Best World War II reads

Books a Million: Tales of War, a Guilty Widow and a Burnt-Out Actress

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Typically, I like to make a bigger dent in my reading list before publishing a new roundup—which, here’s the last book report recap if you missed it—but with the holidays here, people off work until early January, and so many friends soliciting recommendations via Instagram, I figured this post is aptly timed to holiday boredom. And while I’ve been busier with work than usual, I spent this entire past weekend reading, so I have checked a few books off my list of late.

Kate Quinn's The Huntress

For those who spend a lot of time in the car as I do, I’m loving listening to Audible books, and you can get a free trial on the first 30 days. If you listen to even one book a month, at $20 to $30 a pop, it’s more economical to do the membership in the end, which gives you three reads a month (two books of your choice plus one Audible original). I’m still slowly making my way through Becoming on my commutes and have Hillbilly Elegy queued up for our long drive to Florida this week.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I can’t tell you how quickly I devoured this book—well, actually, I can. Less than a day when we were in Bermuda! It’s that good, that digestible, that riveting. And I’m not sure if I loved it so because I used to work in entertainment media and know just how true the Hollywood the author depicts actually is or if it’s a guilty-pleasure read that anyone would love. Regardless, you should read it if you haven’t already! Without giving too much away: Our Elizabeth Taylor-esque heroine leaves a live of abuse behind in New York to start over in Los Angeles as Evelyn Hugo, budding screen actress. What follows is nearly seven decades of husbands, media scandals, Blockbuster hits, spectacular flops, lovers, losers. But the book is far more nuanced than that, with a huge, heart-wrenching plot twist that comes in the first half—and steers much of Evelyn’s identity from that point on. It’s got glimmers of what life as an actress is truly like and what drove Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to overdose in it. Just take my word and READ THIS BOOK. I can’t wait to devour Daisy Jones & the Six, the author’s next book, soon.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evelyn Hugo was going to be a tough act to follow, and Evvie Drake was a bit of a downer, but still an entertaining beach read nonetheless. On the very day, Evvie has packed her car to leave her emotionally-abusive doctor husband, she gets a call that he has been in a crash—and dies. The year that follows is a journey through her guilt and grief as a tenant—who becomes an unexpected friend—enters her life with emotional baggage of his own. Fans of Jennifer Weiner will like this romantic comedy of sorts. If I were still giving books stars, I’d award it 3.5: worth reading, but not prioritizing.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

This was my introduction to the fantastical world of author Kate Quinn, who takes you into war times like no other writer I’ve read, other than maybe Kristin Hannah with The Nightingale and David Benioff with City of Thieves. The Huntress begins with a former military correspondent in search of his brother’s murderer, a ruthless Nazi woman responsible for the death of dozens of kids and adults alike, and the unlikely alliance he forms with a former Russian bomber pilot. The story crisscrosses the decade, jumping back and forth between “present time” (being a few years after World War II has ended) and the years leading up to it. My beloved grandfather was in General Patton’s 3rd Army during the Battle of the Bulge and also split time during the war in both Germany and the then-Czechoslovakia. During the final years of his life—he lived to be 91—we peppered him with questions about the war, and he wouldn’t ever really give us the whole story, so I think my draw to historical fiction set during WWII is my desire to know more of the hardship he faced during those years.

World War II veteran
World War II veteran

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

After I finished The Huntress, I naturally migrated to Kate Quinn’s other books, beginning with The Alice Network, my mom’s favorite. This historical fiction tale is actually set in World War I this time, though a lot of it also takes place in 1947, so again, jumping back and forth between 1915/thereabouts and the “present” (being post-WWII). Chronicling the life of English spy Eve Gardiner, who was recruited to be in the Alice Network and sent to German-occupied France, this book shows the hardships women went through in the wars—rape, brutal beatings, torture—for the sake of patriotism and bringing crucial information back to their countrymen. What’s even crazier is that the Alice Network was indeed real, and its actual leader, Louise de Bettignies, queen of the spies, portrayed in this book that chronicles how one villainous profiteer ruined the lives of both Eve and a teen who finds herself on the hunt for this man, as well, long after the war has ended. Of the two, I preferred The Huntress, but think The Alice Network would be amazing on the big screen. My mom, however, liked The Alice Network better. My opinion? Read both; they’re extremely detailed and very well-written.

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I’m currently about a third of the way through City of Girls. I’ll be the first to say it: I was no Eat Pray Love fan, but I’m loving Liz Gilbert’s foray into fiction … so far! I’ll keep you posted in the next report. My other favorite books of the past couple years, in case you’re looking for even more holiday reads, include:

As far as what I have checked out from the library right now: The Dutch House, Educated, My Friend Anna, The Giver of the Stars, Next Year in Havana, Stars of Alabama (currently on sale for $3.99!), Something in the Water and Daisy Jones & the Six. I hope I have time to read them all before they expire! If you’re a fellow Kindle user, I highly suggest borrowing e-books from your local library!

What was your favorite read of the year?

COMMENTS
  • December 24, 2019

    OOH I am in serious need of a new book to dive into! The Huntress and The Alice Network sounds like something I could get locked into and read for hours! Thanks for the recommendations!

    • December 28, 2019

      Let me know what you think and if you have other WWII historical fiction recs for me!

  • December 27, 2019

    I LOVED Daisy Jones & the Six! And now I’m excited to read her other book! Thanks for the reco!

    • December 28, 2019

      Yay! Just got Daisy Jones from the library and can’t wait to read it.

  • December 28, 2019
    Andria

    Elizabeth Gilbert was writing fiction before Eat, Pray Love too! Check out Stern Men–it’s fantastic.

    • December 28, 2019

      Yes! She was a visiting professor at my college in 2004, so I took some lectures from her and am familiar with her body of work. I meant that she started off as a journalist (she wrote some really great long-form features like my favorite, “Lucky Jim,” and of course the GQ piece that inspired “Coyote Ugly”) and that I like her transition from non-fiction writer/journalist to fiction.

  • December 30, 2019
    Briel K.

    I really liked the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as well as Daisy Jones and the Six! I could do without having read a couple of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s other books but those two were really fun!

    I read 83 books so far this year (don’t think I can squeeze in one more by midnight tomorrow!) and most of the ones I enjoyed the most were the easy to read romantic comedy type books. I do want to add The Huntress to my list though!

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