If you enjoyed The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, then I think you’ll really enjoy this book by Mark T. Sullivan. Beneath a Scarlet Sky takes place in Italy during WWII. Although I was a bit leery about reading “another WWII novel,” I’m so happy that I did. It’s the incredible story of Pino Lella, a courageous and inspirational hero who saved many lives while experiencing much tragedy and devastation. What makes it truly remarkable is that it is based on a true story. I learned much about Italy’s involvement in WWII—and the struggles between the Fascists, the Nazis, and the bravery of the Resistance. A powerful and unforgettable account of a young man's experience of the war, his first love, and his relationship with a cast of fascinating characters, based on many interviews with Pino Lella. Highly recommend! Want more WWII fiction? Check out our lists of WWII novels and WWII fiction featuring women in the resistance.
Set during the American Civil War, An Extraordinary Union features spies working on behalf of the Union. Alyssa Cole’s historical romance features adventure, intrigue, period details, and memorable characters. Born into slavery, Elle Burns is now a free woman. In 1862, she goes undercover, working as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator in Richmond, Virginia. She meets Pinkerton Secret Service Agent Malcolm McCall, a Scottish immigrant, and the pair form an uneasy alliance. As their relationship (both professional and personal) grows, Elle and Malcolm must navigate the uneasy world of race, politics, and war. For other historical romances featuring spies, try Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Beverly Jenkins’ The Winds of the Storm, or Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.
Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in strict seclusion when the case to turns to murder. Perveen notices that all three wives have signed away their full inheritances to charity, leaving nothing for them to live on. She is skeptical and puts herself in great danger trying to help the widows, but she is clever and determined to do what is right. The Widows of Malabar Hill, set in 1920s India, kicks off a new historical mystery series by Sujata Massey.
Izzy Goodnight, once a main character in her father’s highly popular fairytales, but now close to penniless, has inherited a castle. The problem? It’s in terrible shape: ransacked by looters, missing windows, full of vermin, and, oh, yeah, it’s still housing its former master—and he didn’t know about the sale. The surly and rakish Duke of Rochester took up residence after losing his sight and pride in a sword fight and now refuses to leave...but so does Izzy. The two are forced to share until the ownership battle is settled and might find themselves in closer quarters than they imagined. Check out Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare to cuddle up with a humorous and steamy romance that will warm up your winter nights.
Inspired by a cross-country trip Ivan Doig took as a young boy in the summer of 1951, Last Bus to Wisdom is about Donal, an 11-year-old boy, being raised by his grandmother on the Double W Ranch in Montana. When his grandmother requires surgery, Donal is sent to live with his bossy, rule-driven great-aunt Kate in Wisconsin. When Kate reaches her wit’s end, she sends Donal back to Montana. Her husband, Herman, joins Donal on the greyhound for the summer of a lifetime, using their wits to survive. Along the way, Donal asks characters to sign his memory book, which opens him up to all kinds of people on the road, from hobos and villains to soldiers and kind-hearted travelers, with a few recognizable faces, such as Jack Kerouac. Doig is a great storyteller, whose character-driven novel has a strong sense of place, keeping readers anticipating where the story will go next and who they will meet along the way. In Last Bus to Wisdom, it’s not about the destination, but the journey.
I knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.
Evie Eliott is a wealthy young woman in England in August 1914. Her brother Will and his best friend, Tom, have just enlisted in the Great War. In the beginning, their letters home are filled with excitement and confidence, with promises that the war will be over by Christmas. The war rages on, however, with the death toll rising by hundreds each day and the fighting quickly changing from bayonets to chemical bombs. Evie feels like she’s not doing enough for the war effort, so in addition to the letters she writes, she begins delivering mail and starts writing a column in Tom’s father’s newspaper that addresses the women left behind as the men are away on the front, focusing on their personal and emotional experiences. She writes to the women of Britain to reassure and encourage them in their war efforts and to help reaffirm their emotions. As the years go by, the news becomes censored and Evie doesn’t know who to believe or who to trust and doesn’t know how to help out in a war she can’t fight. Written entirely in letters, The Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor is absorbing and touching, portraying the emotions of both soldiers and those on the home front. If you enjoy novels written in letters, check out our list of epistolary novels.
At the start of this riveting Gilded Age mystery, a man is dead. What happened? One thread of the story follows his sister Janie in her quest for answers; another details his courtship of his wife five years earlier. With a compelling combination of historical detail, strong characters, and intricate plot, The English Wife will grab you immediately and keep you guessing until the shocking end. Lauren Willig's latest novel is darker than her previous works, but so worth a read.
Short chapters alternate among three young evacuees in East Prussia during the winter of 1945. A fourth voice also fits into the storyline. Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred are aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff when it is hit by a Russian torpedo and quickly sinks. The story leads up to this moment when life-changing decisions are made. We get to know, love, and understand the differing life circumstances that have brought these characters together from all over Eastern Europe at a crucial time in the war. Ruta Sepetys has a talent for drawing tears from her readers and little known stories from history. Between Shades of Gray exposed the tragic story of the Lithuanian prisoners in Siberia with the same drama and sensitivity that she tells this story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The epilogue in Salt to the Sea adds another poignant note to this moment in historical fiction.
In 1940s Italy, Pino is a typical teenager. With WWII progressing, his parents are worried that he will be drafted. To protect him, they send him to a monastery. Unbeknownst to him, the priest is helping at-risk people escape Italy into neutral Switzerland. Pino returns to Milan to see his family. They convince him to enlist in the German army as a driver to avoid a more dangerous duty in the Italian army. He uses his status working for a high-ranking general in the German army to spy for the Allies. Mark T. Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky is based on a remarkable true story and is in production for a movie adaptation. Read other novels of WWII and novels of the resistance.