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Learn from the best WW2 historical fiction books here. These novels will shock and surprise you, yet give you hope, and allow you to be a witness to the stories of others. You’ll find only the books I’ve personally read and recommend to you on this important topic. Pick your next great read below.

beneath a scarlet sky by mark sullivan.

Best WW2 Historical Fiction Books


Beneath a Scarlet Sky: popular with readers of The Literary Lifestyle
Lilac Girls: one of my all-time favorite books
The Nightingale: popular with readers worldwide

  1. The Alice Network: ★★★☆☆
  2. All the Light We Cannot See: ★★★☆☆
  3. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: ★★★★☆
  4. The Book Thief: ★★★★☆
  5. Lilac Girls: ★★★★★
  6. The Nightingale: ★★★★★
  7. Sarah’s Key: ★★★☆☆
  8. Slaughterhouse-Five: ★★★★★
  9. The Tattooist of Auschwitz: ★★★★☆
  10. We Were the Lucky Ones: ★★★☆☆

Reviews of the Best Historical Fiction Books Set During WW2

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

  • New York Times and USA Today bestseller
  • An NPR’s Best Book of the Year 
  • Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

My Review: ★★★☆☆

In The Alice Network, two women’s lives intertwine across decades. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair, pregnant and unmarried, searches for her cousin Rose, missing in Nazi-occupied France. In 1915, Eve Gardiner becomes a spy in the Great War, trained by the enigmatic Lili. Their paths collide, revealing secrets with lasting consequences.

What’s best about this book is the characters! It’s very female-centric and shows their unique strengths in wartime circumstances. Like most historical fiction narratives of the time, the twists and turns will surprise you.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

  • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
  • National Book Award finalist
  • Instant New York Times bestseller and New York Times Book Review
  • Now a Netflix series

My Review: ★★★☆☆

All the Light We Cannot See is an extremely popular and well-loved literary historical fiction novel about two people. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who flees Paris with her father and carries a precious jewel, and Werner is a young German soldier with a talent for radio engineering.

As their paths inch closer amidst the chaos of the War, their personal struggles, the impact of their choices, and the complexities of human nature are unraveled.

Beauty meets tragedy in this special book. It’s a dense read that works best in print or digital format (the audio was too slow-burning for me to follow), and it is best for fans of literary fiction. Many consider it an all-time favorite.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan

  • USA Today and #1 Amazon Charts bestseller

My Review: ★★★★☆

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is consistently one of the bestselling books with readers of The Literary Lifestyle, especially as a book for men to read.

Based on a true story, Pino Lella meets Anna as World War II reaches his hometown of Milan, Italy. 

Lella then plays two major roles in World War II. First, in the Italian Alps, he joins the underground railroad, led by a group of Catholic priests, and helps Jews escape by traversing the Alps. 

Second, Lella’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier to avoid being drafted to the front lines for Italy and to operate as an Italian spy. He then becomes the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left-hand man in Italy.

Lella endures shocking horrors during World War II as he dreams of a peaceful future with Anna. It’s a suspenseful and emotional story of family and love in the face of War.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky works especially well for readers who enjoy history, suspense, and cars. It’s a page-turner with an Italian bent, in memory of those Italians who didn’t survive. Most readers appreciate it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  • #1 New York Times bestseller  
  • One of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

My Review: ★★★★☆

In Nazi Germany 1939, death hovers. Young foster girl Liesel makes a meager living for herself by stealing books, and her accordion-playing foster father teaches her to read. She shares her stolen books with her neighbors during raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement whom she befriends. 

The Book Thief is a uniquely crafted work, complete with illustrations that form one of the most unforgettable stories of World War II. It’s a modern classic that’s become a “must-read” for avid readers, and it is not to be missed.

The characters in this one are so special, and I love how the narrative explored the theme of books and information in relation to the War. The movie adaptation is also very good.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

  • New York Times bestseller

My Review: ★★★★★

Lilac Girls is my favorite book on this list and one of my all-time favorite books, period. It centers on the lives of women known as “Ravensbruck Rabbits,” who are captive in a concentration camp, and American heroine Caroline Ferraday, who breathes life and hope into an extremely grim tale. 

The narrative completely shocked me to my core and made me realize that there must be countless World War II stories that remain to be told.

It’s both well-researched and beautifully told by one of the best historical fiction authors. If you like learning about female heroines, put the Lilac Girls historical fiction book series at the top of your list.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

  • #1 New York Times bestseller
  • Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Reese’s Book Club pick

My Review: ★★★★★

The Nightingale is the best Kristin Hannah book, and it’s probably the most universally beloved book on this list.   

It’s the story of two sisters during World War II in France.  In a quaint town, teacher Vianne and her young daughter Sophie say goodbye as their husband and father, Mauriac, goes off to fight. Then, a Nazi soldier takes shelter in their home, putting Vianne’s life at constant risk as life’s necessities become hard to come by. 

