Dark Voyage by Alan Furst (2004)

darkvoyageFor writers of historical espionage set during World War II, Alan Furst is hard to beat. Dark Voyage introduces Dutch Merchant Marine Captain Eric DeHaan and his hardscrabble crew. When the Dutch naval intelligence recruits DeHaan and his ship, DeHaan reluctantly embarks on a dangerous secret mission. Risking his life and that of his crew and passengers, DeHaan must outwit spies, smugglers, and the German Navy.

For other gritty mysteries, check out our list.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

allthelightThe horrors of Nazi-occupied Europe are told through the eyes of Marie-Louise and Werner. They are on opposing sides, yet they are both just innocent teenagers caught up in a no-win situation. In another time and place, they could have been soulmates. Their intelligent and gentle natures bleed through some of the travesty.

Marie-Louise escapes war-torn Paris as her father tries to hide her away in a family home in St. Malo, but the war catches up with them. Her father, as an employee of the National History Museum, is hiding a special stone with legendary stories attached to it. The stone and its legends add a touch of mysterious appeal to All the Light We Cannot See.

Werner is an electronic genius and an orphan who gets caught up into the Nazi plan at a much younger age than necessary. Superiors lie about his age to take advantage of his radio expertise on the front lines. Werner’s sister is part of the underground German resistance movement and adds an interesting element to the story.

Anthony Doerr alternates between Werner and Marie-Louise’s voices and magically creates a haunting story readers will not soon forget.

For more novels of WWII, check out our list.

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre (2001)

constantgardenerA gruesome murder of Tessa Quayle in northern Kenya sets off the action of this gripping story. The Constant Gardener is not just the story of a diplomat seeking to find those responsible for the murder of his beautiful young wife, but also a parable of the conflict between forces seeking power and money opposed by those led by human values. The title is most appropriate as Justin Quale persists in uncovering those responsible in the face of powerful and deadly opposition. The ending is sad but not unexpected as Justin in one sense does accomplish some of the goals of his most courageous wife and finds a way to reconnect with her.

Of his 23 novels, John Le Carre rates Gardener as one of his four best.

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver (2014)

murderatbrightwellIf you’re a fan of traditional mysteries, you’ll enjoy this one. Set at a fashionable hotel on England’s southern coast in 1932 with a cast of characters right out of an Agatha Christie mystery, Murder at the Brightwell is a witty and energetic who-done-it.

Amory Ames, wealthy and dissatisfied with her life, takes a holiday at the seaside and turns detective after a fellow hotel guest turns up dead and another is suspected of foul play. The plot takes on a new dimension when her husband Milo arrives unexpectedly. Amory and Milo Ames’ off and on again marriage seems to be laying the foundation for a lively and clever new series of mystery novels by Ashley Weaver. At least I hope so.

The French House by Don Wallace (2014)

frenchhouseThis is a charming narrative of a family claiming a piece of a beautiful French island for themselves. Don Wallace‘s description of the natural beauty of Belle-Ile makes you want travel to this remote island and climb the cliffs to the beach.

Despite the fact that Don and his wife Mindy are just barely scraping by in New York City, they decide to buy a ruined house in a small village on Belle-Ile. Repairing it enough to make it inhabitable takes 8 years and multiple trips to the island. There are ancient village rules for building a sane and moral house that take some serious negotiating. Wallace relays the bonds they form with the village neighbors, his struggle with the French language and their love of surfing with a humorous touch that make The French House an enjoyable read.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)

grandsophyIn Georgette Heyer‘s The Grand Sophy, a lighthearted and witty regency romance along the same vein as Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Sophia Stanton-Lacy returns to England after traveling around continental Europe with her diplomat father…and immediately throws her cousin’s household into chaos. With her effervescent personality and managing manner, Sophy effortlessly fixes familial and romantic relationships. You’ll admire Sophy’s mad skills as a horsewoman, her disregard for silly rules, and the way her kindhearted yet devious mind conceives her madcap plans.

I listened to the engaging narration by Sarah Woodward — and you can too by downloading the book through Hoopla!

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)

yespleaseFans of Amy Poehler’s time on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation will be impatient to get their hands on this autobiography. Poehler has written a book that is part memoir and part self-help book. The memoir portions cover her childhood, her time in improv with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Saturday Night Live, moving to her own show, her friends (Tina Fey and Seth Meyers, among others), her divorce, and her children. Poehler is unflinchingly honest and open in these chapters and I certainly learned a lot about her life.

The other parts of the book offer advice and talk about dealing with things like anxiety and self-doubt, especially when it comes to body image. These pages will resonate with readers and were perhaps my favorite part of Yes Please, though Poehler’s humor throughout makes this an enjoyable read no matter her topic.

For more memoirs of comedians, check out our Stand-Up Memoirs bibliography.

The Messenger (2006) and The Secret Servant (2007) by Daniel Silva

messengerGabriel Allon, the Israeli spy in many of Daniel Silva’s novels, is cast against terrorist groups from al-Qaeda and the sword of Allah who would attack the Vatican and kill the Pope and/or the U.S. President should their schemes succeed. The Secret Servant follows The Messenger and includes many of the same characters and intrigues of the prior novel. These adventures give the reader a bad taste for most of the antagonists and an appreciation for Israeli secret service. The Secret Servant has an extra twist of an Arab willing to help the Israelis in an effort to save a woman’s life as well as that of his own son. In both novels, a young woman is in great danger in the hands of terrorist but Allon and his team come to the rescue.

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)

officerspyThis is a fictional re-telling of the infamous Dreyfus Affair which tore France apart in the late 1890s, and revealed a deep-seated anti-Semitism in French society. The novel is told from the point of view of Georges Picquart, an intelligence officer who came to believe in Dreyfus’s innocence and was himself persecuted for his refusal to let an innocent man die in prison without a fight.  Many historical novels based so closely on real events can be stiffly told with flat characters, but Robert Harris manages to fill An Officer and a Spy with real people in an era that he brings to life on the page.