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Mistletoe Man (China Bayles Series #9)

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Overview

In this “intelligently plotted and deliciously descriptive tale” (Publishers Weekly), national bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert tells the story of a woman’s search for justice—and of her struggle to reconcile the demands of her business with the desires of her heart…

Former big-city lawyer China Bayles worked hard to make her Texas herb shop, Thyme and Seasons, a success. Now business is booming at her charming new tea room, Thyme for Tea—but China is too distracted to ...

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Mistletoe Man (China Bayles Series #9)

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Overview

In this “intelligently plotted and deliciously descriptive tale” (Publishers Weekly), national bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert tells the story of a woman’s search for justice—and of her struggle to reconcile the demands of her business with the desires of her heart…

Former big-city lawyer China Bayles worked hard to make her Texas herb shop, Thyme and Seasons, a success. Now business is booming at her charming new tea room, Thyme for Tea—but China is too distracted to revel in her latest entrepreneurial triumph. When she’s not trying to spend more time with her new husband and stepson, she’s worrying about her best friend, Ruby, who just hasn’t been herself lately. To further complicate matters, China has to round up a supply of mistletoe, the season’s most popular herb. It seems an easy enough task—until her chief supplier turns up dead…

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
Murder and Mayhem for China Bayles
It's Christmastime in Pecan Springs, Texas, but in Susan Wittig Albert's newest herbal mystery, Mistletoe Man, the holiday isn't bringing much cheer for former lawyer China Bayles or any of her neighbors. Quite a bit is amiss: For starters, Ruby Wilcox, China's best friend and business partner, is suddenly and unusually irritable and secretive. Also, the wreaths that the Fletcher sisters make on their farm are in low supply, and the sisters' truck is suddenly out of commission. And to top it off, China's store, Thyme for Tea, desperately needs more mistletoe for the holidays, and Carl Swenson, the loner who supplies it, is impossible to reach. All this is happening as China is getting used to running her store, as well as being a newlywed and stepmother.

When China stops by the Fletcher residence to pick up more wreaths, the sisters ask her for legal advice regarding their land. The deal they signed for this land is this: If the Fletchers are able to pay off the land within a certain amount of time, they get to keep it. But if they can't pay it off, the land's original owner, Carl Swenson, not only gets to keep the land but also all of the payments the Fletchers have made thus far.

All was going so well, the Fletchers explain: They were able to take Swenson's dry Texas land and successfully harvest their herb and flower crops. But suddenly, it appears that someone is trying to sabotage their success with acts of vandalism, such as putting sugar in the gas tank of their ailing truck. Although there's no proof, it seems clear to the Fletchers that there's only one person -- Carl Swenson -- who could possibly profit from their problems, and Terry Fletcher makes it clear she'll do anything in her power to protect her land.

But then, Carl Swenson is found dead.

Now China doesn't know who or what to believe. When she begins sleuthing, she discovers that Terry has a haunting secret; China also learns that Terry isn't the only one in Pecan Springs who can make that claim. Mistletoe Man is another winning cozy from the talented Albert, full of all the excitement, surprise, and interesting facts that the author has traditionally laced throughout her popular ongoing series.

--Jennifer Jarett

Toby Bromberg
There’s a down-home, neighborly feel to Mistletoe Mam that makes this an extremely pleasant read. Readers are going to find themselves as intrigued by the subplot about Ruby as they are with the mystery, and as a bonus, Ms. Albert gives us some fascinating facts about the history and use of mistletoe.
Romantic Times
Library Journal
The latest China Bayles (Chile Death) series addition finds the newly married herb- and teashop owner pressed for time. As if her businesses and family demands weren't enough, she becomes involved in solving the murder of her mistletoe supplier. A fine series. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Internet Book Watch
Four months have passed since the wedding that almost was not, but China Bayles and Mike McQuaid are settled into marital bliss. China is slowly overcoming her fears of marriage and commitment while still running her herb shop, Thyme and Seasons. She is also working on a new business venture with her partner Ruby Wilcox. They think that Thyme for Tea, an authentic tea shop in the heart of Texas is a sure winner. Meanwhile, Mike continues to heal from injuries suffered a year ago and is writing the definitive history of the Texas Rangers (law enforcement not baseball). For no apparent reason, Ruby turns ice cold towards China while two lizards belonging to Mike's son disappears down the drainpipe. Finally, someone runs over China's mistletoe supplier with the evidence pointing towards the family in a land dispute with the victim. China likes the alleged perpetrators, flower growers who provide her with Christmas wreaths. She drags Ruby with her and begins sleuthing, not yet aware that their initial findings make things worse for the flower growing family. One of the most endearing and personable amateur sleuths is China Bayles, a person that readers feel they know and like. In every novel in the series, best-selling author Susan Wittig Albert makes China and her support cast feels like neighbors. Mistletoe Man is a complete package that deals with new marriages, estranged friendships, and the maturity that one person cannot save the world but can make it a bit better for everyone. The personnel side enhances a fantastic mystery filled with curves that leave the reader guessing until the end, a trademark of Ms. Albert.
—Internet Book Watch
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425182017
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Series: China Bayles Series , #9
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 151,333
  • Product dimensions: 4.28 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she is the author of the China Bayles Mysteries, the Darling Dahlias Mysteries, and the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter. Some of her recent titles include Widow’s Tears, Cat’s Claw, The Darling Dahlias and the Confederate Rose, and The Tale of Castle Cottage. She and her husband, Bill, coauthor a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries under the name Robin Paige, which includes such titles as Death at Glamis Castle and Death at Whitechapel.

Biography

Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she now lives with her husband, Bill, in the country outside of Austin, Texas. In addition to the China Bayles mysteries, she writes the Victorian Mysteries series, along with her husband, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books, LTD.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview with Albert, she revealed some fun facts about herself:

"My first job was selling ladies' undies at Woolworth's for 35 cents an hour in Danville, Illinois."

I learned to garden from my mother, who thought that the most important thing you did every spring was to plant the potatoes. I learned to read from my father, who never planted a potato in his life. Somehow, I managed to create a life and make a living between these two extremes. Happily, I haven't had to go back to selling undies. Not yet, anyway."

"I love living in the country with Bill, two black Labs, and a black cat. I'd rather read a book or write one than do just about anything else in the world, except maybe for gardening and sitting in a bathtub full of hot, hot water and bubbles. Or knitting, spinning, weaving, dyeing -- I'm a fiber-arts fanatic."

"You can find out what I'm doing today (or what I did yesterday) by checking out my web log, at susanalbert.typepad.com/lifescapes (but there's no web cam, so don't look for me in the bathtub)."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Robin Paige
    1. Date of Birth:
      1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Danville, Illinois
    1. Education:
      Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One:

The first thing you notice when you step into Ruby's shop is the scent. She burns a different incense every day, and the fragrances mix and mingle in an indescribable aroma that clings to the books and other items even after you've taken them home, a lingering reminder of your visit to the Crystal Cave. She also plays a different kind of music every day-Native American one day, whale songs another. Today it was Celtic, and the haunting melancholy of harp and flute filled the scented air.

Ruby doesn't open until ten, and early morning is a good time to catch her doing her housekeeping: restocking bookshelves, straightening merchandise, dusting the crystals and wind chimes, bringing her account books up to date. Today, I found her at the back of the shop, near the curtained dressing-room alcove where she hangs the hand-painted tops, gauze skirts, scarves, and crazy hats that her customers love. She was dressed in one of her usual eye-catching outfits-a slim, shapely ankle-length black silk skirt and a loose, cowl-necked velveteen top, painted with galaxies of glittering stars-and was standing in front of the full-length mirror, admiring her reflection. Since Ruby is six feet tall in her sandals, there's a lot of reflection to admire, especially when she puts on high heels and frizzes her orangey-red hair, adding several more inches to her already Ruby-esque stature.

I stood and watched, unobserved, while she turned in front of the mirror, running her hands over her breasts and down her hips, smoothing the velvety fabric against her body. As I watched, she did it again, and then again, the gesture of a woman who takes a healthy pleasure in the shape and feel of her body. But there was nothing sensuous or sexy or even graceful about the way Ruby was touching herself. Her movements were jerky and nervous, and in the mirror her face wore an odd, lost look, vulnerable and apprehensive. It was unnerving to see Ruby when she wasn't charging around like a dynamo, fueled by her usual self-confidence and whiz-bang kinetic energy.

"Hi," I said tentatively.

Ruby gave a startled yelp and whirled around. "China! II didn't see you." Her voice was scratchy and she blinked rapidly.

