Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review - Last Night at the Blue Angel


Last Night at the Blue Angel

By: Rebecca Rotert
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-231528-1
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 23, 2014

In her debut novel, Last Night at the Blue Angel, Rebecca Rotert delivers a sumptuous story of sultry-voiced songstress Naomi Hill and her ten year journey of chasing stardom in 1960’s Chicago.

The story opens with ten-year-old Sophia sitting in the wings contemplating the complicated singing career of her mother, Naomi Hill. It is Naomi’s last night at the Blue Angel, the once iconic jazz club in the hub of Chicago. It is 1965 and even though it has only been a few months since Naomi got the gig, tonight is the night and the Blue Angel is the place where she will launch her career. Jim is a photographer. He fell in love with Naomi the moment he laid eyes on her. He was also (sort of) the only father figure Sophia knew.

It would have been perfect at that point for Sophia to put a “happily ever after” stamp on the scene before her, but too much happened leading up to this night. Actually, it all started before Sophia was born. Naomi didn’t grow up in Chicago. Rather, she reinvented herself in Chicago. Back in that small Kansas town, her name was Naomi Hutnik. Her family was poor—her father a German immigrant and her mother a woman with a brood of seven children (including Naomi) to tend to.

Naomi lived on the poor side of town and Laura and David Miller lived among the rich folk. When Naomi befriends Laura and their friendship transcends beyond the boundaries of school girl antics and into the throes of more than an intimate encounter, perhaps things would have been different had Laura’s mother not interrupted their moment. Sadly, Naomi was never quite fortunate enough to have do-over’s. There are no coincidences in life and at seventeen, Naomi leaves Kansas not quite sure where she’s going, but how ironic David Miller would be at the receiving end when she finally arrives.

Rebecca Rotert has written a fascinating account of what it must have been like during the 1960’s glory days of the jazz scene in downtown Chicago. She captures the essence of iconic buildings that stand no more and breathes believable life into each of her characters; particularly Jim. He is a photographer in her novel, yet he is believable given he was crafted after noted photographer Richard Nickel—a talented photographer on a mission to capture the essence of the many iconic landmarks of Chicago before they met their fateful destruction in the1960’s. Ms. Rotert guides the reader in perfect see-saw cadence between Naomi’s past and present as she tells the story of her conflicts. Naomi is a fiercely passionate singer and nurtures her singing to a fault. Rotert does an equally admirable job of conveying the conflict Naomi faces with the responsibility of being the only mother Sophia has. There are elements of humor infused just when the reader wants to admonish as much as there are moments of absolute sorrow. Ms.Rotert, you are a phenomenal conductor in charge of your symphony of words across each and every page! I look forward to your next book.

Quill says: Sit back and relax into every delicious moment of the Last Night at the Blue Angel.