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Last Night at the Blue Angel

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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 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.

328 pages, Hardcover

First published July 1, 2014

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About the author

Rebecca Rotert

3 books53 followers
Rebecca Rotert received her MA from Hollins College in Virginia where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Santa Clara Review, America magazine, Hospital Drive Journal of Literature and Humanities, Temenos journal, Outside-In magazine, Health Progress and the New York Times. Her essay, Proteus on the Vasa was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Last Night at the Blue Angel is her first novel.

Since its publication, Last Night at the Blue Angel has won an award from the Friends of American Writers, was short-listed for the VCU Cabell Award, long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award. In the fall of 2015, it won the Nebraska Book Award.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 274 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
May 12, 2022
It just came crashing down, she says. Sometimes in life it just all comes crashing down.
There’s all sorts of crashings-down going on here, some real, some not. Some are anticipated, but never arrive, some happen before you know it. Others happen far away but carry a large impact. Naomi Hill has been a singer in Chicago (her kind of town) ten years or so and in a once-important jazz club that has seen better days for less than a year. But when her photograph appears on the cover of Look magazine in 1965, it signals her arrival. On the night of her last performance at The Blue Angel most of the important people in her life, her true family, are gathered. From this stage we look past the footlights to how each of them came to be there. Most important is her daughter, 11-year-old, Sophia.
Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margin.
For the first ten years of my life, I watch her from the wings.
The story is told from alternating perspectives, Naomi’s and Sophia’s. We see Naomi as a disaffected teen in Kansas,
It was just—nothingness. It filled us with nothingness. It made you feel so…trapped. Isn’t that funny? With so much space around you? Trapped? Can you explain that?
and follow her as she finds her way, geographically, musically and sexually. Naomi is driven by her needs like a dust mote before a haboob:
How could I tell Hilda, or anyone, how much I feared such a life, a normal life. How much I feared becoming invisible again, powerless, dependent. I wanted to do the right thing but I wanted something else more. To be known. To be loved.
Just as Naomi’s quest for fame and fear of enclosure drive her, Sophia is driven by a need to be loved by her mother, to be a necessary part of her world.
Tonight I clap so hard I think she’ll look over at me and pull me out of the wing into the spotlight and introduce me as her daughter, whom I love more than anything, she’ll say. But she doesn’t.
Last Night… is a deceptive book. It reads quickly, and weighs in at a modest 325 pages, but this is one of the richest novels I have read in a long time. One could simply follow the melody of the story and hum along, but I suggest you take your time. There is rarely a single voice trilling in a scene. Almost always it is a combo, offering syncopation, harmony, backbeats and meaningful riffs. Take your time, and let all the notes, beats, rhythms, and emotional sound of the book wash over you.

The Author

The settings are the 50s in Kansas and Chicago in 1965. It is a volatile era, in which sexual and racial norms are being challenged, a time in which the new is rising and the established is crumbling, although not without a fight. This is highlighted in Kansas (Something is definitely the matter there) with a display of the antediluvian notions extant in Naomi’s home town. In Chicago we see this through Jim, a guy who clings to the belief that someday Naomi will love him back, and in the meantime he is not only always there for her, he serves as the father Sophia never knew. He delights in photographing, while the opportunity remains, great Chicago buildings that have been slated for demolition, (He also photographs Naomi) celebrating the glorious before it is gone.
Why do you love buildings?
He combs his moustache with his fingers while he thinks. This town…it’s all hustlers and thieves from top to bottom. It always has been. But this…He points to the building. I don’t know, kid. Sometimes we do something right. Make something worth taking care of.
It is also a time of fear. Sophia is concerned about a possible nuclear holocaust, so has been compiling a list of items, the workings of which she wants to understand, (streetlamp, toaster, record player, percolator, et al) so that after the worst happens she can begin to re-invent a bit of civilization.

There is a saying that you can’t choose your family. Well, maybe not your DNA-based family. But you can create a heart-based family, and this is how Naomi and Sophia survive in the world. Naomi may have been raised in Eisenhauer America, but she is at core a modern, independent woman, and strives to find fulfillment on her own terms. We are treated (and it is so very much a treat) to seeing how each came into Naomi’s life. Every story its’ own wonderful melody. Of course, the primary relationship we see is that between Naomi and Sophia,
The seed of this story was planted many years ago. I have this very beautiful, dynamic mother. And it seemed, wherever we were she became immediately central. So, to be at her side rendered you a bit invisible, which was of course both wonderful and terrible. If the world was watching mom, I could watch the world, freely and without notice. It carved this automatic space for me, a private world, the world behind another's wings.
We see Sophia adapting as a daughter to the spotlight that is her mother much more than the other way around. It is not that Naomi wants to be distant to Sophia, but her drives usually urge her in another direction.

One strong thematic current here is wind.
People in Kansas will tell you how beautiful it is but all I can say is that in Kansas, the wind blows everything down or away, it just beats the shit out of it.
There is even a Sister Windy who is a much more beneficent prairie breeze. You will not go more than a few pages without encountering a draft, a flutter or a gust from a wind reference.

