Review: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

A paperback copy of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is being held up in front of a stretch of toes in the sand on the beach.

Alexis:

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe follows two main characters: Anna Kate and Natalie. When Anna Kate’s grandmother passes away, she returns to her family’s hometown, a small Alabama town called Wicklow, to take over Granny Zee’s cafe. She’s only planning on staying for the summer, but she has some long-time family drama to unravel.

Meanwhile, Natalie returns to Wicklow with her young daughter after her husband dies in a tragic accident. While she’s working on gaining her independence, she has to live with her parents, and try to reconcile with her mother, who never got over Natalie’s brother’s death. 

I enjoyed this one! It was the perfect beach read. Webber’s writing flows well, and I found myself impressed by how well she handles such a large cast of characters. Wicklow is charming, and the people fun and quirky (think Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls). I especially enjoyed reading from Anna Kate’s POV as she bakes pies and learns about her family. The themes of grief, losing a family member, and reconnecting with family are resonant throughout the book.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is considered magical realism, but unlike some other magical realism books I’ve read, I would consider this one lightly magical realism; the cafe and pies are the only real elements. 

While I think Webber’s dialogue is overall written very well, there were definitely some melodramatic speeches that weren’t very realistic. I also wanted to get to know the two love interests better; I feel like their characters sputtered out too much by the end. And there was a weird tie in with a cat at the end that was strange and not entirely explained. Lastly, there was also a reference that Natalie was a part of the Daughters of the Confederacy (yikes!)

Other than that, I think if you’re looking for an easy, heartwarming book set in a charming Southern town with lots of descriptions of pie, then I’ll think you’ll enjoy this one.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐💫/5

Review: Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour

Alexis:

Welcome to my last review of the year! As awful as this year has been, I managed to have a great reading year, and read a total of 51 books.

Nina Lacour’s writing is lovely. It flows well and holds so much emotion.

Watch Over Me follows Mila, a young woman who aged out of the foster care system and finds herself taking a teaching job on a remote farm.

Lacour handles the themes of this book—loneliness, past trauma, wanting to belong—with care. The flashback scenes were well done, and I enjoyed the gothic-like setting and the blurring of genres/reality with the inclusion of ghosts.

However, I never found myself fully invested in the characters. I felt bad for them, and all the trauma they’ve been through, but I felt like the secondary characters weren’t fully fleshed out, and despite knowing about Mila’s past, I never fully understood her character, either.

That being said, if you’re looking for a slow-burn, lyrical, and atmospheric book that focuses on grief, trauma, and loneliness (with a dash of magical realism) then give this a shot!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.5/5

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Today I’m introducing a new favorite book! Check out my full spoiler-free review on our blog (link in bio!) My mom read this years ago and tried to get me to read it at the beach, but The Goldfinch is so incredibly detail-heavy that I couldn’t get into it. After reading The Secret History last year, I decided to give The Goldfinch another try.

I’m glad I did! This book is quite a feat to get through, but it’s worth the journey a hundred times over (and it made me miss New York so much!) If you like long and sweeping coming-of-age stories, this is the book for you. Like The Secret History, The Goldfinch is especially drug-heavy and most certainly not any easy read. I knew vaguely it was about art history when I started, but I never imagined the twists and turns this would take, or the impression it would leave!

What I love most about The Goldfinch is our protagonist, Theodore (Theo) Decker. Struck by tragedy in the first chapter (and then again, and again) some would say that he has an incredibly unlucky life. He makes someone bad choices that oftentimes you want to hit him over the head and scream, “What are you doing?” It’s his own difficult life and the messy relationships with the other characters–especially Boris, Pippa, Hobie, and even Popper–that give this book such a spark of life. When it was over, I’d spent so much time getting to know the characters that I didn’t want it to end!

The Goldfinch explores fate, grief and loss, the complexities of friendship, loyalty, and morality, the price of freedom, and the importance of fine art and historical objects of meaning. By the end I felt exhausted, but in the best way.

However, this book is A BRICK, which is why I found it easier to listen to on audio. The narrator did an incredible job making each character sound unique. I never would have been able to imagine Boris’s accent if I’d read this on my own.

VERDICT: 5 books! 

