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.

Exploring Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pedestrian bridge overlooking the Tennessee River and Coolidge Park

A few weeks ago, my family traveled to Tennessee to celebrate my cousin’s marriage. It was a beautiful wedding and so much fun to be together with extended family that, despite our best efforts, we see far too little of.

Coolidge Park Carousel Ticket Booth
Coolidge Park Carousel

It was a quick trip- just 3 1/2 days- but we had a free day on a cold but sunny Friday, so we headed to downtown Chattanooga to see some of the sights, along with some of our extended family. My aunt and uncle moved to Tennessee about 28 years ago. We’ve visited them many times, and I remember going to the Chattanooga Aquarium (we didn’t stop there this time, but it is a phenomenal aquarium!) several times as a kid, but I’m not sure I’d ever walked around downtown before.

Coolidge Park Carousel
Coolidge Park Carousel

We started off at Coolidge Park, which is right next to the Tennessee River. We walked around a bit, then stopped at the Carousel. This indoors carousel is a restored 1894 Dentzel carousel, with 52 hand-carved animals and a calliope band organ. Despite being a group of adults, we payed $1 per person to ride the carousel. It is really stunning!

Coolidge Park
Me- at Coolidge Park
My mom- at Coolidge Park

We then walked across the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, built in 1891, to the Bluff View Art District. We saw some of the outdoor sculptures at the Hunter Museum of Art, then walked through part of the art district, including a sculpture garden.

Coolidge Park with Walnut Street pedestrian bridge in the background
View of Tennessee River from the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge

There was a crew competition, with thousands of participants and teams, taking place on the Tennessee River. It was really cool to be able to watch as the teams rowed, and before heading back to my aunt and uncle’s farm, we walked along the riverfront to see them up close.

There’s plenty more to see in Chattanooga, but this was a perfect way to spend a few hours on a Friday afternoon!

Going Home (to Moldova)

 

I recently returned from a fairly short trip back to Moldova to visit my host family. I spent about a week in my village. I arrived just over a year after I left Moldova at the end of my 2-year Peace Corps service there. I was blessed with cooler-than-normal summer temperatures (so thankful! a few weeks before I went, it was hovering around 100 degrees), and my host family made sure I ate lots of ice cream.

My three oldest host nieces joined me in the village so we could spend time together. The week was mostly spent at “home”- reading, drawing, playing, and talking. We also walked around my village and visited the public library, the park/playground, and school. It’s summer vacation in Moldova, so I didn’t see many students (just a couple who I passed on the street) or either of the partner teachers I worked with when I lived there. This was a bit disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I did get to enjoy some tea and cookies with a small group of teachers from the school I worked at one morning.

I spent my last evening in the capital with my host sister and her family. We took a very brief trip to the city center, where we walked around Cathedral Park for a short while. Some day, I’d like to go back for a longer amount of time and visit some of the attractions and wineries I never visited when I lived there, but it was a nice, short trip spent with some of my favorite people!

Reflections on Moldova

It’s been a little quiet on here the past few months. I left Moldova 9 months ago, and I’m still adjusting back to life in the United States and figuring out my next steps. I’m working as a long-term sub in a 5th grade classroom (which I’m enjoying and which is keeping me quite busy!), but I’m not yet sure where I’ll be/what I’ll be doing come fall.

This time last year, I was inching toward the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To be honest,  at that point, I felt I was really ready to go home and leave Moldova. Things that had been exciting during the first year of service had begun to frustrate me. I missed American food and ingredients, I missed doing activities that were more accessible in the United States (hiking, walking without people asking where I was going, going to the movies, meeting up with friends, etc.), and I missed my family and friends. I still tried to focus on enjoying every moment I had remaining in Moldova, but I was mostly looking forward to leaving.

The last couple of months of my service, however, was full of reminders to stay focused on the present. I began to finally feel closer to my colleagues at school. I worked on some projects I was proud of. As I began to say my goodbyes, I felt the love of so many wonderful Moldovans. I appreciated the natural beauty surrounding me.

