Since we all know there's no better gift - at Christmas or any other time - than a book, here are some of the best books published this year to gift this Christmas. There's something for everyone - even that person who always hates every present they're ever given...
For Lovers of the Past
Not just the best historical fiction novel of the year, but the overall best novel of the year has to be The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Virago Press): a beautifully written, tense and emotional novel which has you racing towards the end while wanting to savour every sentence. Also dealing beautifully with the quiet desperation of life in the aftermath of the First World War are Anna Hope's impressive debut Wake (Doubleday) and Adele Parks' Spare Brides (Headline).
For Humorists and Mavericks
The funniest novel of the year has to be Nina Stibbe's Man at the Helm (Penguin), a hilarious and charming novel about three children's plight to find their eccentric mother a husband. 2014 saw Edward St Aubyn get the knives out on book prizes in the sharp, satirical Lost for Words (Picador) (review here), while David Nicholls returned after a five year hiatus with the laugh-out-loud Us (Hodder) following one man's bid to save his marriage as he embarks on a grand European tour with his wife and teenage son.
This year saw the return of Pulitzer Prize-winning Jane Smiley, with the first novel in her Hundred Years trilogy, Some Luck (Mantle). Spanning the fortunes of a single American family, this first novel is epic, intelligent and emotional - and with two novels to come, will set you up for 2015 Christmas presents too. Two impressive American debut novels are worth sharing this year: Nickolas Butler's Shotgun Lovesongs (Picador) follows a group of male friend in Wisconson through fortune, fame, disappointment and love, while Judy Chicurel's If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go (Tinder Press) is a wonderful coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
For Thoughtful Types
Far and away the best non-fiction book this year is Stephen Grosz's The Examined Life (Vintage), a series of psychoanalytic case studies which read like beautifully constructed short stories. Winning plaudits from every corner is Henry Marsh's Do No Harm (Phoenix), a neurosurgeon's compassionate and insightful account of life, death and the drama of brain surgery. And over in fiction, Graham Swift's collection of short stories, England And Other Stories (Simon and Schuster) is both thought-provoking, emotional and portrays the complexity of 'Englishness'.
Let's Hear It For The Girls
2014 has seen a modern feminist resurgence with some acclaimed publications by clever, funny and thought-provoking young women. Leading the pack are Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl (Fourth Estate) and Amy Poehler's Yes Please (Picador), which should be required reading for all young women. But the original (and arguably best) is a new collection of the writings of Nora Ephron, The Most of Nora Ephron (Doubleday) which covers everything from politics, journalism, feminism and food with Ephron's remarkable insight and wit.
For Lovers of a TearJerker
There have been some beautiful tear-jerking novels this year, but these three will have even the hardiest reader sobbing. Recently nominated for Costa First Book of the Year, Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley (Hutchinson) tells a story of grief and love as one Mormon family try to recover from the loss of their son. Two Richard and Judy Book Club choices will also have you reaching for the tissues: The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman (Ebury) is a tender novel about early onset Alzeihmer's told with compassion and humour, while Julie Cohen's Dear Thing (Black Swan) deals thoughtfully and emotionally with childlessness and surrogacy.
For Dinner Party Book Enthusiasts
For those people who just want to read the books which might come up in dinner party conversations, best stick to the titles which have been doing the awards circuits, not least shortlists for the Booker, Baileys Prize, Costa Book Awards and Samuel Johnson Prize. If you're looking for some of the most talked about books of the year, consider How To Be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton), The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre), H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (Jonathan Cape), The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Chatto and Windus) and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar).