As a fan of historical fiction, I have a soft spot towards World War 2 related books, both fiction and non fiction. Quite recently, I had a wonderful discussion about a World War 2 fiction book on Twitter and I ended up with a truck load of great recommendations on the topic.
20+ Amazing Books on World War 2
Here are some of the books on WW2 recommended to me from readers, far and near, on Twitter.
1. The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Like no other masterpiece of historical fiction, Herman Wouk’s sweeping epic of World War II is the great novel of America’s Greatest Generation.
Wouk’s spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events, as well as all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II, as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war’s maelstrom.
The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance stand as the crowning achievement of one of America’s most celebrated storytellers.
2. The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku
Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.
Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.
Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.
Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.
3. I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson
What is death all about? What is life all about?
So wonders thirteen-year-old- Elli Friedmann, just one of the many innocent Holocaust victims, as she fights for her life in a concentration camp. It wasn’t long ago that Elli led a normal life; a life rich and full that included family, friends, school, and thoughts about boys. A life in which Elli could lie and daydream for hours that she was a beautiful and elegant celebrated poet.
But these adolescent daydreams quickly darken in March 1944, when the Nazis invade Hungary. First Elli can no longer attend school, have possessions, or talk to her neighbors. Then she and her family are forced to leave their house behind to move into a crowded ghetto, where privacy becomes a luxury of the past and food becomes a scarcity. Her strong will and faith allow Elli to manage and adjust somehow, but what Elli doesn’t know is that this is only the beginning and the worst is yet to come….
A remarkable memoir. I Have Lived a Thousand Years is a story of cruelty and suffering, but at the same time a story of hope, faith, perseverance and love.
4. The Black Swan of Paris by Karen Robards
A world at war. A beautiful young star. A mission no one expected.
Celebrated singer Genevieve Dumont is both a star and a smokescreen. An unwilling darling of the Nazis, the chanteuse’s position of privilege allows her to go undetected as an ally to the resistance.
When her estranged mother, Lillian de Rocheford, is captured by Nazis, Genevieve knows it won’t be long before the Gestapo succeeds in torturing information out of Lillian that will derail the upcoming allied invasion. The resistance movement is tasked with silencing her by any means necessary—including assassination.
But Genevieve refuses to let her mother become yet one more victim of the war. Reuniting with her long-lost sister, she must find a way to navigate the perilous cross-currents of Occupied France undetected—and in time to save Lillian’s life.
5. Night by Elie Wiesel
Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in 1944 to Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. Night is the terrifying record of Elie Wiesel’s memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and his despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the absolute evil of man.
This new translation by his wife and most frequent translator, Marion Wiesel, corrects important details and presents the most accurate rendering in English of Elie Wiesel’s testimony to what happened in the camps and of his unforgettable message that this horror must simply never be allowed to happen again.
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
7. The Girl in the Red Coat by Roma Ligocka, Iris Von Finckenstein
As a child in German-occupied Poland, Roma Ligocka was known for the bright strawberry-red coat she wore against a tide of gathering darkness. Fifty years later, Roma, an artist living in Germany, attended a screening of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, and instantly knew that “the girl in the red coat”—the only splash of color in the film—was her. Thus began a harrowing journey into the past, as Roma Ligocka sought to reclaim her life and put together the pieces of a shattered childhood.
The result is this remarkable memoir, a fifty-year chronicle of survival and its aftermath. With brutal honesty, Ligocka recollects a childhood at the heart of evil: the flashing black boots, the sudden executions, her mother weeping, her father vanished…then her own harrowing escape and the strange twists of fate that allowed her to live on into the haunted years after the war.
Powerful, lyrical, and unique among Holocaust memoirs, The Girl in the Red Coat eloquently explores the power of evil to twist our lives long after we have survived it. It is a story for anyone who has ever known the darkness of an unbearable past—and searched for the courage to move forward into the light.
8. Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis
The true story of the woman who became WWII’s most highly decorated spy
The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing. Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill.
As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them. They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.
In Code Name: Lise, Larry Loftis paints a portrait of true courage, patriotism, and love—of two incredibly heroic people who endured unimaginable horrors and degradations. He seamlessly weaves together the touching romance between Odette and Peter and the thrilling cat and mouse game between them and Sergeant Bleicher.
9. Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman.
In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of Elizebeth Smith who played an integral role in our nation’s history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States.
As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma–and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.
Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence
10. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”
This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman–rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg–who talked her way into the spy organization deemed Churchill’s “ministry of ungentlemanly warfare,” and, before the United States had even entered the war, became the first woman to deploy to occupied France.
Virginia Hall was one of the greatest spies in American history, yet her story remains untold. Just as she did in Clementine, Sonia Purnell uncovers the captivating story of a powerful, influential, yet shockingly overlooked heroine of the Second World War. At a time when sending female secret agents into enemy territory was still strictly forbidden, Virginia Hall came to be known as the “Madonna of the Resistance,” coordinating a network of spies to blow up bridges, report on German troop movements, arrange equipment drops for Resistance agents, and recruit and train guerilla fighters.
Even as her face covered WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped with her life in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown, and her associates all imprisoned or executed. But, adamant that she had “more lives to save,” she dove back in as soon as she could, organizing forces to sabotage enemy lines and back up Allied forces landing on Normandy beaches.
Told with Purnell’s signature insight and novelistic flare, A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman’s fierce persistence helped win the war.
More books on World war 2
- The Execution of Private Slovik by William Bradford Huie
- If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
- From Broken Glass by Steve Ross, Glenn Frank, Brian Wallace
- Children of the Flames by Lucette Matalon Lagnado, Sheila Cohn Dekel
- The Hidden Children by Jane Marks
- The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
- Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl, Marion Blumenthal Lazan
- Steal a Pencil for Me by Jaap Polak
Here are some books that Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, Head of research center, Auschwitz Museum recommended on the topic.
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Which of these books on World war 2 have you read and loved? Do you have a favorite WW2 fiction/non fiction? Let us chat.
I don’t usually read Historical romances but with the hype from the Netflix series and the bookstagram, I had to pick The Duke and I by Julia Quinn, the famed Bridgerton series. How did that work for me? Read my book review to know more.
About The Duke and I
Book Name: The Duke and I (Bridgerton #01)
Author: Julia Quinn
Genre: Fiction – Romance, Historical
Characters: Daphne Bridgerton, Simon Basset
Setting: London, England, The UK
Plot Summary of The Duke and I
Set in the Regency London, Daphne Bridgerton is the fourth of eight siblings in a close-knit family and is ready to meet her suitors. While everyone likes her wit and kindness, no one actually adores her. She is too friendly with her young suitors to be a romanced.
Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings is new to the scene as he has just returned to England from his stay abroad. He is not interested in marriage nor progeny, but he is constantly paraded by the mothers and daughters as an eligible bachelor.
So when Daphne, Simon’s best friend’s sister offers him a way out he takes it. They fake court, so that Simon will deter the parade and Daphne will get more prospects to choose from.
The plan works well, until it goes wrong horribly. Does the Duke and Daphne understand the folly in their plan and do they end up in a HEA? Read The Duke and I by Julia Quinn to know more.
Book review of The Duke and I
The Duke and I was my first book set in Regency London and my first time reading Julia Quinn’s writing as well. And imagine my surprise when I flew through the pages in an afternoon.
Julia Quinn’s writingwas witty and hilarious. I loved the banters and the sibling’s taunts. Even if they followed a half of Julia’s dialogues in the Netflix version, I won’t be surprised at what a hit the Bridgerton series has been. (Yes, I haven’t watched it yet.)
I loved the Bridgerton family dynamic and the drama. I would definitely have to keep a watch out for the other books.
On the other hand, I didn’t like the female lead at all, not even before that ONE SCENE. Don’t even start me with the Duke. He was lying and manipulative as well. So made for each other I guess.(?)
I loved the book and had a merry time with it, until that one scene.
Yes, it was cringe-y, manipulative, non consensual scene that spoiled everything for me. I understand the book was written in early 2000s, the “rules were different” then (no, they weren’t) and blah blah, but I completely lost it after that. (I am hoping that Netflix guys changed this one.)
What worked for me
- The funny, witty banter sprinkled all through the book. I loved them. Julia Quinn made chuckle, grin, laugh and even snort at one point.
- I loved the Bridgerton family dynamics and the younger ones were funny as well. I want more of the Bridgerton world y’all!
