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April 28, 2003 12:00 PM

By Jane Heller

Just as 34-year-old actress Stacey Reiser—the heroine of Heller’s 10th novel—is on the verge of success, she finds herself starring in a real-life comedy of errors. Jack Rawlins, a movie critic with the power to “literally torpedo a budding career” (trust us, no critic is that powerful), declares her performance in the latest comedy to have “the subtlety of a sledgehammer.” Worse, her nagging mother, Helen, joins her in L.A.—and finds a bone in a can of tuna fish. That incident leads, through an unpredictable chain of events, to Helen landing a gig as a pitchwoman for Fin’s tuna. Faster than you can say Freaky Friday, Mom is a phenom and her daughter a pesky worrywart.

Heller often writes with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: Helen is so obnoxious that her daughter’s refusal to tell her off becomes infuriating. (How many women would tolerate a mom who barges in during a date, scaring off a promising guy?) But the plot of Lucky Stars is wildly inventive—from that tuna business to Stacey’s extravagant attempts to investigate her mother’s fishy new boyfriend. Heller’s prose is quite funny and always engaging. In the end, Stars shines. (St. Martin’s, $25.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Lucky charms

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