Book Reviews Children/YA books

Book Review by Jill Smith©Aug20

Title: The Drums of Dundurn

Author: Kelly Evans

Publisher: Eska Publishing 2020

This is an engrossing read for young adults. It’s full of history, ghosts, and how to get rid of them.

Minnie MacNab hears the drums, but no one else in her family believes her. Only her friend William, the son of the gardener, believes her. She is the Sir Allan MacNabs youngest daughter and is not supposed to be friends with the staff.

When she starts having dreams at night where she meets a boy about her own age, dressed in skins, with long balck hair braided down his back. She discoveres the boy is a First Nations aboriginal called Miigwaans. When he gives her a feather that comes back to her own room when she wakes up, she knows something strange is happening.
The dreams become nightmares when she sees, hears and smells a soldier, who she sees attack Miigwaans in her dream. Terrified when the soldier strikes out at her and cuts her hand, she doesn’t know what to do. Not until Miigwaans explains to her what she must do to rid her and her family of the dangerous ghost.

Kelly bases the story in a real place and time for the MacNab family. The story is set in 1843 at Dundurn Castle built in Hamilton, Ontario by Sir Allan MacNab, based on ancestral castles in Scotland. Minnie is named after her mother Mary, and her sister Sophia is two years older. Their teacher Mr Thompson lived on the grounds in a cottage Sir Allan provided. Their Aunt lived with them and helped rear them as their mother was unwell. Mrs MacNab later died of consumption (Tuberculosis) when Minnie was twelve.

I enjoyed this page turning tale and expect children will too. Thanks Kelly for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Book Review by Jill Smith©Mar20

Title: League of Llamas – The Golden Llama

Author: Aleesah Darlison

Illustrator: Simon Greiner

Publisher: Puffin Books / Penguin Random House Australia

Phillipe Llamar is LOL (League of Llamas) agent 0011. He’s handsome and has a magnificent head of beautiful hair and a fringe he constantly combs to dazzle everyone around. He also has a terrible memory. He’s at General Bottomburps’ party to steal some secrets. The General along with his Badger buddies are renowned for their potent very smelly bottom burps. He’s up to no good and Phillipe intends to find the evidence. With the aid of his sidekick Lloyd Llamanator, aka agent 0013, (who has a good memory), Phillipe breaks the General’s computer code and gets hold of the incriminating evidence. He burns this to a USB and swallows it to escape. Fortunately, they have a hidden Llamaborghini to drive away in.

They leave with more questions than answers. Such as: Who is the lovely lady llama in red? How are they going to get the USB out of Phillipe? The answer to this comes with the Turbo Llama Lax Incident (which needs to be read to understand the sheer hilarity). Mama Llama explains the USB shows that General Bottomburp has committed the utterly unthinkable crime of stealing The Golden Llama, (a symbol of the nation and the freedom for Llamas to spit.) Phillipe and Lloyd set out to recover the statue to avoid a spitting war by returning the statue to the Musee du Llama.

This Bond parody has all the elements kids love, such as farting and spitting together with lots of cleaver gadgets (that almost work) and dramatic twists and turns.

The illustrations by Simon Greiner of Phillipe in disguise, the lovely Lady Llama in red, the Llamaborghini and General Bottomburp, and the all-important League of Llamas logo to name a few, enhance the book. Particularly the very James Bond, (I’m a handsome Phillipe with gorgeous fringe on the front cover image), together with the Llama play on words which makes the whole book one ready to capture the imagination of youngsters worldwide.

I chortled through this book from the first sentence to the last. I look forward to reading the whole series including League of Llamas – Llama impossible, League of Llamas – Undercover Llamas and League of Llamas – Rogue Llama. Then I’ll be happy to pass these books onto my granddaughters to enjoy.

Book Review by Jill Smith©Mar20

Title: League of Llamas – Llama Impossible

Author: Aleesah Darlison

Illustrator: Simon Greiner

Publisher: Puffin Books / Penguin Random House Australia

Available from all good bookstores: visit for more information. @AleesahDarlison @PenguinKidsAustralia @PuffinBooksAus

Action-packed from the first sentence. A runaway train, an unconscious train driver, and speed building as the train crashes through one station after another. Luckily Phillipe Llamar LOL (League of Llamas) agent 0011 is cruising overhead in his Llamaborghini and he decides to jump on board to stop the train. He jumps out landing on the roof of the train and is met by a gecko in singlet and jeans who has a resemblance to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Geckoson with freaky eyeball licking action. After a near-death experience Phillipe gets to the front of the train to save the day.

