Shana Abé. New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly & Wall Street Journal Bestselling author of historical, fantasy, paranormal and romance fiction.
Synopsis: 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…
I chose to post the above scene from Titanic because Rose mentions Mrs. Astor’s “delicate condition” in her new marriage to “the richest man on the ship.” Having seen this film several times, I knew this would be a fitting scene to add to this review.
Thoughts As I Read
As I was fairly disappointed in the last book I attempted to read (I’m looking at you, THE HAUNTING OF BRYNN WILDER), I approached this novel with a little more trepidation than I normally would. Ms. Abe is another new-to-me author, and (according to the cover) is also a NYT best selling author.
When I say these novels are worlds apart, I mean that quite literally. While I couldn’t sink my teeth into Brynn Wilder, at all, I absolutely devoured The Second Mrs. Astor long before I realized I was well past the book’s first fifty pages. The fact that I found myself on page 65 completely disqualifies this title from a “first fifty pages” review, but that’s okay!
Ms. Abe’s writing is everything. Written as though the female lead is writing a letter to her son, it makes sense for the time period it which it is set. Within the novel’s first chapters you already know just how important the male lead is, even if you are unfamiliar with their connection to the infamous Titanic disaster. What I also like about Ms. Abe’s style is that she doesn’t shy away from longer paragraphs, which ties in to the writing style of the time.
It is a relief, I must say, that while there are the cliche “gossips,” garden parties and balls with champagne, there is none of the girls out for revenge or jilted siblings to contend with. The Second Mrs Astor, so far, is a love story with all the right things in all the right places. I wish I could say that for a lot of the books written these days.
“No one in their right mind wants to winter on the island, not if they can help it, with the Arctic wind screaming down and the snow blowing horizontal and ice caking thick as planks over the houses and walkways and spiky dead gardens.”
“When he touched your skin, even just for a handshake, you felt important. You felt as if you mattered, whatever your name or fortune or background.”
“They turned to each other. She had the sense of eyes watching them, of conversations broken off, but it didn’t matter. He lifted his chin, lifted her hand. Then, with a dip of his shoulder, he led her into the next measure of a waltz.”
The Second Mrs. Astor might not be for a reader who enjoys more modern tales, but for the historical fiction crowd it is an absolute gem. I was also delighted with a mention of Pittsburgh – my home and current town – within its pages. In all honesty, I feel like The Second Mrs. Astor deserves to be on the best selling lists way more than The Haunting of Brynn Wilder, and I am not sorry for that opinion. I can already tell that this book was thoroughly researched and thoroughly plotted and painstakingly written. And it will be fully read before the weekend is done!