"You were busy seeing yourself," I said. "That's a very nice outfit." I stepped closer and stroked her velveteen sleeve. "Touchable, too."

Ruby jerked away as if my fingers were hot.

I dropped my hand. "Sorry."

The bright red in her cheeks contrasted oddly with her gingery freckles. "I thought I could have a little privacy," she muttered testily. "I didn't expect somebody to just walk in on me."

Privacy? That was my issue, not hers. And I had never thought I was just an ordinary "somebody" in her life.

"Maybe I'd better back up and start again," I said, stung. "This time I'll knock." I took two steps backward, thinking that maybe we should go back even further, to the point before we became partners. If Ruby was going to be annoyed by a little thing like my coming into the shop unannounced-

"No, that's okay," Ruby said. She took a deep breath and pasted on an artificial smile. "So what did you want to ask me about, China?"

"Excuse me," I said. "I thought we had planned to get together this morning and talk about money. You know-the green stuff that pays the bills and keeps the tearoom going. We were going to make some projections."

Ruby's phony smile slipped, and I saw the lost, vulnerable look again. "Oh, right. Money." She straightened her shoulders, repaired her smile, and became suddenly businesslike. "Well, then, come on. Let's get to it.'

People may think Ruby is a flake, but one of the things I've learned since we became partners is that she has a hidden talent for organization. I followed her to her mini-office, which is tucked compactly behind a bookcase. She sat down at the small table she uses for a desk, and I perched on a stool, watching her. She took out the ledger and the checkbook and put them on the desk, and I saw to my surprise that her hands were trembling.

"Ruby," I said, "what's wrong?"

"Wrong?" She hesitated, then looked up at me, widening her eyes and offering that counterfeit smile. "Why does something have to be wrong? Can't a person take a good look at herself in the mirror without somebody giving her the third degree?"

"The third degree?" I gave a short laugh. "Is that what you think this is?" I worked as a criminal defense attorney before I moved to Pecan Springs, and I was pretty good at interrogating reluctant witnesses: The more disinclined they were to tell me what they knew, the more determined I was to get them to cough up their secrets-one way or another. Faced with the challenge of Ruby's denial, I could feel some of the old instincts kick in. Anyway, Laurel had encouraged me to find out what her problem was.

"Come on, Ruby," I coaxed. "I'm your partner, remember. And your friend. Something is gnawing at your insides and making you very upset. You know what you always tell me-if you don't let it out, it'll just grow bigger and bigger until it consumes you."

A look of something like fear crossed her face and she sucked in a deep breath as if I'd hit her. For a minute I thought she was going to fall apart; then she stiffened. "You have no right to cross-examine me," she snapped. "I'm not under oath. I don't have to bare my soul to you."

"I just hate to see you so disturbed about something you're not willing to share," I said truthfully. Ruby may be volatile, but she doesn't usually stew about things, or bury them deep inside her. When something's bothering her, she talks about it. And talks and talks and talks. I have never known her to keep a secret-especially her own-for more than about thirty seconds. Ruby's mouth tightened and her green eyes blazed. She banged her fist on her desk. "So now this is all my fault!"

"Of course not," I said, trying to defuse her anger. "It's nobody's fault. It's just-" I stopped. I didn't like the way this conversation was going. It might be better to walk away and come back to it later. But if we didn't confront the problem now, the eventual eruption might be even worse.

"It has something to do with us, doesn't it?" I said quietly. "You're upset with me because I don't spend enough time with you now that McQuaid and I are married. And you wish we hadn't gone into business together"

She hesitated, biting her lip. I leaned forward, hoping that she was deciding to be honest with me. Instead, she crossed her arms over her chest and said, "If it had anything to do with our partnership, I'd let you know, wouldn't I?"

"That's a non-denial denial," I said. I was no longer coaxing or cajoling, I was commanding. "Be straight, Ruby. Tell me what's going on."

She rubbed her arms as though she were trying to get her circulation going. "You don't have to be confrontational. That's no way for a friend to act."

"I'm not being confrontational. But there's no use trying to deny it or sweep it under the rug. Something is on your mind, and it's affecting the way you act. Why, even Laurel has noticed."

"Laurel?" Her voice rose. "What business does she have poking around in my affairs?"

"Forget Laurel," I said. "Directly or indirectly, this thing has to do with us. I need to know what's going on."

