Val McDermid

Val McDermid


Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent's Tail, £7.99) pulled off the rare trick of genuinely surprising me as well as enthralling - thought-provoking, funny and moving. Belinda Bauer's The Facts Of Life And Death (Bantam, £14.99) is shocking and gripping, reinforcing my conviction that she's the most interesting English crime writer around at the moment. And Edinburgh: Mapping The City by Christopher Fleet and Daniel MacCannell (Birlinn, £30) is an unusual look at our most fascinating city.

Zoe Strachan


After reading a lot of experimental fiction, I needed to revive my interest in gripping storytelling. I read The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Virago, £20) in two luxurious sittings, and it reminded me just how clever it is to create characters that captivate through their adventures in a world so well-realised that you can almost reach out and touch it. And - without giving too much away - the ending made me cry without being tragic. I loved it. At the moment I'm also immersed in Ben McIntyre's A Spy Amongst Friends: Kim Philby And The Great Betrayal (Bloomsbury, £12.99). Yes, it's an indictment of the blinkered beliefs of the Establishment, but the vicarious experience of the seedy, hard-drinking glamour of old-school espionage is thrilling. Who wouldn't like to spend an evening in Taksim's nightclub in Istanbul, watching belly-dancers and being served by former czarist duchesses while eavesdropping on the spies at the next table?

Jamie Byng

Publishing director of Canongate

Russell Brand's Revolution (Century, £20) was hands down the most unfairly maligned book of 2014. I thought it was wonderfully provocative and genuinely inspiring and dared to ask questions that most people would rather avoid, especially those in positions of power. And it is very funny. From Canongate's autumn list, Alan Cumming's Not My Father's Son (£16.99) and Michel Faber's The Book Of Strange New Things (£18.99) are two masterpieces that I would recommend to everyone.

Alan Bissett


In a very political year it was those books which raged against injustice which most ignited me, chiefly Owen Jones's The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It (Allen Lane, £16.99) which exposes the UK's entrenched networks of power, privilege and corruption. The referendum result may have been No, but that doesn't stop anything in Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison's Scottish Independence: A Feminist Response (Word Power, £24.99) or Yes: The Radical Case For Scottish Independence by James Foley and Pete Ramand (Pluto Press, £12.99) from being any less relevant. They truly represent the cutting edge of the debate. Finally, one of Scotland's most underrated prose stylists, Nick Brooks, produced his best novel yet, Indecent Acts (Freight, £8.99), which does marvellous things with the voice of a semi-literate, Glaswegian single-mother in a feat of remarkable pathos and empathy.

Lesley Glaister


Familiar by Robert Lennon (Serpent's Tail, £7.99) is a surprise of a novel; it begins conventionally enough with a bereaved mother driving to visit her son's grave, but takes an intriguing turn to become a sort of existential puzzle. It's a fascinating read, rather moving, and just the perfect length for a train-ride from Edinburgh to London and back. This summer someone challenged me to read The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman (Black Swan, £7.99) without crying. I lost big-time. It reduced me to a helpless blubbering wreck and has done the same to everyone to whom I've offered a similar challenge. It's not great literature but it is a compelling and unusual story, set partly in a lighthouse of the coast of Western Australia, and with a fascinating moral dilemma at its heart. Dilys Rose's Pelmanism (Luath Press, £12.99) is a beautifully structured non-linear series of vignettes that build into an affecting portrait of a dysfunctional family (and rang loud, nostalgic and disturbing bells for me).

Neal Ascherson


Warsaw Boy by Andrew Borowiec (Viking, £16.99) - the best-ever account of what is was like to be young and fighting in the Warsaw Rising. Poor But Sexy: Culture Clashes In Europe East And West (Zero Books, £15.99) by Agata Pyzik - dazzlingly clever, rude and omniscient account of what's happened to culture in east and west Europe since the fall of Communism. 365: Stories (Penguin, £12.99) - James Robertson's output of a perfectly crafted 365-word mini-story for each day of Scotland's historic year, collected in one volume by Penguin.

