2016 was a very good year for historical fiction readers. This year in particularly, a range of World War II titles dominated the scene, capturing both the horrors of war and the strength of the human spirit. Check out our list of the biggest World War II releases of 2016. Publishers’ descriptions included.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
For readers of The Nightingale and Sarah’s Key, inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939 — and then sets its sights on France.
An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.
The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents — from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland — as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
Mischling by Affinity Konar
Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.
Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.
It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.
As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.
That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks — a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin — travel through Poland’s devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.
A superbly crafted story, told in a voice as exquisite as it is boundlessly original, Mischling defies every expectation, traversing one of the darkest moments in human history to show us the way toward ethereal beauty, moral reckoning, and soaring hope.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
For readers of Between Shades of Gray and All the Light We Cannot See, bestselling author Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war’s most devastating — yet unknown — tragedies.
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all 10,000 people — adults and children alike — aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Erik Larson’s Dead Wake and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff — the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.
Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war — until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.
Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is — bewilderingly — made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.
And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.
Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.
A Hero of France by Alan Furst
From the bestselling master espionage writer, hailed by Vince Flynn as “the best in the business,” comes a riveting novel about the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris.
1941. The City of Light is dark and silent at night. But in Paris and in the farmhouses, barns, and churches of the French countryside, small groups of ordinary men and women are determined to take down the occupying forces of Adolf Hitler. Mathieu, a leader of the French Resistance, leads one such cell, helping downed British airmen escape back to England.
Alan Furst’s suspenseful, fast-paced thriller captures this dangerous time as no one ever has before. He brings Paris and occupied France to life, along with courageous citizens who outmaneuver collaborators, informers, blackmailers, and spies, risking everything to fulfill perilous clandestine missions. Aiding Mathieu as part of his covert network are Lisette, a 17-year-old student and courier; Max de Lyon, an arms dealer turned nightclub owner; Chantal, a woman of class and confidence; Daniel, a Jewish teacher fueled by revenge; Joëlle, who falls in love with Mathieu; and Annemarie, a willful aristocrat with deep roots in France, and a desire to act.
As the German military police heighten surveillance, Mathieu and his team face a new threat, dispatched by the Reich to destroy them all.
Shot through with the author’s trademark fine writing, breathtaking suspense, and intense scenes of seduction and passion, Alan Furst’s A Hero of France is at once one of the finest novels written about the French Resistance and the most gripping novel yet by the living master of the spy thriller.
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel, perfect for fans of The Nightingale, Schindler’s List, and All the Light We Cannot See, about 12-year-old Hannah Rosenthal’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.
Before everything changed, young Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: Whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.
Hope appears in the form of the SS St. Louis, a transatlantic liner offering Jews safe passage out of Germany. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for the refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba undermine the passengers’ fragile sense of safety. From one day to the next, impossible choices are offered, unthinkable sacrifices are made, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their doom.
Seven decades later in New York City, on her 12th birthday, Anna Rosen receives a strange package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents will inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past, a quest that will help Anna understand her place and her purpose in the world.
The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
An emotionally gripping portrait of post-war Japan, where a newly repatriated girl must help a classmate find her missing sister.
After spending the war years in a Canadian internment camp, 13-year-old Aya Shimamura and her father are faced with a gut-wrenching choice: Move east of the Rocky Mountains or go “back” to Japan. Barred from returning home to the west coast and bitterly grieving the loss of Aya’s mother during internment, Aya’s father signs a form that enables the government to deport them.
But war-devastated Tokyo is not much better. Aya’s father struggles to find work, compromising his morals and toiling long hours. Meanwhile Aya, born and raised in Vancouver, is something of a pariah at her school, bullied for being foreign and paralyzed when asked to communicate in Japanese. Aya’s alienation is eventually mitigated by one of her principal tormenters, a willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, whose older sister has mysteriously disappeared.
When a rumor surfaces that General MacArthur, who is overseeing the Occupation, might help citizens in need, Fumi enlists Aya to compose a letter asking him to find her beloved sister. The letter is delivered into the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese American serving with the Occupation forces, whose endless job is translating the thousands of letters MacArthur receives each week. Matt feels an affinity toward Fumi but is largely powerless, and the girls decide to take matters into their own hands, venturing into the dark and dangerous underside of Tokyo’s Ginza district.
Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines this turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of people on both sides — and yet the novel also allows for a poignant spark of resilience, friendship, and love that translates across cultures and borders to stunning effect.
Karolina’s Twins by Ronald H. Balson
In the tradition of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and Lilac Girls, comes a saga inspired by true events of a Holocaust survivor’s quest to return to Poland and fulfill a promise, from Ronald H. Balson, author of the international bestseller Once We Were Brothers.
She made a promise in desperation
Now it’s time to keep it
Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.
Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?
Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.
Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes Karolina’s Twins, a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival, and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond.
The One Man by Andrew Gross
Poland. 1944. Alfred Mendl and his family are brought on a crowded train to a Nazi concentration camp after being caught trying to flee Paris with forged papers. His family is torn away from him on arrival, his life’s work burned before his eyes. To the guards, he is just another prisoner, but in fact Mendl — a renowned physicist — holds knowledge that only two people in the world possess. And the other is already at work for the Nazi war machine.
Four thousand miles away, in Washington, DC, Intelligence lieutenant Nathan Blum routinely decodes messages from occupied Poland. Having escaped the Krakow ghetto as a teenager after the Nazis executed his family, Nathan longs to do more for his new country in the war. But never did he expect the proposal he receives from “Wild” Bill Donovan, head of the OSS: to sneak into the most guarded place on earth, a living hell, on a mission to find and escape with one man, the one man the Allies believe can ensure them victory in the war.
Bursting with compelling characters and tense story lines, this historical thriller from New York Times–bestselling author Andrew Gross is a deeply affecting, unputdownable series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely new and compelling.
The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith
The highly anticipated new standalone novel from Martin Cruz Smith, whom The Washington Post has declared “that uncommon phenomenon: a popular and well-regarded crime novelist who is also a writer of real distinction,” The Girl from Venice is a suspenseful World War II love story set against the beauty, mystery, and danger of occupied Venice.
Venice, 1945. The war may be waning, but the city known as La Serenissima is still occupied and the people of Italy fear the power of the Third Reich. One night, under a canopy of stars, a fisherman named Cenzo comes across a young woman’s body floating in the lagoon and soon discovers that she is still alive and in trouble.
Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Giulia is on the run from the Wehrmacht SS. Cenzo chooses to protect Giulia rather than hand her over to the Nazis. This act of kindness leads them into the world of Partisans, random executions, the arts of forgery and high explosives, Mussolini’s broken promises, the black market and gold, and, everywhere, the enigmatic maze of the Venice Lagoon.
The Girl from Venice is a thriller, a mystery, and a retelling of Italian history that will take your breath away. Most of all it is a love story.
Which books from this list have you read? Let us know in the comments!
Want access to free & bargain ebooks? Sign up for BookBub here.