Now, nine months later, I miss Moldova and her people more than I had ever imagined I would. I knew I would miss some people, especially my host family. But I miss so much more. I miss the earlier spring, with flowers blooming everywhere and fruit trees blossoming every few yards. I missed the holiday traditions around Christmas and New Year. I miss my students and the teachers at school. I miss walking to and from school on quiet roads lined with plants and flowers and the smell of nature. I miss sitting on the swing in the courtyard sipping on tea made from the mint leaves my host mom had planted and then dried. I miss “my” cat (he was really my host family’s, but everybody called him mine because he was rather partial to me). I miss the random adventures and visits I made with my host mom.

In the United States, I am hesitant to talk to someone I don’t know or throw myself into the unknown, but in Moldova I thought little of accompanying my host mom when visiting a friend unannounced or walking to the next town over to visit her friends. I ate food prepared by almost anyone (that only registered as unusual when I returned to the U.S. and realized once again that it was not common here).

Some things have stayed with me from my time in Moldova. I feel like I’m rebellious if I wear shoes inside someone’s home (even my own home- Moldovans never wear shoes, excluding slippers, inside homes as it’s seen as unclean). I feel the need to make sure my shoes are always clean (Moldovans take great pride in making sure their shoes are clean). I wear a robe around the house when I’m cold (my family thinks this is weird, but it’s warmer than a sweater and easier than a blanket). I drink more tea than I did before I went to Moldova (Moldovans drink tea with most meals).

I’d really like to return to my “other home” soon to visit my host family, friends, and students, but so far scheduling such a trip has been difficult. Perhaps I’ll be able to make the trip in the summer. But regardless of when I get to “go home”, I think of Moldova almost every day.

Top Memories of 2018

I’m sure we all say this most years, but wow! What a year 2018 has been! Before we leap into 2019, I thought I had better wrap up 2018 with some of my top memories from the past year (in years past I’ve limited myself to 20 or so, but there were so many great moments in the past year, this list is longer than usual!).

