One of our recommended books for 2019 is Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

MIDNIGHT AT THE BLACKBIRD CAFE


Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

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Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

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  • Forge Books
  • Hardcover
  • July 2019
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781250198594

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$24.99

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About Heather Webber

Heather Webber is the author of Midnight at the Blackbird CafeHeather Webber is the author of more than 20 mystery novels, including the Nina Quinn series, and has been twice nominated for an Agatha Award. She’s a homebody who loves to be close to her family, read, watch reality TV (especially cooking competition shows), drink too much coffee, crochet, and bake (mostly cookies). Heather grew up in a suburb of Boston, but currently she lives in the Cincinnati area with her family and is hard at work on her next book.

Author Website

Praise

“Full of family secrets, undeniable charm and that particular touch of magic so often found in the South, Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a heartfelt and redemptive tale of a daughter looking to move forward in the place her mother couldn’t wait to leave behind. Heather Webber creates a town as dynamic and real as her characters—and a story so compelling that it will stay on readers’ minds long after the final page. I savored every word.” —Kristy Woodson Harvey, national bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple 

Midnight at the Blackbird Café is an enchanting gem of a novel, brimming with charming characters, heartwarming connections, old secrets, and a Southern setting that makes you want to move there. As refreshing as a glass of blackberry tea, this is truly magical realism at its best!” —Karen White, New York Times bestselling author

“Family, fate, and magic intertwine in this endearing Southern tale of long-held secrets, homemade pie, and building one’s future from the remains of the past. A tantalizing, delicious delight, through and through. Heather Webber writes with so much detail and imagination that I’ll be craving some Blackbird Café pie—and the comfort that comes with it—for a long time to come.” —Kristin Harmel, international bestselling author of The Room on Rue Amélie and The Sweetness of Forgetting

Discussion Questions

1. As this story begins, Anna Kate has put her life on hold to move to Wicklow, Alabama. She’s been uprooted from everything familiar and has settled in a small, two-stoplight town where she knows no one. Though she initially has regrets about the move, she is determined to stay put. Have you ever been in a similar situation? If so, how did you adjust to your new surroundings?

2. Natalie wants to become an independent, strong woman, but she is embarrassed and ashamed that she still needs financial assistance from her parents. Doc tells her that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. Have you ever been in a position where you needed help and asked for it? Could you relate to Natalie’s emotions? Do you agree with Doc?

3. Anna Kate comes to recognize that she’s been heavily influenced by her mother’s memories of the Lindens. When it becomes clear that Eden’s recollections may not tell the whole story, Anna Kate sets out to form her own opinions about her father’s side of the family. Have you ever been influenced by someone only to realize that person was wrong? How did you correct the situation?

4. Anna Kate goes out of her way to help Summer secure college funds by selling T-shirts and Summer’s father’s blackberry tea, and also helps them ready their property to use as a B&B. Why do you think Anna Kate was compelled to help this young woman she barely knew?

5. Natalie is dead-set against Ollie taking swimming lessons but eventually bends under Seelie’s demands. Initially, Natalie believes her mother is being controlling and doesn’t understand her pain, but do you think deep-down she recognized that Seelie was trying to protect Ollie? If you were Natalie, would you have balked at swimming lessons as well?

6. Mr. Lazenby regularly eats a piece of blackbird pie in order to connect with his dearly-departed wife, but Faylene decided to stop eating the pie in order to move on from the loss of her husband. If you could eat a piece of blackbird pie to communicate with a deceased loved one, would you? Why or why not?

7. There are many colorful characters in this book. Which of them reminds you most of yourself? How so? Who would you like to be friends with?

8. Anna Kate made a promise to her mother and ultimately broke it. Do you agree with Natalie that some promises are made to be broken? Have you ever broken a promise? How did you feel afterwards?

9. If you were casting a movie based on this book, which actors would you choose for the major roles in the story?

10. Early on Anna Kate says of Bow and Jena: “While they seemed to know everything about me and Mom, they tended to reveal their past to me much like they cooked. A dash of this, a dollop of that. A light-handed sprinkling of history. They were in their middle fifties and both had worked here for decades, coming on board after my mom left town. Their job titles were a bit vague, but it seemed to me that they were everything.” At what point in the book did you realize there was more to Bow and Jena than met the eye? How did their meddling affect the story? Do you think without their influence that the novel would have had the same outcome?

11. Cam tells Natalie that sometimes people lie to protect the ones they love. Have you ever lied to protect someone? Do you regret it? Or do you stand by the decision?

12. Anna Kate eventually realizes that she needs the Wicklow community as much as it needs her. Do you think there was one single turning point in the story where this became clear to her or was it a series of events?

13. The author acknowledges this book was born from an obsession with the Beatles’ song “Blackbird.” The line “Take these broken wings and learn to fly” shaped nearly every character in different ways. How do you think this lyric relates to Anna Kate, Natalie, Seelie, Summer, and Aubin? How were they broken? How did they learn to fly?

Excerpt

1

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

“The beginning? Well, I reckon that was the funeral. The funeral turned into a damned circus when the blackbirds showed up.” Blackberry sweet tea sloshed over the rims of two mason jars as Faylene Wiggins abruptly slapped her hand on the tabletop. “Wait! Wait! You can’t print that. My mama would wash out my mouth with her homemade lemon verbena soap if she knew I cursed for the good Lord and all the world to see in your article.”

The reporter flipped the pages of his yellow steno pad. “I thought you said your mother was dead?”

