Book recommendations from our well-read panel. Compiled by Lesley McDowell



Crossing three continents and spanning numerous decades, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate, £8.99) is a gripping tale which tackles the ambitious themes of race and immigration. In essence it's a romance, the story of Nigerian schoolmates Ifemelu and Obinze, whose relationship is put on hold when they go their separate ways to seek better lives in America and England. Their painful experiences of segregation and difficulties securing asylum make for uncomfortable reading at times, but it is to Adichie's credit that these overarching tensions merely strengthen the tenacity and appeal of the characters, in particular the inspirational female protagonist Ifemelu. Americanah took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and left me wanting more, which is why it is without a doubt my book of the year.




Sarah Waters writes wonderfully and evocatively of the times in which she sets her books. Her attention to detail is superb. When she burst onto the scene with her debut novel, Tipping The Velvet, the sights, sounds, songs and smells of the Victorian music halls were rendered in primary colours. This holds true for her latest offering, The Paying Guests (Virago, £20) whose 1920s setting perfectly captures the social and cultural tensions that emerged following the Great War. Addressing issues of longing, desire and propriety, it goes far beyond the crime drama narrative on which the book hangs.




I was so delighted when Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker for The Narrow Road To The Dark North (Chatto and Windus, £16.99). There are some books which make a lasting emotional impact, whose words conjure up unforgettable pictures, and you feel just had to be written. This is one such book and the world is a better place for it. Colm Toibin consistently writes deeply and beautifully drawn female characters, and Nora Webster (Viking, £18.99) is a heartbreaking, tender story which I will give to all my friends. He captures time and place with the sparest of writing. I was completely absorbed by Robert Harris's An Officer And A Spy (Arrow, £7.99) from the first page. He remade the Dreyfus Affair as a compelling thriller in which his meticulous research was worn very lightly.




Going Off Alarmingly, Volume Two by Danny Baker (W&N, £18.99): any autobiography that opens with the author being shot in the buttocks demands your complete attention. This book made me howl with laughter in the same way as the wonderful Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi (First Second, £11.99): Sir Ernest Shackleton is my all-time hero and a visit to his grave in South Georgia is top of my bucket list. I have a massive collection of books about "the boss" and was delighted to discover a new one this year. This graphic novel is aimed at younger readers but I really enjoyed the illustrations and a different take on a familiar story. The book was published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the failed Trans Antarctic expedition of 1914 which turned into Shackleton's biggest triumph. No Man's Nightingale by Ruth Rendell (Arrow, £7.99): she never disappoints, and the return of Inspector Wexford in this novel provides another cracking page-turner from an author at the very top of her game. I also love her often queasy, unsettling thrillers under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.




All The Days And Nights by Niven Govinden (Friday Project, £12.99) poses fundamental questions about art and the artist questioning where the power lies. The Days Of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin (Doubleday, £18.99) made me cry for Anna and with joy at how much more accepting our world now is (partly because of books like this). Alan Cumming's incredibly affecting memoir, Not My Father's Son (Canongate, £16.99), sees Cumming chase the ghost of his grandfather half-way round the world while attempting to exorcize the fear beaten into him by his cruel and brutal father. And Jojo Moyes charmed me with The One Plus One (Penguin, £7.99).




I debated independence with Alex Gray at Cornton Vale. I am ashamed to admit I had yet to discover her work but, thanks to the women prisoners, she has a new follower. Never Somewhere Else (Sphere, £7.99) is a compelling crime thriller with attractive characters, immersed in its Glasgow setting that holds the reader. DCI Lorimer and Dr Solomon Brightman will be familiar characters on my Kindle for some time. Another Solomon - this time Northup - is my next selection with Twelve Years A Slave (Hesperus, £6.99). The factual, horrific and graphic account of the brutality from man to man was fascinating in uncovering the motivations and norms of society of the time. So brutal it is easy to forget it is a true story. Finally, I understand the enthusiasm for Michael Morpurgo. Testing out Listen To The Moon (HarperCollins, £2.99) for my 10-year-old son, I discovered an outstanding storyteller. I may "test out" a few more.




I like to read about real people and events, and have chosen three beautifully written volumes. John Campbell's fascinating new biography Roy Jenkins (Jonathan Cape, £20) - OK, I am biased because I worked with him for a decade. Gordon Brown's My Scotland, Our Britain (Simon and Schuster, £20) contains masses of well-researched material and I consider required reading by all involved in post-referendum issues. The winner of this year's Walter Scott prize for historical fiction, Robert Harris's An Officer And A Spy (Arrow, £7.99) is actually an intriguing account of the Dreyfus affair.