It is also amusing to see how people are always racing ahead of other walkers, or struggling to keep up.

Among the many love stories tucked inside …the Blue Angel, a major one is about a love of beauty. Jim loves those great old buildings. And Naomi loves singing
I lay there in the moonlight breathing deep until I was sure she was asleep. Then I just let my head run back to the music, to little phrases I’d committed to memory. I felt my throat move a little as I imagined singing. And I understood that this must be love, to visit a place in your mind where music is playing, to have such a place at all.
And there is another scene of Naomi singing in an unexpected venue that will leave you gasping.

I have two issues with the book. I thought it could have used a bit more humor. It seems that kind-and-gentle moments are used to serve that purpose. There is one surprise revelation scene that also serves well to turn that frown upside down, but a couple of yucks here and there wouldn’t have hurt. Secondly, there is a hint of danger here. No, not the automatic-weapon sort. The romance sort. I am disinclined toward such things, and there are definite aromas that waft through. For good or ill there is a dishy female lead being wooed by (among others) a male yin and yang, a gun-toting bad boy gambler and a camera-toting too-good-to-be-true guy of the doormat persuasion. Such things usually make me wretch, but it was held in enough check here to stave off any unintended regurgitation.

If Rotert is not working on a musical stage production of this, she should work up a tempest and get cracking. This is major Broadway musical material. Whatever awards this book will win, and there should be many, there are Tonies, and then Oscars just waiting to be scooped up. Which requires a casting call. Much as I would love to cast Amy Adams as Naomi, and as great as she looks, Naomi is, maybe 27 or 28 and the actress would have to pass for 17 in a few scenes. Adams is 39, (even Jessica Chastain, who might be wonderful here, is 37) so, for the umpteenth time, we will return to the well and wonder how cool it would be to see Jennifer Lawrence as Naomi, (but she probably lacks the singing licks - ☹) Bradley Cooper as Jim, whose age is not specified in the book. And

Johnny Sequoyah

Johnny Sequoyah, of the TV show Believe, as Sophia would be just about perfect. (Please don't let her age!) And if you think I am getting all sexist about age and gender, I had John Hamm in my tiny mind for another character here, but even Don Draper couldn't sell Hamm as a twenty-something.

Be warned, I don’t care who you are, young or old, big or small, male or female, hell, human or alien, this novel will break your heart (or hearts in that last case). 210 pounds of old guy was sobbing on the couch at the back end of this book. Ok 220. You had better have those tissues handy. You are gonna need ‘em. Ok, ok, 225, geez. And could you hide those jelly beans please? Thanks. Yeah, went major wet-face. Like a baaaaaaaby.

Last Night at the Blue Angel is one of those rare works where craft meets entertainment. It is not only a brilliantly written novel. It is a dazzlingly satisfying read as well. This angel is indeed heaven-sent.

Review first posted – May 2, 2014
Publication dates
----------Hardcover - July 1, 2014
----------Trade paperback - 4/14/15

=============================EXTRA STUFF

A couple of the many pieces of music mentioned in the text:

Sam Cooke When I fall in Love

Naomi listens to Bird and Diz when she is sad

Saint Cecilia comes in for a look here as well, yes, Saint Cecilia


Rebecca Rotert (roe-tear) has been a poet and singer for many years. Her familiarity with stage performance informs much of the novel.

Links to Rotert’s personal site and her Twitter feed

Harper posted on Soundcloud an amazing audio piece. You must check this out, not only does Rotert sing, smoky and sultry, but she talks about elements that went into the story, and reads a passage from the book that simply dazzles

A nice profile of the author from Femmes Folles Nebraska

A video interview with Rotert from NCTV17 - worth a look
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,464 reviews9 followers
August 11, 2015
I enjoyed this one a lot (compliments of LibraryThing). It is 1965 in Chicago--segregation, the Cold War, and razing of some old Chicago buildings all play a part. A single mother, the talented Naomi, sings at The Blue Angel nightclub to support herself and her 10 year old daughter Sophia. Sophia is said to look like Howdy Doody, and yearns for the day when she will be as beautiful and popular as Naomi. Everyone loves Naomi, yet she cannot settle on who to love back. There are many affairs with men and women alike; but Naomi removes herself from any real emotions, even as someone from her past appears in her audience one night and "complicates" things.

Naomi's best friend Jim from early days in Chicago is the closest thing to a dad that Sophia has ever had; but Naomi doesn't grasp the importance or the meaning of their relationship. Jim is a photographer and focuses his camera on deteriorating architecture he feels should be salvaged, and on Naomi, landing her a cover on Look magazine.

The story is told in alternating POV by Sophia in 1965 and Naomi in 1955, when she first came to Chicago with an ex-nun on her arm and Sophia in her womb. It is easy to understand and empathise with little Sophia. Naomi takes much longer to get to know, and I found nothing about her to like. By the end I found her quite appalling.

