This immersive, compelling read features an unlikely trio of friends who work at Bletchley Park during World War II, secretly trying to break the codes used by the Germans and Italians. Debutante Osla Kendall, who reads German fluently, is dating Prince Philip of Greece. On the train from London she meets ambitious Mab, a typist whose height gets her work on the machines at Bletchley Park and who is anxious to evacuate her little sister Lucy from London’s East End. Shy Beth, whose demanding mother rents Mab and Osla a room, finds her skill at crossword puzzles leads to work as a codebreaker. The strain of the work and the demand for complete secrecy affect the women’s relationships, although outlets such as their Mad Hatter book group help somewhat. In 1947 the women are no longer friends, yet Mab and Osla meet for tea in York in response to a desperate plea from Beth, who is trying to discover who framed her as a traitor. This crisis is set during the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the royal wedding of Osla’s Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth. I loved the focus on the women’s war work and found this book, with its intensifying pace, hard to put down. Only the 624 page count will keep this book from being the top pick of many book groups. Readalikes include Code Girls by Liza Mundy, The Gown by Jennifer Robson, The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott.
While I haven’t been reading many World War II novels lately, I’m a fan of Robert Harris’s novels, including Conclave, Pompeii, Munich, and The Second Sleep, so I started reading V2, and found it a compelling read. In November 1944, Section Officer Kay Caton-Walsh is in the London flat of her boss, Air Commodore Mike Templeton, when the building is hit by a V2 rocket. Kay gets the cold shoulder from Templeton when she’s mistaken for his wife, so she’s happy to take an assignment in Belgium. In Medenham, England, Kay has been analyzing photographs, searching for clues to the launch site of Germany’s V2 rockets. In Belgium, she will calculate the trajectory of the missiles while they’re still in the air, and after they hit London. In this thrilling story about the race to stop the silent, insidious V2s, which threatened Londoners from September 1944 to March 1945, a parallel plot features German engineer Rudi Graf. Graf, who only wanted to work with Wernher von Braun to send rockets into space, helps launch the V2 missiles. How far is Graf willing to go, for Germany, or for his conscience and the future? Another well-researched novel from master storyteller Harris, this is a good readalike for The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, Code Girls by Liza Mundy, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal.
The struggles and triumphs of the wife of Winston Churchill make for an interesting biographical novel, especially the second half of the book, which covers World War II. The first half of the book doesn’t flow as well, as it covers the first thirty years of Clementine and Winston’s marriage. Clementine was always interested in politics, although she didn’t always share Winston’s views. He was moody and rather bombastic, but Clementine would stand up to him, soothe and support him, and they were a good team, at least according to this very well researched novel. Clementine struggled to balance being a supportive wife with being a good mother and running a household on a modest budget during the early years of their marriage, and occasionally took a rest cure to recharge. I really liked the chapters on Clementine’s work on the home front during the war, improving air raid shelters, helping Winston with his speeches, and being recognized internationally for her work with the Red Cross. Other recent books about the Winston and his mother Jennie include Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard and That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron. Readalikes include novels by Melanie Benjamin, Paula McLain, and Nancy Horan.
In June, 1940, Ruby Sutton, a young reporter in New York City, accepts an assignment to report on the war from London at Picture Weekly magazine. Ruby, as an American, brings a fresh perspective to stories of home front England and the Blitz, mentored by veteran photographer Mary Buchanan and editor Kaz. Ruby is befriended by Captain Bennett, who has a secret wartime job; a romance seems likely. Over the next few years, Ruby, raised in an orphanage, finds a new family and home in London. A very compelling read, there are naturally some poignant scenes, but this is more heartwarming than many novels set during the war. If you’re in the mood for an excellent historical novel with memorable characters, this is a sure bet. For more about Ruby, Kaz, and Bennett, read The Gown, which we’re discussing Tuesday night at the library. Readalikes include books by Jennifer Ryan, Lissa Evans, Beatriz Williams, and AJ Pearce.
