The Secret Book of Flora Lea

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

by Patti Callahan Henry

Narrated by Cynthia Erivo, Patti Callahan Henry

Unabridged — 12 hours, 24 minutes

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

The Secret Book of Flora Lea

by Patti Callahan Henry

Narrated by Cynthia Erivo, Patti Callahan Henry

Unabridged — 12 hours, 24 minutes

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Overview

When a woman discovers a rare book with connections to her past, long-held secrets about her missing sister and their childhood in the English countryside during World War II are revealed in this “beguiling blend of hope, mystery, and true familial love” (Sadeqa Johnson, New York Times bestselling author).

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. Spellbinding and atmospheric, “this heartrending, captivating tale of family, first love, and fate will sweep you away” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

01/23/2023

In this affecting entry from Henry (Once upon a Wardrobe), a woman stumbles onto a lead in the decades-old cold case of her sister’s disappearance. It’s 1960, and Hazel Linden is astonished when the bookstore she works at is shipped a volume entitled Whisperwood, which depicts a fantasy realm Hazel dreamed up as a teenager and shared only with her younger sister. Twenty years ago, 14-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora were evacuated from London during WWII and took refuge in the idyllic Oxford countryside with Bridie Aberdeen and her teenage son, Harry. There, Hazel told Flora stories about Whisperwood, a make-believe world where the two could seek comfort. Months into their evacuation, Flora disappeared and was presumed drowned in the River Thames. Back in the novel’s present, Hazel, still haunted by her sister’s disappearance, embarks on a faith-fueled, sometimes-reckless quest to discover if her sister might still be alive, one that involves tracking down the American author of the book and visiting Bridie and Harry for the first time since Flora’s disappearance. Though framed by a mystery, Henry’s offering shines most in its exploration of the ways relationships grow and adapt to time and trauma, making for a poignant meditation on the bonds of sisterhood. This captivates. (May)

From the Publisher

"A world war and a fairy tale collide in the British countryside in 1940—and Patti Callahan Henry is the perfect novelist to explore how the living are forever changed. The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a treasure: moving, surprising, and deeply evocative of an England that everyday walked the tightrope between heartbreak and hope. —Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lioness and The Flight Attendant

"Deft, lyrical and supremely satisfying, The Secret Book of Flora Lea isn’t so much a departure for Patti Callahan Henry as it is a culmination of her gifts as a novelist. This is a book about difficult history and unsinkable hope, ordinary magic in the form of love, and about how our stories can save and sustain us in the most trying moments of our lives. Callahan’s plot will keep you guessing even as her characters steal your heart. I loved it." —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and When the Stars Go Dark

"A spellbinding tale of hope and perseverance, The Secret Book of Flora Lea is as enchanting and whimsical as the Whisperwood fairytale hidden within its pages. It reminds us that a happily-ever-after isn't out of reach—so long as we heed the tiny voice within, whispering that the real magic of the story may be closer than we think." —Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary and The London Seance Society

"Two sisters, dual time periods, a magical secret place, an abiding mystery—The Secret Book of Flora Lea is an enchanting story of survival against all odds. With her trademark warmth and a feather-light touch, Patti Callahan Henry weaves together events both real and imagined. Transporting, heartfelt, and atmospheric." —Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles

The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a beguiling blend of hope, mystery, and true familial love. It exposes the deep wounds of a family tragically separated because of war. Told in an utterly fresh way with dual timelines and a host of unforgettable characters, this is a story that is both necessary and satisfying through the last page. Powerful and spellbinding!" —Sadeqa Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of The House of Eve

“A fantastical tale of the power of stories and the bond between sisters...I absolutely loved this book.”—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

"At the heart of this novel is a shattering loss that irrevocably changes the lives of a cast of complex, delightful characters. Henry is a born storyteller, keeping the reader on tenterhooks as she expertly unveils the truths and lies that drive this gripping, magical tale." —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace

"In this gorgeous ode to books and storytellers, Patti Callahan Henry shows that literature lives inside us, and can unite us despite the odds. Through war, young love, a sister’s remorse, and a mysterious land called Whisperwood, I was torn between savoring each word and tearing through the pages to learn what happened next. Pure magic!" —Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library

"A spellbinding and lyrical fairytale of a novel that celebrates the power of stories and captures the true essence of sisterhood. It’s a satisfying read that will leave you with hope for the world and the people you’re sharing it with." —Barnes & Noble

"Patti Callahan Henry is a master of the elusive fairy tale, and nowhere is her talent on better display than in the pages of The Secret Book of Flora Lea, a bittersweet tale of loss, destiny, and the strings of deep love that bind us together across the years. The terror and heartbreak of the World War II children's evacuation of London collide with the dangling threads of an unsolved mystery that picks up nearly two decades later, at the dawn of the swinging Sixties. This heartrending, captivating tale of family, first love, and fate will sweep you away." —Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars and The Book of Lost Names

#1 New York Times bestselling author Chris Bohjalian

A world war and a fairy tale collide in the British countryside in 1940—and Patti Callahan Henry is the perfect novelist to explore how the living are forever changed. The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a treasure: moving, surprising, and deeply evocative of an England that everyday walked the tightrope between heartbreak and hope.”

June 2023 - AudioFile

Narrator Cynthia Erivo's quiet assurance permeates this dual-timeline audio about the powerful alchemy of storytelling. In 1939, two girls, Hazel and Flora Lea, are evacuated from London to escape imminent war. Flora Lea mysteriously disappears. In 1960, Hazel, now a rare book shop clerk, opens a package and discovers a book of the same stories she once made up to calm Flora Lea. Erivo rarely raises her voice, yet through desperate tones she expertly conveys Hazel's search for answers to the mysteries of her missing sister and the appearance of the stories from long ago. Erivo seamlessly adopts the charming lilt of young Flora and the American accent of the woman who has unwittingly written the fanciful stories that connect Hazel's past with her present. N.M. © AudioFile 2023, Portland, Maine

Product Details

BN ID: 2940175058742
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/02/2023
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 392,274

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 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.

She hears a voice nearby in the woods, familiar, but Flora ignores it.

The way here was through a shimmering door, and Hazel was too busy to see it. The river is Flora’s companion, her friend, and this intimacy has her creeping ever closer to its edge.

Hazel never wants them to pretend to be bunnies, so that’s what she’s decided today. Flora will be a bunny.

She stares down at the river’s churned-up waters, looking for stars but seeing only mud and silt, humps of river-smoothed rocks underwater. She skids down on a soggy, earthy incline, her wellies slipping where the browned grasses of October change to mud. Falling on her bum, Flora laughs.

What an adventure!

Berry slips from her hand as her palms and fingers dig into the wet earth to keep herself from tumbling into the frigid waters. She scoots closer, wanting to grab Berry. He’s too close to the river.

“It’s okay,” she says as she reaches for his paw, repeating her sister’s words: “It’s our land. We’re always safe in Whisperwood.”

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