What may have been better
- Both the leads were flawed, manipulative and lying. But given the time period it was set in, maybe it was normal I guess. Anyway, I was able to look past it.
- Why did I have to read a non consensual sex (rape?) scene. It spoiled everything for me.
Non consensual sex, parental neglect
While I loved the writing, the character building and the Bridgerton world, there were things that put me off The Duke and I by Julia Quinn. But I will definitely read Julia Quinn’s other books and continue the Bridgerton series soon (assuming they were not problematic or off putting).
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Have you read The Duke and I by Julia Quinn? What do you think about the Bridgerton series on Netflix? What other Julia’s books should I be reading? Let us talk.
What better way to begin a year than a hyped book that recently secured a HBO adaptation deal? Is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett worth all the hype? Read my book review to know more.
About The Vanishing Half
Book Name: The Vanishing Half
Author: Brit Bennett
Genre: Fiction – Historical,
Characters: Desiree and Stella Vignes, Jude, Reese, Kennedy, Early
Setting: Mallard, Louisiana, The USA
Plot Summary of The Vanishing Half
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett follows the lives of the Vignes twins who decide to run away from their small town at sixteen. The identical twins are so light skinned that they could pass as “White”. When the opportunity presents one of them takes it.
Desiree Vignes always wanted to get away from her town, where skin color is all that mattered. But when she returns years later, with a black skinned kid in tow, she was sure she will get away again.
Stella Vignes did get away from their town once and for all. She has a well settled life and a family that will never know her previous life.
Do either of them regret their choices? Is passing as “White” worth losing your identity and past? Can the lives of these identical sisters ever reunite? Read more about them in The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
Book review of The Vanishing Half
I am glad The Vanishing Half was one of the first books I read this year as it set such a positive hope for the year. I loved it and would keep recommending it to anyone who would listen.
Set in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana, The Vanishing Half deals with several intense themes like race, class, identity, internalized colorism, abuse, melancholy and motherhood. It made me question the narratives about race and caste passed on over generations by our families.
Despite the heavy themes, the author ensures to present a narration that is so gripping I never put it down once until I finished it. This is will be a wonderful pick for your next book club read!
While we might judge Stella for her internalized racism, bigotry and selfish decisions, it is hard not to sympathize with her loneliness and trying to find an identity for her new self.
What worked for me
- I loved how the author got me introspecting my own prejudice and issues with generations of conditioning about colorism.
- The Vanishing Half is not a plot oriented book, but it is just the author’s writing style kept me hooked until the end.
- I loved how each character was well written and had a part to play. From Early to Reese, I enjoyed the male characters as much as the strong female ones.
What may have been better
- I wish there were a bit more about Reese’s struggle as a trans guy in transition and passing himself as guy for years. I guess his life was not smooth as a trans man in the LGBTQ – drag circle in 1970s too.
- The second part moved a bit slower than the first. You might find yourself skipping a paragraphs.
- If you don’t like books with multiple POV, you might wanna watch out. But it did work spectacularly well for me.
Racism (internalized and otherwise), Domestic abuse, colorism, running away from home, gender reassignment surgery.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a must read historical fiction that deals with intense themes like racism, colorism, abuse and melancholy. Catch this hyped book out without hesitation!
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Have you read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett? How did it fare for you? What are the other recent historical fiction that you liked? Let us talk.
Once in a while we get to read books that are too difficult to read because they speak of raw and unflinching truths. Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon is one such book. Read on to hear more on my review of Ziggy, Stardust and Me.
About the book
Book Name: Ziggy, Stardust and Me
Author: James Brandon
Genre: Fiction – History, Young adult
Characters: Jonathan Collins, Webster, Starla, Dr Evelyn
Setting: Missouri , The USA
Jonathan has been waiting for his final “therapy” session so that he can be cured of his “disease” and be the son his father wants.
The sixteen year old is bullied at school and ignored for most of the time by his alcoholic father, who is still mourning his wife’s death. At a time when being gay is considered a mental illness and is punishable, Jonathan just wants to be a boy who is “normal”.
When his only friend Starla, a biracial neighbor leaves the town for the summer, he realizes he is truly alone. Except for Ziggy Stardust. He worships David Bowie and has long (and only) conversations with his dead relatives and Ziggy.
