A few disclaimers before I launch into my review of The Enigma Game. I was provided a free copy of the book for reviewing purposes, however this doesn’t influence my review at all.
The second disclaimer is that that I have most of Elizabeth’s books (including non fiction) and as you can guess from the picture, have a soft spot for World War II bombers and cryptography (yes, I was at those Turing events). So be aware that this makes this book a quick runner for a good review due to contents.
The Enigma Game is another winner by Elizabeth Wein. It depicts so many things about how life during World War II was back then and does so with her unique way that makes you want to know more of the world and how it came to be.
We get a few points of view from different characters as they each give us a little of their world to see. We start with James (Jamie, Scotty) who is the one in charge of a B-flight squadron of Blenheims in Scotland and he is feeling hit in all places by the disadvantages they have (starting with old bombers, and just not great decisions on tactics). He is technically a character that appears in some ways in other of the books so he was familiar (and it kept nagging at me why I felt like I knew who he was but couldn’t place him at the same time, obviously now I want to reread The Pearl Thief and Code Name Verity).
Then we have Louisa, who is mixed race and struggling to find a place in London as she is too young, alone and not the right skin colour. But she finds a job helping Aunt Jane in Scotland and makes the most of it. With her point of view we get Aunt Jane who is a character as is and I absolutely adored the old woman. She’s old but she’s so cunning and so full of ideas and fight, it was wonderful to read her and she reminded me of other old ladies I’ve known (none as mysterious and interesting as her but still).
And we have Ellen who is part of the WAAF as a driver for the RAF airfield but who is hiding the fact she is a traveller. Her point of view was a refreshing sight and a connection between two pieces of the story at first.
Our story centers around them coming unto an Enigma machine (the only one) and due to circumstances, they are able to decode messages and give Jamie’s squadron a secret advantage, but with doing so, they put themselves at risk and potentially everyone.
I adored the story, the characters were so unique and the ambience and setting of the world is done beautifully with tiny details that help put you right there and then with them. It is not just a story about courage but about perceptions, about wanting to be brave and how rules soemtimes are meant to be broken, or in most of the case in the book, just bent rather than broken. I am actually having a hard time writing a very coherent review due to this book hooking me in and making me feel so much and be so invested into the characters and what happened.
As for historical accuracy, at the end you get a note regarding what it is based on and what is “real” and not which it still feels wonderfully well painted and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the author’s gift for writing fiction and making it feel like it is non-fiction.
If you enjoy historical fantasy, are an aircraft nerd or just curious about cryptography or the Enigma, this is a wonderful read. Or if you just want a good story about World War II and friendship, then this is also for you.
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.
Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.
As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.
True to form, I read this book at an RAF base while my boyfriend did pylon racing (I mean, Russia really wasn’t an option just to go read a book).
Among the Red Stars was one of those books I knew I needed to read, so I preordered it and then put it on my WWII shelf and didn’t read it for a long time. Reviews to do, books to read for x or y event, and then I wasn’t in the mood for it. I didn’t want to read it in the wrong mood because I knew it’d be a book I would love, and I wasn’t wrong.
The book takes you through two points of view. Valka as a young woman joining the one all female aviation group (who would later become known as the Night Witches, the women that gave Hitler nightmares). She takes you through the nuances of joining this force and of how training goes. And her narrative takes you through her journey as a Night Witch and what it entailed.
On the other hand, we have Pasha who is a gentle soul with a knack for radios, and who is now a soldier at the front. Both exchange letters, and through Pasha we learn a lot about the nuances of religion and what socialism meant to those born in it.
Valka talks more about what happened when you are suspected of being against the system. And she explores how the women of the aviation group were initially considered inferior by all the other regiments until they proved their worth and changed things around.
One of my favourite things is that there are all this gorgeous details about the aircraft (Po-2, which was later renamed U-2, this brought a long discussion between my boyfriend and me about why they renamed it and which one I was referring to) and the world of flying for the Soviet Union. But there are also everyday details like the women adjusting their own uniforms to fit, or Pasha learning to sign hyms through one of his fellow soldiers.
