Don't dare lump this novel in with the fizzy batch of Sex and the City knockoffs. Yes, it's a compulsive beach read, but the women are smart, brassy, and messy enough to make you pause mid-sunscreen slathering. Chronicling the lives of six twentysomething Latina friends, the tale has its share of scandalous bits: One has an abusive husband; another is outed as a lesbian in the gossip columns; another has an affair with a drug-dealing homeboy. But it's the candid, unmistakably Latina perspective that sets it apart. Says journalist protagonist Lauren: ''[My editors] expect me to reach up and pick mangoes out of the fruit basket I must wear on my head whenever I'm not in the newsroom talking about, you know, Mexican jumping beans.'' Charlotte would never be so cranky.