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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

The premise and setting of The Secret Book of Flora Lea are captivating. I was distracted by what felt like overly dramatic dialogue and exclamations as well as easily predicted events.

Young Flora and her teen sister Hazel were evacuated in 1939 from the bombing and danger in wartime London to the English countryside, where they lived with a rural family.

They spent their days walking by the river, and to keep Flora entertained and distracted, Hazel made up elaborate stories about a magical, secret world alongside the water.

Then tragedy struck: Flora went missing and was presumed to be dead.

Twenty years later, Hazel is working in a bookshop when she unwraps a package and can't believe her eyes. The book inside is about the made-up world she shared with Flora--but Hazel had never told another soul about the tales or the name of the secret, pretend place, Whisperwood.

Someone out there knows about the stories and the imaginary world she shared with her sister. Could this mean that Flora is somehow still alive?

Hazel begins to dig into the past, including her own young love (fractured by the tragedy of Flora's disappearance), anyone who might have been connected to Flora's disappearance, and the mysterious book about Whisperwood.

She questions her current romantic relationship, her planned job change, and what her future might look like, while renewing her hope that against all odds she might find Flora alive and unharmed somewhere out in the world.

I looooved the premise of The Secret Book of Flora Lea, and a World War II-set historical fiction tale is usually a slam dunk for me.

The book involved some style choices that distracted me from the story--for example, dramatic shrieks of "No!" in conversations, which felt unlikely and jarring; a twist that's hinted at repeatedly and that I therefore anticipated early on; and repeated theatrical-seeming dialogue and expositions that didn't ring true for me.

Henry based the evacuation element of her story upon the real-life Operation Pied Piper, which swiftly relocated a staggering one and a half million children from London to the countryside and around the world during World War II.

I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Atria Books.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you're interested in World War II-set historical fiction, you might like the books on my Greedy Reading List Six Great Stories about Brave Women During World War II and these books set during World War II.


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