Sunday, November 06, 2011

Women at War: A Novel Bibliography

I've been trying to pay attention to current trends in historical novels. For a long while, novels about women during World War II were out of fashion in the US, although wartime sagas have flourished overseas for some time. Male espionage thrillers and action-adventure fiction set during the war always found an audience, too, but there were considerably fewer novels about the feminine experience.

Over the last year and more, though, American readers have seen (and will see) a bumper crop of historical fiction on this subject.  Many of these books arrived in my mailbox for review, so I've been reading and learning about the war from many different angles.

The trend's benchmark titles - hugely popular bestsellers - include Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Sarah Blake's The Postmistress, Pam Jenoff's bestselling romantic thrillers, and Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française... can you think of other recent titles that fit?

The novels below all have US publication dates between April 2011 and April 2012.  These women are spies, nurses, office clerks, resistance leaders, and average citizens whose courage comes to the forefront when they're caught up in difficult times. The settings range from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain to California, Washington, DC, and the far-flung islands of the South Pacific.




Maria Dueñas, The Time In Between (Atria, Nov 2011).  In this international bestselling epic, a Spanish seamstress works undercover for the Allies during Spain's civil war and World War II.





Anna Funder, All That I Am (Harper, Feb 2012). This debut novel brings to life the heroic German women and men who took a stand against the Nazis in the 1930s; based on historical people.





Kate Furnivall, The White Pearl (Berkley, Mar 2012).  In 1941 Malaya, a bored plantation owner's wife finds her life upended when the Japanese invade.





Amanda Hodgkinson, 22 Britannia Road (Pamela Dorman, Apr 2011).  A Polish father, mother, and son struggle to reunite as a family in England following their devastating wartime experiences.





Sarah Jio, The Bungalow (Plume, Dec 2011).  A young woman in the Army Nurse Corps on Bora-Bora in 1942 begins an affair with a mysterious soldier.





Margaret Leroy, The Soldier's Wife (Hyperion, July 2011).  Fans of Shaffer/Barrows can return to Guernsey in this tale of a housewife who falls for a soldier in the occupying German army - which leads to some tough decisions.





Susan Elia MacNeal, Mr. Churchill's Secretary (Bantam, April 2012).  A debut historical mystery starring Maggie Hope, the newest typist at 10 Downing Street in 1940, who discovers that her position brings her innumerable opportunities as well as the potential for life-threatening danger. 





Kristina McMorris, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves (Kensington, Mar 2012).  The author follows up her epistolary WWII-era romantic novel, Letters from Home, with the story of a violinist who marries a Japanese man and voluntarily accompanies him when he's forced into an internment camp in 1941.





Alison Pick, Far to Go (Harper Perennial, Apr 2011).  This Booker-longlisted novel is a saga about a Jewish Czechoslovakian family who flee their country with their governess after the Nazis invade.





Alyson Richman, The Lost Wife (Berkley, Sept. 2011).  Two young lovers in pre-war Prague are separated after the Nazi invasion, and their memories of each other help them survive until they're reunited by chance many decades later.





Sarah R. Shaber, Louise's War (Severn House, Aug. 2011).  In this historical mystery, Louise, a young widow who's the newest clerk in the Office of Strategic Services in 1942 Washington, DC, sees an opportunity to help an old friend flee occupied France.





Lynn Sheene, The Last Time I Saw Paris (Berkley, May 2011).  A naive New York socialite arrives in Paris during the Occupation and gets drawn into the resistance movement.

Also, the cover art for this one isn't final yet, but Margaret Wurtele's The Golden Hour (Berkley, Feb. 2012) details the coming-of-age of a young Tuscan woman who falls in love with a Jewish member of the partisan army.

38 comments:

  1. Every single one of these books looks good to me. I love this sort of historical fiction. I'm going to attack the Duenas book this week actually.

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  2. Great list! I read The Postmistress earlier this year and enjoyed it. A lot of these look interesting... I can feel my to-read list growing as I type this.

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  3. I love stories like these. I have read The Soldiers Wife and really enjoyed it. The rest are on my TBR list aka The Neverending Wishlist! :)

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  4. Great list. The trend is also in SF. Connie Willis's award winning Blackout/All Clear is time travel to WWII with lots of what women were doing in the war effort.

