Off the Shelf


Hello Bloggy friends!


You’d never, in a million years, guess what I’ve just come from doing.  But… more on that later.

I’ve lost myself in books this last month.

Under the Hawthorn Tree  is a book for children about the Irish potato famine.  


It was not outstanding by any means, though a reasonable and gentle introduction to the Irish plight.  The author cannily avoids alienating half of her perspective readership by giving the Catholic/Protestant issue the very mildest of winks in perhaps one or two sentences.


More informative, and no less readable despite being non-fiction, is Black Potatoes.


Included are accounts of family histories and news reporting of the time.  Generously illustrated, it gave plenty of information about the period, without sacrificing a surprisingly  homey,  story-telling feel.  Possibly the thing I liked best was that it kept us thinking and discussing for some time after finishing it.


Next, and purely for pleasure, though it would easily fit your history program if you are looking for something dashing to read about Edmund Ironside, Alfgar the Dane was no hardship, once you pass the first few pages.


I’ve also whipped through The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, and Frontier Wolf by Rosemary Sutcliff.  Of course they were good.  They cover Rome’s abandonment of Britain, and her sneaky re-entry via religion.  Well worth reading!


And something surprisingly girly for me; no vikings, no sword play, no pirates, or wars…


My delightful friend, Mrs Fivepeas, bought this gorgeous book for me. It has the cutest ideas!  One of my favourites is a flower clock.  NOT one of those clocks of flowers with hands put in the middle to tell the time, but a spankingly clever idea – it lists flowers to plant that open and shut around the clock.  At any time of the day or night, you can tell what the hour is by what flowers are opening and closing. Isn’t that amazing?  Isn’t it more amazing that someone sat up all day and all night to … watch their flowers open and shut?  I was staggered, but impressed.  😀


And this brings me back to what I was doing just before writing to you.

I was shovelling manure.  (Oh! The Glamour!)

Yes, in my leopard print gumboots and a sundress, by floodlight, shovelling manure from the back of a ute, into …. my new vegetable garden!  I’ve been taking pictures as my garden progresses, and you know they’re coming with the story just as soon as it looks pretty enough to share (or even before, if I can’t wait 😛 ). I know you’ll be riveted.

We’re also heading off to another ball in two weeks time so I may inflict a bunch more pics of foofy girl stuff on you.  Will you cope?!


Hope you are all well, Bloggy friends, and enjoying the break if you take school hols!



Argh Har, Me Hearties! (or.. Henty v’s Strang)


Herbert Strang, that writer of rousing books for boys, is a phantom of the ilk of Carolyn Keene, and Franklin W. Dixon.

Just in case you didn’t grow to adolescence on a steady diet of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon were pseudonyms for a team of writers hired by the Stratemeyer  Syndicate.   I was very disillusioned, later in my reading career, to find two of my favourite childhood “standby” authors were not, actually, two authors.

So before I begin extolling the virtues of Herbert Strang, I will undeceive you as to that character’s true identity.  George Herbert Ely (1866–1958) and Charles James L’Estrange (1867–1947) were members of staff at Oxford University Press, and put their hand to the task of writing adventure stories for boys, under the nom de plume, Herbert Strang.

With that shocking revelation out of the way, I will share with you some of the newspaper reviews of the time:

“Boys who read Mr Strang’s works have not merely the advantage of pursuing enthralling and wholesome tales, but they are also absorbing sound and trustworthy information of the men and times about which they are reading.” _ Daily Telegraph.

“He has won for himself a reputation at least as high as that of Mr Henty by work far more earnest and sincere”. _ Speaker, Dec. 8, 1906

“Herbert Strang tells a story as well as Henty told it, and his style is much more finished”. _ Saturday Review, Dec 8, 1906

How does he compare to Henty?  Not being a boy, I am perhaps not the best judge.  However, there were no passages I felt compelled to glaze over, and I confess that Henty’s tendency to describe in detail the strategies of war are sometimes trying to me.  In fairness, none of the five stories I have read of Mr Strang’s were about war, so it hardly seems a fair remark, though true.

The main characters, in line with Henty’s, are stout hearted, honourable boys of courage and daring, and I have found nothing in the stories to make a conservative, homeschooling mama flinch.

While there is historical detail to pick up in any story written during a different time period to our own, I believe Henty wrote more to the purpose of education than what I have so far sampled of Strang.  Still, if you are after an out and out adventure story, with arresting language and no boring bits, Stang is worth hunting up.

Before you do a used book search, you may want to visit project Gutenberg and have a read online to see if the writing style is to your taste, but if you have a boy who is a confident reader, and has enjoyed Treasure Island, or Henty, or that style, then these books should be appreciated.

