Category Archives: Reading Lists

Strong Female Protagonists

Wild Seed. Photo courtesy of

Anyanwu. Photo courtesy of

  • Ifemelu from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Intelligent, outspoken, Nigerian expat Ifemelu observes and records the struggles of racism and identity in her perceptive and searingly honest blog.
  • Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia from How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez –  4 spirited, teenage sisters from the Dominican Republic must navigate growing up in a new and foreign culture.
  • The Narrator/”Offred” from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A sharp and observant woman attempts to define herself against a dystopian society which only values women for their reproductive capabilities.
  • Flavia de Luce from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – Precocious and brilliant 11-year-old Flavia de Luce has a penchant for poison, chemistry, and trouble.
  • Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – A woman of great moral fiber and backbone: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”
  • Hannah Heath from People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks – Heath is a young Australian book conservator who appraises ancient manuscripts.
  • Anyanwu from Wild Seed by Octavia Butler – A powerful woman who can regnerate, stop bullets, heal and harm, caught up in a time-traveling struggle.
  • Dolly from The Grass Harp by Truman Capote – Sixty-year-old Dolly develops a secret remedy for dropsy and lives in a tree house.
  • Katsa from Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa is “gifted” with the talent of killing, and by the time she is 18, she’s working unhappily as the King’s henchmen when she decides to strike out on a different path. Beautiful, deadly, cunning, and compassionate, Katsa is a complex heroine.
  • Little Bee from Little Bee by Chris Cleeve – Little Bee is a cautious, keen observer of others, a civil war survivor, and a Nigerian refugee who has fled to London.
  • Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Colins – Forced to fight to the death against other sixteen-year-olds in a dystopian society, Katniss–with her hunting skills, her powerful sense of justice, and her fierce love of and loyalty to her friends and family–is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Dinah from The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – Dinah was a minor character in the Book of Genesis, but in Diamant’s book, she takes center stage as a young woman who comes into her own.
  • Victoria Jones from The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – On her 18th birthday, Victoria Jones ages out of the foster care system.  Unable to express herself with words, she relies on the Victorian language of flowers to communicate: dahlias for “dignity”; rhododendron for “beware.”
  • Marie Laure from All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr – When she is six, Marie Laure goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane.
  • Syrenka from Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama – Syrenka is a mermaid who abandons her underwater life for a chance at love on land.
  • Lucy Honeychurch from A Room With a View by E.M. Forster – Beautiful and kind Lucy Honeychurch is constrained by society and customary politeness until she travels to Italy and discovers her own feisty and passionate spirit.
  • Hazel Grace Lancaster from The Fault in our Stars by John Green – At 16, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is a resilient, witty, three-year stage IV-cancer survivor who is (understandably) clinically depressed. 
  • Raquel “Rocky” Rivera from The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn – A young, spirited Filipino woman who pursues her career as a rock musician while struggling to assimilate into American culture.
  • Diana Bishop from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – An orphaned daughter of two witches, Diana Bishop is herself a witch, in addition to being an intelligent historian.
  • Kerewin Holmes from The Bone People by Keri Hulme – Half Maori (native New Zealander) Kerewin Holmes is a brilliant, strong, independent and artistic recluse who lives alone in a tower by the ocean.
  • Ayesha from She by H. Rider Haggard – Ayesha is a mysterious and powerful Egyptian Queen who discovers the secret of immortality.
  • Jenny Fields from The World According to Garp by John Irving – Jenny is a strong-willed and compassionate nurse who raises Garp as a single mother.
  • Devorah from Like No Other by Una LaMarche – Devorah is an intelligent, compassionate Hasidic Jew, and her life is full of loving family, constant ritual, and avoiding outsiders. 
  • Frankie Landau Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart – Frankie is a smart, tough, and curious sophomore who learns about a secret boys-only society at her boarding school and hatches up a cunning plan to turn it on its head.
  • Elphaba from Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – Elphaba subverts every idea of the evil witch, and enchants as an endearing, green-skinned outcast.
  • Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I from The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell. A fascinating fictional portrayal of two of Britain’s strongest, most intelligent and famous royal women.
  • Mma “Precious” Ramotswe from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – An intelligent, warm, and intuitive woman, Precious is Botswana’s only female detective, and her methods are anything but conventional.
  • Aerin in The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – A strong and complex young woman, Aerin is an outsider princess who must fight the forces of evil to save her kingdom.
  • Florence Gordon from Florence Gordon by Brian Morton – Florence Gordon is a blunt, brilliant, extremeley critical 76-year old feminist icon.
  • Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – A young, smart, sensitive and determined female writer.
  • Sally Lockhart from The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman – Sally Lockhart is a sixteen-year-old orphan who must dodge death in her quest to uncover the secret  behind a mysterious ruby.
  • Olive Kitteridge from Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – A gloriously abrasive, cantankerous, opinionated, and determined woman.
  • Hama and Matron from Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Because, in the words of our Librarian Cara B., “these are not the lead characters, but they are two of my favorite (and most kick-a**) women characters ever.”
  • Celie from The Color Purple by Alice Walker – a woman of letters, Celie perceptively and honestly documents her harrowing life and her developing strength and resilience against powerful odds.
  • Maggie and Queenie from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Queenie is a British spy who is caught and interrogated by the Nazis for secret codes; her close friend Maddie is a skilled and daring British pilot