Ron Butlin


Dilys Rose's Pelmanism (Luath, £12.99) is a deeply moving and insightful novel; Lesley Glaister's Little Egypt (Salt, £9.99) is a most wonderful and disturbing read. Fine novelists both. Snake Road (Vintage, £8.99) is my first encounter with the elegant prose of Sue Peebles. I look forward to catching up on her backlist. David Cameron's The Ghost Of Alice Fields (Greenwich Exchange, £7.99) is an intelligent and gripping thriller, and so much more. Intense prose and a really great read. Ann Cefola is an American poet whose debut collection, Face Painting In The Dark (Dos Madres Press) is quite simply stunning. Don't miss it. Stewart Conn is one of Scotland's greatest living poets and The Touch Of Time (Bloodaxe, £12) is his finest collection to date. Mario Relich's first full collection, Frisky Ducks And Other Poems (Grace Note Publishing, £7.50), contains excellent poems that range from the deeply serious to laugh-out-loud funny. A most enjoyable and thoroughly rewarding collection.

Lucy Ellmann


Eimear McBride's novel, A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing (Galley Beggar Press, £8.99), is full of poetry and savage beauty. The future of literature suddenly looks a lot better since this daredevil came along. Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott (Bloomsbury, £12.99) tells you where those ham hocks and chicken goujons really come from. Grim stuff, but the book is generously packed with personal stories, and manages to make the unspeakable readable. The Private Life Of Henry VIII is admirably weird; I like Hobson's Choice too; and in Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor (Vintage, £10.99), Simon Callow describes this genius with gusto. He has a nose for the right quote, like Laughton's dismissal of Hollywood architecture as "late Marzipan". The Evergreen (Word Bank) is "bran-new", as Dickens's Veneerings would say: an anti-establishment literary magazine that shimmers with rebellious doubt and fervour. It must also be the best-looking book produced since Scotland was colonized.

Todd McEwen


Marilynne Robinson's Lila (Virago, £16.99) was the book of books this year, an amazing achievement despite its spiritual agenda: sometimes you have to admire what an artist can do and chalk the rest of it up to experience and human fallibility. I encountered two novels by Alfred Hayes which absolutely charmed me with their ruefulness - In Love and The End Of Me (Penguin, £9.99). Were you bowled over by the Louise Bourgeois show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art? Read her intricate, angry, beautiful Destruction Of The Father (Violette, £21.80). After that you could relax a little with The Boys Of Summer by Roger Kahn (Aurum Press, £14), the greatest book ever written on the greatest sport: baseball. But what I most enjoyed was The Lost Upland by the American poet WS Merwin (Counterpoint, £12.60), a wry, meditative account of his residence of several years in the southeast of France. Worth it alone for his description of subversive lettuce-plucking.

Andrew Greig


Stoner, the lately resurrected masterpiece novel by John Williams (Vintage, £8.99), is exactly that: astonishing, moving, humane. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman (Canongate, £9.99) is a book about happiness for people who can't stand magical or positive thinking, and is a joyful and entertaining liberation. Though it is but a pamphlet, there are poems in Hugh MacMillan's The Other Creatures In The Wood (Mariscat, £6) that I think are special, at once local, personal and universal. Treat yourself.

Kirsty Logan


For me, this was a year of darkly lovely fairy tales. I spent a breathless evening absorbed in Emily Carroll's graphic short stories, Through The Woods (Faber, £12.99), possibly the most beautiful book I've ever read, and so creepy that it seeped into my dreams. An atmospheric historical novel, Eliza Granville's Gretel And The Dark (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99) is twined with references to gruesome fairy tales. The two linked narratives - one of a psychologist treating a mysterious patient in 1890s Vienna, one of a spoiled child in 1940s Germany - bleed together in an unexpected way. I haven't quite finished Michel Faber's latest (and reportedly last) novel, The Book Of Strange New Things (Canongate, £18.99), and it's already a favourite. Faber's prose is always flawless, and there's such tenderness and sadness in the book. It's a powerful and immersive reading experience.

