The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

Holly Blues (#18)

It's Christmas in Pecan Springs—maybe a blue Christmas, with the current downturn in the economy, the sadness of young Caitlin (China's niece and now adopted daughter), and the abrupt reappearance of Bad-Penny Sally, McQuaid's ex-wife and Brian's mom.

As usual, Sally has issues, lots of them. Among them: her Bad-Girl history and her other-self, Juanita, who loves high-style and big money. China is ready to forgive and forget (almost), but thinks again when a stalker enters the picture, looking for Sally. And then Sally's sister turns up dead. Is she next? McQuaid and China team up on this one to keep a blue Christmas from turning blood-red.

"Herbal enthusiasts will love China's insight into plant history and the day-to-day happenings at her herb shop, Thyme and Seasons Herbs." —The Herb Companion

"A visit to China Bayles' herb shop is always delightful...Albert's heroine just gets better defined as the books evolve." —Romantic Times

"Quirky, enlightening and surprisingly profound, Albert's China Bayles mysteries are an absolute delight to read: head and shoulders above most other amateur whodunits." —Ransom Notes

Read a review:

  • San Antonio Express-News: "Holly Blues is a fast-paced whodunit packed with murder and mayhem, spiked with humor and laced with uncommon sensibility."
  • StoryCircleBookReviews: "Instead of letting an established series turn stale, Albert has used her considerable skills and imagination to give the reader yet another thriller, with fresh ideas, up-to-date methodology, current social commentary and new depth to her characters and story line."
  • Gumshoe: "...a story well told."
  • Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews: "Susan Wittig Albert delivers a fast-paced novel full of intrigue, suspense, and a cast of characters that are dear to her fans."
  • Dispatches from Stay More: a blog about books, culture and life from an Ozark heart: "...Few are better than Albert at bringing the complex strands of a new mystery puzzle together with the comfort of the setting and characters we have grown to love."

Read the first chapter of Holly Blues

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Here's what reviewers have to say about the China Bayles mysteries!

  • "China's followers will delight in the complicated relationships, recipes and historical flower information." —Kirkus Reviews
  • "Engaging . . . Shaker-inspired recipes, excerpts from a fictional Shaker journal, insights into the Shaker religion and plenty of herbal lore enhance another winner from this dependable veteran." —Publishers Weekly
  • "A diabolically clever sleuth...China and Ruby make Batman and Robin look like amateurs." —Harriet Klausner
  • "Add another fragrant bloom to the dozen already in the bouquet of Albert's herbal cozies." —Publishers Weekly


Holly Holly (Ilex) is a genus of approximately 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae.

Several holly species are used to make caffeine-rich herbal teas. The South American Yerba Mate (I. paraguariensis) is boiled for mate, an invigorating drink. The leaves of Guayusa (I. guayusa) are used as a stimulant and have the highest known caffeine content of any plant. Natives in southern North and Central America, use Yaupon (I. vomitoria), as a ceremonial emetic called "black drink," or (in more moderate quantities) as a stimulant.

In ancient Rome, holly was gathered to celebrate the solstice feast known as the Saturnalia, in honor of the god Saturn, whose season this was. The Romans believed that the shiny, sharp-pointed leaves of evergreen holly protected their homes against lightning bolts, and that the red berries repelled witches and other mischievous or evil spirits who might seek indoor hospitality during the coldest weeks of the year. Holly sprigs were also exchanged as tokens of friendship, offering a sincere wish that the recipient might enjoy a season free of bothersome bolts from the blue.

In Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil, people drink a tea-like beverage called Yerba Mate. It is brewed from the leaves and stems of Ilex paraguarensis, a tropical tree that usually grows to around 45 feet tall. The taste of the yerba mate leaf is similar to that of green tea, but with a sweeter, more pungent taste, and more nutrients. In North America, the tea is often brewed with mint or a lemon herb (lemon balm or lemon thyme).

How to Make Yerba Mate Latte

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Seventeenth book in the series: Wormwood

Nineteenth book in the series: Mourning Gloria