Review By Veronica

The Secret Book of Flora Lea is another captivating novel by best-selling author Patti Callahan Henry.

Favourite Quote:

She carefully lifted the pile of thick papers and peeked at the book beneath. The title: Whisperwood and the River of Stars. By Peggy Andrews. The green-and-blue cover featured the illustration of the girls.

“It can’t be,” Hazel said quietly. “No.”

Whisperwood belonged to her and her lost sister, Flora. It was a private realm that has sprung to life between them, a make-believe world to endure through the worst of the war, a place to find comfort where little existed.

And it had disappeared with Flora into the river.

For the first time in twenty years, in pure astonishment, Hazel said the name out loud. “Whisperwood.”

Goodreads 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.

Patti is a masterful storyteller. Her ability to transport readers into her books never ceases to amaze me. I have nothing bad to say about this book; I loved everything about it. The story was riveting and had me feeling all those big wonderful emotions. In this book, Patti will hit you with lush and vivid descriptions which will make you feel like you are there with Hazel.

Hazel’s story grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go until the end. This book is told from two POVs, Hazel, and Peggy, the author of Whisperwood and the River of Stars. It also has dual timelines, one set in 1960 and the other during 1939-1940. I loved the way this book was set up. Patti leads her readers on two emotional stories that eventually connect at the end. The timeline set during 1939-1940 followed Hazel and Flora when they were little girls sent to live in the countryside because of the German bombing of London. The 1960 timeline follows Hazel and her quest to find out how the secret stories she told her missing sister have come to be printed in an actual picture book. Seeing what it was like for so many children who were sent to live with strangers was interesting and heartbreaking. Hazel and Flora lucked out and found a family who loved and treated them kindly, but not all kids were so lucky. The agony parents must have felt sending their kids away is unimaginable. Patti did an amazing job at capturing those emotions and showing her readers what happened in England during this time. 

I loved Hazel as a character. You could feel her guilt and sadness at losing her sister through the pages of this book. And when she stumbles upon a copy of Whisperwood and the River of Stars, her hope that her sister might still be alive leapt from the pages. I found myself believing that her sister must be alive. Her quest to find out what happened to her sister was interesting and had some unexpected twists, which I loved.  

The Secret Book of Flora Lea is an unforgettable story about two sisters and their bond. 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.