When he gets back to Mama Llama’s office eleven floors underneath Mount Killamanjaro he discovers there’s more trouble in New Llama City. The train brakes had been cut at the same time as a massive robbery. Mama Llama sends her top agents Phillipe and Lloyd to investigate. She’s also sending Agent 0077 with them, Elloise is the Llama in red. They all go to the bank to see what happened. Phillipe and Lloyd cause a mess while investigating, (this is another laugh out loud moment among many in the book). Mama Llama gets an emergency call from the New Llama City Fire Chief. A fire had been deliberately lit. Were all these things coincidences?

All the evidence from the speeding train, bank robbery and dazzling diamond heist point to General Bottomburp. Is this a setup? At the bank, they meet Mr Itchee Kneebone, a property developer and fine art collector. This plump guinea pig was making sure his money was safe. He also invites them to his home to give them information. Bottomburp had gone into hiding, Kneebone tells Phillipe they might find him in Papua New Guinea Pig. On the island, they are captured and put in a pot by guinea pigs. Captain Archie the leader told them they weren’t vegetarians. Itchee Kneebone arrives and scolds his brother Archie and they are released. Phillipe finds Bottomburp and he goes to talk to the villain. He says he’s innocent and that he has bodyguards coming. They must rethink what’s been happening. Could a cuddly, kindly guinea pig with money and a mansion, be the real culprit? When all three agents work together, they discover the truth.

This is the second book in Aleesah Darlison’s League of Llamas series. And equally hilarious as the first with her play on words and crazy Llama antics. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series and then deliver them to my granddaughters to enjoy.

Book Review

By Jill Smith©April12

Titles: Meet Poppy – Poppy at Summerhill – Poppy and the Thief – Poppy Comes Home

 Author: Gabrielle Wang

Publisher: Puffin Books

It’s 1864 and Poppy lives at Bird Creek Mission near Echuca. She hates life there, only her brother Gus, living there too, makes it bearable. They are both part aboriginal, their mother died and their father disappeared, leaving them to cope with Mission life. Gus teaches all the kids how to look for bush tucker, he often gets in trouble. One day Gus tells Poppy he plans to leave to look for their father. Poppy is scared for him, but, he promises to return for her before her thirteenth birthday when she’s old enough to be sent out to work. Not long after Gus leaves, Poppy discovers she is to be put into service much sooner. She decides to go after Gus, and that’s when her adventure really begins.

‘Meet Poppy’, to escape the Mission Poppy dresses as a boy and she heads for the river following her brother’s journey. She is making a friend in a dog she calls ‘Fisher’. Very hungry stumbles across a camp being robbed then shares a meal with a bushranger. Finally, she stows away on a paddle steamer but still finds herself on the wrong side of the river.

‘Poppy at Summerhill’, the adventure continues with Poppy getting badly injured, being rescued by an aboriginal roustabout, on the ‘Summerhill’ property, where he takes her to recover. She makes friends of the station owners children. She finds out more about her heritage and investigates her lead to find her Chinese father.

‘Poppy and the Thief’, Poppy leaves the safety and new friendships of Summerhill to continue her search for her brother. She carries a letter, in Chinese, that she needs to be interpreted, to solve to clues and find her father. She meets up with a boy, Fisher, her dog and travelling companion shows instant distrust of the boy. Poppy decides she needs company on the road, but, she quickly discovers he is a thief. In the town she hopes to find Gus, she discovers more about her Chinese heritage.  Poppy is accused of being a thief after she followed the boy, who left her with the evidence.

‘Poppy Comes Home’, as she travels on she meets up with a travelling show, agreeing to be part of the act, as they go from town to town, getting fed and asking about Gus at every stop along the way. She becomes disheartened when again she can’t find her brother. She discovers the medicinal show is an act and the Professor is a con man, too late, when he tricks her, and takes Fisher away from her. Her faithful dog being her only companion during her flight she feels desperate to find him. When she does find Fisher, she has to trade the one good thing she has found along her journey, to get him back. Then she gets the best news, she finds Gus, and he takes her to their father and their new home.