Private investigator Maisie and her friend Priscilla spend a few evenings a week driving an ambulance in London during the blitz. Catherine Saxon, an American reporter, rides along one night, reports what she saw on the radio, and is found dead the next day. Maisie and her assistant Billy investigate, with occasional help from an attractive American agent, Mark Scott. Maisie visits Catherine’s boarding house, and meets with her friends, all while worried about her family in Kent, where she spends weekends. An intriguing puzzle, appealing characters, and a fast-paced story make this a memorable mystery. The first book in the long-running series is Maisie Dobbs.
This is a rare World War II novel set on the home front in London that is both suspenseful and joyous. Mrs. Braithwaite isn’t the most appealing character as she’s booted out of her village women’s club (she’s both bossy and divorced), but when she reaches London she begins to transform. Her daughter Betty is missing, and though they’re not at all close, Mrs. Braithwaite goes in search. Betty’s anxious landlord Mr. Norris is surprised to find himself involved in Mrs. B’s quest and they get caught up in a bombing raid during the Blitz. Betty is a spy for MI5 trying to uncover Nazi sympathizers, and turns out to need assistance from her mother and Mr. Norris. I enjoyed the quirky characters, and found this novel by the author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir a delight to read.
Perfect summer reading for fans of historical fiction. Lulu Randolph is in the Bahamas in 1941 as a correspondent for a New York magazine, secretly filing stories about the glamorous Duke and Duchess of Windsor. An unexpected romance with scientist Benedict Thorpe later leads Lulu to London and Switzerland. Alternate chapters tell the bittersweet story of Elfriede, suffering from post-partum depression in the Swiss alps, and her connection to Benedict’s family. History, royalty, war-time intrigue and romance make for an absorbing read; sure to be popular with book groups. This novel will be published on July 7.
Ten women seated around a table, eating delicious food, then spending an hour resting or chatting in a courtyard. Beautifully described, yet not at all a calm scene, as the women are tasting Hitler’s food, which may be poisoned. Rosa Sauer was conscripted after moving in with her husband’s parents in Gross-Partsch, in East Prussia. Rosa, a secretary in Berlin before marrying engineer Gregor, was bombed out of two apartments. Gregor is away at the front, and seems increasingly remote. The women, bussed daily to Hitler’s secret headquarters, occasionally clash but gradually become friendly. Who can you trust? What will you do to survive? The reader doesn’t know the year, or when the war will be over, nor do the women waiting for the men of the village to return from the war. Hard to put down, even before the sense of danger from the food, the guards, and the war intensifies. A compelling, memorable read that’s based on a true story, translated from Italian by Leah Janeczko. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is a readalike.
Moloka’i was a bestseller and a favorite with book clubs, but I hadn’t read it until I heard about this forthcoming sequel. Daughter of Moloka’i is the compelling story of Ruth, an adopted Hawaiian-Japanese girl who grew up in Hawai’i and California, and was later sent to internment camps with her family during World War II. The daily life, joys, disappointments and hardships of the Watanabe family make for engaging reading. After Ruth is a mother herself, she receives an unexpected letter from her birth mother, Rachel, who lived in the leper settlement on Moloka’i. This poignant, family-centered, ultimately hopeful novel can be read before or after reading Moloka’i, and is a real pleasure for fans of character-driven historical fiction.
This is a splendid, moving novel about a young woman and the girls she mothers in southern England in the mid 20th century. Ellen Parr, born well-off, struggles when her father loses his money. Trying to cope in a run-down cottage with her impractical mother, Ellen finds unexpected kindness from her schoolmate Lucy’s family and a local handyman. Ten years later, recently married Ellen finds young Pamela asleep on a bus after Southampton is bombed in December, 1940. Although Ellen’s husband, a miller, doesn’t want to keep Pamela, they do. Eventually, they have to give Pamela back to her relatives in a heart-wrenching scene. Much later, schoolgirl Penny needs somewhere to stay after a flood and during school holidays. This first novel, while a tearjerker at times, is a compelling, satisfying, and ultimately heartwarming read.