Book Review: The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic by Shana Abé

The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic
Shana Abé

For fans of historical fiction, here’s an engaging story about Madeleine Talmadge Force and her brief marriage to Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, America’s (and maybe the world’s) richest man at the time, cut short when they boarded the British passenger liner Titanic. In just two years, Madeleine would become a young bride, a widow and mother to a baby boy.

In 1910, Madeleine Force was only seventeen when John Astor caught her performance as Ophelia in a Junior League summer production of Hamlet. The two were immediately smitten with each other and their courtship began, despite the twenty-nine-year age difference! The world knew all about Astor and the scandal surrounding his divorce from his first wife, Ava. The ever-present press didn’t seem to bother Astor, but Madeleine struggled being in the public eye and felt vulnerable to their gossip.

The couple married in 1911 and, to escape the press, embarked on an extended honeymoon to Europe and Egypt. On their return, they boarded the Titanic in France and braced themselves for the paparazzi in New York. When the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and began to sink, her husband helped Madeleine, now pregnant, climb into a lifeboat with her maid and nurse. Astor stayed back and died when the ship sank.

I enjoyed reading this highly researched story which is loaded with details about the fashions, social lives and opulent lifestyles of the rich, including the more subtle dynamics between these wealthy people. Although the press hounded the newly married couple, high society snubbed them, and they had few close friends. One friend was Margaret Brown, a former shop girl who had become rich from mining investments in Colorado. She was also a passenger on the ship and later known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a reference to her efforts to rescue other passengers. I also liked reading about Madeleine’s family, especially her sister, Katherine, and about Astor’s son, Vincent, who was just one year older than Madeleine. He hated her for marrying his father and blamed his death on Madeleine.

Of course the drama abord the ship was also interesting and now I want to rewatch the movie Titanic, as I know many of the characters in the movie are also in this book!

Although Madeleine and her son were well provided for after her husband’s death, Vincent inherited the bulk of his father’s estate. I enjoyed looking these people up and finding out what happened to them later. Madeleine remarried and divorced two times and had two more children with her second husband, William Karl Dick. She died at age forty-six of a heart condition. You can really go down the rabbit hole researching these people. I liked that the author included websites and other resources in the Acknowledgements section for readers who want to research more. That would be me!

I think the author did a great job describing these people and their relationships to each other. I enjoyed reading their dialogues and the author’s interpretations of their thoughts and emotions. I recommend The Second Mrs. Astor to readers who like historical fiction and stories about a seemingly distant period of time because of how different our world is now.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

46 thoughts on “Book Review: The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic by Shana Abé

    1. Hi Darlene – I really enjoyed this one. My boss recommended it and I had to wait a long time at the library for it. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  1. Now I have to read this book! I really enjoyed Ann Victoria Robert’s book “The Master’s Tale” –
    (The Master’s Tale: A Novel of the Titanic: Roberts, Ann Victoria › Masters-Tale-Novel-Titanic
    Locked in a place beyond time, only the truth can set Titanic’s Master free. Haunted by his final voyage, Captain Smith relives his past: the ships he …

  2. Ann Victoria’s husband is a captain and because of that, Ann had access to the related archives when she wrote “The Master’s Tale.” We both read the book and enjoyed it tremendously. It felt as if we were part of it…

  3. Sounds like a really well written book! I also love when authors provide info for the reader to explore and research more.
    And side note – I used to live about ten minutes from the Molly Brown house when we lived in Denver

      1. Hi!
        Yes – saw the movie and wow – it brings back a lot of memories from what we were doing when the movie came out!
        It was quite a buzz.
        And side notes- first – I guess that some of the stars in the sky were not properly depicted as to what would have been in the sky on the actual crash (cool how some folks know details like that) and I guess Spielberg corrected it in the next version or updated project he made .
        Also- when I think of titanic, I remember seeing Claire Danes on Larry King Live and he asked her how she felt about turning down the part (that Kate W. Played) and Claire was so classy about it
        She said she was tired from doing Romeo & Juliet with Leonardo and wanted a break!
        I am not sure why the interview stuck with me – but maybe because I know it had to have been hard for her in some ways.

        Now I want to see Titanjc again!

      2. Oh those are such interesting side notes! I didn’t know about the sky and the stars – wow people are so detail oriented – I mean I am about some things, but I never would have thought about that. Of course I’m not science-minded so that explains it….

        I didn’t know Claire Danes turned down the role but I agree that was a classy response. I’ve always liked her acting. I remember when she was in My So Called Life – I thought she was excellent in it.

      3. Hello again
        I have not seen many movies or show with Claire Danes – but watching “homeland” is on my list of shows to tackle some day! Along with The Wire?
        Also – Claire’s response of being tired from Romeo and Juliet reminded me that making movies can be hard, demanding work – and made me see more of Leonardo DeCrappio’s (spelling that way for humor) but to see his grit and ability to push hard to crank out those movies. I think if I were in that industry I would be a lot more like Claire and wanting breaks – ya know?
        And regarding the stars in the sky
        I learned about it a few years ago (while working hard on a Sunday morning – haha – I was on my blog and twitter whike multitasking with some work that needed to get done) and Thr Master’s was on (first and only time I followed it live from twitter and it was cool)
        Anyhow – I guess one time they piped in bird sounds to enrich the golf nature vibe – but they mistakenly piped in non-local bird sounds and our bird specialists spoke up and had a fit! They fixed the recordings and had more accurate bird sounds…. and that is where I learned about the titanic star correction.
        And good thing we have those experts in various fields – takes a village eh?

    1. Ah, well – it fit into things I like reading about – historical New York and the ultra-rich. Throw the Titanic in there and that made it better. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  4. This sounds terrific! Great review, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I still love the Titanic movie, and I’m always interested in learning more about the real people involved. I’ll have to check this one out!

    1. Thanks, Lisa – I also loved the Titanic movie and although I knew real people were portrayed in the film, I hadn’t known much about them when I first watched it. It would be fun to go back now that I know a little more. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  5. I enjoy historical fiction, Barb, though I tend to gravitate more toward 19th century and earlier stories. This sounds interesting though. Thanks for your review and recommendation. 🙂

    1. Hi Diana – I tend to gravitate to this era and also WW2, but I like earlier historical fiction too. Thanks for stopping by – hope you’re seeing some signs of spring!

    1. Haha – I kwow everyone says Wikipedia isn’t the best resource, but it’s so handy for the quick look-up! I had a lot of fun looking everyone up while I read and seeing their pictures. I even started looking in the NYT archives through my library! Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  6. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and I am going to be laid up for awhile starting next week, so I think I am going to buy this one. Thanks for the post.

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