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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

Narrator: Cynthia Erivo

Simon & Schuster Audio

ISBN: 978-1668011836

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: 05/02/2023

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)

"Not very long ago and not very far away, there once was and still is an invisible place right here with us. And if you are born knowing, you will find your way through the woodlands to the shimmering doors that lead to the land made just and exactly for you." —HAZEL MERSEY LINDEN, 1939.

​A missing sister, a mysterious fairy tale, The River Thames, and a lost love.

1939: Fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora evacuate their London home for a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the Aberdeen family in a charming stone cottage, Hazel distracts her young sister with a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their own: Whisperwood.

But the unthinkable happens when Flora suddenly vanishes after playing near the banks of the River Thames. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, carrying the guilt into adulthood.

Twenty years later, Hazel is back in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore for a career at Sotheby’s. With a cherished boyfriend and an upcoming Paris getaway, Hazel’s future seems set. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing a picture book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars. Hazel never told a soul about the storybook 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? Or is something sinister at play?

For fans of Kate Morton, Janet Skeslien Charles, and Kristin Hannah, this is a “fantastical” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author) celebration of sisterhood and the magic of storytelling wrapped up in a “heartrending, captivating tale of family, first love, and fate” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

After two young sisters evacuate London to live with strangers in the English countryside as part of Operation Pied Piper during World War II, the younger goes missing and is presumed drowned until 20 years later when the older sister, who works in a London rare book shop, receives a children’s book based on the secret fairy tale only the sisters shared.

My Review

Master storyteller Patti Callahan Henry returns following Once Upon a Wardrobe with her latest, highly anticipated THE SECRET BOOK OF FLORA LEA —an exquisite, gripping magical historical fiction—a courageous sister, a missing sister, a mysterious fairy tale, The River Thames, and a lost love.

Set in quaint London Binsey, Oxfordshire, with dual timelines of 1939 and 20 years later, a woman stumbles across a mysterious children's book and the secrets of her missing sister.

1939: Two young sisters, Hazel Mersey Linden, fourteen years old, and younger sister, five-year-old Flora Lea Linden, evacuate London to live with strangers in the English countryside rural village as part of Operation Pied Piper during World War II.

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 mystical place, a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place, Whisperwood— they can escape to that is all their own.

Flora Lea loves Berry, her stuffed teddy, and her sister does not want her to be afraid of being away from their mom and the only home she has known. Then one day Flora Lea goes missing, and everyone suspects she drowned in the River Thames.

Distraught and guilt-ridden, Hazel does not give up the search for her precious sister. Twenty years later, she is still searching.

1960: Hazel Linden works at Hogan's Rare Collection Book Shoppe in Bloomsbury. This is supposed to be her final day. She has mixed feelings about leaving to go to work for Sotheby's.

However, things change when she discovers an illustrated book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars.

No one knows about the imaginary world she created for Flora with Whisperwood. 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?

The author Peggy Andrews shares too many similarities with the imaginary world Hazel invented for Flora while they were in Binsey during the war. Who could have told Peggy this story?

Hazel jeopardizes her job by taking the book, putting her relationship on the back burner. She is obsessed with tracking down this mystery author, determined to find her little sister, who will be a grown woman now.

Meanwhile, reporter Dorothy Bellamy is writing a series titled "The Lost Children of Pied Piper," and Hazel does not want her involvement.

As the two storylines connect, readers will frantically turn the pages to learn more about the missing Flora Lea.

In the wrap-up, two years later March 1962 (after the brown parchment package with the red ribbon arrived at Hogan's Bookshop), now in beautiful Cornwall, all comes full circle in this magical tale.

Oh, what a fantastic book—I loved it!

A blend of mystery, magical fairy tales, superior storytelling, and literary/historical fiction in one dazzling novel, THE SECRET BOOK OF FLORA LEA, coming May 2, 2023. Her best yet, Henry fans will adore this captivating story of two sisters and new fans. Made for book lovers.

TRANSPORTING and HEARTRENDERING! What a gem. For fans of authors Kate Morton, Kristin Hannah, and Sarah Addison Allen with Patti Callahan Henry's unique signature storytelling style, we all love.

Meticulously researched and beautifully written, with lush descriptions, the Note From the Author includes the history of Operation Pied Piper, with over three and a half million children evacuated in four days, plus other further reading.

Inspiring and uplifting. A truly magical book and a love letter to fairytales. The hardcover is stunning, with the beautiful embossing cover jacket and breathtaking interior front and back pages.

A perfect gift for Mother's Day and an ideal pick for Book Clubs and further discussions. A Top historical fiction of 2023!

And the award-winning Cynthia Erivo is narrating the audiobook! I have pre-ordered and cannot wait!

