I’m a World War II fiction junkie. I don’t know what it is, but nothing keeps me up at night like loosely-based-on-reality stories of French occupation or Russian border patrols that involve women being INCREDIBLE. I’ve read a few great ones this past year or so, but here are my top 5:
1. Trapeze – Simon Mawer
If you want a serious and harrowing WWII story, this one is will do the trick. It’s about a British woman who is recruited into the spy network in France, and part of her mission is to convincer her past (almost) lover to join the Allied war effort. Serious and for more mature readers, it made my palms sweat and kept me glued to the pages for a good few days.
2. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
This book has had a lot of hype the past few years, and I think it lived up to 95% of it. The prose itself is absolutely breathtaking; Anthony Doerr is a remarkable artist. The story follows a blind French girl in occupied France and a young, reluctant Nazi who is a genius with electronics. Both gorgeous and upsetting, this book brought me lots of feelings. If you want to chat for an hour, finish it and then let’s talk about the end.
3. The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah
I have a weird reluctance about recommending this book (I mean, it’s a tiny bit cheesy) but who am I joking? I read the entire thing in three days and couldn’t get enough. The Nightingale is about two sisters in occupied France; one is a resistance spy and one is housing a German officer and her Jewish friend’s children. Heartbreaking, captivating, romantic and gripping, The Nightingale is delicious.
4. Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
Because this book mostly takes place in an interrogation cell, it’s a bit of a tough read. I had moments where I had to cringe and un-engage a bit to continue through. However, the unique approach to an unusual story made me want to give it a shout-out here. Code Name Verity follows two best friends who join the British relief effort; one is a female pilot and the other is a spy. When their plane goes down, the spy is captured and interrogated; in fact, the story is actually her written confession to her Nazi interrogator. With unreliable narrators and lots of interesting subplots, it tells a remarkable story of friendship and courage under pressure.
5. Salt to the Sea – Ruta Sepetys
Salt to the Sea is my #1 WW-II read of the year, and I wrote a lot about it in an earlier post. Long story short: I finished the book with grateful tears in my eyes, deep admiration for Ms. Sepetys, a crush on the main character, a desire to be a nurse (what?), and a resonant love of humanity. Read it, then read it again. You won’t regret it.