Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Naked Ladies

Summary: Rumors are sprouting in Depression-era Darling, Alabama. The town's newest visitors, Nona Jean Jamison and Miss Lake, may be the Naughty and Nice Sisters from the Ziegfeld Frolic, who specialize in dancing nearly naked.

The Dahlias suspect more than modesty when Nona denies her association. They'll have to dig through clues to get to the root of the mystery... -- Berkley Prime Crime

For quite a few years now, I've been a fan of the China Bayles mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. So when I heard that she had a new series that takes place in Alabama during the Depression era, I was immediately interested in checking out these books. Since I was a bit late to the game, I started with the second book THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE NAKED LADIES. Let me just tell you that I will definitely be going back and reading the first novel in the series THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE CUCUMBER TREE and I will be anxiously awaiting each new release in this charming series.

THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE NAKED LADIES features a terrific mix of ladies who have one thing in common -- they all belong to the garden club in their hometown of Darling, Alabama. Unfortunately for them (or fortunately for the reader), Darling happens to have its fair share of crime. In NAKED LADIES, the small town finds itself in a tizzy when two strange women come to take care of an aging lady. When one of the Dahlias recognizes the women as being naked dancers from the Ziegfeld Frolic, rumors start flying. It's up to the women of the Darling Dahlias to figure out the truth behind these women's secrets!

I just found THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE NAKED LADIES to be so much fun. While I would definitely classify this book as a cozy, it had a very different feel to it. First of all, the mysteries in this story weren't necessarily about a specific murder or group of murders. Rather the main mystery in the book was about the identity of these two women and why they were in Darling. There were also some great side stories that I really enjoyed -- one was another mystery of sorts from the past and the other had to do with a character's issues with her mother. I found myself reading this book in just two sittings and I thought it was just delightful!

Fans of China Bayles' mysteries will like that the Darling Dahlias books still have a great deal of references to plants and gardening. Since I have whatever-the-opposite of a green thumb is, I probably don't appreciate all of the flower references as much as some readers do; however, I did love all of the references to Southern food and cooking. In addition, I enjoyed reading the helpful house cleaning tips that the women came up with for a newspaper article. As an extra bonus, Ms. Albert included quite a few recipes and household tips in the back of the book!

One thing that really stood out to me about NAKED LADIES was the book's setting. While Darling is a fictional town in Alabama, Ms. Albert definitely brings it to life. I could picture Darling perfectly and I loved the cast of characters which seemed to fit this small town. I also appreciated how the author provided so many specifics about the 1930s. There were some wonderful details about the food, the fashion, the "technology", etc.; and I liked how showed how individuals were affected by the stock market crash. I absolutely loved the feel of this novel and I can't remember reading any other mysteries that took place during this time period!

There is an adorable website devoted to the series. It complements the books perfectly! There is a section for Southern Cookin' filled with loads of traditional southern recipes. In addition, there are sections with Historical Tidbits (coming soon), Maps, How-To Tips, and even a section where Elizabeth's Garden Gate columns are republished. Too cute -- just like the book!

I'm not sure THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE NAKED LADIES would be my first choice for a book club pick, but I do think many clubs would enjoy discussing it. I was able to locate a reading guide for the first book THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE CUCUMBER TREE so I'm assuming that there will be one available for NAKED LADIES on the series' website in the very near future. Some of the topics you might want to explore include the setting of the story, the Great Depression, friendships, gossip/rumors, secrets, and character development. Plus, the recipes in the back of the book would certainly provide some great ideas for a themed meeting!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Karlie said...

This series sounds adorable! I will have to check out the first one in the series!

Beth F said...

Oh I need to jump on the bandwagon and read this series from the start.

bermudaonion said...

This does sound like a great series. I love to read books set during that time period and I can relate to the Alabama setting. Having lived in Alabama twice, I can tell you that garden clubs are huge down there.

Beth Hoffman said...

I'd never heard of this series before today but you sold me on giving it a try. Terrific review, Julie!

Laura Fabiani said...

I've never heard of this series either but the book title is so intriguing and your review so good.

iwriteinbooks said...

This series is new to me but it looks like a great time. Looks like I need to find the beginning and start this thing! Thanks for sharing!

SuziQoregon said...

I'm glad to see you enjoyed this one. I love the China Bayles series (I've read through book 10 so far). When I read about this new series it really sounded fun. Now I know I need to get started on it. Thanks for convincing me!!