About mini reviews:
Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .
Anna Kate has just learned that her Grandma Zee has died and left her the Blackbird Cafe in a small town in Wicklow, Alabama. If she runs the Blackbird for two months, Anna Kate will inherit it and then can do as she wish, which at this point means selling. Back on the northeast coast, Anna Kate is enrolled in medical school for the fall and has a down payment on an apartment.
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber has some predictable plot points including reuniting a family divided by a dark history. Basically, Anna Kate’s parents were from Wicklow. They were driving when the car crashed, killing her father and causing memory loss of the event in her mother. Her father was just eighteen. Her father’s family accuse the mother of being angry and irrational, crashing the car on purpose, and thus making her a murderer. So, Anna Kate’s mother left town, never telling anyone she was pregnant.
When Anna Kate arrives as a stranger, the town puts together who she is, who her parents are, and speculate whether Anna Kate will reunite with her father’s side of the family that has maintained her mother is a murderer. Everyone on her mother’s side has passed away. While the father’s family are wealthy Junior League-types, the mother’s family are more witchy. The Blackbird Cafe sells slices of pie that cause the eater to dream of a deceased love one, meaning there’s some magical realism in Webber’s novel, but it’s not prominent to the point of distraction. Essentially, continuing the tradition of baking and selling the pies makes it hard for Anna Kate to sell the cafe and abandon the people who want dreams and the blackbirds that cross over from the land of the dead to deliver messages.
At times, the novel can get a bit sappy. Anna Kate’s father had a young sister, Natalie, who was only three when he died. Natalie has her own sad history, but her talking about anxiety, death, and childhood tends to go into cliche territory, making me think, “yeah, yeah, yeah, movie it along.” I don’t want to listen to people give me philosophical lines about life that could be cross stitched on a pillow.
Then again, there was enough depth to keep me interested. Anna Kate’s paternal grandmother is the one who insists her son was murdered, and Webber cleverly navigates how the grandmother needs to change, and wants change, all while suggesting the woman has only changed her actions and not her mind (for now). Natalie might date a hermit veteran instead of a doctor or lawyer? Grandma will bite her tongue, pause, and then say something nice with great effort. I appreciate when authors demonstrate character growth in fiction, something that often comes in a big reveal at the end but Webber avoids here.
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is narrated by three people: Stephanie Willis, Bethany Lind, and Nicholas Techosky. Willis and Lind do an excellent job voicing their characters, who narrate separate chapters. The production quality is clear and sharp. Techosky’s part was unnecessary; he narrates chapters in which a reporter questions people associated with the Blackbird Cafe for a news article. Nothing becomes of the article, and the chapters are about sixty seconds, if that. Why did Webber include these? Techosky’s reading is cringey, too — women get the falsetto treatment.
But overall, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is an interesting, peaceful novel that is fairly predictable but an enjoyable ride nonetheless. It could be enjoyed either as audio or text, given that the author wrote the two female protagonist voices, Anna Kate and Natalie, differently.