Pen & Sword Books

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Revolting Recipes From History

Revolting Recipes From History written by Seren Charrington Holmes and 

published by Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 208


Nothing causes a stir on social media platforms like a topical discussion on the latest food trend. Modern-day chefs like to think that they are creative and often claim to push the boundaries of food creation, but if we want to explore real culinary creativity then we need to look to our ancestors.

Writer and food historian, Seren Charrington-Hollins delves into the history of culinary experimentation to bring us some of the weirdest and most stomach-churning food delicacies to ever grace a dining table. She uncovers the rather gruesome history behind some everyday staples, reveals bizarre and curious recipes, whilst casting a light on foods that have fallen from culinary grace, such as cows udders and tripe; showing that revulsion is just a matter of taste, times and perhaps knowledge.

From pickled brains to headcheese, through to song birds and nymphs thighs, this book explores foods that have evoked disgust and delight in diners depending on culinary perspective.

So pull up a chair, unfold your napkin and get ready for a highly entertaining and enlightening journey to explore what makes a recipe revolting? Be warned; you’ll need a strong stomach and an open mind.

Probably not a book to read before your evening meal or if like me you could easily become a vegetarian. Split into ten chapters,  this book covers the lot in various chapters meat, fish, veg, animals long out of fashion and even whatever you can find in your garden. You name it someone’s tried to eat it including swans, owls, turtles, wasps, mice and the list can go on, if you could stick it in your mouth it very much seems someone has tried to turn it into a meal or certainly tried cooking it.

Although quite a bit of this book has turned my stomach it seems in many ways. I have really enjoyed reading it, after all it’s always fascinating to see how other people live or used to live and looking at how people ate is an important thing and goes to show how much somethings were in abundance but no longer are. A huge amount of research must have gone into this book and credit to the author who has written a fascinating book.

What this book has bought back to me is to be thankful for present day food hygiene standards, when you see the conditions of some of the meat hanging outside shops next to a busy road. It would seem that people in history must have had strong stomachs and to be honest what this book has done has bought back my memories of eating things I would rather forget about like haggis, liver and squid. I would greatly recommend this book to others who want an off the wall read of a great book.

The Welsh Braveheart

The Welsh Braveheart - The Last Prince of Wales written by Phil Carradice and published

by Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 216


Like William Wallace in Scotland, Owain Glyndwr fought for his country and was only finally defeated by superior numbers and the military genius of Henry V. Yet Glyndwr was not just a freedom fighter. He was the last native-born Prince of Wales, a man who initiated the first Welsh Parliament at Machynlleth and proposed an entirely independent Welsh church.

Glyndwr also laid plans for two Welsh universities, proposed a return to the far sighted and revolutionary Laws of Hywel Dda and formed a Tripartite Agreement with Henry Percy and Edmund Mortimer. It led to an invasion of England and nearly brought the reign of Henry V to an end.

And yet, despite his success and popularity, Glyndwr's rebellion seriously damaged the Welsh economy with towns destroyed and much agricultural land laid to waste. Even so, he was never betrayed by his people, despite a huge reward being offered for his capture.

Glyndwr refused at least two offers of pardon from the English crown and remains the supreme champion of the underdog.

The only bad point I found about this book was the title, The Welsh Braveheart. While this isn’t really a negative about the book or for those that like to read history. It’s the association with William Wallace, there is nothing wrong with the man, strong, independent, a man who wanted the best for his country, just like Owain Glyndwr did. It's the modern day association with Mel Gibson, who starred in the morally corrupt and historically inaccurate film Braveheart, which I think stands as one of the most disparaged films in history when it comes to historical content. This is all from a book blogger who was born in Scotland and has spent the last 20 years living in Wales.

But on a lighter note and something Pen & Sword will want to concentrate more on. This was a really good read from start to finish, it is so good to read more books about Welsh figures, especially when the book can be written by Phil Carradice, who I know writes a lot about Welsh history. His books are always so clear and easy to read, when you are not Welsh the language and the names can feel a little intimidating but you don’t feel that with a Carradice book. Excellently explained story and facts, certainly a book I would champion to one and all, and I would love to see more books about Welsh leaders and heroes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic

Key Figures Aboard RMS Titanic written by Anthony Nicholas and published

by Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 208


Titanic. The Marilyn Monroe of ocean liners. A sleek, sultry beauty, taken out way before her time. A kind of 21st century Flying Dutchman, with interiors by Cesar Ritz, still striving to achieve the waters of a port she can never reach.

Titanic is a brilliantly lit stage, carrying her cast of exotic, terminally endangered extras toward an abyss at once both unfathomable and inconceivable.

Here’s where any similarity with any other tome about the Titanic ends.

