I have a huge weakness for romances set during World War II. It may have started with my obsession over The Bronze Horseman (Best. Book. Ever.), or maybe after I watched The English Patient all the way back in high school. But now I am officially, one hundred percent hooked. There’s just something about the nostalgia, the romance, and the heightened sense of danger that pulls me in every time.
Which is why I jumped for joy when I heard that Augusta Trobaugh’s charming novel, Sophie and the Rising Sun, was being made into a movie. Set in Georgia in the early 1940s, Sophie tells the story of a lonely widow who falls for Mr. Oto, a mysterious Japanese man who ends up in her small town. But when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the reality of the war hits their doorstep, and Mr. Oto faces both prejudice and danger as the town turns against him. In the aftermath, Sophie must make a choice about their relationship that will affect her life forever.
Yes, yes, yes! I can’t wait to watch this movie. And maybe reread the book again, too.
Luckily for me, WWII romances are a pretty common genre, and lately I’ve been reading a ton. Here are five recent favorites that will definitely appeal to any fan of wartime romances:
From Sand and Ash, Amy Harmon (Lake Union Publishing, December 1, 2016)
*Cries all the tears*
Harmon’s latest historical novel is so good. Also, so, so heart-wrenching. It tells the story of two childhood friends, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco whose lives become intertwined in Italy in 1943. Years before, Angelo had decided to become a priest despite his complicated feelings for Eva. Now, with Hitler’s agenda closing in on the Italian people, Eva, a Jewish woman, has nowhere else to turn. Angelo hides her in his church, and the two face the realities of the war together, even as their love can no longer be denied. This is not an easy book to read. It never shies away from the horrors of the war or the Holocaust or the fate of the Italian Jewish population. But it’s also a strong look at how love and faith can give people strength and create bright moments in the darkness.
The Velvet Hours, Alyson Richman (Berkley, September 6, 2016)
A lot of historical novels feature an older person from the present sharing their life story with a younger generation. Richman plays on this trend, but with a twist: both her characters are in the past, living in France right before the occupation during WWII. Marthe de Florian, who was an elite courtesan in the 1800s, shares the story of her life and loves with her granddaughter, Solange Beaugiron. But with Paris about to fall to the Germans, Solange is facing an uncertain future, and Marthe’s prized possessions — including a portrait by famed artist Giovanni Boldini — might not survive the war. Based on a true story, this is a book about legacy, family and how history becomes a guide for how we shape our lives.
The Girl From Venice, Martin Cruz Smith (Simon & Schuster, October 18, 2016)
It’s 1945 near Venice, and the war is coming to an end. But the danger is far from over, as fisherman Cenzo Vianello learns when he rescues a young Jewish woman from drowning one night. After witnessing a horrific crime, Giulia, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, is on the run from the Nazis. For reasons he can’t even explain, Cenzo decides to give her sanctuary. But he has his own problems to deal with as well, with his family torn apart by war and a sister-in-law he’s now expected to marry. Giulia and Cenzo find solace in each other as they both face uncertain futures. Smith’s latest novel captures the uneasy, horrifying (and sometimes humorous) moments of a slowly ending war.
The Fire by Night, Teresa Messineo (William Morrow, January 17, 2017)
Sometimes friendship is just as important as love, a lesson that is definitely at the heart of The Fire by Night. Jo and Kay are best friends and American nurses tending to the wounded overseas. Jo is in France, with the front getting closer and closer to her hospital tent, while Kay is trapped in a Japanese POW camp in the Pacific. Both women are scarred by the horrors they’ve seen and struggling to save lives — including their own — as the war rages around them. But their incredible bond helps sustain them, even thousands of miles away. Messineo mixes love, friendship, and courage in this heartwarming story about nurses during the war.
The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende (Atria Books, November 3, 2015)
Allende’s novel may have come out a year ago, but it’s still a must read for anyone drawn to World War II fiction. The novel follows two women: Alma Belasco, a resident at Lark House nursing home, and Irina Bazili, a caretaker who grows close to Alma’s family. As Irina begins to bond with Alma’s grandson Seth, the two become more curious about Alma’s life during the war. When WWII was just beginning, Alma’s parents sent her away to live with family in San Francisco. It was there she met Ichimei Fukuda, the Japanese son of the family’s gardener. Alma and Ichimei started an affair that would last decades, including through the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the internment camps that Ichimei and his family were sent to. Now, an old woman near the end of her life, Alma is still connected to Ichimei — and it’s through her enduring love story that Irina learns her own place in the world.