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Book Review: Dollface by Renée Rosen (3/5)

22 Aug

When you have a manuscript for a 1920s novel, you read a lot of other 1920s novels. I had this one my list for a while and I picked up a copy years ago but never got around to reading it. I had Google Playstore credit that was going to expire so I bought a copy on audio. You get to it when you can, am I right?


Cover Image via Amazon

Dollface by Renée Rosen

Summary from Amazon:

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn.  She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

This book felt to me like it contained just a little bit too much. There were elements that were there just to fit history in my mind, rather than adding to the story. I wished Evelyn’s character was simplified. I wished Basha and Dora were combined into one character. I wished there weren’t so many nick names for the gangsters. It felt like the story covered far too much time but it was also so compacted that I was surprised at how young Vera was in the end. It felt like Hannah’s age and antics at any age were just to fit the story and not really reflective of a child at that age. But here I’m complaining. Overall, I liked the story and liked Vera’s character. She seemed like a girl caught up in the whirlwind of being young and excited with just enough reality to bring her back down.

Vera was a fun character to follow. Her attitude reminded me of myself in my early 20s, but her daughter brought her closer to my current state of motherhood. I think she was caught up in glitz and glamor and realized very quickly how fast that could go away. She did seem rather weak willed at times, and that frustrated me in a heroine. In many ways, she was strong and independent, but then she’d do something silly for a man and I’d throw my hands up.

Shep was my favorite character to follow. I felt he was the most consistent throughout and we also had some fun little details of his personality that I loved. Putting his clothes under the mattress so he didn’t have to iron them was hilarious. I felt like he really loved Vera and I felt bad for him being two timed when she was with Tony. I kept wanting him to come back when he ‘went away’ because I felt like he always added something fun.

Some of Vera’s comments about motherhood hit me hard. I would find myself thinking “YASSS” when she mentioned feeding or sleep deprivation or just needing to get out for a minute. This is one of the first books I’ve read since my baby was born that had a new mother in it as well. It was refreshing and it helped me connect more with Vera.

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Renee Rosen Image via the author’s website

I liked the beginning and end of the book, but I felt like the middle had a lot of bits that could have been cut or trimmed. Vera’s relationships with Shep and Tony were fun to watch develop and the way that they wrapped up was a great rollercoaster. I enjoyed seeing the decisions Vera had to make and how she navigated them.

There were parts in the middle that seemed more like padding than story. Vera bootlegging, joining the Jewish Women’s group, and Evelyn’s relationship with Izzy were all, ultimately, not very influential in the overall plot and I think they could have been cut.

My audiobook was narrated by Rebekkah Ross. I thought she did well at giving Vera a voice. I could feel her pain and her joy at different times. Vera started the story very young and a bit naïve which I think Ross addressed well. As she experienced more loss, violence, and danger, her attitude changed and Ross developed this well.

Vera was living a dream until that dream crashed around her. She’d glamourized a lifestyle that many have idealized and longed for, ignoring the dirty sides of it. Gangsters are very iconic of the 1920s but many forget that their lives were accompanied by violence and danger. Being a Gangster Moll made you an icon, but it wasn’t sustainable. We often idealize a lifestyle of someone who is rich or famous. But those lives don’t last and they’re not always as happy as they might appear.

Writer’s Takeaway: It felt to me at times like Rosen was trying to hard to put historical events into her novel that she didn’t focus on the core story. Knowing that the story would end in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre didn’t leave a lot of mystery about how it would all wrap up. If she’d been able to invent an event or had used imagined gangsters, it would have felt less predictable. I have to imagine she’d learned so much about these historical figures and wanted to include all she could. It’s something I’ve been really aware of in my 1920s novel as I edit it and want to make sure I’m focusing on the story more than the history.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it didn’t blow me away at all. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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