For the first time ever, a succession of key characters and groups of individuals come to the fore. Centre stage, over seventeen chapters, we meet the men whose decisions, actions and omissions combined like some slow burning powder trail to trigger a final, cataclysmic conclusion; the foundering, in mid-Atlantic, of the biggest moving object ever seen on the face of the planet.

One by one, a series of individuals take a bow. Seemingly omnipotent owners and hugely experienced ship’s officers. Engineers and designers. Would be rescuers and embattled wireless operators.

We meet them as individuals, not supermen. Their histories, backgrounds and life experiences are assessed for the first time ever, putting their actions on the night that Titanic sank into a context, a light as stark as that of the distress rockets, arcing into the sky…

This book to me is about the writing and the stories of those involved in the events that happened that fateful night in 1912. We all know that the Titanic was one of the biggest cruise liners in the world and through a number of mistakes, it would hit an iceberg and would slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean. As I said firstly was the excellent writing by the author Anthony Nicholas, the book is split into 17 chapters but each one looks at a figure in the building, commissioning and working on the liner. Some of the figures and stories you have a lot less sympathy for and some of them show a great deal of fortitude and bravery. But the writing conveyed by the author is great and really had me engrossed in the book which I spent a long evening reading. I would definitely recommend this book to others for its great detail and writing.

Middlesbrough at War 1939-45

Middlesbrough at War 1939-45 written by Dr Craig Armstrong and published by 

Pen & Sword Books - £14.99 - Softcover - Pages 128


Middlesbrough was of vital importance to Britain’s war effort. The town, and its surrounding area, contained a number of vital industries including shipbuilding, chemicals, iron, steel and other metals, and engineering, as well as a joinery firm that played a leading role in the wartime aviation industry. The ICI plant at nearby Billingham also played a leading role in the creation of petrochemicals and explosives.

As with many communities, the start of the war saw Middlesbrough faced with hastily having to bring its Air Raid Precautions and civil defence services up to full strength. With its strategic importance, it was believed that Middlesbrough would be an obvious target for the Luftwaffe. As a result, schoolchildren and other vulnerable people were evacuated from the town at the very start of the war in a scheme that did not prove entirely successful.

Middlesbrough became the first built-up urban area in mainland Britain to be bombed. In the event, Middlesbrough was raided periodically throughout the war with the worst coming on the night of 25/26 July 1942, when waves of Luftwaffe bombers dropped almost 30 tons of bombs on the town. The raid killed sixteen people and caused very extensive property damage. Meanwhile, just days later, bombs fell on the town’s railway station as a train was waiting at the platform there. The pictures of the resulting damage were wired around the world.

Due to its location on the coast and being a city dominated by industry and maritime, Middlesbrough was always going to be a target for the Luftwaffe. What we did see was the city being under regular attack throughout the war in an attempt to undermine the morale of the community, but also in the hope of hampering the British war effort. In the classic style of the Towns & Cities in World War Two series, we learn how the war affects all aspects of life, from having to rebuild after air raids and losing loved ones from the attacks. Seeing women having to work at the various factories and workplaces to replace the men who were having to go off to war. Then you have the various small organisations having to pick up and help in an hour of need and daily life structures being compromised and changed as everyone has to deal with some aspect of the war on the home front.

As I have said before this series is, in my opinion, fantastic and the author here Dr Craig Armstrong has done another brilliant job in writing about the history of a city but finding a good balance in the telling of the stories and lives of the people of Middlesbrough. The writing is excellent and this is supported throughout with some great ‘local’ pictures from around Middlesbrough. Certainly a fascinating read and an excellent addition to the series.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Battle of Halbe 1945

The Battle of Halbe 1945 written by Eberhard Baumgart and published by

Greenhill Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 208


In April 1945, German troops withdrawing from the Seelow Heights were encircled by the Soviet Army near the small town of Halbe, south-east of Berlin. Rather than surrender, their orders were to attempt to break out, westward, and join up with the German 12th Army. A brutal battle ensued, with an estimated 30,000 German and 20,000 Russian soldiers killed, along with thousands of civilians.

This collection of first-hand accounts tells the story of the battle and its aftermath from the German perspective. It is an eclectic mix, containing the recollections of ordinary soldiers, SS-men and men of the Panzer Divisions, as well as civilians caught up in the battle as they attempted to flee ahead of the advancing armies. It brings to life the grim realities of this one-sided engagement, revealing the brutal vengeance of the Soviets and the desperation to escape the slaughter.