What Sophia says about her in the opening of her first chapter sums it up:
"Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margin."
Profile Image for Carrie La Seur.
Author 7 books103 followers
April 14, 2014
I find good reviews much harder to write than bad, because all I want to say is, "This! Read this!" So this is a very hard review to write, because I loved the little girl, and the self-absorbed mother, and the poor guy who loved her, and all the other random characters who inhabit the pages so vividly but are only ever incidental to what's going on with the bewitching lady at the middle of it all. A wonderful read. So ... this! Read this!
Profile Image for Doreen.
2,399 reviews58 followers
June 11, 2014
Hoo boy, this book. Okay, first of all, it deserves a little over 3 stars because it's a great look at the mores of the 1950s and 60s. The relationships are complicated and interesting, and the story itself is fairly engrossing. The friendship between Sophia and Elizabeth is lovely. I felt a sick dread when the twist at the end happened. But.

I don't know if it was the somewhat odd pacing, but nothing in this book really felt earned. The twist made me cry, but it felt more like I'd been manipulated by the author into having these feels than actually feeling an organic sympathy. And then I didn't think the aftermath, particularly was given as much emotional shrift as it deserved. I also don't feel as if Naomi's compulsions towards fame and motherhood were sufficiently explored, and I wanted more of Laura's and David's motivations. It felt a lot as if the author was just ticking off a checklist of what makes a bestseller but didn't bother doing anything more with the book. Which is a pity because there's a lot of great stuff here, and this could have been a powerful novel.
Profile Image for JoAnne Pulcino.
663 reviews58 followers
August 13, 2014

Rebecca Rotert

LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL is a stunning and emotionally packed novel about Chicago in the 1960’s which was undoubtedly one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country. The times they are a changing’ the country had to deal with segregation, free love, sexual experimental and the cold war. Despite all the things happening around them, this is basically a mother daughter story with a wonderful cast of eccentric and off beat characters.

Beautiful and talented Naomi Hill has been singing at the Blue Angel for ten years seeking her big break. Naomi is fiercely ambitious and very self destructive with an only child. Sophia, her daughter is ten years old and old beyond her years having an unconventional mother and always being surrounded by adults. She is constantly vying for her mother’s love, and worrying about the end of the world.

Mrs. Rotert has created an incredible cast of characters that are truly the only family any of them have. There is martyred Jim, an ex cop now a photographer trying to save the beautiful buildings and architecture of old Chicago while madly in love with Naomi , and serving as the only father Sophia has ever known. There’s Sister Italia, an ex Catholic nun banned for her lesbian tendencies, and Rita who was born a man but has completely turned himself into a woman.

This family of misfits are there for each other, especially Sophia when her bi sexual mother is otherwise occupied. Naomi’s big break finally arrives but at enormous personal cost for everyone!!

This is a powerful and wrenching novel with unexpected twists and turns that creates a fantastic book.

I feel sure Ms. Rotert has known a talented and ambitious artist since her so brilliantly emulate the joys, the rejections, the stumbles, the self doubts and the triumphs of an artist’s life.
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,074 reviews222 followers
May 4, 2014
I LOVED this book. A fascinating debut with the backdrop of Chicago’s 1950’s and 60’s jazz scene. Naomi is a talented but struggling singer with a very lovable and precocious ten year old daughter. Rotert does an excellent job of weaving the story together with chapters alternating between mother and daughter points of view. When you come to the last page it feels like putting the last piece in a complicated jigsaw puzzle.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,044 reviews1,367 followers
April 29, 2015

Naomi and Sophia live alone as mother and daughter. Naomi is a singer and got her start i​n her ​Catholic school with Sister Idalia. Sophia loves her mother, sits at the night club when her mother sings, and sees things an eleven-year-old shouldn't be seeing.

LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL is mostly dialogue with wonderful characters who truly care for each other. Well...most characters care for each other. Naomi seems to be all about herself even though she appears to love her daughter, Sophia.

​LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL flashes back to Naomi's childhood then to her current situation that includes Sophia. ​Sophia is always worried and keeps lists of things she can improve and re-invent in case of a nuclear disaster. I loved Sophia but wasn't too fond of her mother.

Jim, the photographer, was sweet and was always put aside by Naomi, but he was so loved by Sophia.​ Jim was obsessed with taking photos of buildings that were falling apart and ones he said he had to photograph before they would be gone forever.

David along with Naomi was not a favorite even though he was involved with Naomi.

LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL is about family relationships, love, and living with and loving what you have. ​For a debut novel, this book has a lot of depth and characters that will stay with you even after you have finished the book. Ms. Rotert writes beautifully and pulls you in so well that you become part of the story.

I enjoyed LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL, and enjoyed Naomi's early years a bit more than her present situation even though the early years were a bit wild.

