Books of the Year Competition 2023

This year, for the first time ever, we ran our very own Books of the Year competition. We asked you to tell us your favourite read of 2023 and what made it so special to you. In exchange we chose a winner to receive all six of our 2023 Books of the Year! We were inundated with some really great recommendations from you guys so thought we'd put a selection here to share the love...


Mandy's Books of the Year: Poor by Katriona O'Sullivan

I heard the writer speak on the radio about her book. It immediately struck me as something I should read. When reading it, I found it heartening, heartbreaking and a challenge. It challenged me emotionally and was deeply insightful about childhood, the care system in the UK and Ireland. The importance of good teachers. Of love. And the dynamics of family and community. It was funny and written with deep truth and openness. It is a book that will not fade...


Ernie's Book of the Year: The Beast Quest Series by Adam Blade

I love Beast Quest because there are lots of cool beasts and they use the past beasts in series two that help. Nanook from series one helped Tom and Elenna in Arachnid the King of Spiders and Arcta helped Tom in Soltra and there is free collector card versions.


Dawn's Book of the Year: The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths.

This is the final (and 15th) book of the series of Ruth Galloway books. Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, assists the Police with their investigations and her on-off/complicated relationship with DI Nelson (with whom she has a daughter) is a central theme. However, each book is a crime mystery - involving present and past day murders. The last book neatly ties up Ruth's life with Nelson and her future as a lecturer as well as solving their final crime together. I will really miss these yearly publications and thoroughly enjoyed each investigation. I now intend to read all 15 back to back and think it only a matter of time that this series is brought to TV (hopefully to do it justice!).


Sarah-Jane's Book of the Year: This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

What can I say.... I laughed out loud, I was shocked and I cried, a lot. Can't remember another book taking me on such a roller coaster of emotions. The fact that book is based on real events cuts even deeper. I've recommended to several friends. A disturbing read in many ways but gives you such an insight into the lives of those we rely on so heavily. This book will stay with me. If you haven't already ( I'm sure you have!) then definitely take the time out to read.


Marlene's Books of the Year: Thunderclap by Laura Cumming and For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain by Victoria Mackenzie

I love Dutch Golden Age art and this title brought art, biography/memoir and imagination together beautifully. I'm now waiting for Moser's World Turned Upside Down to see if Fabritius is mentioned. So many wonderful books this year. My fiction favorite is one purchased in your Portishead shop - For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain by Mackenzie. It's another book that skillfully blends fact and imagination to create a conversation between two mystics, Julian of Norwich and Margaret Kempe. Thanks for the opportunity to share my favorites. I look forward to visiting the shop when I'm next in Portishead.


Lois's Book of the Year: Undercurrent by Natasha Carthew

It's a fascinating autobiography of a girl growing up feeling like an outsider in her family and in her Cornish community. It makes social comment on poverty in Cornwall and the difficulties and deprivation suffered by an ordinary if rather chaotic family. Young Natasha is somewhat of a loner, an outsider, struggling with her identity. From a very early age she begins to express her thoughts and ideas in writing and particularly poetry. Poetry is an escape and a comfort to her and a way of managing the situation she's living in. However, it's not her life story alone which made such an impact on me; Natasha is a wonderful and vivid writer, and her descriptions of place - the land, the littoral and the sea, are stunning and evocative. She loves the natural world and seeks refuge from her hard and unhappy life in her observations and experiences of it. Her use of language is brilliant and vivid, her perceptive and accurate observations are recorded in her notes, poems and writings through her life from being a small child. Her story, though troubling, and in some places hard to read, is gripping and engaging, but it's her writing - I am in awe of her writing. I look forward to seeing what other readers have recommended as their books of the year!


Annie's Book of the Year: Super Infinite by Katherine Rundell

My reason for picking this book is that Rundell writes beautifully and finds a way to bring this mercurial, paradoxical and ambiguous character to life; it is a very tender portrayal. She clearly loves him and his poetry and it’s infectious - and he is arguably one of the best poets in the English language comparable in profoundness to Rumi. Reading the book I much more empathically understood the hazardous and traumatic context in which he grew up, especially with respect to Roman Catholicism and the ruthless persecution of followers. The account of the imprisonment, plague and death of his best friend, ally and brother is searing. There are so many contradictions in Donne which Rundell doesn’t shy of exploring e.g. his relationship and treatment of women, his sell out of his religious beliefs, his need for power - vs his deep fear of death, being overlooked and penury. It’s a fascinating book. And for twopence worth, I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s Marriage Portrait which seems to have slipped through best novels of the year lists. Such an insightful way of getting inside the plight of being a woman - but reviews not that kind to the particular novel.


