Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Dollface

Summary: America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper.

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. -- NAL

Years ago, there seemed to be no shortage of books about mobsters. I read practically every one I could get my hands on. So when I discovered DOLLFACE: A NOVEL OF THE ROARING TWENTIES by Renee Rosen, I knew I wanted to read it. Unlike most mob books that I read, this one took place in 1920s Chicago -- right at the height of Al Capone's rule!

DOLLFACE tells the story of Vera Abramowitz, a young woman who wants a different life than her mother led working in Chicago's meatpacking district. After cutting her hair into a fashionable bob and wearing shorter flapper-style dresses, Vera attracts the attention of not one but two Chicago mobsters. Aside from trying to balance relationships with both of them, the men are from rival gangs. Needless to say, Vera is in over her head!

I found DOLLFACE to be very entertaining. While some of it was kind of predictable -- namely the beginning of the novel when she was having affairs with both men, it didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the novel. I appreciated how Vera's character changed by the end of the novel, and I found her dilemmas to be intriguing. In addition, I really liked how Ms. Rosen incorporated so much factual history and real-life characters into the story. (She explains all of that at the end of the book!)

One of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much was the character of Vera. I admit that early on I didn't really like her all that much. While I understood her desire to get away from her past and life a glamorous life, I didn't really feel an affinity with her until later in the novel -- probably when she became a mother. What I did really like about her character was how she tried to balance so many of the complicated issues in her life like dating two men from different sides in the mob war, to trying to be a good wife and mother, to trying to fit in with the Chicago society types, to feeling guilt about leaving her past behind. All of this personal conflict made Vera a very interesting character.

Another thing I really appreciated is how the author juxtaposed the tension in Vera's life with the tension in Chicago during the Beer Wars. As Vera's story got more and more complicated, the mobsters' story also became more heated; and I thought the author did a great job in bring the entire story to a climax with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. I actually found the second half of the book to be almost riveting and I had a hard time putting it down!

DOLLFACE would make a terrific book club selection! The book includes a reading guide with sixteen questions. Since I found Vera to be such a complex character, of course I think there is a great deal to discuss. Some of the themes you might want to explore include the Jazz Age, the intrigue of gangsters, women's rights, class differences, love, betrayal, guilt, grief, and second chances.

DOLLFACE is ideal for readers who are interested in mobsters and 1920s Chicago as well as readers who appreciate an interesting female lead character.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I first heard about this book at the book club event at BEA last year. The publicist made it sound terrific! It sounds perfect for my mom since she was born in the 1920s and lived close to Chicago.

Kim@Time2Read said...

1920s and Chicago mobsters. Sounds like something I HAVE to read! Thanks for the review!