I recently looked over my list of books that I read in 2016 (as book lovers do) and discovered that, unintentionally, I read several WWII-era books last year.
I also happened to notice one overarching detail: Each book strongly featured the color blue in its cover artwork.
Or the smart marketing people at publishing houses have discovered we are attracted to blue or associate WWII fiction with blue.
Who can say for sure? In the wise words of the Tootsie Pop owl, “The World May Never Know.”
But for all you fellow conspiracy theorists out there, the evidence is uncanny:
1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The most compelling part of The Nightingale, in my opinion, was the perspective — women left behind during war. How they cope, how they fought back, what their lives might have been like. It was fascinating.
However, it did take me a while to get into The Nightingale (the first several chapters seemed to just be Isabel and Vianne bickering constantly), and a few times it seemed to stray into modern chick-lit style writing.
I also found that the same arguments and scenarios kept happening over and over. Cliche phrases and stock filler text were used throughout. I think the book could have been much shorter — and more powerful — if Hannah had cut some of the fat that didn’t contribute to the story.
But overall, The Nightingale was a satisfying, fresh read. I definitely recommend it!
One note on the audiobook version: it’s lengthy. I might have skimmed through a few parts (and enjoyed the book a bit more) if I’d been reading rather than listening.
2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See brims with beautiful imagery and symbolism … the town of Saint-Malo, the streets of Paris, and the Museum of Natural History pulse with life as we learn about each place through Marie-Laure’s senses.
I loved experiencing the world through Marie-Laure’s blindness. The imagery alone makes this book a worthwhile read.
When I was reading All the Light We Cannot See, I felt like I was in the story. It was like I was living life right beside Marie-Laure. On the other hand, when I read The Nightingale, I felt like someone was telling me a story.
But I struggled with Werner’s later chapters. I thought his early life was interesting, but by the time he began traveling across Europe, I found myself struggling to continue.
Overall, All the Light We Cannot See started off strong, but I eventually got lost in the middle. The ending was (mostly) satisfying, but it just didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Maybe I should have listened to this one on audiobook.
3. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
I won’t talk about every detail I went over in my full review of Everyone Brave is Forgiven. But here it is in a nutshell: Skip this one.
There are soooooooo many better WWII novels out there. I was seduced by the lovely cover artwork and the dust jacket filled with promises of racial themes and love triangles … but alas, I was sorely disappointed.
WWII is such a tragic, formative, and fascinating time in history. That’s why I was so surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven lacked any of the drama, suspend, or emotion that usually surrounds art set during this time.
Thankfully, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a fast read, despite its hefty 418 page count.
Overall, I was disappointed at how flat the characters were, how lifeless London felt, and how the most intense, emotional moments left me feeling numb and apathetic. At one point, when the war seemed most dire and a key character was practically dying, I was bored. I just didn’t care.
4. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Ok, so this book is technically not set during WWII.
But I’m still going to include it in the list because helps prove my point. Is that technically cheating? Maybe a little. But this is something I can live with.
I won’t rehash my entire review of this book (you can read it here if you want), but needless to say it probably has the strongest plot tension of any of the other books listed here.
The story picks up after WWI, when Tom is still trying to recover from the horrors of war. He soon finds a new life with Isabel … a life that helps him begin to forget.
And then they make terrible, life-altering choice.
The Light Between Oceans made me stressed, angry, and emotional all at once. And it’s a fast read. The story has a strong hook and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end — and the payoff is surprisingly satisfying.
<< BONUS ROUND >>
1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
I’m including Number the Stars in the bonus section because it’s not part of any current book trend if it was published in 1989.
But it’s blue!
Number the Stars was one of my first introductions to World War II when I was assigned to read it for a class project.
Before reading this book, I thought that history was boring because it was mostly about remembering facts, dates, and numbers. But Number the Stars showed me that history is the story of real people with real stories, doing real things that have the power to change the world.
Since then, whenever I learn about a new period in history (in school and out of school), I like to read literature that was written during that time period or about that time period.
There is so much to be learned about human nature when read from the perspective of someone experiencing history in the moment. Number the Stars is a children’s book, but it’s definitely worth the read!
2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
It’s got a little bit of blue on the cover … sort of. Ok, ok, I know this one completely messes up my “blue cover” motif.
But no WW II book list would be complete without my all-time favorite WWII (or rather, post-WWII) novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
In a word, this book is delightful.
Written in letters, it tells the story of Juliet Ashton as she searches for the subject of her next book and healing from the war. What she discovers is a quirky, lovable village on the English channel island of Guernsey with a unique story of their experiences during the war.
It perfectly balances love, humor, hope, and the pain of war without being heavy-handed or flippant. I highly, highly recommend it for your next historical fiction read!
Whether it’s a new book trend or not, blue is definitely having a moment with WWII fiction.
What’s your favorite WWII novel?
More important question: Does it have blue on the cover?