With three days to go before vacation I had nothing lined up for my annual beach read. Thankfully, right before I left I received an ARC copy of Heather Webber’s new book Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. Many of us are familiar with the source material of that is at the kernel of this novel. All you need to do is search the section of your brain that stores childhood nursery rhymes and up will pop the following: “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye; four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie! When the pie was opened the birds began to sing, Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?” From this wisp of a nursery rhyme Webber weaves a sweet fun tale of magical realism where blackbirds have more power than one would think.
Set in Wicklow Alabama, the story follows the interwoven fates of Anna Kate and Natalie Walker. Anna Kate is a woman who’s never put down roots, obligated by her recently deceased grandmother Zee’s will to live in town for three months and run Zee’s cafe and bakery. Natalie, back in town living with her parents and with her toddler daughter in an effort to put a personal tragedy behind her. These women are connected but they don’t know how or why yet but as Anna Kate sets out to fulfill the terms of her grandmother’s will and searches for why her mother banned her from ever stepping foot in Wicklow while her mother was alive Anna Kate begins to see that her family’s connection to Wicklow runs deeper than she could have ever imagined.
But what of the magical realism? Well, this my friends, is where Webber shines. Anna Kate knows the family legend that the blackbirds songs are actually messages from the dead that can be given to their living loved ones. But to get these messages to their rightful owners is a process Anna never understood or believed in which was fine until she had a whole town of believers depending on her to deliver. How she comes to understand her relationship with the blackbirds, their messages and what this means for Natalie and Anna Kate’s connection is a slow but enjoyable ride.
Grief, hope and redemption are at the heart of this little slice of southern life book and for as much as I usually am not a fan of books set in the south this one got me. While I did receive this book as an ARC I truly enjoyed it and stand by my thoughts that this is a quick, addictive read meant for a relaxing weekend or vacation.