The Poppy books are in ‘Our Australian Girl’ series. These books are an excellent historical fiction aimed at young girls. Gabrielle is one of four authors with similar series, giving young readers an insight into life in a bygone era. I bought this book at Sovereign Hill Gift Shop, in Ballarat, where the others in the collection are also sold. Each book has a ‘teaser’, part of the next book?s first chapter to draw the young mind further into the tale. The covers have a picture of Poppy, and a charm bracelet with a different charm beside the book number, along with a map of Australia, where the story is set and information about the era.

I loved this series, originally I only bought the first two, but, quickly hooked on the tale had to go and get the other two. As a marketing opportunity, I believe Gabrielle and the other authors in this ‘Our Australian Girl’ series are winners. Clearly, this is a delightful way for a young reader to find out about life in the 1860s and one that helps them identify with the past.

Book Review

By Jill Smith©Feb2012

Title: The Last Tiger

Author: Andrew McDermott

Publisher: Publicious

Wang is a South China tiger happily learning survival skills from his mother as they travel around their territory in the forest in China. They are going to his father’s territory, on the boundary of his mother’s part of the forest. Wang is excited about meeting his powerful father again.  When they get to the edge of his mothers’ territory, she senses something is wrong. Poachers take his mother away and leave Wang alone. What can he do now?

He is visited by the spirit of ‘The Blue Tiger’ who sends him on a journey to the mythical animal sanctuary ’Blue Tiger Mountain’ and safety. But how will he find it when no one knows how to get there?  Wang is befriended by an Australian Cassowary and English pine martin, all are endangered species. Along the way, the three animal friends discover adventures and surprises that bring them closer together.  They journey to seek the same goal. Later they meet up with a young boy and a golden monkey, who has been following and sharing the adventure in a magical way.

This book has a delightful tale entwined with facts about endangered species and giving an environmental message for young readers to soak up. The pages will turn quickly as they will easily be drawn into the plight of our young tiger and his friends.

Andy wrote this children’s book as a result of all his research into his adults’ book ‘The Tiger Chase’. He did say at a recent Gold Coast Writers meeting that it would be his first and last venture into writing for children. I think it is a very worthy addition to his list of works and one to be proud of.

Book Review By Jill Smith©Jan12

Title: Gunnedah Hero

Author: Clancy Tucker

Publisher: Morris Publishing Australia

Gunnie Danson is a fourteen-year-old boy, who hates school. His assignment on the drought and how it affects farms promises to be dull, he is a town lad and knows nothing of the bush. That changes when he gets a box delivered to him, full of things his grandfather left him. Gun’s grandfather was a special friend and always said ‘you’re the man.’ Gun’s mum suggests he and his dad go to their Uncle’s farm to find out more about the subject. It’s Friday and his dad agrees it would be good to go, as he needs to catch up with his brother Wirra, about some business anyway.

Wiralee Station is a cattle station that’s been in the family since 1848. Gun always loves going there and he has his own room. He tells his dad he has a lot of reading to do and he settles in to start with his great-great-grandfather’s story. The other packages will be opened in the order the old man suggests.

In 1910, at fourteen, Smokey Danson was asked to go on the ‘long paddock’, with a heard of undernourished cattle, in a bid to save the family from ruin due to the drought. He had to leave behind his family and school friends, making a journey north without knowing how long it would be before the drought broke. He sets off with the promise to write to his parents and best friend Molloy, to tell them about his adventure.

Gun discovers his family history while reading Smokey’s story. The paintings hung in the hall become very significant, among these, his grandfather and his best mate ‘magic’ Billie, and the family graveyard gives him revelations into the past. Gun overhears his crabby aunt Kate making disturbing plans on one of his excursions down to the kitchen to get food. He meets the Managers daughter Jenni, and she introduces Gun to the farm animals and even more of the history of Wiralee station. Gun doesn’t go to a clearing sale with his father and uncle on the Saturday, he keeps reading to well into the night. What he discovers he shows his father and uncle, the final entry, a one-page letter, thwarts the plans of his aunt and changes his own future.

The Australian journey of the drover on the ‘long paddock’, reveals the special relationship Smokey has with his animals, the camaraderie he develops with people he meets along the way, and the humble honesty he shows in dealing with bringing a forty-year murderer to justice.

