July 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
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The Pen and Sword page - wonderful history, military history and general interest books...


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Welcome to the Pen and Sword page, on which you'll find a wide array of books on various social and historical subjects. Pen and Sword are the world's foremost historical and military publishers, and I hope to always have a large selection of their latest brilliant titles in Books Monthly.

John Sadler: Hotspur

 Published 30th April 2022

On 21 July 1403 Sir Henry Percy - better known as Hotspur - led a rebel army out at Shrewsbury to face the forces of the king Henry IV. The battle was both bloody and decisive. Hotspur was shot down by an arrow and killed. Posthumously he was declared a traitor and his lands forfeited to the crown. This was an ignominious end to the brilliant career of one of the most famous medieval noblemen, a remarkable soldier, diplomat and courtier who played a leading role in the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. How did he earn his extraordinary reputation, and why did Shakespeare portray him as a fearsomely brave but flawed hero who, despite a traitor's death, remained the mirror of chivalry? These are questions John Sadler seeks to answer in the first full biography of this legendary figure to be published for over twenty years. Hotspur's exploits as a soldier in France during the Hundred Years War, against the Scots in the Scottish borders and at the battles of Otterburn, Homildon Hill and Shrewsbury have overshadowed his diplomatic role as a loyal royal servant in missions to Prussia, Cyprus, Ireland and Aquitaine. And, as the heir to one of the foremost noble families of northern England, he was an important player not only in the affairs of the North but of the kingdom as a whole. So, as John Sadler reveals in this highly readable study, Hotspur was a much more varied and interesting character than his narrow reputation for headstrong attack and rebellion suggests.

Sir Henry Percy, from the same family as Lord Percy so brilliantly portrayed in the BLackadder series, is an historical figure who has also been immortalised in Shakespeare's Henry plays, and is surely one of the most important people to have lived and influenced our history. John Sadler  uncovers many previously unknown facts in this amazing book that will keep anyone interested in medieval history interested,

Air Marshal "Black" Robertson: A Spitfire Named Connie

 Published 30th March 2022

A Spitfire Named Connie is an exciting, rollercoaster of a story. A prequel to Fighters in the Blood, it tells how ‘Robbie’ Robertson begins his RAF training during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. As he learns his trade, he is soon rubbing shoulders with Fighter Command heroes, amongst them Brian Kingcome, ‘Ginger’ Lacey and Bob Stanford Tuck. Moving from 111 to 72 Squadron, he opens his account against the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1942. Six months later, as he adds further to his score, the action moves to the skies over North Africa. It is there that tragedy strikes. Wounded and shot down by one of the Luftwaffe’s most celebrated Experten, his Spitfire crashes to the ground. Found lying near the wreckage by an army patrol, Robbie is moved from casualty clearing stations to hospitals across Tunisia and Algeria as doctors try desperately to save his sight. Finally, unable to stand the pain any longer, he reluctantly agrees to the removal of his right eye. A slow recovery and eventual return to the UK is no compensation for the end of his flying career. Desk-bound for the remainder of the war, the second and more poignant period of his RAF life begins. The young schoolgirl, Connie Freeman, with whom he has been in regular correspondence since her evacuation, becomes his wife. It is literally hundreds of Robbie’s letters that form the basis of this powerful, moving and emotional story. Together with his own and Connie’s diaries, correspondence from RAF colleagues and his flying logbook, they bring a unique authenticity to this highly-charged tale. A Spitfire Named Connie reads like a novel, filled with excitement, pathos and compassion. Yet, incredible as it may seem, almost every word is true.

An incredible but true story about Robbie Robertson, a real-life BIggles (who flew Spitfires, of course) and his Spitfire, which he called Connie. HIs adventures during WWII and beyond, and how he met his future wife, Connie, are the sort of things you might read in a novel, but it's all true, and absolutely terrific.

Ian Castle: Zeppelin Inferno

Published by Pen and Sword 21st April 2022

At the beginning of 1916, as the world entered the second full year of global conflict, the cities, towns and villages of Britain continued to lay vulnerable to aerial bombardment. Throughout that period German Zeppelin airships and seaplanes had come and gone at will, their most testing opposition provided by the British weather as the country’s embryonic defences struggled to come to terms with this first ever assault from the air. Britain’s civilians were now standing on the frontline ― the Home Front ― like the soldiers who had marched off to war. But early in 1916 responsibility for Britain’s aerial defence passed from the Admiralty to the War Office and, as German air attacks intensified, new ideas and plans made dramatic improvements to Britain’s aerial defence capability. While this new system could give early warning of approaching raiders, there was a lack of effective weaponry with which to engage them when they arrived. Behind the scenes, however, three individuals, each working independently, were striving for a solution. The results of their work were spectacular; it lifted the mood of the nation and dramatically changed the way this campaign was fought over Britain. The German air campaign against Britain in the First World War was the first sustained strategic aerial bombing campaign in history. Despite this, it has become forgotten against the enormity of the Blitz of the Second World War, although for those caught up in the tragedy of these raids, the impact was every bit as devastating. In Zeppelin Inferno Ian Castle tells the full story of the 1916 raids in unprecedented detail in what is the second book in a trilogy that will reveal the complete story of Britain’s ‘Forgotten Blitz’. 

