Mistress of the Ritz
Set in the gilded and glamorous Hôtel Ritz in Paris and moving between the roaring 20s to occupied France, Mistress of the Ritz has everything we love in a delicious novel: intrigue, suspense, indiscretions, and love. Even better, it’s based on true events that add a tinge of gravitas to this enthralling story of Claude and Blanche Auzello, who run the haute hotel that caters to guests including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Coco Chanel. But when the Nazis take it over as their headquarters, their luxuriously louche world is upended.
Time After Time
Lisa Grunwald will utterly enchant you with this magical love story based on the legend of a woman who disappeared from New York City’s Grand Central station in December of 1937. Just as rough-around-the-edges railroad man Joe Reynolds falls hard for Manhattan socialite and fabulous flapper Nora Lansing, she’s gone—trapped in a mysterious netherworld in the station itself, where Joe spends the rest of his life finding her again and again.
Jennifer Cody Epstein
We can never have enough stories about women’s friendships in all their fraught and exquisite mutations, and Wunderland raises the bar. In this heartbreaking story which begins in 1989, Ava Fisher receives the ashes—and a cache of unsent letters—of her late, estranged German mother, Ilse, to her friend Renate. In 1933 Berlin, their once intimate friendship is shattered when Ilse’s membership in the Hitler Youth collides with Renate’s own deep secrets.
The Spies of Shilling Lane
After her divorce, when Mrs. Braithwaite finds herself unceremoniously knocked off her self-appointed perch as arbiter of everything in her English village, she heads to London to seek the support of her daughter, Betty. She arrives in the chaos of the London Blitz only to discover that Betty’s gone missing. Her intrepid search forces Mrs. Braithwaite to rethink everything she thought was important in life and gives us a wholly original mother-daughter story.
The Flight Portfolio
At once a tale of forbidden love and high-stakes adventure, Orringer’s jewel of a book is all good things under one cover. Impossible to put down, tender, and important, it tells a fictionalized version of the very real, very heroic life of Varian Fry, an American journalist who spent 1940 in Marseille, France, where he risked his life smuggling artists and writers—including Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, and thousands of others—to safety.
The Last Collection
What’s better than Coco Chanel? Not much, but here’s something—a novel that centers on the goddess of fashion and her real-world rival, the equally ambitious Elsa Schiaparelli. When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed American, travels to Paris, she gets entangled in the designers’ feud that is enflamed as the Nazis and the threat of war bear down on the City of Light.
All the Flowers in Paris
Two women are connected across time in the city of Paris in this captivating novel that will make your heart soar. In the present, Caroline wakes up in a Paris hospital with no memory of her past. In Nazi-occupied Paris, Céline, a young widow with hidden Jewish ancestry, gets tangled up with a ruthless German office. When Caroline stumbles upon Céline’s letters, their worlds collide to reveal the boundless strength of the human spirit.
The Lost Letter
Brimming with historical detail and teeming with heartbreak and tragedy, The Lost Letter should be placed at the top of your towering stack of books to read. Inspired by the resistance in Austria during World War II, Cantor limns the interconnected stories of star-crossed lovers across a generation and an ocean.
It’s a masterpiece and a must-read—not because you should but because it’s unforgettable. In Brooklyn a struggling writer, Stingo, shares a boarding house with lovers Nathan and Sophie, he a Jewish American, she a Polish Catholic and survivor of the Nazi death camps. Sophie begins to reveal the horror of her past to Stingo, which leads to her and Nathan’s utter demise. It’s not cheery, but Styron’s literary bravado is a stunner.
If you haven’t yet been a reader of the The Reader, there can be only two possibilities: you were too young when it was published, or you were in a coma. In this mesmerizing, erotic, and wrenching tale set in postwar Germany, 15-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by a woman twice his age who becomes his lover. Years later, she’s on trial for a hideous crime but is hiding something even more shameful.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer
You’ll be swept away by this enchanting tale of writer Juliet Ashton, who finds the topic for her next book in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of Guernsey, the British Island occupied by the Germans during the war. The correspondence between the two reveals an irresistible cast of characters and compels her to visit the island, where her life will change forever.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
The basis for the Oscar-winning film, this story of unrequited love set in prewar Italy traces the plight of the wealthy and aristocratic Jewish family, the Finzi-Continis. The narrator, a young man in love with Micol, is finally invited behind the walls of the lavish estate that becomes an idyll for local Jews escaping the brutal world outside the gates. Bassani’s modern classic is hypnotic and evocative.
Published posthumously, 64 years after Némirovsky perished in Auschwitz, Suite Francaise offers a gripping, heartbreaking glimpse into the lives of Parisians fleeing the occupied city, then moves to the impossible lives of those in a small French town under siege who are trying to coexist with the enemy. While the beautiful Lucile Angellier awaits news of her husband, a prisoner of war, love blossoms between her and the German officer staying in her home.
With his magnificent 1998 book, The Greatest Generation, beloved journalist Tom Brokaw coined a phrase that has become an indelible part of our vernacular and prompted subsequent generations to look more deeply into the sacrifices people made here and abroad, and the effect the war had on myriad lives. In the decades since the war, writers have found endless ways to show us what happened and what could have happened. Perhaps because war intensifies everything—villains become more villainous, heroes more heroic, and matters of the heart are inflamed—novels that center on the characters and events, both real and imagined, are particularly enticing. Here are 13 mostly new WWII novels—with a few oldies-but-greaties thrown in—that are all must-reads.
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