The best historical fiction novels set in the 1930s and 1940s

Victoria Arendt Author Of Broken Pencils
By Victoria Arendt

Who am I?

Like most people, the carefree days of childhood are brought to a halt with the passage of time and the death of loved ones. As a wistful, dreamy, and introspective person, I wished to revisit the past, if only for a moment, to see what my grandparents experienced in their earlier lives. Currently, I’m under the spell of the 1930s and 1940s, and historical fiction books are an engaging way to learn about these marvelous decades.  


I wrote...

Broken Pencils

By Victoria Arendt,

Book cover of Broken Pencils

What is my book about?

A young housewife struggles to keep her severely handicapped son out of the abusive 1940s insane asylums. Based on true life events.

The books I picked & why

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The Bolter

By Frances Osborne,

Book cover of The Bolter

Why this book?

The Bolter is uniquely sad yet weirdly comforting. Set primarily in the 1930s, it’s a story about a brazen woman named Idina who is shamelessly bold and ahead of her time. With her unladylike behavior, she shocked the upper class when she balked at their traditions and forged her own path. Fascinating and page-turning, Idina lived as if she was a woman of the present day. 

Frances Osborne did an incredible job of digging out the details to tell this gossipy story.  

The Bolter

By Frances Osborne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bolter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
An O, The Oprah Magazine #1 Terrific Read

In an age of bolters—women who broke the rules and fled their marriages—Idina Sackville was the most celebrated of them all. Her relentless affairs, wild sex parties, and brazen flaunting of convention shocked high society and inspired countless writers and artists, from Nancy Mitford to Greta Garbo. But Idina’s compelling charm masked the pain of betrayal and heartbreak.
 
Now Frances Osborne explores the life of Idina, her enigmatic great-grandmother, using letters, diaries, and family legend, following her from Edwardian London to the hills…


The Paris Architect

By Charles Belfoure,

Book cover of The Paris Architect

Why this book?

Set in Nazi-occupied Paris, The Paris Architect tells the most unusual story about an up-and-coming architect named Lucian who is offered a financially lucrative deal... but it’s a dangerous deal and one he doesn’t fully believe in. Forced to choose between safety or money, an envelope stuffed with his first payment emboldens his decision and creates a no-turning-back scenario.  

Set in the 1930s and 1940s, Charles Belfoure’s captivating writing will make you think about the past and wonder about other unsung heroes of that time.

The Paris Architect

By Charles Belfoure,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Paris Architect as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money - and maybe get him killed. But if he's clever enough, he'll avoid any trouble. All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won't find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can't resist. But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to…


Sarah's Key

By Tatiana De Rosnay,

Book cover of Sarah's Key

Why this book?

Stirring edge-of-your-seat emotions, Sarah’s Key is a dual-plotted historical fiction book set in both 1942 and the current day. Although the two protagonists are decades apart, their stories collide in a deeply moving way. Sarah is a young Jewish girl trying to escape capture and the horrors of war. Julia is a modern-day writer searching for a story... a story that changes her life in a profound way when she learns about Sarah.

Tatiana de Rosnay’s writing is vivid and haunting… with an unforgettable moment when Sarah turns the key. 

Sarah's Key

By Tatiana De Rosnay,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Sarah's Key as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that…


Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline,

Book cover of Orphan Train

Why this book?

The Orphan Train is a novel about forgotten and neglected children left to fend for themselves in an antiquated welfare program. The story weaves memories of an old woman with the naiveté of a present-day teenager teaching the reader that everything is not as it appears.

Christina Baker Kline breathes life into a horrible moment of American history making us rip the bandage off, look at our past and see the unexpected silver lining.

Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Orphan Train as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times Bestseller

“A lovely novel about the search for family that also happens to illuminate a fascinating and forgotten chapter of America’s history. Beautiful.”—Ann Packer

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, and unexpected friendship.

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they…


All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr,

Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Why this book?

All the Light We Cannot See is written like a universal classic; timeless, poetic, and elegant. Set during World War II, in a backdrop of Paris and Berlin, the story is about the different lives of a blind French girl and an orphan German boy. Seemingly worlds apart, their parallel lives eventually cross paths in a captivating storyline. 

Descriptive scenes and a unique writing style make Anthony Doerr’s words melt in your mind and take you back to this unbelievable era.  

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked All the Light We Cannot See as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2015 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR FICTION

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.'

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic…


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