Louisa Ermelino, . . Simon & Schuster, $23 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-2333-1

Veteran reporter and author Ermelino (The Black Madonna; Joey Dee Gets Wise) loves to spin tales of fiery, tough-talking women, and her newest novel is no exception: its three sibling protagonists, Helen, Mary and Gracie, can toss off a hard-boiled quip with the best of them. But their grandmother Anona, who raises the Italian-American trio in the heart of New York's heavily Irish Hell's Kitchen in the 1920s and '30s, outstrips all of them. The archetypal crusty, irreverent old woman with a heart of gold, Anona has some choice words for everyone, and they're seldom pleasant. The male sex often catches the brunt of the vituperation she ladles out; as far as Anona is concerned, men are like horses: "Get yourself a good one and hope he don't die too young." Male bashing actually appears to be the raison d'être for this novel, in which every character with an Adam's apple is either conniving, ineffectual or both. Its plot hinges upon the philandering ways of Gracie's handsome but good-for-nothing husband, Frankie Merelli, who never met a chorus girl he didn't like. Gracie lets callow Frankie run roughshod over their domestic life, but tough Mary and even tougher Helen aren't about to let an irresponsible cad get the better of their baby sister. Mary and Helen's solution to the Frankie problem is surprisingly cold-blooded, even though it's heavily foreshadowed from page one, but this is balanced nicely by Ermelino's breezy narrative style and boisterous dialogue. Agent, Elaine Markson. (June)

Forecast:Ermelino is a reporter at InStyle magazine, so she should get some glossy magazine buzz, but her storytelling style is more red-sauce than Gucci.