The Secret Book of Flora Lea
March 23, 2023
Patti Callahan Henry is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling and award-winning author of several novels. A full-time author and mother of three, she lives in Alabama and South Carolina. Find out more at PattiCallahanHenry.com.
We often read novels to become lost in the landscape of another world, and one of my favorite destinations is the English countryside. When I find a novel that takes me to the rolling hills and jagged sea cliffs, to the hedgerows and hidden gardens of England, I am as good as gone. There is a certain mystique surrounding the geography of the English countryside, and the best novels capture that tender charm while immersing us in a riveting story.
When I sat down to write The Secret Book of Flora Lea, set in Oxfordshire in the hamlet of Binsey, I was inspired by the books with a similar captivating setting. Here are some of my favorites! These books, each in a different time and place, explore that enchanting world.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
A riveting story of three women from vastly different worlds unfolds as a decade’s old secret comes to the surface. But it all begins with a shocking scene of childhood in an idyllic British countryside that feels as real as the earth beneath your feet. In signature Kate Morton style, the passages describing the landscape read like poetry. This is one of her many novels set in Suffolk, and it grips the imagination. BUY THE BOOK
Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory
The third in the Fairmile series, DAWNLANDS is set in 1680s England during the reign of the Stuart kings. This novel has it all: palace intrigue, lovers scorned and lovers reunited, heroism and cowardice. Following one family and their many branches, DAWNLANDS takes us to the Somerset Levels, a coastal plain that is both desolate and haunting. To say I am anxiously waiting for the next book in the series is an understatement. BUY THE BOOK
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This 1948 classic has a near-cult following and was made into a film in 2003. Set near Godsend, a small English country village, this story introduces us to the Mortmain family when they move into a ruined castle. The father is a famous author with writer’s block, and the narrator of the novel, seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, is an aspiring author herself. The plan was for the castle to be a Bohemian home for the eccentric family, paid for with their father’s royalties, but now the castle is crumbling and so is the Mortmain family. Cassandra’s narrative brims with dry wit, humor, and heartbreak, all the while reveling in the beauty of the British countryside. BUY THE BOOK
The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn
This is one of the most immersive novels I’ve read in years. It’s set in a crumbling Dorset estate on a cliff over the sea, and I felt the splash of every wave, envisioned each jagged edge cliff, and ran through a field of bluebells. Cristabel Seagrave narrates the bulk of this coming-of-age (and yet so much more) novel with her crisp and imaginative voice. This is a true feat of captivating storytelling, and the English countryside is a character in its own right, just as it should be. BUY THE BOOK
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Taking place along the River Thames, Setterfield’s third book is about a mysterious girl who returns to life after drowning in the river. Haunting and mysterious, this novel tells the story of three separate families who claim this young mute girl as their own. The English countryside brings an atmospheric quality to this tale that combines myth, folklore, and science. When I was finished, I felt as if I had stayed in an old stone cottage in the small village of Radcot, where the story opens. BUY THE BOOK
The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
I picked up this book when I was visiting the enchanting seaside on the Cornish coast and wanted to read a book about the area. I didn’t expect this gem of a novel. A haunting tale that is part-time travel, part true history, part love story, and completely page-turning. When a University of London chemical researcher drinks a potion and finds himself in the same spot he was moments ago, but now in the fourteenth century, he becomes addicted to the thrill of the past while slowly letting go of the present. As you might guess, there are consequences. The seascapes and ancient history of Cornwall are ever-present, and the novel is practically splashed with sea salt. BUY THE BOOK
The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry
THE SECRET BOOK OF FLORA LEA comes out on May 2! Check out Patti Callahan Henry's website for more details about a preorder prize pack!
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. BUY THE BOOK