Vic Galloway

Radio presenter and music critic

An autobiography I found enthralling was Viv Albertine's Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys (Faber, £14.99) in which she describes her life as mother, daughter and punk pioneer in The Slits. Documenting her strengths and weaknesses in brutally honest and achingly funny prose, it's refreshing to hear a woman's perspective in a frequently male-dominated world. Zoe Howe's Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus & Mary Chain Story (Polygon, £12.99) is a funny, moving and often surprising page-turner that uncovers the myths surrounding East Kilbride's notorious Reid brothers, their music, attitude and lasting legacy on alternative rock. Finally, The Dead Beat by Doug Johnstone (Faber, £7.99) is a noir thriller set in modern-day Edinburgh and centred on Martha, a fledgling obituary columnist at a local paper who receives a phone call from someone allegedly committing suicide. Investigating further, she simultaneously finds herself unearthing dark secrets from her own family past. Underpinned by her parents' 1990's grunge soundtrack, the story takes you on a rollicking ride around the capital.

Julie Bertagna


I love writing that peels back and plays about with layers of reality to reveal the magic and beauty as well as the horror and mystery underneath and beyond what we think we know. Haruki Murakami's Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage (Harvill Secker, £20) does that brilliantly and infuriatingly, leaving as many questions as answers about the seismic rupture of Tsukuru's life. The Book Of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Canongate, £18.99) is the strangest book I've read this year. The story of a British pastor's mission to a distant planet sounds like run-of-the-mill sci-fi but, in Faber's hands, it's a haunting love story that grapples with the pain of separation and the unsolvable mysteries of a universe that becomes more alien and unknowable the deeper we venture into it. I do hope this is not (as Faber vows it is, following the sad death of his wife) his last novel.

Stuart MacBride


I haven't read nearly enough books this year, because if I don't meet my deadlines my publishers beat me. With sticks. But here's my top reads of 2014. First I'm going to recommend Jojo Moyes's The One Plus One (Penguin, £7.99) - a romcom about a single mum, two kids, a maths competition and a flatulent dog. Warm, funny, moving: what more could you want? Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Abacus, £8.99) brings together an eclectic collection of stories from one of America's best essayists. Some are laugh-out-loud, others poignant, and there's a hefty dose of melancholy along the way. James McGee's Resurrectionist (Harper, £9.99) brings together grave robbers, murder and sinister experiments in 19th-century London, and it's up to Captain Matthew Hawkwood of the Bow Street Runners to save the day. Swashbuckling fun. And Oliver Jeffers' Once Upon An Alphabet (HarperCollins, £20) - if you don't love it you're probably dead inside.

William Dalrymple, right, Author

This year I've been reading widely for my new book, The Anarchy, on the rise of the East India Company, and have been fascinated by the work of my predecessors in the field, especially that of John Keay, Nick Robins, Tirthankar Roy, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Philip Lawson, Percival Spear, Christopher Bayly and KN Chaudhuri. But the book which swept me away was something well off my usual territory, a history of the ancient Mediterranean, The Making Of The Middle Sea by Cyprian Broodbank (Thames and Hudson, £34.55). It's a wonderfully sweeping and oddly unputdownable history of the region from the ice age to the Parthenon, and full of the oddest facts imaginable - for example, in Mesopotamia c1750BC a large piece of rock crystal was worth 3000 sheep and 60 male slaves. Broodbank is especially gripping on the Neanderthals, "our haunting, ultimate other". They ate peas, acorns, ostrich eggs and tortoises, built weapons but not boats, and lived "brief, hard lives of uncertain cognitive depth". Highly recommended.

Maggie O'Farrell


I was lucky enough to get an early proof of Simon Wroe's debut novel Chop, Chop (Viking, £8.99), so my year's reading began with his darkly comic take on the netherworld of the professional chef. It's audacious, thrilling and shocking, and is guaranteed to make you avoid restaurant roasts for the rest of your life. I have read and re-read Jenny Offill's ingenious, moving and refreshing Dept Of Speculation (Vintage, £4.64). The story of a marriage told in seemingly disconnected observational vignettes, it manages to reinvent the whole medium of the novel. And that's certainly not something you see every day.

