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…