Reviews by Alastair Mabbott

Salt On Your Tongue

Charlotte Runcie

Canongate, £9.99

An Edinburgh resident for a number of years, Charlotte Runcie was originally from Hertfordshire and her first experience of the majesty of the sea was on Skye. But it was while pregnant with her first child at the age of 28 that she began to feel a real connection, and this book doubles as pregnancy memoir and voyage of discovery into women’s affinity with the sea. While men ranged across the oceans, the basis of women’s relationship with the sea was waiting by the shore, and from this perspective Runcie casts her gaze across history, from Homer to Coleridge, Norse myths to sea shanties. As pregnancy redefines the boundaries of her body like a changing coastline, she joins a choir and finds herself awakening something deep within herself by reframing men’s shanties and work songs. It’s an intimate but wide-ranging exploration which, as befitting a former Foyles’ Young Poet of the Year, is as lyrical as it is insightful.

Your House Will Pay

Steph Cha

Faber & Faber, £12.99

A Korean-American crime writer from Los Angeles, Steph Cha is well-placed to examine the racial tensions of her home city, and she’s surpassed expectations with Your House Will Pay. Basing her story on a fictionalised version of the shooting of a 15-year-old African-American girl by a Korean convenience store owner in 1991, she probes its long-term effects on the families of victim and perpetrator. Shawn Matthews, a black ex-convict, was profoundly affected by the death of his sister, and when her killer, Yvonne Park (she changed her name after the trial), is shot and her identity publicly revealed, the two families’ paths cross and both have to face up to their legacy of violence. Cha plunges boldly into the complex racial politics of LA, and how little they have moved on since the riots of the 1990s, but never at the expense of the story, which is grounded in plot and character, an expertise she acquired as a writer of crime thrillers.

The Red Address Book

Sofia Lundberg

Borough Press, £8.99

The address book of 96-year-old Swede Doris tells the story of her life, though a depressing number of names are scored out, with the word “dead” beside them. She decides to use it as the basis for a memoir so that her American great-niece can learn about her eventful life. Sent into domestic service in Stockholm at the age of 13 after the death of her father, the young Doris travels to Paris with her mistress, where she is sold off as a “living mannequin”, modelling clothes. She goes on to forge lifelong friendships, lose the love of her life and make her way through war-torn Europe to find him again. This warm, romantic book carries a positive message about the wisdom the elderly can pass on to the young, and if it tends to tug a little too hard on the heartstrings, the poignancy of Doris’s increasing frailty and approaching end prevents it from getting too cosy.