The best novels about how people get swept up in the winds of war

Who am I?

I’m an author of historical fiction and many of my books have included war. I find I just cannot stay away from it as a subject. Obviously any war is full of natural drama which makes for wonderful narratives, but it’s more than that; it’s something to do with how war tests people to their limits, a veritable crucible. I’m fascinated by the way loyalties are split and how conflict is never simple. To paraphrase my character Helena from The Seamstress of Warsaw, war is peopled by a few heroes, a few bastards, and everyone else in the middle just trying to get through it in one piece…


I wrote...

The Wild Air

By Rebecca Mascull,

Book cover of The Wild Air

What is my book about?

In Edwardian England, aeroplanes are a new, magical invention, while female pilots are rare indeed. When shy Della Dobbs meets her mother's aunt, her life changes forever. Great Auntie Betty has come home from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, across whose windswept dunes the Wright Brothers tested their historic flying machines. Della develops a burning ambition to fly and Betty is determined to help her. But the Great War is coming and it threatens to destroy everything—and everyone—Della loves.

Uplifting and page-turning, The Wild Air is a story about love, loss, and following your dreams against all odds.

The books I picked & why

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The Light Years

By Elizabeth Jane Howard,

Book cover of The Light Years

Why this book?

These are five books about one English family over the course of World War Two and beyond. I read the whole series over the course of one glorious summer! There is a large cast of characters, yet each one is perfectly drawn by Howard, so much so that I still feel that all of them are people I once knew well, rather than imaginary constructs. It was fascinating to see how different each family member’s experience of war could be, mostly focusing on the home front and their emotional lives, rather than the war itself. It was the perfect inspiration when I began writing my own wartime series under my pen name Mollie Walton. 

The Light Years

By Elizabeth Jane Howard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Light Years as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Light Years is a modern classic of twentieth-century English life in the countryside, and is the first novel in Elizabeth Jane Howard's extraordinary, bestselling family saga The Cazalet Chronicles.

Every summer, the Cazalet brothers - Hugh, Edward and Rupert - return to the family home in the heart of the Sussex countryside with their wives and children. There, they are joined by their parents and unmarried sister Rachel to enjoy two blissful months of picnics, games, and excursions to the coast. But despite the idyllic setting, nothing can be done to soothe the siblings' heartache: Hugh is haunted by…


Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

Why this book?

This extraordinary graphic novel was recommended to me by my teacher training tutor years ago and I’ve never quite got over it. It’s a work of genius, that approaches the horrific subject of the Holocaust via the narrator’s father, rendering the Jewish people as mice and the Nazis as cats. It’s incredibly powerful and yet so easy to read, deceptively so. When I came to write my own novel about the Warsaw Ghetto and forest partisans of World War Two Poland the education that Maus gave me was never far from the forefront of my mind. A brilliant lesson in the power of words and pictures working together to sear those images into your consciousness forever. An absolutely unforgettable reading experience.

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

By Art Spiegelman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The bestselling first installment of the graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker) • PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • One of Variety’s “Banned and Challenged Books Everyone Should Read”

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his…


Before the Fall

By Juliet West,

Book cover of Before the Fall

Why this book?

This novel absolutely blew me away. There are many books set during World War One and I’m fascinated by this war, particularly after studying WW1 poetry at school. The central image of the trench has stayed with me forever since. However, this novel is set on the home front in 1916 and shows the effects of war at a distance from the fighting. But don’t be lulled into any sense of comfort – this novel is heart-breaking, with a stunning twist. Merciless writing in the very best way, an excellent piece of war writing by West. When I wrote my own book I was determined to make the home front just as dramatic as any combat scene, just as West does so brilliantly. 

Before the Fall

By Juliet West,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Before the Fall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A compelling, moving tale of a love affair, set in the East End during World War 1 and inspired by an unforgettable true story.

A great war.
A powerful love.
An impossible choice.

I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the river, in the grey air that we breathe. It is a current that runs through all of us. You can't escape the current; either you swim with it, or you go under.

1916. Across the channel, the Great War rages; in London's East End, with her husband away fighting, Hannah Loxwood struggles to hold everything together.…


The Red Badge of Courage

By Stephen Crane,

Book cover of The Red Badge of Courage

Why this book?

A stone-cold classic in war writing, I studied this short novel at university and loved it. Crane never actually went to war and yet his depiction of men fighting in the American Civil War felt so real, that it gave me the confidence to write historical fiction, knowing I’d never experienced these things but my research and imagination could be brought to bear and hopefully transport the reader in the same way Crane did. It also began a lifelong obsession for me with the American Civil War. When I first started writing historical novels I knew I wanted to write about other combat arenas than the two C20th world wars, choosing the Boer War and The Seven Years’ War respectively. 

The Red Badge of Courage

By Stephen Crane,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Red Badge of Courage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is Stephen Crane's masterpiece, The Red Badge of Courage, together with four of his most famous short stories. Outstanding in their portrayal of violent emotion and quiet tension, these texts led the way for great American writers such as Ernest Hemingway.


The Kitchen God's Wife

By Amy Tan,

Book cover of The Kitchen God's Wife

Why this book?

An absolute tour de force from the author of The Joy Luck Club. This novel is not as famous, but it’s actually my favourite Tan book. It has that epic sweep across history that I adore, whereby the movement of history catches people in its wake and hurls them hither and thither, uncaring of the consequences of its wreckage. The novel follows the experiences of a Chinese woman before and after Japan’s invasion of China in the 1930s and 40s and on to her move to America after the war. Reading this novel was truly immersive and fueled my interest in writing about war and showing how my own characters are caught up in its inexorable flow. A brutal and beautiful novel. 

The Kitchen God's Wife

By Amy Tan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kitchen God's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning reissue of the international bestseller, from the much-loved author of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter's Daughter.

Pearl Louie Brandt has a terrible secret which she tries desperately to keep from her mother, Winne Louie. And Winnie has long kept her own secrets - about her past and the confusing circumstances of Pearl's birth. Fate intervenes in the form of Helen Kwong, Winnie's so-called sister-in-law, who believes she is dying and must unburden herself of all falsehoods before she flies off to heaven. But, unfortunately, the truth comes in many guises, depending on who is telling the…


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