The best books with stories of survival in WWII that go beyond the battlefield

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a lifelong reader who has always been interested in the period of WWII. Stories of courage under fire are my favorites. As a little girl, I attended a one-room school without a library. Luckily, my enlightened teacher contracted with a Bookmobile, a travelling library. The first time I got inside the Bookmobile, I decided I’d like to live there and was only removed forcibly by the bus driver. I'm an educator turned author who worked for thirty-five years at the medical school at Michigan State University. Luckily, my circle of family and friends includes doctors, lawyers, and police officers who are consulted regularly for advice on my mysteries.

I wrote...

One Dog Too Many

By Lia Farrell,

Book cover of One Dog Too Many

What is my book about?

One Dog Too Many is the first in a series of mysteries that follow Mae December, a young single woman who runs a dog-boarding facility and handsome Sheriff Ben Bradley, who is frustrated by Mae’s digging into his murder investigation, but appreciates her as a woman. The other characters who work for the sheriff’s office are Detective Wayne Nichols, a Native American man with a complicated past, and Dory Clarkson, an African American woman who keeps them all in line. One Dog is a cozy mystery set in a small town. There are 6 in the series. 

*Lia Farrell changed her penname to Lyn Farrell in 2021. All recent books (Blind Switch, Blind Split, Cottonwoods) are published under Lyn Farrell. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Sixth Lamentation

Lyn Farrell Why did I love this book?

William Brodrick is a British solicitor who became a lawyer after leaving a monastery where he was a monk. Like Brodrick, I have re-invented myself as an author after 40 years of working as a medical educator. Knowing what it took for me to succeed in a new career, I admire what it cost the author to achieve such a radical shift. Monk-turned-lawyer-turned-Novelist Brodrick has written a stunning story about a guard at a WWII death camp who is being brought to trial fifty years after the war. The story is told by Anselm, a lawyer who left the Old Baily in London where he worked as a solicitor, to become a monk at Larkwood Priory (the reverse of the author’s life).

Another reason this story speaks to me so profoundly has to do with my background. I am the eldest child in an abusive family that enforced silence about what we were experiencing. The back story of The Sixth Lamentation narrates the story of an elderly woman who presently has ALS but who, as a young woman, transported Jewish children out of Paris to safety. She, herself, became a prisoner at the death camps and knew the defendant. However, she cannot testify due to her inability to speak or write. My life has not been so constrained, but it was only after my father died that I could bring myself to speak about his alcoholism, his violence toward my mother, and its impact on me.   

By William Brodrick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What should you do if the world has turned against you? When Father Anselm is asked this question by an old man at Larkwood Priory, his response, to claim sanctuary, is to have greater resonance than he could ever have imagined. For that evening the old man returns, demanding the protection of the church. His name is Eduard Schwermann and he is wanted by the police as a suspected war criminal. With her life running out, Agnes Aubret feels it is time to unburden to her granddaughter Lucy the secrets she has been carrying for so long. Fifty years earlier,…

Book cover of The Invisible Bridge

Lyn Farrell Why did I love this book?

This is a 750+ page book and a tour de force. I have profound sympathy for the Jewish people, and the horrors they endured under Nazi rule. None of the things I have suffered in my life, including living with a violent alcoholic father, came even close to the fears and degradation experienced by the people in this book. My own survival techniques included hiding and avoidance of anything that would trigger my father’s anger. As the eldest, I also tried to shield my younger siblings. Thus, I was as unobtrusive as possible, a survival technique minorities have used for centuries.

This story begins in 1937 with a young Hungarian Jewish man who goes to Paris to study architecture. Asked to deliver a letter to a woman’s nephew, he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter’s recipient and eventually, despite her own dark secrets, they fall in love. As a Jew, he is fearful of the increasingly terrifying strictures imposed upon him, his brother who is studying medicine in Italy, and his family in a small Hungarian town. He is conscripted several times and struggles to survive in the brutal Carpathian winters. Using beautiful prose, the author compels her readers to become one with this family of Jews in the darkest times of the last century.   

By Julie Orringer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Paris, 1937. Andras Levi, an architecture student, has arrived from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to Clara Morgenstern a young widow living in the city. When Andras meets Clara he is drawn deeply into her extraordinary and secret life, just as Europe's unfolding tragedy sends them both into a state of terrifying uncertainty.

From a remote Hungarian village to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labour camps and…

Book cover of The Power of One

Lyn Farrell Why did I love this book?

Peekay is a little boy born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred. After being adored by a Zulu nanny during his early childhood, he is sent away to a boarding school at a young age when his mother has a mental breakdown. I, too, had a divided life as a child. I spent the school year in my parent’s home with its dire poverty and abuse and then was set blissfully free to spend my summers at my grandmother’s farm, a loving sacred haven. The two disparate sides of my life predispose me to feel intensely for children who suffer from abuse.

