As an avid reader who prefers historical fiction to every other genre, I frequently find myself returning to World War II novels time and again. I’ve mentioned a few of them in previous book roundups, but in this post, I’m sharing twelve of my recent favorites as well as unforgettable classics that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’re looking for new-to-you World War II historical fictions books for your to-be-read list, then keep reading for some of my top recommendations.
I listened to the audio version of Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave several years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. I can even remember exactly where I was walking and what the weather was like during key scenes in this book because I was so engrossed in it. I always recommend it as an option for someone who has listened to All the Light We Cannot See and is wondering “what’s next?”. While completely different in its perspective on WWII than All the Light, I found it absolutely riveting.
I recently read The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan on a recommendation from my mother. It’s a quick and easy light hearted read, perfect for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. The plot follows four women in a small British town during the war as they compete in a cooking contest to win a spot as a radio host. Each woman, in her own way, fights to overcome past trauma, learn to trust others, and rewrite her story about who she is and what she can become. A novel of both friendship and family, this book will surely be a favorite for fans of world war two historical fiction.
My husband and I listened to Kate Quinn’s The Huntress during one of our holiday road trips. I had listened to The Alice Network earlier that year and was a fan of Quinn’s brand of gripping and dramatic WWII fiction. Quinn set The Huntress after the war in both the US and Europe. In Boston, a daughter questions the intentions and history of her father’s new wife, wondering if she’s truly who she says she is. While across the Atlantic, a former pilot searches for justice with the help of two American detectives stationed abroad and dedicated to hunting former Nazis.
As with all of Quinn’s novels, I found the extensive amount of historical research and attention to detail contributed to my overall enjoyment of the story. The Huntress explores in detail the female Russian pilots who ran bombing runs throughout the war, which was an aspect of the European front of which I was previously unaware.
I have a confession to make – I am a very lazy library borrower as you’ll soon discover if you haven’t already. Once, I discover an author I like and read every book they wrote that’s available on our library’s shelves before moving onto the next one. This is why I read two Kate Quinn WWII fiction novels in short succession this year. Also because my friend Jamie recommended The Diamond Eye to me after I posted The Rose Code on my Instagram stories.
The Diamond Eye is another World War Two book by Quinn that centers on an enlisted female Russian solider, similarly to The Huntress. Did you know that Russia was the only country that recruited and promoted women as combat soldiers during the war? I didn’t until I read her books.
Like I mentioned above, I love Quinn’s unique take on the war and strong attention to historical accuracy. The Diamond Eye is based on the true story of a female Russian sniper who travels to the US on a goodwill tour during the war. While not my favorite of Quinn’s books, I still enjoyed it thoroughly and stayed up way too late several nights in a row to find out how it ended.
My mother recommended the audio version of Once We Were Brothers, and I then recommended it to my husband who has said it’s one of his favorites. This novel follows the format of swapping back and forth between past and present. In the present day, an elderly man wants to track down the honorary brother who betrayed him and his family during the war. The past follows their story as young man – one Jewish and one a Nazi officer. This book will have you riveted to the very end with twists and turns culminating in a dramatic conclusion. It was one of my very favorite WWII audiobooks.
The Nightingale is one of the most popular WWII historical fiction books on Amazon with 293,000+ reviews, and for good reason. It’s a massive novel – the audio version, which I listened to, is over seventeen hours long. The epic story follows two sisters in France during the war and the choices they must make to survive. Reminiscent of The Girl You Left Behind, this is a story of relationships, loyalty, and survival. It’s been more than a few years since I first listened to this book, but it’s one that I consistently remember as one of the best World War Two books that I’ve ever read.
This book, The Winds of War by Herman Wouk, and the following book go together, and I listened to them in succession as one long saga of an American navy family that begins in Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II. The main protagonist is Victory Henry, a naval attaché, but throughout the first of the two novels we become intimately familiar with his wife and three children as well. Victor
My favorite part of The Winds of War was the rich historical detail and education that Wouk packed into the story. It felt like a first rate history lesson with the added bonuses of intrigue, romance, and danger. These are must-read books for any lover of WWII fiction.
I don’t feel like there is any way to read or listen to The Winds of War and not follow it up immediately with War and Remembrance. At the end of the first book, I was so involved in the lives and stories of the Henry family and their acquaintances that I just kept going. War and Remembrance focuses significantly on the Holocaust and how it affects Victor Henry’s younger son Byron’s wife Natalie and her family. There are heartbreaking and vivid scenes throughout the novel that paint the Holocaust in grave and wrenching detail.
Together, the audio versions for both novels clock in at just over 100 hours. It took me months to finish them, and I felt bereft when they were over, however satisfying the ending. The Henrys had become good friends of mine by the time I wrapped up listening, and I plan to read the physical copies of both books at some point in the future. Both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance are important pieces for remembering this pivotal and tragic period of history.
The Seamstress is a true account of Sara Tuvel Bernstein’s WWII experience as a Jewish woman who grew up in Romanian and was ultimately sent to Ravensbruck. This book has remained with me over the years since I first read it – or rather listened to the audio version – not only because it’s a true story, but also because it’s so different from much of the WWII historical fiction that has been published. Her grit and determination for survival is both inspiring and memorable.
Like The Seamstress, The Nazi Officer’s Wife is a true account of survival during Nazi Germany in WWII. It’s the gripping tale of a young woman, desperate to escape deportation to the concentration camps, hides in plain sight. She poses as a gentile and ultimately marries a Nazi officer, while living in constant fear of discovery. I find that the true stories of World War II are the ones I can’t stop thinking about long after I finish them, and such was this the case with this book.
The Secret Keeper is far and away my most favorite Kate Morton novel. Like all Kate Morton plots, it has a twist at the end. Sometimes I can figure this twist or secret out in advance, but in the case of The Secret Keeper, I was utterly surprised. The plot centers on three primary characters during the London Blitz and how their stories are intertwined while also flipping between present and past. This was a book I could not put down and plan to reread because it was so enjoyable.
I hope you enjoyed this roundup of twelve of my favorite WWII historical fiction books. It was difficult to keep the list to just twelve for this post, so I’ll be sure to plan a follow up post for the future. Let me know your favorites in the comments. Which books from this genre have stayed with you long after you finished them?