I started this year with the intention of completing the Toronto Public Library’s 2019 Reading Challenge, and now that it’s the end of December I’m sorry to say that I was not able to complete it.
The last four months in particular have been difficult to find the time and mental energy to read. Since I was worried about potential unemployment in 2020, I took on too many extra jobs while I still had the opportunity. I was also dealing with my beloved cat Slushy’s illness (congestive heart failure due to an enlarged heart) and ultimately his death. All this made it difficult to focus on reading.
I’m still glad that I embarked on this reading challenge this year as it forced me to seek out books I perhaps wouldn’t have ordinarily looked at.
Below is a summary of the books I read since September, followed by a checklist of the reading challenge criteria that I did ultimately fulfill this year.
Disclosure: The following contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Click here to read the full Affiliate Disclosure.
First published in 1992, Dead Beat by Val McDermid is the first book to introduce Kate Brannigan, a private investigator working in Manchester. She is first hired to track down a musician’s former partner, but things get complicated when this leads to her becoming involved in a murder case.
I first picked up this book because I had seen interviews and TV appearances with Val McDermid lots of times, so I was curious to read some of her work. It also helped that it fulfilled the “a book by an LGBTQ+ author” category of the reading challenge.
My first impression with the book was that it was “just ok”. The pace was both too slow and too fast, as I felt I needed to re-read the first couple of chapters just to get a hang of what was going on. This is a feeling I frequently get reading some British authors, so perhaps this is just a cultural style.
I will say this though: although, Kate Brennan isn’t a particularly exciting or unique heroine, I did find myself missing her a bit after I finishing the last chapter. She became almost like a good old friend.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon’s 2003 book is narrated by an autistic teen who resolves to solve the brutal murder of his neighbour’s dog, which was found impaled by a pitch-fork in its front yard.
The book is not just about the mystery of what happened to the dog, but it’s also about the mystery of what is happening in this boy’s life. Unlike other detective stories, we as readers typically have the advantage of knowing more than the protagonist since we may have the ability to read between the lines of what is said or left unsaid by the people around him.
I first chose to read this book because it fulfilled the “a book that has been challenged or banned” category of the reading challenge. I heard that some school libraries were petitioned to remove the book because it includes cursing/swearing. I don’t generally object to foul language used in literature, but I feel it’s worth defending that in this case it was used sparingly and was useful to the plot.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. I was fully absorbed in the story and read it over just a couple of days during my commutes to work.
Just One More Thing: Stories from My Life
This memoir by Peter Falk was first published in 2006 — just 5 years before his death, and just two years before news broke out about him suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s a collection of anecdotes, seemingly told in no particular order. Reading it felt like being a house guest in his home — hearing one story during breakfast, and another story as you played cards and smoked cigars in the evening.
I was interested in reading the book because, of course, I’m a huge fan of his role as Columbo. However, in the end, I actually wish that I hadn’t read it. I’m not sure if it was the Alzheimer’s or whether it was just Peter Falk’s regular personality — probably a bit of both — but the way the events were described made him seem shallow. It definitely altered my perception of the man behind the on-screen character.
The Widows of Malabar Hill
This book by Sujata Massey was published just last year (in 2018) and is the first book to introduce us to Perveen Mistry, a law graduate living in 1920s Bombay, working for her father’s firm.
As a woman, she has the unique ability to help a group of three Muslim women living in seclusion, following the death of their husband. What first becomes a case of making sure their inheritance is disbursed according to their wishes, becomes a case of murder when their household manager is found stabbed to death.
This book was brought to my attention via the “TTC Reads” campaign I learned about through posters on the subway. The Toronto Public Library partnered with the Toronto Transit Commission to make certain e-books available to more people.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I started reading it. The 1920s setting is reminiscent of the golden age of detective fiction, particularly some of Agatha Christie’s works featuring strong young heroines. The second book in the series came out just this year (2019) and I can’t wait to read more about Perveen and her life.
See below for a complete list of reading challenge criteria, along with the books I read this year to fulfill those criteria. As you can see below, I was only three books away from completing the basic challenge, and was almost half-way through completing the advanced challenged.
Basic Reading Challenge
A book recommended to you by library staff: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (see above for review)
- A graphic novel
A book from a Canadian award-winning author: Still Life by Louise Penny A book set in Toronto: Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
- A book by an author in a visible minority
A book by an LGBTQ+ author: Dead Beat by Val McDermid (see above for review) A book about mental health: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey A non-prose book: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy anthology A book in translation: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helen Thursten A book on a topic you know nothing about: Sew Deadly by Elizabeth Lynn Casey A book you’ve always meant to read: Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky A book that has been banned or challenged: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (see above for review) A book that has been adapted into a movie or show: The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
- A book by an author with the same initials as you
Advanced Reading Challenge
- A book by an author with a disability
- A book about being a newcomer, refugee or immigrant
- A book you should have read in school, but didn’t
A book you previously tried to read and gave up on: As the Pig Turns by M. C. Beaton A book set in a country you’d like to visit: The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith Two books with the same/very similar titles: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and The Heist by David Baldacci
- A book from our First & Best lists*
- A book by an eh List writer*
- A book from Read Indigenous*
- A book from The List: Great Reads for Youth*
A book that’s related to the Periodic Table of Elements*: The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley