Set against the turbulence of 1960s Chicago--a city in transformation--and its legendary jazz scene, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a lush and immensely heartfelt mother-daughter tale about a talented but troubled singer's relationship with her precocious ten-year-old daughter.
It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day--segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War and Vietnam--but it is also home to some of the country's most influential jazz. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine, finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost. Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.
As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother's desperate struggle for fame and adoration. Unsettled by her home life, she harbors a terrible fear that her world could disappear at any moment, and compulsively maintains a list of everyday objects she might need to reinvent should nuclear catastrophe strike. Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds her and her mother, particularly the photographer, Jim, who is Sophia's best friend, surrogate father, and protector--but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.
Weaving between the perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a poignant and unforgettable story about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have. Part stylish period piece, part heartbreaking family drama, it's a novel rife with revelations, a vivid and propulsive page-turner--and the major debut of an extraordinary new writer.
"Rebecca Rotert, the gifted author of the debut novel Last Night at the Blue Angel instantly drew me into the club of those captivated by the compelling, complex and utterly seductive Naomi Hill, a jazz singer struggling for stardom in mid 1960's Chicago. I'm even more of a fan of her 10 year old daughter Sophia, who lives in the deep shadow of her mother and tries to make sense of Naomi's myriad relationships and frequent poor choices. Add to the mix an engaging and incredibly supportive community of a former nun and her cross dressing brother Rita, siblings David and Laura that are both in love with Naomi, and the ever present and lovely photographer Jim, whose spread in Look magazine has given Naomi a real shot at making it to the top.
Last Night at the Blue Angel brings to life and light the lives and world of people from a bygone era: a time when the closet was requisite, segregation was the norm and duck and cover was practiced in every school. Naomi and Sophia's voices alternate telling this tale, at once a train wreck in the waiting and a heartrending story of the true nature of love and family. As Naomi heads for the spotlight, my heart is with Sophia."
"I was captivated by the voices in this remarkable debut novel. Naomi, the young, single mother with a troubled past and a remarkable talent, who is blinded to the life she has by an unquenchable desire for super-stardom. Her young daughter Sophia, wise beyond her years, yet longing to mean as much to her mother as her career. Jim, the man who loves them both, Sister Eye and Rita, David, Sophia's father, Laura, Naomi's first love -- all caught in Naomi's orbit, and each bringing something wonderful to the story. This novel is filled with music and love, atmosphere and heartbreak, and beautifully crafted sentences that let me lose myself in the story. I was sorry to see it end, though the end was lovely and just right."
Every now and then we encounter a new book that we’re so excited about we want to shout it from the rooftops, so we've created a special tag to distinguish it from the rest: TC VIB (very impressive book)! That means it’s a true stand-out in a season of many excellent and compelling new books.