The One Christmas Read of 2020

So I got my Christmas wish of a white Christmas. Wednesday night into Thursday morning saw an approximately two foot snow dump unparalleled in recent history (although I remember 1993) in keeping with all the extremes that 2020 has seen fit to bring. This picture is my son enjoying a snow bath in the forest.

Briefly, it’s the first time my chickens saw a decent snowfall and some of them thought they could just live their usual lives despite this event (a mistake I made when entering grad school, becoming a parent, and having a to do list for the day after I had my wisdom teeth out, so I feel this) and almost killed themselves in snowbanks. They are all fine four days in but no one is leaving the comfort of the heated coop now.

But my brief motivation to read a Christmas book pre-dated the snow, but not by much, so I had my one Christmas read for my readers on this, five days before the day. Baking has helped in a time where rona has taken away the rest, I’m a week into a ten day quarantine (feeling perfectly fine) and have to put off my getting my last gift, the thing I usually wait to get, until entirely too close to the holiday this year because I’m trying to follow the rules and keep out of stores. I’m the person that would have all her papers done weeks before the end of the semester to everyone else’s chagrin so not being able to go into a store until Dec 23 is going to kill part of my soul.

Let me just also say that Audible Originals for the win. Last year I felt that scraping together Christmas audiobooks was an expensive pain in the butt because I had blown through most of my library’s short and sweet Christmas audiobooks. This year I browsed the catalog and much to my excitement found (among other gems, of course):

Tied up in Tinsel, Ngaio Marsh

This cover is decidedly more mid century than the copy I have, which is the one my grandfather, who died in the 80s, owned. But this is what kindle has done to it.

Christmas 1972 and a young painter, commissioned to do the portrait of a wealthy estate owner, is pulled into intrigue when a Christmas party with a Father Christmas (it’s the British countryside) ends in a disappearance of a guest.

My grandfather was both an avid anglophile and reader of mid century mystery novels, many of which I own, so I was delighted to find one for free on audio. His old books keep me at a healthy emotional distance while taking me on a ride so they are perfect for my tender soul right now. I read Nero Wolfe novels for fun in grad school, the few moments I did read for fun, for the same reason. I wouldn’t get wrecked over some poor woman getting pregnant at the wrong time or something with his books. They are trusty in this respect.

Interestingly, the crime, and then the arrival of the investigator, happens halfway through this book a decent space of time after the actual Christmas party, so it’s not like the usual modern mysteries for those of us with short attention spans where the poop hits the fan long before you’re three chapters in. I loved the characters coming for a benevolent party in an English country manor, and although you had to wait for the crime, the setup was superb. The estate owner hires ex murderers from the local penitentiary for his house staff and the reader is privy to each character’s past murder, so all sorts of red herrings are tossed in as well as less than ideal cooperation from staff who want to stay on this side of the prison gates. And then the relationships between the guests are harried and multidimensional, so I was in the dark much of the time. To be fair, I don’t tend to figure out mysteries before they are revealed, and as much as I’d love to be able to write a cozy mystery series, I think my brain doesn’t work that way. Not without a lot of like, encouragement from my end. I like a complex web of relationships in a mystery novel, complete with the last secrets coming out at the eleventh hour and an idyllic setting, so this was totally it.

Like the snow, the cookie recipes I’ve made (peanut blossoms, peppermint oreo bark, butter pecan rounds, Christmas crack, pecan rolo pretzel bites, russian tea cakes, raspberry jam bars and gingerbread blondies with white chocolate), 98% of my shopping done, and my focus on gratitude, this book was what I needed to warm my COVID-19 frosted half dead holiday soul. Also peppermint schnapps mixed into coffee or cocoa haven’t hurt anything either.

Next week is the end of year specs and goals moving forward and I wish every single reader an awesome Christmas that ameliorates at least some of this psyche damaging dumpster fire of a year.

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