Two reviews of NetGalley reads for you today, because both are feminist texts that give voice to the struggles of the past and perhaps give a new generation ways to see the past and set out the future. They’re also two entertaining and fairly light novels.

Lissa Evans – “Old Baggage”

(Downloaded 20 April 2018)

It’s 1928. Mattie is an ex-suffragette, full of memories of beatings and action, force-feeding and prison, giving talks that don’t really fire people up any more, assisted by her adoring and practical companion, Florrie, “The Flea”, who took an admin role in the struggle, too. Mattie is a domineering character who believes in the power of direct action and shouting, a great character who you have to love, and Florrie is much quieter, goes along smoothing the way and achieves just as much through subtlety and careful good works. They make a great team, although Florrie has her secrets and sorrows and Mattie is constantly thinking of her lost brother, Angus. Although they’re not interested in marriage for one reason or another, both are firmly part of the generation of “extra women”, their menfolk lost in the First World War.

Fate throws a Fascist youth organisation in their path (and a rather splendid pair of villains) and they start a group for young women, flinging clubs and words around on Hampstead Heath (which is almost a character in its own right). Their maid is pulled into this, although class differences start to tell. Then another character from the past breaks through and all threatens to be pulled apart.

A quieter read, something other reviewers have commented on, but I enjoyed that aspect (reminiscent of Katharine d’Souza’s novels). Nothing shocking but there are some great scenes. I liked all the ex-suffragettes and Mattie’s indomitable spirit, but clearsightedness about how the struggle was. Set on the eve of the extension of the vote to women over 21 who were not householders, this is a good time for this book to be out, and I recommend it. An interesting time period to set it in.

This book was published yesterday. Thank you to Random House UK/Doubleday for making it available via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Chloe Coles – “Bookshop Girl”

(Downloaded 26 April 2018)

The amazingly named Paige Turner and best friend Holly work part-time in Bennet’s bookshop while waiting to escape the small town they’ve grown up in. When it’s threatened with closure, they set up a social media campaign, helped by some more experienced, older activist women who they meet at a life drawing class, and the slightly less useful but VERY handsome Blaine, self-declared anarchist and artist, who Paige of course embarrasses herself in front of at every turn.

I loved the feminist and activist statements woven skillfully throughout the book – it’s not didactic at all, with lessons learned already expressed strongly and new lessons learned about activism and craftivism. Small-town life is also captured nicely, but the feminism lifts it above a standard YA novel. There’s certainly as much discussion of sit-ins and protest between Holly and Paige as there is chat about boys. My favourite scenes were where bookshop worker Maxine terrifies some thugs (there are lots of older female role models, which is lovely) and when Paige finally realises what’s what and makes a passionate speech about the value of books.

This book was published yesterday. Thank you to Hot Key books for making this book available via NetGalley in return for an honest review.