The Undertaker's Assistant

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

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 !
Was this review helpful?
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!
Was this review helpful?
First of all, thank you for allowing me the privilege of reading your book.  I enjoyed the story very much and found the characters to be likable, entertaining and real.  Effie's journey from the North back to New Orleans to become an undertaker's assistant is inspiring, especially for a black female in the aftermath of the Civil War where she still has to deal with discrimination and segregation.  Her response to the threats and abuse shows what a strong person she is.  Effie seems like a wonderful young woman who knows what she wants and gets it, although she seems a bit uninformed about love and therefore reaches out to a friend for some advice, since she's fallen for a State Representative, who is more of a lady's man than a one woman man.  When she is betrayed by her employer she lashes out in a somewhat comical way, she's got a great sense of humor.  I liked that part and thought it a daring act Effie did and laughed out loud when I read it.  That doesn't happen to me often, so kudos to you!  I had one big problem with the book and that was the amount of French conversation that went on.  I don't speak French and didn't feel the need to read it side by side with a French/English dictionary.  I feel like I missed out on a lot of dialogue because I had no idea what they were saying.  I realize New Orleans was founded by the French and that was the main language spoken, that and Creole, but I think if there would have been either less of it or even a translation would have  Other than that, I enjoyed every word and learned some facts about New Orleans and the problems they faced after the war that I didn't know prior to reading the book.  I love historical fiction and feel this book satisfied my thirst for the genre,  It had it all, drama, romance, history, and even a bit of humor.  I look forward to future books by this author.
Was this review helpful?
This book had been on my radar since early in the year and I am so excited and thankful to Netgalley and Kensington Books for providing me with the opportunity to read and review it!

I absolutely love that the author writes about perspectives of historical fiction that are often brushed aside. While Effie is an incredible young woman, she is very much trying to find herself and her place in this world. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to return to the area in which she was enslaved as a child and even years later was not always a friendly place for her to be. I also loved that she’s an incredibly deep and unpredictable person. The depth of Effie that the author captured was something you don’t see often.

I rated this book four stars because of the depth of the characters, the tension and the beautiful (and tragic) story line that was artfully crafted. Any time Amanda Skenandore writes a book, it’s on my list to read as soon as it comes out. I always know I’ll be completely immersed in the world, the well-being of the characters and really taking away a different perspective of life that I can learn from.
Was this review helpful?
This was ok,not as good as I thought it would be,a little drawn out. The story as good and she was in search of something,and found it,but I guess I didn't enjoy it as much add I thought I would! Try it just cause I didn't care for it doesn't mean that you wont!
Was this review helpful?
The author has ingeniously imagined, richly portrayed, and brought to life a fantastic protagonist.
I admit I wasn’t drawn to the idea of taking a journey with an undertaker’s assistant, however the striking cover drew me in. The expert writing kept me riveted, wishing I had the time to read it all at once. I felt transported to post civil war New Orleans. The balance of plot development, character development, and descriptive detail was just perfect, almost poetic even.
So glad I put this book on my summer reading list.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
This book was received as an ARC from the publisher and Author, in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own

A deeply intriguing and introspective moving novel 

  Amanda Skenandore, new novel is Intensely emotional historical drama set during the Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Euphemia also known as Effie is a compelling and unforgettable heroine. A former slave and now an accomplished undertaker's assistant, she has returned to New Orleans to forge a new life and confront her traumatic deeply barrier past. 

Skenandore involves all the senses in her evocation of the past, from the bustling, multi-lingual French Quarter, where Creole socialites are elevated. to the riveting terrifying raids of  mobs of angry white men that carry out violence against law-abiding Black citizens. An educated freedwoman Effie who’s occupation as an embalmer makes her stand out among the rest. Barely 21 years old Effie takes a position with a white employer. Her meticulous talents as an embalmer make up for her present employers short comings. The author does a wonderful narrative setting the plot line up in the beginning as we get to know each character and a bit of the back stories. This richly atmospheric historical fiction with interpersonal drama and well developed characters with a creative storyline will keep you glued to the pages.
Under the Authors narrative voice you are catapult into the book setting of 1870s 
New Orleans.

Authenticity researched this novel examines the complex relationship between love and loss, culture and social caste, and assimilation 

Skenandore's impressive second novel, The Undertaker’s Assistant, is a phenomenal book, that I will definitely recommend to my family and friends 
A deeply intriguing and introspective moving novel 

@netgalley #netgalley #theundertakersassistant #bookrecommendations #bookreview #bookreviews #bookreviewer #bookreviewers #bookreviewblog #book #bookshelf #books #bookstoread #author #authorsofinstagram #authorlife #authors #authorslife #read #reading #reader #readersofinstagram #book #books #writersofinstagram #writer #writerscommunity #writerslife #writersofig #writers #writersnetwork
Was this review helpful?
"The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." 

