Monday, July 31, 2023

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 355 pages
Published: May 2023

The Secret Book of Flora Lea was my first read by Patti Callahan Henry, and I must say her writing is as beautiful as that shimmery book cover. I snagged a hardback copy of this book from my local Barnes & Noble on recommendation of the Modern Mrs. Darcy's Book Club. Each year Anne Bogel puts out a Summer Reading List of recommendations, and this wonderful WWII-era novel was on it for 2023. To boot, the book club got to e-meet the author during an hourlong discussion! 

So, the story. This is a historical fiction novel about two sisters - Hazel, the older and Flora Lea, the younger and titular character, both whom get shipped off from war-torn London. In reality and in the novel, more than 800,000 children were evacuated during the most dangerous areas of the war under Operation Pied Piper. Together are with all the children from their community, the children and relocated, out of harms way, during World War II to live in a small idyllic town that was deemed safer. To help calm her younger sister's fears, Hazel creates stories in the magical world of Whisperwood. Because Hazel is several years older than Flora Lea and they are forced orphans during this time of evacuation, she takes on a mothering role despite the girls being temporarily "fostered" by a single mom living with her son. Everything is going as best it can, considering the circumstances, until it isn't and Flora Lea vanishes seemingly forever. This inciting action affects all parties involved for years to come. 

Fast forward a couple of decades later, and Hazel is working at an antique book shop where she comes across a rare book that features Whisperwood - the fictional world that she created for her younger sister. Certain this is proof Flora Lea is alive, Hazel goes on an investigative hunt, much to the dismay of her long-time boyfriend and his family, to find out more about the rare book, its author, and (she hopes) her sister. 

This was such an emotional read for me because I get so invested in these WWII-era stories. Henry did an excellent job of pulling the reader into the world of Hazel Mersey and Flora Lea. Her desciptions were vivid and the plot was engaging albeit hearwrenching at times. 
Recommendation: Prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge of the Operation Pied Piper program, which is a HORRIBLE name by the way, or how it has integrated itself into pop culture even today (see Paddington Bear). Learning this tidbit is one of the reasons I so enjoy reading and further proof that, yes, we do need another WWII story because there are just so many stories to tell, educate, and inform. I highly recommend this book and will be reading more by Patti Callahan Henry! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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