At the same time, Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, a rebel and a spitfire, quickly meets and falls in love with the partisan Gaetan. After Gaetan betrays her, though, she joins the underground resistance and, like her sister, continually faces dangerous decisions.

That’s just the beginning of this epic story, which is filled to the brim with emotional twists and tearful tragedies. What happens will both touch your heart and shock your conscience at the same time. The Nightingale is a must-read.

Related Post: Authors Similar to Kristin Hannah

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

  • New York Times bestseller

My Review: ★★★☆☆

Sarah’s Key is told by two female narrators: Sarah and Julia.  Ten-year-old Sarah’s story centers on the “Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup” by French police, of French Jews, in Paris in July 1942.  In the roundup, 13,152 Jews were arrested in Paris, deported, and assassinated. In the Vélodrome d’Hiver, 1,129 men, 2,916 women, and 4,115 children were first packed in inhumane conditions.

After the French police enter Sarah’s family’s apartment and arrest them, she locks her younger brother in a cupboard with a key, assuming that she will return in a few hours to retrieve him. 

Julia’s story begins in Paris on the 60th anniversary of Vel’ d’Hiv.’ She is a former American married to a French man, and she is writing an article about the roundup. 

But it was a dark day, and the French were reluctant to revisit it. Then, Sarah stumbles upon her husband’s secrets, which connect her to Sarah. As she retraces Sarah’s story, she reevaluates her own life. 

Sarah’s Key brings the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup to light, and the author reminds us that it is important to talk about a painful past. It’s a very good book with a solid movie adaptation. It’s remained popular for many years, and most historical fiction readers still pick it up at some point in their lives.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

  • Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

My Review: ★★★★★

Slaughterhouse-Five was one of my favorite high school reads. It’s a satirical novel that explores the horrors of the War, particularly focusing on the firebombing of Dresden.

It’s centered around Billy Pilgrim, a soldier who becomes “unstuck in time.” He experiences different moments in his life, including his time as a soldier and his abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore.

Through this strange and non-linear narrative, Vonnegut famously shows the absurdity of war. He also explores fate, free will, and human connection in unique ways that have resonated with generations of readers.

No one writes like Vonnegut, and as “absurd” as the plot may sound, it’s an exceptional read that’s also very easy to digest for a classic. Billy is one of the most memorable book characters of all time, and his story makes its point extremely well.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

  • New York Times bestseller

My Review: ★★★★☆

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a popular bestseller about hope and courage, based on interviews with Holocaust survivors and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew.

This story of love in the face of atrocity is set in April 1942, when Lale is transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He is put to work as a tattooist, permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Over two and a half years, he witnesses both horror and compassion, and he even risks his own life. When prisoner 32407 comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm, Lale vows to survive and marry her.

It’s a testament to the endurance of love under the most atrocious conditions. Read this one for the type of love story that makes an impact.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Now a Hulu TV series

My Review: ★★★☆☆

At the outset of We Were the Lucky Ones, the Kurc family gathers for dinner, unaware of what WW2 has in store for them. According to the book, just 300 of the 30,000 Jews from Radom, home of the Kurcs, survived. 

World War II ensues and the Kurcs endure bombings, hidings, captures, imprisonments, and every other atrocity you may imagine.

We Were the Lucky Ones gives the reader a deeper understanding of Poland during World War II. It also leaves the reader with another “unimaginable” — what it was like not to speak to the family for years on end. Beauty remains for the survivors, and it’s just as beautiful to hear what becomes of them. 

We Were the Lucky Ones is consistently a highly-rated book, and the adaptation does it justice. I recommend the written version (so you can more easily track the many characters), and I recommend it to those who yearn for “based on truth” stories about World War II. 

Related Post: Review of We Were the Lucky Ones

Frequently Asked Questions

What are good WWII books?

Notable WWII books include The Diary of Anne Frank, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. These popular books provide diverse perspectives on both the war’s impact and human resilience.

What to read after the Nightingale by Kristin Hannah?

After The Nightingale, consider reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn or Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. These novels offer compelling stories set during WWII, filled with women’s resilience and courage.

Is The Nightingale book a series?

No. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a standalone novel that is not part of a book series.

What to read if you like Beneath a Scarlet Sky?

If you like Beneath a Scarlet Sky, read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, or The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. These books offer gripping WWII tales of bravery and resilience.

Who are WW2 historical fiction authors?

Popular WW2 historical fiction authors include Kristin Hannah, Anthony Doerr, Kate Quinn, Martha Hall Kelly, and Heather Morris. Their works depict the War’s challenges, resilience, and human spirit through compelling and well-researched narratives.


The best WW2 historical fiction books offer a variety of perspectives that teach you about the horrors of the past through incredibly gripping narratives. To recap and help you decide what to read first or next, my top 3 picks are:


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    1. I agree wholeheartedly with your list!! I’ll be checking back here for future recommendations.

    2. I’d add “From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps
      Nansen” by Odd, Boyce, Timothy J., as well as “The White Mouse” by Nancy Wake.