My favorite books about World War II that may surprise you

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an author from New Zealand, and I’ve always been drawn to the personal stories from WWII. I am interested in the moral and ethical decisions made by ordinary people in those extraordinary times. I often wonder if I would have made the right choices in the same situation. I gravitate towards reading books about the Second World War, especially books that include previously unknown information, view the war from a different angle, or offer a new insight. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world with my career, and my novel, The Paris of the East was inspired after visiting Poland on an author tour. I’ve also written other novels, non-fiction books, and children’s books.


I wrote...

The Paris of the East

By Karen McMillan,

Book cover of The Paris of the East

What is my book about?

The Paris of the East is inspired by the daring feats of Polish pilots during the Second World War, the selfless way the camp population at Ravensbruck banded together to save a group of women known as the ‘guinea pigs,’ and the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising. The Paris of the East is a story of love, courage and survival set during these extraordinary times.

The novel follows the plight of four Polish friends and spans the period of World War II. It is a dramatic historical adventure that goes from Warsaw to Lublin, from Bucharest to Paris, from London to the Concentration Camp at Ravensbruck – but always at the heart of this novel is the mesmerizing city of Warsaw – ‘The Paris of the East.’

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Khaki Town

Karen McMillan Why did I love this book?

This novel is based on a true wartime story kept secret for more than seventy years. The story is set in March 1942, Townsville, Australia, after Singapore has fallen and Darwin has been bombed. The small town is transformed into a hub for 70,000 soldiers. But Australian troops begrudge the confident American soldiers, and there is growing conflict within the American ranks, and racial tensions are exposed. This compelling read is made even more poignant when you discover that it’s based on a mutiny that was covered up by the military. Khaki Town is a thought-provoking novel that will have you rallying against the injustices it exposes.

By Judy Nunn,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor

Karen McMillan Why did I love this book?

I am recommending this memoir for its beauty and kindness, which is even more extraordinary when considering this is Eddie Jaku’s story of being a Holocaust survivor. He tells the reader that "life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It’s up to you." These are powerful words from a man whose life was changed forever when he was beaten, arrested, and taken to a concentration camp. For the next seven years, he witnessed the worst of mankind, the horrors of the death camps, first in Buchenwald and then in Auschwitz, and then the infamous Nazi death march. He lost many friends and family. But Eddie survived with his spirit intact, determined to live his best possible life and be happy. A truly surprising and inspirational book.  

By Eddie Jaku,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Happiest Man on Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Eddie looked evil in the eye and met it with joy and kindness . . . [his] philosophy is life-affirming' - Daily Express

Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku made a vow to smile every day and now believes he is the 'happiest man on earth'. In his inspirational memoir, he pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story and sharing his wisdom.

Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.

Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed…


Book cover of Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War

Karen McMillan Why did I love this book?

Giles Milton is an extraordinary historian whose history books read like novels. Wolfram tells the story of a young German soldier who was only nine years old when Hitler came to power, raised by free-thinking parents who were not Nazi supporters, his formative years living under the most brutal regimes in history. This book explores a subject this is often ignored, ordinary German people trying to live normal, decent lives and who suffered the consequences of Hitler’s war. "I’d rather be anywhere else in the world," Wolfram writes to his parents from the fighting in Ukraine in 1942. This is a story of a decent young man caught up in the German war machine, and it is a reminder that people on all sides of the war suffered. 

By Giles Milton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Allied bombers screamed in from the sea, spilling hundreds of shells onto the troops below. As the air filled with exploding shrapnel, one young German soldier flung himself into a ditch and prayed that his ordeal would soon be over. Wolfram Aichele was nine years old when Hitler came to power: his formative years were spent in the shadow of the Third Reich. He and his parents - free-thinking artists - were to have first hand experience of living under one of the most brutal regimes in history. Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War overturns all the cliches…


Book cover of Dear Mrs. Bird

Karen McMillan Why did I love this book?

There is so much to enjoy in this original and charming novel! Set in London during the Blitz, Emmy is trying to remain cheerful, despite the nightly bombings and disruption of life as she once knew it. Emmy takes on a job helping Mrs. Bird, the renowned agony aunt for Woman’s Friend magazine. But if there is any hint of Unpleasantness, the letters must be cut up immediately – until Emmy decides to take matters into her own hand. Dear Mrs. Bird captures the language of the time beautifully, no doubt influenced by the 1940s magazines the author has collected. This novel is both funny and very moving, a tale of love and friendship, loss and understanding, and ultimately a book of kindness and compassion.

By AJ Pearce,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dear Mrs. Bird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Richard & Judy Book Club Pick and Sunday Times Bestseller

'Funny, fresh, and touching, Dear Mrs Bird is a treat of a read.' Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

'The sweetest, most uplifting, lovely book about courage, friendship, love . . . It'll be huge; it deserves to be' Marian Keyes

London, 1941. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she…


Book cover of The Yellow Bird Sings

Karen McMillan Why did I love this book?

The Yellow Bird Sings opens in Poland in 1941, a novel based on a real-life story. Roza and her five-year-old daughter Shira stay in a farmer’s barn, but to survive, they can’t make a sound. So they invent sign language, and they play silent games. But then the day comes when the barn is no longer safe, and Roza must make an impossible choice. The Yellow Bird Sings is an extraordinary, deeply moving novel – one that I couldn’t put down. It explores the trauma of the Holocaust, but it also manages to be a beautiful book that shows the unbreakable bond between parent and child. In the darkest days, their love, hope, and humanity shine through.

By Jennifer Rosner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Prepare to have your heart broken' - Good Housekeeping
Woman & Home Book Club Pick

Poland, 1941. A mother. A child. An impossible choice.

After the Jews in their town are rounded up, Roza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, seek shelter in a local farmer's barn. They spend their days and nights in silence to avoid being caught.

When their safe haven is shattered, Roza faces an impossible choice: whether to keep her daughter close by her side, or give her the chance to survive by letting her go.

A deeply moving novel about the unbreakable bond between parent and…


You might also like...

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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