  1. Went cross-country skiing with my mom. Winter seems like such a better season when you actually get out and enjoy the snow and cold, and this is one of the best ways to do that!
  2. Made it home to my village just in time to celebrate Christmas with my host family. After a VERY long journey back to Moldova from the United States (I got stuck in JFK airport for 24 hours), I was so happy to celebrate Christmas with my host family and snuggle with my host nieces.
  3. My students coming to our house for caroling, uraturi, and seed-throwing. It was nice to see the various Moldovan traditions for both Christmas and New Year.
  4. Found out when my last day in Moldova would be. We had a COS (Close of Service) lottery with all of the volunteers in my group and selected the days we would finish our Peace Corps service.
  5. Visited Andrei with my partner teacher, Liuba. Andrei is a man from my village who suffers from health issues that leave him bed-ridden, but had been asking for some time to meet the “American girl”. We had a really nice visit.
  6. Got ambushed by some neighborhood kids (my students) in a snowball fight. I’ve determined Moldovan kids are ruthless when it comes to snowball fights!
  7. Celebrated English Week at school. This year, English Week was actually two weeks and combined with Russian Week. We held lots of competitions, played games, and organized fun activities with our students. At the end of the two weeks, we had a dance for the older students, which they always really enjoy.
  8. Attended my host cousin’s wedding. It was a simpler affair than my first Moldovan wedding, but this time I could actually speak Romanian and everyone had a lot of fun dancing the hora (Moldova’s traditional dance).
  9. Organized a week of activities for Peace Corps Week. We held a mini “International Film Festival”, skyped with an American class of 5th graders, and hosted several other Peace Corps Volunteers at an event about what home means to each of us.
  10. Successfully completed our “control” (audit) at school. Each year, the education officials come to the school and observe every teacher, class, and audit the records. It’s a stressful week, but I enjoyed working together with my partners on some really good lessons. On the last day of the audit, my partner teachers and I didn’t have any lessons, so we were responsible for cooking a meal for the auditors in the school cafeteria.
  11. Celebrated Easter with my host family. Easter is the most important holiday in the year for Moldovans, and I celebrated it with my host family.
  12. My host niece, Valerica, visited and we celebrated her birthday. I can’t believe the little 6-year-old that was my first friend when I moved to my village is now 8! We had lots of fun playing together and spending time together over the Easter break from school.
  13. Celebrated one of my partner teacher’s birthdays. I was so happy to go to my partner teacher’s birthday party. It was moments like these that I felt like I had found my place in Moldova and in my village.
  14. Attended our COS conference in central Moldova. To help prepare us for closing out our service and returning home to the United States, Peace Corps held a 3-day conference for the group of volunteers I arrived in country with. We had a great time reminiscing and reflecting on our two years of service.
  15. Held an American meal at English Club. To thank my students for coming to English Club regularly for 2 years, my site mate and I prepared several American foods and had a small party with the regular participants. They especially loved the tacos (we had taco seasoning mailed to us from the U.S.) and mac and cheese!
  16. Attended the Peace Corps Moldova 25th anniversary celebration. My partner teachers and school director joined Peace Corps in the capital for a celebration of 25 years of work and service in Moldova.
  17. Went to my final Last Bell celebration at school and celebrated in the forest with my colleagues. I gave a short speech, received lots of flowers, poems, and letters, and said goodbye to many of my students on the last day of school. After lessons had ended, the teachers gathered for a barbecue in the forest, which lasted for several hours.
  18. Accompanied the dance ensemble from my village to an International Traditions Festival. I helped chaperone the students and afterwards, I enjoyed a meal with the other chaperones while the students had some free time to explore the festival.
  19. Had a farewell dinner with my fellow English Education volunteers. We all spent the first 10 weeks in Moldova living in the same town and completing our training together, and remained close throughout the two years. It was a bittersweet dinner, since for many of us it was also goodbye, but we had a good time and enjoyed each others’ company.
  20. Held two day camps in my village. My site mate and I held a week-long Leadership Camp for our older students, and I held a week-long English Camp for the younger students.
  21. Milked a cow! This was one of my goals while living in Moldova and just before I left, I was finally able to milk a cow at my host aunt’s house.
  22. Said goodbye at farewell parties both at school and with my host family. My colleagues, students, and partner teachers surprised me with a farewell party at the school, complete with some of my favorite foods, a gorgeous cake, and gifts. My host mom’s sisters and brothers came for a farewell party at home as well.
  23. Rang the COS bell, marking the end of my service in Moldova. I was proud to have made it all the way to the end, and excited to figure out what was next.
  24. Traveled to Iceland with my family! On my way home from Moldova, I met my parents and brother in Iceland for a week-long trip. Some favorite highlights were swimming in a hot spring pool, visiting a greenhouse combined with a restaurant, and all of the beautiful sights we saw.
  25. Picked blueberries! Blueberries don’t grow in Moldova but are my absolute favorite food, so I was so happy to make it home in time for blueberry season!
  26. Spent lots of time with family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles visited this past summer and we spent a lot of time hanging out and soaking up this rare time together. The reason for their visits was bittersweet, as we were also saying goodbye to our Grandma Jeri, but I treasured the time spent with them and with Grandma Jeri.
  27. Went to my cousin’s wedding! My cousin got married and the whole family came for it. We had SO much fun celebrating her and her new husband!
  28. Went to Rochester to visit some friends and have a girls’ weekend. We hung out, went mini-golfing, and spent some time on a beach.
  29. Baked a crazy amount of recipes with pears. Our pear tree produced a ton of pears this year, so my brother, sister, and I made just about every possible recipe with pears: pear cider, pear sauce, pear pie, pear crisp, pear cake, baked pears, etc. It was fun to bake together with my siblings and everything was delicious!
  30. Went on an apple adventure with the family. We drove a couple of hours and visited an apple orchard known for its hard cider and wood-fired pizza then headed to another orchard to pick a bag of apples.
  31. Took a short trip to Vermont. We spent a couple of days in Middlebury, Rutland, and Bennington.
  32. Traveled to Scotland and Ireland! It was my first ever solo trip, and I fell in love with Scotland and enjoyed spending time with my sister in Ireland.
  33. Helped out at the family’s Christmas Tree Farm. My parents took over my grandpa’s tree farm a couple of years ago, and I helped out each weekend for a few hours.
  34. Published an advent calendar of activities for our town together with my brother. We provided ideas for things to do at home or in our community for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. It was a success and we had fun doing the activities.
  35. Spent a quiet and simple Christmas Day at home. We had a lazy, slow morning of eating breakfast and opening presents, then some family came over in the afternoon for good food and conversation. We ended the night with my birthday cake and gifts, then after our guests left watched a funny movie.

I could probably add more to this list, but that might be a little excessive. What were some of your favorite memories this year? Here’s to a happy, healthy, and fresh New Year!