Summer book club picks: Historical fiction


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

The Crimson Thread‘by Kate Forsyth

Inspired by a great uncle who fought with the Cretan resistance, Forsyth offers up the gritty story of young Alenka Klothakis, who risks her life to undermine German invaders. Set against the backdrop of a failed Allied attempt to oust the Nazis, the story includes Allied soldiers who stay behind to help the resistance. Two of those soldiers vie for Alenka’s affection, creating a love triangle that pits one man’s gentility against the other’s sense of privilege. Crete painfully mirrors what we’re seeing in Ukraine – “So much of the land lying in ruins” – yet the Cretans remain defiant. (Blackstone, July 5)

The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II‘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 shipped to neutral Lisbon to collect documents and intelligence, discovers a code hidden in an underground French newspaper. Resistance fighter Elaine Rousseau writes a secret message that will propel both women into a dangerous rescue mission. “Words rivaling heavy artillery” is the novel’s credo. (Hanover Square Press, July 26)

Where the Sky Begins,‘by Rhys Bowen

Josie Banks, sent to the countryside to recover from injuries she incurred when her home in London was bombed, convinces the bitter, reclusive woman she now lives with to open a tearoom for local airmen. What begins as a cozy story filled with warm scones and pots of tea, takes a sharp turn when Bowen (author of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness series) drops Josie into an unpredictable world of intrigue and secrets. The relatable Josie taps into her long buried grit and intelligence to ferret out a spy, shake off a dead-end existence and open herself up to a life without limits. (Lake Union, Aug. 2)

Dr. B.‘by Daniel Birnbaum

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

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

The title of this haunting novel refers not only to the victims of Latvia’s Holocaust 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 took the lives of about 25,000 Jews; her daughter Ilana, whom she relinquished to save her from the internment camps; and Sarah, Miriam’s American granddaughter, who in the 1970s risks her life and travels to Soviet-controlled Latvia to ferret out the truth about her family’s wartime past. (Harper, May 3)

Small Acts of Defiance: A Novel of World War II and Paris‘by Michelle Wright

In this coming-of-age tale, two young women, one of whom is Jewish, perform courageous acts of subterfuge after the German occupation of Paris. Aline Hirsch tacks toward acts of violence to unsettle Paris’s occupiers. Lucie Blackburn chooses what she calls “secret subversiveness,” creating fliers, ferrying messages and later helping to hide Jewish babies from the Nazis. The novel spotlights the damage done by the collaborating French government, which turned a blind eye to the Nazis’ increasing 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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