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Stay with Me

It’s time to reflect on the books I read this past year that stayed with me the most, a list I call the Most Compelling Books of 2017.

Delia Ephron’s “Siracusa” takes readers to the island off the coast of Italy, where two families are vacationing. Both couples have troubled marriages, and a frightening incident unravels them all.

Caroline Angell’s debut novel, “All The Time In The World,” tells the story of a nanny who becomes entangled in a tragedy of the family she works for. The main character is so relatable, and I felt such a kinship with her, this book broke my heart.

Another debut novel that caught my attention is Julie Buntin’s “Marlena,” a coming-of-age story about the friendship between two teenage girls. Cat moves with her recently divorced mom and brother to rural Michigan and meets Marlena, a troubled teen dealing with a mom who left her with a drug dealing father and a young brother to care for. Bunting nails that time of life for young women, and her characters are unforgettable.

Angie Thomas’ debut “The Hate U Give” has been on the YA best-seller list from day one and it deserves to be. Teenage Starr sees her friend killed by a policeman and it changes her whole life. Each character here is so well drawn, this is a book everyone should read.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is for fans of Turner Classic Movies. When a famous reclusive former movie star (think Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor) plucks an unknown magazine writer to write her biography, it makes for a captivating tale.

There are two books here with Irish protagonists. J. Courtney Sullivan’s “Saints For All Occasions” tells the story of two sisters who emigrate from Ireland to the United States; one marries and raises a family, the other becomes a nun, and a secret they share comes to light years later.

Alice McDermott has written many novels on the Irish-American experience, and her “The Ninth Hour” focuses on an order of nuns who care for the people in their Brooklyn neighborhood in the early 20th century. They take in a young widow with a baby, and their compassion and dedication to caring for the sick and poor is life-affirming.

Another life-affirming novel is Elizabeth Berg’s “The Story of Arthur Truluv” about an elderly widower, his widow neighbor and the teenage girl they befriend. It’s a lovely story about the connections we make.

On the nonfiction side, “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s memoir “Born A Crime” relates his upbringing as a half-South African, half-white boy in post-aparteid South Africa. It’s funny and touching, and it gives the reader a peek into a world we know little about.

Alyssa Mastromonaco’s “Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?” is about her life working in the Obama White House as a deputy chief of staff. It immerses you in the breakneck pace of life at the White House and about what it takes to do a job like this and what you give up to do it.

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Nomadland

Jessica Bruder is a journalist who turned a magazine article into a book called “Nomadland — Surviving America in the 21st Century.” She traveled the country with transient older Americans who have lost their jobs and homes (many during the recession of 2008). They live in campers, RVs, vans and even cars and travel to work at campgrounds, beet fields, spring training baseball stadiums and carnivals to make ends meet.

The most fascinating chapter focuses on their work at an Amazon warehouse and you’ll never order from Amazon again without thinking about these workers. “Nomadland” is the best nonfiction book of the year, on a topic that is current, and it’s one that I’ll be talking about for a long time.

The best book I read this year is “Stay With Me” a debut novel by Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo. It tells the story of a young married couple in Nigeria who are having trouble conceiving a baby. When the husband’s family insists on bringing in a second wife, it begins a downward spiral. I cried throughout this stunning novel, and when someone asks me what to read, “Stay With Me” is it.

I hope you had a year filled with great reading, and I’d love to hear what you thought was the best book of the year.

Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at laruediane2000@yahoo.com.

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