The Darling Dahlias Mysteries

Reading Group Guides: The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree (#1)

  1. The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree introduces the Dahlias, a garden club in Darling AL. There's Liz (the club's president), Ophelia (the vice president), and Verna (the treasurer)—each with her own background, interests, and conflicts. Do the characters come to life for you? How do their relationships further the plots of the book? Why do you think Susan Albert chose a garden club for her ensemble of characters in this new series?

  2. The first book in this series is set in the spring of 1930. As a reader, you probably already know that the stock market crashed in October 1929, and that the Great Depression is looming. How does your knowledge of what really happened and what lies ahead affect your reading of this book and your understanding of the characters and their situations? Why do you think Susan chose to set this series at such a bleak time? Do you think there's any connection between "then" and "now"?

  3. Darling, Alabama, is a rural Southern town, with very little "plantation glamour" and plenty of small-town realism, with scenes set in the town diner, the courthouse, the beauty parlor, and people's back yards. Why do you think Susan chose a Southern setting for the series? What is there about the South that might make it a more interesting setting than, say, the Midwest or the Northeast?

  4. In the book, several of the Dahlias drive over to nearby Monroeville, which is a real (nonfictional) Southern town and important contemporary tourist destination. What makes Monroeville famous? Do you think Susan's use of this real town is just a coincidence, or is there something more interesting going on here?

  5. Darling has several "gossip centers"—places where people go or things that people use to communicate. What are these? How are they used in the book? How are they useful in developing and unraveling the mystery?

  6. Susan likes to weave her stories with several plot threads—"braided plots," she sometimes calls these. How many plot threads do you see in this book? How are these related to the interests, personalities, and conflicts of the central characters?

  7. Historical mysteries are fun to read because of the details that relate to the period in which they are set. In this series, what are some of the 1930s' details that you enjoyed? Did they remind you of things you've seen or experienced in the past? How close (or how far away) do you feel from this period in American history? Why?

  8. Susan says "In the cozies I read, I'm sometimes annoyed when the central mystery feels artificial and contrived. In my own books, I always try to motivate, develop, and resolve the mystery as realistically as possible." Do you think she has succeeded in this book? Why or why not?

  9. There's a map on the website that you can print out and put into your book. Do you enjoy seeing maps of the towns you visit in fiction? Do you think that adds to your reading pleasure?

Your reading group might enjoy refreshments made from a recipe at the back of this book. The molasses cookies are especially good. Be sure and try them! Or you can check out the recipes on the series' website, here, where you'll find a correction to the peanut butter meringue pie recipe.