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Tides of the Heart by Jean Stone
(Bantam, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-553-57786-7
***
Reading this book is like working a jumbo jigsaw puzzle. You know the type tons of pieces that interlock to form a big, pretty picture when you finish. There are not quite that many characters in this book, but I'm sure you have the idea.

In 1968, Jess entered Larchwood Hall, a home for unwed mothers. Forced there by her very wealthy father and deserted by Richard, the father of her child, Jess joined the others waiting to give birth and place their child for adoption. The others included brassy, flashy Ginny and their more stable friend, P.J.

Fast forward to the time when Jess decides they should all find their natural children. Spearheading the effort, Jess first unites P.J. and her son Phillip a budding corporate attorney. Ginny is living on the West Coast with her older husband Jake and her evil stepson Brad when she discovers her long lost daughter is a Hollywood star. Jess herself does not fare as well because she discovers her daughter, Amy, had been killed in a car accident when she was 14.

Jess is now divorced with one son who sides with his stuffy father Charles; her daughter Maura, away at college, and younger son Travis are her emotional supports. Jess, although independently wealthy, runs "Designs by Jessica," a drapery business and moves in and out of Connecticut high society.

Jess' life starts unraveling when she receives a note claiming to be from the daughter she knows to be dead. Although her daughter Maura doesn't want her to pursue it any more, she starts a search for the truth. Along the way, she enlists Phillip the lawyer's help. Phillip, of course, learns that the infants were switched at birth. Jess' friend Ginny's husband has just died and her family becomes embroiled in the adventure as well.

The plot is intricate with plenty of unexpected twist and turns. We have a fair idea of each character and what their agenda is, but there is little space left in the book for the actual developing of the many relationships. This of course has the effect of reducing the maturation of any romantic tension to zero.

But if you're a fan of women's fiction and intricate puzzles, and you don't mind occasionally using a scorecard to keep track of the characters, then you may find Tides of the Heart a pleasant afternoon's read.

--Thea Davis


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