I hope you like book covers featuring women walking away with planes overhead because you’re about to see a lot of them.
Readers who enjoy the drama and danger of novels set during the Second World War have a lot to choose from. There seems to be a WWII novel for every type of reader. For instance, my WWII novel, The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street, is a romance with an emphasis on friendship and empowerment, and some silliness thrown in for good measure. Oh, and quite a few bombs.
You might notice most of the books I’ve listed here take place in England—I’m a hopeless Anglophile. My favorite WWII-era novels can generally be broken down into two categories: Hopeful Homefront Women’s Fiction and Everything Else. Everything Else is closer to the frontlines, has a more serious tone, and is more exciting while Hopeful Homefront Women’s Fiction focuses on the daily lives of normal people, their challenges, and their relationships. Since my Homefront Hearts trilogy lands in the Hopeful Homefront category, I’ll start there.
Hopeful Homefront Women’s Fiction
The Chilbury Ladies Choir
This book is one of a handful of novels I’ve borrowed from the library and then purchased just because I wanted a copy for my bookshelf. I adore epistolary books and author Jennifer Ryan cleverly takes journal pages from several women living in the English (fictional) village of Chilbury, all written for Britain’s real Mass Observation journaling project. This novel is sweet, funny, sad, and certainly in my top five books of all time.
The Kitchen Front and The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
It seemed silly to give Jennifer Ryan three whole sections of her own in this blog post so I’m combining two of her follow-ups to The Chilbury Ladies Choir: The Kitchen Front and The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle.
Yes, I’m a big fan.
Both of these books focus on a different aspect of war rationing: food in The Kitchen Front and clothing in The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle. Both feature a group of unlikely female friends and both are just really stellar women’s fiction novels about perseverance during wartime. Really top-notch stuff.
Marty Wingate’s novel about the women of the Royal Air Force is a fantastic homefront wartime fiction that juuust stays within the confines of a “homefront” novel. Although not allowed to fly planes as fighter pilots during WWII, women were brought in to ferry planes around the country to wherever they were needed. It’s exciting, touching, and heartwarming. I’m a really big fan of this one.
The Emmy Lake Chronicles (Series)
Dear Mrs. Bird, Cheerfully Yours, and the newly-released Mrs. Porter Calling by AJ Pearce are three of my very favorite homefront women’s fiction novels. Friendship, journalism, and found families play a huge role in these books and I’ve grown quite fond of the characters. I just finished Mrs. Porter Calling and it was really great. I hope it’s not the last in the series! These books will make you laugh, cry, and pound your fists in frustration. Love, love, love these books.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
I don’t think any list of wartime/English homefront novels would be complete without The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, even though it’s not specifically set during wartime. As Britain dusts itself off after the end of the war, a writer finds herself learning about a group of friends who bonded over books during the German occupation of their island home of Guernsey. This epistolary novel is, again, in my top five books of all time. Again, I borrowed it from the library and then bought myself a copy because I love it so much. I’ve watched the movie about a dozen times. The book is damn near perfect.
The Alice Network and The Huntress
I’m pretty sure writing about WWII fiction and not including at least one mention of Kate Quinn goes against the Geneva Convention. Quinn has gone on to write several badass women in several badass novels but The Alice Network and The Huntress remain my favorites. The Alice Network is a dual timeline with lady spies and can I get a “HELL YEAH” for the character of Eve Gardiner? She’s an exceptional character that I’d never seen in a historical fiction novel before and I really haven’t since.
Although not quite as cool as Eve, Nina from The Huntress is definitely up there. She joins the Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment, and fights Nazis. Hell. Yeah. These books rule.
The Resistance Girl and The Secret Messenger
Mandy Robotham is another author who just seems to pump out great WWII novel after great WWII novel. She’s especially good at intertwining setting and story. I had no real interest in visiting Norway or Venice before reading these two books—now, I must go. Lots of spy stuff, dodging Nazi bullets, fighting for what’s right, and defeating the bad guy. Awesome!
A Fire Sparkling
Packed with gorgeous prose and excitement, Julianne MacLean’s A Fire Sparkling is a WWII novel I recommend on a regular basis. It’s an enthralling multigenerational saga with a dual timeline and lots of emotion and twists. Bonus: the author is from Canada’s east coast—like me!
Daughter of the Reich
I have a rule that if a book makes me cry, I give it five stars. When a story makes you feel something so deeply that you weep, that’s something special. Well, this book WRECKED ME. Set in Germany as the Nazis are coming to power, this novel by Louise Fein is pretty damn dark and beautifully written. And it’s a heartbreaker. You’ve been warned.
All The Light We Cannot See
I shied away from reading this book for a long time because I assumed that a Pulitzer winner would be too literary for my taste. It wasn’t and I was very wrong. All The Night We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is set in the French seaside town of Saint-Malo and focuses on the stories of two teenagers who grow up as the war is starting: one is a blind French girl and one is a German wunderkind. This is a memorable novel that will stay with you.
Did I miss any of your favorite WWII era novels? Let me know in the comments!
Jillianne writes delightful historical fiction featuring rebellious ladies and happy endings. Her debut novel was shortlisted for the 2016 PEI Book Award and Victorian historical fiction novel, The Spirited Mrs. Pringle, was longlisted for the 2022 Historical Fiction Company Book Award. Her WWII romance trilogy, Homefront Hearts, will be released by the end of 2023. Jill lives on Canada’s beautiful east coast.