Summer Reading Club Pick: Historical Fiction

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Historical novels offer both escapism and realism. They transport us to another time and another place – yet usually that time and place are marked by war or other hardships. Six new and upcoming historical novels take readers through World War II Europe, in tales that highlight both the atrocities of that conflict and the resilience of ordinary people.

The Crimson Thread,’ by Kate Forsyth

Inspired by a great-uncle who fought with the Cretan resistance, Forsyth tells the grave story of young Alenka Klothakis, who risks her life to undermine the German invaders. Against the backdrop of a failed Allied attempt to oust the Nazis, the story includes Allied soldiers who remain to help the resistance. Two of these soldiers vie for Alenka’s affection, creating a love triangle that pits one man’s kindness against the other’s sense of privilege. Crete painfully mirrors what we see in Ukraine – “Much of the land is in ruins” – but the Cretans remain defiant. (Blackstone, July 5)

The Librarian Spy: A World War II Novel,’ by Madeline Martin

Resistance and activism are vividly reimagined in this portrait of two women: Ava Harper, who worked at the Library of Congress before being sent to neutral Lisbon to collect documents and intelligence, discovers a hidden code in a French newspaper clandestine. Resistant Elaine Rousseau writes a secret message that will propel the two women on a dangerous rescue mission. “Words rivaling heavy artillery” is the credo of the novel. (Hanover Square Press, July 26)

where the sky begins,‘ by Rhys Bowen

Josie Banks, sent to the countryside to recover from injuries she suffered when her home in London was bombed, convinces the bitter, reclusive woman she now lives with to open a teahouse for local airmen. What begins as a warm story filled with hot scones and pots of tea takes an abrupt turn when Bowen (writer of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness series) plunges Josie into an unpredictable world of intrigue and secrets. The relatable Josie taps into her long-buried courage and intelligence to unearth a spy, shake off a hopeless existence, and open herself up to a life without limits. (Lake Union, August 2)

Dr B.,’ by Daniel Birnbaum

Translated from Swedish, this atmospheric novel blends fact and fiction to tell a tense story of spies and refugees. It is inspired by the author’s grandfather, who left Germany after being banned from writing for that country’s newspapers because of his Jewish heritage. A refugee in Stockholm, Immanuel Birnbaum writes articles under the name of Dr. B. and works for a German publisher relocated to Sweden to avoid censorship. When Birnbaum is drawn into a dangerous plot to stop the flow of Swedish iron ore to Germany, the novel veers into thriller territory. This vivid portrait of war in the neutral city of Stockholm, known as Northern Casablanca, depicts a bustling city filled with spies, intellectuals and refugees. Its prestige, however, is tarnished by the growing anti-Semitism that has flourished in what was called a “neutral” country. (Harper, May 24)

Daughters of the Occupation: A World War II Novel,’ by Shelly Sanders

The title of this haunting novel refers not only to the victims of the Holocaust in Latvia, but also to their descendants, who carry the trauma of their ancestors. Sanders tells this story through three women: Miriam Talan, who survived the Rumbula Forest massacre that claimed the lives of approximately 25,000 Jews; her daughter Ilana, whom she gave up to save her from internment camps; and Sarah, Miriam’s American granddaughter, who in the 1970s risks her life and travels to Soviet-held Latvia to uncover the truth about her family’s wartime past. (Harper, May 3)

Small Acts of Defiance: A Novel About World War II and Paris,’ by Michelle Wright

In this initiatory story, two young women, including a Jewish one, carry out courageous subterfuge after the German occupation of Paris. Aline Hirsch twirls towards acts of violence to destabilize the occupier of Paris. Lucie Blackburn chooses what she calls “covert subversivity”, creating flyers, delivering messages and later helping to hide Jewish babies from the Nazis. The novel highlights the damage done by the collaborating French government, which turned a blind eye to the increasing Nazi attacks on French citizens, and the country’s traitors, who denounced their Jewish neighbors and stole their property. (William Morrow, July 19)

Carol Memmott is a writer in Austin.

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