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The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

Historical fiction

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

by Patti Callahan Henry

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Quick take

When a book bearing marks of her family’s WWII past falls into her hands, a rare bookseller goes searching for answers.

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    Nonlinear timeline

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    International

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    Book about books

  • Illustrated icon, Siblings

    Siblings

Synopsis

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.

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.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Secret Book of Flora Lea.

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

CHAPTER 1

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

October 1940

Binsey, Oxfordshire

On a red blanket by the river, six-year-old Flora Lea Linden awakens alone, a dome of blue sky above her and birdsong wild about her. Someone called my name? She glances around the green expanse, at the churning water of the River Thames furrowed with winks and puckers as it nearly overflows its banks, taking to the sea anything or anyone who dares to enter its rush.

The river surges toward Oxford where students hurry to and from tutors under pinnacled towers standing guard over cobblestone streets. Then the waters bend and curve, gathering force, bouncing against the stone walls and locks of England until they reach London, where bombs are plummeting to city streets, delivering ruination, where smoldering cathedrals and crushed homes litter the river with their ember and ash.

Did someone call my name? Flora sits and rubs her eyes. She’s not exactly alone. She has Berry, her stuffed teddy. And she isn’t frightened. Why should she be? Her older sister, Hazel, told her many times that these woodlands belong to them, that the shadowed glade and the sacred sunlit puddles where the canopy of trees opens wide is a safe place meant for the two sisters, created just for them.

She stands and carefully steps closer to the river. Hazel refuses to go with Flora to Whisperwood anymore, so what’s she to do but go alone? It’s hers!—not to be abandoned: the glowing castle and the grove of alder, the chattering squirrels and animated trees.

Hazel had told Flora that the glinting lights on the river were stars and galaxies, rushing to meet the sea. Hazel had ordered her not to ever become the river, as they became other woodland creatures, nor should Flora ever drink from the river. If she did, she was told, she would never find her way back to Mum or Bridie or their warm cottage in the heather-strewn fields.

This enchanting river was—like the apple in the Bible—forbidden.

But Flora doesn’t believe this beautiful, starry river can be dangerous. She clings to Berry by his worn, furry paw and ventures nearer to the water’s rush, thrilled at her boldness. No one knows what might happen to her on this adventure or who she might become.

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Why I love it

Here’s a little secret: I’ve known Patti for my entire writing career. We first met at a raucous book club weekend in East Texas (that’s a story all by itself). We’ve been friends ever since and I’ve been a fan, a cheerleader, and an admirer of her prodigious talents.

That said, Patti has outdone herself with this novel.

Seriously.

Picture yourself fleeing war-torn London, circa 1939. You’re in your teens, trying to protect your five-year-old sister, so you create a sanctuary of story. A magical place called Whisperwood, where the horrors of war are kept at bay by the power of your imaginations. But when tragedy befalls your dear sister, you blame yourself and carry that agonizing loss and secret guilt with you for the rest of your life.

Until decades later, when a book arrives at your door entitled Whisperwood and the River of Stars. The only other person who knew about this secret place was your long-lost sibling. Is she still alive? Has someone else stumbled upon your shared story? Or is this merely a breathtaking coincidence?

I’m dying to tell you. But I won’t. Because like that book arriving in the mail, I have a feeling The Secret Book of Flora Lea will soon be arriving on your doorstep ready to touch your heart.

Member ratings (3,716)

  • Erin H.

    Spokane, WA

    Absolutely beautifully done. Character development was amazing. Loved every character. Could really feel Hazels pain of losing Flora. Also gave me a good history lesson on the pied piper. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Kim B.

    Pulaski, TN

    My Book of the Year pick for 2023!! Beautifully written with characters you fall in love with and a story that you can't put down! I haven't read anything this captivating since The Four Winds ♥️♥️♥️

  • Helena M.

    New York, NY

    This book captivated me. The storytelling is so vibrant and I fell in love with (most) of the characters. The ending didn’t click exactly how I would’ve liked but a worth it read for everything else!

  • Michelle P.

    Easthampton, MA

    What a fantastic, beautiful, sad story told during the war and just how much families had to bend without breaking,trying to make it back together and back home when it’s safe again. Highly recommend!

  • Jackie R.

    East Stroudsburg, PA

    I absolutely loved this book I couldn’t put it down ! It was beautifully written and I like how it all came together in the end and how Whisperwood brought the sisters back together.

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Historical fiction
View all
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
The Women
The Lion Women of Tehran
Husbands & Lovers
Shelterwood
A Thousand Times Before
All We Were Promised
Spitting Gold
The Mayor of Maxwell Street
The Great Divide
The Storm We Made
The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
Lessons in Chemistry
The Frozen River
What We Kept to Ourselves
The River We Remember
Take My Hand
The Last Russian Doll
The First Ladies
The House Is On Fire
River Sing Me Home
The People We Keep
The Attic Child
Malibu Rising
The Book of Longings
Hester
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
The Nightingale
Daisy Jones & The Six
The Lincoln Highway
The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?
The Circus Train
Peach Blossom Spring
Hang the Moon
Booth
The Good Left Undone
The Perishing
The Postmistress of Paris
The Family
Things We Lost to the Water
The Spectacular
Still Life
Send for Me
The Magnolia Palace
The Bookbinder
China Room
This Tender Land
Atomic Love
All the Light We Cannot See
The Vanishing Half
Outlawed
The Four Winds
Independence
The Fountains of Silence
Libertie
Queen of Thieves
The Great Believers
The Clockmaker's Daughter
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Great Alone
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Paris Hours
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
Rules of Civility
Circling the Sun
The Moor's Account
Jacqueline in Paris
Don't Cry for Me
The Christie Affair
Bloomsbury Girls
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
Bronze Drum