Ruby uncrossed her arms and took a deep breath, drawing herself up with great dignity. "Do you really want to know what's going on?" She didn't give me time to answer. "What's going on is that you're pissed off. You're mad at me because for once, I won't let you intrude into my private life." She balled her hand into a fist and thumped the ledger. "I'm telling you, China, back off!" And with that, she burst into hot, angry tears.

Instinctively, I reached forward to put my arms around her, but she turned away, shaking her head hard, rejecting me. The back of her neck where the hair curled looked fragile and vulnerable, and I longed to comfort her. But all I could do was sit there, stunned by the violence of her weeping, by her fierce dismissal. It was hard not to be angry with her for behaving so irrationally.

After a moment, though, I began to calm down. Although I had no idea what Ruby's problem was, I could certainly understand her insistence on keeping it to herself. After all, personal privacy has always been important to me, and I have my own ways of fending off assaults on my personal space, of defending myself when circumstances seem to close in around me and threaten my security, even my identity. Right now, I could only respect Ruby's way of dealing with whatever was bothering her. The best thing I could do was leave.

Still, if I had known what was eating away at Ruby-if I could have reached past her anger and her fear to the dark and secret thing that was hidden deep within her-I would have folded her in my arms and held her until there were no more tears. And then I would have held her even harder, and never let her go. Never, ever. For the thought of life without Ruby is well, unthinkable.

—From Mistletoe Man by Susan Wittig Albert, Copyright (c) October 2001, Berkley Pub Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., used by permission."

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 18, 2009

    Good addition to the China Bayles series

    I am a big China Bayles fan, so was glad to get this book. Love the herb and plant lore that Susan always puts into this series.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2003

    A Christmas China

    I have read all the books in this series, in order, and that's the way I would recommend the series to anyone. I really like China and her friends. They seem like good old friends to me now after nine books. This is a really good example of a 'cozy'. Most of Ms. Albert's books in the series have had a lot more murder and mayhem with people getting shot and killed everywhere. That makes this one quite enjoyable. China can concentrate on solving the mystery, and not trying to dodge killers. I liked this book, but just the same, it is predictable. An astute reader will be able to pick up on Ruby's problem right away and maybe on the murderer too. Still I recommend this series. The characters that people these books are so very real, and I love them all.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2003

    Who knew the Mistletoe Man?

    This was the first China Bayles mystery that I read, and I promptly went out and bought the previous books in the series. The characters, the relationships, the setting, the puzzling mystery are what makes up not only a good mystery but also a good story. I didn't know just how good a story until I had read all the previous China Bayles' mysteries. Each book is delightful on its own; however, this series does indeed develop as a series and is well worth reading starting at the beginning in its entirety. So far, I have six other people hooked on the series. All I had to do was give them one.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent amateur sleuth

    Four months have passed since the wedding that almost was not, but China Bayles and Mike McQuaid are settled into marital bliss. China is slowly overcoming her fears of marriage and commitment while still running her herb shop, Thyme and Seasons. She is also working on a new business venture with her partner Ruby Wilcox. They think that Thyme for Tea, an authentic teashop in the heart of Texas is a sure winner. Meanwhile, Mike continues to heal from injuries suffered a year ago is writing the definitive history of the Texas Rangers (law enforcement not baseball). <P>For no apparent reason, Ruby turns ice cold towards China while two lizards belonging to Mike¿s son disappears down the drainpipe. Finally, someone runs over China¿s mistletoe supplier with the evidence pointing towards the family in a land dispute with the victim. China likes the alleged perpetrators, flower growers who provide her with Christmas wreaths. She drags Ruby with her and begins sleuthing not yet aware that their initial findings make things worse for the flower growing family. <P>One of the most endearing and personable amateur sleuths is China Bayles, a person that readers feel they know and like. In every novel in the series, best-selling author Susan Wittig Albert makes China and her support cast feels like neighbors. MISTLETOE MAN is a complete package that deals with new marriages, estranged friendships, and the maturity that one person cannot save the world but can make it a bit better for everyone. The personnel side enhances a fantastic mystery filled with curves that leave the reader guessing until the end, a trademark of Ms. Albert. <P>Harriet Klausner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted January 24, 2010

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    Posted July 27, 2011

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    Posted July 16, 2009

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    Posted August 12, 2013

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    Posted May 18, 2011

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    Posted November 2, 2008

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