As I come off of winter break and into the craziness of a new semester, I’ve been drawn to books that are a bit lighter in tone, to balance out the more serious stuff I’m reading for work. I’m looking for things that go down easy and don’t tax my brain or require intense concentration. Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber provided just the mix of magical realism and baked goods that I needed.
This novel tells the story of two daughters who have returned to the small Alabama town of Wicklow, emotional baggage in tow. Natalie Walker, has moved back home with her young daughter, Ollie, after her husband, Matt’s death. In addition to grieving the loss of her husband, Natalie is still reeling both emotionally and financially from the discovery that Matt had a gambling problem, leaving her in debt and homeless. Forced to return home to her loving father, Doc Linden, but her judgmental and emotionally distant mother, Seelie, Natalie is desperately trying to figure out how her next moves can take her out of Wicklow or at least into her own apartment.
Anna Kate Callow heard about Wicklow from her grandmother, Zee, who told her stories about how generations of Callows had a deep connection to the town—both as healers and as guardians of a special connection between the land of the living and the land of the dead. A connection that Zee created by the blackberry pies she sold at her popular café. However, until she was in her mid-twenties, Anna Kate never set foot in Wicklow. Her mother, Eden, not only refused to return to her hometown (or let her daughter visit) but didn’t even want her mother to tell Anna Kate about her mystical heritage. When Anna Kate arrives in Wicklow after both her mother and Zee have died, her existence is a surprise to almost everyone (because no one knew Eden was pregnant when she left.) She makes the trip because Zee has left her the Blackbird Café on the condition that Anna Kate live in Wicklow and run it for at least two months.
As you might expect, there is a connection between these two young women that involves secrets, family tragedies, a mysterious flock of blackbirds that sings every night at midnight, and slices of pie that bring messages from the dead to the dreams of their loved ones. What is not to like?