For many of us, books set during the Second World War hold a powerful fascination. The stories from this era evoke such emotion as they share tales of bravery and sacrifice, of triumph and loss. And clearly, publishers and authors love the 1940s as much as us readers, for there is no shortage of books to pick from!
This genre is a person favorite of mine, and one that I often incorporate into my personal 52 Book Club challenges. So, for those who love this time period as much as I do (or for those who want to try something new) here is a quick look at twenty-two incredible novels set during WWII.
22 Incredible Historical Novels Set During WWII
1. Sarah’s Key — Tatianna de Rosnay
When I think of historical fiction set during the second world war, Sarah’s Key is one of the books that immediately comes to mind. This dual-timeline story is absolutely heartbreaking and leaves me in a puddle every time I read it. But it’s also a really compelling story about the reality of occupied France during this time period. A beautifully written, moving story that will stay with you long afterward.
(From the publisher:) Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
2. The Alice Network — Kate Quinn
The Alice Network is a gorgeously written, dual-timeline novel. For fans of historical fiction, this book is a popular read full of heart. While it’s technically set a couple of years following the second world war, it still makes this list as the aftermath of the war is very much a part of the story.
(From the publisher) An enthralling novel from New York Times bestselling author Kate Quinn. Two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
3. The Paris Apartment — Kelly Bowen
The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen has been one of my top reads of 2021. The story flashes back and forth between two separate timelines: 2017, when Aurelia Leclaire inherits a surprise Parisian apartment from her grandmother, and 1942, when glamorous Estelle Allard works to protect those she loves from the forces occupying her beautiful city. Full of art, courage, and sacrifice, this is a must-read for fans of the genre!
(From the publisher): This heart-wrenching novel about family and war unearths generations of secrets and sacrifices—perfect for fans of The Paris Orphan and The Lost Girls of Paris.
4. The Tattooist of Auschwitz — Heather Morris
The Tattoist of Auschwitz is a story of love and desperation, horror and ultimate triumph. This is a book that leaves you gutted by the atrocities committed by fellow humans but is still so important to read and remember.
(From the publisher:) This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. An unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.
5. The Rose Code — Kate Quinn
This dual-timeline, historical novel features a cast of dazzling characters. With strong character arcs and compelling narratives, The Rose Code is an intriguing glimpse into the world of ciphers. For fans of Kate Quinn, this book will be another instant success!
(From the publisher:) The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code-breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over.
6. The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman
The Lost Wife was one of my first introductions to historical fiction set in WWII, and as a young-adult, this book was one of my absolute favorites.
(From the publisher): There on her forearm, next to a small brown birthmark, were six tattooed numbers. ‘Do you remember me now?’ he asked, trembling. She looked at him again, as if giving weight and bone to a ghost. ‘Lenka, it’s me,’ he said. ‘Josef. Your husband.’
From the comfort of life in Prague before the occupation to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the endurance of first love, the resilience of the human spirit and our capacity to remember.
7. The Fortunate Ones — Catherine Hokin
Beautifully written, this story takes us through WWII and into the decade beyond as survivors continue to process and seek justice. The Fortunate Ones feels real and raw and packed with emotion.
(From the publisher:) Every day he stood exactly where he was directed. Listening for his number, he shouted his answer in the freezing cold. He was ragged and he was starving, but he was alive. He was one of the fortunate ones whom fate had left standing. And he needed to stay that way. For Hannah.
8. Things We Didn’t Say — Amy Lynn Green
This epistolary is a beautiful and easy-to-read collection of letters and newspaper articles. The dialogue is witty and full of heart, and the characters are lovable and wonderfully flawed. Things We Didn’t Say completely changed my opinion on epistolary style novels — for the better!
(About the book:) Headstrong Johanna Berglund is a linguistics student at the University of Minnesota. But her very definite plans for the future are disrupted. Soon, Johanna finds herself back home working as a translator for the German POWs. But her work in the camp lands her on the receiving end of this no longer sure who she can trust.
9. The Book of Lost Names — Kristin Harmel
The Book of Lost Names is fast-paced historical novel inspired by a true story from World War II. A young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis, recording their names to preserve who they really are. This is a well-written read that pulls at all the heartstrings.
(From the publisher) 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.
10. The Child of Auschwitz — Lily Graham
The Child of Auschwitz is a little book that carries such weight. This Holocaust story is set almost entirely within Auschwitz and focuses on the incredible friendship of two women in particular — Sophie and Eva. It’s a character-based novel that is absolutely heartbreaking, but also packed full of resilience and hope.
(From the publisher:) A heart-breaking story of survival, where life or death relies on the smallest chance and happiness can be found in the darkest times. Fans of The Choice and The Tattooist of Auschwitz will fall in love with this beautiful novel.