And it is also relatively “true” to the actual things that happened. I didn’t at any point feel like saying “woah, too many artistic liberties here”. Never had anything to complain, except that at first the whole “letter” and then narrative part was odd, but I got used to it quickly.
At the end there is a nice note explaining who inspired each character and which ones are based on real people that lived and fought and did the things they’re known for in the book.
If you’re a WWII enthusiast or an aircraft one, do read this, it is more than worth it!
In this edition I will be listing books on WWII. All of the books listed here have been read by me unless otherwise stated. This list will include title, author, a link to purchase on Amazon (if I own the book, a picture taken by myself), and maybe an extra fact about it if I have one available.
Please note they are in no specific order. An asterisk will be added to those I consider unmissable. Feel free to ask about any of them (or about WWII in general).
The Most Common Ones
Here are the usual recommendations I get when asking for WWII books (I’m going to gloss over these since they are quite popular and there is a LOT of information on them and some have films/docummentaries too).
There is a surprisingly good amount of fiction about WWII (and the Great War, but I will cover that on the next list) for readers that aren’t adults and most of these books are amazing at telling stories during such a difficult time.
A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian
This is by the same author of Goodnight Mister Tom. She has a few more books regarding WWII but this little gem stayed in my heart. The story is mostly told not on the battlefield but about those that stayed behind, specially young girls and how they had to be sent away to be kept safe. There is a bookstore involved if my memory doesn’t fail me. Very sweet, quite endearing, easy read. You can buy from Amazon here.
Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein*
This is a story of friendship, of women, of being a prisoner of war, and of course, pilots. It is not exactly the happiest story but the writing is powerful and gripping. A must read that you can buy from Amazon here.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein*
This book alongside Shades of Grey (it is included further down the list) were the ones that opened a world of WWII YA fiction to me that I didn’t know existed. It also helped me find out a lot more about concentration camps and start learning more about Ravensbruck and the Rabbits. You can buy this from Amazon here.
Cross my Heart by Carmen Reid
I admit I have not read this one yet but it is in my TBR list and I have heard great things about it. You can find on Amazon here.
The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner
A strange one in the mix and probably my least favourite one of the ones included, it is set in Britain and touches on cinematics and film alongside happenings during WWII. Very difficult to describe withoutgiving a lot away, so you can buy it here.
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys*
This was my first WWII YA fiction book, and I remember going to the bookstore and asking for it and the lovely assistant asked me if I really wanted this one or maybe I was looking for ’50 Shades of Grey’. You can’t compare the two at all. This is about surviving being deported and thrown into a train alongside your mother and brother during WWII. Ruta Sepetys has a magical way of writing even if it is quite raw and can be sometimes brutal but there is such beauty in it, it goes into the must read list. Buy it on Amazon here.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys*
The story is told through the eyes of four different people and it tells their journey to get to the Wilhelm Gustloff. The shipwas sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board, so this is based on truth and it makes the sinking of the Titanic a banal thing. A must read again you can buy here.
A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson
This one surprised me. The writing is like a fairytale and it tells you the story of a young woman who wants to teach and how she moves from England to Austria to an experimental school. There she helps with the children and meets a young man who intrigues her. Yes, this sounds more like a non war story but trust me it gets quite interesting as the story progresses and Hitler’s troops advance through Austria. You can find it here.
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson
When Hitler’s forces invade, Ruth’s family flees to London, but she is unable to get a passport. Quin, a young professor and friend of the family, visits Ruth and, in an effort to bring her back to London, he offers a marriage of convenience.This becomes quite interesting and get convoluted as time goes by, once again it is not just a romance story but history. You can find it here.
The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson
Sent to boarding school in London to avoid the war, Tally isn’t very happy. But this is a story about friendship and endurance. You can buy it here on Amazon.
A Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman*
Gretchen has a secret she doesn’t know is secret. She is Hitler’s ‘niece’ and dotted on by him, until an anonymous letter makes her start to question everything. You can find it here.
A Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman*
Continuation of A Prisoner of Night and Fog, Greatchen has to decide fi she will go back to Germany and break her rules to save Daniel and clear his name. Don’t miss out on it and buy it here.
My choices for adult fiction are less cheerful and deal more on how adults took and reacted to the war. They may be in a way less heroic stories but are equally gripping and interesting.
