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March 8, 2023

WWII Fiction to Read for Women's History Month

by Donna Huber

It's no secret that Susan and I love WWII fiction. The last few years there has been a shift in telling the stories of women during this time period. Some of that has to do with the fact that people have been released from Official Secrets Act (so kids are finding out that their mothers and grandmothers weren't just secretaries during the war but code breakers and spies). I love finding these stories that tell a piece of history that has largely been overlooked. If you are wanting to read something for Women's History Month, but aren't too keen on non-fiction, I've put together a list of some of my favorite WWII fiction featuring women. Some of these are newer while others are a few years old.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Lost English Girl by Julia Kelly

book cover of historical fiction novel The Lost English Girl by Julia Kelly
March 2023; Gallery Books; 978-1982171704
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction

With whispers of war with Germany, the British government orders the evacuation of school-aged children from post cities and other locations likely to be bombed in Operation Pied Piper. While we know children were evacuated to the countryside, this is the first book that I've read that has focused on the toll it took on mothers and children.

The Byrnes are a working-class Catholic family in Liverpool. It's no secret that the eldest daughter Kate is the darling of the family. Viv though hasn't had it as easy in this household where their mother rules with an iron fist. While getting pregnant out of wedlock with a Jewish man wasn't exactly her plan, since Joshua has agreed to marry her she sees it as her way to finally get out from under her mother's thumb. But Mrs. Byrne is never going let her daughter live with a Jewish man - it's bad enough that she has to marry him - she must though because an illegitimate child would be even worse.

Viv's daughter is too young to be evacuated but the family's priest knows a childless couple in the country who is willing to take her in. Viv is reluctant to let Maggie go as she feels her daughter is the only thing that makes living in her parents' home bearable. But she also doesn't want to have Maggie in harm's way when she could be safe away from Liverpool.

It is a heartwrenching decision and Kelly really shows the worry and fear that parents faced. Often mothers had to face both their children and their husbands being away.

It's not my favorite Julia Kelly book, but The Lost English Girl is still an enjoyable read. I worried that the arrangement with the Thompson (the couple that takes in Maggie) might not be on the up and up. I wonder how many children went "missing" after the war with foster parents not wanting to return the children.

The story is told in third person, but some chapters follow Viv while others follow Joshua (a couple even focus on Maggie). The 1930s and 1940s were a changing era. Women were finding more independence but both the Catholic and Jewish religions were still strongly rooted in traditional roles (more for Catholics than Jewish which we see in the fact that Joshua's sister is supported in her desire to go to university).

I liked that this was set in Liverpool as it isn't a setting of many of the books I've read as Yorkshire and London seem to be the more popular settings.

If you are looking for WWII novel that focuses more on the homefront and the struggle many women faced, then you should pick up this book.

Buy The Lost English Girl at Amazon

Mother Daughter Traitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

book cover of historical fiction novel Mother Daughter Traitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
September 2022; Bantam; 978-0593156957
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); historical fiction

This book is set in 1940, before the United States entered WWII, and it focuses on fascism in the U. S. I learned so much about American history that I had never heard before. While the mother and daughter in this book are fictional they are based on a real person who infiltrated the fascist movement in California. It is a very suspenseful story. These two women were able to find ways in that no man was able to and because they were "just women" they were largely able to fly under the radar. Read my full review. I've been telling everyone to read this book, but if you already have you might want to check out a similar book: Code Name Edelweiss by Stephanie Landsem. Susan just reviewed it yesterday.

The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck

book cover of historical fiction novel The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck
September 2022; Berkley; 978-0593101582
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction

There were a lot of people, mostly women, who helped smuggle children out of Nazi-occupied areas. Many were nuns who ran orphanages. There were also orphanages in France ran by the Swiss Red Cross. This is a powerful story. It was also kind of shocking to realize how many people (and the organizations) that stood by and did nothing for fear of being on Hitler's bad side should he win the war. Yet, a few women were willing to risk their careers as well as their lives to save children bound for the death camps. This story is based on a real place and real people. If you haven't read it yet, you really should. Read my review.

Buy The Winter Orphans at Amazon

The Kew Gardens Girls at War by Posy Lovell

book cover of historical fiction novel The Kew Gardens Girls at War by Posy Lovell
April 2022; G.P. Putnam's Sons; 9780593419717
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); historical fiction

This was a lovely book set in a lovely botanical garden. During WWII, England had a Land Girls Army where young women were enlisted to work on farms to help feed the nation. While I don't think the gardeners at Kew Gardens were part of the Land Girls Army they played an important role in the war effort on the home front. They hosted demonstrations at the Gardens to encourage people to grow victory gardens at home. This book was really hard to put down. You can check out my full review. You can also learn more about the first book in this duology which is set during WWI.

Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman

book cover of historical fiction novel Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman
July 2021; MIRA; 978-0778332046
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction

In addition to more stories focusing on women during WWII, there have also been more stories about the Pacific Theater. Radar Girls is set in Hawaii and focuses on the woman who manned the radar station following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This book provides a "slice of life" look at the Women Air Raid Defense. In Radar Girls, we get a look at the war, the role of women in the war effort, and how life goes on. It is a sweet story with a bit more romance than some of the others on this list. Read my review.

Buy Radar Girls at Amazon

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

book cover of historical fiction novel The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
February 2021; Ballantine Books; 978-0593158807
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction 

I love cooking so this book really appealed to me. I learned a lot about food rationing in England during WWII. I regularly make two of the recipes from this book - Hominy Pie and Honey Apple Oat Cake. The Kitchen Front was a real radio program during WWII that was aimed at helping women deal with rationing by suggesting recipes and other tips like ingredient substitutes. Also, the Home Office sponsored home economists (I'm not sure that is what they were called in England) to do cooking demonstrations in local communities (often through the Women's Institute). This book provided a great look into the home front and the real issue of feeding a nation that had long depended on imports from the continent. Read my full review.

Buy The Kitchen Front at Amazon

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

book cover of historical fiction novel Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon
March 2020; Doubleday; 978-0385544689
audio, ebook, print (464 pages); historical fiction

Oh my! This was such a wonderful book. If you only read one book on this book I think this is the one you should read. It was such a powerful story. It is based on a real person and was so well written. I actually listened to the audiobook because of Susan's review. And I'm so glad I did. I've read a few other books about female spies but I always compare them to this one. 

Buy Code Name Hélène at Amazon

A Pledge of Silence by Flora J. Solomon

book cover of historical fiction novel A Pledge of Silence by Flora J. Solomon
February 2015; Lake Union; 978-1477820865
audio, ebook, print (366 pages); historical fiction

This was another powerful story that shed light on history I didn't know. This novel focuses on nurses in the Pacific Theater, particularly in the Philippines. It follows American Margie Bauer from postponed nuptials to her harrowing tenure in the Pacific Theater, including a stint in a Japanese internment camp as a POW, and on through to old age. I grew up watching M*A*S*H so I was familiar with Army nurses, all be it in a totally different war. I listened to the audiobook which was so good. If you haven't read much about the Pacific Theater then you should pick up this book. Read my review.

Buy A Pledge of Silence at Amazon
(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read for FREE)

Are you reading any great books for Women's History Month? I'm always looking for books to add to my reading list so please leave a comment with what you would recommend.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I do like WWII era fiction.

    Lauren @