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The Secret Book of Flora Lea

A Novel


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About The Book

From the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis comes a “heartrending, captivating tale of family, first love, and fate” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author) about a woman who stumbles across a mysterious children’s book that holds secrets about her missing sister and their childhood spent in the English countryside during World War II.

1939: Fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora evacuate their London home for a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the Aberdeen family in a charming stone cottage, Hazel distracts her younger sister with a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their own: Whisperwood.

But the unthinkable happens when Flora suddenly vanishes after playing near the banks of the River Thames. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, carrying the guilt into adulthood.

Twenty years later, Hazel is back in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore for a career at Sotheby’s. With a cherished boyfriend and an upcoming Paris getaway, her future seems set. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing a picture book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars. Hazel never told a soul about the storybook world she created just for Flora. Could this book hold the secrets to her beloved sister’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that Flora is still alive after all these years? Or is something sinister at play?

Inspired by the history of the Pied Piper Children, this novel is a poignant reminder of the magical power of stories to draw us together—and ultimately bring us home.


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.


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.”

About The Author

Bud Johnson

Patti Callahan Henry is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of several novels, including Surviving Savannah and Becoming Mrs. Lewis. She is the recipient of the Christy Award, the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year Award, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year. She is the cohost and cocreator of the popular weekly online live web show and podcast Friends and Fiction. A full-time author and mother of three, she lives in Alabama and South Carolina with her family. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 2, 2023)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668023136

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Raves and Reviews

“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] 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 Paris Daughter and The Forest of Vanishing Stars

“Affecting . . . 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.”
Publishers Weekly

“A spellbinding tale of hope and perseverance . . . as enchanting and whimsical as the Whisperwood fairy tale 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 London Séance Society and The Lost Apothecary

“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 every day walked the tightrope between heartbreak and hope.”
CHRIS BOHJALIAN, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lioness and The Flight Attendant

“Two sisters, dual time periods, a magical secret place, an abiding mystery . . . 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

“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. . . . Callahan’s plot will keep you guessing even as her characters steal your heart. I loved it.”
PAULA McLAIN, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife and When the Stars Go Dark

“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!”
SADEQUA JOHNSON, bestselling author of The House of Eve and The Yellow Wife

“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

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