Meet Me Under the Clock by Anne Murray*
This is my favourite one of her books but she has so many set around WWII, that half of the list would be only about them. Instead, I will tell you about the sisters that are making an effort to move through the hard times of WWII at the home front and how each copes with the changes and makes her own effort to contribute. You can find it here.
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
This is a story where little things have huge after effects in a subtle way. See what a little kindness can do during WWII. You can buy a copy here.
Pattern of Shadows by Judith Barrow
An interesting story telling us about Mary, a nursing sister at Lancashire prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs. It follows her, and her family alongside one of the German POWs and how life was at the home front. This is a series but can be read as a standalone and you can buy it here.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
A tragic story of good intentions and set in two different times, the past and the present. (There is a film for this one, or you can buy the book here).
Spitfire Girl by Lily Baxter
This one has been on my TBR for a little bit and it is about Susan who dreams of flying and helping her country. Of course I like planes, so it was a must. You can find a copy here.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
This kinda shouldn’t be here but at the same time it should. It spans the years between WWI and WWII and follows the story of a young poet and a soldier as they exchange letters while the war wages. You can find a copy here.
Most of my non fiction is based on Aircraft, specifically the Lancaster Bomber. I promise there is a good reason for that and it will be revelead soon enough on one of the “Meet the Character” posts. Meanwhile, enjoy some interesting non fiction.
My Dear Bessie: A Love Story in Letters by Chris Baker
This doesn’t need much of an explanation, the title says it all. It is a moving read. You can buy it here on Amazon.
Odette by Jerrard Tickell
During some of the darkest days of the Second World War, a young Frenchwoman living as a mother and housewife in England left her ordinary life to become a British agent, working covertly in France to aid the Resistance. This is her story, and you can buy a copy here.
If This is a Woman by Sara Helm*
Of all the non aircraft related non fiction books featured on this list, this is my favourite one. Sara does an amazing job at showing how Ravensbruck and concentration camps came to be and how life was there. This is a tough read because of the topic, but the writing is good. I took this one slowly but it is a must read. You can buy it here from Amazon.
The Female Few: Spitfire Heroines of the Air Transport Auxiliary by Jacky Hyams*
Through the darkest days of the Second World War, an elite group of courageous civilian women risked their lives as aerial courier pilots, flying Lancaster bombers, Spitfires and many other powerful war machines in thousands of perilous missions. Very interesting information here.
The Lancaster at War: Books 1 to 5 by Mike Garbett and Brian Goulding
A compilation of books on the Lancaster Bomber. Absolutely worth it. You can it here.
The next few are ones I’d recommend but since they are non fiction and cater to specific interests, will only add title and link to the book.
Famous Bombers of the Second World War by William Green
There are also other alongside the series likie Fighters instead of Bombers. You can find it here.
The Secret Life Of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
I am always interested in code breaking and cyphers so Bletchley Park should definitely feature here. I have loads of books about it on my wishlist but this is the one I actually own. You can find it here.
Handbook of Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick
One of the most illustrated and easy to digest handbooks for aircraft of WWII I could find (as you may notice this is not the only one I have but it is the easier to approach and learn from if you’re not as crazy about the topic as I am). You can find it here.
This little guide is an original I found on an antique bookshop so I don’t expect you to want this one, but I found it interesting and have added it to my collection. There also some Penguin original editions still making the rounds through odd bookshops (manuals for pilots, ration books, etc). It is interesting and amusing to see how they tried to get the soldiers ready for the continent and being in France.
Set during WWII and mention it but aren’t specifically about it
The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
Narnia books by C.S. Lewis
This last part of the list may get expanded on as my mind remembers books that fit this category.
And I admit that as I wrote this list, more and more books came to mind. Some I only remember a tiny bit of the story or the feeling that reading the book gave me, so I did use synopsis from Amazon/GoodReads to help me out. Others I remembered but didn’t want to give much away. Still, I hope you find a lot to read here and a lot that you hadn’t heard about before.
Disclaimer: There are Amazon Associates links, but if you choose to use them and buy from them, know that you’re just helping me buy more books and feed my reading needs. All these books are recommended solely because of my own research and looking into the topic.