Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
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.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 14, 2015)
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours for an honest review
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.
From the opening of the Prologue of Last Night at the Blue Angel, to the last page, this book captured and held my interest. and Sophie, the young narrator, captured my heart. The other narrator, her mother, Naomi, captured my sympathy and helped me to understand her drive, but I still felt the most connection with Sophie.
The novel begins with Sophie's narrative and she is a sweet, smart child who fiercely loves her mother and craves her attention more than anything. Jim is a loyal, devoted pseudo-father to Sophie and is desperately in love with Naomi. Naomi seems standoff-ish and very wrapped up in herself and her desire for fame. Even though it does appear that Naomi isn't really there much for Sophie, they have cobbled together their own version of a family made up of Jim, Rita and Sister Idalia. They are a unique group -- I loved learning more about each of them through the two different narratives. I thought it was so cute when Sophie refers to Sister Eye and it eventually becomes clear that this is Sister Idalia.
I enjoyed the descriptions of Chicago and Jim's dedication to photographing the old buildings before they either collapsed or were torn down. His and Sophie's adventures were a great way to describe the city during this turbulent era. I found it interesting to read about the other side of the club life and music scene during the period.
I thought that Last Night at the Blue Angel was a beautifully written book with great characters that felt real and I felt drawn towards. The secondary characters were just as compelling as the main characters and I wanted to know so much about them. I love it when everyone you encounter in a book piques your interest. I felt an emotional connection to Sophie, Sister Idalia, Rita and especially Jim. Naomi causes complicated emotions and reactions - for the reader and for her friends in the book.
Last Night at the Blue Angel is one of those books that will appeal to readers across a wide range of interests. While it is set in the 1950's and 1960's, it is still modern enough to not just appeal to historical fiction readers, and it deals with contemporary issues, families, segregation, gender, fame, among others. I definitely will be suggesting it to my friends.
Find out more about Rebecca at her?website?and follow her on Twitter.