Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Secret Book of Flora Lea - Historical Fiction Review

Goodreads:  The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

Rating: Really Liked It! (4 Stars)
Source:   Publisher

Description:  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.

Genre:  Fiction - Historical 

Why I Picked This Book:  Henry's book Once Upon a Wardrobe was one of my favorite reads last year so I had to pick this one up.

My Impression:  This book is a dual timeline.  The first timeline starts in 1939 with Operation Pied Piper taking two sisters, Hazel and Flora, out of London and into the English countryside to stay safe from the bombs.  The next timeline is London 1960 and shows the reader how the events of the war are still shaping Hazel's life.  

In the 1960 timeline I really liked Hazel and sympathized with her mission.  She loves books, in very intelligent and can't help but being honest even at enormous risk to herself.  I loved her friendship with Kelty and liked that Kelty was able to add her own memories of the past and Flora.

The 1939 timeline was tragically magical.  I loved the sisters' relationship and the world of Whisperwood that they've created but my heart broke knowing just what was in front of the sisters.  The pace of this is a bit slow and I didn't quite connect with it as much as I wanted to but that was coming in with incredibly high expectations.

This would be a wonderful book to savor though you may need to keep a box of tissues handy as you read.  

Would I Read More of this Series/Author? Absolutely!  This is the third book I've read from this author and I have thoroughly enjoyed all three.

Would I Recommend this Book?  If you enjoy historical fiction with fairytale undercurrents this is a wonderful choice.

* I received this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always my opinions and impressions are completely my own. *


  1. I liked this book quite a bit. Nice twist at the end.

  2. I love stories like this. Dual timelines, WWII. Going back to Letters from Skye when I started blogging... and I didn't know this author also did that Wardrobe book. I was curious about too since CS Lewis...

  3. I'm pretty sure I have this book on my list to read. FYI, my mom's name was Hazel.

  4. This sounds really good. I'll have to check it out.

  5. Lovely review, I'll buy and read it - I am not fond of dual timelines but sometimes I fold because of who the author is! Good to know its a little slow, because that clues me of what to expect.

  6. This is in my May Book of the Month order. Glad to see you liked it!
    Mary @Bookfan

  7. Oh... the book! Now I want to know where the book came from. 😯