“You’re not from these parts, so you’re excused for not understanding. Wicklow, Alabama, isn’t any old ordinary town, young man. Goodness, I wouldn’t put it past my mama to rise straight out of the ground and hunt me down, bar of soap clutched in her bony hand.” With a firm nod, she jabbed a finger in the air and added, “Now that you can print.”

Anna Kate

Commotion loud enough to wake the dead was never a great way to start the day.

Startled out of a deep sleep, I sat up. It was a quarter past five in the morning, and for a moment I didn’t know where I was. It was a familiar feeling, almost as comforting as the worn quilt I’d carted from town to town my whole nomadic life long.

As I rubbed tired eyes, clearing out sleep, the events of this past week slowly came back to me. Wicklow. The Blackbird Café. The funeral. The birds. The neighbors.

My God. The neighbors.

Drawing in a deep breath, I eased back onto the pillows. I didn’t know what it was that had woken me, because all I heard now was the air-conditioning rattling through the vents, the tick of the hallway clock, and melodious birdsong. Nothing out of the ordinary.

If there was any mercy in this world, the noise hadn’t been a tearful Mr. Lazenby banging on the café’s front door—for the third morning in a row. He was a sweet, mournful old man who simply wanted his daily piece of pie, but all I wanted was to pull the pillow over my head until my alarm went off half an hour from now.

Instead, I came fully awake at the sound of unintelligible shouts, a mumbled roar that seemed like it originated from directly beneath my second-floor window. Confused, I tossed the quilt aside and slid to the floor. I knee-walked across dusty pine boards to the window. Dawn brightened over the mountains on the eastern horizon, promising a sunny and undoubtedly humid spring day.

Looking downward, I saw a small group of men and women gathered in the side yard. About twenty strong, they wore big hats and sensible shoes, carried binoculars, and were lined up along the iron fence, staring into the backyard. I didn’t recognize a single one of them.

Not that I had met everyone in town since I arrived from Boston, but it sure felt like I had.

It had been an intense week, starting with the fateful call that my grandmother Zora “Zee” Callow had passed away unexpectedly of natural causes. I’d made a whirlwind trip down here to Wicklow, a rundown small town nestled deep in the mountain shadows of northeast Alabama, to make funeral plans and meet with Granny Zee’s lawyer. I then went back to Boston to pack my few belongings and forfeit the room I’d been renting in a quaint old colonial only one T stop away from UMass Boston, where I’d recently graduated.

I’d loaded my car, mentally prepped myself for a seventeen-hour drive, and headed south. I temporarily moved into the small apartment above the Blackbird Café. Buried my beloved Zee. And unsuccessfully evaded most of my kind yet nosy new neighbors who wanted to know anything and everything about Zee’s secret, mysterious granddaughter, Anna Kate Callow.

Me.

There had been an endless stream of visitors these past few days, and I’d never seen so many zucchini loaves in all my life. Each neighbor had arrived with an aluminum foil–wrapped loaf, an anecdote about living in Wicklow, a long story about Zee and her café, and relentless queries about my age, my upbringing, my schooling, my mother’s passing four years ago, and my father’s identity. I hadn’t minded the stories of Granny Zee at all, but I dodged most of the personal questions, especially the ones about my father. I wasn’t ready to go there quite yet.

It had been an exhausting, emotional week, and I didn’t want to even look at zucchini for a good long while.

Now this daybreak meeting. Who were these people?

A wave of muggy, warm air slapped me in the face like a wet towel as I pushed the window sash upward. It creaked in protest against the swollen wooden frame. “Hello? Hello!”

At the sound of my own voice, my head throbbed, pulsing sharply against my temples. I’d spent most of yesterday with Bow and Jena Barthelemy, the café’s only employees, readying the café for its reopening this morning. The energetic duo had given me a crash course in running the place, everything from ordering to inventory, tickets, and the point-of-sale system. I’d prepped dishes and familiarized myself with the menu and kitchen layout. The day had been nothing short of overwhelming, but Bow and Jena swore up and down that I’d catch on quickly enough.

Now, on my knees at the crack of dawn, craving strong coffee and utter silence, I questioned for the umpteenth time this week why on earth I’d moved, even short-term, to this tiny, two-stoplight Alabama town. I didn’t belong here. I should be back in Boston, finalizing my plans for my move an hour west to Worcester, where I was going to start classes at UMass medical school in mid-August.

Then I remembered.

Zee.

More specifically, Zee’s will.

“There, there!” someone shouted from below as he gestured into the backyard. Then he added in a somewhat shamed tone, “Never mind. It was a crow.”

A chorus of grumbles echoed.

“Hello!” I shouted again.

No one seemed to hear me.

Grabbing my robe, I quickly covered up my knit shorts and tank top and ran a hand over my unruly hair. The stairs creaked as I hurried down them. The pine treads were polished in a dark satin finish that came from decades of use. I could easily imagine Granny Zee zipping up and down these steps, which was strange considering I’d never seen Zee do so. In fact, I had never even set foot in the Blackbird Café—or Wicklow, for that matter—until earlier this week.

Wicklow had always been forbidden territory, a family commandment created by my mom, Eden, the moment she left this town at eighteen years old, vowing that we would never return. That had been twenty-five years ago, when she had been just six weeks’ pregnant with me. While growing up, every time I had asked about Wicklow, Granny’s café, the blackbirds, my paternal grandparents, whom she hated with her whole heart, and, of course, my father’s tragic death, Mom stubbornly clammed up.

Not that I could wholly blame her silence—after all, she had lost a lot here in Wicklow, including the love of her life and almost her freedom when she’d been accused of murder. Yet it had always seemed to me that the thing she’d lost most was herself.

Copyright © 2019 by Heather Webber