I believe there was a Zeppelin air raid in my North Norfolk town, where I have lived since 2006. Ian Castle reminds us of the concentrated air attacks on British towns and cities from 1916 onwards.

Mark Simmons: Alistair MacLean's War

Published by Pen and Sword 30th May 2022

It is no coincidence that many of Alistair MacLean's most successful novels were sea stories. In 1941, he was called up after volunteering for the Royal Navy and served as Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman, and Leading Torpedo Operator. For the majority of his service, he was on HMS Royalist, a modified Dido-class light cruiser, seeing action in the Arctic, and operations against the German battleship Tirpitz . The ship then deployed to the Mediterranean taking part in Operation Dragoon the invasion of the South of France and later in operations against German occupied Greek Islands in the Aegean. After which MacLean and Royalist were deployed to the Indian Ocean and operations against the Japanese in Malaya, Burma, and Sumatra. His wartime experiences coupled with exceptional literary skill resulted in the runaway success of his first novel HMS Ulysses (1955) followed by The Guns of Navarone (1957) and South by Java Head (1958). These three blockbusters cemented his position as one of the most successful and highly paid authors of the era. While not a whole life biography, Mark Simmon’s book provides a fascinating insight into Maclean’s war service and subsequent works, which deserve enduring popularity.

There was a time not so long ago when most of Alistair MacLean's novels were being made into major blockbuster movies. Mark Simmons uncovers the life of MacLean and explains how he managed to capture the imagination of the world of book readers. Fascinating.

Durer's Fightbook

Published by Pen and Sword 27th April 2022

Albrecht Durer is probably the most famous German artist of the Renaissance, if not of all time. His works are world-famous and he was a master in numerous artistic disciplines such as woodcut, copperplate engraving, drawing and painting. What is less well known is that he was interested in weapons and fencing throughout his life. He produced several woodcuts for a tournament book by Emperor Maximilian I, but he devoted himself much more thoroughly to the subject of duels in his own extensive fencing manuscript. Durer's fight book stands out from the mass of illustrated fencing manuscripts because of its outstanding quality. In well over 100 elaborate drawings, the master uniquely depicts dynamic pairs of fighters practising contemporary combat techniques, such as wrestling or sword and dagger fighting. Since its creation more than 500 years ago, the fight book has never been published in its entirety. This edition offers the complete contents of the manuscript for the very first time: All illustrations are reproduced in colour and the complete text is presented in a letter-perfect transcription as well as a translation into modern English. Albrecht Durer's fight book offers a unique, new look at Durer the artist and Durer the fighter.

A stunning book featuring a huge selection of Durer's illustrations.

Tony Sullivan: The Real Gladiator

Published by Pen and Sword 6th May 2022

Are you not entertained? shouts Russell Crowe, playing the part of General Maximus Decimus Meridius in the Oscar winning 2000 film Gladiator. The crowd, having witnessed Maximus defeating several gladiators, cheer in response. Film goers too were indeed entertained with the film grossing nearly half a billion dollars. This book covers the historical events that film was based on. From the Germanic wars on the northern frontier to the gladiatorial arena in Rome. From the philosopher emperor, Marcus Aurelius to the palace intrigues during the reign of his son. We will discover how Commodus really died and which of the characters actually fought in the arena. Readers will meet two generals, Pompeianus and Maximianus, who most resemble our hero General Maximus. Also Lucilla, the sister of Commodus, who in reality married her General, but detested him. The book also focuses on warfare, weapons and contemporary battles. It will compare the battle and fight scenes in the film with reality from contemporary sources and modern tests and reenactments. The reader will discover that fact is not only stranger than fiction, it is often more entertaining. The real history was certainly as much, if not more, treacherous, bloodthirsty, murderous and dramatic than anything the film industry has created. Anyone who answered yes! to the question posed by Russell Crowe's character in the film, will indeed be entertained by this book.

STony SUllivan tells the amazing and fascinating story of the true-life gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius - absolutely riveting.

