A Book that is the First in a Series: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

January 18, 2021 | Despina

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Sometimes you are reading a book that you can sink your whole self into. You like the characters, the plot, the historical context and you don't want it to end. At the same time, you are anxiously reading to find out the end. I have mourned characters upon finishing, and when I start a new novel I feel like I miss the previous one. This is where a series comes in handy. The last time I have felt this way is just recently, and I know I have mentioned the following book many, many times.

The Home for Unwanted Girls

The Home for Unwanted Girls is a book I felt so emotionally connected to. When I reached the last page, I felt that more could have been researched and written. Imagine my happiness when I discovered that Toronto author Joanna Goodman did just that. The Forgotten Daughter was published right after and I ignored my bedside pile of books to read this sequel the minute I received my holds copy.

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante , set in Naples in 1950s Italy, reminded me of similar stories my Greek immigrant parents told me. I could also see more intricately into the lives of my Italian friends as a result of reading these. My branch book club discussed it and almost all of us read the three remaining books in the series. With Ms Ferrante's cliff hanger on the last page of My Brilliant Friend, we immediately jumped on the TPL website to place holds on book two. The series is now officially called "The Neopolitan Novels." These books were adapted into a television series and season one is available in our collection.

The best laid plans

Another series I enjoyed is by Toronto author Terry Fallis: The Best Laid Plans and its sequel High Road. This series pokes fun at the Canadian political system and are set in Ottawa mostly. I will never forget when I first hosted Terry Fallis at a branch author reading. He told the story of another reading he had done with a much older senior in the front row... She asked, "when are you writing the third of the series?" Terry answered, "Well, I don't know. I have to explore writing other novels..." The senior replied, "Well hurry up, I don't have much time!" I hope Terry is on time for this avid fan as he is soon publishing the third of the series, Operation Angus.

His stand alone novels are absolutely funny and well written as well!


Recommendations from TPL staff

We reached out to our staff to find out their recommendations and picks for this category. Here are some of their responses.

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones are two of my favorite medieval fantasy novels of all time. Each novel is set in their own epic worlds with a variety of intricate characters that shape the stories through the entirety of the series.

– Tom, Senior Library Assistant

Oryx and Crake

I like the Oryx and Crake ( by Margaret Atwood) series because it explores a dystopian future where we as a species make significant advances in science and technology where we can engineer the perfect beings, but with progress comes greed and unrest.

– Bryan Zhang, Library Assistant

The white mountains

As a kid I really liked adventure stories, especially a brand new story with antagonists that I had never seen or read before. The White Mountains by John Christopher is the first book in the Tripods trilogy. It got me into the books and the movies. These books were inspired by The War of the Worlds. I saw the movie years after reading these books.

– Atinuke, Public Service Assistant


Timekeeper by Tara Sim is the first in a trilogy. It's alternate history, fantasy and also queer romance. It's set in Britain and India in the late 1800s in a world where clocks don't just tell time, they control it. It follows two young men who are trying to find out who is sabotaging the clocks and stop them. Great world building and it's also a debut book! I'll be reading Tara Sim's Scavenge the Stars the first book in Sim's new trilogy, for this category myself!

– Amy, Communications Officer


The first volume in Cusk's Outline trilogy is a lot like the second and third. A woman goes to Greece to teach a writing workshop. We know next to nothing about her – she's a writer, obviously, she's got kids, she's going through something difficult (a divorce, probably?). And we don't see much of the settings, either – there's a restaurant, a stuffy classroom, a hotel. What we do see are the people around her – or rather, we hear them. The book is made up of other people's ends of conversations, and the often insipid or outrageous or infuriating things that they say. The book (like the trilogy) is both insightful and spiteful and impossible to put down.

– Wendy, Librarian

Son of a trickster

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. A regular teen comes of age surrounded with unreliable family members, peer pressure, drugs and poverty. There's also Indigenous folklore! This is the first in the Trickster Trilogy by Eden Robinson. It was also a part of Canada Reads 2020.