After reading several of Strang’s tales back to back, entertaining as they were,  I am so ready for a girl-themed book. It might be time to dig out a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and leave the buccaneers, freebooters, shipwrecks and cannibals for another day..

Just a little off topic..


Hello Bloggy friends 🙂

Hope you’re all well.

It’s a mixed bag today, a little bit of a stroll through the cluttered room that is my mind.

I’ve been reading.

John Buchan’s Castle Gay…..Yawn.  I was seriously disappointed in that one, despite being a John Buchan fan.

The Rebel, by Hester Burton.   A story of a restless English youth with utopian ideas, who finds himself on the wrong side of the French revolution.  I generally like Hester Burtons novels, and this was no exception, though in the words of the Chicklette, it’s hard work reading a story whose main character has a contrary world view to your own (the main character was an atheist).

Today I finished  Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. (Which, incidentally, you can purchase a hard cover copy of from the Book Depository for less than you will pay for a soft cover with postage from Koorong).

I’m not sure what I think of it yet.

They sound like charming young men, and certainly their blog, Rebolution is worth a wander through.   I am undecided  whether or not the book would hold real worth for my young persons, being that they are not victims of popular culture, and we have (hopefully) instilled in the children our own views on this time of life.

Some of the content, along with free teaching resources, can be viewed/downloaded here.

My only inclination toward caution is that it may perpetuate that Pentecostal mantra, “God has amazing plans for your life”; and possibly the idea that if you are not off doing something amazing, you have somehow missed the boat.

But.. my hesitation; my much less forceful manner of reviewing than usual, is aiming to give the book the benefit of the doubt, despite that pep-talk kind of easy to read motivational flavour.

Why?  Well, it could be that I am still in outrage mode over an article I read this week, in which case I could be prone to judge everything more harshly than necessary.  (Not the John Buchan book – it deserves a very derisory glance!)

I will spare you the rant I have already inflicted on the good folk over at Aussie Homeschool, but here’s a taste of what rankled, from an article on the common mistakes of homeschoolers:

As persuaded as I am of the benefits of homeschooling, I have counseled many wives who have been given permission, by their husband, to homeschool their children, not to do it.

This, if I weren’t so prone to expressing my uncalled for views, would have left me speechless.  But, I’ll resist, I will resist revisiting the subject…

On a much lighter note, have you ever wondered what to do with silverbeet? (That’s chard, for the out of town readers 😉 )  We were given some lovely, fresh, lady-bird laden silverbeet from our farming friends, and I was feeling adventurous.  So… we had lasagne without the pasta.  Yes, it was silverbeet lasagne.  (If Mrs P is reading, I’m sorry to offend your Italian sensibilities! 😛 )

But, it was good.  The family unanimously declared they would eat it again happily, and it is a remarkably inoffensive way to eat so many greens.  If you are brave enough to try it, make all as usual, though with less liquid, and substitute the layers of pasta with layers of green.

On to fun stuff… I’ve been playing with my camera. 😀

And this weekend, I will (God willing) be attending a photography workshop with a very talented and generous soul whom I hope to learn much from, along with meeting a great group of local photographers.  This most serendipitous occasion is the same weekend as the lifeline book fair, which I remind my local readers of with joy.



want to see my new boots?

Don’t they look fun?

And that’s it, folks.  (Well, I could go on, but I’ll stop before this tossed salad becomes a regular dog’s breakfast 😉 )

St. George for England


St. George for England is now complete and available as a free audio download from Librivox. (Hooray for Librivox volunteers!).

This is one you won’t want to miss if you’re currently studying the reign of Edward III; the Black Prince;  the battles of Cressy and Poitiers; the destruction of the Spanish fleet; the Black Death; and the Jacquerie rising.

As an interesting aside, we met in this book characters first introduced to us in “A Chaplet of Pearls”, by Charlotte Yonge, about the slaughter of St Bartholomew’s Eve (France, 1572).

If you are desiring to be immersed in the era, you can’t go past Ronald Welch’s “Bowman of Crecy”.  He doesn’t cover the battle of Poitiers, but you’ll never forget his account of Crecy!

Happy listening, folks!

By Pike and Dyke, Free Audio


Hey, Henty fans!

Librivox volunteer David Leeson,  has just finished an unabridged recording By Pike and Dyke.  To download this free audio book, visit:

Summary by D. Leeson

It is the 1570’s, and the people of the Netherlands live in terror under the cruel dominion of Spain. Though many long to be free of Spanish tyranny, efforts at rebellion are failing, and allies are nowhere to be found. Edward “Ned” Martin, son of an English captain and a Dutch lady, is thrust into the conflict when he resolves to help his mother’s people and avenge his murdered relatives. Entering the service of the revolutionary leader William the Silent, Prince of Orange, Ned is called upon to carry out dangerous secret missions deep within occupied territory. Through hairbreadth escapes, fierce sea fights, terrifying sieges, and daring rescues, Ned becomes a witness to the inspiring and heartbreaking events of the rise of the Dutch republic.


