The Wintercombe Series by Pamela Belle Review

If you are looking for a great historical fiction series packed with intrigue, family issues and a little bit of romance, then I have the series for you. I first discovered the Wintercombe series by Pamela Belle about fifteen years ago. I picked up Wintercombe in a second-hand book store and then later its sequel Herald of Joy. I lost both books in a house move and then spent years trying to find them again. To my delight, I discovered that both books were available as ebooks this year and I bought them immediately. And I also discovered book three A Falling Star and book four Treason’s Gift.

Wintercombe is set during the English civil war in the 17th century and tells the story of its namesake, Wintercombe, a beautiful manor house in Somerset where Puritan Lady Silence St Barbe lives with her two step-children Rachael and Nathaniel and three children Tabitha, Deb and William. Her Parliamentarian husband is off fighting in the war. Silence is the perfect Puritan wife to her much older husband and lives a quiet, godly existence.

The English Civil war has been raging for two years when a detachment of Cavaliers is sent to garrison at this country house. Not having anywhere to take her children, and not wishing to let her house and beloved gardens be destroyed by the enemy in her absence, Silence elects to stay for the occupation.

Captain Nick Hellier is the second-in-command of the enemy Royalist soldiers and is, at first, not someone Silence is willing to trust. But compared to the brutish Lieutenant-Colonel Ridgeley who is evil incarnate, Captain Hellier is mild mannered. He soon becomes someone Silence can go to for help, despite being an enemy, as he does his best to protect her and the children from Ridgeley’s wrath. Amidst all the turmoil of war, Silence begins to break free from the constraints around her and allow music, laughter and love into her life in the form of Nick. Continue reading

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh (Kindle edition,   pages, Published March 2012)
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh (Kindle edition, 346 pages,       Published March 2012)

I just finished reading The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh. Quotes from reviewers likened it to the African version of Gone With the Wind and as that is one of my all-time favourite books, I had to give this book a read. I can see where they got the comparisons from. Both books contain a female protagonist who is selfish and thoughtless. Both books deal with the theme of slavery and have their heroines go through severe hardship. And both books contain love triangles where one man is a scoundrel and the other the epitome of goodness. That is where the comparisons end. 

After all, how can a book of 346 pages (The Fever Tree) compare with the epic saga Gone With The Wind which runs for over 1, 000 pages? Scarlett O’Hara is one of the best literary characters ever created, as is Rhett Butler. The Fever Tree doesn’t come close to matching GWTW‘s brilliance. BUT, standing on its own merit, The Fever Tree was still a good read.

The book is set in the 1880s and  follows the plight of Frances, the daughter of a wealthy man. She has been spoiled all her life. When her father dies, he leaves nothing but debts and suddenly Frances is faced with the prospect of going to live with her father’s poor Irish relations – or marrying a man she has known from childhood and despises. Edwin is now a doctor working in the Kimberley region of South Africa, fighting the outbreak of smallpox and the injustice and brutality he sees inflicted upon the African workers used to mine diamonds for white men.

Circumstances leave Francis with no other option but to take up Edwin’s offer and travel from England to South Africa. As Edwin has already returned to Africa, Francis travels alone for the voyage. On board the ship she meets a handsome charmer called William. He is everything that Edwin is not and she soon falls in love with him. Once in Africa, Frances is shocked by the conditions there and the vast emptiness. She does nothing to learn to like her new husband or to offer him any practical help. She can’t mend, cook or do anything domestic. But little by little, she finds an appreciation for the land’s beauty. Then a whole lot of things go wrong and Frances refuses to mature or see what is staring her in the face.

I struggled to like Frances yet still felt pity for her situation. But as the book went on, I felt like I wanted to shake her out of her apathy. Also, the voyage to South Africa took almost half the book. I think that it could have taken less time to get there!

The Fever Tree  explored the lengths men will go to to make their fortunes. The diamond mines of the Kimberley were hellish places built on human suffering. The writing truly evoked the beauty and harshness that is Africa.

I’m glad I gave this a read but it should be judged on its own merit instead of being compared to a classic.



The Red Queen: A Review

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (ISBN: 9781847394651, 419 pages, PB ed. published 2011)

When it comes to enjoyable and entertaining historical fiction, Philippa Gregory is my go-to author every time. I enjoyed her series of books on the wives of King Henry VIII and the Tudors (The Constant Princess, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Other Queen, The Virgin’s Lover and The Queen’s Fool) and then learnt a lot about the 15th century War of the Roses from her Cousins’ War books (The White Queen and The Lady of the Rivers). The Red Queen gives another perspective on the War of the Roses – that of Margaret Beaufort from the House of Lancaster. (You may know her as the grandmother of Henry VIII.)

Margaret Beaufort has often been portrayed as a joyless, scheming, witch of a woman in history and literature. A woman eaten up with one ambition – to set her son on the throne of England. When I read The White Queen, told from the perspective of the York Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, I sympathised with the rise and fall of her fortunes as her husband, King Edward, fought and lost the throne, only to die young and have his younger brother, Richard, seize the throne. There were so many twists and turns you couldn’t hope for a more intriguing plot. They certainly knew how to scheme in those days.

In The Red Queen, Philippa Gregory makes the reader see the War of the Roses from the Lancaster view point. She paints a portrait of Margaret as a pious child, more suited to a nunnery than marriage. Margaret was married off at the age of 12 to Edmund Tudor and was then a widow and mother by the age of 13. She then had to leave her child with his uncle in Wales as she entered into another arranged marriage.

She never forgot her child and his claim to the throne. And for decades, as her fortunes rose and fell with those of the House of Lancaster, she tirelessly plotted to forward her son’s cause. I will not give away any more – although all you history buffs will know how the story goes.

I thought it was interesting to hear this side of the story. I’ve read so many  literary works on this period of history, most told from the York perspective. I still think Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour was the best of the lot. But Philippa’s series is certainly up there.

What I like about Philippa Gregory books is that they give women their rightful place in history. Yes, it was a man’s world back then but women were also central to the politics of the day. They may not have ridden off to war like Joan of Arc, but they plotted and schemed and did what they had to do to further their families’ fortunes and protect their children.

If you like historical fiction, definitely give this one a read.