The best World War Two novels with strong female characters who aren’t spies

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the granddaughter of Irish and Italian immigrants, raised Catholic, and educated by nuns. Years ago, I heard a friend’s story about his parents: an Italian prisoner of war and a French Quarter Sicilian woman who met during World War II in New Orleans. I became determined to find out more, and connected with scholars, researchers, and families who’ve been piecing together the little-known stories of some of the 51,000 Italian POWs held in the US from 1943-1945. Their stories, and the plight of women working on the home front, inspired The Italian Prisoner.


I wrote...

The Italian Prisoner

By Elisa M. Speranza,

Book cover of The Italian Prisoner

What is my book about?

Inspired by little-known historical events and set in swing-era New Orleans, The Italian Prisoner is an engrossing story of wartime love, family secrets, and a young woman’s struggle to chart her own course at an inflection point in American history.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sisters in Arms

Elisa M. Speranza Why did I love this book?

Kaia Alderson brings us a compelling story featuring strong female characters, complex friendships, family, love, and resilience. Her fierce young heroines blaze a trail in a world they are thrown into with little preparation, against the strong headwinds of discrimination. Alderson's witty dialogue and thoughtful prose carries the story through many poignant moments. The story of Six Triple Eight and the fascinating lives of these brave, unsung she-roes who accomplished a critical mission in the waning days of World War Two deserves a much bigger audience.

By Kaia Alderson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sisters in Arms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kaia Alderson's debut historical fiction novel reveals the untold, true story of the Six Triple Eight, the only all-Black battalion of the Women's Army Corps, who made the dangerous voyage to Europe to ensure American servicemen received word from their loved ones during World War II.


Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may be from completely different backgrounds, but when it comes to the army, specifically the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they are both starting from the same level. Not only will they be among the first class of female officers the army has even seen, they are also the…


Book cover of A Kiss from Maddalena

Elisa M. Speranza Why did I love this book?

Castellani’s warm and beautiful prose takes us on a journey with Maddelana, an innocent young woman in a tiny Italian village where everyone knows everyone. As she embarks on a journey that will change her life, we watch her future unfold across the ocean and through generations of the family she starts, immigrant descendants making a life in America. The best part is there are two more books following this one! 

By Christopher Castellani,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Kiss from Maddalena as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 1943, and Santa Cecilia has become a village of women. All the young men are away at war, except for Vito Leone, his best friend, and the shopkeeper's son. When Vito falls in love with Maddalena Picinelli, the shy and beautiful daughter of the town's most powerful family, a few obstacles appear in his path. Maddalena's sassy, iron-willed sister Carolina thinks he's a penniless fool. Her parents think his crazy mother has turned him into a mammoni, a mama's boy. But Maddalena sees another side of Vito. He's romantic. He builds a bicycle for the girls to ride.…


Book cover of The Beantown Girls

Elisa M. Speranza Why did I love this book?

I love historical fiction that teaches us about little-known chapters in history—especially stories of unsung women in wartime. Beantown Girls delivers all that along with love, laughter, friendship, and tears. It’s the fascinating tale of the women who brought aid and comfort to Allied soldiers in World War Two with the Red Cross Clubmobiles.

By Jane Healey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Beantown Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Amazon Charts and Washington Post bestseller.

A novel of love, courage, and danger unfolds as World War II's brightest heroines-the best of friends-take on the front lines.

1944: Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. She'll work in city hall, marry her fiance when he returns from the war, and settle down in the Boston suburbs. But when her fiance is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona's long-held plans are shattered.

Determined to learn her fiance's fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to…


Book cover of Manhattan Beach

Elisa M. Speranza Why did I love this book?

Mystery, intrigue, and an exploration of the dark underbelly of a community kept me turning the pages of Manhattan Beach. There aren’t many books written from the point of view of a woman working in a man’s world on the World War Two home front, and Egan paints an intimate portrait that puts the reader inside her protagonist’s head from the first page. A fascinating, detailed account wrapped in a compelling narrative.

By Jennifer Egan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Manhattan Beach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A New York Times Notable Book

Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author.

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, Esquire, Vogue, The Washington Post, The Guardian, USA TODAY, and Time

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.…


Book cover of The Last Year of the War

Elisa M. Speranza Why did I love this book?

Meissner is a master of balance, and this book does a beautiful job. A gut-wrenching story of discrimination, injustice, deprivation, and war woven into a story of childhood friends found in the unlikeliest of circumstances. We learn important lessons about historic mistakes, see the brutal face of war, and crawl inside family dynamics that leave a mark on our hearts. 

By Susan Meissner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Year of the War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and As Bright as Heaven comes a novel about a German American teenager whose life changes forever when her immigrant family is sent to an internment camp during World War II.
 
In 1943, Elise Sontag is a typical American teenager from Iowa—aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise…


You might also like...

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the German occupation of Europe, missing persons, and Germany?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the German occupation of Europe, missing persons, and Germany.

The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 71 books about the German occupation of Europe
Missing Persons Explore 273 books about missing persons
Germany Explore 478 books about Germany