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May 28, 2023

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

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.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of historical fiction novel The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry
May 2023; Atria Books; 978-1668011836
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction

Patti Callahan Henry is one of my 'must buy' authors and has brought her readers another well-researched and beautifully written novel.  It's about family and the love between sisters, about a calm life in a beautiful village contrasted with the fear in London during the Blitz. But most of all it's about finding and recognizing that secret place in all of us and learning how to live there.

The Secret Book of Flora Lea is told in two periods - 1939 and 1960 and is about the lives of two sisters - Hazel and Flora Lea

When the novel begins in 1939, Hazel is 14 and Flora Lea is 5.  The British government has just started Operation Pied Piper and is requiring parents in London to send their children to families in the country for their safety because they believed that the big cities would be bombed.  Hazel and Flora ended up in a small cottage with a wonderful mother and her son who was Hazel's age.  They missed their mother in London but were thrilled with their freedom and the time that they could spend out in nature enjoying the forests and watching the Thames River flow by.  Since Flora was young, her older sister made up stories to entertain her -  a fairy tale about a magical land called Whisperwood.  This story was for only the two of them and neither one shared it with anyone else.  Unfortunately, one day Flora disappeared and everyone assumed that she had drowned.  Hazel was haunted by her sister's disappearance and vowed to find her. Twenty years later, Hazel is working in a rare bookshop and someone has sent a book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars.  Did this mean that her sister was still alive?  She immediately starts trying to find out more about the author and where the idea for the book came from and at the same time started visiting people from her past - even the two people that she vowed to never see again.  As the clues gather, Hazel keeps hitting brick walls but she continues her search despite people around her advising her to give up.  But nothing will deter her from searching for her long-lost sister.  

Often times in a dual timeline novel, it's easy to like one timeline more than the other but both the 1939 timeline and the 1960 timeline were wonderfully written and not confusing.  I loved the characters - not just Hazel but her best friend Kelty and the woman who took them in during their move from London.  All of the characters were totally believable and characters that I won't soon forget.  This is a book about sisters and secrets, war and reconciliation, guilt and grief, and most of all the power of storytelling and imagination!  

This is a book that you don't want to miss.

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.  

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