If reading books is meant to be an escape, then let your next one be Heather Webber’s newest release, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. An accomplished author of the Lucy Valentine and Nina Quinn mystery series, Webber takes a slight detour into the realm of magical realism with this new novel and, dare I say, I loved it!
The story begins in the fictitious town of Wicklow, Alabama – imagine Stars Hollow from the TV show Gilmore Girls, only southern and smaller – where Zee Callow’s Blackbird Cafe has graced the town center for as long as anyone can remember. Named after the blackbirds that call the only two mulberry trees in town their home, the cafe resembles the kind of atmosphere that reminds me of yet another TV show, Cheers, where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
When Zee unexpectedly passes away, it throws the entire rhythm of this small town topsy-turvy. Certainly, there is the despondency of losing Zee’s friendship and kindness, but oddly, there seems to be even greater unease about the loss of Zee’s famous pies. The strangeness of this is not lost on Anna Kate, Zee’s 20-something granddaughter, who arrives in Wicklow from Massachutes to conclude Zee’s estate and business.
There are many traits Anna Kate shares with her grandma Zee, but contentment brought from small-town life is definitely not one of them. For starters, she cringes every time she is called ma’am, and cannot contain her annoyance that there is no such thing as private business in a southern town like this one. She is ready to wrap-up and leave for medical school in the fall, but Zee’s will is keeping her around – requiring Anna Kate to spend two months in Wicklow to run the cafe before leaving forever. For all you fans of love and romance, I’ll need to pause here to point out that Zee’s lawyer is a very handsome, and very charming, man who just so happens to live right next door to the cafe. It makes you wonder if Zee was on to something with that two-month rule…
As an outsider whose existence was unknown to most of the town until Zee’s funeral, Anna Kate becomes an instant curiosity. Even though she had never stepped in Wicklow before now, it quickly becomes clear that her absence didn’t stop her from being thrown into the center of a seemingly unshakable conflict stemming from a long-ago love affair between her mother Eden Callow and a boy named AJ Linden. As it happens, Anna Kate is equally curious about her roots, staying put in Wicklow might be the only way to unravel some of the mysteries about her mother and father, and also about those pies no one can get enough of. The tug of the past and the pull of the future is what Ann Kate seems to be caught in the middle of, a sentiment many of us can relate to.
Anna Kate soon learns that eating a piece of Zee’s pie brings on dreams with messages from people who had long ago passed away. She’s heard the legend of the blackbirds, messengers, and healers who pass between worlds, all her life from Zee – but she never quite came to believe it. Now, as a Callow decedent, she finds herself with the same power to bake those magical pies. Would that realization be enough to keep her from leaving? Can she use it to wipe away the age-old bitterness with the Lindens and embrace them as her new family? Or, is it time to just leave and start over?
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe drips with southern charm and hospitality, even when there are plenty of grudges to be held. Supporting characters like Faylene Wiggins, Jena and Bow, and Aubin and Summer add so much warmth and feel-good-ness (I may have just made that word up, but it perfectly describes the sentiment) that it instantly makes you wish they were your neighbors. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the budding romances – you can see them sparking to life from a mile away, but it’s completely satisfying to watch as they are slowly unraveled over several chapters. Of course, we can’t forget the magical blackbirds with their midnight singing and uncharacteristic behavior – they add just the right amount of whimsy and enchantment to Wicklow to keep things interesting.
At the heart of it all, Webber’s Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is about the love of family, the power of forgiveness, and listening to your heart’s calling. It’s a feel-good book with loveable characters and slowly unspooling stories that reveal connections hidden just below the surface. And, for at least this reader, it might or might not have involved craving a lot of real pie! (Just saying. You might want to go ahead and have one ready.)
Heather Webber has also written under the pen name Heather Blake. She lives in Cincinnati, OH. You can find out more about her other books on her website and follow her on Instagram @booksbyheather, on Facebook, and on Twitter.