My Year in Books 2023 by Octavia

Here is my year in books. Some I have reviewed, some I haven’t, most I loved but a few I didn’t but this is what I read throughout the year. Click here to read My Year in Books 2023

The Pandas Who Promised

By Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field, paperback £7.99, picture book 0-5 (reviewed by Polly) Two red pandas, Popo and Ketu. One wants to explore and the other wants to follow the rules. Warned by their mother to never climb down to the mountain they make a promise to always look after each other. But what happens when Ketu’s longing for adventure puts Popo in a tricky situation. Whether she should do as she’s told and let her sister go down the mountain alone or keep the promise she made to her mother. This book teaches that there isn’t always a definite right or wrong and that the bond between siblings is one that is precious and sometimes difficult. I love this book with its rhymes and beautiful illustrations that bring so much joy. It has such a wholesome message that looking out for and supporting each other, is just as important as any other promises.

Claris-The Chicest Mouse in Paris

By Megan Hess, hardback £14.99, picture book 3-5 (reviewed by Polly) Claris, the chicest mouse in Paris. A little mouse with a flair for fashion, Claris teaches us that no one is too small to achieve their dream. One day Claris is given the opportunity of a lifetime and by just jumping aboard a hot air balloon flown by frogs, she is whisked to Paris and into her dream life. After finding her own house that suits, a tres cute little mouse, Claris experiences the things she’d only read about in Vanity Fair as well as, unfortunately, as meeting the child known as the Brat. Along the way Claris meets lifelong friends whilst exploring the high-end fashion that Paris is so famous for. This book is incredibly charming, with exquisite illustrations and clothes you will adore. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in looking fabulous in Paris.


By Peter Bunzl, paperback £7.99, 8-12 fiction (reviewed by Polly) A classic but timeless adventure. Lily lives in a house with her father and their mechanical servants who seem to have their own personalities though being made from clockwork. When her genius inventor of a father suddenly goes missing, it’s up to Lily, Malkin her mechanical talking fox and her friend Robert to solve the mystery and avoid the silver-eyed men that stalk them through the shadows. This book mixes magic and clockwork together with the perfect amount of adventure and mystery. All the characters are extremely charming, and Malkin is particularly lovable I have to say. This series is one that I recommend to anyone as the twists and turns of the plot keep everyone transfixed and excited to read more.

Catch Your Death

By Ravena Guron, paperback £8.99, teen fiction (reviewed by Emily) This book captures your emotions right from the beginning, with twist after twist keeping you on edge and every chapter ending with a cliffhanger. Told from multiple perspectives it follows the accounts of three delightfully different girls who spend a night trapped in a mansion with a minimum of one murderer (at least that’s what Devi’s been shouting at anyone who will listen), the girls race to survive the night and figure out the culprit for the death of Emily Vanforte. With hidden passageways that Lizzie will absolutely not be going down thank you very much, until a sound spooks her into running headfirst through them (much to Jayne’s annoyance), and a cast of morally dubious suspects, no one knows the whole story. The real challenge is for you to figure it out before the stories end.

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn

By Mark Lawrence, paperback £9.99, teen fiction (reviewed By Emily) Mark Lawrence’s book immediately sweeps readers away into a fantastical world full of enthralling destinations that Evar and Livira will travel to. Both long to escape their ‘prisons’, both feel insignificant, but when the sabbers come and the library reveals mysteries, both are given the opportunity to prove together that they can take the world by storm. Livera was never content with staying in her isolated settlement, always longing for the city. Evar was swallowed by the mechanism and released unchanged decades later, always knowing that he had someone to save. These characters will capture your heart and imagination- not giving them back until long after you have finished this book. It is definitely

Safiyyah’s War

By Hiba Noor Khan, paperback £7.99, 8-14 years fiction (reviewed by Octavia) Even though this book is meant for children, it really moved me, and I learnt so much. Based on real events, it tells the story of the Muslims in the Grand Mosque in Paris, and how many Jews they saved during the war. They made papers for them, they warned them of danger, they even went as far as to hide them within the safety of the walls of the mosque before guiding their escape, in the underground networks of Paris. Such a compassionate and eloquently written story, that vividly brings to light, the plight and courage of those perhaps forgotten, despite the magnitude of what they did.

The Marriage Portrait

By Maggie O’Farrell, paperback £9.99, grown-up fiction (reviewed by Octavia) I took The Marriage Portrait with me, to read during a long weekend in Florence in the Spring. We stayed in a fresco covered stone apartment, within a private museum. I love taking a book to read, set in the location where I am travelling to. This book was so sensory, portrayed with the artistic detail and emotive energy of a Renaissance painting. The paintings which are so symbolic within the story. A story that begins in the Medici palace. The palace which I was lucky enough to visit whilst there. Lucrezia, the much-overlooked daughter of Cosimo and Eleanora Medici, is sent to marry Alfonso of Ferrara, at a very young age. A beneficial partnership for both affluent, leading families. Her husband she believes, is trying to kill her. I will say no more. But what I will say is this is a mesmerizing novel, that brings to light some uncomfortable historical truths.

The Romantic

By William Boyd, paperback £9.99, grown-up fiction (reviewed by Octavia) I adored the extraordinary journey of Cashel Greville Ross. All in the name of love. Following one’s heart, rather than one’s head, is a risky business. From Cork to London, to the romance and culture of Italy’s Pisa and later Venice. From life on a farm in America and even further yet, to discover the source of the Nile. Putting his life in great danger in exotic, uncharted territory. An unforgettable and stunning story. Completely immersive, charismatic, and charming. A must read.

Clara Reads Proust

By Stéphane Carlier, translated by Polly Mackintosh, paperback £9.99, grown-up fiction (reviewed by Clare) A pick-me-up of a book about a young woman working in a Parisian hair salon whose life is changed when she picks up a copy of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, left behind by an enigmatic gentleman who drops by for a haircut. Clara becomes completely absorbed by the writing ‘which she feels for a reason she still cannot understand, will make her stronger’. A hymn to the transformative power of books and their ability to open previously undreamed-of new horizons to the reader. A cup-of-tea-on-the-sofa or glass-of-wine-in-the-garden kind of book about unleashing your creativity and embracing what you love in life even if ‘there is no visible, Instagrammable outcome’. This elegant, slender volume written in short chapters would be a perfect book club choice. Serve with tea and madeleines for the full Proustian experience. (If reading this tempts you to read or re-read Proust for yourself, we also stock In Search of Lost Time, Book 1.)

You Are History

By Greg Jenner, illustrated by Jenny Taylor, paperback £10.99, children’s non-fiction/reference (reviewed by Clare) A history book with a difference: Rather than Kings and Queens or wars and battles it takes the evolution of everyday objects as our guide to the past. Author Greg Jenner (the host of comedy history podcast You’re Dead to Me) worked on Horrible Histories and that signature blend of the silly with the educational is captured in this book. It’s packed with fun illustrations and fantastic facts to impress your friends with. For example, when it comes to the humble pillow, did you know that in medieval China and Korea pillows were made from porcelain and were hollow in the middle so they could be filled with warm water in the winter and cold water in the summer? Or that way before Minecraft or even Pac Man, American nuclear physicist Edward Condon built the first games machine in 1940? Or that Tutankhamun was buried with 145 spare pairs of pants.