Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

The war has changed Charlie’s life immeasurably–most notably taking the life of his best friend and his sister’s husband, Rob. Still, Charlie and his sister scrimp to make sure their ration coupons can provide for the two of them and his niece. But as difficult as things are, Charlie’s not sorry he hasn’t been drafted yet. Between the coupons and his wages working for the local newspaper, Charlie is glad to have a role to fulfill. Life is quiet and, if it weren’t for the swinger parties an acquaintance named Dolly holds, it would be almost boring. But then, Charlie’s niece receives a mysterious package one day. Inside the box is a doll with a note saying it’s from none other than Rob. Charlie’s niece is overjoyed to have a new toy, but his sister is distraught over the reminder that Rob is very much deceased. Even worse than the emotional turmoil is the fact that weird things begin happening. They start small, like a creepy look from the doll, but then they escalate. Luckily, Charlie happens to meet a mysterious stranger at one of Dolly’s parties. Maybe Merle can help not just burning up the sheets, but also with eradicating the eerie doll.

Merle has never been a huge fan of the preternatural gift he inherited from his mother. His adverse bodily reaction has kept him from the frontlines, but also stigmatized him for falling unconscious at random times. There is an upside, however. Merle can interact a little with the visions of the future, which is a terrific outlet for a gay man. His most recent vision is of a stunningly attractive man and Merle is beyond pleased when he runs into that man at a swingers party. One night with Charlie is enough to convince Merle that he wants more. The only caveat is the evil doll haunting Charlie’s niece. If Merle wants to take a shot at building something lasting with Charlie, he’ll have to help get rid of the doll.

Dollface is a mix of paranormal, horror, and historical romance. It’s set in New Orleans during the height of World War II. I was surprised at how little the story and characters drew on the rich and vibrant image New Orleans has. There didn’t seem to be any parallels or connections between the paranormal events the characters experienced and the city’s lore. For me, that made the setting feel kind of bland and lackluster. The war, too, seemed to be more of an inconvenience than anything else. Charlie and Merle have to contend with the coupon/rationing system for a few things, but in one scene, they’re dumping spoonfuls of sugar into their coffee. It just gave me the impression that the war wasn’t a fully developed element of the story, more just a vehicle to have Rob out of the picture and occasionally mention some quality-of-life aspects of the time period.

On the plus side, the romance that developed between Merle and Charlie felt well paced. I particularly enjoyed how Merle got a glimpse of Charlie in a vision before he actually met him for real. The sense of anticipation and expectation was delightful. Even better was that they met for the first time at one of Dolly’s swinger parties and right off the bat our two MCs recognized that they are attracted to each other and felt pangs of jealousy when they remembered that the nature of the party is to share sex partners. Even the idea of there being a swinger-like engagement was a fun concept to consider given the time period. I loved the reminder that queer people have always existed and always found ways to be who they are. Merle and Charlie took advantage of the party to get intimate, which gave me and the MCs a cautious optimism about their future for the rest of the book. Yet there were still events in the story that left Charlie and Merle wondering if they really can make it work. For example, Charlie very much over thought what it meant when Merle turned down a blowjob one time. Another example is how they both seemed to realize they were invested in being together now, but that it might not last, maybe, potentially.

The horror/paranormal aspect of the story started off delightfully strong. I loved the mystery over who actually sent the doll and this is a theme that continues through the book, with more characters coming into the fray and bringing ideas as to who gifted the toy. Rancourt did a wonderful job building up the individual creepy events that connected to the doll, starting small and working up to rooms full of roaches. The doll got tied into a bigger evil and, for me, things started to get a little murky about where the evil was actually coming from, let alone why. That was one of the critiques I had for the story, since there was no real resolution regarding who sent the doll or why. One of the MCs gets called by a different name and that idea did not get developed at all, nor did it seem to register with anyone else on page when it was used.

Given the small clues about Merle and Charlie making the most of the present (and no intention of splitting, but..) and the unanswered questions, I felt like something big was being foreshadowed. By the end of the story, though, I wasn’t left with a sense of a cliffhanger so much as a sense of unresolved threads.

Overall, Dollface is a surprisingly steamy story. The world building is fleshed out just enough that the paranormal/horror elements work okay, but the further the story progresses, the fuzzier that world gets. That said, readers who enjoy historical novels and horror will surely enjoy following Charlie and Merle on this adventure. Merle and his ability to see the future makes him a compelling character and Charlie brings good looks and spice to the table.