Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

The Secret Book of Flora Lea
by Patti Callahan Henry
Read by Cynthia Erivo 
12 hours, 24 minutes
Published May 2023 by Atria Books

Publisher's Summary: 
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 young 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, Hazel’s 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 Flora’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that her beloved sister is still alive after all these years? Or is something sinister at play?

My Thoughts: 
This book was suggested by a friend to whom it was recommended. You know, lately if someone recommends a book, I immediately request it from the library, knowing that if I don't, it will live on the TBR list for, perhaps, decades. Because I seem to be able to "read" a book much faster if it's audio these days, that's what I requested and I'm glad that I did because it's the perfect kind of book for listening. Cynthia Erivo is an excellent reader and her being British made that much more of a connection to the book. 

What Didn't Work for Me:
  • That "cherished" boyfriend? It takes readers almost no time at all to figure out that he's going to be left behind, although he seems to have no flaws right up until the time that it's essential that he have them. And I didn't buy into the relationship that caused Hazel to leave him. 
  • Aberdeen seems to have made such a deep impression on Hazel that she cannot let it go. But while Flora seemed equally attached to the people there, Hazel had to continually tell her that she could not go to Whisperwood (aka the river nearby) because Flora was so eager to get away. 
  • Some things felt predictable, others a bit forced.
  • Although the ending is unexpected, it is also a little disappointing, in that it doesn't tie together with the book that suddenly appeared other than having the book inspire Hazel to begin her search again. 
What I Liked: 
  • The setting and the time frame. While I often feel I'm over reading WWII books, how the British survived still fascinates me, particularly the idea of Londoners sending their children off to the countryside to live with strangers. 
  • The world of Whisperwood that Hazel created to help help both Hazel and herself survive the upheaval in their lives. It felt so natural that she would do that to protect her sister's peace and fit in so well with the world they were living in at that time. 
  • Life in Aberdeen. There were plenty of interesting characters that felt just right for a small, countryside town and the descriptions of the land made me want to visit. 
  • The story of the author of the book that Hazel discovers who has her own battles to fight. 
  • Yes, I know I said the ending was a little disappointing, it was satisfying in other ways. The truth behind Flora's disappearance was a surprise to me and I appreciated the way that the characters involved in that piece reacted to the reveal. Things didn't end too tidily. 
It's not great literature but, as Kirkus Reviews said, it was enchanting for the most part. Book clubs would find plenty to talk about and, as I said, the reading is very good. 

No comments:

Post a Comment