Holiday Reading II


Hello Bloggy friends!  It’s been a busy time in the Bluestocking world, and I would that I had a little more time to share the adventures with you.

In the last little while I have seen my first ever platypus in the wild, (apologies to my urbandaisy readers who have heard that story already, but I couldn’t resist 😀 ) and have gone for a ride in the coolest, biggest, fastest,  pinkest (!) 4WD ute ever; have seen a hawk take an eastern rosella (small parrot) in flight; visited a spent Molybdenum mine and a sheep station; received a most delicous present from India, in the form of a book of poems; and..oh! lots of great things.

In between all those adventures, I have been reading at a rate to slake the thirst of the wee folk, which is no mean feat.  Here’s just a sample..

Zarco the Explorer, by K. Norel, surprised me severally.  It was interesting, despite the  cover art and uninspiring title. (Eh! don’t judge a book by its’ cover.)  It was also the springboard for some additional reading on the theories about who really discovered the trade route to India and the true identity of Christopher Columbus..

You meet; Bartholomew Diaz, famous explorer who first rounded the Cape of Good Hope; Vasco da Gama, commander of the first ships to sail directly from  Europe to India; and take a retrospective look at Henry the Navigator.

The fictional aspects of the story relate the adventures of Zarco, a young country boy, as he struggles to overcome fear and superstition, hunger, illness and all sorts of peril.    It also tells of Zarco’s  struggles to reconcile the success of the exploration with the terrible loss of life, the poverty of the seamen injured during service of the king, and the morality of imposing rule on colonies.

While the girls and I enjoyed this book, I imagine it would be ideally suited for boys: lots of adventure, danger and daring, and devoid of girls!

After the Flood, by Bill Cooper, can be read on line.  What a book!  The author presents the results of over 25 years research in this offering, the idea of which was to test the Biblical Table of Nations for accuracy.

It is difficult to do justice to the book in a short review, there were so many fascinating aspects to the history presented.  We decided after reading, that it is with good reason that Diana Waring (a history hero in our house), refers to it often.

Possibly the best way to gauge the success of this book at our house is the frequency with which each person in turn, chose to read aloud parts as they discovered something too interesting not to share – even knowing the hearers had read the book already!  Highly recommended for the older history buffs!

Ben Sylvester’s Word, by Charlotte Yonge, was more in the line of her family morality tales than the historical accounts our tastes normally run to.  However, it was an enjoyable (though somewhat predictable) tale about the value of honesty, with some incidental learning possible given the historical details of the setting and descriptions of daily life.

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, would have to be on my “books that influence you for life” list.  I read this book originally when I was about 15 years old, and it was one of the few books that I thought about regularly, and deeply, for a long time after finishing it.

A first hand account of a Dutch family’s  underground work to save Jews during WWII, and their subsequent arrest and incarceration in concentration camps, this book would be a valuable read solely as a primary source of history.  That it is also a remarkable testament of the work of God in the author’s life is a huge bonus, and lends a hopeful flavour to an otherwise hopeless patch of history.  A truly worthwhile biography.

On a (much!) lighter note, Around the World with Pheneas Frog, by Paul Adshead, was a roaring success with the small fry. The book is a geographical puzzle.  Phineas and his daughter travel the world in a hot air balloon; father going off to visit famous landmarks, daughter shopping for souvenirs.  In the rhyming text (which is only clunky in one or two places..) are clues to the location, which the reader is to guess.

Shall I share a sample of the high-falutin text?

This, from the very beginning, explains how Phineas’ daughter unintentionally joins the expedition:

“Farewell,” calls his daughter, but as the flame flickers,

the anchor is snagged on the seat of her knickers.

The balloon starts rising, faster and faster.

“HELP!” screams Miss Frog. “What a dreadful disaster!”

“No!” laughs her father.  “I think it’s fantastic!”

Three cheers for extra-strong knicker elastic.”

He hauls up his daughter and says, “Good for you.

Adventures are twice as exciting with two.”

Miss Frog’s penchant for shopping is reason to mention the currency in each different country, and her souvenirs are all clues to industry or culture, as are the modes of transport they employ while in each place.  Lots of fun in this one, and the possibility of extension learning activities are endless.

