The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice.
The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts.
Other than a female narrator and the fact that both are written by a first time author, these two books don’t really have much in common. Oh, also the setting in each book provides a nice hook for the story.
The Year the Swallows Came Early is set in San Juan Capistrano. I remember reading about the old mission town where the swallows return each spring to make their home until they migrate in the fall. Groovy, aka Eleanor, the eleven year old narrator tells the story of how her own father betrayed her trust and went to jail. Groovy is a likable young lady with ambition to become a fine chef someday, and Ms. Fitzmaurice, the author, gets her voice just right. Groovy is growing up, dealing with issues of deception and forgiveness, and yet she’s still a child. She talks and thinks like an eleven year old, with a refreshing innocence that is often missing in these days of precocious, sometimes jaded, child book characters. And I loved the ending to this book. It had hope and realism and lessons learned and growth for all of the characters in the book, without being saccharine-sweet.
More reviews of The Year the Swallows Came Early
Natasha at Maw Books: “Kathryn Fitzmaurice develops these characters so well and so early that I just had to see where this story was going to go. In addition to Groovy and her parents, we meet other wonderful characters who each have a story of their own.”
Into the Wardrobe: “I also enjoyed the novel because of the simple food descriptions that realistically captured the fun, wonder, and passion of a foodie who is only eleven years old.”
My favorite part of The Beef Princess of Practical County was the setting; it takes place on a modern-day beef farm in Practical County, Indiana. I’ve read several books about farm life, but I can’t think of another book that focuses on the farm itself and on what it’s like to be a part of a family farming operation in the twenty-first century. Most farm books I can think of are either about historical farm life or about escaping farm life. The Beef Princess celebrates the beef industry while also showing how difficult it can be to raise and eventually sell animals that are destined for the dinner table. I was a bit disappointed to find an instance or two of bad editing in the book, and some of the minor characters are a bit stereotypical (a set of snooty, bad girl sisters, the Darling sisters). However, the setting and the gentle story of a girl growing up on the farm save the book from being too formulaic and make it a good choice for rural readers looking for a book about “someone like me” and city dwellers looking to see what it’s like to live on a farm.
Other opinions on The Beef Princess of Practical County:
Bookworm Readers: “There’s not much to say about The Beef Princess of Practical County except that it was a simple, clean, and sweet book about growing up and letting go. The narration was excellent–Libby had a real voice and actually sounded like a 12 year old girl.”
Amanda at A Patchwork of Books: “Libby and those calves are just going to pull at your heart strings and seriously make becoming a vegetarian a possibility in your life. Such a creative plot concept with true-to-life characters, great emotion, and just enough funny moments to really melt your heart.”
These two good solid stories are harbingers, I hope, of more to come from both of these debut authors. Both of these books were nominated for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award.