We're thrilled to welcome Amanda Skenandore to Books & Benches with her novel, The Nurse's Secret, which sounds fascinating and mysterious. We hope you enjoy getting to know more about the book and author as much as we have.
The Nurse's Secret
From acclaimed author and registered nurse Amanda Skenandore, The Alienist meets The Light of Luna Park in a fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America’s first nursing school, as a young female grifter in 1880s New York evades the police by conning her way into Bellevue Hospital’s training school for nurses…
“A spellbinding story, a vividly drawn setting, and characters that leap off the pages. This is historical fiction at its finest!” – Sara Ackerman, USA Today bestselling author of The Codebreaker’s Secret
Based on Florence Nightingale’s nursing principles, Bellevue is the first school of its kind in the country. Where once nurses were assumed to be ignorant and unskilled, Bellevue prizes discipline, intellect, and moral character, and only young women of good breeding need apply. At first, Una balks at her prim classmates and the doctors’ endless commands. Yet life on the streets has prepared her for the horrors of injury and disease found on the wards, and she slowly gains friendship and self-respect.
Just as she finds her footing, Una’s suspicions about a patient’s death put her at risk of exposure, and will force her to choose between her instinct for self-preservation, and exposing her identity in order to save others.
Amanda Skenandore brings her medical expertise to a page-turning story that explores the evolution of modern nursing—including the grisly realities of nineteenth-century medicine—as seen through the eyes of an intriguing and dynamic heroine.
5 Questions for Author
Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special?
The main character of my novel is Una Kelly. She’s a slum-dweller and pickpocket extraordinaire. From an early age, she’s had to fend for herself, and that’s made her scrappy and self-reliant. But also mistrusting. She becomes a nurse trainee at New York City’s infamous Bellevue Hospital to throw off the police and finds herself in a world unlike anything she’s known. What I liked most about writing Una’s story and what makes her so special is the way she’s able to use her courage and street smarts to get by at the hospital while also learning there’s more to life than survival.
In addition to being a writer, I’m also a nurse and was curious to explore the profession’s early history. Today, nursing is among the most trusted professions, but that wasn’t always the case. Until the late nineteenth century, nurses were untrained and often illiterate. Creating a fish-out-of-water character like Una helped me approach that history in a more playful and relatable way.
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
I love Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. I keep a copy in my writing room and read it when my confidence falters.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
I like to imagine myself as a writer daring greatly. Yes, I make mistakes and suffer failures. But in the end, at least I spend myself in a worthy cause, doing something I love, something that makes me a better person, something, I hope, that inspires my readers.
Are there particular themes or motifs wrestle with or address in your books?
The Nurse’s Secret is my fourth book. Something it shares with all my previous work is the theme of belonging. I never set out with the intension of wrestling with this idea— what it means to belong, how we find the people who accept us for who we truly are—but somehow that question is at the heart of everything I write. I suppose, like most people, there have been periods of my life where I’ve struggled to fit in. I’m shy and reserved and have old-cat-lady-like tendencies. But I’ve also known the joy of great friendships and the deep inner quietude of belonging. I want that for my characters too.
What is your favorite movie based on a book, where you preferred the movie?
My favorite movie of all time is Fried Green Tomatoes. (Insert agreement from B&B!) So often in books and movies, friendship between women falls into that “frenemies” trope, but Fried Green Tomatoes offers a more honest, complex, and diverse picture. I read the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag hoping to love it as much as I love the movie but I just...didn’t. Somehow it lacked the emotional swells of the movie. Maybe if I’d read the book first, my experience would have been different.
If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing?
I’d enjoy trying my hand at paranormal romance. I came late to the romance genre. Growing up, there were “trashy books”—romance, thrillers, horror—which my father cast as, well, trash, and worthwhile books, which was basically everything else (bonus points if it had to do with science). I read Dark Lover by J.R. Ward in my mid-twenties and my mind was blown. Since then, I haven’t met a romance book I didn’t enjoy. (I love historical romance too.) During the pandemic when work at the hospital was at its most stressful, romance was all I cared to read.
Even though I write historical fiction, a dash of romance always creeps in. I can’t help myself. My husband says I’m an 11 on a ten-point romantic scale. I think I’m more like a nine...
B&B: Thank you so much, Amanda, for sharing your book, insights, and thoughts with our readers.
Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Her first novel, Between Earth and Sky, won the American Library Association’s Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction. She grew up in the Colorado Rockies but now lives in Las Vegas with her husband and their pet turtle Lenore.
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Publisher: Kensington Books
Release: June 28, 2022
Content Rating: PG-13 (2)
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