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Sophie is a freshly divorced party planner who is currently planning a family Thanksgiving and taking part in a turkey stuffing competition.

Within the first pages of this book  you are introduced to Natasha, a glamorous, perfect, Martha Stewart type and Sophie’s nemesis since her school days.  It seems that her family are completely enchanted with Natasha, her column and TV show – which only seems to give the most impractical of advice for Thanksgiving, guaranteed to make any regular woman feel like a failure.  Oh, and she has also set up house with Sophie’s ex-husband, Mars.

On her way to the supermarket, Sophie is approached by a man with a kitten asking if she would like to have it.  Sophie says no, but while shopping decides to accept the kitten if he is still there.  She is also approached by Dean Coswell, the editor of a newspaper who is frustrated with the Natasha insanity (his wife injured herself trying to make Natasha’s Thanksgiving decorations), and asks if  Sophie would write a column as the voice of reason – an anti-Natasha.  Hooray

When she reaches her car, she finds the kitten as well as the body of the man .  As the person who found the body, the police are suspicious of her especially as she is covered in residual blood (from the kitten? bin?) and the dead man had a picture of her in his car.  After taking her statement, one of the policemen, Wolf, turns up at her house with her groceries and kitten food – he seems to have taken a shine to her and the kitten 🙂

At the stuffing contest, Simon, a judge who is obnoxiously rich presumes that Sophie would go on a date with him,  as he is a judge, Natasha is the first (and only person) to shriek about cheating, even though Sophie hadn’t agreed to the date.  When Simon is found dead, it is Natasha again who accuses Sophie of killing him.  Good grief, this woman bugs me, to top it all Sophie doesn’t do anything, she just benignly accepts Natasha and her antics.  “Oh, you’ve just accused me of cheating and murder… that’s nice”, also her family and friends do nothing either!  Gah.

In the run up to Thanksgiving, her house (which seems like the Tardis) fills up with her own family including her sister Hannah (who is almost as irritating as Natasha) and her insipid fiance Craig, as well as Mars’ relatives who  Natasha has pissed off and alienated.  This includes his Mum, June and his best friend Bernie.  After Natasha has a fire in her house (which she blames on June and consequently tries to convince Mars to put her in a residential care home), Sophie’s Mum and June invite Mars and Natasha to Thanksgiving in the hope to get Sophie and Mars back together.  There is so much talk about Southern hospitality, but surely there is Southern etiquette for being a good guest too?

During Thanksgiving lunch, which includes several neighbours and Wolf, a guest is poisoned and guess what, there are more accusations by Natasha which prompts Sophie into figuring out who the murderer is.

I am split about this book, I really like it, but there are some elements that truly bug me.  The main characters are all one-dimensional.  Natasha is as irritating as a flea bite on your ass and Sophie has saint-like patience that makes her seems like a doormat.  It is frequently commented that Natasha and Sophie are friends, but I see no friendship between them.  Really, would a friend be the first person to accuse you of cheating and murder?  With friends like those, who needs enemies! It’s not even a rivalry, just a woman who is so used to getting her own way that she just tramples over everyone.  I suppose the author has done a good job, because Natasha’s character makes  my blood boil, I just wish that I could see Sophie stand up to her.  Or if they are friends, show me why they are friends, not simply because they went to the same school.

On the positive side, at the start of every chapter is an excerpt of a column or TV programme by Natasha or Sophie.  It is not only interesting, but a clever way of setting the tone for the chapter and highlight the differences between Natasha and Sophie.

It is also a great mystery, there are so many twists and turns – and so many characters that it is hard to keep track of who is who which is a clever way of concealing who the murderer is.  I also liked the characterisation of the animals and her next door neighbour Nina, who comes across as a real friend.

Of course I am going to read the next books, but not straight away – I can’t handle another Natasha filled novel, not just yet which is sad because in the end you want a reader to want to read your books, not read them while despising a character.

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I am a huge fan of Kate Collins and her Flower Shop Mystery books.  I love her characters, especially the heroine Abby Knight.  Abby owns a flower shop after leaving her law degree and like all the best characters she is full of light and shade.  She often finds herself in sticky situations because she wants to do the right thing – defend the defenceless and right wrongs – a true knight.  If you were ever in trouble, you’d want Abby fighting in your corner!

Of course things don’t often turn out how they should and she needs to have someone to rescue her.  This rescuer comes in the form of her hunky boyfriend, Marco.  A former Army Ranger who now owns the bar down from her flower shop, he loves the way that she always wants to do the right thing – even if it causes more than one headache for him!

The book starts out with Abby on one of her crusades, protesting against the cruel farming practices of Uniworld Food and managing to tick off big wigs at every turn.  She is exhibiting at a home and garden show where she is also collecting signatures for her petition.  The only problem is that Uniworld is sponsoring the event and soon security is called to escort her out.  unfortunately she has other problems in the form of her mother’s sweets that she was giving out as a promotion (her Mum has great ideas, but often ends up with not such a great product) which lead to a dramatic and hilarious show down that had me laughing out loud.

When she returns to the shop, a burning brick is thrown through the window and it turns out that it wasn’t just the security at the garden show that were ticked off with her.  Things escalated when her truly irritating cousin Jillian and her teenage niece were kidnapped.   This final kidnapping and the body linked to it was the final straw and Marco takes it upon himself to be a permanent body guard.  Unfortunately such close quarters makes her question whether or not they should marry.  Poor guy, he is really put through the ringer keeping an eye on Abby.  She is obviously feeling suffocated and it is her nature to rail against unnecessary rules, so she decides that the only way she can get back her freedom is to sort everything out and get to the bottom of the kidnapping, which means finding ways to escape Marco.

In true Kate Collins style, there are several intertwining plot lines.  One minute you think that you have an idea of what is going on, only for it to be turned on its head.  In the end, you never see the whole picture until Abby does – which also means you go along the same dead ends too.

As well as the scene in the home and garden show, my favourite part of the book (which also had me in floods of tears) was the final scene with Abby and her Dad.  You can see where she gets her strength from and it was a beautiful moment between father and daughter.  Throughout the series, you get the feeling that Abby’s tendency to search for the truth is as a result of her Dad’s accident (a former policeman, shot in the line of duty and  now in a wheelchair) and that she often mourns that with the accident he also lost the part of him that was the policeman.  This is proved wrong with the final showdown.  Even though he is in a wheelchair, her Dad still has a heart and head of a policeman, because of this I think that she has a growing realisation of who her Dad is.

I wish this book lasted a little longer, even though I tried to eek it out I still finished it within a day, but I am so excited about the next one.  There was  comment in passing about her Dad using crutches to get to Marco’s apartment which makes me wonder if he is getting ready to walk Abby down the aisle!  Of course the final page with the checklist was a brilliant way to end the book, with just enough romance to warm your heart.

Visit http://www.katecollinsbooks.com/ to see a plan of the flower shop and other snippets of information that aren’t in the book. Abby also has her own Facebook page too – I love these extras, with the internet it seems a fairly simple way of giving fans of the books a little added extra.

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