Adorable Sophia made the present​ ​very interesting and at times comical. She was so sweet and yet such a bundle of worries, but who wouldn't be worried with the life the confused but precocious child led.

There are adult situations scattered throughout the book but nothing graphic or explicit - simply insinuations.

Naomi's last night at The Blue Angel turned out for the best for her, but the last few pages are ones where you will need tissues.

ENJOY!!! 4/5

At the end of the book, Ms. Rotert shares information about where her characters and storyline grew from. These pages were quite informative and interesting.

After reading these ending informational pages, I would say LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL can also be classified as historical fiction.

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cindy.
1,437 reviews21 followers
March 11, 2016
So I'm somewhere between 3 and 4 stars on this book. Beautifully written and engaging even though the author would lift my spirits and make me smile then drastically shut me down and make me sad in the next chapter. And Naomi! What a sad excuse for a mother! Loved little Sophia! She was more of an adult than her mother! Lots of sexual escapades happening which took me by surprise. And boy,...the ending!!! This is a great debut novel that will keep you interested in all the characters. I loved the jazz clubs and the time period. Ok. I'm now giving this a 4. Talked myself into it!
Profile Image for Magdelanye.
1,621 reviews198 followers
November 20, 2014
Racism, gender diversity,radical feminism, the music business; oh my!
Romance novels have certainly broadened their range.

And Last Night at the Blue Angel A Novel by Rebecca Rotert is certainly a romantic novel,as well as gritty, and utterly engrossing.But a typical ROMANCE it is not.There is the romance of the music world and the lure of fame;the romance of the family; and the opposite of romance revealed in the nun's world

Told from alternating points of view of an ambitious mother and her feisty and wise young daughter, ranging between timescapes, the characters, the dialogue,the moods and the range of issues covered in this first novel are all handled with accomplishment and verve.

A book to gobble and cherish, and a new author to watch.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,780 reviews213 followers
December 18, 2022
Set in Chicago in the 1960s, this novel tells the story of jazz singer Naomi and her ten-year-old daughter, Sophia. It is told in alternating perspectives of mother and daughter. We learn Naomi’s turbulent backstory, and how she arrived in Chicago. Performing at the Blue Angel, Naomi is looking for her big break. The author provides details and descriptions that place the reader back into the time period and jazz scene. The dramatic tension is provided by the differences in what Sophia wants (home, friends, and a family environment) and what her mother wants (success in her career).

I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed Sophia’s story. It is tenderly told. She is attached to one of her mother’s boyfriends and wants him for a father, but her mother’s actions put her into contact with her birth father. He means well but she just does not feel what her mother wants her to feel. I did not care as much for the mother’s story. Even though we are supposed to feel her pain, I found it difficult to warm up to her. Topics include identity, sexual freedoms, religion, racial issues, and mother-daughter relationships.

Profile Image for Shirley Schwartz.
1,094 reviews61 followers
February 19, 2015
This book is exquisite and smooth like the music at its base. I cannot believe that this book is a debut novel for Rebecca Rotert. This book will lift you up, and then suddenly cast you down. It will rip out your insides and then calmly place them back in. My heart broke over and over for ten year old Sophia. There is a mind-numbing sadness at times in this book, but then in the next chapter something warm and wonderful happens, and hope soars again. This so exactly portrays the emotions that Sophia's mother Naomi experiences in her never-ending search for stardom and fame. The time is 1960's Chicago and the backdrop is a hot and sultry jazz club called The Blue Angel. The story is told in the first person from two viewpoints - little precocious Sophia and her talented but perplexing mother Naomi. The writing is smooth and poetic and it carries the reader along formidably to the very tragic ending. The cost that unrelenting ambition has on people close to the person with the ambition is calamitous and it spares no one in its wake. This is a heartbreaker of a book, bur so wonderfully written that it almost becomes a part of you as you read it. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,214 reviews551 followers
September 3, 2014
This is a hard review to post, I almost gave it a 3. But some aspects of Chicago are absolutely nailed and feel right in era, like Riverview. Others, not at all. But overall, this is a 2.5. The plot is pathetic.

Details of the storyline were so Naomi centric that I lost my attention. She was neither a good Mother, nor very rational.

But beyond the story problems of distaste to the characterizations, I couldn't get into it for nostalgia's sake or even for the street descriptions which were better than most Chicago fare. And that was because of the ITALICS. Could not stand it, the italics system of conversation made me nuts, and after page 110, I skimmed to the end.

The shifting narrator chapter formation between two time periods, with every other one going back to Naomi? It made the entire often redundant, choppy and broke the tension. Plus the Catholic school experience cited here and nun's story in particular? MEH!

Profile Image for DJ Sakata.
3,023 reviews1,741 followers
April 22, 2015
Favorite Quotes:

“Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margin.”

“Mother has many kinds of smiles. This one is the I’m sad and all alone but I don’t want you to worry smile.”

“When she notices me, all the times she doesn’t notice me get erased. Like I imagined them.”