Andrew Greig's Fair Helen (Quercus, £7.99) based on the ballad of that name, was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize. Set in 16th-century Edinburgh and the Borders, the atmosphere is terrific, the tragic love story has an unexpected twist, and the prose is lyrical. The winner, An Officer And A Spy by Robert Harris (Arrow, £7.99) allowed me to understand the Dreyfus Affair for the first time. I may have disagreed with the conclusions of Gordon Brown's My Scotland, Our Britain (Simon and Schuster, £20) but his analysis of what has allowed Scotland to remain a nation despite the Act of Union is scholarly and readable. Finally, reading the scripts of The James Plays by Rona Munro (Nick Hern Books, £12.99) gave an extra dimension to appreciating her remarkable achievement. One caveat here - I wish that she, like so many Scottish playwrights, did not feel the need to pepper her work with unimaginative expletives.




Lots of great reading this year from mainly small publishers. In poetry, Tom Duddy's posthumous collection The Years (Happenstance, £12) is simply superb, Heaney-like in its perception, precision and grace. From Freight Books come two outstanding anthologies, one of contemporary Palestinian poets, A Bird Is Not A Stone (£9.99, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving) and the other of poets from Iraq and the UK, This Room Is Waiting (£9.99, edited by Ryan Van Winkle and Lauren Pyott). Both are bilingual, with all the poems reproduced in Arabic and in English (and in Scots and Gaelic too in the Palestinian volume): real acts of international cultural exchange. I thoroughly enjoyed the short stories of Cynthia Rogerson in Stepping Out (Salt, £8.99) and of AL Kennedy in All The Rage (Cape, £16.99). In non-fiction, Kasia Michalska's Scots-Polish Lexicon (Savage Publishers, £9.95) is a gem of a handbook for those tricky moments when you don't know your heidbanger from your wariat or your glaur from your bloto. And I was delighted to see Ron Ferguson's "chronicle of coal, Cowdenbeath and football", Black Diamonds And The Blue Brazil (Saint Andrew Press, £14.99) back in print after an absence of 21 years. How much agony and ecstasy can you pile into one year following your team? Quite a lot!




It's rare that a novel can have such a visceral impact as to leave me physically shaking, but that was the case with not one but two novels I read this year. The first was Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Faber, £7.99), which at times was like being blindsided by a bottle to the head, and kept me in an uncomfortable state of heart-pounding anxiety about the fate of its protagonist. The second such impact was the result of Nicola White's In The Rosary Garden (Cargo, £8.99), shortlisted for the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year, one scene of which had me genuinely tremulous with shock and anger. It was a crime story with real purpose and conviction, hopefully the first of many from an arresting new talent. I was also captivated by Claire McGowan's The Lost (Headline, £6.99) which brilliantly evoked small-town secrecy and paranoia in the fictional Northern Irish border outpost of Ballyterrin. Away from grim realities, I lost myself in the magnificent landscapes of Iron Council, the third of China Mieville's new Crobuzon novels (Pan, £8.99), which I am not referring to as a trilogy in the hope that there are more to come. And I finally got around to Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (Arrow, £8.99) whose 1980s pop culture and video-game riffing I was pre-programmed to adore.




A lot of this year I have been rediscovering old favourites - Terence Rattigan, Patrick Hamilton and Elizabeth Jane Howard in particular. But one of my 2014 new best books, without doubt, has been Samantha Ellis's wonderful How To Be A Heroine: Or What I've Learned From Reading Too Much (Chatto and Windus, £16.99) - a romp-cum-memoir through Ellis's childhood canon of female protagonists and how they inspired her. As a huge swot I identified with her all the way from Cathy Earnshaw to Anne of Green Gables. I also loved Rebecca Hunt's Everland (Fig Tree, £12.95) which follows two Antarctic expeditions that are separated by a century. I've been writing about the Antarctic myself this year so Hunt's evocation of the frozen wastes and the desperate situation of many who travel them was particularly riveting. The trust required between members of each expedition (be it historic or present-day) is both a touching and terrifying part of the dynamic. When the world (or at least the weather) is set against you, your life is in the hands of your travelling companions. I'd urge you to pick up a copy and enter a different reality.




