‘One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny’ by Christine Wells is about a real WWII event and the women who participated

If you enjoy learning about real historical events through gripping fiction, read “One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny” by Christine Wells. It’s about the famous WWII espionage operation called Operation Mincemeat. I first read about it in a children’s nonfiction book about spy stuff, and Netflix has a new movie, Operation Mincemeat, about that same scheme. The premise seems so outlandish that it’s brilliant. Take a dead body, dress it in a military uniform with identity papers, and handcuff a briefcase filled with real-looking secret documents about the Allied plans to the corpse’s wrist. Make sure Spanish officials will find the body with the fake documents, and the Germans will be sure to be informed. (For more on German involvement in the Spanish Civil War see also “The Girl from Guernica.”)

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‘The Girl from Guernica’ by Karen Robards is a stunning and powerful historical fiction

The Girl from Guernica by Karen Robards

Guernica is the small Basque town in Spain that was made famous by Pablo Picasso in his huge painting of the devastation that town endured during the Spanish Civil War. The Germans destroyed the town and slaughtered men, women, children, and animals at the behest of the rebel forces led by the military. At the start of “The Girl from Guernica,” author Karen Robards takes us to this small town the night before the horror that is a central part of the novel, to see the violence and wanton cruelty through the eyes of the main character, Sibi.

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‘The Thread Collectors’ by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman is Civil War historical fiction through the eyes of two women

The Thread Collectors
by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman

In “The Thread Collectors,” authors Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman combine their familial histories to create a fictional Civil War narrative that is about two women. Stella is a light-skinned woman who was bought to be the mistress of a plantation owner. She falls in love with one of the man’s slaves, William. William, an extremely talented musician, performs for his owner, Frye, and is desperate to escape his bondage to build a better life for himself and Stella. Lily, a Jewish woman in New York City, is married to musician Jacob. They both love music, and her father is a very successful music publisher. Lily is an ardent abolitionist, as well, and completely supports her husband when he enlists to fight for the Union.

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‘Our Last Days in Barcelona’ by Chanel Cleeton is a great summer read/book club choice

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

Fans of Chanel Cleeton’s historical fiction have gotten to know the families in her novels, and with “Our Last Days in Barcelona,” we revisit some of her characters while we meet new ones in a dual narrative that is set in mid-1930s and the early 1960s. In the earlier timeline, Alicia, the mother of the Perez sisters, has fled to Barcelona from Cuba with her young daughter to stay with her parents after finding out about her husband’s infidelity. Yet when that daughter, Isabel, travels to Barcelona in search of her sister Beatriz in 1964, she sees a photo of her mother, herself, and an unknown man at a cafe in Barcelona. Strangely, her mother, when questioned, adamantly insists that they have never been to Barcelona. We also meet Rosa, a Perez cousin, whose own situation mirrors the personal quandaries that both Alicia and Isabel face.

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‘The Diamond Eye’ by Kate Quinn is a thrilling historical fiction based on a truly heroic Russian female sniper during WWII

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn’s latest historical fiction novel, “The Diamond Eye,” is a fictionalized story of a Russian woman who became one of the most acclaimed snipers in WWII. In fact, in the author notes at the end of the book, Quinn states that while she usually explains how the fictional characters in the story relate to the real historical people, in this book “nearly every person named comes straight from the historical record.” Of course, it’s fiction. Quinn doesn’t know, and we don’t learn, exactly what transpired during those turbulent times when Germany invaded Russia. But Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a real woman, and she wrote a memoir that Quinn used to relate many of the events documented in the novel.

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‘The Echoes’ by Jess Montgomery is the 4th novel in the wonderful historical fiction ‘Kinship’ series

The Echoes by Jess Montgomery

Somehow, “The Echoes” seems a softer story than the first three novels in this fabulous historical fiction series about a woman sheriff and the problems she encounters in the rural Ohio county she protects at the start of the last century. While there are crimes in this story, the focus is on the people who live in this part of Bronwyn County, Ohio. It’s July, 1928, and both the weather and emotions are running hot. The narration is in third person, and author Jess Montgomery shares both Sheriff Lily Ross and her mother, Beulah’s points of view. Each is clearly labeled. Both women are widows, and Lily’s mother had a late-in-life child who is the same age as one of Lily’s children. What Lily does not know at the start of this story is that her mother has arranged for Lily’s brother’s child, Esmé, who was born in France during WWI, to come to live with them.

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‘Woman on Fire’ by Lisa Barr is a thriller about the worlds of art and censorship

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

In “Woman on Fire,” author Lisa Barr immerses readers into the world of art—now and during the Holocaust—and how the art world, the buying and selling of paintings by famous artists, even today is impacted by what the Nazis did. Barr begins the story with one of the main characters, Jules Roth, in danger during an art exhibit. The story then takes us back 18 months in time and cleverly provides the background for that event. It also shares the fascinating story of lost artwork, Nazi theft and destruction of artwork, hidden identities, psychopathy, drugs, artists, and journalism.

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‘Memphis’ by Tara M. Stringfellow is an ode to generations of Black women and a view into the conflicting issues of motherhood

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

In her historical fiction novel “Memphis,” Tara M. Stringfellow introduces us to three generations of women. We meet Hazel, who was born in 1921; Miriam, born in 1957; her sister August, born in 1963; and Miriam’s two daughters, Joan and Mya, born in the mid 1980s. It’s through the eyes and words of four of these women that we learn the story of one Memphis family, and this family—these strong women who suffer through so much adversity yet remain pillars of strength—is based on Stringfellow’s family and her ancestors.

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‘When Winter Robeson Came’ by Brenda Woods is a beautifully told middle grade historical fiction

When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods

I don’t think I’d ever read a book about the 1965 riots in Watts, California, until I read Brenda Woods’ beautifully written book, “When Winter Robeson Came.” There is much that is lovely about the verse in this story: the lyrical language, the way Woods compares feelings to tempos in music, the clever way she compares the discrimination in Mississippi to that in California, and how she manages to make us feel the gamut of emotions that the characters display from fear to joy.

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‘The Last House on the Street’ by Diane Chamberlain grips readers with a story of terror and a look back at the horror of bigotry and violence during a time of civil rights activism

Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain grabs us from the first few pages in “The Last House on the Street,” when main character Kayla is confronted by a hostile woman, masquerading as a prospective client, who unsettlingly knows more than is comfortable about Kayla and the recent death of her husband, as well as about her young daughter and the secluded new house they are preparing to move into. Her tone is threatening and causes Kayla to feel even more fearful about moving into the house that she and her husband, both architects, had built as the house of their dreams.

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‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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