World War II Romance – Can This Be a Thing?

the_kissI’m in the middle of a World War II romance right now that I’m reading for review. It’s okay, but not anything to write home about. I’ve been seeing more WWII stories come across my desk, but few are mainstream romances. There are inspirationals galore. Small press and indy books have always had them here and there. And they pop up in fiction, often with a romantic element. Mainstream romances, though? Not so much.

I feel like the time could be ripe for it, though. It’s not all that unusual for indie publishing to start a trend that New York later gloms onto (Fifty Shades, anyone?), and there’s a lot of appeal to the WWII setting. It comes complete with a built in conflict (the hero could die! Anyone could die!) and a cause that almost anyone could feel good about. Besides, those retro clothes are so cute. I can even overlook the fact that nearly everyone smokes (although I find that less cute). 

My so-so WWII romance got me thinking about others that I enjoyed a lot more. In no particular order:

Crossings by Danielle Steel – A huge caveat here: I read this when I was fifteen, and I have absolutely no idea whether it stands the test of time. Chances are it doesn’t. But it was the first Danielle Steel book I read (a lady I babysat for loaned it to me), and though I would soon decide that if you read one Danielle Steel book you’ve read them all, I loved this one. As I recall, it had a love triangle involving the heroine, an older husband who appeared to be working for the Vichy government in France but was secretly saving priceless French art from the Nazis, and an American soldier. And it ended with the fabulous cliched line, “Strong people cannot be defeated.” Or so I remember, anyway.

The Shell Seekers and Coming Home by Rosamunde Plicher - The Shell Seekers was a huge hit of the late eighties, and deservedly so. Coming Home came later and isn’t related, but is just as good. Both are sweeping sagas full of danger, competing love interests, and homefront sacrifices. Shell Seekers is more UK set, and if I remember correctly Coming Home wanders the globe a bit (or at least the heroine’s family gets spread out). They are worth seeking out if you’ve never read them.

Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis – I am a straight up Connie Willis fan girl. I read both of these when they came out and considered reviewing them. But since I’d already written two DIK reviews of previous books, I decided that everyone already knew I loved Connie Willis. Many of her books (including these two) are loosely connected in that they feature time traveling British historians of the future who go back to various periods to study them. Black Out and All Clear are essentially one story in two books, and they cover several different historians who all get stuck in the past as they are observing various aspects of World War II. Most, but not all, all in London during the Blitz. If you like this setting at all, these books are not to be missed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – Almost everyone I know loved this book, but it’s certainly a tear jerker. Keep a box of tissues handy for this one.

The Unsung Hero (and other early Troubleshooter books) by Suzanne Brockmann – remember how her early Troubleshooter books all had a WWII subplot woven in? That was awesome, and in some cases, better than the main plot. In Unsung Hero both plots are fabulous, and the hero is…hair challenged. You see that often in real life but rarely in romance novels.

I’m sure I am forgetting something fabulous. What great WWII books have you read? And will anyone admit to also reading Crossings? I can’t be the only one.

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32 Responses to “World War II Romance – Can This Be a Thing?”

  1. Paola says:

    The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson. Ruth is a Jewish girl who escapes from Vienna to London through a marriage of convenience.
    She has another one set in that period, A Song for Summer, but it’s less charming.

  2. msaggie says:

    I love Eva Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift too – for some reason, this one doesn’t get mentioned as much as The Countess Below Stairs or Magic Flutes. I also love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and yes, it needs hankies. A lovely WWII romance which also got a DIK at AAR is Anthony Capella’s The Wedding Officer. Lovely hero, with a more worldly heroine. And of course, Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman is set during WWII.

  3. Yulie says:

    His Very Own Girl by Carrie Lofty is fantastic, and definitely The Bronze Horseman (and Tatiana & Alexander as well).

    It’s certainly a challenging period for a romance novelist to write about; the research has to be done well, and it’s a fine line to walk between not letting the real events take over the romance while not trivializing them.

  4. Eggletina says:

    I don’t know what it is about war stories, but I’m often attracted to them, especially the lovers struggling to find one another or stay alive.

    Of more recent reads, I really liked “His Very Own Girl” by Carrie Lofty. Of older books,”While Still We Live” by Helen MacInnes is very good (though the ending might not be conclusive enough for some readers).

