Some of My Favorite World War II Historical Fiction Books

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.

Recent Reads

Books ReadI’ve always been a huge reader.  When I was younger, I would read all the time.  I actually read through every single historical fiction (my favorite genre) book in the entire elementary school library, and all of the appropriate historical fiction books from the middle/high school library by the time I reached 5th grade (my librarian was amazing and got some more books for me to read!).  Now that I’m older, I don’t read quite as often, but I still love it when I get the chance to do some reading.  I thought I’d share some books I’ve read recently.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: You’ve probably seen the movie or at least eh previews.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but would like to because I loved this book.  It’s a memoir about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT).

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto: I’m not quite sure how to describe this book.  It had been on my want-to-read list for awhile and although I like it, it’s definitely not what I was expecting.  It’s about 8 different female photographers.  I was expecting it to interweave the various stories, but in reality, it’s more of a collection of shorter stories.  It is well-written and appears to be a very honest (sometimes brutally honest) look into what life was like for women in the past, and particularly women who were photographers.  I haven’t actually finished it, but I like it because it is almost-separate stories so I can read just a couple at a time.  It’s been hard for me to get through, but not because it isn’t good.  It’s just very deep and a bit troubling.

Between Friends by Debbie Macomber: I just read this one this past weekend and I loved it!  It’s a pretty quick read.  It tells the story of two lifelong friends and follows their lives and friendships from first grade to old age.  It’s sad and joyous and heartwarming.  The entire story is written through birth announcements, letters, documents, journal entries, and emails.  I really liked that in addition to telling the story of a lifelong friendship (of two women from very different backgrounds), it also tells the story of the history of the past 70 or so years.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes: I liked this book, but it took me awhile to get through it.  It is very descriptive.  It’s about a woman (and her husband) who buys a villa in Tuscany and tells the story of how they fix it up and fall in love with Italy.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan: Okay, so this book is actually written for kids, but it’s a classic and I love it.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read it at least 4 or 5 times.  It tells the story of a Norwegian town that is invaded by the Germans during World War II and devises a way to get their gold past the Germans and to the United States for safe-keeping.  The children of the town load the gold up on their sleds and sled right past the guards.

Life Lately 5-19-14

Wow! It’s been awhile since I wrote a Life Lately post!  Here’s what I’ve been up to the past 2 1/2 months.

RIT 2014

Spent… a weekend with with 2 of my best friends from high school and had a great time catching up and hanging out.  We watched movies, talked for hours, made dinner together, and went to Barnes and Nobles, where we bought 7 books between the 3 of us to rotate.

Acquired… a lot of new knowledge about theater, acting, ceramics, painting, and Spanish.  For acting, we had to do two different duets (with different people) and an additional monologue.  Although I doubt I’ll venture into acting again, I learned a lot and was glad I was forced to get out of my comfort zone.  Through my theatre class, I learned a lot about the history of theatre and the various types of theatre, something I previously didn’t know a whole lot about.  I ventured for the first time in ceramics and loved it!  For my visual arts education major, I am actually going to concentrate in ceramics.  I learned that painting, particularly for a class and without specific assignments, is not really my thing.  And I greatly expanded my knowledge of the Spanish language, including both vocabulary and grammatical structures.  This was my hardest class and I really probably should have taken a lower level course, but I made it (I did well, even though it was the lowest grade I’ve gotten so far at college).  What I learned definitely helped me when I went to Peru.

Read… Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  I really enjoyed both.

Attended… two different theatrical performances on campus: “Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “One Act Plays”, which included three different shorter plays.  Both were pretty good.

awards dinner

Received… an award from Phi Beta Kappa honor society for my academics.  There was a ceremony and fancy dinner, which my parents and one of my best friends from home came to.

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Exercised… quite a bit.  Sometimes I went to the gym and used the stationary bike and elliptical, other times I ran, and I also hiked and walked a couple of times.

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Finished… my community service requirement at college.  It’s amazing how quickly 60 hours go.  I did my community service through Circle K, the college version of Kiwanis Club and enjoyed every minute of it.

Took… my first test towards certification for education (the ALST) and passed!

Picked… my new room for next year.  I haven’t really seen the room, but it has a window seat! I’ll be rooming with a new roommate, which is also exciting.

My sister on the right (Liesl) with her friend on the left, who played Maria
My sister on the right (Liesl) with her friend on the left, who played Maria

Went home… the weekend before spring break (and leaving for Peru) to watch my sister perform in “The Sound of Music”.  She was Liesl and did an amazing job!  Our family friends and my aunt and cousin also came to see her perform, and it was nice to see them as well.

Performed… in a violin recital.  I played “Ave Maria” with a piano accompaniment.  Everyone did a great job and was interesting to have a small recital with people at various levels of learning (some who had just begun to learn and some who were very talented and had played for a long time).

Survived… my second semester of sophomore year.  I actually did well in all of my classes, even though I took several courses way outside my comfort zone.

Moved… out of my room at college and back into my room at home.  I didn’t really get to unpack before departing for Peru, so I had to do that once I got back.

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Had… an amazing time in Peru on my school trip! It was truly an amazing trip and I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it (getting sick twice was no fun!).  I made some great new friends and learned so much about Peru.

Visited… my brother in New York City prior to returning home (I flew into JFK and my family met me there).  We spent most of the day in Brooklyn attending the Kickstarter block party.  It was fun and really nice to see my brother, but I also really wanted to get home and sleep and take a shower.

