The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

Read Time:5 Minute, 0 Second

In The Secret Book of Flora Lea, Hazel and Flora are evacuated to a rural village in London to escape the war. While living with Bridie and her son Harry, Hazel creates a fairy tale for Flora about a magical land. But Flora suddenly disappears, leaving Hazel with a sense of guilt. Twenty years later, Hazel discovers an illustrated book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars which holds the secrets to Flora’s disappearance and could be a sign that her sister is still alive. As Hazel embarks on a quest to uncover the truth, her career and future are put on hold. This novel explores the bond between sisters, conflicted love, and the magic of storytelling.

Book review of The Secret Book of Flora Lea

The Secret Book of Flora Lea, authored by Patti Callahan Henry, is an absolute gem that stands out amidst a saturated market of World War II stories.

The characters in this novel possess a remarkable depth and relatability, often evoking a sense of discomfort that stems from their flawed choices. It serves as a poignant reminder of our own vulnerability to such decisions. Yet, the rawness and vulnerability of these characters manifest in more subtle moments. Hazel’s internal struggle with her growing love for Harry resonates deeply, as does Bridie’s battle with loss, spirituality, and a sense of belonging. Bridie, in particular, is a character who never seemed to receive the love and appreciation she truly deserved.

However, these characters are not portrayed as victims, not even little Flora during her disappearance. Instead, they exude strength in their autonomy, compassion, and interdependence. Their strengths and flaws, wisdom and foolishness, goodness and sins all contribute to their well-rounded nature. Spending time with each of them is a genuine pleasure, and as their story concludes, there is a sense of fulfillment and completion.

The settings in The Secret Book are captivating, which is a rarity for me as a reader. Binsey, the enchanting location where Whisperwood comes alive, bursts off the pages with its unique charm. It holds a distinct identity, separate from Narnia or the Kilns, and I found myself fully immersed in its existence. The incorporation of ancient Catholic and Celtic elements within Binsey, such as the treacle well, the chapel, and the festival of St. Margaret, adds an extra layer of richness to the narrative. I would have loved to explore these aspects further, particularly their interweaving with Christian culture and devotion to Jesus.

Patti skillfully weaves a mystery surrounding Whisperwood, its origins, and its journey. Throughout the novel, I found great pleasure in speculating about how Whisperwood became a bestselling series and who may have discovered or appropriated the tale from the Linden sisters. Although my guesses did not lead to the correct answers, the mystery itself was engrossing. As someone who does not typically read mysteries, I relished the experience, especially because it involved a book within a book – an irresistible allure for me.

Now, regrettably, I must address the weaker elements of The Secret Book… The most glaring issue is the resolution to the Whisperwood predicament. The solution, for me, appeared abruptly out of left field. While I understand the concept behind Dorothy Bellamy’s role and Frances’ involvement to some extent, the surrounding details became convoluted, making it difficult to suspend my disbelief. Without giving away any spoilers, it is hard for me to believe that Frances could have escaped the consequences of her actions, unless she suffered from total, decades-long, retrograde amnesia, which would be highly unlikely and overly melodramatic for this story.

Moreover, I remain uncertain about the relevance of Peggy, Maria, and Linda Andrews to the overall narrative. While I comprehend their intellectual purpose, their inclusion feels unnecessary and extraneous, particularly in relation to the roles of Hazel, Flora, Dot, and Frances. Unfortunately, this compromises the credibility of Whisperwood.

Final verdict

Overall, The Secret Book of Flora Lea is an enjoyable read with relatable characters, enchanting settings, and a fun mystery. However, the solution to the Whisperwood issue and the relevance of Peggy, Maria, and Linda Andrews are the weakest elements of the book. Despite these flaws, the book is unique and stands out among World War II stories.

Our Score


  • Unique World War II Story: The Secret Book of Flora Lea stands out in a saturated market of World War II stories. It offers a fresh perspective on the experiences of child evacuees in London and introduces characters, like Hazel and Flora, who are distinctive and memorable.
  • Engaging Characters: Patti Callahan Henry’s characters are three-dimensional and relatable. They exhibit strengths, flaws, and vulnerabilities that make them captivating and authentic. Their emotional journeys and interdependence create a strong connection with the readers.
  • Evocative Settings: The book excels in creating vivid and enchanting settings. From the picturesque village near Oxford to the alluring Binsey, the locations come to life with rich descriptions. The incorporation of cultural elements adds depth and enhances the immersive experience.


  • Convoluted Resolution: The solution to the Whisperwood predicament feels abrupt and convoluted. The details surrounding it strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief, making it challenging to fully accept the outcome. The lack of clarity and coherence detract from the overall satisfaction of the conclusion.
  • Superfluous Characters: The inclusion of certain characters, such as Peggy, Maria, and Linda Andrews, feels unnecessary and fails to contribute significantly to the narrative. Their roles seem extraneous, causing confusion and diluting the impact of the main storyline.
  • Unclear Genre Alignment: The book’s blend of Christian and secular elements lacks consistency and clarity. The presence of explicit language and scenes of premarital sex in a story billed as Christian fiction may be off-putting to some readers. A more defined alignment with a specific target market could enhance the overall coherence and appeal of the book.
The Secret Book of Flora LeaPublisher ‏ : ‎ Atria Books (May 2, 2023)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 368 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1668011832
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1668011836
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.15 pounds
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches

About Article Author

Ethan Davis

Ethan Davis combines his passion for literature with another of his great hobbies: climbing. There is never a mountain high enough for him... nor a book he doesn't want to read, especially if it's a good crime thriller.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Subscribe now and join our community of avid readers

Get exclusive access to the latest fiction book news, reviews and features by subscribing to Kritica Magazine today. Stay up-to-date with the hottest releases and receive a monthly dose of awesome content straight to your inbox.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x