“Darling, she said gently, we don’t get to live two lives at once. We must choose between who we were and who we would like to be. I know this better than anyone.”

My Review:

Last Night at the Blue Angel is one of those beautifully crafted books that I simultaneously love/hate to read and tend to avoid - yet also seek out. It is brooding and smoky, and pulled and tore at me as I read. The story turned me inside out, and I sense these peculiar and quirky characters will not be leaving my head space for weeks to come. The novel is meticulously crafted with a moody, melancholy, and ethereal air, and is devastatingly emotional and haunting. The story is told from two different narrators and from two different time periods that are 10 years apart. The story starts at the end and works backwards, I didn’t realize that at first, but found that formula to be intriguing, and one that served the story well. Sophia is the neglected and overlooked bastard child of a selfish, immature, and histrionic, and contrarian mother, who is a nightclub singer at The Blue Angel during the 60s. Her mother had always been the odd misfit who had also been a troubled and angry child. As an adult, she continued to seek/dwell in fantasy, wanting what she can’t/shouldn’t have, and never pleased with it once she had it. I enjoyed last quarter section of the book the best, as I reveled in learning the beginnings of each of the singer’s relationships. It was amusing to delve into how she had met and managed to collect her odd little entourage, and seeing how they had folded into a cohesive if not highly eccentric extended family. I adored and pitied Jim all throughout, and his story was the most deeply moving and shattering to me. I actually had to stop reading at several points to sob, which is something I seldom do, but Ms. Rotert snuck up on me, she has mad skills.
Profile Image for Molly Anna.
83 reviews22 followers
May 22, 2014
I am so thrilled to have won this novel through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway because I absolutely loved reading this book. Before beginning, I took some time to read a handful of the early reviews. I have to admit, I am always very skeptical of the initial write-ups, especially when the ratings are high, but this book exceeded even my most optimistic hopes. The true story here isn't about the where and when -- it's about relationships and experience. The longing Sophia has for her mother Naomi's attention and how Naomi treats Sophia is heartbreaking, but Rotert also gives the reader the opportunity to empathize with Sophia's mother. Initially my tendency was to villainize Naomi while weeping only for Sophia. However, once the author began to write from Naomi's perspective and reveal her life experience, I knew that I intimately identified with both characters. Rotert also does a fabulous job of drawing the reader into the experience of performing and the powerful potential of music in individual lives. So many times I found myself stopping and rereading a line or two over and over in order to completely absorb the profound insights and beautiful writing. I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Megan Gannon.
Author 7 books21 followers
August 9, 2014
Dear fellow book plunderer--

Let me just cut through all the empty page-turners and summer pot-boilers for you and point you to the book you're looking for. You're looking for the book that oozes over you and encases you in its golden lusciousness from the first word, that suspends you in its dreamlike center so that you never want to come up for air. You want characters who break your heart with their goodness, or break your heart for breaking the hearts of the characters you love, and you want to feel like you've seen new archetypes for relationships unfolding in a way that is truer and realer than any you have ever read before. You want all of that golden gorgeousness to find rooms you didn't know you had in your heart, and when you finally, regretfully, turn the last page, you want to feel like the book has made you older and wiser, wider inside. Lucky you. Search no further. Last Night at the Blue Angel is that book.
Profile Image for Lela.
375 reviews100 followers
July 29, 2014
Loved it! Review soon.
Profile Image for John.
262 reviews10 followers
Shelved as 'partially-read-but-deeply-studied'
March 27, 2023
This is more focused on characters than on plot.

I read and listened to the beginning and end, and a large chunk of the middle (not connected to the beginning or end). Then I ran out of time.

It did not impress those who did read it and I am confident that I mostly know what happened in the parts I missed. I was going to put in the time to finish, but now I don't want to.
Profile Image for OpenBookSociety.com .
3,818 reviews116 followers
July 8, 2014

Brought to you by OBS reviewer JoAnne

According to the information above, the book was supposed to be about the tensions surrounding the 60′s, a woman with a great passion for life and her child, and her need for adoration. Well, one out of three I guess.

I was intrigued by the title and the blurb, and literally slogged through the book. Although it takes place in the 60′s, there is so little mentioned about the current events of the time that you would think nothing was happening. I can’t recall anything being said about Vietnam nor the Cold War. There was a mention of President Kennedy‘s assassination and because of that, Sophia thought there might be nuclear war (?). What I found in Naomi was a woman who was so indulgent in what she wanted out of life that she expected everyone around her to just go along with it.

Sophia is ten years old, yet Naomi thinks nothing at all of bringing lovers into her apartment whenever she feels like it, not even trying to hide the fact from her daughter. Not even when they are still there in the morning – male and female alike. Yet she is a good mother, right? Her “sexual experimentation” began in the 50′s, and – get this – a lesbian nun helped her – how should I put this? – ‘find herself’ while she had a tryst with another teenager (Laura) who decided she wanted Naomi. So, Laura wanted Naomi, not even thinking of the consequences or the fact that maybe Naomi might be the one to suffer, her not being rich like Laura…as a result, Naomi does whatever she wants, and Sophia just goes along with it, because she’s ten, thinks her mother is this amazing singer, and hasn’t figured out yet that her mom’s more concerned with her career than she is with her daughter.

