Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cozy Mystery Blog Tour: Author Guest Post, Review & Giveaway: The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star (The Darling Dahlias #4) by Susan Wittig Albert

National bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert returns to the small town of Darling, Alabama, in the 1930s—where the Darling Dahlias, the colorful ladies of a garden club, are anything but shrinking violets when it comes to rooting out criminals…

The Texas Star herself—Miss Lily Dare, the “fastest woman in the world”—is bringing her Dare Devils Flying Circus to Darling. Unfortunately, she’s also bringing a whole lot of trouble. As the Dahlias prepare for the annual Watermelon Festival—where they will present the famous female aviatrix with her own Texas Star hibiscus—rumors are flying.

Dahlias president Liz Lacy learns from newspaperman Charlie Dickens that Miss Dare has been threatened and her plane sabotaged. Apparently the bold and beautiful barnstormer has made plenty of enemies. And is it possible she may even be involved with the husband of one of Darling’s local ladies?

And speaking of wings, the new cook at Myra May’s Darling Diner can fry a chicken and whip up a sweet potato meringue pie like nobody’s business. But why is she keeping her past such a mystery?

As the Texas Star barnstorms into town, Liz and Verna Tidwell offer to help bring down a saboteur who may be propelled by revenge. Before it’s all over, there will be plenty of black eyes and dark secrets revealed…

Includes Southern-Style Depression-Era Recipes!

One of the pleasures of writing the Depression-era Dahlias series is learning what was going on back in the Thirties.  The Darling Dahlias are members of a garden club in Darling, Alabama, in the 1930s.  Each of the books in the series gives us another glimpse into the on-going life of a small Southern town.  In The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star, we get to see one of the biggest events that the little town has ever experienced: a visit by a barnstorming team of aviators, stuntfliers with their airplanes and a team of dare-devil wing-walkers.  

The decade of the Thirties is known as a time of huge economic collapse.  But it was also the "Golden Era" of flying, when aviators - both men and women - shared their passion with people all across the country, making a living (sometimes a scanty one) as performers and entertainers and offering to take people up for a thrilling airplane ride.  The barnstormers usually flew Curtiss JN-4 "Jennies," decommissioned after WWI and sold to flyers for as little as $200.  The Jennies were light aircraft that could be easily maintained and landed just about anywhere.  

The barnstormers were a traveling carnival, and their appearance in small towns was a momentous event, especially since many rural people had never seen an airplane up close.  The pilots and their stunt artists would show off their aerobatic skill and derring-do by performing death-defying stunts for crowds at county fairs.  The pilots flew barrel rolls, loops, wing overs and stall turns, while aerialists wing-walked, stunt parachuted, stood on their hands, switched planes in mid-air, and hung from trapezes (one man hung by his teeth!).  Even Lucky Lindy (Charles A. Lindberg) got in on the act, in the barnstorming years before he took his famous solo flight across the Atlantic.  He stood, hands free, on the upper wing of a biplane while the pilot flew through several loops.  The people on the ground couldn't see that his feet were strapped to the wing and he was held upright by wires.  To them, it looked as if he were flying upside down, as the plane flew its loops.  

But not all of these pilots and stuntspeople were men.  In 1915, Katherine Stinson became the first woman to perform a loop-the-loop and became a popular barnstormer, showing off her skills.  She would often fix roman candles to the wings of her Jenny when she went up for a performance.  And then there was Gladys Roy, a wing-walker who danced the Charleston on the top wing of a biplane, walked blindfolded from one wing tip to the other, and even played tennis with fellow stuntsman Ivan Unger, in flight.  But it was dangerous work.  In 1926, Roy told the Los Angeles Times, "Of late the crowds are beginning to tire of even my most difficult stunts and so I must necessarily invent new ones, that is, I want to hold my reputation as a dare-devil.  Eventually an accident will occur and then -" It did.  Just one year later, she was killed when she walked into an airplane propeller.  

This is the historical background against which the little town of Darling, Alabama, hosts the "world famous" Lily Dare and her Dare-devil Flying Team.  Lily Dare bills herself as "the fastest woman in the world" because she has recently won several major air races.  She has come to Darling to demonstrate her derring-do and to... 

Well, that's part of the mystery that our friends of the Dahlias garden club will have to solve.  It involves a bit of philandering, a scoop of blackmail, and some very dangerous sabotage - as well, of course, as Lily Dare's fabulous performance in the air.  

The decade of the 1930s is a fascinating time of national disaster and personal tragedies, collective fear and individual audacity, and - among the Darling Dahlias, anyway - a tremendous spirit of courage.  For me, Lily Dare and her Dare-devil Flying Team are a kind of metaphor for the period.  I hope you'll enjoy the adventure.  

Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the novel, A Wilder Rose, the true, untold story of the writing of the Little House books.

Her award-winning fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

She has written two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.

Her nonfiction titles include What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (winner of the 2009 Willa Award for Creative Nonfiction); With Courage and Common Sense; Writing from Life: Telling the Soul's Story; and Work of Her Own: A Woman's Guide to Success Off the Career Track.

This was such a fascinating story!  The Darling Dahlias series is one I've enjoyed from the start, and this addition to the story was just eye opening.  You can tell from the reading that the author took the time to research the era and the events that occurred during the 1930s.  Especially the airshow.  The time and detail she took to describe the event brought it to life right before your eyes, making you feel as though you were right there, witnessing it all first hand.  

And the characters are always so wonderful.  The author knows how to write deeply rooted, real characters that are just like people you'd meet on the street.  She also writes a great mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.  

I really like this series, and for anyone who loves a little history with your mystery, you'll enjoy it too!  

Rating: 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All conclusions reached are my own.  

Thanks to the awesome ladies at Penguin, I have 1 paperback copy of Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star by Susan Wittig Albert to give away to one of my lucky readers!  Just enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win, and be sure to keep checking back for more awesome giveaways!

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