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Review of -- Titanic: The Untold Story

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Review of Titanic: The Untold Story, by W. Mae Kent (Paperback, 2008)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Kent can weave a good story. This one takes place in the form of an historical novel, with most of the action occurring in 1912. The characters are real and the dialogue is good. I enjoyed reading it.

The book has a few rough edges and could use a good copyediting for typos, misspellings, and incorrect word usage. But, let's keep that in perspective; Mae is way ahead of, say, John Grisham on this score. A few plot items could also be improved, but generally the author rewards the reader's trust.

The book was interesting from the start. But it became compelling at one point. Even with a major element of the story already known (the Titanic sinks), I found myself unable to put the novel down from the moment Mrs. Legarde hears a sound "like a large chair being scraped against the floor." Ah, we know what that is! When will each character find out what that means, what will they do, and what will happen to them? The tension mounts as the main characters face one challenge and then another, with no clear way out.

This novel is just over 400 pages long. It consists of 37 chapters of varying length, plus a prologue and a denouement. The central character of the story is Nathan Legarde. Young Nathan fled his native Michigan as a pre-teen, due to a seminal event that occurred there (and which is not resolved until the end of the novel).

He fled to France as a youngster, which is an important fact in this story.

At the time this story took place, a lot of crazy thinking was considered normal. In the controlling society of the time, people with a higher melanin concentration and some other secondary characteristics were supposedly inferior to people with a lower melanin concentration and different secondary characteristics--a situation we call "racial prejudice." This problem isn't nearly as bad today, although in some parts of the USA a person can still be pulled over for Driving While Black (happened a few years back to a neighbor of mine, though she holds two Master's Degrees).

In this story, the lead character has a "black" mother and a "white" father. He's also married to a "white" woman who is a native of France and together they have young children.

In France, the prejudice wasn't nearly the problem it was in the USA at that time. This situation provided Nathan opportunities that would have been denied him in America around the beginning of the 20th Century. And he seized those opportunities. He earned an engineering degree and distinguished himself as an athlete (in fencing, for example). He also distinguished himself in his career and had a solid reputation.

Then Nathan's father, as he is dying, leaves Nathan with a mission. That mission is the plot vehicle for the story, as it requires him to travel from France to America. His father gives Nathan tickets to go there with his wife and children, aboard the brand new Titanic. Inside a satchel are some other items he will need for this mission, and those come into play at different times in the story.

As the plot moves forward, Nathan is confronted by prejudice but also befriends people who respect him for who he is and what he does. The book isn't about prejudice and doesn't get preachy or (on the other hand) apologetic. It just tells the story, using the mentality of the time to make it interesting and believable as the various characters interact.

Nathan has some flaws that manifest themselves into subplots within the story. Several other characters act out their insecurities and this kind of characterization makes them real, rather than cardboard. The main villains have their own twisted logic, but it's logic nonetheless and these people are also believable.

Try this book for something original and fresh. I think you'll enjoy it.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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