I wish I could say this book was wonderful, that it had a redeeming message, and/or that it was a page-turner. But it was not. The dialogue was in italics, not parentheses, so it appeared that everyone was thinking instead of speaking, and as such, it read as if everyone was just sleepwalking through the book. Not one character was interesting: not Jim, who was pining for Naomi while she just used him, not Sister Eye, not Sophia, not Naomi. Even when there was a tragedy, and Naomi discovered what was important in life, I didn’t care.

It was slow, boring, and the blurb was misleading. While I expected it to be a book with statements/events relating to the occurrences of the 60′s, all I found was a book regarding a woman who slept around and hurt people while trying to get famous.

Profile Image for Dawn.
20 reviews
August 3, 2014
Read this book, people! One of the few 5 star books I've read this year. And I'm not just saying that because the author is an amazing woman who I happened to have the good fortune of going to college with back in the day. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and this novel does not disappoint in that regard. The big issues of the 1960's -- racism, segregation, Vietnam, the destruction of historically significant architecture in the name of "progress" are all woven into the story line. The characters -- Naomi and Sophia -- share a mother/daughter relationship fraught with love and loss that rivals the best (and worst) stories of mother/daughter relationships. The ten year old narrator's voice of Sophia, reminds me of the precocious young narrator, Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird. Sophia sees and observes far more than she should at her young age and is truly wise beyond her years because of it. A worthy read for a summer afternoon.
2,147 reviews43 followers
July 24, 2014
Okay I will you give you the good and the bad......
Let's do the bad first....
1. The alternative lifestyle being thrown at me.... I don't mind reading about alternative life styles but let's not beat me over the head with it!!!!!

2. I don't like back and forth narratives and what was up with the conversations being in italics?

Now for the good...
I loved the time period and the description of Jazz Clubs!
I loved the character of Sophis the child..... I hope the author puts her in another book!
The author really conveyed how hard it was for people that were "different" to be themselves in the 1940s - 1960's!
and lastly I thought it interesting that the novel starts when the mother and child are 10 years of age. So all and all a mixed review.
Profile Image for Victor Carson.
473 reviews11 followers
April 26, 2015
A fascinating and not wholly flattering study of Naomi,a young nightclub singer, and her friends, including a photographer who loves the old buildings in Chicago nearly as much as he loves Naomi. The singer grows up in Kansas but has to flee that home to escape a scandal and find a place to develop her singing career. She retains three friends from Kansas, but her career is fostered by a former police officer who will become a well-known photographer. A well-crafted story, told mostly through the eyes of Naomi's 10-year-old daughter, Sophia. Naomi's life is dissipated, but free and passionate.
Profile Image for Stacy.
Author 2 books7 followers
August 19, 2015
I went into this thinking it was going to be a book about mother/daughter relationships but it was really about so much more. It was a coming of age story that worked its way backwards to the beginning. The format added suspense to the novel as the complexity of the relationships were revealed. Ultimately it was a lesson in not appreciating what you have until it's gone and even then, I'm not sure the lesson was truly learned. I enjoyed the myriad of subplots that kept it interesting.
Profile Image for Jool.
924 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2018
What an amazing book. A mother whose lifelong dream is to be a jazz singer (this is in the 50s - 60s). She has a regular performance at a small nightclub, but just can't hit the bigtime. Her ten-year old daughter adores her mother and yearns for more attention from her. Fortunately, Mom's photographer friend Jim is always there to help take care of the daughter, Sophia. The Mother (Naomi) has a string of boyfriends (and lady friends) who come and go, staying overnight, then it is on to the next one. Nobody lasts long. But steadfast Jim sees to it that Sophia is taken care of.
Set in the 60s, this book explores some of the problems of Sophia having a black friend, the only black child in their Catholic classroom.
There is just no way to explain all the dynamics and differences in this book - but suffice to say it will grab your attention and never let go. I like that the book is told in two viewpoints: that of Naomi, from when she is young up to when she becomes a mother and singer, and that of Sophia, her daughter.
I highly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Laura Findlay.
48 reviews1 follower
August 21, 2018
This was a great listen, though I kind of wish I had read it, to immerse myself in it more. One of the more original books I've read this year. I like Naomi and Sofia's stories. It isn't a particularly happy read but it's wonderfully written. I didn't really understand why the author decided to end it in that way but other than that it was a great piece of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Brooke.
455 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2019
WOW...this book was good, really good. The back and forth of the lives of the mother and daughter finally coming together at the end was amazing.
Profile Image for Marlene.
2,842 reviews192 followers
April 28, 2015
Originally published at Reading Reality

There were points in this story when I wavered between the knowledge that it was centered around Naomi Hill’s very last night at the Blue Angel, and the unfolding story of what happened last night (and last week and last month) at the Blue Angel.