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  5. Oh thanks for this list! I had a couple of them on my wish list already but will now be adding a few more. I read The Postmistress last year and it was pretty good - not my favorite but still good. Everything seems to come in ebbs and flows.

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  6. This is a great list. I am adding a whole bunch of these to my list of books to read.

    Also, coming out next spring is Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, about two young women, a pilot and a spy. It's blurbed as:

    "Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot, the other a wireless operator with the WAAF. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends.

    But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. Almost immediately she is arrested by the Gestapo, and it seems her mission may be over before it's even begun. The story begins in "Verity's" own words, as she writes her account for her captors..."

    And it's wonderful.

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  7. Quite a list of novels! I'm going to take a look at several of these. WWII has been largely neglected recently in US historical novels and it's great to see that changing.

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  8. Good grief, my wishlist is groaning now.

    I am just starting Pam Jenoff's The Things we cherished.

    Can I also recommend
    Izzy's War - Isla Dewar - Spitfire pilots in WW2

    and Letters from Home - Kristina McMorris.

    carol

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  9. Fantastic list, Sarah. I have a few of the books mentioned already on my shelf and am looking forward to reading them.

    The only book on my shelf that I would add to the list is The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown, which came to my attention thanks to your blog :-) I don't know that it's available in the U.S yet, is it?

    Thanks for this great post!

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  10. Some excellent suggestions here - please keep them coming!

    I've put the Wein and Dewar on my ever-growing wishlist. The Willis pair of novels, too.

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  11. You're right, Melissa - Beauty Chorus isn't available in the US, but I ordered it from Book Depository right after she posted here.

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  12. What a great post and list! I had noticed that women in WW2 novels were popular at the moment but all the ones I can think of are already on your list :)

    I've bookmarked this post so I can add to my own wishlist.

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  13. Thanks for the wonderful list. Hoping my story will be joining it someday soon.

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  14. Sarah, Thank you so much for publishing this very interesting list. I am beginning to add adult books to my blog and these are perfect. I will certainly put these on to my TBR list.
    I just finished Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven which was a little Forest Gumpish but still a good book.

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  15. Fantastic list, thanks. When I'm not deep into the 16th Century, I find a read a lot about WW2 (just finished "Unbroken" - amazing, 5-handkerchief true story, which I'll review next week)

    I'm curious--why do you think there's been a bump in WW2 stories? Peope digging into their family trees? Harking back to a time when people of different nations worked together towards a common goal (as opposed to today, when one nation cannot pull in one direction...just sayin')

    Thoughts?
    Geri

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  16. Hi Sarah, there's also in the Arms of the Enemy by Lisbeth Eng, published by Wild Rose Press.

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  17. Velva Jean and the Eng - thanks for the suggestions, Alex and Elizabeth. I loved Velva Jean's first adventures...

    Geri, good question, and something I've thought about too. WWII is now in the distant enough past that people are starting to rediscover those stories, and a fair number of authors are basing their works on tales from their family tree. (Kristina McMorris' Letters from Home is one of these) You could be right about the appeal of nations working together, the heroism of the era, etc, too!

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  18. Wonderful list! Some of them are on my wishlist already. I love this time period for historical fiction. Previously, I found willing Bookmoochers from the UK to send me WWII-era novels. (Although, I have to say I'm not a fan of Blake'sThe Postmistres.)

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  19. Hi Carrie, I've been reading UK-published WWII sagas also. I've been able to find many out-of-print ones at cheap prices from Awesomebooks.co.uk, and some I've gotten on Paperbackswap. It's interesting that not long ago, WWII wasn't considered "historical" by many readers, but now that's it's getting to be 70+ years ago, that's been changing!

    For those keeping track for wishlists and such, I found one more title: Jacqueline Yallop's Obedience, from Penguin in Jan 2012.

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  20. So many of those are already on my TO READ list....I recently finished The Soldier's Wife and absolutely LOVED it...probably one of the best books I've read this year!! Great list!!

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  21. What a fabulous round up. So many to add to my TBR list!

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  22. Thanks for this very complete post. My writing is about the decade before the one you describe, but I wonder if part of the WW II trend is rooted in a desire of people to heroically stand up against evil. If so, I hope some of those readers are right this minute Occupying Wall Street.