I am so fortunate to be working with Patti as her webmaster for many years, and I have enjoyed the creative process and the birthing of Flora Lea over the past year. Humbled and honored to be included in the acknowledgments with all these stars.

Thank you to Patti and Atria Books for the gifted elegant hardcover copy and #NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

My Rating: 5 Stars +++


“[A]ffecting…Henry’s offering shines most in its exploration of the ways relationships grow and adapt to time and trauma, making for a poignant meditation on the bonds of sisterhood. This captivates.” —Publishers Weekly

“[M]agical… An enchanting tribute to the power of storytelling."

—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

"A world war and a fairy tale collide in the British countryside in 1940--and Patti Callahan Henry is the perfect novelist to explore how the living are forever changed. The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a treasure: moving, surprising, and deeply evocative of an England that everyday walked the tightrope between heartbreak and hope.

--Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lioness and The Flight Attendant

"Deft, lyrical and supremely satisfying, The Secret Book of Flora Lea isn’t so much a departure for Patti Callahan Henry as it is a culmination of her gifts as a novelist. This is a book about difficult history and unsinkable hope, ordinary magic in the form of love, and about how our stories can save and sustain us in the most trying moments of our lives. Callahan’s plot will keep you guessing even as her characters steal your heart. I loved it."

--Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and When the Stars Go Dark

“Patti Callahan Henry has pulled off the near-impossible, she’s created a fantastical tale of myth, wartime history, and true heartache. I absolutely loved this book!”

—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

"Two sisters, dual time periods, a magical secret place, an abiding mystery--The Secret Book of Flora Lea is an enchanting story of survival against all odds. With her trademark warmth and a feather-light touch, Patti Callahan Henry weaves together events both real and imagined. Transporting, heartfelt, and atmospheric."

--Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles

The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a beguiling blend of hope, mystery, and true familial love. It exposes the deep wounds of a family tragically separated because of war. Told in an utterly fresh way with dual timelines and a host of unforgettable characters, this is a story that is both necessary and satisfying through the last page. Powerful and spellbinding!"

--Sadequa Johnson, Internationally bestselling author of The House of Eve and The Yellow Wife

"In this gorgeous ode to books and storytellers, Patti Callahan Henry shows that literature lives inside us, and can unite us despite the odds. Through war, young love, a sister’s remorse, and a mysterious land called Whisperwood, I was torn between savoring each word and tearing through the pages to learn what happened next. Pure magic!"

—Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library

"At the heart of this novel is a shattering loss that irrevocably changes the lives of a cast of complex, delightful characters. Henry is a born storyteller, keeping the reader on tenterhooks as she expertly unveils the truths and lies that drive this gripping, magical tale."

—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace

"Patti Callahan Henry is a master of the elusive fairy tale, and nowhere is her talent on better display than in the pages of The Secret Book of Flora Lea, a bittersweet tale of loss, destiny, and the strings of deep love that bind us together across the years. The terror and heartbreak of the World War II children's evacuation of London collide with the dangling threads of an unsolved mystery that picks up nearly two decades later, at the dawn of the swinging Sixties. This heartrending, captivating tale of family, first love, and fate will sweep you away."

—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars and The Book of Lost Names

"A spellbinding tale of hope and perseverance, The Secret Book of Flora Lea is as enchanting and whimsical as the Whisperwood fairytale hidden within its pages. It reminds us that a happily-ever-after isn't out of reach—so long as we heed the tiny voice within, whispering that the real magic of the story may be closer than we think."

—Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary and The London Seance Society

About the Author

Photo Credit: Bud Johnson Photography

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times, EPCA, Globe and Mail, and USA Today bestselling author of sixteen novels.

She’s also a podcast host, and one of those podcasts explores the background of her novel, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. Her latest novel, Once Upon a Wardrobe, released last October, explores the stories in C. S. Lewis's life that we might see hidden in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Surviving Savannah, a historical novel exploring the true and lost to time shipwreck of the S. S. Pulaski was released last year.

She is the recipient of The Christy Award “Book of the Year”; The Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year for Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

She is the co-host and co-creator of the popular weekly online Friends and Fiction live web show and podcast. Patti was also a contributor to the monthly life lesson essay column for Parade Magazine. She’s published in numerous anthologies, articles, and short story collections, including an Audible Original about Florence Nightingale, titled Wild Swan narrated by the Tony Award winner, Cynthia Erivo.

A full-time author, mother of three, and grandmother of two, she lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband, Pat Henry.

Her newest novel, The Secret Book of Flora Lea, is set outside Oxford in the hamlet of Binsey, and will be released on May 2nd, 2023 with Simon & Schuster Atria. WEBSITE







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