6 Excellent WWII Novels

WWII Novels

I read for 30 minutes every night before bed. If I skip this part of my bedtime routine, my sleep gets thrown off, so I try hard to never miss it. I like to make sure whatever I’m reading is riveting, and I’m into really intensely emotional stories and/or page turners that I just can’t put down. Light reads aren’t really my thing as you’ll soon see from this list!

I realized the other day that the last three books I read were set during WWII and they were all exceptional. IHistorical fiction is my favorite genre because I like to learn about a different time in history while being drawn into an interesting story with interesting characters.

What’s crazy is that with each of these six books, I learned something new about WWII that I hadn’t know before. Last night I finished Lilac Girls, so I thought I’d share a review of that and five other similar books and give them each a rating.

1. The Alice Network: A+
Although this book was technically set half set in WWI and half set in the aftermath of WWII, I’m still including it because it touches on the horror of both wars. I have to say, this might be my favorite book in a list of already incredible novels. I found out after the fact that it’s based on a true story of Louise de Bettignies, the leader of a network of spies during WWI called The Alice Network. It was so inspiring to read about how women were the unsung heroes of both wars, doing spy work that went overlooked because of their gender.

Half of the book follows Eve, a spy who worked for Louise de Bettignies during WWI, and Charlie, a young women in 1947 looking for her cousin who was lost during WWII. The women come together and create an incredible bond.

2. The Nightingale: A+
Did I mention that I love intensely emotional stories? Well if you’re into that sort of thing, The Nightingale is a book for you. Kristen Hannah is becoming one of my favorite authors (I loved The Great Alone) and the way she gets you invested in a storyline is remarkable. I haven’t cried so hard while reading a book in a long time. It is devastating and heartbreaking, but shows you that there are different sides to every story, and that a mother will do anything for her children.

It’s follows the lives of two sisters living in France during WWII under Nazi rule. It’s truly terrifying what they had to live through, but they both learn to rise up and do their part to make their mark and save lives during the war in two very different ways.

If you read one book on this list, I’d say it should be this because it felt like the most important one for some reason.

3. Lilac Girls: A-
I ordered Lilac Girls on Amazon Prime after so many of you recommended it when I finished The Alice Network. First of all, thank you for the recommendation because I loved it so so much! What sets this book apart from the others on this list is the fact that it’s told from three very different perspectives during one time period.

Caroline is a New York City socialite who works at the French consulate helping French families in the US during the war. Kasia, a Polish teenager, starts working for the underground resistance across the ocean and learns to many things at too young of an age. Lastly, Herta, a young female doctor in Nazi Germany finds herself working in a concentration camp and this part of the story was the most fascinating for me. I hadn’t read any WWII books from the perspective of someone working for the Nazis before this.

Their stories intertwine and as in The Alice Network and The Nightingale, it highlights how powerful women were during one of the darkest times in our history.

4. All The Light We Cannot See: A
I read this classic book years ago but it’s always stuck with me because it was so moving. It won the Pulitzer Prize and many other awards for good reason. It’s written in a way that’s both hauntingly dark and crazy beautiful.

The story follows two characters:

Marie-Laure, a young blind French girl who flees Paris to live with her uncle in the walled town of Saint-Malo when she’s 12 years old. They end up working together to broadcast radio transmissions for the resistance.

Werner, a German boy who falls in love with science and engineering which lands him in a training camp for Nazis where he becomes an expert in hunting down illegal broadcasts during the war. His story ends up (shocker) intertwining with Marie-Laure’s.

It’s been so long since I read this one that I can’t remember too much more of the actual plot, but I do remember the feeling it left me with which was hope and faith in  humanity!

5. Sarah’s Key: B+
It’s also been a while since I read Sarah’s Key, but there is one scene that has haunted me since. If you’ve read this book, you know what I mean!

Sarah is a young French girl (are you sensing a theme here?) who’s family is arrested by the French police in 1942 during the Vel d’Hiv roundup, something that I didn’t know much about until reading this book. It was when thousands of people (mostly Jews) were brought to a giant stadium in Paris and eventually sent to concentration camps. When her family is taken, she hides her brother in a locked cupboard to protect him. When she eventually ends up at a camp, her brother is all she can think about.