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  23. All of those books look good. I am going to have to check into some of them.

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  24. Wonderful post - these all look amazing (especially The White Pearl. I need to request some of these for my library... ;)

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  25. Great to see so much interest in this post. I'll have to make up lists like this more often!

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  26. Anonymous5:09 PM

    OMG you MUST read THE TIME IN BETWEEN. I read it from Netgalley and it is AMAZING!! It's like THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE in that it immerses you into a fairly unknown part of WWII, both in terms of location and events, but it is its own book. It's a great sweeping read.

    I also liked THE SOLDIER'S WIFE very much and wasn't too taken with THE POSTMISTRESS either.

    Mary Doria Russell's A THREAD OF GRACE, about WWII Italy, was published in 2005 - still somewhat recent.

    Perhaps interest parallels why so many WWII NF books continue to be published - it was "the last good war" - also, there were cameras and radio and other devices to record it more than any previous war - and a lot of information is still being discovered, most notably from Iron Curtain country archives and letters/notes/unpublished manuscripts of elderly family members.

    Sarah Other Librarian

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  27. Anonymous5:30 PM

    Also, LAST TRAIN FROM LIGURIA by Christine Dwyer Hickey, Pam Jenoff's first novel THE KOMMANDANT'S GIRL, and MY ENEMY'S CRADLE by Sara Young.

    One theme which among U.S. authors only Chris Bohjalian has covered in SKELETONS AT THE FEAST, but which has been more prevalent in the U.K. and Europe, is the flight from East Prussia at the end of WWII. THE FLIGHT by Brian Malessa, THE LAST SUMMER by Catrin Collier, and RESTITUTION by Eliza Graham all cover this event.

    I love bookcloseouts.com!

    Sarah Other Librarian

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  28. Oh no, another novel it sounds like I'll have to drop everything and read. And I have a copy of The Time In Between already, so...

    I'm nearly done with All That I Am, and it's very good, though due to its stream-of-consciousness style and the earlier time period it covers (before the war even began), it falls into a different category than the rest.

    I'm a fan of Bookcloseouts too. You do get subjects in UK-pubbed WWII novels you don't often get here - land girls, for instance. I recently finished Lissa Evans' Their Finest Hour and a Half, which is both a humorous and serious take on the war and the propaganda films broadcast at the time.

    Thanks for adding to the ongoing list!

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  29. So this is a list after my own heart! I love books set in WWII and just reviewed Kommandant's Girl today.

    I have noticed that there deos seem to be a lot of YA type books about female pilots - Fly Girl by SHerri Smith (I think) and then there have been a couple more since then.

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  30. Meant to also say...can't wait for The White Pearl!

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  31. This is true, Marg, I've seen a few novels about women pilots lately. On the adult fiction side, Karl Friedrich's Wings is another, as is Kate Lord Brown's novel which Melissa mentioned.

    Kate Furnivall is an author whose work I've been meaning to read for a while.

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  32. I'm reading The Time In Between right now and loving it. It's great to see more women-centric WWII novels coming into fashion here; I have been fascinated by the period for most of my life and devour Alan Furst's WWII thriller novels.

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  33. I read Britannia Road. I lovely light book, really enjoyed it.

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  34. Thanks for the mention. My newest, The Things We Cherished, also fits the bill. Best, Pam Jenoff

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  35. Sarah, (hello from another Sarah!), thank you so much for including my novel, THE BUNGALOW, in this list. Delighted to see it included on your lovely blog (and in such amazing company!) Many thanks, Sarah Jio

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  36. Pam, thanks for stopping by! I'll be including The Things We Cherished in an update post.

    Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting as well, and nice to meet another Sarah with an h! I've actually just finished reading The Bungalow and thought it was a wonderful story.

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  37. Hurrah! I'm so glad to see this list. I write WW2 historical fiction and have been waiting for the trends to shift more in this direction for the U.S. For awhile, I thought about approaching British publishers since that particular era is so prevalent in books there.

    Thanks for this list!

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  38. Hi Melissa, I'm glad that WWII has finally become trendy here too. Coming up with a list of UK-published novels on the subject would be almost too easy, but they've been thin on the ground in the US for the longest time. Good luck with your writing!

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