This book reveals the story of German troops being forced to withdraw from advancing Russian troops who had almost encircled them at the small town of Halbe in 1945. The battle was colossal and the number of soldiers who died was around 30,000 Germans & 20,000 Russians, and on top of that were thousands of German civilian casualties. This book which has been translated into English for the first time gives an excellent if harrowing retelling of events that occurred. With the writer relying on a number of accounts from men who were there. This was a fascinating read, of a story I had never really heard about before. The fighting and stories were staggering and I found it astonishing that I had not heard of this before. The story was a well written but easy to read the story, and there is a good number of photographs dotted throughout the book. I would highly recommend this book in which the Germans suffer an enormous onslaught from a Russian army.

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Fleet Air Arm and the War in Europe, 1939–1945

The Fleet Air Arm and the War in Europe, 1939–1945 written by David Hobbs and

published by Seaforth Publishing - £35.00 - Hardback - Pages 352



For the first time, this book tells the story of how naval air operations evolved into a vital

element of the Royal Navy’s ability to fight a three-dimensional war against both the Kriegsmarine

and Luftwaffe. An integral part of RN, the Fleet Air Arm was not a large organisation, with only

406 pilots and 232 front-line aircraft available for operations in September 1939. Nevertheless,

its impact far outweighed its numbers – it was an RN fighter that shot down the first enemy

aircraft of the war, and an RN pilot was the first British fighter 'ace' with 5 or more kills. The

Fleet Air Arm’s rollcall of achievements in northern waters went on to include the Norwegian

Campaign, the crippling of Bismarck, the gallant sortie against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau

as they passed through the Channel, air attacks on enemy E-boats in the narrow seas, air

cover for the Russian convoys, air attacks that disabled Tirpitz, and strikes and minelaying

operations against German shipping in the Norwegian littoral that continued until May 1945.

By the end of the war in Europe the FAA had grown to 3243 pilots and 1336 aircraft.

This book sets all these varied actions within their proper naval context and both technical and tactical aspects are explained with 'thumb-nail' descriptions of aircraft, their weapons and avionics. Cross reference with the Fleet Air Arm Roll of Honour has been made for the first time to put names to those aircrew killed in action wherever possible as a mark of respect for their determination against enemy forces on, above and below the sea surface which more often than not outnumbered them.

The Fleet Air Arm and the War in Europe completes David Hobbs’ much-praised six-volume series chronicling the operational history of British naval aviation from the earliest days to the present.

This book is part of a series of six, I was lucky enough to get to read his last book Taranto, and together with this book, I’ve just finished reading it is a very fine book and written with so much detail and comprehensive detail. These books are certainly ones to treasure as they are not just written by people who know the ‘knowledge’ of the subject, but they have lived their subject and been a part of it, which cements the brilliant knowledge being written. David Hobbs is a 30 year veteran of the Royal Navy serving as a pilot, and later became the curator of the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

The book explains various aspects of the Royal Navy from the planes used, the ships used, the special operations carried out along with the weapons, dynamics and strategies. It does all this very well by writing it in chapters dedicated to each year of the war. I also enjoyed the good retrospective section in the back which preceded the bibliography and the very detailed notes section. The book also contains a large number of good b/w photographs throughout. I really enjoyed this book and would happily recommend it to others and it’s nice to see more books being written in this way about the Navy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Fallschirm Panzer Division ‘Hermann Goring’

Fallschirm Panzer Division ‘Hermann Goring’ written by Lawrence Paterson published by Greenhill Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 320



In the early years of the Third Reich, Hermann Göring, one of the most notorious leaders

of the Third Reich, worked to establish his own personal army to rival Himmler’s SS and

Reichswehr. The result: a private Prussian police force which grew into one of the most

powerful armoured units in Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht.

This unit fought throughout the Second World War, meeting Anglo-American forces in vicious battles across the European theatres of Tunisia, Sicily and Italy before finally being defeated by the Red Army on the Eastern Front. The Hermann Göring Panzer Division incorporates technical details of these battles with the turbulent politics and Machiavellian manoeuvring of Hitler’s inner circle, giving military-history enthusiasts fresh insights into the development and role of this unusual division through the war.

Drawing on first-hand accounts and extensive archive material, World War II historian Lawrence Paterson presents a comprehensive and unbiased history of the establishment of the famous 1. Fallschirm-Panzer Division.

When I read the description for this book, I must admit that being called the ‘Hermann Goring’ Division, my first thoughts were that it would not be a great division and it was probably a group of hand picked men and used as a personal bodyguard unit. But no surprise, surprise the ‘Hermann Goring’ Division, it turns out were quite a good and well-trained division with a number of big successes in Italy, Tunisia and Sicily before being forced into the Eastern front in which they didn’t do so well. This was a fascinating read, very well written and the detail is great, the author Paterson has written a really good Division book with a lot of balance and respect. I even enjoyed the notes at the back which also comes with a list of Knights Cross recipients and finally, I really liked the picture on the back of the book.  

Revolting Recipes From History

Revolting Recipes From History written by Seren Charrington Holmes and  published by Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 208 N...