There’s a sense that every night brings the same set of crises and triumphs to Naomi’s life and career, at least as it is viewed from the perspective of her 11-year-old daughter Sophia.

While this is in Chicago in the mid-1960’s, it doesn’t feel like the wider world of the city. Admittedly, the early 60s were not the best time in the life of the city, but also, Naomi and Sophia’s world is a very insular one. It’s their small neighborhood around the club, and the collection of friends that they have turned into a family-of-choice.

The story in the present day is told through Sophia’s eyes. She is 11, but in the tight little world created around her mother’s career as a possibly has been but also wannabe famous jazz singer, Sophia is the only child in a world of adults. As all the adults around her enable Naomi, Sophia has become a little adult herself. Her knowledge of the outside world is a child’s knowledge, but her ability to manage her mother’s mood swings, drinking and general using of people becomes more adult by the day. It’s a survival mechanism that has turned her into a little adult much too early.

Interwoven with Sophia’s perspective of the weeks and months leading to Naomi’s last night and last performance at the Blue Angel, we see Naomi’s version of how things got to be the way that they are. It is Naomi’s story, and possibly the one she tells herself, of how she has gathered the collection of people who surround her in 1965. It’s how Naomi Hutnik of Soldier, Kansas became Naomi Hill of Chicago, and all the people she either dragged along with her or pulled into the gravity of her orbit along the way.

Some of it may be objectively true, but it feels as though it’s the way that Naomi has decided to remember her own story of country girl moves to the city to strike it big – even though it takes years, and everyone around her has nearly given up hope.

Sophia, on the other hand, is better off (for certain very unusual definitions of better off) when her mother is still struggling and needs her. When Naomi finally ascends to the stratosphere, she leaves her old life behind – including Sophia.

Even though it is the help and support of the circle she drew in, and casts aside, that finally allows her to become a star.

Escape Rating B+: It is easy to get caught up in Sophia’s story. On the one hand, not a lot happens, until it suddenly does, but at the same time, her young/old perspective reveals a lot about the way she lives, the way her mother is, and what life is like for a child in the years when fear of the bomb was still real.

Sophia lives an unpredictable life of ups and downs – of being the most important person in her mother’s world, and a burden that weighs Naomi down – sometimes in the same day. Everything in Naomi’s world serves Naomi’s art, which means that everyone revolves around attempting to keep Naomi stable and making sure that she gets to the club and sings her heart out.

It’s possible that Naomi doesn’t have much heart left.

It’s certain that the instability of her life makes Sophia fear that it can all disappear in an instant. She projects that fear into her fear of the bomb, but it’s more about the people she loves and the life she knows. That her mother regularly disappears in the emotional sense means that Sophia isn’t wrong to be afraid.

The fascinating part of the story revolves around Naomi’s origin story. Absolutely nothing is as it seems, and no one is quite who they present themselves to be. These truths are revealed slowly and carefully, as Naomi tells her story and constructs the world around her one person at a time. And it all comes together just at the same time it all falls apart.

This is a story about one woman who defied the expectations of her time and gender, but it is also about her equally unconventional daughter, who is already defying the very different social conventions of hers.

If this story sounds appealing, I think you might also enjoy 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie Helene Bertino. The time and place are different but the elements of a young girl telling the story of a jazz club feel similar. As I read Blue Angel I couldn’t stop thinking of the Cat’s Pajamas, both about little girls with big stories to tell.
4 reviews
November 11, 2019
Brand new author. What an amazing read! So many fantastic characters so much truthful interaction. The story is complex and mesmerizing. Obviously incredibly well researched. But again, the characters! It was so hard to leave them when I finished. I have to see if she’s written something new!
Profile Image for Jane.
2,036 reviews31 followers
June 10, 2015
I chose Last Night at the Blue Angel as a discussion book for my library book club. It was a little “steamier” (their word) than I realized it would be. One of the main characters is not only a bisexual, but she participates in a threesome at one point. While not graphically descriptive, it’s descriptive enough to cause comments from the club members.

But it’s the 1960s, and Naomi is rebelling against the conventional expectations of her. The book is narrated in turns by Naomi and her 10-year-old daughter Sophia. In 1965, Naomi is a jazz singer who has been performing at the Blue Angel for some time. The book opens with her last night before moving on from that venue.

Naomi’s narration takes us back to 1951 and the circumstances that caused her to leave Kansas and her family as a teenager. We learn how and when she met some of the unconventional people who are still present in her life in 1965. We learn about her relationship with Sophia’s biological father, and why she decided to keep the baby although unmarried.

