World War II books—both historically accurate and fiction—are one of my favorite genres to read. I find beauty and strength in the story of characters (and often real people) who had to endure real-life tragedy and horror. There is wisdom within the heartbreak and disgust from a genocide that inspires me to be my best self and care for the people who walk this earth today. World War II books as heartbreaking as they are, fill me with wisdom and equip me with the courage to advocate for human rights issues and to show up wholeheartedly in my life. If you too are a fan of learning from our history, add these six World War II-era books to your ‘to be read list’, today.
By: Janet Skeslien Charles
Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.
By: Kayte Nunn
A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story in the tradition of the novels by Kate Morton and Elizabeth Gilbert.
1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon surprisingly becomes her refuge.
2018. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient. But she has no idea of the far-reaching consequences her decision will bring.
Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.
With an arresting dual narrative that immediately captivates the reader, The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is an inspirational story of the sacrifices made for love.
By: Jordyn Taylor
NOW: Sixteen-year-old Alice is spending the summer in Paris, but she isn’t there for pastries and walks along the Seine. When her grandmother passed away two months ago, she left Alice an apartment in France that no one knew existed. An apartment that has been locked for more than seventy years.
Alice is determined to find out why the apartment was abandoned and why her grandmother never once mentioned the family she left behind when she moved to America after World War II. With the help of Paul, a charming Parisian student, she sets out to uncover the truth. However, the more time she spends digging through the mysteries of the past, the more she realizes there are secrets in the present that her family is still refusing to talk about.
THEN: Sixteen-year-old Adalyn doesn’t recognize Paris anymore. Everywhere she looks, there are Nazis, and every day brings a new horror of life under the Occupation. When she meets Luc, the dashing and enigmatic leader of a resistance group, Adalyn feels she finally has a chance to fight back.
But keeping up the appearance of being a much-admired socialite while working to undermine the Nazis is more complicated than she could have imagined. As the war goes on, Adalyn finds herself having to make more and more compromises—to her safety, to her reputation, and to her relationships with the people she loves the most.
By: Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. . . .
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
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By: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Six hundred and fifty-seven days ago, Meg Kenyon’s father left their home in France to fight for the Allies in World War II, and that was the last time Meg saw him. Recently, she heard he was being held prisoner by the Nazis, a terrible sentence from which Meg fears he’ll never return. All she has left of him are the codes he placed in a jar for her to decipher, an affectionate game the two of them shared. But the codes are running low, and soon there’ll be nothing left of Papa for Meg to hold on to at all.
Suddenly, an impossible chance to save her father falls into Meg’s lap. After following a trail of blood in the snow, Meggie finds an injured British spy hiding in her grandmother’s barn. Captain Stewart tells her that a family of German refugees must be guided across Nazi-occupied France to neutral Spain, whereupon one of them has promised to free Meg’s father. Captain Stewart was meant to take that family on their journey, but too injured to complete the task himself, he offers it to Meg, along with a final code from Papa to help complete the mission — perhaps the most important, and most difficult, riddle she’s received yet.
As the Nazis flood Meg’s village in fierce pursuit, she accepts the duty and begins the trek across France. Leading strangers through treacherous territory, Meg faces danger and uncertainty at every turn, all the while struggling to crack her father’s code. The message, as she unravels it, reveals secrets costly enough to risk the mission and even her own life. Can Meg solve the puzzle, rescue the family, and save her father?
By: Kristin Harmel
Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the “epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale” (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker’s Wife.
Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.
The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?
As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.
An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.
Which one will you read first? Tell me in the comment section and share your thoughts on any of these books if you’ve read them!