Effie Jones, once a slave, escaped a place she can not even remember as a child. 
Found outside of a Union camp and taken in as a ward for an army surgeon. The Captain and his wife taught her to read and write, also how to forget her past and how to embalm bodies.
Effie's feelings are buried so deep she appears cold and unfeeling. Leaving Indiana and returning to the last place she remembers, New Orleans, she quickly finds employment in the Re-Construction Era, 11 years after the Civil War, with an undertaker who needs her. He is a tortured drunk and Effie does all the work.

Effie maintains a distance from the other ladies at the boarding house. Not interested in anything but work and saving money. A chance meeting with a creole young lady has her learning to be comfortable with society and going to political meetings. 

Things around the South are very volatile between the races and not a lot has changed for the better. After a confrontation, Effie begins to have flashes of painful memories of a holding pen and other slaves. She decides to find out who she is and where she came from.

This was a hard book to read. Not a part of our past I am proud of but these stories need to be told. I can't imagine not knowing something as basic as your own last name. The trials and heartbreak Effie went through only made her stronger. 

An exceptionally well-told tale!

NetGalley/July 30th, 2019 by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Was this review helpful?
"Her past was all around her, yet still beyond her reach."

Wow, This would make a good movie. Become immersed right away and continue to be so throughout. Interesting, unpredictable story. Effie is 7 years old, running into a Union camp during the Civil war, taken in by a doctor. She assists him through the War and he takes her up North with him after the North wins. Even though freedom from slavery is won, the progress those of her race have made is resented.  Eleven years later she goes back South to New Orleans to try to remember and find some kind of connection with her early life.
The doctor who raised her taught her to be his assistant as an embalmer, and she is good at it. She's very bright, knowing the entire anatomy, German, Latin. Her Northern accent is not appreciated though. As she learns more about her past, she grows with the relationships she forms along the way, and finds her own strength and personal freedom. Overall a clean read, with some mild sexual references, such as what the slave traders did to her even though she was a little girl. Brings to light some of the very cruel treatment of African Americans. The violence and intimidation depicted in the story are based on historical fact. 

"Even the chains and shackles would someday rust and crumble. Then who could say it happened at all?"

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher and NetGalley book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
#TheUndertakersAssistant #NetGalley #AmandaSkenandore #BooksYouCanFeelGoodAbout
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
The power to evoke history thrives in the vivid writing of this novel, in the believable characters and setting of Reconstruction America. My heart broke for Effie on every page—her lost family, doomed love affair, her aloneness not only in post Civil War New Orleans, but amongst the city’s people of color. She’s tall, with big feet, and is hard pressed to keep herself decently dressed. Though broken families abide everywhere in the wake of Emancipation, Effie’s trade, what she had been raised to since she was a child (with echoes of Oliver Twist and his brief stint as a child mourner for hire) sets her apart. Effie’s trade unexpectedly brings her into dangerous situations.

The continuing of the violence perpetrated on former slaves by white people is everywhere, bringing the city together while tearing it apart, and forms a good part of the narrative. Betrayal is everywhere.

I did at first think this novel was a new historical mystery series, but my disappointment disappeared the more I turned the pages. This is a standout novel from my usual reading. I found the details of the embalmer’s trade fascinating. I love the heroine Effie and highly recommend this novel.
Was this review helpful?
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!
Was this review helpful?
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
Was this review helpful?
Effie is a Negro women. She is also an apt embalmer of the dead. She is smart, well read, literate. Some of the other women call her uppity, but she just says it as she sees it.
Effie has just returned from the north. She is home now in New Orleans. She knows she is from here. She just can't find any family or friends from that time. She was seven when she was rescued by the army in grey. She grew up in a home where a daughter had died. She has learned everything she knows from the people who have taken her in as their ward. 
In New Orleans she finds a job with an undertaker. She does well for a woman of that time. She lives in a boarding house with other women. 
The one thing that seems to escape her is love. When she sees Samson Greene at a Republican meeting she is in live immediately. 
When he asks her to marry him, she does not understand why she can't immediately say yes.
An intriguing story of strength, live, betrayal and family. Excellent characters. A definite must read.
Was this review helpful?
One of the more unusual heroines in recent historical fiction, Effie is a young woman who escaped slavery, lived through the Civil War, learned a niche trade in the undertaking business, and moves to New Orleans in a search for her own heritage.  That last is a broad characterization but it's also a fair one.  New Orleans during Reconstruction is a stew of hatred, corruption, and so many other things- not what Effie had hoped to find. She is luckier than many, however, because she is able to work at a respectable job even if for a pig of a boss.  Chance encounters lead her to her first friendship with Adeline and romance with Samson but regular readers of this genre know that things won't go smoothly.  This take a bit to get into- it's not an easy read initially- but keep reading because Skenador does a nice job with a sense of time and place.  Effie isn't the most likable character perhaps but I found her sympathetic - her life has not been and is not easy.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  For fans of historical fiction.
Was this review helpful?
An interesting tale about Effie, a young undertaker's assistant who returns to New Orleans after the Civil War. A doctor serving in the Union Army has trained Effie in her profession.This book is not for the squeamish since a good amount of embalming details are included. Effie is an odd person, awkward in social skills and not very likeable. Her story is as unusual as her profession. Not as an enjoyable as I had anticipated.
Was this review helpful?
With her second historical novel, Amanda Skenandore taps into society during the politically troubled Reconstruction years in New Orleans, where formerly enslaved people organized political meetings and mingled with Creoles of mixed race.

Into this environment comes Euphemia “Effie” Jones, a freedwoman in an unusual profession: she embalms the dead alongside her white employer, Mr. Whitmark, a former army colonel who had fought for the North. In reality, Effie knows the job as well as he does, often finding herself taking over tasks since his hands shake after years of too much drinking. 

Having been trained in her profession by the white colonel from Indiana who’d taken her in after her escape from slavery as a child, Effie has returned home in search of the personal past she can’t remember. Alongside the uphill battle of her quest, she befriends, to her surprise, several people who challenge her stoic outlook, including Samson Greene, a handsome Black state representative, and Adeline, a beautiful upper-class Creole who cares for her mother after falling on hard times. 

In a different writer’s hands, Effie could have been an unsympathetic figure. More comfortable with the dead than the living, Effie closely guards her emotions, and she can be frank to the point of discomfort. She discusses her career too readily at social gatherings, for instance, and doesn’t hesitate to inform the other women from her boardinghouse that they’ve been taken in by a fraud. (They don’t react well.) However, by giving her a believable inner life, Skenandore makes her behavior feel logical, even admirable. Effie had clearly experienced some terrible trauma in her youth, even though it comes back to her only in bits and pieces, and overcame it to establish a fiercely independent life. 

The novel’s pacing can be slow at times, but it’s strong in both character and setting. The social environs are adeptly evoked, from the bustling, multi-lingual French Quarter, where Creole socialites seek to impress, to the terrifying raids that mobs of angry white men carry out against law-abiding Black citizens. The embalming process is presented in detail, much like an art form in which Effie happens to be particularly talented. 

In addition, Skenandore involves all the senses in her evocation of the past, which not only looks differently than the era we know but can also sound and smell differently. The Undertaker’s Assistant is worth seeking out for anyone seeking an American historical novel both intriguing and original.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
Effie Jones was found “somewhere new New Orleans” when she was “about 7 or 8” by a Union surgeon. Brought up north and made a ward of the couple, she was educated and brought into the new undertaking as an assistant. Now, she’s headed back to New Orleans and is working for another former Army man who owns a funeral home: the home in decline because of his alcoholism and the fact he didn’t join the confederacy has been hard on business. Now with Effie, efficient, cold and seemingly unemotional, he’s got an able assistant, and one who will work to do the best job she can for the dead she cares for. 

Starting out, this book felt as if Effie was shallow and keeping us at a distance, but in reality she had no memories of her early life, parents or family, and only a few random dream-images and flashes of familiarity bring her any knowledge of herself.  She’d done all that was asked of her by her guardians, but the little things: school, friendship, emotion were all not important.  Effie is awkward socially, prone to blurting out the truth or questions as she thinks of them, and not having a sense of family or self have her constantly questioning love, family ties and connections. 

While the story carries a tone that is darker than most, it is the history, accurate portrayals of challenges and choices that Effie makes as she comes to understand who she is, was and where she wants to find herself. The tumult of the reconstruction era, along with the fears and dangers it provided when added to this very real person in Effie – even as she puzzles out the meaning of social interactions, restrictions and prejudices was lovely. She is palpable and so vulnerable – naïve and unknowing, cautious and too trusting, yet wholly engaging when pieces of her past (and new challenges) have her realigning her own attitude and desires with the knowledge gained.  This was a favorite read – I couldn’t put it down and just had to know if things changed for her, and if she found solace in answers that will allow her to ask and answer ever more difficult questions. 

I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. 

Review first appeared at   I am, Indeed 
Was this review helpful?