The Second Mrs. Astor
by Shana Abe
What is it about:
Madeleine Talmage Force is just seventeen when she attracts the attention of John Jacob “Jack” Astor. Madeleine is beautiful, intelligent, and solidly upper-class, but the Astors are in a league apart. Jack’s mother was the Mrs. Astor, American royalty and New York’s most formidable socialite. Jack is dashing and industrious—a hero of the Spanish-American war, an inventor, and a canny businessman. Despite their twenty-nine-year age difference, and the scandal of Jack’s recent divorce, Madeleine falls headlong into love—and becomes the press’s favorite target.
On their extended honeymoon in Egypt, the newlyweds finally find a measure of peace from photographers and journalists. Madeleine feels truly alive for the first time—and is happily pregnant. The couple plans to return home in the spring of 1912, aboard an opulent new ocean liner. When the ship hits an iceberg close to midnight on April 14th, there is no immediate panic. The swift, state-of-the-art RMS Titanic seems unsinkable. As Jack helps Madeleine into a lifeboat, he assures her that he’ll see her soon in New York…
Four months later, at the Astors’ Fifth Avenue mansion, a widowed Madeleine gives birth to their son. In the wake of the disaster, the press has elevated her to the status of virtuous, tragic heroine. But Madeleine’s most important decision still lies ahead: whether to accept the role assigned to her, or carve out her own remarkable path…
What did I think of it:
Some of my long time followers might know I can't resist books that feature the Titanic. So when I saw this book I had to get my trotters on it, even though I'm pretty familiar with Madeleine Astor's life story.
And let me tell you: do not get too excited about that last part of the above blurb. This book is about Madeleine's relationship with John Jacob Astor alone, not about her relationships after that.
That being said, I very much enjoyed this book. Even though the storytelling is distant at times, I was swept up in the love story. And I must say: with all Madeleine has to endure because she gets courted by Astor and eventually marries him, I can easily imagine she actually did fall in love with him. Because unless her parents forced her, there's only two reasons why she'd put up with all the harassing by reporters, the snubs of Astor's peers, and all the other stuff: Love (or maybe infatuation) or Money. And knowing how her life turned out after the end of this book, I think money wasn't the main motive in Madeleine's life.
Each chapter starts with Madeleine writing to her son who's a baby in first person, and soon after switches to third person, following Madeleine as she gets to know John Jacob Astor.
I loved reading the whole lead up to their marriage and reading about their honeymoon. Then they board the Titanic and you know what will happen soon. I was glad to discover Abe did her research and there were no big errors to drag me out of the story so I could stay emotionally invested in the events of that fatal night.
All in all a well written and believable love story, although I secretly hope Abe will write a sequel to cover Madeleine's further life. I want more.
Why should you read it:
It's a beautiful love story connected to the Titanic
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