St Austin’s Lodge, by Agnes Giberne, is one of those improving tales which, while it carries you along quite happily with its narrative, also leaves your conscience twitching in a manner that is at least mildly uncomfortable.  That is, of course, if you can relate to the main character of the story, a young lady given somewhat to acts of impetuosity, and with a need to develop more self discipline. Quite worthwhile despite the dramatic style of writing (Why do all girls from the 1800’s get brain fever after an emotional trauma?) if you can find a copy, and best suited to girls 13 and over (and their sometimes harum scarum mothers – wince!)

Hope your holiday break has been as full of interesting reading, and that your new year looks promising 😀

Holiday Reading


With holidays fast approaching, I have been madly pre-reading in attempts to find, and stockpile, appropriate books for the four little Bluestockings to while away the hours of travel.

After listening to  The Scarlet Pimpernel on Librivox (Karen Savage does a fantastic job of reading!), the Chicklette begged me to read The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel, so she could take both books on holidays.   This was no great hardship.

While the historical characters are not strictly drawn, these books are a gentle, amusing, although sometimes improbable, introduction to the Reign of Terror, post the French Revolution. I’m not sure if a boy would enjoy them so much: for my girls, it was just enough dashing adventure and suspense,with a slender thread of romance woven through, to keep them asking for more.

Wolf by the Ears, by Ann Rinaldi, is the story of Harriet Hemmings.  Born to the slave mistress of Thomas Jefferson, she is fair skinned with  red hair, and is raised in a hazy no man’s land, between slavery and privilege.

The book details her struggle to come to terms with the reality of her slave status; the truth of her parentage; and the frightening reality that should her master, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of independence, die, she could be sold to pay his debts.

This was an interesting read, but given the adult themes (not so much the slavery, as the relationships) I have given it a 16 years rating for our household.

The Royal Diaries, Catherine, The Great Journey is ….(shrugging)…. just another Royal Diaries book.  It details the early life and betrothal of Sophia, a German princess, to the heir of the Russian empire.

It is disappointing that it ends at the betrothal, as the more remarkable things in the life of Catherine the Great happened after her marriage.

These books are aimed at the 7 – 12 year market, though I imagine they would still hold interest for older readers.  Points to mark for parental awareness include; the mentions of the Empress’ proclivity for ordering her court’s participation in cross dressing, though the younger child may miss the significance; the mother was emotionally and physically abusive which could be upsetting for early readers with the skill to read the book; there is a blasphemous exclamation early in the book from the mother.

On a literary level, while the book is interesting enough (as far as the whole diary thing goes – it’s a seriously overworked fad in my not very humble opinion) there was an exasperating number of very short sentences and sentence fragments.  In can be punchy.  It can add drama. Or irritation.  See?

I’ve noticed this propensity a great deal among modern children’s writers, and it’s a sad trend.  While it is a device that can add impact, used as commonly as it is today, it reads like Dick and Dora meet Nip and Fluff.

Having that little rant out of the road, the author does the courtesy of adding historical notes with maps and pictures,  which I always appreciate.  Overall, an average quality book which may well incite an interest into the period it describes.

The River of Grace, A Story of John Calvin was great!  A very interesting look into the life of a remarkable man, and a contemporary of Luther and Knox.  While I would assess this book as written for 7 -12 years, it was read by the entire family, and has been a source of prompting for further study.  Excellent reading, it’s available from Ebenezer Books.

The Gauntlet, written by one of my all time favourite authors, Ronald Welch, is a time travel adventure story.  I am not normally a fan of time travel stories, but the tale woven here makes up for the medium (and, thankfully, it is a change from the diary format!)

An intricate picture of life in the fourteenth century is the backdrop for intrigues and adventure, culminating in the uprising of the Welsh tribes and a fierce battle scene.

Welch was a teacher turned writer for boys 10 -14 years, though I happily read anything of his I can find (pre-reading aside!)  This title is one of the few of his to be reprinted in recent times (The Bowman of Crecy was, also) and may be ordered from fishpond.

Twice Freed, by Patrica St John, tells the story of a slave, Onesimus, based on a passing reference from Paul in the book of Philemon. It details the spread of Christianity during Paul’s latter ministry and the havoc it wreaks in the household of the wool merchant, Philemon.

It is told through the eyes of Onesimus, a slave who hates his slavery, but learns that there are worse things than being bound to his master.  There’s plenty of adventure, a whisper of romance, and a great deal of truth to be found in this book.  It was written for young adults, and  while I will be giving it to the Chicklette to read on holidays, the younger Bluestockings will have to wait until they are 13 years to read it.

Not to be left out, Blossy has some new books coming from fishpond, too, from author Charlotte Voake. Anyone read “Ginger”?  It’s cute and fun!

That’s been my week, folks.  Hope your holiday preparations are going well!  🙂

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