5 WWII historical fiction novels that’s worth a read

5 WWII novels


There is no doubt that I’m a fan of historical fiction around war-time and most of what I’ve read is WWII centered.  I’m always looking for new recommendation on the genre and whenever a novel’s blurb says “WWII”, I’m almost 90% likely to read it (including films).  Here are 5 of the WWII novels I’ve read and enjoyed (link to review in titles)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

The novel tells the story of Sarah Starzynski as a  young girl who got arrested with her family in July 1942 during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup where thousands of Jews (including children) were arrested and kept at a velodrome before being deported to Auschwitz.

It’s a dual time narrative, where parts of the story also plays off in 2002 while a journalist is researching this harrowing event in French history and takes a special interest in what has become of Sarah. This book had me in a puddle of tears and I highly recommend it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a story set in Nazi Germany during World War II and tells the story from German people’s perspective. What makes the story unique is the narrator – Death, who claims he/she is haunted by humans. One such human is Liesel Meminger, a young girl whose parents are believed to be Communists and whose mother decides to give them up to foster care to keep Liesel and her brother safe.

The narrating style of the novel takes some getting used to, but The Book Thief is worth a read, for his incredible story. It’s also well known, as there is a movie out, so if you’ve seen the film, you simply have to read the book!

The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle

“There is one thing that I do find extraordinary and it never ceases to amaze me. That even in this day and age, in any day and age, that people always insist on believing their heroes are men” (p351)

That quote from the book really does say it all. This is a WWII story that plays off in Florence, Italy and centers around two women who faced the war with so much bravery. It’s a beautiful tale.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Speaking of female heroes during war, The Nightingale is no different. This one plays off in France and Vianne’s war story is my favourite. She had to live with Nazi soldiers occupying her house and having to fear for her life daily, while her sister Isabelle was working with the Resistance, both women being brave in their own way.

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

The Lavender Garden is another WWII war time story that plays off in France, also telling the story about two women and it was the novel that made me fall in love with Lucinda Riley’s novels.   It is filled with bravery, loss, pain and guilt and it’s a must read if you enjoy WWII historical fiction

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Are there any good WWII historical fiction you’ve read that you think I should give a read?

  • Darlene @Lost in Literature

    These that I list here don’t necessarily count as historical fiction but they are fictional stories that take place during that time.

    Sophie’s Choice by William Styron. This one is set post WWll but it goes back and forth to the war time and concentration camp. (I’m only in the middle of this one, I put it down for a while, but it is good.)

    Also, Judy Blume’s starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself touches on Hitler and the camps as well, as it takes place soon after the war.

    And for nonfiction, Unbroken, if you haven’t already read it. I learned sooo much from that book. It was incredible.

    • Thank you Darlene for the comment. I was excited when I saw you mention Sophie’s Choice! I have seen the film 3 times, but I haven’t gotten the chance to read the book. Otherwise it would definitely be on my list. I will eventually read it too!

      I have also seen the film, Unbroken, but I didn’t enjoy it much. I might enjoy the book more?

      I also really like Schindler’s List, but I don’t have the book yet. Will most likely spoil myself with a purchase of it soon. Thank you for your recommendations <3

      • Lisa Sheppard

        The book “Unbroken” is so, so heartbreaking and uplifting and unbelievable! Definitely read it.

    • I’m glad you said that as I was going to add it! I’m afraid I prefer WWII fiction with a bit more emphasis on the war, or a period during it. Such books often give you a bit of education into the war too – although they shouldn’t of course take the place of good non-fiction – but sometimes a good war book will trigger you to look for more information. These books aren’t what I’d call WWII historical fiction – but I’m sure they’re very enjoyable!

  • I have a few of those books on my TBR, but I probably want to read The Nightingale the most. Have you read any of Kristin Hannah’s other books? The last couple of books I read that was set during WWII was Lovers At the Chameleon Club by Francine Prose which I liked because one of the main characters was a female race car driver and Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan which was about a jazz band hiding and on the run in Paris during the occupation.

    • I’ve had Half Blood Blues on my Wish List for ages – I must get to it.

    • No, I haven’t read any of Kristin Hannah’s other books. Would you recommend any of them?

      I think from your 2 recommendations, I’d probably look into Half-Blood Blues. Thanks!

  • Karen

    How about The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan which won the Booker prize a couple of years ago? A large part of it is set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Burma.

    • Great choice for a war book. Also, All Quiet On The Western Front deserves a mention – although we’re talking WWI in that case.

      • Karen

        i was trying to be good by sticking to WW2 🙂

      • Thanks for the recommendation. I don’t read a lot of WWI, so thank you.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Karen. I like that it’s a different war-time setting and I’ll definitely look into it!

  • Great list Melinda! The only one I haven’t read from it is The Nightingale which I hope to pick up at some point 🙂

    I don’t know if I told you about it in the past but I really enjoyed Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge. It’s set in France and Hungary in the 1930s and into WW2.

  • Isi

    I’ve read the two first titles, and I really want to read the rest, especially The Villa Triste and The nightingale.
    Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Jennine G.

    Oh I’m the same…WWII seems to draw me most. The Book Thief has my favorite narrator of all time. I have Sarah’s Key, just have to get around to it. And I am so mad, my iPad crashed and I lost a free copy of The Nightingale.

    • Don’t you have the copy of The Nightingale saved somewhere? You have to read Sarah’s Key!!

      • Jennine G.

        I don’t have it saved. It wasn’t a Kindle version so it wasn’t on Amazon to load. And for some reason it wasn’t on my Apple iCloud either 🙁

  • I loved reading this post Melinda!!! I read Sarah’s Key last year I think, and I really enjoyed it too. Her story broke my heart to pieces though. For some reason I’ve always been drawn to WWII books. I guess it feels good knowing that someone’s story is being told… I read The Book Thief and The Nightingale too (no need to say how much I love those two) but the other two I haven’t read and I will definitely look out for it to give it a go. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Nihaad – Read & Seek

    • It’s nice to know you love WWII fiction too!! 🙂

      I absolutely love it – including reading non-fiction. The whole time period fascinates me. I’m constantly looking for new material on it.

  • Lisa Sheppard

    All The Light We Cannot See is wonderful and entirely different from anything else set during WWII that I have ever read.

  • I have not read any of these, I’m ashamed to say. Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity is fantastic, though, and I also enjoyed A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (with some reservations).

  • The Book Haven

    Excellent list. You might also check out Slaughterhouse-Five. One of Vonnegut’s best.