Book of the Week: Last Night at the Blue Angel – Rebecca Rotert

This July Indie Next pick comes with endorsements from The Paris Wife’s Paula McLain (“Luminous and deeply affecting, this book swept me along and stole my heart.”) and Orphan Train’s Christina Baker Kline (“Filled with music and memory, humor and poetry….You’ll carry these characters around in your head long after you finish this exuberant, big-hearted novel.”)

“Big-hearted” is definitely the word that comes to mind when I think of this vivid, jazzy story of Chicago, the 1960’s, a single mother trying to make her name as a singer, the ten year-old daughter who often seems wise beyond her years, and the family of friends who holds them together.

Author Rotert is herself a professional singer and Harper’s Library group has produced an excellent audio piece that includes Rotert singing, reading from the book and discussing her writing process. You can catch it, along with a very strong plot synopsis, here on SoundCloud.

Advance reviews have been excellent (three starred reviews!) and booksellers adore it. It seems like this debut has the makings of a break-out summer novel.

“[An] astonishing debut novel . . . Rotert’s musical background informs Naomi’s passion for performance, but it is her heartbreaking portrait of Sophia, so wise yet so vulnerable, that readers will remember long after the final page.”
— Library Journal (starred review)

Telling the story from Sophia’s and Naomi’s distinct perspectives, Rotert creates an expressive and haunting narrative highlighting Sophia’s innocent vulnerability and her mother’s single-minded obsession. Though the characters are very different, the author’s interpretation of both emerges spot-on. . . . A tale that’s poignant, poetic and heart-wrenching throughout.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A moving portrait of a tumultuous yet tender mother-daughter relationship . . . With lush prose and well-drawn characters, this heartbreaking novel of love, loss, and the redemptive power of music also offers a satisfying glimpse of Chicago at a pivotal point in history.”
— Booklist (starred review)

“A reckless single mother, Naomi believes in living in the moment and depends on her friends to help care for Sophia….In flashbacks told from Naomi’s point of view, the woman reflects on what drove her to flee her Kansas hometown in the 1950s and what drives her to pursue the spotlight. Rotert has created a complicated and engaging heroine in Sophia, a memorable character portrait which is her book’s most striking aspect.”
Publishers Weekly

“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.
–Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, CO

Last Night at the Blue Angel (9780062315281) by Rebecca Rotert. $25.99 hardcover. 7/1/14 on sale.

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