There is a Glossary at the end of the book explaining the once commonplace terms such as ‘the long paddock’, ‘pannikin’, ‘swaggie’ and many more. This is a brilliant book in the ilk of ‘Diary of Welsh Swagman’, a book my grandmother gave me as a girl, about a man walking the district I grew up in, this book showed, as does Smokey’s story, how tough life could be, and just how much could be achieved with very little.

Book Review

By Jill Smith©August 2011

Title: The Youngest Cameleer

Author: Goldie Alexander

Publisher: A Five Senses Publication

Ahmed Ackbar is 13, through his diary letters to family back home; we journey with him in Australia with his Uncle Kamran and two fellow Afghan cameleers. He is the youngest cameleer joining an English explorer’s journey across a continent. The country he crosses is so unlike his Afghan homeland, yet shares a desert that camels are best equipped to cross.

Although arriving in Australia speaking Pashto his native language and very little English. He quickly learns to increase his meagre knowledge of English, so helping his cameleers cope with the strain of dealing with infidels. Ahmed works hard and proves to be a valuable member of the expedition as an interpreter.

The culture is a shock, as people, he comes to treat as friends, do things that are not acceptable to his religion. They are equally tolerated by some of the party, thought of as odd by others, because they stop for prayers, and are despised by another.

At one point when they reach an isolated station to rest, Ahmed befriends the three children living there.  He finds himself playing competitive games with the boy and allowing the girls to ride his camel. Just being alone with a female is not something he wants his Uncle to discover as it is taboo.

The book is a wonderful and accurate, drawn upon history, account of the W C Gosse exploration, tracing the journey along the inland telegraph route to Alice Springs and the discovery of Ayers Rock now known as Uluru. The naming of the landmarks along the way is also interesting, Goss contributed a great deal to Australia’s history.

The journey is a self-discovery and coming of age event for Ahmed, as he is also wanting to learn how his beloved father recently died. To him, it is a mystery, and his Uncle Kamran holds the answer. He must be man enough to ask the questions burning in his mind.

Goldie has produced a book that is sure to be a school staple, as it invites young readers to question their outlook on the world and to investigate our own past. Exploration of Australia would not have been as successful without the assistance of cameleers.

Book Review By Jill Smith ©April 2011

Title: The Mystery of Nida Valley Author: E J Ouston

http://www.elaineouston.comPublisher: Self Published  

This book draws you in from the first sentence and the pace keeps going from there.  Meg Sealy is just an ordinary schoolgirl, or so she believes. Her best friend Amanda is missing so she goes to help in the search. She meets up with a ghostly house guest at Millson Manor, before she and her cousin Jaiden find a secret passage, and end up getting lost themselves.

Nida Valley is a magical place where hidden prehistoric animals roam. The research Elaine has taken to bring to life the fossils of Australian ancient animals is a wonderful layer to the story. The valley is more than a setting, it is more than a backdrop, it is the destiny of Meg and her friends to be part of the Guardians and protect the existence of the creatures within. Elaine cleverly puts a hook at the end of each chapter that begs the reader to continue.

The cover of the book has a banner at the bottom; Read the Books – Play the Game – Win Prizes – Collect Cards. It is really well targeted at the YA market and delivers an adventure, battle against evil, along with a journey of self-discovery and teenage romance.

I loved this book and look forward to reading more from this talented Australian writer.

Book Review by Jill Smith ©February, 2011

Title:     Pond Magic

Author:  Angela Sunde

Publisher:  Puffin Books – Aussie Chomps

Lily Padd is twelve. She has started burping and can’t stop, worse still she’s turning green and developing webbed feet.

What else could go wrong?

Well, her mum, who is crazy about everything French, invites an exchange student to stay. Lily is kicked out of her room. Her best friend thinks their house guest is cute and mooches around him.

Where and how had Lily started turning into a frog? She has to find out and get a cure. When her investigations come up with a solution on the internet site, the cure could be worse than the disease. Would she really have to kiss that bully boy Rick Basteck?

Angela has been a member of Gold Coast Writers and active member of The Ten Penners in the early stages of the compilation of Fan-tas-tic-al Tales. During that time we could clearly see the talent and enthusiasm for her illustrations and story writing craft. Although we missed her being there to complete our project we were delighted to see her go onto her own developing story.

This is likely to be the start of many other wonderful stories with her original style. For the young reader in your family, this is a must-have book.

Check out her website or on

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