Rebecca Alexandra Simon: Pirate Queens

Published by Pen and Sword 6th May 2022

Between August and October 1720, two female pirates named Anne Bonny and Mary Read terrorized the Caribbean in and around Jamaica. Despite their short career, they became two of the most notorious pirates during the height of the eighteenth-century Golden Age of Piracy. In a world dominated by men, they became infamous for their bravery, cruelty and unwavering determination to escape the social constraints placed on women during that time. Despite their infamy, mystery shrouds their lives before they became pirates. Their biographies were recorded in Captain Charles Johnson’s 1724 book, A General History of the Pyrates, depicting the two women as illegitimate women raised by men who, against insurmountable odds, crossed paths in Nassau and became pirates together. But how much is fact versus fiction? This first full-length biography about Anne Bonny and Mary Read explores their intriguing backgrounds while examining the social context of women in their lifetime and their legacy in popular culture that exists to the present day. Using A General History of the Pyrates, early modern legal documents relating to women, their recorded public trial in The Tryal of Jack Rackham and Other Pyrates, newspapers and new, uncovered research, this book unravels the mysteries and legends surrounding their lives.

This month's History Revealed magazine also had an article about Anne Bonny and Mary Read - these were two larger0-than life women who dominated the world of piracy for several years. An absolutely fascinating account of the real lives of these two amazing women.

M J Trow: Famous Horses At War

Published by Pen and Sword 30th April 2022

'In dreary, doubtful waiting hours Before the brazen frenzy starts, The horses show him nobler powers;- O patient eyes, courageous hearts.' Into Battle, Julian Grenfell, 1915 In the days of horsed cavalry, a soldier's mount was a living, breathing companion. It galloped into the jaws of death at the sound of the bugle and the nudge of spurs. It carried its rider over arid deserts, across swollen rivers, up near-sheer mountains. Whole societies functioned because of the warhorse - the Huns, the Mongols, and the tribes of the North American plains. Horses were worshipped as gods - the centaurs of ancient Greece, Tziminchak of the Aztecs, while the Roman emperor Caligula intended to make his horse a consul! Most of us have only ever seen warhorses at the movies - the Scots Greys at Waterloo, the Light Brigade at Balaclava, Taras Bulba's Cossacks on the Steppes and Custer's cavalry at the Little Big Horn. This book celebrates the colour and nostalgia of a fighting past, from eohippus the first horse to Sefton, the last warhorse injured in the line of duty. Not forgetting the stark reality of thousands of animals sacrificed for men's greed and ambition, those killed on campaign, the maimed cab-horses and fodder for the knacker's yard.

M J Trow, whose detective series featuring Inspector Lestrade, Peter Maxwell and Kit Marlowe I used to enjoy enormously, turns his writing skills to an fabulous book about famous horses down through history who have changed the course of that history. Utterly brilliant.

Kim Thomas: Broadmoor Women

Published by Pen and Sword 12th April 2022

Broadmoor, Britain's first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members. Drawing on Broadmoor's rich archive, this book tells the story of seven of those women, ranging from a farmer's daughter in her 20s who shot dead her own mother to a middle-class housewife who drowned her baby daughter. Their moving stories give a glimpse into what nineteenth-century life was like for ordinary women, often struggling with poverty, domestic abuse and repeated childbearing. For some, Broadmoor, with its regime of plain food, fresh air and garden walks, was a respite from the hardships of their previous life. Others were desperate to return to their families. All but one of the women whose stories are recounted in this book recovered and were released. Their bout of insanity was temporary. Yet the causes of their condition were poorly understood and the treatment rudimentary. As well as providing an in-depth look at the lives of women in Victorian England, the book offers a fascinating insight into the medical profession's emerging understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness.

 A fairly disturbing but nonetheless fascinating account of seven famous female inmates of Broadmoor.

Jan-Willem Van Den Braak: Hitler's Spy Against Churchill

Published by Pen and Sword 30th May 2022

From the summer of 1940 until May 1941, nearly twenty German Abwehr agents were dropped by boat or parachute into England during what was known as Operation Lena, all in preparation for Hitler's planned invasion of England. The invasion itself would never happen and in fact, after the war, one of the Abwehr commanders declared that the operation was doomed to failure. There is no doubt that the operation did indeed become a fiasco, with almost all of the officers being arrested within a very brief period of time. Some of the men were executed, while others became double agents and spied for Britain against Germany. Only one man managed to stay at large for five months before eventually committing suicide: Jan Willem Ter Braak. Amazingly, his background and objectives had always remained unclear, and none of the other Lena spies had ever even heard of him. Even after the opening of the secret service files in England and the Netherlands over 50 years later, Jan Willem Ter Braak remained a 'mystery man', as the military historian Ladislas Farago famously described him. In this book, the author - his near-namesake - examines the short and tragic life of Jan Willem Ter Braak for the first time. Using in-depth research, he investigates the possibility that Ter Braak was sent to kill the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and discovers why his fate has remained largely unknown for so long.

An astonishing account of the life of one of Hitler's special agents, Jan Willem Ter Braak, whose secret task was to assassinate Churchill. Real Sppoks stuff, and absolutely fascinating.

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.