, 448 pages, $28.99
Meet the author
Tombolo Books presents Mary Kay Andrews in conversation with author Kristin Harmel (The Forest of Vanishing Stars) at 7 p.m. May 10 at Coastal Creative, 2201 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $28.99 for one copy of the book and one admission, $36 for one book and two admissions at tombolobooks.com/events.
Andrews will discuss and sign The Homewreckers at 6:30 p.m. May 11 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets $5 for admission only, or $30.16 for admission plus one signed copy of the book, at oxfordexchange.com/pages/calendar.