Do No Harm by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh (Phoenix, £8.99) is breathtaking. The title is ironic: Marsh, uncharacteristically for a medical man, reveals that the traditional and estimable doctors' oath to "do no harm" is an unachievable counsel of perfection - certainly in his field - and he writes accessibly for non-scientists. So does David Quammen, whose informative and sobering Ebola: The Natural And Human History Of A Deadly Disease (Bodley Head, £5.99) eschews melodramatic scaremongering and is all the more disquieting in its matter-of-fact analysis of this latest animal infection to have jumped (from bats) to humans, and the possibility of mutation exacerbating its already grim impact. Perhaps shamefully, Patrick Modiano, the Nobel literature laureate, is a new voice to me - and, I find, a moving and important writer who has dared, in fiction and non-fiction, to unwrap what happened in occupied France in the Second World War: the ghosts live on in Dora Bruder (Galliard, £7.35) and Missing Person (Verba Mundi, £48.99). And Susan Tomes uncovers the joys and challenges intrinsic to her chosen life as an internationally renowned pianist in Sleeping In Temples (Boydell Press, £19.99). You hear her music through her words, which offer a happy antidote to the darker real lives my other choices present.




For me, two debuts really stood out this year. Anna Whitwham's Boxer Handsome (Chatto & Windus, £12.99) tells the story of young Clapton boxer, Bobby, in the run up to the fight of his career. Whitwham is pitch perfect on physicality, brutality and the pressures of masculinity at the heart of the sport as well as authentically depicting a working-class community where rifts and family ties run right through generations. Similarly, Deepti Kapoor's A Bad Character (Jonathan Cape, £14.99), a novel about a sexually subversive young woman in contemporary Delhi, captures the city in such perfect detail that I felt I could smell the food stalls, feel the crush of people and the heat rising from the pavements. As well as her transcendent eye for detail, the love story at the heart of this book is honest and deeply unsettling making it a compelling read.




John Durkan died in 2006 having achieved an international reputation as a master historian of the Scottish Renaissance of the 16th century. Remarkably he never had a salaried academic post and for most of his life was a teacher in Glasgow who researched and wrote during weekends and school holidays. His magnum opus, Scottish Schools And Schoolmasters 1560-1633 (The Boydell Press, £40), published posthumously, disposes of multiple myths and misconceptions, and is essential reading to understand one of the key themes in the history of Scotland. Warrior Dreams: Playing Scotsmen In Mainland Europe by David Hesse (Manchester University Press, £70) is an extraordinary book which examines the remarkable cult of Scottishness which has mushroomed across northern Europe from Moscow to Stockholm in recent decades. Hesse skilfully explains why Highland games, pipe bands, military re-enactments and Scots festivals have become so popular on the continent among Europeans who have no Scottish heritage whatever and often have never visited the country of their dreams. A book which deserves a wide readership and should therefore be published in more affordable paperback format. Catherine Merridale's Red Fortress: The Kremlin In Russian History (Allen Lane, £30) is a most worthy winner of the Pushkin Prize 2014 - a compelling study of Russia as seen through the prism of a complex of buildings in Moscow which have become among the most famous and fascinating in the world.




Top place goes to Michel Faber's The Book Of Strange New Things (Canongate, £18.99). This is a masterpiece, plain and simple, that has left me pondering the ideas conjured up by this genius of a writer, and I doubt if they will leave me for a long time, if ever. Science fiction/philosophy/love story… an impossible book to categorise. Just read it! Anne Donovan's Gone Are The Leaves (Canongate, £12.99) is a lyrical evocation of life and love in mediaeval times with the added thrill of her wonderful use of Scots language. I believe Jane Austen herself would approve of Northanger Abbey (The Borough Press, £7.99) as written by Val McDermid. Such fun! Such cleverness and so upto-date! I enjoyed this hugely and look forward to Alexander McCall Smith's Emma with anticipation. Are you listening, Santa?




