Come September it will be 80 years since World War II began. Most people will remember learning about the war from poring over history books in class, listening to elderly family members, or by watching the countless repeats of war films on the telly. At times it can feel as though we know all there is to know about World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. But here we have ten book recommendations that provide new, exciting perspectives — all written by women! From short stories to novels, romance to espionage, in the heart of battle or at home; all are fantastic reads, showcasing ordinary people living in extraordinary times.
Juliet Armstrong reflects on her life in 1940, when she was recruited by MI5 to spy on Fascist sympathizers in the heart of London. As well as transcribing conversations that had happened next door, Juliet goes out into the field, posing as orphaned socialite Iris Carter-Jenkins. Fast forward to 1950 and Juliet is working as a radio producer at the BBC, when a chance encounter threatens to expose her past. Intriguing, suspenseful, and witty, Atkinson’s novel is a towering achievement. Juliet lingers in the mind long after the novel is finished; brave, kind yet socially awkward, she leaps off the page. Atkinson has captured her wonderfully, along with fellow MI5 agents Peregrine Gibbons, Godfrey Toby, and Oliver Alleyne, making it hard to put Transcription down. One for lovers of character-driven stories or spy dramas. Read More.
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Though sadly unfinished — Némirovsky was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1942 — Suite Française is still a remarkable piece of work. Originally planned as five novels, only the first two were completed. While the first focuses on a handful of characters, the main plot in the second centres on Lucile Angellier, who lives in the French town of Bussy with her mother-in-law. German commander Bruno von Falk is billeted to their house as it is considered one of the grandest in the area and Lucile finds herself falling for Bruno as the other residents come to terms with the German Occupation. Némirovsky’s imagery is beautiful, capturing both the horror of war and the hope of this blossoming love affair. As the plot of the third novel only exists as an outline, we may never be able to see the conclusion of Lucile’s story. But what we do have is a startling, heartfelt portrait of life in wartime France. Read More.
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A novel which moves backwards in time, The Night Watch uses this gimmick effectively to explore relationships in war torn London. The story follows Kay, Viv, Helen, Julia, and Duncan as they struggle to survive the war, and as the plot moves from 1947 to 1941, we see how their lives intertwine. Waters excels at historical fiction and The Night Watch is a fantastic example of this. The characters are complex and layered, making you become really engaged in these people and their hopes and dreams. The characterisation and Waters’ exquisite writing makes the hefty novel fly by; with the chaos of wartime brilliantly reflecting the chaos in the characters’ romantic lives. Heart-breaking and powerful, this is a must for fans of romantic dramas or Waters’ other work. Read More.
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