Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prelude by Helen Taylor Davidson

book cover
Prelude, A Novel
&
The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe
by
Helen Taylor Davidson,
Richard Davidson


ISBN-13: 978-1931807807
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Peter E. Randall Publisher
Released: August 1, 2013

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Publisher's Website:
A book in two parts, Prelude, A Novel and The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe. In the spring of 1854, a seventeen-year-old girl began to keep a daily diary. Filled with six months of the details of a young girl’s life, the diary itself offers a wonderful window into the mind of an educated young woman from a well-to-do family living in Lower Manhattan in the turbulent decade before the Civil War. Her meticulous record of the elegant music, dances and literature she and her sister enjoyed is juxtaposed with her matter-of-fact relation of epidemics and sudden deaths, conveying a vivid picture of mid-nineteenth-century life.

Adeline was the daughter of a famous nineteenth-century inventor and industrialist Richard March Hoe. Family friends included William Sidney Mount, noted as the first American painter to accurately depict African-American life; William Batchelder Bradbury, the NYC choral director and founder of the Bradbury Piano Company; and Robert Nunns, also of piano-making fame. The Davidsons’ footnotes to the diary explain Adeline's enigmatic references to the events and culture of this time.

Prelude, A Novel, is a captivating thriller about the Underground Railroad inspired by the Davidsons’ research into Adeline’s life and times. Davidson recreates the social milieu of Adeline around the most dramatic movement in the America in which she lived.


My Review:
This book is actually two books: a historical fiction, Prelude, and historical nonfiction, The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe. The diary is set in New York and the surrounding areas from May 26 to December 27, 1854. The novel was based on the diary. The author used the entries in the diary as an outline for the story and then added details to fill out entries--like having the characters drying apple slices rather than using the less specific description of helping in the kitchen.

These historical details and the historical notes on the diary were clearly carefully researched and helped to bring the time period alive. Suspense was added in the novel by giving Adeline a romantic interest and providing a secret life of working on the Underground Railroad to her love interest. I liked the characters in the novel, and they reacted realistically to various situations. There were no sex scenes or bad language. Overall, I enjoyed the interesting novel, Prelude.

The diary recorded Adeline's daily activities, like her chores, which friends dropped by, going to a party, or going out for ice cream. She talked about to the illnesses of her family and relations, the books that they read while sewing, and traveling to visit relatives. It was interesting due to the variation in activities from day to day. When she got home from travelling and the days became less remarkable, her diary petered out.

Black and white pictures were included that showed people and places mentioned in the text. There were also notes related to the diary which explained who certain people were or how billiards was played back then, or the story behind a fire in a city that was only briefly mentioned in the diary. Though the diary wasn't written with the intent that descendants might read it one day, it was still an interesting look at the time, place, and her lifestyle.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


2 comments:

Laura Fabiani said...

I like historical fiction, so I probably would enjoy this one. Books in diary format are popular these days.

Debbie said...

In this case, the diary really is a historical diary, though we're reading the typeset version rather than the original handwritten one. The fiction part, PRELUDE, is written like a typical novel.

But, yes, I'm also seeing more diary format novels these days.