The Undertaker’s Assistant
by Amanda Skenandore
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Kensington Publishing Corp.
eBook & Paperback; 304 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker’s Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience–and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.
“The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.” Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies–and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer’s shortcomings.
Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters–with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline–introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .
With thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and the publisher for my copy of The Undertaker’s Assistant. The following review consists of my own thoughts and opinions on this title.
How much can we, today, possibly understand about the Reconstruction era? What was it like for the freedmen (and women) of the south who broke boundaries and fought for justice, often at the expense of their own lives? Can I, a white woman in the 21st century, ever hope to fully grasp the hopes and disappointments of that time?
The Undertaker’s Assistant is Amanda Skenandore’s second novel. It gives the reader a thorough look at 1870s New Orleans, complete with descriptions of the sights and sounds of the city. This is a look at the difficulties concerning Reconstruction, from the perspective of a runaway slave with few interpersonal skills. Skenandore gives readers an idea of the social system particular to New Orleans, with the Creole community thinking themselves better than the former slaves and longing for their glory days.
Besides that aspect, how can I describe the main characters? I’m not sure I actually liked any of them. I found it disappointing that the main male character, a man of considerable influence, was a sleaze who oozed charm and charisma to the unsuspecting. But what of the women? Both hid their frailties behind masks of self-assurance, lying to others, each other, and also themselves. While there are hints at the future after the end, I couldn’t tell you how Effie and Adeline might’ve faired once Reconstruction was dead and buried. What I can tell you is that I now know far more about embalming the dead than I ever wished to know!
Praise for Amanda Skenandore and Between Earth and Sky
“Gripping and beautifully written, Between Earth and Sky tugs at the heart with its dynamic heroine and unique cast of characters. Though this novel brings alive two historical American eras and settings, the story is achingly modern, universal and important.” –Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The It Girls
“Intensely emotional. . . . Skenandore’s deeply introspective and moving novel will appeal to readers of American history, particularly those interested in the dynamics behind the misguided efforts of white people to better the lives Native American by forcing them to adopt white cultural mores.” –Publishers Weekly
“A masterfully written novel about the heart-wrenching clash of two American cultures . . . a fresh and astonishing debut.” –V.S. Alexander, author of The Magdalen Girls and The Taster
“By describing its costs in human terms, the author shapes tension between whites and Native Americans into a touching story. The title of Skenandore’s debut could refer to reality and dreams, or to love and betrayal; all are present in this highly original novel.” –Booklist
“A heartbreaking story about the destructive legacy of the forced assimilation of Native American children. Historical fiction readers and book discussion groups will find much to ponder here.” –Library Journal
“At its heart, this luminous book tells a Romeo and Juliet story. But Skenandore’s book is so much more than a simple romance. This novel examines the complex relationship between love and loss, culture and conquest, annihilation and assimilation.” –Historical Novel Society
About the Author
Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Between Earth and Sky was her first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Readers can visit her website at www.amandaskenandore.com.
Blog Tour Schedule
Friday, July 26
Review at Orange County Readers
Saturday, July 27
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog
Friday, August 2
Review at Based on a True Story
Saturday, August 3
Feature at Mama’s Reading Corner
Monday, August 5
Review at Bibliophile Reviews
Wednesday, August 7
Review at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, August 8
Review at Comet Readings
Saturday, August 10
Feature at What Is That Book About
Monday, August 12
Review at Cover To Cover Cafe
Wednesday, August 14
Review at Amy’s Booket List
Thursday, August 15
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past
During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two signed copies of The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore! To enter, please use the giveaway link below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on August 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.