The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal

In this novel, a pair of twin unhappily work in a doll shop and  a collector of rare specimens, Silas, takes interest in one of them. Iris also fall under the gaze of a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters hoping to take Victorian London by storm.

The drudgery of Iris’ work is palpable. What she wants more than anything is to become an artist. Louis, a member of the Brotherhood, offers her a chance of a lifetime. He tells Iris,

“I can teach you how to use oils, and perhaps next year you can enter a canvas into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.”

The offer, however, is contingent upon her becoming a model for him. He promises to also teach her to paint–something that Iris has longed for all her life. 

Her family disowns her after she becomes Louis’ model. They feel its unbecoming of a woman to live alone and work as an artists model. This leaves her more vulnerable to the local psychopath, Silas. 

MacNeal skillfully creates this character by first hiding his flaws. Silas originally appears as just another impassioned artist, except in his case he is interested in curiosities. He preserves dead animals and skeletons, butterflies, and other odd assortments.

Oddly enough, several women associated with Silas go missing–Flick, Bluebell, and now Iris. 

The novel skillfully draws readers into the Victorian world. Readers care about the plight of the protagonists–Louis who has gotten himself in a quandary–and Iris who desperately wants to be free to paint. Like the queen in Louis’ painting, Iris finds herself figuratively and literally imprisoned. 

In writing that rivals the best suspense novel, MacNeal takes readers into the mind of a serial killer and a desperate woman’s fight for freedom. 

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Naomi’s earliest memory is of herself as a ten-year-old running naked in a strawberry field. She runs towards migrant workers who take her to a sheriff.

Twenty years later, Naomi is a thirty-year-old private investigator trying to find a child who has disappeared while out on a family trip. Naomi has become a private investigator to atone, as she puts it, to “atone” for her past. 

The child she seeks to save, however, has been lost for three years in a remote part of Willamette Valley. There’s no evidence to suggest that the child is alive. The case is inactive and its assumed she has perished in the snow. 

Naomi learns from each case and this case gives her most valuable insight yet. Glimmers of the past return as she finds the living conditions of the girl, a cave in a remote claim.

Denfeld, a former private investigator, writes a taut, psychological mystery with details that ring true.  

A harrowing work of psychological fiction set in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where fur trapping is still commonplace in remote towns. In one such town, a mysterious figure lives in obscurity. Years ago, he had been kidnapped and tortured by someone he calls simply “The Man.”

Could this be mysterious figure be tied to the missing girl?

As Naomi reaches out to her foster bother, some of her lost memories return. After solving the case of the missing girl, called the “Snow Girl,” Naomi vows to solve a more personal missing person case. 

The Butterfly Girl is the second novel in the Naomi Cottle series.

Hugo: A Look Back

Hugo was released in 2011. Since then its lost none of its charm.

Hugo is a well-shot and well-acted movie that also happens to have a beautiful message.

I first became aware of the book which I always meant to read. The book is a marvelously illustrated and written by Brian Selznick.

Wonderful moments abound in this film, like Hugo hanging on to the arms of enormous clock. The scene looks like something out of the silent film Safety Last. The film honors silent films and silent film makers so this scene is so fitting.

One of the best aspects of the movie, however, is the theme.

Standing near the clear dial of the clock, which is an enormous window, Hugo realizes that the world is like an enormous machine.

If someone has lost their purpose, they are broken, just like the automaton Hugo’s father found. Yet, that doesn’t mean they can’t be “fixed” or redeemed.

“Are you a fixer?” Isabelle asks Hugo. Humbly, he says, “I think so.”

The villain of the movie has a prosthetic leg, which he needs because of a war injury.

The war has left him embittered; plus, he has had a terrible childhood. Consequently, he delights in locking up and terrorizing orphaned children.

Even this character though is “fixed,” in the end, as he returns with a working leg, presumably fixed by Hugo and Papa Georges.