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My favourite books of 2015, part 2: July to December

Here's the second and last part of my 2015 round-up - the best books I read between July and December 2015. If you missed part 1, here it is!
Books from this year
The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood
It's a tough call, but I think this just about takes the crown as my No.1 favourite book of absolutely everything I read in 2015. I still get warm fuzzy feelings when I think about it. Elspeth Conroy is a long-term resident at Portmantle, an island retreat for artists; the first part of the book shows her forming a relationship with a new member of the community, while the second tells us how she became a painter, and what happened to lead her to Portmantle. The third and fourth parts of the book then draw all the strands of these stories together in brilliant, surprising, entirely unexpected ways. A beautifully written, magical, completely engrossing novel about inspiration, imagination and the creation of art. Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
The first time I started reading this book, I…
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My favourite books of 2015, part 1: January to June

This year I've decided to split my list of favourites in two - one post for the first half of the year, one post for the second - so I don't miss out on including anything amazing I read in what remains of December. And because there are too many books to fit in one post. Here are the best books I read between January and June 2015.
Books from this year
The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato I have very happy memories of reading this on a beach, on an uninhabited island, in Portugal - no, wait, that isn't the recommendation. And it would have been brilliant no matter where and when I read it. The Ghost Network is about: a missing pop star named Molly Metropolis; her fans; situationism; psychogeography; and Chicago's public transport system. Part faux-academic text, part conspiracy thriller, part postmodern, ultra-meta reflection on fan culture, it was SO much fun to read, kept doing unexpected things, and had me on the edge of my seat all the way through. Things We Have in…

On Amy Winehouse and Amy

Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)

Look, I can't review this from a detached viewpoint. I can't reliably assess its effectiveness as a documentary as though it might have been about any subject, someone I had little prior knowledge of. I can only review it from the perspective of an Amy Winehouse fan.

But not a super fan. I mean; I loved her, but I didn't follow her. I haven't read all there is to read about her; I haven't watched every documentary that was made. I never got involved with fan forums or anything like that. I never wanted to go down the YouTube rabbit hole of whatever candid footage of her there is to pore over. When she died my love for her remained suspended, and I continued to appreciate her primarily through her music, as I always had. Out of a mixture of respect and reverence and fear, I've never wanted to know too much about my heroes. But this, this felt important. I needed to see this.

Amy is a devastating film.

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There are few 'talking heads…

2014 in review: My favourite books of the year

The top ten nine best books published in 2014
Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant Linda Grant's virtuosic novel is the life story of its protagonist, Adele Ginsberg. Moving from her childhood through a memorable university experience and far beyond that, it is a coming-of-age story and much, much more. Themes of identity, concealment, performance and artifice run throughout, personified by Adele's androgynous friend Evie, whose fate at the party of the title forms the backbone of the plot. Endlessly expansive and evocative.

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry Sarah Perry's debut takes a number of elements I'm guaranteed to find fascinating - a grand old country house, a group of eccentric misfits, a stranger in their midst, and surreal touches - and rearranges them into something strange, original and entirely unexpected. The controlled pace allows every nuance of behaviour to gather meaning, and the book is gripping, soaked in atmosphere, and has something of the …

Ghosts, horror and the uncanny: the definitive* guide to spooky winter stories

*Okay, it's not THE definitive guide, it's just A guide - my personal guide - although I have tried to make it as definitive as I possibly can.

Over Halloween I saw so many terrible lists of ghost story recommendations that I started getting quite annoyed. I resolved to create my own, but it soon become obvious that it wouldn't be an easy or quick job, which is why this list, intended for Halloween, is only making an appearance now, in December. Once I'd started it, I found myself adding all manner of books to this list and separating them into categories: spooky stories, gothic fiction, twisted tales, winter reads. So, some of them have nothing whatsoever to do with ghosts or the supernatural, but capture the same uneasy mood, or else are just perfect for winter reading.

What makes a good ghost story? For me, it's all about atmosphere. If a tense, terrifying atmosphere is created effectively, it doesn't matter if the plot verges on the ridiculous (as they mus…

Mark Gatiss’s Crooked House (2008), M.R. James, and the ghost story tradition

Crooked House was first broadcast on BBC4, at Christmas in 2008, as three half-hour episodes, and later released on DVD as a film-length single cut. Designed to fit into the 'ghost story for Christmas' tradition, it's a potent combination of historical ghost story and modern horror. Mark Gatiss, who also wrote all the episodes, stars as the Curator; his conversation with Ben, a teacher played by Lee Ingleby, opens the series, and the stories that follow are ostensibly local legends related during that conversation. Crooked House works well as a portmanteau, but it can also be treated as three self-contained stories. 'The Wainscoting' is set in the Georgian era, 'Something Old' in the 1920s, and 'The Knocker' in the present day. Linking them all together is a good old-fashioned haunted house, the evocatively named Geap Manor, a place that 'seemed to attract unpleasantness'. It's the setting for the first two episodes, and although it'…

A quietly menacing allure: Harriet Lane's Her

Her (12 June 2014) by Harriet Lane

(Warning: because I wanted to discuss this book in detail, my review below contains more spoilers than usual. Not with regards to specific plot points, just general developments, but you may want to avoid reading it in full if you are planning to read the book and want to be surprised.)

Her is the second novel from Harriet Lane, author of the wonderful Alys, Always. It is the tale of two women, Nina and Emma, who tell their own stories in alternating chapters. When the characters meet - or, more accurately, when Nina sees Emma in the street - there is an instant flare of horror, panic and fascination on Nina's side. Straight away it is clear that the characters have encountered one another before, and that whatever interaction they have had, it has left a mark on Nina - but not on Emma, who fails to recognise Nina. The plot presents an immediate, obvious mystery: what can possibly have happened between the two women to make Nina obsessed with Emma…