And, if you’re interested, there’s a fun book titled How to Be a Heroine; or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis.

What We Loved in 2014

read_loved_2014Mill Valley Public Library Staff Picks- What we Read and Loved in 2014


  • The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke (2007; read by Will Patton)
  • The Long Walk: a Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner (2012; read by the author)
  • Destiny of the Republic: a Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a Presidents by Candace Millard (2011; read by Paul Michael)
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters (2014; read by the author)
  • Selected Shorts: American Classics (2010; various readers)
  • Selected Shorts: Wondrous Women (2008; various readers)


  • Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton (2014)
  • The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (2014)
  • The Reason I Jump: the Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy With Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated by David Mitchell (2013)
  • Jim Henson: the Biography by Brian Jay Jones (2013)
  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (2013)


  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2014)
  • Jackaby by William Ritter (2014)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014; biography)


  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (2014)
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
  • We Are All Completely Beside Oursevles by Karen Joy Fowler (2013)
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
  • The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (2011
  • The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (2014; last volume of All Souls trilogy)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)
  • California by Edan Lepucki (2014)
  • Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline (2013)
  • My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard (2013)
  • The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield (1922)
  • Transatlantic by Colum McCann (2013)
  • Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (2014)
  • Pearl of China by Anchee Min (2010)
  • One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (2014)
  • Runaway: Stories by Alice Munro (2005)
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (2014)
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)
  • Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg (2014)
  • The Complete Stories of Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker (1995)
  • Delicious by Ruth Reichl (2014)
  • The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich (2014)
  • China Dolls by Lisa See (2014)
  • Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (2014)
  • Lost For Words by Edward St. Aubyn (2014)
  • A Bit on the Side by William Trevor (2004)
  • Hemingway by Naomi Wood (2014)

Graphic Novel:

  • Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast (2014)
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2014)


  • You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry (2014)
  • Food: a Love Story by Jim Gaffigan (2014)
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)


  • In the Moon of Red Ponies by James Lee Burke (2004)
  • The Quiet Game by Greg Iles (1999)
  • Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (2013)
  • The Handsome Man’s Delux Café by Alexander McCall Smith (2014)


  • The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir (1989; philosophy)
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013; sports)
  • Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter (2009; urban farming)
  • Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals by Karen Dawn (2008; animal rights)
  • The Public Library: a Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson (2014; libraries, photography)
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay (2014; gender studies)
  • Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl’s Greatest Creation by Lucy Mangan (2014; literary creations)
  • The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi (2014; reading & teaching)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (2006; food)
  • Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (2014; parenting)
  • All Joy and No Fun: the Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior (2014; parenting)
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (2014; gender studies)

Sci Fi/Fantasy:

  • The Martian by Andy Weir (2014)
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (2013)


  • I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (2014)

Young Adult:

  • Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (2014)
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014)
  • How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Judy Nelson (2014)
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)
  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (2014)
  • My Abandonment by Peter Rock (2009)
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
  • She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick (2014)
  • The Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfeld (2009)
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2006)

2014 National Book Award Longlist

national_book_award_2014The Longlist of nominees for the 2014 National Book Award have been announced! Remember, the winner has yet to be decided. Take a look and consider checking out or putting yourself on the hold list for one of these beauties:



Holding Big Brother Accountable–one organization’s reading list

government_watchdogRecently, I came across the Project on Government Oversight (or POGO, as it is affectionately known). POGO was founded in 1981, where it first reported on extravagant military spending. POGO’s mission statement reads: “a non-partisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.” What’s more, POGO produces its own reading lists of books it deems important in the field of exposing government corruption. Check out their Summer 2014 Books That Matter reading list (hey, even if summer is over, there’s never a bad season for reading):

* Not in MARINet system

A Non-Traditional Award List for Teens Living in the Margins of Society

homeless-youthOne of the most amazing aspects of reading is the ability to discover and empathize with any and every experience you can possibly imagine. You can read up on people who are exactly like you, you can step into the skin of a being who has never existed in our world, or you can visit a place that once existed and now only continues to do so in ruins and fossilized records.The point is, you get to choose your own experiences. And they’re endless.

Sometimes we want to read about people who are similar to ourselves; it’s a way to understand the world and how we relate to it. After a while, though, you may want a change. I know that lately I’ve been craving stories that aren’t about lives similar to mine, but feature, in fact, a very different set of circumstances. Again, it’s a way to understand the world and how we relate to it. Maybe it’s a type of voyeurism. Maybe it’s a form of consolation. More likely, it’s genuine interest. It’s a desire to stretch my empathy; to expand my sense of experience (even though I’m not actually experiencing it. Thought to discuss at a latter date: what is the difference between reading about or watching an experience as opposed to living through it directly? What can indirect experiences teach us? What is the benefit?). Some have said it’s a form of self-punishment; the desire to dive into dark holes of despair and hopelessness. But there again, is the beauty: each of us gets to choose our own experiences. We may not be able to control much about our “real” lives, but we can sure choose the types of lives we want to explore in books.

For some of you, the following book list, which speaks to “teens living in poverty, on the streets, in custody, or a cycle of all three” will offer experiences you’re completely unfamiliar with or perhaps don’t care to read about. That’s fine. For those of you who sense something interesting, pursue it. Lists like this are important in that they allow all of us to see a group of people who, while facing significant and difficult challenges, are often invisible in everyday society. They help those of us who are familiar with the subject matter (teen incarceration, custody, poverty, homelessness) to work through our own experiences. They remind us that we’re not alone. At the same time, these lists help those of us who have (luckily) never had to deal with such experiences that there people out there not only facing them, but having to live with all of these challenges, daily. And whenever you step outside of your comfort zone, there’s valuable wisdom, experience, or insight to be gained.

The ASCLA has a Library Services for Youth in Custody group which advocates for youth who have been detained in various types of correctional institutes.These books are recommended for anyone who is interested in teens living in the margins of society. Check out their website for the complete list of 25 titles.

The 2014 top ten (of which Mill Valley Library carries 6) are:

An excellent resource for incarcerated youth, the Beat Within is a non-profit organization that works with juveniles in detention facilities to express their thoughts and feelings through words and art. Check out some pretty powerful and amazing work created by teens in the program on the Beat Within’s Facebook page.

World War I Centennial Reading List

Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War -

Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War –






2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials - Day 4

Working Class Heroes