 

Review: In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Alexis: Read 2/1/19

In the Midst of Winter is a story of grief, guilt, and love. The book focuses on three main characters: Lucia, a lecturer from Chile; Richard, a professor; and Evelyn, a caregiver from Guatemala. Half of the book is set in 2016, explaining how the three characters meet and become involved in each other’s lives, while the other half explores their complicated, and often depressing, pasts.

I adored the first half of the book, which opens on Lucia’s life in New York City during a snowstorm. It’s such a promising premise. As the reader, you are immediately thrown into the minds of Lucia and Richard, and I enjoyed reading about their contrasting personalities. I love that Lucia has a bug-eyed old Chihuahua, while Richard has four cats that he simply calls one through four in Portuguese. Though I found Evelyn’s life and story interesting, I felt like her dedicated chapters didn’t reveal her character or thoughts as well as Lucia’s and Richard’s.

As usual with Allende’s writing, I love her descriptions in this book and I think they serve the story and the characters well. I also enjoyed reading about the tumultuous histories of Chile and Guatemala, as well as Richard’s time in Brazil.

This book went in a different direction than I expected, however. The morbid reason the three characters go on a journey together works at first, but I found that it didn’t work the further I got in the story. I correctly guessed the twist towards the end. When I finished the book, I was left underwhelmed. It addresses such deep and interesting histories and emotions, yet it ends on an almost “oh, well!” and weirdly cheery note, which dragged down my review.

VERDICT: 3 ½ out of 5 books

Review: The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Alexis:

I liked the first half of The Light We Lost—not the prologue, but I’m not really a fan of prologues unless they give important historical/background information.

The book is written in first person in the eyes of the main character, Lucy. Throughout the book, she addresses a “you,” which refers to her first love, Gabe. Each chapter ends with Lucy posing a question, or a series of questions, to Gabe. At first, I liked this formatting, but it got repetitive and old fast.

The beginning of the book focuses on their relationship, which lasts just over a year. Their relationship is a classic first love relationship. Lucy and Gabe are infatuated with each other, and their relationship mostly focuses on their physical chemistry. They share their hopes and dreams with each other while living in New York City.

Then they break up. I liked reading about Lucy’s grief and seeing how she deals with her loss. Lucy moves on; Lucy meets another guy. Yet Gabe is ever-present, whether in the back or the front of her mind. Even five, ten years down the road, all Lucy can think about is Gabe, and this begins to feel repetitive and, frankly, annoying.

I kept yelling (metaphorically, of course), “Lucy, you are a grown, married woman! Get a grip and stop only thinking about yourself!”

And, ultimately, this is what I have a problem with in the second half of the book. The characters become self-absorbed and predictable. I simply didn’t care about them anymore. The plot rambles, and most of it deals with Lucy’s feelings of insecurity in her relationship and her life.

Of course. That was my first thought about the ending: of course that’s how it would end. I might have been on board if Lucy finally changed at the end, if she grew up and accepted what wasn’t meant to be, but she didn’t.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Alexis: Read 11/28/18

“I said to him that just because you can’t remember, doesn’t mean the past isn’t out there. All those precious moments are still there somewhere.”

This is a poignant story of love and grief. This is a story of first loves, final loves, and dying loves.

Winman’s writing style is gorgeous. It’s simple yet raw and peppered with beautiful descriptions and lyricism. Throughout the book, her lack of quotation marks echoes Ellis’ silent grief.

I love the recurring motifs of the color yellow and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Nora, Ellis’ mother, is impactful and realistic, and she sticks throughout the story in the minds of both Ellis and Michael as a reminder to stay true to themselves.

Both Ellis and Michael are realistic characters. Ellis deals with his emotions by withdrawing and keeping to himself, while Michael deals with them through writing. Without giving too much away, both of them end up being more similar than either of them thought. Tin Man is an aptly named book.

I love that this book addresses the importance of art and writing, as said by Nora: “Painting flowers as a sign of friendship and welcome. Men and boys should be capable of beautiful things.”

My only criticism is that Annie does not feel as vibrant as all the other characters. I loved her introduction scene, but I wanted to understand her relationship with Ellis as deeply as I understood Ellis and Michael’s relationship.

All in all, this was a beautiful and quietly harrowing read that I highly recommend.

VERDICT: 5 stars