Sue's Book of the Year: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

This year both my husband and I read The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. We both found it intriguing, fascinating and extremely informative in relation to the political and social circumstances of life and love in Sri Lanka. The fantastical nature of the tale was both gripping and magical - definitely not the sort of book either of us would have normally gravitated to. But we both thoroughly enjoyed the imaginative writing, the strange perspective, the thrilling tale and the insight into Sri Lankan recent history.


Jane's Book of the Year: Thunderclap by Laura Cumming

If you read the ‘Acknowledgements’ Laura Cumming includes at the end of her book ‘Thunderclap’, you gain a feel for a generous, intelligent and inquisitive mind. ‘Only connect’ E. M. Forster famously remarked, and this book links the artistic achievements of Carel Fabritius with those of the author’s father, James Cumming. In a masterful sweep through philosophy, history, art appreciation and the randomness of individual circumstance, we learn about the paint on Fabritius’ famous picture of the Goldfinch drying, as the artist himself lies dead among the rubble of Delft. Much later, the author's artist father - joking to a child that he lives ‘in a sugar cube’ - is dying, whilst planning his next exhibition. But the Art embodied in these two men lives on and, in the chaos of Covid, serves to remind the author herself of ‘harmony, diligence and order’. We could do with a reminder of such virtues in these perilous and mendacious times, and Laura Cumming does a wonderful investigative job of alerting us to an appreciation of the artistic endeavour. It is a book I will both remember and recommend.


Joanna's Books of the Year: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I’ve enjoyed so many great books this year that it’s really difficult to choose just one... Sebastian Barry is a favourite & I loved both A Thousand Moons & Old God's Time. Ditto Kent Haruf's The Ties That Bind & Where You Once Belonged. Both those authors are regular favourites & never let me down, so maybe on this occasion I’m going to go with a new interest: Japan & recommend Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: a great family saga, taking the reader on a journey of over 100 years from early C20 Korea to Japan at the turn of the century. We follow the life of Sunja, a teenager in a poor fishing village in Korea, her journey to Japan & her struggle to survive against the odds. We become engaged in her life & her new family & their ways of becoming assimilated into Japanese society.. An absorbing novel which totally engages. AND also Japanese & more unusual: Four Seasons in Japan: a novel within a novel & also totally engaging as you follow an American translator in her search for a mystery author, at the same time gaining a fascinating insight into Japanese life & culture.


Gabor's Book of the Year: Shakespeare: The man who pays the rent by Judi Dench

My top read in 2023 was Judi Dench - Shakespeare: The man who pays the rent. As I am a huge movie fan, I am always interested in the life of actors and actresses. It is nice to hear from a great actress like Dame Judi Dench how she tells her stories. It is almost like when you meet someone at a Q&A at a movie premiere, but you read about her full career instead of only her last movie.


Kate's Book of the Year: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

A fast paced page turner but also a book that prompts thoughts about what it is to be competitive. Considers why we expect sports men and women to also have to be ‘a personality’ and what we feel they owe us. Brilliant book that I could not put down. Perhaps not a literary masterpiece but a great read nonetheless.


Azeta's Book of the Year: No Life For A Lady by Hannah Dolby

I loved this book, although it was a slow burner for me & took me a while to get into but I think that made me appreciate it more. The main character, Violet, was so quirky! I enjoyed the time it was set in (late 1800s) and the location (seaside of Hastings). Really enjoyed Hannah Dolby’s style of writing.

Poor : Grit, courage, and the life-changing value of self-belief

> Find out more

> Find out more

> Find out more

Thunderclap : From the Sunday Times bestselling author of On Chapel Sands

> Find out more

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays The Rent

> Find out more

> Find out more

Carrie Soto Is Back : From the author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

> Find out more

Super-Infinite : The Transformations of John Donne - Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2022

> Find out more