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The Undertaker's Assistant: A Captivating Post-Civil War Era Novel of Southern Historical Fiction

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An enthralling novel of historical fiction for fans of Lisa Wingate and Ellen Marie Wiseman, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans that features an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart. "The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union si An enthralling novel of historical fiction for fans of Lisa Wingate and Ellen Marie Wiseman, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans that features an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart. "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 . . .


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An enthralling novel of historical fiction for fans of Lisa Wingate and Ellen Marie Wiseman, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans that features an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart. "The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union si An enthralling novel of historical fiction for fans of Lisa Wingate and Ellen Marie Wiseman, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans that features an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart. "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 . . .

30 review for The Undertaker's Assistant: A Captivating Post-Civil War Era Novel of Southern Historical Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    I enjoyed Amanda Skendandore’s debut, Between Earth and Sky. She writes beautiful, sweeping historical fiction, and her latest, The Undertaker’s Assistant, also has a mystery plotline to it. Effie Jones is an escaped slave who made it safely to the Union as a child. She was adopted by an army surgeon and his family during the war and educated, not just with books. With war-torn bodies. Now that she is free, Effie has returned to the south to live in New Orleans as an embalmer. She is working for I enjoyed Amanda Skendandore’s debut, Between Earth and Sky. She writes beautiful, sweeping historical fiction, and her latest, The Undertaker’s Assistant, also has a mystery plotline to it. Effie Jones is an escaped slave who made it safely to the Union as a child. She was adopted by an army surgeon and his family during the war and educated, not just with books. With war-torn bodies. Now that she is free, Effie has returned to the south to live in New Orleans as an embalmer. She is working for a white man but is more skilled. Effie loves her work and she keeps to herself mostly, until she meets a state legislator and a Creole woman, Adeline, who get her involved in activism, parties, and the social set. Racial turmoil grows in New Orleans, including violence, and Effie has to find her footing as she experiences loss. The Undertaker’s Assistant is a fascinating story, and Effie’s voice was a refreshing one. I’d not known much about New Orleans during the Reconstruction, and I have to admit, Effie’s job kept me interested. Effie is a character to champion. She is complex and dynamic, brutally honest, driven, and captivating to watch grow. Overall, Skenandore has given us another solid work of historical fiction with a fabulous main character and an unsettling time in our nation’s history. I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own. My reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com

  2. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Leopold (Suzy Approved Book Reviews)

    Effie Jones was an escaped slave raised by an army surgeon and his wife. During her time in Indiana, she learned to read and write while gaining life skills living with a doctor. She eventually returns to her native New Orleans during the reconstruction era seeking work as an embalmer. Her motivation is to trace her roots and to reconnect with anyone from her family. Effie focuses on her work as an assistant to an undertaker and has little time to socialize. Her mindset changes after she meets Sa Effie Jones was an escaped slave raised by an army surgeon and his wife. During her time in Indiana, she learned to read and write while gaining life skills living with a doctor. She eventually returns to her native New Orleans during the reconstruction era seeking work as an embalmer. Her motivation is to trace her roots and to reconnect with anyone from her family. Effie focuses on her work as an assistant to an undertaker and has little time to socialize. Her mindset changes after she meets Samson Greene and activist who is passionate about changing the culture of the city. Effie starts to experience romantic feelings for Samson but he is not ready for a relationship. In the background, racial tensions in New Orleans begin to spiral leading to a dark period of violence. The Undertaker by Amanda Skenandore brings to life a delicate period of U.S. history with her realistic characters and plot line. Effie is an engaging person and I enjoyed watching her navigate through social and personal barriers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Location: New Orleans Time: the post Civil war Our heroine: Effie Jones, a young woman, a former slave with quite a history. She is now what is referred to in the book as a “freed woman.” As a young girl in Indiana, Effie escaped to the Union side and was taken in by a surgeon in the army along with his wife, who taught her some of the necessary life skills and exposed her to the blood and gore of the war. While some of this is more than what a young girl should see, it has given her the knowledge Location: New Orleans Time: the post Civil war Our heroine: Effie Jones, a young woman, a former slave with quite a history. She is now what is referred to in the book as a “freed woman.” As a young girl in Indiana, Effie escaped to the Union side and was taken in by a surgeon in the army along with his wife, who taught her some of the necessary life skills and exposed her to the blood and gore of the war. While some of this is more than what a young girl should see, it has given her the knowledge and experience to becoming an embalmer. It has made her a resilient and strong person in some ways. She does lack some other important life skills, and we read about her struggles with that. She is quite excellent at her New Orleans embalming job - her calm demeanor, her attention to detail, her knowledge of anatomy and science. The fact that she is a woman and the fact that she is a “Negress” which is a term used to describe her in the book, makes it difficult for her to be taken seriously by some folks and for her to have a firm confidence in herself. One reason being, she does not know or clearly remember the history of her life before she came to the army surgeon and wife’s care. She remembers bits and pieces, but frustratingly enough cannot put all the pieces together. It’s difficult to be your own true self when you really don’t know who you are at all. I was very impressed with her embalming work and the different situations she became involved in. Her perfection, care and compassion for the deceased. Her white employer’s booziness and political and family attachments were always abrading away in the background, but she had a way about herself that she could manage him and saved his reputation many a time by stepping in when he could not perform. This all comes to a head as Effie becomes involved in and with some political and racial activism and falls in love with a captivating speaking and handsome state legislator by the name of Samson Greene. Attempting to juggle her job, her employer, her landlady and the women at the boarding house, Samson, the activist group(s), trying to research her past, as well as having and learning about relationships with some unusual friends, she is thrown into some trying personal circumstances which include confusion, betrayals, violence, ignorance, racial turmoil and illegal activity. This book was not on my TBR list, it was kind of a “rogue” pick at the library. I’m pleased to say that I’m very happy with my selection and enjoyed reading a bit of important post-history and the life and times of our heroine, Effie.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    The beginning of the story is slow to start, and required many recesses on my part in order to proceed. It was difficult to tell where the direction of the story was going at first. It seemed like one activity jumped to something unrelated. But then around 40% of the novel it picked up and I was able to attach myself. In this novel, the main character, Effie, reaches to answer the questions- Does emptiness feel better than pain? Is it better to be alone during life or alone after life? The story The beginning of the story is slow to start, and required many recesses on my part in order to proceed. It was difficult to tell where the direction of the story was going at first. It seemed like one activity jumped to something unrelated. But then around 40% of the novel it picked up and I was able to attach myself. In this novel, the main character, Effie, reaches to answer the questions- Does emptiness feel better than pain? Is it better to be alone during life or alone after life? The story is very dark, per the title itself, and centers around the motif of death. While the story details Effie's life as an undertaker's assistant in New Orleans as a freedman during the Reconstruction Era, she constantly affiliates her experiences to death itself not only in her thoughts, but shares these thoughts with those around her. The writing style carries dark comedy, which I found enticing and humorous. At times I found myself laughing out loud at Effie's awkward social interactions. This historical aspects were my favorite part. Effie is able to tell the story of the Reconstruction Era, in her own unique way as an embalmer, through the party scenes and political organizations. The sociology in Louisiana at this time are best reflected in her relationships which comprised of all shades, budgets, and walks of life. Most of the brutality and violence incorporated was researched on part by the author and is included in the epilogue. I recommend reading this book on the Kindle since there is profuse use of anatomical words, historical 19th century vernacular, and French spoken in this novel. Many thanks to NetGalley, Amanda Skenandore, and Kensington books for allowing me to read this advanced copy.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy Bruno

    Set in post Civil War New Orleans, The Undertaker's Assistant is a riveting historical that captivated me from the start. New Orleans is trying to bounce back after the war and recession when Effie arrives looking for work. Her skill and talent for embalming quickly lands her a job. Havig been taught the process at a young age from an Army Sargent that took her in as a child, Effie is more comfortable among the dead than she is with the living. Her penchant for calling things as they are and her Set in post Civil War New Orleans, The Undertaker's Assistant is a riveting historical that captivated me from the start. New Orleans is trying to bounce back after the war and recession when Effie arrives looking for work. Her skill and talent for embalming quickly lands her a job. Havig been taught the process at a young age from an Army Sargent that took her in as a child, Effie is more comfortable among the dead than she is with the living. Her penchant for calling things as they are and her unwillingness to deal with fools made me adore her, and her intelligence and strength were inspiring. I loved her! I really enjoyed the bits of her past life that were peppered throughout the book. My favorite part of the book was when the embalming process was described. It's not for the faint of heart, but I didn't know much about it so I enjoyed learning. Skenandore does a remarkable job with bringing post-war New Orleans to life. It's a book that is meant to be savored like a fine wine. You know you read a good book when you still think of the character months or years later and I know I will still be thinking of Effie for a long time to come. Highly recommend!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karen KK

    I received this from Netgalley.com for a review. Set 11 yrs after the Civil War. Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child. She has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her employer’s shortcomings. It was a little rough getting into it but ended up being a very Good story. I liked Effie and how she could be so brutally honest. 4☆

  7. 4 out of 5

    ☕️Kimberly

    Effie a former slave escaped the south during the war and, raised as a ward by a couple in the north. At, the tender age of seven she began learning the skills of an embalmer. Now as a young free woman, she has returned to New Orleans, near the place they found her. She finds work as an undertaker’s assistant to a northern sympathizer who’s beliefs, drinking, and unsteady hands have left his business in shambles. She quickly turns things the business around, earning herself a dollar a day. She l Effie a former slave escaped the south during the war and, raised as a ward by a couple in the north. At, the tender age of seven she began learning the skills of an embalmer. Now as a young free woman, she has returned to New Orleans, near the place they found her. She finds work as an undertaker’s assistant to a northern sympathizer who’s beliefs, drinking, and unsteady hands have left his business in shambles. She quickly turns things the business around, earning herself a dollar a day. She lives in a boarding house for young women on the colored side of town, and stumbles upon a Ward meeting. Here she hears the charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene speak. It is the first time she feels smitten for a man. Through the girls at the boarding house she visits a fortune teller and meets a beautiful young Creole, Adeline whom she eventually befriends. There are a lot of firsts for Effie in this story and as she experiences things, the memories of her past sneak back in flashes, smells and more. Effie cannot remember anything before her ward found her beside a river bank where she uttered the words, “I’m lookin’ for da’ Yankees.” Amanda Skenandore recreates the dangerous political climate highlighting some darker moments that occurred in Louisiana during this period. She shared the struggles, fear, hatred and determination of these proud people. From social activism to burned marble cake she shared it all. I laughed, and I cried right along with Effie. The scenes where she regained her full memories felt very surreal, as did her fear by the river, and in the woods. Mixed in we have romance, betrayal, friendship, family and finding home. I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention the darker sides of this tale. There is murder, racial brutality, rape, physical beatings and flashbacks. While none were overly graphic, the author didn’t gloss over these painful truth to our nation’s history. Then we have the embalming details. The geeky side of me found all of this fascinating but once again confirmed my preference for cremation. The story offers a glimpse into Effie Jones life and journey as she looks for answers and a place to call home. I laughed, cried, was angered and became emotionally invested in the story as it unfolded. This review was originally posted at Caffeinated Reviewer

  8. 4 out of 5

    Deanne Patterson

    This one is different than your usual Civil War book. Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, the cast of characters especially Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child will make you sit up and take notice . 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. Things that are just not the norm for women and especially women of this time period Effie is not afraid to get involved in This one is different than your usual Civil War book. Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, the cast of characters especially Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child will make you sit up and take notice . 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. Things that are just not the norm for women and especially women of this time period Effie is not afraid to get involved in and becomes an undertakers assistant. She returns south as a free woman to New Orleans and becomes an embalmer, her skills make up for the lack of competence of her employer. Despite the difficulties Effie faces in her life she shows a quite and unmatched inner strength no one can fault. Deals with racial turmoil, uncertainty revolving her relationships with state legislator Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline. There is a goal to all of this as suppressed memories all come back to her at the end despite trying to block it as she tries to seek out her kin. Quite the unexpected ending I just didn't see it coming. A must read, this historical kept me memorized through out as I turned the pages. The author has a captivating writing style. Published July 30th 2019 by Kensington Publishing Corporation I was given a complimentary copy. Thank you. All opinions expressed are my own.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Maranda

    This is a story set in New Orleans after the Civil War. Effie Jones was a slave who escaped and lived a big part of her life in Indiana learning anatomy and the art of embalming. Looking for her roots she returns to New Orleans and experiences life on her own. Lots of action to experience in this work by Amanda Skenandore. "This book was provided by Kensington Books via NetGalley with no requirements for a review. Comments here are my honest opinion."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Having lived up North for most of her adult life Effie, newly arrived in New Orleans where she is originally from, gets herself hired by the local undertaker. Very shortly thereafter she comes upon a political meeting in the street and falls in love with the speaker. This discombobulates her to the extent that she cannot sleep and is making mistakes in her work that was unheard of before. She is taken to a séance by her lodger friends although she is aware that such things are nonsense. However, she Having lived up North for most of her adult life Effie, newly arrived in New Orleans where she is originally from, gets herself hired by the local undertaker. Very shortly thereafter she comes upon a political meeting in the street and falls in love with the speaker. This discombobulates her to the extent that she cannot sleep and is making mistakes in her work that was unheard of before. She is taken to a séance by her lodger friends although she is aware that such things are nonsense. However, she later seeks out the séance woman to give her a potion to stop her from being in love. By this time I am finding Effie to be really irritating. A bit later a couple pages are devoted to Effie buying new boots. I saw no reason to go on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gail O'Connor

    The novel began so interesting regarding the story line but it became too wooden for me Had to put it down

  12. 5 out of 5

    The Lit Bitch

    The setting of this book instantly caught my eye and made me want to read it. It is set in Reconstruction Era Louisiana and features an undertakers assistant as the heroine. As many of you know, my Masters thesis was on women in Civil War nursing specifically Southern nurses through the Reconstruction era. So to say that this book caught my eye was an understatement—I was practically chomping at the bit to read it! I finished my Masters degree three years ago, and since then I have not read a ton The setting of this book instantly caught my eye and made me want to read it. It is set in Reconstruction Era Louisiana and features an undertakers assistant as the heroine. As many of you know, my Masters thesis was on women in Civil War nursing specifically Southern nurses through the Reconstruction era. So to say that this book caught my eye was an understatement—I was practically chomping at the bit to read it! I finished my Masters degree three years ago, and since then I have not read a ton of books set in the Civil War or Reconstruction eras mostly because I felt burnt out but every once in a while, a book catches my eye and I can’t resist it—hence this book. The other thing that excited me about this book was the main character, who is a freed slave who returns to the South to work as an embalmer. I thought this was an interesting angle and was excited to see how it played out in the story. There was a lot to process in this book. There was the historical elements that the author included, the character Effie, and of course the mystery itself. Effie was a difficult character for me to like at times. She was overly analytical at times and I had difficulty relating to her even though I can be equally as analytical and to the point, in this book I wasn’t sure that it completely worked for me. The first half of the book I wasn’t sure that I really liked her all that much but by half way through I was starting to warm up to her and found her rather interesting by the end of the book. I just wish that I had liked her more in the beginning. The first part of the book is a little on the slow side, even though it picked up later in, it took a while for me to get into it and I didn’t read it as fast as I had anticipated. Despite the pacing of the book and my conflicting opinions about Effie, I did enjoy the historical parts of the novel. I thought that the author took great care to provide the readers with the sociology of the South during the Reconstruction as well as some of the other cultural and social conflicts between the classes. The author also incorporated lots of French which helped add to the authenticity of the book and lots of medical terms which showed her research. In the end this book fell into the 3 star category for me. It was good and had lots of potential, I look forward to seeing how this author progresses in future books! See my full review here

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eileen O'Finlan

    There are many great novels set during the Civil War, but far fewer, at least that I know of, set just afterwards during Reconstruction. Yet, this too, was a pivotal time in U.S. history. The Undertaker's Assistant brings the reader into the world of the Reconstruction era south, New Orleans to be precise. Effie, the main character, is a former slave, trained as an undertaker - a profession that began to take off during the Civil War when embalming practices became more routine. Effie is an intr There are many great novels set during the Civil War, but far fewer, at least that I know of, set just afterwards during Reconstruction. Yet, this too, was a pivotal time in U.S. history. The Undertaker's Assistant brings the reader into the world of the Reconstruction era south, New Orleans to be precise. Effie, the main character, is a former slave, trained as an undertaker - a profession that began to take off during the Civil War when embalming practices became more routine. Effie is an intriguing character. She's an African American woman performing a "man's" job in the south just after the war. That alone makes for a real story. But Skenandore gives us so much more. Effie is a complex character living in a complex and changing world where she's not quite sure how to fit in. She's also looking for her past - the time before the war - a time she can only remember in tiny fragments. Her slowly emerging relationships with other characters are beautifully rendered as she moves from an isolated loner unwilling to get close to anyone to a true friend. Running throughout this story is the undercurrent of racial tensions and the determination and bravery of the African American people of the south in the face of an emerging white supremacy movement. The book is redolent with the feel of New Orleans - from Mardi Gras to Creole culture, to the many languages and backgrounds of the population. The author also handles the subject of death and the preparation of bodies in a way that is both informative and tactful. I was especially pleased that this book didn't end in the way I expected it to. I was very pleasantly surprised by the ending. Highly recommended!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Effie Jones was born a slave before she escaped to Union lines where she was taken in by an army surgeon and taught the trade of embalming as the ward of the surgeon and his wife. Now, ten years after the war Effie is compelled to leave the only home she remembers and travels to New Orleans. Effie knows that there might not be many opportunities for a young freedwoman, but she takes a chance by knocking on the door of Mr. Whitmark, the local Undertaker and a former Union soldier. Mr. Whitmark ta Effie Jones was born a slave before she escaped to Union lines where she was taken in by an army surgeon and taught the trade of embalming as the ward of the surgeon and his wife. Now, ten years after the war Effie is compelled to leave the only home she remembers and travels to New Orleans. Effie knows that there might not be many opportunities for a young freedwoman, but she takes a chance by knocking on the door of Mr. Whitmark, the local Undertaker and a former Union soldier. Mr. Whitmark takes Effie on and while improving the shop, Effie tries to find where she fits in. Effie quickly falls for the orator and state legislator Samson Greene and becomes involved in his political committee fighting for rights. Effie also finds an unlikely friend in Adeline, a Creole who teaches Effie social graces in return for help with her tricks of the spiritual trade. However, Effie is looking for more than friendship and love, she is looking for what she forgot before she was found in the Union camp, a family to miss her when she is gone. The answers Effie is looking for might be closer than she thinks. Thoughtful and distinctive, The Undertaker's Assistant is a historical fiction novel of Reconstruction era south that intelligently weaves together the experiences of a freedwoman and a woman on a journey of self discovery. I was easily able to connect with Effie's character and the turbulent but exciting times in Reconstruction-era Louisiana. Effie also shows the unique lens Undertaker and the very well researched practice of embalming. The impact of the Civil War left it's mark on more than just the freed slaves and the soldiers. Effie's employer, Mr. Whitmark, a southerner who fought for the Union is treated as an outcast even though the Union won. Adeline is a Creole whose family has been hit by the economic downturn. There is also Sampson Greene who has found his calling in helping others to rise above and using his freedom for political action. With this diverse cross-section of people in one place, I can feel the tension rising over the course of the story. In addition to the setting, Effie's search for herself and ties to her own culture drive a second story line. Effie's quest to discover her roots and the people from her past was heartfelt and emotional. Throughout the story there is a foreboding foreshadowing that something traumatic has happened in Effie's past, I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery within Effie's mind as her travels revealed hidden memories locked in her mind. This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bojoura

    What a great read! This is the story of Effie Jones, a former slave and freedwoman. She becomes an undertakers assistent in New Orleans shortly after the civil war, she falls in love with a black leader en become friends with a creole fortune teller. A very good story of survival and so very very out of my comfort zone. But i loved every word of this book! The Undertakers Assistent both entertained and educated me. Amanda's very well researched novel sucked me right into this post civil war peri What a great read! This is the story of Effie Jones, a former slave and freedwoman. She becomes an undertakers assistent in New Orleans shortly after the civil war, she falls in love with a black leader en become friends with a creole fortune teller. A very good story of survival and so very very out of my comfort zone. But i loved every word of this book! The Undertakers Assistent both entertained and educated me. Amanda's very well researched novel sucked me right into this post civil war period. She brought the characters to life with an unbelievable amount of knowledge. The setting of New Orleans in the 1870's and Effies profession as an embalmer are truly fascinating. The medical details made the story even more interesting for me, described so vividly you almost looking over Effies shoulder while she does the embalming process. Fun detail for me (since English is not my first language), Amanda used a great deal of French in the book , i did not had to look those words and sentences up. Some English words and expressions did require a little investigation. For example Yellow Jack? In the context of the story I would say yellow fever. Anyway, highly recommended !

  16. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    Effie is a young woman who, thanks to having escaped slavery during the Civil War is now trained as an undertaker’s assistant. She was found by a Union officer who took her in and encouraged her intelligence. He taught her what she knows but even though he took her in, she would never really be part of the family or replace the child he and his wife lost. It was time for her to go back from where she came and maybe find her people. So Effie returns to New Orleans after the War and talks herself Effie is a young woman who, thanks to having escaped slavery during the Civil War is now trained as an undertaker’s assistant. She was found by a Union officer who took her in and encouraged her intelligence. He taught her what she knows but even though he took her in, she would never really be part of the family or replace the child he and his wife lost. It was time for her to go back from where she came and maybe find her people. So Effie returns to New Orleans after the War and talks herself into a job with an aging, conflicted undertaker. Effie goes about her work learning that while much has changed in her world, it is also true that little has changed in the way she is treated. Her presence is tolerated because of her boss but she is still perceived as little more than a servant. She is doing the bulk of the work and it is thanks to her that the business has revived. As Effie finds her confidence she starts to explore the city where she stumbles into a political meeting. There she meets a man that steals her breath. She quickly falls under his spell, as he gives her the kind of attention she has never received before. She also meets a young woman and makes a friend for the first time. Both of them help her to find her roots but with limited success. She does find a semblance of family with the people she meets, but as tensions start to flair between black and white in the city it could all be lost. This was a fascinating book for a number of reasons from the ghoulishness of the embalming to the class divisions of black New Orleans pre and post Civil War. Effie has been far removed from all of this as she ran away when she was a child and was living with a Union family. The politics of the changing city and the cultural upheavals are a whole new arena of education for Effie. One she navigates in a less certain way than she did her studies for her profession for there is no scientific surety in dealing with emotions and feelings. Ms. Skenandore kept me rapt from page 1 to the very end of the book. This most unusual character really got under my skin; she was not immediately likable as Effie is quite prickly. But it’s because she holds herself so closely. Life has given her some extraordinary opportunities for her time but it has not been particularly kind to her. It’s a rich story about an equally rich culture. Reconstruction was not a magical time fo the suddenly freed slaves in the US. Many were suddenly adrift with no means of support and little sympathy from the white populace of the South. This book offers a small insight into what that might have been like. Put yourself in the shoes of of a smart young woman as she tries to do here best to survive. 4.5

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Kelly

    Effie Jones is a young black freedwoman whose primary goal is to find her family and the past she has forgotten, and survive in a time of turmoil. Her memories before her rescue by an Army surgeon and his wife are pretty scarce. She takes the place of their daughter who died and the surgeon gives her a good education, including being an embalmer. So she searches for a family that may be nonexistent. She is employed by a white undertaker in New Orleans which to some people is an oddity. But someo Effie Jones is a young black freedwoman whose primary goal is to find her family and the past she has forgotten, and survive in a time of turmoil. Her memories before her rescue by an Army surgeon and his wife are pretty scarce. She takes the place of their daughter who died and the surgeon gives her a good education, including being an embalmer. So she searches for a family that may be nonexistent. She is employed by a white undertaker in New Orleans which to some people is an oddity. But someone has to do it and as she has the skills, it is what she does as she feels that she doesn't know anything else, even though she is highly educated for a black woman in the South. She lives in a boarding house for young women but keeps pretty much to herself. Until that is when she meets state legislator named Samson Greene where she enters a world of politics, protests, activism, soirees and where racism is the norm. She also forms a female friendship with Adeline, a young Creole who has no clue about poverty. The more she listens to Samson talk the more she falls in love with him. Effie finds that she is interested in the politics of the time, but more interested in Samson. But fate is not in her favor as she is betrayed by those she loves, which leads to tragedy and bloodbath. This story takes place post Civil War where even though the slaves were freed, racism abounds, so are they really free? What I found interesting was not only the fact that there were women embalmers/undertaker assistants and that there were quite a few black officeholders in government. The author did such a great job with describing New Orleans This novel was very entertaining and informative. I rarely give a book 5 stars but this one is right up there. I highly recommend this book!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Set in the reformation post Civil War New Orleans I thought this was good. I love anything about the Civil War and this book was no exception. As in most historical novels that I read I learned a lot from this book. I never tire of saying I learn from books because I do. If you ever wonder how most things get started and affiliate in today's world this is a wonderful way to start. The author has a cool style to her writing. I love how she engages her readers from the beginning. Even though the su Set in the reformation post Civil War New Orleans I thought this was good. I love anything about the Civil War and this book was no exception. As in most historical novels that I read I learned a lot from this book. I never tire of saying I learn from books because I do. If you ever wonder how most things get started and affiliate in today's world this is a wonderful way to start. The author has a cool style to her writing. I love how she engages her readers from the beginning. Even though the subject of embalming bodies isn't my favorite topic of discussion. It still was some great reading. Wonderful Characters, supporting characters and a great plot! Effie is an amazing character. I love her strength, stamina and endurance. Plus we can't forget her sweet sense of humor. I don't blame her for wanting to "find herself." I felt of Effie's emotions coming through this book. It has been a pleasure watching Effie grow into the young woman I knew she could be. Along with the help of her friend Adeline she learns what loving another person really is. Ever hear that old saying that the dead can't hurt you, only the living can." This is so true. But I will say this the dead can make you hurt yourself if you let it. I don't think I'd want that type of job. I'd be afraid of what would happen! I guess back in those days you have to take what jobs you can get however unpleasant. I also enjoyed learning about the people who lived in New Orleans and the history although I couldn't understand the language that was being said even though I knew it was spoken in French since that city was settled by the French people. I strongly recommend this book by Amanda Skenandore She's truly a wonderful storyteller. My thanks to Netgalley. NO compensations were received and all opinions are my own

  19. 4 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    "The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for e "The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for everyone but Effie seems to be more comfortable with the dead than the living oftentimes. I loved Effie's character. She is tough and smart and has always done what she has needed to do to survive. She relies on herself as much as she can but she seems to be constantly running from the past and the bad memories that seem to crop up if she stays still for too long. At first, she seems quite cold and strange - what young lady would want to work with dead people? As the book unfolds, we see that there is much more there than meets the eye. We see her grow and bloom throughout the book and I loved following her. New Orleans is one of those cities that had to grow on me. It took me three visits before I fell in love with it. It makes for such a good setting for this book. New Orleans has almost a mystical and sometimes macabre feeling to it. It is the perfect backdrop for Effie's story and her dealings with the dead. Add to it all of the things that were going on after the Civil War as people grappled with what the outcome meant for them and the lives they wanted to build. The historical detail in this book is so good. Not for the tender-hearted but the descriptions of preparing the dead was fascinating. Effie pulls us into her world with nary a blink. I actually haven't read a lot of books set during Reconstruction so it was so interested to read how people were grappling with this brand new world. Overall, this was a great read and I am excited to see what the author writes in the future!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lee Husemann

    Euphemia "Effie" Jones was 7 years old and was a slave. She and another slave, Jonsey ran away and she was rescued by Captain John Kinyon of the Union Army. He took her home to Indiana where she was raised and educated by Captain Kinyon and his wife. She worked alongside the Captain learning how to embalm bodies. When she is 21, she returned to New Orleans to find her roots. She got a job as an embalmer with Colonel Whitmark who seemed to like the bottle better than his business. This book drew Euphemia "Effie" Jones was 7 years old and was a slave. She and another slave, Jonsey ran away and she was rescued by Captain John Kinyon of the Union Army. He took her home to Indiana where she was raised and educated by Captain Kinyon and his wife. She worked alongside the Captain learning how to embalm bodies. When she is 21, she returned to New Orleans to find her roots. She got a job as an embalmer with Colonel Whitmark who seemed to like the bottle better than his business. This book drew me in from the beginning and I really enjoyed it. Effie was my favorite character. She had issues to overcome and social skills to learn. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book that is very sad at times and then funny at other times. Overall, this is a great book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Angela Sanford

    In war ravaged New Orleans, Twenty one year old Effie Jones is trying to search out her roots. Having escaped slavery as a child with the help of Union officer, Captain John Kinyon and his wife, Effie was taught how to be an embalmer. Intending to seek out employment in New Orleans, Effie approaches Colonel Whitmark, the local undertaker, who is an Alcoholic. Being employed as the undertaker's assistant, Effie puts all of her energy into her work and finds little time for socializing. Out on an In war ravaged New Orleans, Twenty one year old Effie Jones is trying to search out her roots. Having escaped slavery as a child with the help of Union officer, Captain John Kinyon and his wife, Effie was taught how to be an embalmer. Intending to seek out employment in New Orleans, Effie approaches Colonel Whitmark, the local undertaker, who is an Alcoholic. Being employed as the undertaker's assistant, Effie puts all of her energy into her work and finds little time for socializing. Out on an errand, Effie runs into Samson Greene, an activist that is trying to get needed changes made. Over time, Effie begins going to the representatives meetings to see Samson. Effie begins to fall in love with Samson but will he return her love? Author Amanda Skenandore, has written a remarkable book that describes the post civil war reconstruction era. Extremely well written this novel touched all of my emotions. I look forward to reading more of this brilliant authors works!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This was a great book filled with history. It was beautifully written and utilized great word choices! Definitely worth a read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cathy Geha

    The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore Well written, plotted and researched this was a story I put down last night thinking I would not finish it, though I had enjoyed it immensely in the beginning. I think that it became a bit dark and made me feel unsettled. When I picked it up this morning I felt compelled to continue reading and am so glad that I did. I remember not requesting the ARC for this author’s first book because I thought it would be dark and now I am of the opinion that I w The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore Well written, plotted and researched this was a story I put down last night thinking I would not finish it, though I had enjoyed it immensely in the beginning. I think that it became a bit dark and made me feel unsettled. When I picked it up this morning I felt compelled to continue reading and am so glad that I did. I remember not requesting the ARC for this author’s first book because I thought it would be dark and now I am of the opinion that I will read it if and when I find a copy. This story begins in 1975 when Euphemia “Effie” Jones arrives in New Orleans from Indiana. She approaches an undertaker offering her services as an embalmer. He takes one look at her, a black woman, and puts her through her paces and as she does well at the job set by him for her to do he asks her to return in the morning. This book is not just about her work with those she embalms but also about her other experiences including the people she meets, the friends she makes, a man she believes she loves, her search for kindred and the political and social turmoil after the Civil War. Born a slave and with no memories before she was seven her life is a mystery. Taken in by an abolitionist surgeon in the midst of the war she has seen and experienced more than most. She is a bit different with her intelligence and forthrightness. She doesn’t make friends easily, finds difficulty showing emotions and tends to remain apart. She eventually does find a place she feels at home although the process of finding that place proves to be a truly emotional journey. This is not an easy book to read. Man’s injustice to his fellowman is often appalling. The losses suffered by many are part and parcel of this book. I think that Effie’s ability to distance and compartmentalize was a necessity though it did not always stand her in good stead. This is a book that made me think and care and wish the world was a different place and that true equality was part and parcel of life – back then and also today. So, I am glad I returned and finished the book and will say that I look forward to reading more by this author in the future. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC – This is my honest review. 5 Stars

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore takes place in New Orleans during the Reconstruction after the Civil War. The story follows Effie Jones, who as a young girl escapes to the North and is brought up by an embalmer and his wife. The story begins as Effie returns to New Orleans as a grown woman. She finds works, doing what she knows and is comfortable with, assisting in embalming. The story then follows Effie as she learns about friendship, love and her past. I really loved the charac The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore takes place in New Orleans during the Reconstruction after the Civil War. The story follows Effie Jones, who as a young girl escapes to the North and is brought up by an embalmer and his wife. The story begins as Effie returns to New Orleans as a grown woman. She finds works, doing what she knows and is comfortable with, assisting in embalming. The story then follows Effie as she learns about friendship, love and her past. I really loved the character of Effie. She is not comfortable with societal rules and often speaks and does what she wants. I enjoyed watching her grow from someone who pushes down all emotions and thinks in logical terms to someone who lets her emotions come through and even starts to act on them. She meets Adeline and learns about friendship and all the complications and sometimes pain that come with relationships. She falls in love and learns really what love is. I also found the history of New Orleans after the Civil War fascinating. The Reconstruction is an interesting time period in our country and not one I have read much about. The setting of New Orleans made that period even more fascinating with the conflicts between not only the white man and the newly freed black man but also the Creoles. Along with the great storyline and the fascinating history I loved the writing. The author, Skenandore, has a writing style that draws me in. I can see and feel everything that Effie does. I feel the upsets, the happiness, the struggles that she feels. I did find that I needed to slow down my reading a bit to really enjoy what was happening and become immersed in the beautifully detailed writing. My copy of The Undertaker’s Assistant was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I also won a copy from the author in a giveaway.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Pollard

    I'm going to have to be honest and say that I didn't like this book. It's just not my cup of tea. I couldn't like the characters (I tried), I didn't care for the plot...maybe it's just the same old, same old....I 😢 don't know. Please don't judge this book from my feelings, most people liked it! I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Drelick

    This is a heavy read. It starts slow and the characters seem not to have depth but as you read it becomes clear that is only because they do not have the knowledge of themselves to give that depth. Gradually you learn about many people, you learn about levels of society and how each person has a role and how to identify the roles. And because it takes place during the reconstruction era you feel the frustrations...the heaviness of the times and how that effects each and every day.

  27. 4 out of 5

    LadyJBookishNook

    Review coming Aug 6 on my stop of blog tour

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kymm

    I received this as an ARC from the publisher a few months ago and was happy to read it. I enjoyed the story about Effie a former slave who escaped to the North as a child, then returned to New Orleans as an adult to work as an undertaker's assistant. It's there that she experiences the aftermath of the war and the segregation still going on, she's subjected to discrimination and threats. No one wants a black person working on their loved one, especially a woman. Within the story of her job is al I received this as an ARC from the publisher a few months ago and was happy to read it. I enjoyed the story about Effie a former slave who escaped to the North as a child, then returned to New Orleans as an adult to work as an undertaker's assistant. It's there that she experiences the aftermath of the war and the segregation still going on, she's subjected to discrimination and threats. No one wants a black person working on their loved one, especially a woman. Within the story of her job is also the story of her search for her past, which she has very little memory of. She starts to remember pieces of it throughout the book and then enlists the help of the govt. and their records of the sale of slaves in hopes of finding answers. I found the characters likable and for the most part courageous and at times funny. The main problem I had with this book and the reason I could only give it 3 stars is a large part of the conversations between characters were in French. Now I know New Orleans was originally settled by the French and that was the main language spoken there, that and Creole, but I don't speak French and feel like I missed out on a lot of the conversations between characters because I had no idea what they were saying. Yes I could have looked it up in a French/English dictionary, but that's too much to ask your readers to do, I think. Especially with the amount of French in the book. I still wonder what I missed because I didn't understand it. Other than that I found this to be an enjoyable read with a good story and even some history of New Orleans I didn't know prior to reading the book. This will not go down as a favorite book for me, but I still will remember it fondly. Happy Reading!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bella

    Set during the reconstruction era in New Orleans Effie Jones is an escaped slave who made it to the union. She was raised by a army surgeon and his wife. She learned to read and write and other skills. When she returns to New Orleans, she comes across a undertaker wise looking for help. Effie is looking for work as a embalmer. Her main purpose is to be able to trace back to her family roots and reconnect with them. Effie is great at her job. She's quiet but she pays great attention to detail. She Set during the reconstruction era in New Orleans Effie Jones is an escaped slave who made it to the union. She was raised by a army surgeon and his wife. She learned to read and write and other skills. When she returns to New Orleans, she comes across a undertaker wise looking for help. Effie is looking for work as a embalmer. Her main purpose is to be able to trace back to her family roots and reconnect with them. Effie is great at her job. She's quiet but she pays great attention to detail. She has vast knowledge of science and anatomy, but the color of her skin makes people not take her serious. She still did her job with love and care. Always very professional with the deceased. Not only that, but she always seemed to come to her employers's aide when he couldn't do his part. Eventually Effie started to involve herself with political and racial activism and started to fall in love with a legislator by the name of Samson Greene. Follow Effie's adventures as she deals with her job,employer, the boarding house, activist groups and more. I must say this book started very slow for me and I had to put it down many times, but it finally picked up and I was able to get back into it. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Publishing for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was an excellent book. It's all about a young African-American woman named Effie who is an embalmer. She's returned to New Orleans (after growing up in the North) because she believes she was born near there, and she wants to find out if she still has any relatives. Thanks to several traumatic events, she'd blocked out most of her memories of her childhood before finding the Yankee soldiers who rescued her, but she knows they found her near that city. Over the course of the story, Effie does This was an excellent book. It's all about a young African-American woman named Effie who is an embalmer. She's returned to New Orleans (after growing up in the North) because she believes she was born near there, and she wants to find out if she still has any relatives. Thanks to several traumatic events, she'd blocked out most of her memories of her childhood before finding the Yankee soldiers who rescued her, but she knows they found her near that city. Over the course of the story, Effie does gradually remember much of her past. She makes new friends. She falls in love. She gets a job working for a white undertaker, and she gets involved with people working to protect the rights of black people in Louisiana as a whole. This was an engrossing read, and I finished it in just a few days. However, due to the subject matter, it is not what I would call a "nice" book, so approach with caution if you are squeamish or easily offended.

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