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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

Midwest Book Review

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

Patti Callahan Henry

Atria Books

c/o Simon & Schuster

Blackstone Audiobooks

9781668011836, $28.99, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: 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.

Critique: Original, eloquent, riveting, memorable, "The Secret Book of Flora Lea" deftly showcases author Patti Callahan Henry's literary talents as a novelist with a genuine and impressive flair for the kind of narrative-driven and imaginative storytelling talents that keep the reader's rapt and compulsive page-turning attention from cover to cover. A novel that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf, "The Secret Book of Flora Lee" is a highly and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library History Fiction and Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted that "The Secret Book of Flora Lee" is also available in a paperback edition (Simon & Schuster, 9781668023136, $24.99), in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99), and as a complete and unabridged audiobook (Blackstone Audio, 9781797156002, $44.99, CD).

Editorial Note: Patti Callahan Henry is the author of seventeen novels, including the historical fiction (writing as Patti Callahan) Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis". In addition, she is the recipient of The Christy Award -- A 2019 Winner "Book of the Year"; The Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2020 and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year for 2019, and the RNA UK finalist for Romantic Historical Fiction. She is also the co-founder of the Facebook weekly show Friends and Fiction.


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