Tom Leonard


A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism And Broken Politics In Britain by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell (The Bodley Head, £16.59) gives a namecheck to the seemingly ubiquitous network that can link member of parliament, industry, news-media, finally theatre of war. It updates though does not supplant Charles Miller's Lobbying Government: Understanding And Influencing The Corridors Of Power, which was and remains particularly insightful as an insider's practical guide rather than outsider's outraged denunciation. A similarly revealing insider job is Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story Of Blackwater And The Unsung Heroes Of The War On Terror (Penguin £10.42) where author and founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, extols the best known (many would say most notorious) of those private and proxy forces now usually to be found as boots-on-the-ground to national or Nato bombs from the air. The cover illustration of Blackwater's medal for valour — St Michael slaying Satan — is pithy summary of the mindset.

Nicola Morgan

YA author

I was bound to enjoy The Girl Who Couldn't Read by John Harding (Blue Door, £14.99). It's super-Gothic, set in the appalling world of a 19th-century asylum and is the sequel to Harding's linguistically original and gorgeous Florence And Giles. Reading F&G first isn't crucial, but it will double your pleasure. You'll find Tanya Landman's Buffalo Soldier (Walker, £7.99) in the teenage section, but there's no reason why adults wouldn't understand it equally. Set just after the American Civil War and based on a true story, it's the gripping and often heart-rending tale of a freed slave-girl disguised as a soldier and sent to fight Native Americans. My non-fiction recommendation is Richard Wiseman's Night School (Macmillan, £20), a detailed but sparky and readable state-of-the-science overview of our understanding of sleep, with plenty of practical advice about sleeping better. Mind you, some of the facts about the health consequences of poor sleep might keep you awake…

Alice Thompson


There is an energy to the language of both these intriguing novels that set them apart from many books published nowadays. Chris Dolan's first crime novel, Potters' Field (Vagabond Voices, £9.95), is not only a compelling story about murder but also about Glasgow, with its vibrant internationalism and architecture of "old red sandstone bleeding thickly in the light". The heroine, Maddy, is a masterpiece of characterisation: she is both professional (a procurator fiscal) and alienated ("I dress myself like a stranger."). Using her imagination to help solve the killing of two young men - "Maddy could hear the two of them" - her relentless doggedness is the mirror image of her personal vulnerabilities. This is a compelling crime novel shot through with poetry. Ali Smith is a master of language, unafraid to take risks with grammar, structure and meaning. Her latest Man Booker shortlisted novel, How To Be Both (Hamish Hamilton), is the story of doubles, two interwoven tales of a renaissance artist of the 1460s and contemporary George. Both tales play with gender and artistry. And, as always with Ali Smith, sensuality and artistry become the same thing: "I moved to the end of the bed and she stayed among the pillows and I caught her on the paper in a form both sated and ready, still tensile as a bowstring drawn back ready for its arrow." Vigorous, vivid writing that is Ali Smith incarnate.

Toby Litt


I hate the word "fable". It's usually used to mean "a story in which some of the characters have wings". But it's the only word I can come up with to describe Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn & Quarterly, £15.99). It's a graphic novel that, the first time you read it, feels as eternal as Alice's Adventures In Wonderland or Gulliver's Travels. The set-up for the story has the utter simplicity of genius, and to give away even the slightest detail of the plot would damage it. Let's just say it's about a community of Little Folk whose home no longer skips or sings or frets.

Karen Campbell


As a Weegie now living in Galloway, Look Up Glasgow by Adrian Searle and David Barbour (Frieght, £25) made me homesick and proud in equal measure: even though you know it's a beautiful city, it's amazing how many hidden architectural gems there are in Glasgow. Blossom by Lesley Riddoch (Luath, £11.99) is another favourite , while in fiction, The Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury, £8.99) was a quiet, understated meditation on a life that could have been lonely, but was filled with wonder and curiosity instead.

