Vantrease, Brenda Rickman 1945–

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Vantrease, Brenda Rickman 1945–


Born 1945, in White County, TN; daughter of Barney and Arlene Rickman; married Don Vantrease. Education: Belmont University, B.A., 1967; Middle Tennessee State University, D.A. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, gardening, history of England.


Home—Nashville, TN. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer. Metro-Nashville School System, TN, librarian and English teacher, 1966-91.



The Illuminator, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.

The Mercy Seller, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of short stories and essays to periodicals, including VeriTales, Thema, and Coast to Coast.


Novelist Brenda Rickman Vantrease was born and raised in Tennessee. She taught and worked as a librarian for twenty-five years prior to turning to a full-time career as a writer. She attended writer's conferences across the country and was published in several periodicals before writing her first novel.

The Illuminator is set in fourteenth-century England and combines both historical and fictional characters. The story centers upon the widowed Kathryn of Blackingham, who takes in two boarders to help support herself during a violent period of war, plague, and religious differences as the Normans began to adopt English as their main language. In an interview with Wilda Williams for Library Journal, Vantrease explained that she chose the time period because "I have always liked English history, and I am also interested in church history. The 1300s appealed to me because it was such a period of transformation. The feudal system was breaking down, the church was in crisis, and the English language was emerging."

Booklist reviewer Elizabeth Dickie called the book "a richly detailed story of love, political intrigue, and religious tyranny." Though a Kirkus Reviews critic found it "long, lax, [and] chatty," Library Journal reviewer Mary K. Bird-Guilliams remarked that Vantrease "depicts this complex period with imagination and care, realistically presenting actual historical figures." Lauren F. Winner, writing for Publishers Weekly, commented that the book "reads like historical fiction of the old school—grand, sweeping, big." Winner noted: "This is not just a debut novel, but a breakout novel."

The Mercy Seller brings the action forward a few decades. The Illuminator—now an old man—had fled with his granddaughter, Anna, to Prague. Religious persecution is escalating, and when Anna's fiancé is killed for his role in burning indulgences, she sets out to find Protestant sympathizers in England, led in secret by Sir John Oldcastle. Meanwhile, the situation grows more ominous as the Archbishop of Arundel unleashes a campaign against Sir John. A writer for PublishersWeekly found the novel's plot "overly complex but engaging," while a contributor to Kirkus Reviews described the book as an "engrossing" sequel to The Illuminator.

Vantrease told CA: "I think I first became interested in writing about the time I learned to read. It was a short leap from reading other people's stories to making up my own—especially when I ran out of stories to read. Of course, I didn't realize that these daydreams were part of the writing process. It was only after I retired from education and really had time and energy that I had time to practice and study the craft of fiction writing.

"I think the things we read in our youth have a profound influence. I read a lot of historical fiction as a teen. As a child, I loved fairy tales—the princess in the tower—and stories of heroes and knights and myths and legends. Perhaps that's why I read and write so much about the medieval and Renaissance periods.

"My stories sometimes begin with just an image that intrigues me—like an illuminated page of medieval text—or a place. I like to read and write with a strong sense of place.

"The book I'm working on is always my favorite, though I think The Illuminator will always hold a special place—kind of like the firstborn.

"I hope first that my books will entertain, and if the reader can take away some little nugget of knowledge that is worth remembering or some brief glimpse into human nature—well that's a bonus."



Booklist, February 15, 2005, Elizabeth Dickie, review of The Illuminator, p. 1062.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of The Illuminator, p. 82; January 15, 2007, review of The Mercy Seller, p. 50.

Library Journal, March 1, 2005, Wilda Williams, "Q&A: Brenda Rickman Vantrease," p. 77, and Mary K. Bird-Guilliams, review of The Illuminator, p. 81; March 1, 2005, "Q & A: Brenda Rickman Vantrease," p. 77; February 15, 2007, Mary Kay Bird-Guilliams, review of The Mercy Seller, p. 115.

Publishers Weekly, February 7, 2005, review of The Illuminator, p. 41; March 28, 2005, Lauren F. Winner, "Brenda Rickman Vantrease: Illuminated," p. S17; April 4, 2005, review of The Illuminator, p. 21; December 18, 2006, review of The Mercy Seller, p. 39.

ONLINE, (September 15, 2007), Curtis Edmonds, review of The Illuminator.

Brenda Rickman Vantrease Home Page, (September 15, 2007).

Curled up with a Good Book, (September 15, 2007), Luan Gaines, review of The Mercy Seller.

Mostly Fiction, (September 15, 2007), Jana Kraus, review of The Illuminator.

Romantic Times, (September 15, 2007), Kathe Robin, review of The Illuminator.