– Nalini, Branch Head

I will have vengeance

I Will Have Vengeance, The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi, by Maurizio de Giovanni. It's the Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award, Finalist from 2012. Set in his beautiful but sometimes brutal hometown of Naples in the 1930s, Italian crime fiction author Maurizio de Giovanni makes a significant contribution to the World Noir genre with his Commissario Ricciardi novels. However Ricciardi is not your typical hard-hitting, no-nonsense noir detective. Instead he is intuitive with the uncanny power to see the circumstances of a person’s death yet he struggles to connect emotionally with people. The story unfolds when the inspector is called upon to solve the murder of the famous operatic tenor Vezzi in the Teatro di San Carlo opera house.

– Elizabeth, Librarian

The bear and the nightingale

Katherine Arden’s debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in her Winternight Trilogy. If, like me, you’re looking to escape from current events and be completely immersed in another world, you’ll want to curl up under a blanket with the hot beverage of your choice and devour this lush historical fantasy! Set in medieval Rus’ and inspired by Russian fairytales and folklore, it follows Vasya, a nobleman’s daughter gifted with the ability to see traditional household and nature spirits. As Vasya grows, her wild nature is viewed with suspicion by her new pious stepmother and Vasya is caught between doing what is expected of her as a woman and doing what she knows to be right. I was immediately hooked by the lyrical prose and enchanted by the imagery that so richly recreates the world of medieval Russia. It’s the perfect winter read!

– Chelsea, Librarian

Sweet tooth

Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire. This post-apocalyptic Canadian graphic novels follows Gus, a human-deer hybrid trying to find answers about his family, the terrible illness wreaking havoc on the human population, and why all children born since the plague are animal-human hybrids like him. Also soon to be a Netflix series!

– Kate, Librarian

Midnight riot

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch is the first book of the Rivers of London series. Peter Grant is a new PC guarding a murder scene when he encounters his first ghost and takes its witness statement. Grant is tapped by Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard of Scotland Yard, to undergo training as a magician's apprentice. It's a witty urban fantasy mixed with British crime drama!

– Lucas, Librarian

This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall

This Can't be Happening at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman. Representing Canadian authors and KidLit, this is the first book in not only a funny start to a whole host of hi-jinks at two private schools but also the start of Canadian icon Gordon Korman's literary career...at age 12! (The series has also been revised to add (at the time) "modern" updates...but silly school antics are really timeless!)

– Katherine, Library Assistant

Case histories

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

The Hypnotist

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

There are five books in Atkinson's mystery series featuring the private investigator, Jackson Brodie. Brodie is a former policeman who now works as a private investigator. The novels are complex with great characters and the language is beautiful!

Kepler has eight books in the mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Joona Linna. The novels are set in Sweden – making the setting a character all on its own. The novels tend to be darker than your usual run of the mill mystery (maybe it is the Scandinavian influence at play).

The books also work as stand alones, with the "mystery" being solved by the end. The main characters continue to develop with each successive title and that it what keeps bringing me back as I want to know what happens to Brodie and Linna!

– Betty, Branch Head


French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, we also have a French list for this category, "un livre qui lance une série" on Cantook Station. There's a mix of ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!


Recommendations from Facebook

We received over 100 recommendations for this category from Reading Challenge participants on Facebook. This is just a few. You can read the Facebook thread for the full list, even without a Facebook account.


Join the Conversation

What would you recommend for "a book that is the first in a series"? Share in the comments below or join the conversation in the TPL Reading Challenge Facebook group.

We'll be holding online discussions for different categories throughout the year. Everyone is welcome! Next week on January 27, our hosts will be leading a discussion about the 2021 Challenge over all: first impressions, first books, the categories they're most excited for and more. If you miss the live event you can also watch the replay!


We discussed this category, along with "a book that is someone else's favourite" at our January 2021 Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion. If you missed the live event, you can watch the replay on CrowdCast or on Facebook



Edited January 19, 2:45pm: If you're curious about the popular books and numbers from our TPL Reading Challenge 2020, check out our year-end wrap-up post!

Edited April 19, 10:45 am: Added the replay links for CrowdCast and Facebook. Added the French recommendations list for this category.