Linda Cracknell


David Almond's second novel for adults, The Tightrope Walkers (Penguin, £8.99) weaves post-war Tyneside realism with near magic in the tale of Dom, growing up in a shipyard family and drawn alternately by his neighbour Holly, who inhabits books, imagination and high wire dexterity, and a nihilistic character Vincent, with whom he dabbles in crime, death and darkness. The coexistence within of monster and innocent is echoed in the setting, incorporating shipyard cranes and river-stink with the freedom of fields and moors above. Which brings me to the treasure that is The Moor by William Atkins (Faber, £18.99). As one thrilled by exposure on Dartmoor as a child and by fictional lives shaped by such places in Wuthering Heights and The Return Of The Native, this book - a journey across Britain's moors exploring history, topography, mythology, literature alongside the writer's experience of treading these fugitive places - reanimates that thrill with wonderful storytelling.

Caro Ramsay


Chris Dolan's Potter's Field (Vagabond Voices, £9.95) is the fantastic book you would expect when one of Scotland's finest writes crime fiction. His protagonist, fiscal Maddy Shannon, is a truly likeable, realistic heroine. There is lyricism in this novel that does not impede the pace or the wry humour. "Down these mean streets a man must go," said Raymond Chandler, echoed by Russel McLean with his (very) flawed hero AJ McNee in his latest thriller, The Mothers Of The Disappeared (Severn House, £19.99). The mother in question requests McNee to investigate whether the man who confessed to murdering her son was actually responsible. As usual, McNee ends the book battered but morally intact. The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink, £12.99) is a slow-burning psychological thriller where the quirky heroine is sucked into the life of a man whose wife has just committed suicide. McPherson wrong-footed me from page one. A great novel.

Pat Kane

Author, musician and journalist

Until the morning of September 19, I was reading a feast of Scottish political writing: Jim Sillars' In Place Of Fear 2 (Vagabond Voices, £4.95), Stephen Maxwell's The Case For Left-Wing Nationalism (Lutah Press, £9.99), Lesley Riddoch's Blossom (Luath, £11.99), Alex Bell's The People We Could Be (Luath, £7.99) and the Common Weal manifesto. Afterwards, I've been filling my gaping chest cavity with prior obsessions: Theresa A Kestly's The Interpersonal Neurobiology Of Play (WW Norton, £23.99) and Jeremy Rifkin's The Zero-Marginal Cost Society (Palgrave Macmillan, £16.99), both useful so far. Arty American films and orchestrally minded jazz artists also help (but they're not books). Can't read any poetry or fiction yet, especially not of the local variety: Alan Warner's warning about a short-circuit between Scottish literature and Scottish society, in event of a No vote, has come all too true for me, at least so far. Hope the situation improves. But really not looking forward to The Revival Of Bourgeois Belles-Lettres In The Post-Referendum Scotland.

Candia McWilliam


The Iceberg by Marion Coutts (Atlantic, £14.99) finds a strong, new, completely un-"British" (the author is a Dutch artist) way to catch pain and memory in language; it is a sculpture, braver, more rounded, than simply memorial, in living words, of the loss suffered by herself and her son of her husband, the art critic Tom Lubbock whose dying the book recounts. It will last. It makes a matched grand pair with his Until Further Notice, I Am Alive (Granta, £9.99). No softened gloom, all life and strong love. A Book Of Death And Fish by Ian Stephen (Saraband, £18.99) may well take its place beside Moby-Dick, asking of you something as much and giving in proportion - which is to say incalculably much, and that long after you have finished it, over and over. It will, I suspect, be one of those books I will not put down all my days: island life, life at sea, being en-islanded, the isolation of failed understanding, of loss, of identity, even of nationhood - and of tank warfare - of addiction and of much else, all broached in a daring remade language that teaches you how to read it. Sailing The Forest: Selected Poems by Robin Robertson (Picador, £14.99) - the only words more welcome as subtitle might be All The Poems. Read it, give it, read it aloud, give it to poetry agnostics and watch them shiver, touched by the poet's tinsel, his understanding of this light and that darkness.

For more Books of the Year recommendations, see