Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Book Review: The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: May 2, 2023
Publisher: Atria
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Surviving Savannah
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "When a woman discovers a rare book that has connections to her past, long-held secrets about her missing sister and their childhood spent in the English countryside during World War II are revealed. In the war-torn London of 1939, fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora are evacuated to a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the kind Bridie Aberdeen and her teenage son, Harry, in a charming stone cottage along the River Thames, Hazel fills their days with walks and games to distract her young sister, including one that she creates for her sister and her sister alone—a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their own. But the unthinkable happens when young Flora suddenly vanishes while playing near the banks of the river. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, and she carries that guilt into adulthood as a private burden she feels she deserves. Twenty years later, Hazel is in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore to a career at Sotheby’s. With a charming boyfriend and her elegantly timeworn Bloomsbury flat, Hazel’s future seems determined. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing an illustrated book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars . Hazel never told a soul about the imaginary world she created just for Flora. Could this book hold the secrets to Flora’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that her beloved sister is still alive after all these years? As Hazel embarks on a feverish quest, revisiting long-dormant relationships and bravely opening wounds from her past, her career and future hang in the balance. An astonishing twist ultimately reveals the truth in this transporting and refreshingly original novel about the bond between sisters, the complications of conflicted love, and the enduring magic of storytelling."


It's 1960 and Hazel Linden is working at a bookstore when she comes across a novel entitled Whisperwood. It's the exact story she created and told her younger sister twenty years ago. This is more than a case of who stole Hazel's story, as this is a red flag and a major clue. Hazel's sister, Flora, disappeared twenty years ago; could she be the author of this story? Is she still alive? Hazel and Flora left war torn London for the British countryside during the Blitz and while there, Flora disappeared. All that remained was her teddy bear. Hazel should have been watching her as Flora was only five years old, but she snuck off for a few minutes with Harry, the boy whose house she is staying at in Oxford, and lost track of Flora. The police assumed she fell into the River Thames. Twenty years later, Hazel can't help but wonder if this book is a sign that she lived as no one else knew this story. Whisperwood was created as a way to comfort her sister, much like a well loved blanket. Hazel takes it upon herself to come up with a plan to figure out if Flora is still alive after all these years. Patti Callahan Henry's The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a magical historical novel filled with beautiful prose, a tale of sisterhood, and the power of stories.

Hazel is such an interesting character in
The Secret Book of Flora Lea. My heart broke for her and Flora when they had to leave their mother behind for an unknown house in the countryside. I was aware of Operation Pied Piper during WWII, but Henry brought it to life in this story in a way that I hadn't really thought about it before. It seemed so heart wrenching and to send your child away to an unknown location seems unfathomable. Once Hazel and Flora reach Birdie's house in Oxford, it seems idyllic, but so much goes wrong. Hazel, being a teenager, has feelings for Birdie's son, Harry, and this distracts her from watching Flora on that fateful day she disappears. While living in an unknown house, they share the made-up tales of Whisperwood and that is why it's such a red flag when she comes across the book twenty years later. Hazel has never really forgiven herself for losing sight of Flora and her subsequent disappearance. I can only imagine how this haunts their mother as she sent them away with the best intentions.

The narrative jumps back to the 1960s with Hazel on the hunt for Flora years later due to the discovery of the Whisperwood novel. She goes on a bit of an adventure looking for Flora and in turn, is reunited with Birdie and Harry, whom she hasn't seen since Flora's disappearance. She unearths some other unsettling truths as well. 

Henry's prose is beautiful throughout
The Secret Book of Flora Lea. I loved all the magical/fairy tale undertones in the story and the power of storytelling in general. It felt like there was a magical undercurrent running throughout the tale and I really liked that aspect. Fans of historical fiction, as well as stories of sisterhood will enjoy this moving novel. 

The Secret Book of Flora Lea on your summer TBR list? Are you a fan of Patti Callahan Henry? Let me know in the comments below.



  1. I've really enjoyed Henry's books in the past, and your review really has me intrigued about this one!

    1. I hope you get to read it soon, Angela! I thought it was a solid historical read- Henry's writing is so good!


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