11. The Night Portrait — Laura Morelli
Following the point of view of four different characters (including Leonardo Da Vinci), The Night Portrait is a compelling work of historical fiction. With its quick and snappy chapters, the story is fast-paced and full of intrigue. This is one book I couldn’t put down!
(From the publisher:) An exciting, dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II.
12. The Nightingale — Kristin Hannah
An absolutely gorgeous novel that will leave you a wreck of tears, fans of WWII fiction will not want to miss The Nightingale. It’s little wonder that this book has such an incredibly high rating on Goodreads!
(From the publisher): With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France―a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
13. The Lines Between Us — Amy Lynn Green
Set in the States and following a group of conscientious objectors, The Lines Between Us feels like a fresh take on novels set during WWII. Amy Lynn Green does a great job of taking historical themes and making them applicable to modern readers. With a little romance, a little mystery, and a ton of interesting historical facts woven throughout this novel, this book is perfect for fans of the genre!
(From the publisher): A WWII novel of courage and conviction, based on the true experience of the men who fought fires as conscientious objectors and the women who fought prejudice to serve in the Women’s Army Corps.
14. The Woman With the Blue Star — Pam Jenoff
How far would you go to save your life? To save the life of a girl staring up at you, out of a sewer grate? The Woman with the Blue Star is a heartfelt tale of triumph and determination, and a moving witness of the incredible bonds of friendship.
(From the publisher:) From the author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.
15. Three House in Paris — Cara Black
This historical thriller features a highly resourceful heroine — an American sharpshooter tasked with the impossible. Three Hours in Paris is a fast-paced suspense novel. Full of cat-and-mouse situations, this book will keep readers guessing!
(From the publisher:) In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why. The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.
16. In Farleigh Field — Rhys Bowen
This fun and entertaining mystery is a great mix of well-researched tidbits and WWII spy games. In Farleigh Field is perfect for those days when you just feel like a quick and light historical read!
(From the publisher:) World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.
17. Vienna Prelude — Bodie & Brock Thoene
The first in a series of novels, Vienna Prelude is an engaging story full of history, romance, and music. Captivating and easy-to-read, this book transports readers to the early days of WWII.
(From the publisher:) Vienna Prelude opens in pre-World War II Austria. Elisa Lindheim, a violinist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, is of Jewish heritage but has adopted an Aryan stage name. Thus she is able to travel and play in Germany even though a 1935 law forbade Jewish musicians to do so. Caught in the midst of political turmoil, she soon finds herself in a web of conspiracy and danger.
18. Code Name Hélène — Ariel Lawhon
Based on a real-life woman, Code Name Hélène is a story of marriage and war, bravery and friendship, and sacrifices made in times of tremendous difficulty.
(From the publisher:) Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.
19. The Secret Keeper — Kate Morton
From pre-war to the Blitz and the years beyond, The Secret Keeper is a character-driven mystery filled with love, friendship, adventure, and heart. Kate Morton is a must-read author for fans of historical fiction and mysteries!
(From the publisher): During a picnic at her family’s farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking crime, a crime that challenges everything she knows about her adored mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel and her sisters are meeting at the farm to celebrate Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this is her last chance to discover the truth about that long-ago day, Laurel searches for answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. Clue by clue, she traces a secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds thrown together in war-torn London—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—whose lives are forever after entwined. A gripping story of deception and passion, The Secret Keeper will keep you enthralled to the last page.
20. The Paris Architect — Charles Belfoure
The Paris Architect is an intriguing and suspenseful story about a flawed protagonist who eventually realizes that he can no longer justify remaining impassive. With its strong architectural details, this book is a fascinating read.
(From the publisher:) Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.
21. The Flight Girls — Noelle Salazar
The Flight Girls is a heart wrenching and inspiring fictional story that captures the spirit of these WASPs. A novel that highlights both the discrimination these women faced, as well as the incredible bravery, friendship, and sacrifices they made.
(From the publisher): A stunning story about the Women Airforce Service Pilots whose courage during World War II turned ordinary women into extraordinary heroes. Shining a light on a little-known piece of history, The Flight Girls is a sweeping portrayal of women’s fearlessness, love, and the power of friendship to make us soar.
22. The Women of Chateau Lafayette — Stephanie Dray
The Women of Chateau Lafayette spans three pivotal points of French history: the French Revolution, WWI, and WWII. Each timeline follows the life of an extraordinary woman who calls the castle Chavaniac home. Immaculately researched and beautifully written, this 500 paged saga in an absorbing bit of historical fiction!
(From the publisher): Intricately woven and powerfully told, The Women of Chateau Lafayette is a sweeping novel about duty and hope, love and courage, and the strength we take from those who came before us.
Have you read any of these 22 incredible historical novels? Don’t forget to share your reads in our Facebook group, or on Instagram using #the52bookclub.