I cried for Peekay who is called a Roonik, a derogative term for the despised English who fought the Afrikaners during the Boer War. He is tortured by the older students, German boys who have been taught to idolize Adolph Hitler. Eventually, he meets Hoppie Groenewald, a guard on a train who is a boxer. He thinks Peekay has talent and inspires his dream of becoming the welterweight boxing champion of the world. He becomes a professional boxer and eventually, because of his love for African Americans, is hailed as the savior of the tribes in Africa.

By Bryce Courtenay,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Power of One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of one’–can prevail.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

In 1939, as Hitler casts his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, the seeds of apartheid take root in South Africa. There, a boy called Peekay is born. His childhood is marked by humiliation and abandonment, yet he vows to survive and conceives heroic dreams–which are nothing compared…

Book cover of The Apple Orchard

Lyn Farrell Why did I love this book?

This story appealed to me at the outset because of my interest in people whose property was confiscated due to the turmoil of war. I have a grandfather who was a famous artist. Because he was painting in the 1930s, his original artworks were sold in their entirety to the major magazines of the day. Nowadays, artists sell the rights to their work, but retain the original paintings. I have spent much of my adult life tracking down his paintings that were lost to the family.

Susan Wiggs’ character, Tess Delaney, makes a living returning stolen or lost objects to their rightful owners. At the beginning of the book, she returns a valuable lavalier necklace to an elderly woman. Somewhat later, she is shocked to learn she has a grandfather she never knew about and that she has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard. The other half goes to Isabel Johansen, a half-sister she didn’t know about either. Going through her grandfather’s ‘get well soon’ cards, she finds one from the very woman whose lavalier necklace she returned at the beginning of the story and learns her grandfather and the necklace’s owner were both sent as children to a concentration camp called Theresienstadt in Denmark. The book weaves back and forth between Copenhagen in the early 1940s, when Tess’s grandfather and his family owned one of the famous Romanov eggs, and the present. 

By Susan Wiggs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


From #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Wiggs

“…sweet, crisp and juicy.”—Elin Hilderbrand

“A powerful story of love, loss, hope and redemption.”—Kirkus, Starred Review

Tess Delaney makes a living restoring stolen treasures to their owners. People like Annelise Winther, who has just been reunited with her mother’s long gone necklace, worth a sum that could change her life. To Annelise, whose family was torn apart during WWII, the necklace represents her history, and the value is in its memories.

But Tess’s own history is filled with gaps: a father…

Book cover of Five Quarters of the Orange

Lyn Farrell Why did I love this book?

This book is powerful to me because of the intense mother/daughter conflict she relates. My mother was lovely, well-read, and held an important position at our state university. However, she was also extremely critical of her children. Because I never rebelled against my mother, I was entranced with Joanne Harris’ young character, Framboise, who plans and carries out a rebellion against her mother that is worthy of the French resistance. Many years later, when Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation.

The past and present are inextricably entwined in a scrapbook of recipes and memories that Framboise inherited from her now-deceased mother. The journal contains the key to the tragedy that indelibly marked that summer of her ninth year. The mother and daughter were virtual enemies during her childhood and Framboise used the juice of the orange to trigger her mother’s migraines, confining her to bed while she and her siblings had free access to a small town under German occupation.   

By Joanne Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Five Quarters of the Orange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gripping page-turner set in occupied France from international multi-million copy seller Joanne Harris. With the sensuous writing we come to expect from her, this book has a darker core. Perfect for fans of Victoria Hislop, Fiona Valpy, Maggie O'Farrell and Rachel Joyce, this fascinating and vivid journey through human cruelty and kindness is a gripping and compelling read.

'Her strongest writing yet: as tangy and sometimes bitter as Chocolat was smooth' -- Independent
'Harris indulges her love of rich and mouthwatering descriptive passages, appealing to the senses... Thoroughly enjoyable' -- Observer
'Outstanding...beautifully written' -- Daily Mail
'Very thought provoking.…

You might also like...

A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

By Victoria Golden, William Walters,

Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story teller Book fav swapper Movie buff A writer’s daughter Escapee from Beverly Hills

Victoria's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Four years old and homeless, William Walters boarded one of the last American Orphan Trains in 1930 and embarked on an astonishing quest through nine decades of U.S. and world history.

For 75 years, the Orphan Trains had transported 250,000 children from the streets and orphanages of the East Coast into homes in the emerging West, sometimes providing loving new families, other times delivering kids into nightmares. Taken by a cruel New Mexico couple, William faced a terrible trial, but his strength and resilience carried him forward into unforgettable adventures.

Whether escaping his abusers, jumping freights as a preteen during…

A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

By Victoria Golden, William Walters,

What is this book about?







From 1854 to the early 1930s, the American Orphan Trains transported 250,000 children from the streets and orphanages of the East Coast into homes in the emerging West. Unfortunately, families waiting for the trains weren’t always dreams come true—many times they were nightmares.

William Walters was little more than a…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, brothers, and war criminals?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family secrets, brothers, and war criminals.

Family Secrets Explore 184 books about family secrets
Brothers Explore 111 books about brothers
War Criminals Explore 13 books about war criminals