Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe


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This is a feel-good novel set in Wicklow, Alabama that borders on new-age religion.  Interestingly our previous read also took place in Alabama and the next read is set in Louisiana.  This one and the last one began with a death that had recently occurred off the pages.  I used three medias to read this book - the large print, the audio download, and the eBook.  The eBook was borrowed from the library.  I forgot to turn off Wifi on my iPad and the loan expired so I lost access to the book and hadn't uploaded my notes so I went to renew the loan and the library's license for that title had expired.  Thankfully, goodreads.com had my notes but they reference % instead of page numbers.

Anna Kate Callow's grandma, Zee, died and as a stipulation of her will Anna Kate has come to Wicklow to run the cafe for six months.  Anna Kate takes a detour on her way to medical school and moves from Boston to Wicklow to honor her grandmother's wishes.  Anna Kate's mother, Eden, separately deceased, grew up in Wicklow but left when, as a young adult, she was accused of murder.  She never returned to Wicklow and moved frequently while raising Anna Kate.

The story alternates between Anna Kate's story and Natalie's story.  Natalie's brother AJ, who died in a car crash when she was 3, is the reason Anna Kate's mom left town.  It comes as little surprise that Natalie is Anna Kate's aunt.  Natalie has recently moved back to town after her husband died - he drowned in a lake, probably suicide.  Natalie has a young daughter and resides in her parent's guesthouse.

Aside from the mystical aspects of the blackbirds that conflict with my traditional religious beliefs, I also had trouble reconciling the back story that Eden left town and didn't return and didn't want Anna Kate to follow the cafe legacy yet Anna Kate knew her grandmother Zee so well.  Even if I assume that Zee went to visit Eden and Anna Kate - how did nobody in the small town know about Anna Kate.  People in this town know when someone else sneezes, and a loving grandmother would have a hard time not mentioning her granddaughter for more than twenty years.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  0

Religion:  4

Gruesome:  1

Suspense:  0

Morality: 4

Traditional: 5

Sex - I'm not even sure anyone kissed in this book, although two couples did start dating so there could've been opportunity but it's just not that kind of book.

Religion - Non-traditional religion - a lot of talk about birds and trees and grandma's pie that lets you dream of deceased loved ones.  Anna Kate remembers Zee saying, "It's the love shared between the two worlds that allows the passageway to remain open, ... Without the love, the trees will wither and die." (LPg. 154)

Gruesome - a woman reflects a couple of times on her husband's drowning, that occurred before the book began

Suspense - the most suspenseful thing in this book was wondering what happened to Mr. Lazenby's lady friend

Morality - everyone in this book is so nice and tries hard to do the right thing, even when that right thing is not revealing a truth that is not theirs to tell

Traditional - Faylene asked the reporter to strike out her cursing so as not to offend her dead mother. (Pg. 1)

I felt like there could've been more drama.  When Anna Kate discovered her grandfather was ill, I expected it to work out that she could donate something to save his life, thus explaining why fate led them to each other.  Or granddad's illness could've explained why AJ died - maybe some hereditary condition that they didn't realize he had.  Or maybe the aspiring medical student could've discovered a cure for grandpa.

Discussion Questions

In Ch. 5 there are hints that there is a lot more to Jena and Bow's story:
  • When Jena says, "...'curiosity killed the cat, not the bird.' ... What looked like pain flashed in Bow's eyes. ... 'Sometimes it almost does both, doesn't it?' " Bow replies. (LPg. 80)
  • Jena reaches for a roll of paper towels and reveals that an old injury still bothers her. (LPg. 81) 
    What injury still bothers you?  
  • "It was the first time I noticed he had a jagged scar running down the back of his left calf. It looked familiar, the shape of that scar, though I knew I’d never seen..." (72%) 
  • They said they were in Wicklow "to right a wrong".  Anna Kate asked if it had been righted and they answered, "Not yet, but we're workin' on it". (72%)
In the end though, nothing seems to come of these hints and injuries.  Did you find any meaning in this story line?  UPDATE:  At our bookclub discussion, one lady said she thought it indicated that Jena and Bow were also birds - like shape shifters.  Several of us were surprised and agreed that we did not pick up on that but thought it seemed reasonable (as far as any book about shape shifters is reasonable).  I have read some shape-shifter books, the kind that Kindle gives away free from time to time, but they were always way more direct about the shifting.


(28%) When Natalie heard a voice tell her that her father was dying, she wasn't ready to believe it. 
She thought she'd know if her dad were dying.  Have you ever heard "a voice"?  Was it accurate?

(49%) When Gideon almost called the movie invitation that Anna Kate accepted a date, she reflected that she was disappointed.  Would you feel disappointed that he hadn't called it a date or encouraged that he had wanted to call it that but held back for your sake?

What is the purpose of the reporter that opens every chapter by interviewing a different resident?

Do you agree with the sentiment expressed at 57%: The past can't be changed.  There's no getting over it or putting it behind us.  It's become us.  We live it and breathe it, keeping the anger alive, fanning its flames.  There's no way to overcome it.

Natalie's dad said she let fear make a decision for her. (LPg. 205)  Have you struggled with not letting fear make a decision for you?

"I'd like to fall in love again at some point, and I don't think I'd ever be able to fall for someone else if I'm still talking to Harold all the time, never able to truly mourn him.  Sometimes it's best to let the past go..." (60%)  Are they mutually exclusive?  Can you actively mourn someone and let the past go at the same time?  

(70%) Anna Kate mentioned that she was going to miss creating new recipes.  Did it seem like her investment in the cafe was out of balance with her knowing it was only a temporary situation, especially for someone who repeatedly says she likes to keep people at arms length?

Theme Ideas

Serve blackbird pie, like the dedication, "to everyone who wishes they could eat a piece".
Serve blackberry sweet tea and homemade lemon verbena soup like Faylene drank and referred to in the second paragraph. (LPg. 1)
Serve zucchini loaf (wrapped in foil) as many of the townfolk brought Anna Kate.
Serve the items mentioned in Ch. 3: blackberry tea, apple pie, crispy hash browns, pancakes and biscuits.
Serve johnnycakes with brown butter apples. (LPg. 170)
Serve what Gideon brought to the picnic at the movie in the park (LPg. 262): Crispy buttermilk fried chicken, flaky hand pies, pasta salad and shortbread cookies.
Serve zucchini, goat cheese, onion, fresh mint. (69%)  Was this an omlette?  Also zucchini cheddar jalapeno biscuits.
Serve pie: "rhubarb, apple and blackberry". (70%)
Serve sausage and ramps mini-frittatas like Anna Kate had planned for the daily special with grits and collard greens. (LPg. 357)
Serve frittatas, biscuits with sausage, gravy, and zucchini fries with a hint of cayenne like Faylene and Mr. Boyd ordered. (LPg. 361)

Decorate like they did at 55% when Anna Kate went to dinner at her grandparent's house: A long runner embellished with embroidered roses ran down the center of the table.  Among plates and bowls of food, three small vases held fresh flowers that looked like they'd come from the backyard flower beds.  Daisies, black-eyed susans, white roses, and ferns. ... White china sat on thick green cotton placemats that had an intricate floral design stitched into them, and the polished silver flatware gleamed.  The artwork tended toward colorful animal prints, watercolors of rabbits, squirrels, and a lamb.

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