There is little I love more than a World War II novel, but when WWII meets magical realism I'm over-the-moon happy! And The Secret Book of Flora Lea, the latest novel from Patti Callahan Henry, is exactly the perfect combination of both these genres. This powerful story of loss is both heartbreaking and hopeful. It engages readers in an emotional journey that they won't soon forget. Find out why this book is one of my must-buy recommendations for 2023!
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- Published: April 25, 2023
- WWII fiction
- dual timeline, mostly single POV
- powerful sister story
- hints of magical realism
- grief and loss themes
- clean romance
- recommended for all formats
The Publisher's 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.
I knew from chapter one that this book would be a 4-5 ⭐️ read for me. Not only do I love Patti Callahan Henry's writing style, the hints of magical realism and focus on fairytales were enough to enrapture me from the start. I felt immediately captivated by the author's prose. And the dual timeline effectively created a pre/post-loss storyline that kept me curious and eager to continue reading.
I love a magical realism novel almost as much as I love WWII fiction, and this book had both. Aspects of this novel reminded me of The Once and Future Witches, my all-time favorite novel. The strong sister bond and the use of folklore and fairytales drew me in and wouldn't let go. At one point the story gave me head-to-toe gooseflesh, something that rarely happens to me. It literally stopped me in my tracks and made me pay careful attention to what was happening between two key characters.
I was so invested in Hazel's search for Flora that the second chance romance subplot was a balm for my worried and weary soul. The will they/won't they story of Hazel and Harry added to the mystery and charm of the novel. In no way did it distract from Flora's disappearance and Hazel's ongoing search. Hazel's emotions are all over the place in her love life, but she manages to push aside her dueling emotions to focus on the one thing that can help her move forward: finding Flora Lea.
The end of this book is oh-so-satisfying! As much as I didn't want it to end, I wanted a resolution, which Callahan Henry delivers. I walked away from this novel full of an overwhelming since of hope and joy, something I didn't expect given then heavy subject matter. Learning more about how Operation Pied Piper impacted the lives of everyday Londoners was the cherry on the top of this terrific read!
Anyone looking for an escape from the everyday WWII book will definitely want a copy of this book. Full of emotion, charm, and hope, The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a perfect addition to any historical fiction lover's library. This is likely to be on my list of top books for 2023, along with a few other magical realism novels I've read this year. Thank you @Atriabooks for the gifted copy!!