AJC: Bookshelf: Patti Callahan Henry spins a mystery, honors cohort’s late daughter
THINGS TO DO By Suzanne Van Atten ATLANTA JOURNAL
Book launch event at Huff Harrington to raise funds for Helping Mamas.
Patti Callahan Henry has a special talent for spinning captivating tales with language so luscious that reading her books can feel like a warm snuggly blanket on a cold winter’s day. For her latest, she has gathered up some of her favorite topics — Oxford, England; the power of storytelling; the innocence of childhood; historic events; the love of books — and spun them together with her gift for words to create the delightfully engrossing mystery, “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” (Atria Books, $27.99), publishing May 2. Set in England and told in chapters that alternate from war-torn 1940 to swinging 1960, “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” tells the story of rare book dealer Hazel, who receives delivery of an illustrated children’s book. She’s shocked to discover that the story is based on a fairytale Hazel fabricated as a child to entertain her little sister Flora.
As children living in London, Flora and Hazel were swept up in the Pied Piper initiative during World War II, which temporarily relocated children living in war-torn cities to safe havens in the country. The sisters wound up in a shelter in the countryside of Oxford on the River Thames. There they whiled away the hours playing make-believe in the fantasy world of Whisperwood that Hazel invented. But one day, before they could return to the home of their widowed mother in Bloomsbury, Flora tragically disappeared, presumed washed away in the river and was never seen again. Now, 20 years later, Hazel holds in her hands a book based on a fairytale known only to herself and Flora. Hoping it holds the key to Flora’s disappearance and possibly her survival, Hazel sets out to uncover the book’s mysterious origins.
FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock is pulling out all the stops for Henry’s book launch on the evening of May 3 at Huff Harrington, a fine art and home furnishings store in Peachtree Hills. The ticketed event includes a signed book, a meet-and-greet with the author, a swag bag and nibbles from KR SteakBar. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Helping Mamas in memory of Katie Trocheck Abel, daughter of author Mary Kay Andrews, Henry’s cohort in Friends and Fiction, a weekly live web series on Facebook and a podcast that also features Kristin Harmel and Kristy Woodson Harvey, along with rotating guest authors.
Prior to her death in February 2022 from liver failure following a bout of COVID-19, Abel was an active supporter of Helping Mamas, a nonprofit organization that provides essential baby supplies and period products to those in need. The organization has renamed one of its most critical initiatives in her honor. The Katie Trocheck Abel Safe Sleep and Ride program provides car seats and portable sleeper/playpens to those who can’t afford them.
“This was one of Katie Trocheck Abel’s most beloved philanthropies and as Mary Kay Andrews’ daughter, we honor her by raising awareness and funds,” says Henry. The organization serves 60,000 children a year and distributes 2 million items to the community, she says. “Whatever we can do to help will make a difference in moms’ lives.”
Tickets to the book launch are $35, and attendees are encouraged to contribute to a diaper drive for Helping Mamas. (Large sizes are especially needed.) The event is 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at Huff Harrington, 425 Peachtree Hills Ave., Atlanta.
Henry will also have a daytime book event at 1 p.m. on May 3 at FoxTale Book Shoppe, 105 E. Main St., Woodstock. Book purchase required. For both events, register at www.foxtalebookshoppe.com
Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Contact her at email@example.com.