  5. HeatherB. says:

    I have to second Anthony Capella’s “The Wedding Officer.” Loved that book for the romance and the WWII Italian setting. It is unique in so many ways.

  6. Another Connie Willis fangirl here. (And since I moved to Colorado, I got to meet her!) I second the recommendations of Blackout & All Clear, as well as Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift.

  7. LeeB. says:

    While I really really liked The Shell Seekers, I loved Coming Home. And yep, I really liked the WWII part of The Unsung Hero. Also chiming in for His Very Own Girl too.

  8. maggie b. says:

    Sentimental Journey Jill Barnett (American home front and England)
    Our Yanks Margaret Mayhew (English front)
    Sentimental Journey Barbara Bretton (American home front)
    The English Patient Michal Ondaaje (WWII, Europe)
    Silver Wings, Santiago Blue Janet Dailey (American WASPS)

  9. maggie b. says:

    On My TBR but not yet read:

    War Brides Helen Bryan
    The War Bride Club by Soraya Lane
    Of Windmills and War Diane Moody
    War Brides Lois Battle
    Violins of Autumn Amy McAuley (YA)

  10. maggie b. says:

    Containing a WWII story but taking place in modern times:

    The Apple Orchard Susan Wiggs
    The Splendor of Silence Indu Sandersesan

  11. Pwm in mi says:

    The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons was very good. Takes place in Leningrad in WWII. There are 2 more books that follow it. His Very Own Girl by Carrie Lofty was also very good.

  12. maggie b. says:

    YA Novles, WWII Setting

    Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein
    The Montmaray Journals Michelle Cooper
    The Girl is Trouble, The Girl is Murder Kathryn Miller Haines
    What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell (award winner, takes place directly after war regarding something that happened during war)

    Gotta run but will add more to my lists later :-)

    • LinnieGayl says:

      Maggie B, I’ve really enjoyed The Girl is Trouble and The Girl is Murder.

      I’ve encountered a number of mystery series in the past few years either set during WWII or they seem to be rapidly approaching WWII.

  13. maggie b. says:

    Morning Glory LaVryle Spencer
    In the Arms of the Enemy Lisbeth Eng (A grownup sort of Summer of My German Soldier)

    • liz says:

      Just finished In the Arms of the Enemy a few days ago and enjoyed it a lot– much happier ending than Summer of My German Solider. Loved Morning Glory, The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander too. I’ll have to check out a few of these other titles.

  14. Loved the WWII plotlines in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series, especially the Defiant Hero.

    I haven’t seen any WWII romances lately, but I did read a good World War I romance from Carina Press: Saving the Rifleman by Julie Rowe. The second book in her War Girls series Enticing the Spymaster just came out this month.

  15. Maria says:

    I love Willis too and buy all her books, but otherwise I’m not terribly into WWII stories, or war stories in general.

    They tend to be more melodramatic than I’m comfortable with, and make it too easy to conveniently kill off characters. They also tend to have a political sub-theme, or at least assumptions – us against them – that perpetuates the old animosities and prejudices.

    The only kind I like has a comic element to it, which can come across as tasteless in the middle of a war, or is futuristic/SF, too far removed from recent history to be taken seriously as tragedy.

  16. Marianne McA says:

    And The Charioteer by Mary Renault.

    I liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, but the members of my book club who are old enough to remember the war didn’t like it at all.

    Maybe that’s why the time is right for WW2 stories – as there are fewer people who actually remember the reality, perhaps it’s possible to romanticise it a bit more?

  17. Kristina McMorris is a recent author who writes during WW2 – she has two books out that are really good: Letters from Home and Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.

    I write fiction set during WW2 – and though my books do have a romance in them, they can’t technically be classified in the romance genre as it’s not the central part of the story. Still, they are definitely love stories, and I’m hoping there will be cross-over potential for historical fiction and romance AND mainstream.

    The U.K. has always had many, many more stories set during the war as opposed to the U.S. – undoubtedly because they were actually being bombed, were hosting millions of Allied soldiers for the invasion of France and also were the base for bombing operations over Occupied Europe. We, on the other hand, were in no danger of being invaded and though we had blackout regulation, there was no danger of being bombed, either. All this to say – the U.K. definitely holds the war on a higher level of remembrance than the U.S. does (which I think is unfortunate).

