As we enter the third month of self-isolation here in upstate New York, I’ve tried to find some balance between working from home and doing some of the things I enjoy. As a teacher, I’m working fairly long hours as we do distance learning, mostly online. It hasn’t been the easiest adjustment going from being in a classroom all day long with my students to teaching them from home. It’s also been hard to separate work from home life, since I’m home all day, every day. With that said, I’ve started to read some more in the past few weeks. Reading has always been a great escape for me. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child, and there is little I enjoy more than spending a full day reading and getting into a book. My reading repertoire largely revolves around historical fiction, in particular World War II historical fiction. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share some books that I enjoyed reading, starting with my favorite topic: Fictional World War II novels. Perhaps you’ll find a new book to help you whittle away the time you are spending at home.
The following books are some that I’ve read over the past few years that stuck with me. I won’t try to claim they are “the best” World War II novels, but I enjoyed them a lot. They are in no particular order.
The Beantown Girls by Jane Healy
“A novel of love, courage, and danger unfolds as World War II’s brightest heroines—the best of friends—take on the front lines. 1944: Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. She’ll work in city hall, marry her fiancé when he returns from the war, and settle down in the Boston suburbs. But when her fiancé is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona’s long-held plans are shattered. Determined to learn her fiancé’s fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to come along… Chosen for their inner strength and outer charm, the trio isn’t prepared for the daunting challenges of war. But through it all come new friendships and romances, unforeseen dangers, and unexpected dreams. As the three friends begin to understand the real reasons they all came to the front, their courage and camaraderie will see them through some of the best and worst times of their lives.” (Goodreads)
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
“Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold… Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows… As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.” (Goodreads)
The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy
“Heartbroken and hoping for a new start, Abi Howes takes a summer job in rural France at the Château Bellevue. The old château echoes with voices from the past, and soon Abi finds herself drawn to one remarkable woman’s story, a story that could change the course of her summer—and her life. In 1938, Eliane Martin tends beehives in the garden of the beautiful Château Bellevue. In its shadow she meets Mathieu Dubosq and falls in love for the first time, daring to hope that a happy future awaits. But France’s eastern border is darkening under the clouds of war, and history has other plans for Eliane…When she is separated from Mathieu in the chaos of German occupation, Eliane makes the dangerous decision to join the Resistance and fight for France’s liberty. But with no end to the war in sight, her loyalty to Mathieu is severely tested. From the bestselling author of, Sea of Memories comes the story of two remarkable women, generations apart, who must use adversity to their advantage and find the resilience deep within.” (Goodreads)
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
“Oct. 11th, 1943 – A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun. When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?” (Goodreads)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer; Annie Barrows
“It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realizes that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.” (Goodreads)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.” (Goodreads)
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
“To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations… At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation. As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?” (Goodreads)
In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
“World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility. As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?” (Goodreads)
The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen
“In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal. Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation. Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…” (Goodreads)
Happy reading! If you have any suggestions for other great World War II historical fiction books, I’d love to hear them. I’ll be doing a separate post of Holocaust-related World War II books, as I believe those deserve a post of their own.