Years later in present time, a journalist, Julia (great name!) moves to France with her husband and does some digging when tasked with writing an article about the Vel d’Hiv. She uncovers many secrets along the way that eventually lead her to Sarah.

Hearing a story so horrifying told from the perspective of a child is intense, I’ll warn you. But the book is written well and I learned a lot in reading it. Just don’t forget your box of tissues!

6. The Book Thief: B+
They actually made this book into a movie a few years ago and I just realized that I never watched it but as I just went back to watched the preview and started sobbing all over again!

This one is set in Nazi Germany and is told from the perspective of… wait for it… Death. It follows a foster girl named Liesel who steals books and learns to read with the help of her adoptive father. When her foster parents hide a Jewish man, Max, in her basement, she shares her stolen books with him as well.

So there you have it, six WWII books that I loved. Am I missing any? What should I read next? Although I should probably take a break from this genre so I don’t go broke on buying tissues…


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  1. Elisabeth said:

    I have read all of these. In fact, I picked my daughter’s name based on the book Sarah Key’s many years ago. Looking forward to more of your book recommendations.

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      No way! That is amazing.

      9.25.18 · Reply
  2. Allie said:

    I enjoyed The Women in the Castle a lot! xAllie

    9.25.18 · Reply
  3. Susan said:

    I’ve read and enjoyed them all despite the the gut-wrenching nature of War books. I love WWI stories as well. I recommend Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. It’s technically a true story but with some literary license used to fill in the gaps in memory of the central character, Pino Lella, an ordinary teen who does extraordinary things to help save Jews in Italy as well becoming a spy for the allies through his job assignment as driver for a high German commander in Italy. Highly recommend.

    9.25.18 · Reply
  4. Ellen A Cohen said:

    Can we talk about those lashes?!?

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      They were fake for another big shoot and SO AMAZING!

      9.25.18 · Reply
  5. Anne said:

    Love this post and loved all of these! I also highly recommend Beneath the Scarlet Sky and Of Sand and Ash for a peek into the Italian role in WWII. I had no idea and was fascinated. The Tuscan Child was also great!

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Interesting! Thanks for the recs.

      9.25.18 · Reply
  6. Sam said:

    I’ve read all of these and enjoyed them all. Totally agree with your ratings and always happy to read anything by Kristin Hannah!


    9.25.18 · Reply
  7. Carmen Hancock said:

    I highly recommend We Were the Lucky Ones!

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      So many people are saying that one! On it!

      9.25.18 · Reply
    • Cathy M said:

      This was such a great book!! I was about to recommend it. 🙂

      9.25.18 · Reply
  8. Julia B. said:

    I have read most of these as well – all are excellent! This is my favorite era to read about as well. I would also recommend Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum if you haven’t read it yet. It still haunts me.

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Ok so many people have told me this, I’ll have to read it too!

      9.25.18 · Reply
  9. Britta G said:

    Another great WWII historical fiction is The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Tale of two Hungarian brothers living through the war.

    9.25.18 · Reply
  10. Sara said:

    Didn’t you ask a while back if your readers would like to see more realistic photos instead of staged and the overwhelming majority said realistic? I’m interested in book reviews but this staged photo is just throwing the whole thing off – nobody in real life reads before bed in full makeup and false eyelashes. Keep it real please!

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      What, you don’t read like this all the time? Kidding! I was shooting for something else and snuck this in. But noted!

      9.25.18 · Reply
  11. Jill D. said:

    Love this list! They are all great books. Another one that is within this genre is Finding Out by Sheryn Macmunn. It’s amazing! The real story starts a few chapters in… it’s a fabulous read. Highly recommend!

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Adding to my list, thank you!

      9.25.18 · Reply
  12. Claire said:

    I loved The Nightingale too. Such a unique perspective that is not usually discussed. If you’re up for one more WWII book, The Taster was another interesting side of history. It follows a woman who is selected as one of Hitler’s tasters, a group that made sure he wasn’t being poisoned.