  18. Joane says:

    I think I read ‘Crossings’ years ago, but I’m not completely sure. Is there any other Danielle Steele that takes place in WWII? This shows how forgettable Steele romances are.
    To the list of WWII romances I would add ‘Eye of the Storm’ by Maura Seger (1985).
    This is a very interesting topic. Yes, I think there are relatively few romances set in those years. It’s not the first time I asked myself why, because I am really interested in 20th century history.
    It could be that the average romantic writer comes from the United States and –correct me if I’m wrong- but only two Aleutian islands and Hawaii were USA territory directly attacked, so you have to put your hero or heroine in a foreign country, and there you have to do an added job of trying to imagine how people dressed, the way they spoke, what did they eat… Well, everything that happens when a writer tries to talk about people from a different place tan his/her own. If you have to put one or two novels a year in the market, you try something easier. And this is the reason why there are more British novelists talking about that time or that the novels written by Anglosaxon writers prefer landscapes they think they and their public is more familiar with, like Italy or France. ‘The Bronze Horseman’ is an exception, of course.
    But the main reason is, I think, a problem of ‘romanticising’ something as terrible as war. The further you go into the past, the easier it is to suspend disbelief and create a sugarcoated version of war. You can put Roman legions, or medieval knights or even the Napoleonic wars under a rosy light, without all the hardships of war.
    The closer you come to our times – WWI & WWII, not to mention Vietnam -, the more difficult is to create a purely romantic story. You could use a hero/heroine that has been there and then comes home to fall in love, but you hardly see a romance story developing at the same time as the war is being fought. In the romantic genre, I mean, not in other genres.

  19. SandyH says:

    I recommend the Masie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspeare. It takes place after WWI. It is mostly a mystery series but there is a romantic component. It is more a discovery of self. Rebecca Cantrell has a series Hannah Vogel which takes place in Germany as the Nazis are coming to power. Again it is more of a mystery series.
    Didn’t Maura Seger write a WWII trilogy in the 1980s?

  20. Julie L. says:

    I’ll chime in with loving “His Very Own Girl” as well, it was one of my top reads of 2012 too. I’m realizing I love this era and wish there were more romances in this setting! I loved “Morning Glory,” “Guernsey” and Paullina Simons’ Bronze Horseman trilogy. Another great book no one has mentioned is “A Town Like Alice” by Nevil Shute – a real gem! I’m definitely checking out the other recommendations in this post!

  21. KIm T. says:

    I agree (mostly) with Melissa’s assertion above that there are good reasons why WWII (and better reasons why WWI) settings are more common in British fiction vs. American fiction. However, I think that is changing, especially as the war becomes more distant in time and sadly as veterans of WWII like my grandfathers are passing away. It is, in fact, easier to romanticize a war that only lives in our collective memory and not in our individual memories. I’m still not completely sure of how I feel about reading a lot of WWII romances (it just feels weird reading about people that were living through the same circumstances as my grandparents). I’m still getting used to turn of the century and WWI romances!

    I do, of course, welcome the new variety in settings and I’ve been looking forward to reading Code Name Verity, Hannah Vogel’s mystery series, and some other titles.

    I have read Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift and it is definitely a DIK.

  22. KIm T. says:

    Forgot to mention, that any budding interest I’ve had in early or mid-twentieth century set romances, has been fueled by the wonderfully soapy Canadian TV show Bomb Girls, set in a munitions factory with female workers in Canada. Think Rosie the Riveter!

    Also really enjoyed both the books and films of The English Patient (mentioned above) and Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray, though literary fiction and not true romance.

  23. Blythe says:

    I’ve really enjoyed hearing all these suggestions. I plan to take July off from reviewing, which means I just might have time to try some of them.

    I’m glad my so-so WWII read prompted me to ask about better ones.

  24. Collette says:

    I just love the music and all that it gives us. Kisses!

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  28. Aida says:

    There seem to be a dearth in WWII romances. I haven’t read one, myself.

    I plan on writing one, though.

    Setting will be a country in the Pacific. US GI soldier falls in love with native maiden. He’s a WASP with bigot parents. She’s a Filipina princess with over-protective family. The story will feature the Bataan Death March, the Balanggiga massacre will be mentioned (US’s 1st Vietnam according to my favorite writer, F Sionil Jose), exotic beaches, sex by the beach and a kissing scene along the Manila bay. He will be Christian Grey in fatigues and she’s a more tanned Anastasia Steel.

    What do you think guys?

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