I think there's a tendency to pick more recently read books for a list like this but, just to prove there are exceptions, top of my list is the first book I reviewed this year - Donal Ryan's The Thing About December The heart-breaking story of gentle but dim-witted Johnsey Cunliffe is played out over a year, a chapter for each month, leading to the climax in December; an immensely sad but compelling read.
Sticking with the grim side of life, and another book from early in the year - Cynan Jones' The Dig charts a clash of wills and lifestyles between Daniel, a farmer committed to his land and animals, and an anonymous badger-baiter, earning his living through cruelty. It's raw and bleak, a definite eye-opener for anyone who thinks the countryside is a rural idyll.
In A History of Loneliness John Boyne tackles the fallout from the paedophile scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland. Father Odran Yates has been a priest for forty years, has tried to live a good, blameless life, ignoring the abuses of power taking place around him, but now has to face up to his niggling conscience.
Carys Bray's debut novel, A Song For Issy Bradley, is about loss, hope, faith and family as a Mormon family face up to probably the most devastating thing that can happen - the death of a child. Ian and Claire, and teenage children Zippy and Alma struggle with their faith and their loss; only 7 year old Jacob can see an answer - to work a miracle and bring Issy back. Ultimately hopeful and life-affirming, there are without doubt some dreadfully dark moments but they're balanced by light, humour and love.
Another family - this time the Saddeqs from Lahore in Pakistan. Roopa Farooki's The Good Children explores the complex relationships within this family- between children and parents, and between children themselves - as they grow up, spread their wings, leave home for England or the US, but always feel that tug that binds them together. It's grand in scale - moving from the1940s to the present day - and size - 620 pages, though it didn't feel a page too long.
I struggle to find ghost stories that scare me, so I was oddly delighted to stumble across this - Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray. While his mother makes plans for a new life in the old family home, Dieter, the boy-heir, encounters a strange ghostly boy with evil designs. With a growing feeling of menace, this is a truly spine-chilling read, probably best avoided late at night.
Another debut, this time an excellent sci-fi dystopian thriller. Tomorrow and Tomorrow follows grief-consumed Dominic as he wanders through the virtual archive that brings nuclear-blast destroyed Pittsburgh and its inhabitants back to life. Not-too-distant future dystopia with TV-like 'adware' that constantly streams news, adverts and reality TV style porn direct into the brain, a destroyed city recreated in virtual form, a twisting turning thriller and grief-struck hero combine to create a wonderful, complex story.
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh could easily have been just another tale of sun, sea and illicit sex but it's so much more; a perceptive portrait of a family reaching a turning point in their lives, a marriage that's a little too stale, and a woman seeking to re-gain her lost youth by tumbling heads over heels in lust with a hot 17 year old. I absolutely loved it.
The storyline to Hamid Ismailov's The Dead Lake reads almost like a fairy tale - a young boy ventures into a forbidden lake and is cursed for life - but the evil wizard here is the Russian government and the lake has been polluted by atomic testing. The first of Peirene's 2014 Coming of Age series deals with a boy who doesn't grow up, and a whole region caught, literally and figuratively, in the fallout from the arms race. Told in plain, straightforward prose, it's a tale to make your heart ache.
I've read a lot of crime novels over the year but this was my favourite. The fourth of Sharon Bolton's Lacey Flint series, A Dark and Twisted Tide, is set among the old wharfs and abandoned warehouses of London. A complex story that developed in unforeseen ways, with the story told from multiple points of view and a timeline that jumps backwards and forwards. It's only at the very end that everything comes together - and in a totally unexpected way.
...and to round off my list two rather different 'lighter' reads...
First, something very dark and wicked - Lizzie Prain finds an unusual way to dispose of her husband's dead body as she lovingly cooks her way through his remains in Season To Taste or How To Eat Your Husband. Natalie Young's humour is dark and twisted - think Sweeney Todd meets Desperate Housewives - and not for the squeamish.
Last, not least but certainly the lightest of my list, another debut - from actor Sara Crowe. Campari for Breakfast is a delightfully quirky coming of age tale about finding love and finding oneself. There are family secrets to be unearthed and a ghostly visitor to be braved, while the house threatens to crumble down and desperate ways are sought to save it. I absolutely adored this. It's light, funny and sad by turns, but overwhelmingly full of 17 year old heroine Sue's belief that one day she'll find love and begin to live decadently, sipping campari for breakfast!
Not really eligible for this list were some really amazing books published in previous years; Andrea Levy's Small Island, George Mackay Brown's Greenvoe, and Roopa Farooki's The Flying Man