I first became aware of the potential for love stories within World War II as a teenager watching the show “thirtysomething.” The season premiere for the second season revolved around one of the characters finding an old trunk full of letters and photos dating back to the war. The character got sucked into the love story between a young woman and the man she loved, who was fighting overseas. The main character felt a kinship with the woman who wrote the letters and the struggles she was facing, in spite of the fact that they were separated by decades. After that show, I was hooked by the music, the drama, and the romance of that time period in our country’s history.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone. At She Reads we’ve read several titles that deal with this time period– each with their own unique take on the war. Think World War II has been done? Not like these novels!
The Discovery by Dan Walsh
Gerard Warner was not only a literary giant whose suspense novels sold in the millions, he was also a man devoted to his family, especially his wife of nearly 60 years. When he dies he leaves his Charleston estate to his grandson, Michael, an aspiring writer himself. Michael settles in to write his own first novel and discovers an unpublished manuscript his grandfather had written, something he’d kept hidden from everyone but clearly intended Michael to find. Michael begins to read an exciting tale about Nazi spies and sabotage, but something about this story is different from all of Gerard Warner’s other books. It’s actually a love story.
As Michael delves deeper into the story he discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well. Laced with suspense and intrigue, The Discovery is a richly woven novel that explores the incredible sacrifices that must be made to forge the love of a lifetime. Author Dan Walsh delivers yet another unique and heartfelt story that will stick with readers long after they turn the last page.
WHAT WE LIKED: As novelists we love the idea of a writer leaving a manuscript for his grandson meant to tell a story he couldn’t tell while he was alive– a story that’s unlike anything he’s ever told.
The Bungalow by Sarah Jio
In the summer of 1942, newly engaged Anne Calloway sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.
A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.
WHAT WE LIKED: We loved Sarah Jio’s debut novel The Violets of March, and she’s back with a story of love and loss set in the Pacific. Romance on a tropical island in a bungalow hideaway? Yes, please!
Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris
Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.
When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.
Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss–an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.
WHAT WE LIKED: This novel focuses on the lives affected by the Japanese interment during the tumultuous time after Pearl Harbor from the viewpoint of those who lived it. McMorris tells a side of the story that we rarely hear about.
The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
In 1945, Elsie Schmidt is a naive teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she is for her first kiss. She and her family have been protected from the worst of the terror and desperation overtaking her country by a high-ranking Nazi who wishes to marry her. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door would put all she loves in danger.
Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba feels that lines are often blurred.
Reba’s latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery is no easy subject. Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba’s questions are a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki’s lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.
WHAT WE LIKED: This novel tells the story of a German woman forced to be part of Hitler’s plan to create a master race, giving us a harrowing look at what life was like as the Nazis grew in power while tying this woman’s story to a contemporary woman facing challenges of her own.
Next To Loveby Ellen Feldman
Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.
Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.
WHAT WE LIKED: This author gives us an original take on the war by giving us a glimpse at how the war shaped the perspective of three women, their family members, and a nation.
If you’re fascinated with this time period, consider picking up one or all of these novels and immersing yourself in the romance, the drama, the history that is WWII.
Have you read any novels set during WWII that captured your heart?
Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.