But everything changes when he meets Web, a Native American/ Indian kid in his school. Web is everything he wants to be – fearless and not ashamed of being gay.
What happens when their homophobic neighbours, classmates and mainly families know about his secret forms the rest of Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon.
For a setting that is inherently doomed and heartbreaking, Ziggy, Stardust and Me surprisingly is not. There are many sweet moments and is full of hope, especially in the end when Jonathan starts accepting who he is gradually.
That being said and given the time it is set in, the book has so many homophobic and racist characters that it broke my heart. Unfortunately not much has changed in the last 50 years or so.
I think it is essential for us to learn from our history to understand how homophobic we have been as a society. Ziggy, Stardust and Me also talks about how internalized homophobia affects people, especially younger ones.
If you like David Bowie, there are so many references to his songs and characters and you will love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about them and the references flew over the top of my head.
What worked for me
- Ziggy, Stardust and Me is a must read to learn about our mistakes in terms of understanding homosexuality. And it is definitely a hard to swallow pill.
- Despite the gloomy background, there were several sweet and romantic moments between the main characters.
- The book also talks of music and music icons can play a huge role in saving people from trauma and from others.
- While I can’t speak for its accuracy, I loved Web and his Native American (Lakota) representation.
What may have been better
- I didn’t get or connect with Jonathan’s monologue, in this first person narration. And that bothered me quite a bit.
- I hate the closeted homophobic bully trope. It is a personal thing for me, and I am getting tired of this trope of “oh the homophobes are all secretly gay themselves“.
conversion therapy, (internalized) homophobia, electroshock therapy, homophobic slurs, suicidal thoughts, Bullying, hate crimes, racism, racist slurs, past death of a parent, alcoholism, mentions of drug use, sexual assault,
Ziggy, Stardust and Me is an essential read to understand what the LGBTQA+ community had to overcome to just exists. It is a harsh, intense and raw book that is worth reading.
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Have you read Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon? What other books will you recommend on the subject? What other historical fiction have you read this year? Let us talk.
I love reading rag tag groups or misfits coming together to save the day. A little into the book, I realized Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is a feminist historical fiction set in the westerns and falls under the misfits ensemble genre. Did I love reading it? Read my review to know more.
About the book
Book Name: Under a Painted Sky
Author: Stacey Lee
Genre: Fiction – Romance, Young adult, Historical
Characters: Samantha, Annamae, Peety, Cay, and West, Ty Yorkshire
Setting: Missouri, Oregon Trail, The USA
When a middle aged, rich, white man cornered young Samantha, the same night her father succumbed to a fire accident, she did what she could to defend herself. She didn’t expect Ty Yorkshire to break his skull or his slave Annamae to walk in.
Fortunately for this Chinese American girl, the street smart runaway slave Annamae joins her flee from the law. They take on the Oregon Trail, under the disguises of Sammy and Andy, two young boys heading towards the Californian gold rush.
But when they cross paths with three young cowboys
I was kinda prepared for tackling the issues of stereotypes and racism, casual and otherwise, peppered throughout this historical fiction seeing that the characters were Chinese and African American.
But I was pleasantly surprised when Stacey Lee so effortlessly weaved the character’s beliefs, culture and ethnic backgrounds into the narrative. A huge win for the diversity factor!
While they met rather accidentally, the friendship between Sammy and Andy keeping growing stronger. Their relationship is matured and supportive of each other, and they are also hilarious! Even when we get some romance angle, their relationship stays the main focus of Under a Painted Sky.
It was easy to get lost in the genuine comradeship among the boys and emotional quotient never dipped either. I loved Stacey Lee’s writing especially the parts where she describes the rich and adventurous journey.
What worked for me
- I loved the strong friendship between Sammy and Andy. They are easily one of the best female friendships I have read recently.
- The funny repartees between the characters made me love them and wondered about a sequel already.
- Under a Painted Sky is a great example of why we need more diversity in the books, especially Young Adults. Kudos to the author for pulling it off so brilliantly.
What may have been better
- I wish we could see Sammy’s goal being reached. I mean Under a Painted Sky ended too soon for me!
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is all about strong female leads and their friendship. With well written characters, Under a Painted Sky is a great win for diversity! Read it as soon as you can.
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Have you read Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee? Did you love it and why? What are the other historical fictions that you read and loved recently?