Cleaned… a lot once I got home.  My room is finally put back together and the whole house was cleaned in time for my sister’s friends to come over for a barbeque before prom this past weekend.

Planted… 250 Christmas trees with my grandpa at his Christmas tree farm.  It was pretty hard work, but we made really good time (and he took me out to lunch once we had finished).  I also planted a bunch of flowers in our garden and front yard.

Officially finished… my 2nd year of college!  I had to write a 5-page paper in Spanish upon my return from Peru and once that was finished, I was done!  This is both really exciting and also a bit scary- only 2 more years.

Hung out with… my friends, both at college and at home.

Whew! It’s really been a busy couple of months.  What have you been up to?

Recent Reads

One of my goals for this year is to read more often (my specific goal is to read at least one book each month).  I have always loved reading, but haven’t made the time to do so as much in the past few years.  Because reading makes me happy and because it is a good thing to do when I am trying to avoid the internet more, I wanted it to be one of goals.  So far, I have read: Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (the second and third books in the Hunger Games trilogy), Looking for Alaska by John Green, and The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom.  I figured I would give a mini-review of each of these books in case any are ones you’d be interested.

Catching Fire and Mockingjay

mockingjay and catching fire

I loved the first book of the series, The Hunger Games and I also love Catching Fire.  Both are wonderful books.  I’m sure everyone has heard of both of them, since they have become extremely popular since the movies have come out.  It is for a good reason- the books latch you on from the beginning and are well-crafted.  Even if you are not usually a fan of dystopian fiction, I recommend these.  The third book, Mockingjay, however, was not my favorite.  I did not like the way the trilogy ended, even though it did make sense to me.  After loving the first two so much, I was rather disappointed, but the trilogy as a whole is still pretty great.

Looking for Alaska

cover-of-looking-for-alaska

I LOVED this book!  One of my friends gave it to me for Christmas, but I just recently got around to reading it.  It is about a teenage boy who goes off to boarding school in search of “The Great Perhaps”.  Upon arriving there, he becomes friends with “The Colonel” and Alaska, a girl who lives nearby.  With these two friends, and a couple of others, he is thrown into the “Great Perhaps” he is seeking for, falling in love with Alaska along the way.  I don’t want to give it away, but at this point something happens and everything changes.  It was one of the more interesting books I’ve read.  It deals with a lot of teenage issues, but it is also written in a unique way.  I loved the characters and would definitely recommend this one!

The Time Keeper

the time keeper

Mitch Albom is one of my very favorite authors (I HIGHLY recommend his books Tuesdays with Morrie and Have a Little Faith, they are two of my favorite books of all time).  I typically like his nonfiction books better than his fictional books, but really liked this one.  It is the story of Father Time, along with the stories of two unrelated individuals: a teenage girl searching for love and wanting time to speed up and an old business man who is dying of terminal cancer who wants more time.  Not only was it a good story, but it also has a great message.  It reminds us that time is special and that we should not wish for it to speed up or slow down, but rather just enjoy life.  Two of my favorite quotes from the book are “When you are measuring life, you are not living it,” and “There is a reason God limits our days. Why? To make each one precious”.  I would definitely recommend this book as well!

Next on my list:  The Kite RunnerAnd the Mountains Echoed, and The Last Lecture What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?

Note: Images are not my own.

Cutting Clutter

Today, someone asked my siblings and me if we have summer jobs.  We were joking around, and I mentioned that I am making quite a bit less per hour than both my brother and sister.  The woman we were talking to joked with my mom, saying that I should get a handicap, perhaps my parents should pay for more of my stuff or something.  My mom joked that my handicap was to clean the house (since my job is custodial work, mostly cleaning).  I’m not sure if that’s quite a handicap, but it is true that when I come home from college, our house is much cleaner.  It’s not that my mom and the rest of the family are slobs, or that it is filthy, but I am much better at organizing and deep cleaning.  When I have free time, especially when I am home, I often clean or organize things.  I am also much better at GETTING RID OF STUFF, which is something my family really struggles with.  I don’t mind hanging on to things that have a lot of meaning or that we need, use, or really love, but otherwise, I don’t see the point in keeping things.

A couple of days ago I went through a bin off artwork and schoolwork, some of which was from middle school and most of which was from my younger years.  I got rid of over half of it.  Although it’s kind of fun to look back at your old work and laugh about what you wrote about, I also know that I won’t miss most of it if it’s gone.  That’s mostly my process when getting rid of things: if I’m going to miss it, I keep it, but otherwise (for the most part) I get rid of it.  I kept some of the stuff, mostly letters and artwork that I thought was really exceptional (well, for a 7-year-old).  I also kept some of the cooler projects I have from art class, since they will be good ideas to use if I become an art teacher.  The truth is, papers and artwork take up room and create clutter, and I really don’t need most of it.

I attacked our big bookcase in the living room this afternoon with the same though in mind (my brother helped me this time).  We got rid of at least 1/4 of the books (assuming our parents don’t reclaim anything in the “get rid of” pile).  We’re hoping to par some of the categories (namely, nature books) a bit more with the help of our parents.  We probably don’t NEED and likely won’t even read 7 books on how amazing nature is.

I am hoping to attack a few more cabinets with the same process this summer.  But for now, I need to figure out what we’re going to do with all of these books.  Some are in pretty good condition, but most are rather worn.  Would it be better to donate them or try to sell them online?