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Oooh that sounds fascinating. I think I need a break but adding to my list for the future thanks!

      9.25.18 · Reply
  13. Mackenzie said:

    Ugh love love love this post! I love reading war books. It is so incredible what both men and women endure during war time and is so unimaginable to me. I read the Nightingale recently and this book hit me more than any other book has. I have never cried so much reading a book. I tried to read to start All The Light We Cannot See after finishing the Nightingale and couldn’t get into because the Nightingale was just so elegantly written and completely swept me into the book. I have heard wonderful things about All The Light We Cannot See so I’m going to try and read it again around Christmas time when I’m off! Would love more posts about books you have read ☺️

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I suggest trying The Alice Network next. It isn’t quite as beautifully written as The Nightingale but it really draws you in and has a great story. All The Light was a slow start if I remember correctly.

      9.25.18 · Reply
  14. Katey said:

    Julia, I think you have done a great job of balancing real photos and also doing your job as a content creator. I’m a Texas girl and read in bed with full makeup, haha. I mean everyone does things differently. Your beautiful lashes didn’t throw off the book review {not really sure how it would?!}. You do a phenomenal job on your blog, thank you!

    9.25.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Katey thank you so much, that really means a lot! I love that you do that 🙂

      9.26.18 · Reply
  15. Leah said:

    I loved the Book Thief and saw the movie and cried just as hard! I realized after I stopped doing book club at my old company i haven’t stepped out of my reading comfort zone for a while! I am going to add these to my list. Also, your eye lashes and this photo looks amazing! Who cares if it isn’t realistic! Just had to throw that in here 🙂

    9.26.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Oh no… Now I need to watch the movie. And thank you!! xx

      9.26.18 · Reply
  16. Col said:

    Great list! Another favorite is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Shaffer and Barrows.

    9.26.18 · Reply
    • Lisa said:

      I was going to suggest this as well! They just made it into a movie on Netflix — really enjoyed it.

      10.28.18 · Reply
  17. Stephanie said:

    Since you asked “what should I read next?” I have to ask if you listen to the podcast of that name. If not, you should! I am currently working my way back through old episodes and loving it. Good to listen to while prepping and feeding baby meals 🙂

    9.26.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Ahhh sounds amazing! I’ll check it out.

      9.26.18 · Reply
  18. Liz said:

    Thanks for the recs! If you liked these, you might also enjoy the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (it’s very different from the Netflix movie, though I still enjoyed that, but I’d say read the book first). It takes place during the aftermath of WWII and is an epistolary novel that brings together a young London writer and a community of people from Guernsey who are rebuilding their lives after their island was occupied by the Germans. It is AMAZING! Will sort of feel like a breath of hope after some of those more emotionally draining (but great) books, and more than anything the book felt like a warm hug. I flew through it!

    9.28.18 · Reply
  19. Stacey said:

    LOVE your suggestions! I’ve read Nightingale, All the Light and Alice Network and they were all fabulous!! The Nightingale was my fave!

    9.28.18 · Reply
  20. Brianna Rooney said:

    We are SO on the same page with these books! I was on a flight next to a woman, we talked for HOURS about our love for WW2 novels.

    Try Beneath a Scarlet Sky next – from a male perspective, he is a driver for Hitler’s #2 in command, takes place in Italy (which is a first for me reading!)

    9.28.18 · Reply
    • Peggy said:

      Beneath a Scarlet Sky was my favorite too; it was my husband’s recommendation!

      9.28.18 · Reply
  21. Caroline said:

    Check out the Postmistress, WWII novel about a female journalist in London. Part of it is also set on Cape Cod.

    10.5.18 · Reply
  22. Holly said:

    You should try We Were the Lucky Ones

    10.8.18 · Reply
  23. Cate said:

    One more to add to your list that is actually non-fiction, but is almost so unbelievable that it seems as if it couldn’t be real – The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone.

    From humble beginnings, she became an expert cryptologist whos code breaking skills changed the course of history during WWII.

    Highly recommend!

    10.17.18 · Reply