There are four books I have particularly enjoyed this year. Jesse Norman's biography of Edmund Burke (William Collins, £9.99) reveals just how radical and deeply unconservative a thinker in many ways Burke was. It's a book many would have benefited from reading with regard to recent events in Scotland. My second was Douglas Hurd's superb Robert Peel: A Biography (Phoenix, £14.99). Clearly a hero for the author, the final chapters on Peel being willing to split his party on the issue of free trade are a powerful and moving statement of how a great leader will sacrifice himself for a cause he truly believes in. Orlando Figes's Crimea (Penguin, £12.99) is, amongst many fine books on the subject, perhaps the most wide ranging of all I have read on this much misunderstood war. And finally Frederick Kempe's Berlin 1961 (Penguin, £12.99) is a gripping account of the emotional and intellectual chess played by Kennedy, Kruschev, Ullbricht and Adenauer in the run up to the building of Berlin Wall. A terrifying thriller in many ways, it is best to read about the minutes in which the fate of the world hung in the balance from the distance of some 50 years.




Philip Larkin said the instinct to preserve lies at the bottom of all art, and it is certainly the key to his own poetry. People loved his poems but many of them were never sure about him. Fortunately, James Booth's Philip Larkin: Life, Art And Love (Bloomsbury, £21.55) goes a long way to helping us understand the man better, as well as the poems he wrote.

John Updike was another artist who followed the Larkin line and made the past present in everything he wrote. Now he too has been well served by a biography by Adam Begley (Updike, Harper, £25) that shows just how much his fiction was his own life preserved so that the rest of us could enter it. Of the novels I have read this year, the most memorable was Michel Faber's The Book Of Strange New Things (Canongate, £18.99). People will categorise it as science-fiction. They're wrong. It's a beautiful parable of the human condition.




Imtiaz Dharker's Over The Moon (Bloodaxe, £12) is a cumulative book, capacious in its reach and candid, it keeps time with the strange clock of grief. The sequence of poems about loss is profoundly affecting. In looking at loss so squarely in the face, Dharker paradoxically gives the reader reasons to love life. Lovingly illustrated with her own drawings, Over The Moon is a beauty of a book. The Faber New Poets pamphlets edited by Rachael Allen (Faber, £5) are glorious. Zaffar Kunial is a real find. His poems are precise, startling in their originality, full of grace. Kunial traces the roots in language to then track the roots in his mixed race identity, effortlessly transporting the reader from one place to another. Patience Agbabi's Telling Tales (Canongate, £14.99) is a dizzying and dazzling remix of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The voices here are lyrical, boisterous, jazzy and irreverent. Agbabi clearly had a great deal of fun bringing Chaucer slap bang up to date; these are tales for a multicultural, 21st-century Britain. So the reader has fun too.




I've enjoyed three books of non-fiction this year. In the splendidly urbane Rendez-Vous With Art (Thames & Hudson, £19.95) Martin Gayford converses with Philippe de Montebello, former director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, across six countries, on two continents. They stroll round galleries and churches, and they sit in cafes or Skype long-distance, talking about the paintings and objects they've seen together, which are reproduced in colour throughout - brilliantly instructive. Robert Sackville-West's The Disinherited (Bloomsbury £20) investigates, in elegant prose, the other side of the family tapestry, so to speak: the tangled skeins of lives tainted by illegitimacy. Privileged lives maybe, compared to the ordinary run, but nevertheless pushed back into the shadows - gripping. In The Hotel On Place Vendome: Life, Death, And Betrayal At The Hotel Ritz In Paris (Harper £20) Tilar J Mazzeo roots among the murky wartime secrets of an iconic institution - chilling.




Referendum year was a glorious opportunity for writers and publishers. Of the many Scottish themed academic works I particularly valued the depth and cultural resonance of Robert Crawford's Bannockburns (Edinburgh University Press, £19.99) which explored the ideas of our nationhood rooted in and stimulated by a 700-year-old battle. Peter May, whose Lewisman Triology is a modern atmospheric classic of place, stretched his canvas across the Atlantic in the award-winning detective thriller Entry Island (Quercus, £7.99), mixing French Canadian and Scottish Highland blood lines to create a memorable, filmic edgy story of love and loss. Finally I am increasingly of the view that politicians need poets to keep them thinking, and Jim Carruth needs to be read by everyone who cares for and worries about rural Scotland. His new volume, Prodigal (Mariscat Press), goes back to his farming roots to remind us of the human in the landscape and to make us consider the country, the countryside and the country-dwellers we want and need.




Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, And Death In The Spanish Civil War by Amanda Vaill (Bloomsbury, £25) is a history that reads like a novel, penned by an academic who writes like a blockbuster. A deeply revealing account of the Spanish Civil War, through the eyes of three sets of lovers: Gerda Taro and Robert Kapa's stories are moving; Hemingway and Gellhorn are dislikeable but intriguing; Arturo Barea, the only Spaniard, is tragic. Another war zone is under Glasgow writer J David Simon's scrutiny in The Land Agent (Saraband, £16.99). Socialism, Zionism, love and land collide in 1920s Palestine in this compelling novel. And 2014 has been a good year for my obsessions. I only need to state the titles and the authors - The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories by Ian Rankin (Orion, £19.99) and Time Out Of Mind: The Lives Of Bob Dylan by Ian Bell (Mainstream £9.99). Finally, Wings Over Scotland's Wee Blue Book is both iconic and of continuing value.




Some books slipped quietly onto the shelves this year, none more so than Adam Thorpe's On Silbury Hill (Little Toller Books, £15), a wonderfully idiosyncratic but deeply informed personal essay on what might well be the most mysterious of England's landmarks. Is Thorpe Britain's most underrated writer? Having just re-read his 1992 classic novel Ulverton, I say he has to be in the running. I was delighted to see Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road To The Deep North (Chatto & Windus, £16.99) take the Booker - there could be no more deserving winner. With F: A Novel (Quercus, £16.99) Daniel Kehlmann confirmed his uncanny ability to write extraordinary books, while never doing the same thing twice. Meanwhile, the year's best debut has to be Sarah Perry's extraordinary After Me Comes The Flood (Serpent's Tail, £11.99), a lyrical and haunting novel that signals the arrival of a great new British talent.




I am not a separatist by gender or geography when it comes to books but it has been hard to get past the abundance of great reads by Scottish women across genres this year (Louise Welsh, Laura Marney, Kerry Hudson, for example, all at the top of their respective games). I'm cheering the unstoppable rise of Kirsty Logan and devoured The Rental Heart (Salt, £9.99), her consummate debut short story collection, delivered just as the form is undergoing a renaissance. My stand-out fiction for 2014? Ali Smith's How To Be Both (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99) breathtakingly adventurous, a truly great writer in a playful and profound dance with Woolf. Yonder Awa, the Empire Café's poetry anthology, moved me, and am I allowed to shamelessly plug Glasgow Women's Library's 21 Revolutions? Short stories and poems I read countless times during the editing process but which have continued to bring me joy throughout the year.




Helen Dunmore's The Lie (Windmill, £7.99) is a subtle yet poignant portrayal of a soldier returning from the First World War. Dunmore brings you in and out of the muddy trenches, of memories, of illusions and reality, vividly painting a picture of a young man psychologically scarred by war. Original and unique, Ali Smith's How To Be Both (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99) reminds me of the vast possibilities of creative writing: the temporal and spatial crossing between present-day Britain and 15th-century Italy, and the issues of duality (on gender identity and how to be more than just one "I") and of grief, are subtly and deftly dealt with. I make it a point to name a story collection, as short fiction has always been neglected. Molly Antopol's The UnAmericans (Fourth Estate, £12.99) focuses on stories of Jewish intellectuals from across America, Europe and Israel, with strong historical sense behind the characters.




Steeped in the natural world - predominantly that of Skye where he lives - John Purser's There Is No Night: New And Selected Poems (Kennedy & Boyd, £15) generously and penetratingly illumines the arts, religion, philosophy and the interplay of the affections. Rigorously crafted and themed, these poems radiate deep insight and wisdom, whether awakening familial memories, on the birthing of a calf or addressing Scots composers. Equally startling are his exhilaration at the life-force (The Counting Stick) and the sublime, and (in Croftwork) a cleareyed contemplation of death.

A sense of wonder also permeates Niall Campbell's striking first collection, Moontide (Bloodaxe, £9.95). The poet melds the sea-bound rigour of his native Uist with Hebridean enchantment and legend, and how he perceives his role as a poet. Enhancing the poems' emotional resonance and lyrical beauty are their freshness of image, supple metric and burnished cadences.




In The Zone Of Interest (Jonathan Cape, £18.99), Martin Amis created a novel which works as a novel, something which perhaps has not always been the case. Given the subject matter (Auschwitz), the line by line writing is not as dazzling as elsewhere, but the use of social comedy I thought was powerful and effective. Jeff Vandemeer's Annihilation (Fourth Estate, £10.99), the first part of a trilogy, is a haunting blend of fantasy, science fiction and mainstream literature. Vandermeer may not write like Martin Amis, but there is great skill in crafting such a strange atmosphere and illusion of storyline. Back in the real world, if you have the fashionable desire to become Nordic in all things, you will enjoy The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (Jonathan Cape, £14.99). You might even reconsider.




