Six Great Stories about Brave Women During World War II
01 The Skylark's Secret by Fiona Valpy
The Skylark's Secret has a dual timeline; the story is set in rural Scotland during World War II and decades later in the same village.
Valpy's detailed setting and character development are wonderful, and I was equally invested in and engaged by both of the interconnected timelines.
There's a low-key mystery Lexie is set on unraveling (key players are keeping secrets about events from decades past), and she's making initially hesitant attempts to reclaim love, the joy of music, independence, community, and general fulfillment.
Not everything turns out happily in both timelines, but Valpy leaves the reader with a reassuringly satisfying ending. Different types of women's courage are shown in the World War II-era story as well as the more modern part of the tale.
I received an advance copy of this title from NetGalley and Amazon Publishing UK in exchange for an honest review.
For my full review of The Skylark's Secret, please click here.
02 The Light After the War by Anita Abriel
Author Abriel has said that this story is so fully inspired by her grandmother's story that she didn't even change the main characters' names. Abriel's grandmother Vera lived with the author's family when Abriel was growing up, and she was immersed in her grandmother's tales of life in Caracas, and Edith, and heartbreak, and hope.
Abriel offers a vivid account of the fear and dread—intermixed with sparks of hope—that sustained Vera and Edith during the war; their wonderfully brave, practical, creative routes to survival as single young women along with jarring adjustments to post-war floods of food, fashion, and joy; the evolutions of their careers; and each of their attempts to find a second chapter of love.
Vera and Edith are such a complementary partnership, and I loved spending time with these strong young women. They're living through wartime challenges but weren't wartime spies or deeply involved in war efforts. I was taken by how remarkable the story was of the women's lives during this time of turmoil.
I received an advance copy of this book through Atria Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Click here for my full review of The Light After the War.
03 The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
The world is unraveling on the cusp of World War II, and three strong women will be tested beyond anything they imagined before the end of the war.
We've got the strong, gruff Hanni with a heart of gold; young Ettie, who is idealistic, tough as nails, and capable of deep love; and a heartbreakingly loyal and satisfyingly powerful golem, Ava.
This was a beautiful book. The golem and heron and other ethereal elements could have been distracting, but they worked to add a dreamlike layer--and intriguing depth--to Hoffman's unusual World War II-set story.
I was most struck by the character-driven World War II sections, which were haunting and lovely. Hoffman made me feel anchored to the characters so that the emotions, concerns, and life-and-death decisions the women grappled with in 1941 felt immediate and relevant.
For my full review of this book, please see The World That We Knew.
04 Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
After the war of course it will be like the start of spring, which is always so brilliantly sudden. The leaves will burst back onto the trees and close the gaps between the branches and we shall be startled--shan't we?--as we are startled at the end of every winter. We shall think: oh, I had quite forgotten....
In Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Cleave tells the story of Mary, a young British socialite who shocks her family by volunteering for the war effort. She teaches the children evacuated from London, children society has rejected because of race, impairment, or other perceived faults.
Tom is Mary's employer, and he's upset when his best friend Alastair enlists. The two men and Mary end up in a heartbreaking wartime love triangle.
Set during the bleak years of 1939-1942 in London and on the strategic island of Malta, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven illustrates how everyday triumphs, failures, and concerns come together to shape lives, even during a momentous sequence of surrounding events such as World War II.
The language and pacing is so lovely, the World War II settings so exquisitely laid out, and the dialogue so darkly funny, I loved this!
05 Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Most of us are drawn to this time period thinking it was a war of absolute good versus absolute evil—qualities rarely found in their purest form—and that’s true. But don’t forget that history isn’t just a study in black and white. Human behavior is comprised of ulterior motives, of gray shades.
I was fascinated by the two points of view (mother and daughter) and the two time periods (World War II and the late 1990s) that Blum explores in Those Who Save Us.
Blum's characters are far from perfect and are not all blameless and noble. In terms of illustrating women's bravery during the war, this book is unlike the others on this list. Anna is haunted by her wartime experiences and compromises, and she is fearful of Trudy's potential reaction to the heartbreaking truths of her mother's past.
I was riveted by Those Who Save Us (and I love the multiple potential implications of the book's title).
I had trouble with the convenience of the ending, but the story was so darn good, the weight of the ending mattered less to me than it otherwise might have.
06 The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes
The multiple points of view and jumps backward in time felt choppy for a while, then Moyes laid the groundwork for a set of lives that evolve dramatically and intriguingly over the course of an ocean voyage.
Within the microcosm of a ship full of hundreds of women--and even more naval officers at the end of their wartime duty--Moyes captures end-of-war excitement and reflection; the women's limited options/roles/escapes from past mistakes; as well as male power; lack of free will for women; the tensions of the young men exhilarated to be alive; and the hesitant, excited, young brides living together in close quarters for weeks.
There is some teasing manipulation that made me impatient, but I was fascinated by the factual basis for the story: the transport of over 600 brides from Australia to England in 1946, after World War II, to be reunified with their wartime husbands.
Moyes's grandmother mentioned her own voyage on the HMS Victorious, which inspired the author's framework for the book. I'd like to read more about the facts of that time and of voyages like this.
What are some of your favorite books about brave women during World War II?
Other titles I considered listing here were the five-star read All the Light We Cannot See; The Women in the Castle, which includes a complicated element of bravery; and the fantastic book for young readers, The War That Saved My Life, as well as its wonderful sequel, The War I Finally Won. What others might you include on this list?
I have a future list in mind focusing on stories about women who were wartime spies, so I've saved back a few World War II books about brave women in the thick of wartime intrigue and danger for that post.
For great historical fiction of all types, you might like to check out Six Historical Fiction Books I Loved in the Past Year and Six Historical Fiction Books I Loved This Year.
Happy reading, bookworms!