Some girls live on cigarettes, booze, heartbreak and petty disasters, until fate turns their lifetime of humiliation into a fairy tale ending. At least, that's how it is for a certain brand of English anti-heroine, made popular by chick-lit star Bridget Jones. Now, there's the charming and sometimes exasperating Grace Armiger in Wendy Holden's latest novel, Gossip Hound. In this outing, Holden (Farm Fatale, Simply Divine, Bad Heir Day) skewers the British book publishing biz, lining up London tabloid journalism in her sights as well.

Grace, daughter of aristocratic career diplomats, is ensconced in the PR department at Hatto ∧ Hatto, a rarified London literary publisher. Her days are filled with the dubious challenge of rousing interest from absolutely anyone in her obscure, eccentric authors. She stumbles through publicity plans for these would-bes and has-beens, even stooping to a booze-fueled pity shag with Henry, an attractive adventurer and author of a worthy memoir that tanks despite her best efforts. Grace feels as chewed up as Hatto, the only publishing house proud to be without a bestseller ever and going down the toilet with elitist Žlan.

Equally damaging to personal growth is Grace's grubby, leftist boyfriend who drags her to "bucket rattlings" and rants about Grace's "exploitation" of her well-paid Eastern European maid Maria. Meanwhile, vicious and gorgeous Belinda Black, hack London columnist with a heart of coal, will stop at nothing to steal a fellow journalist's celebrity profiles job. After putting her rival in the hospital and pissing off the paper with libelous lies about an A-list British starlet, Belinda decides the hot American actor Red Campion is her next worthy target. And if he won't say yes, she'll stalk him.

As these two sink to all-time professional lows Grace with touching ineptitude and Belinda with the focus of a Scud missile it's clear their paths will cross with a vengeance. But before the shoe drops, Grace meets an American multimedia mogul who becomes, along with deus ex machina Maria, a central figure in the revival of her shaky career and love life.

The plot takes a while to warm up, but eventually pays off, especially when taking on London media pretensions and the heart-stopping confusions of romance. Gossip Hound is a softly satirical story that rolls along on the strength of appealing characters and wry humor, rather than one-liners.

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