There were two highlights for me this year in literature from Scottish writers. James Robertson's playful short story The News Where You Are (Five Dials/Hamish Hamilton) was published online, as part of 365, a short story collection. In this extraordinary referendum year, Robertson quite simply nailed the Scottish zeitgeist with it. On a very different scale is Michel Faber's The Book Of Strange New Things (Canongate, £18.99), a humanising riposte to Conrad's Heart Of Darkness. Philosophically provocative, deliciously readable, wildly imaginative yet emotionally grounded... surreal and tender... it's a tremendously rewarding story of love, separation and faith.




First person narrative voice is the new black. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Phoenix, £8.99) is an enjoyable enough psychotic romp until it just becomes ridiculous. It was the narrative voice that kept me reading, certainly not the plot twists or silly denouement. The engaging first person narration was also the attraction in David Nicholls's Us (Hodder and Stoughton, £20), covering similar territory of marital breakdown and disappearance but taking a much kindlier, albeit slightly sentimental route. This Is What I Look Like, a memoir from Theresa Talbot (Strident, £7.99), also has an irrepressibly naughty voice, but it is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent's Tail, £7.99) that wins my Book of the Year. Stunning in its complexity and non-linear structure, and delivered through a compelling first person narrative voice, the tale of family secrets, shame, regrets and animal rights is an intelligent, thoughtful story, although it has completely ruined the PG Tips chimps for me.




Jeremy Rifkin is clearly someone who understands the scale of the economic and ecological crises humanity is facing. His style is perhaps a little more techno-utopian than mine, but his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society (Palgrave, £16.99), gave my optimism levels a much-needed boost. He sets out a compelling case that economic change through the ages has come about largely through changes to our energy and communication systems, and takes a rough canter through feudalism, mercantilism and the industrial, corporate and finance-based phases of capitalism before speculating on what is to come next. Looking ahead to a renewably powered and hyper-networked age of Big Data and the Internet of Things, Rifkin argues that the coming economic paradigm will be lateral, peer-to-peer, and decentralised with less domination by big business and a renewed place for the commons.




I'm the kind of person who has to look away for an injection, but no amount of squeamishness could dim the power of Henry Marsh's Do No Harm (Phoenix, £8.99), a remarkable account of what it feels like to be a neurosurgeon. Marsh - one Britain's most distinguished brain surgeons - admits that he was drawn to his field by its "controlled, altruistic, violence". Told in a series of vignettes, his memoir is a similar mix of hot and cold, from the seemingly chilly detachment needed to shield himself from the terrible consequences of inevitable mistakes, to barely concealed rage at increasing managerialism in the NHS. This wonderfully humane and unsentimental piece of writing reveals a writer who wields the pen as effectively as the scalpel.




With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow prompting plenty of Book Festival debate about the legacy of the British Empire, the publication of Kei Miller's remarkable collection of poems, The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion (Carcanet, £9.95), offered an irresistibly fresh perspective. In his lyrical style, Miller maps out a conversation between two worldviews - on the one hand the apparently scientific methods and presumptions of a Western map-maker, and on the other the imaginative language and landscape of the rastaman. Both views are compelling, and both make for scintillating poetry that slides in and out of Jamaican dialect. Staying in the Caribbean, I devoured Rachel Kushner's debut novel Telex From Cuba (Vintage, £8.99) - a welcome arrival in Britain six years after its original US publication. Alongside her hit 2013 novel The Flamethrowers, it proves that this American author is a superstar of the future.




I had the great honour of taking part in a discussion at this summer's Edinburgh International Book Festival with Sir Tom Devine, who has recently re-published his excellent trilogy on Scottish history. I've taken great pleasure in reading Sir Tom's work over the years and, although I haven't much time in recent months, I've always enjoyed revisiting The Scottish Nation: A Modern History (Penguin, £12.99) when I can. It covers around 300 years, from the late 17th century to present day, and teaches us how we can use Scotland's past to better understand our future. It's not a secret that I am a historian at heart and I think that this book takes its place among the greatest accounts of Scotland's history available today.