Sophia’s narration describes life with her self-absorbed mother and the “family” Naomi has surrounded herself and her child with on her life’s journey. Sophia is as much the parent as the child. The truest parent Sophia has is Jim, who has been in love with Naomi for years but is willing to take whatever role he can play for her in return. Sophia is obsessed with the obliteration of the world through a nuclear war. She keeps a list of all the things she’ll need to reinvent after the bomb. She also keeps a list of the people her mother has had sexual relationships with – people who never stay.

Sophia notes, “Mother’s feelings are the curb I walk, trying to keep my balance, and I get tired of it, being careful, and mad at her at the same time.” (p. 37)

I liked that the book addresses the sexism and racism of the time but also the destruction of many of the fine examples of architecture in Chicago. Jim is a photographer and is modeled loosely after Richard Nickel, who photographed architecture in Chicago in the 1960s and 70s and fought for the preservation of many buildings. Jim is a sober and steady counterpoint to Naomi.

I knew the book would have a bittersweet ending, since the story is bittersweet throughout, although I did not quite guess how it would end. (You might, however, if you are familiar with the life of Richard Nickel.)

Last Night at the Blue Angel has an engaging story and was an easy read. Many of the minor characters are quite interesting. The 1960s Chicago setting is delightful, and music is key to the feel of the story and the plot. If you don’t mind some sexual content and enjoy strong narrative voices, music, and a Chicago setting, I recommend it.
Profile Image for Tia Bach.
Author 67 books131 followers
May 7, 2015
Rating: 4.5 stars

Naomi Hill is ready for the next step, for her singing to push her to stardom. Standing in the wings at a pivotal show, Sophia--Naomi's daughter--realizes everything is about to change. This is where the book starts--at the last night at the Blue Angel, with Naomi teetering on the precipice of her dreams.

Told from both Naomi and Sophia's perspectives, the reader is sent back in time to find out how the women got to this point. Sophia, although young, lives almost exclusively in an adult world. She's often on the outskirts of her mother's life, wishing beyond anything to be pulled in. A dear friend of the family, Jim, is like a father to her.

Naomi's life is a revolving door of love interests, yet love eludes her. Blinded by what she wants, she often can't see what she already has. In the end, she finally achieves the stardom, but not without great personal cost.

Having alternating points and view and hopping back and forth through time can often be the undoing of a story. It's a delicate balance that requires excellent transition and clear voices. Rebecca Rotert really succeeds here, and I was drawn into the story right away.

Sophia is an amazing character. She's stuck in youth, yet propelled into being an adult. She wants more of her mother, yet seems to understand it's not a possible reality. However, Jim was the character who most captured my heart. Like Sophia, he stood in the wings, wanting Naomi's affection and dedication. They both loved this woman who was always just out of their grasp.

Although Chicago and the jazz scene is mentioned in the book summary, I found the story really centered on the emotional journey between what we have and what we want--and often the heartbreaking conflict this showcases. Too often it takes a tragedy to show us what's really important. Make sure you have a few Kleenex handy when this heartbreaking event inevitably occurs.

I highly recommend this emotional and captivating story. From page one, I felt invested and hopeful for the characters. This story is proof that it's not always about the ending--since we are presented with that first. It's really about the journey there.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.
Profile Image for Jaclyn Eccesso.
92 reviews9 followers
October 31, 2014
Rebecca Rotert’s breakthrough novel Last Night at the Blue Angel is the heart wrenching tale of two women: one struggling artist and single mother, and one overly mature, eleven-year-old daughter.

Living in Chicago in 1965, Naomi is a jazz singer at a hole in the wall club called the Blue Angel and lives with her daughter Sophia in a motel. Sophia, more the mother figure of the relationship, is a friendless, freckled ten-year-old who is constantly in fear of bombs being dropped and the world coming to end. She keeps a log of all the things she’ll need to reinvent once the bomb hits, as well as a running tally of the men and women that her mother has “loved” (i.e. slept with) and who have left both her and Naomi’s lives.

The only person who has remained a solid foundation for Naomi and Sophia is a freelance photographer named Jim. Jim, like so many others, is dazzled and in love with Naomi, though Naomi mostly toys with this fascination more than she reciprocates it. Jim is also a surrogate father to Sophia and one of the only comforts to her in the very distorted and adult world that she lives in. It is often Jim who shows Sophia the most love, usually more so than Naomi shows to Sophia.

The story is told from both the perspective of Sophia who narrates from the current year 1965, and Naomi who narrates from 1955. The stories are woven seamlessly together in a way that echo one another and reveal just enough to propel the reader into the other person’s narration with a new piece of information about the book’s characters, their pasts and their connections to one another. Rotert, a singer herself, has a musical pulse to her writing, and her knack for revealing mysteries that the reader didn’t even know existed is perhaps her most unique quality as a writer.

With issues of race, gender, sexuality, love, lust, feminism, child development and so much more, the novel goes beyond just the telling of a story: it encourages the reader to think outside the box of conventional thought and to consider life from multiple perspectives. Rotert is a writer with the ability to provoke thought, stir emotion and create characters so life-like you hardly need description to imagine them.

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