A Quest for the Best Burger in L.A.

Foodie Kidlit Friday iconWhen you write books about a made-up restaurant critic, sometimes you get the urge to channel her and do a bit of critiquing yourself. Which is why my husband Andy and I decided to fly to L.A. over Martin Luther King weekend and eat as many different hamburgers as we could. 🙂

This whole crazy idea came about last year, when I tagged along with Andy on a work trip to L.A. I put out a call online for restaurant recommendations, and ended up with a lot more recs for burger places than I would have expected. There wasn’t enough time to hit them on that first trip, but Andy and I vowed to come back and eat at as many as we could in an effort to find L.A.’s best burger. Our friends Katie and Jason, who live in L.A., immediately agreed to join us, and a quest was planned!

Your judges:

Andy & Tara

Andy (financial professional) & Tara (children’s author)

 Jason & Katie

Jason (TV writer) & Katie (environmental communications expert)

In three days, we managed to hit nine places, running the gamut from humble fast food shack to high-end French bistro. I know that this doesn’t even begin to be comprehensive (I’m already compiling a list for next time!), but it made for a decent sampling.

So without further ado, here’s where we went and what we ate!

Stop #1: Hole in the Wall, Santa Monica
Burger base price: $8.95

Hole in the Wall is a cute little fast-casual place with a decent-sized outdoor patio.
Hole in the Wall

(And a mission statement!)
Hole in the Wall interior
You order using a handy checklist. Andy and I kept things pretty basic, though we did go for the pretzel bun and the cranberry mayo, which sounded like the most fun of the spread choices provided. Katie and Jason got cheese on their burger, and tried the mustard pickle relish.

Hole in the Wall menuThe burger:
Hole in the Wall burger

Verdict

Meat: I found the meat to be juicy, and Katie said hers had “solid char.” Andy thought the meat was on the mushy side. Quoth Jason: “It was good. I liked it.”

Bun: Everyone loved the pretzel bun, though Katie said the bottom of hers got a little soggy and that the cheese was poorly distributed.

Condiments & toppings: Andy and I found the cranberry mayo to be lacking in flavor, even when eaten on its own without a bite of meat. Katie and Jason gave the mustard relish a big thumbs up, though. The lettuce and tomato were fresh enough, though no one found them remarkable.

Worth mentioning: The fries were solid–worth ordering. Also, Hole in the Wall had a great assortment of shake flavors (including peanut butter and malt), which, sadly, we did not try. But they also has a fridge full of awesome-sounding soda flavors, including Shirley Temple soda, Cheerwine, and various cream sodas. I just had to get the praline cream soda from Louisiana. It was a little scarily sweet, but I appreciated the opportunity to try it.

Hole in the Wall soda

Bottom line: We all gave Hole in the Wall a solid for its burgers. We would return if we were in the neighborhood, though we probably wouldn’t drive across town just to go. The pretzel buns and fun beverage selection give it an edge.

Stop #2: The Apple Pan, West L.A.
Burger base price: $7.10

The only thing more adorable than the outside of The Apple Pan…
The Apple Pan
…is the inside of The Apple Pan! It’s just one giant counter (and in the middle of the afternoon, well past peak lunchtime, we had to wait for seats).
The Apple Pan interior
But while you wait, you can gaze into the back kitchen, where rows and rows of deep-dish apple pies wait to be cut up.
The Apple Pan pies
The menu features two “original” burgers–the Steakburger and the Hickoryburger–so we had to try both.
The Apple Pan menu
Burger cross-section:
The Apple Pan burger

Verdict

Meat: These are thinner, smaller burgers than most of the other entries out there. While no one found the steak burger remarkable, we all agreed that the hickory burger had excellent flavor.

Bun: No one was very impressed. Comments included “generic” and “not substantial enough for all the condiments.”

Condiments & toppings: The condiments were overwhelming, exploding out of the sandwich to make this our messiest burger-eating experience. The relish had an interesting flavor, but everyone agreed that there was way too much of it, and the delicious hickory burger was almost drowned in ketchup. As for the toppings, Andy said “I liked that there was half a head of iceberg in my burger. I could have taken the extra home to make a salad later.”

Worth mentioning: The beverage selection was poor (no shakes or interesting sodas). The pies looked amazing, though, and it wasn’t until we were a neighborhood away in the car that we realized we really should have tried a slice while we were there. Our mistake.

Bottom line: The Steakburger got a B- from everyone, while the Hickoryburger’s grades ranged from B- to A- for an average grade of B/B+ (terrific meat surrounded by lackluster everything else). However, The Apple Pan gets an A for atmosphere, and we’d go back to try some of that pie, at the very least.

Stop #3: Father’s Office, Mid-City
Burger base price: $12.50

Atmosphere-wise, Father’s Office is pretty much the opposite of The Apple Pan–very slick and modern. (Though, like at The Apple Pan, you order at the bar/counter!)

Father's OfficeFather’s Office makes a lot of “best burger in L.A.” lists–but the thing is, they won’t do any substitutions. And since Andy doesn’t eat cheese (and I don’t like melted cheese), that meant that their famed burger (which contains gruyere and blue cheese, as well as bacon and arugula) was untasteable for us. And by the time we got there, Katie and Jason were burgered out, so we didn’t end up having a burger there at all.

We couldn’t pass up dessert, though. Here’s the gingerbread ice cream sandwich with pumpkin ice cream (looks kind of like a burger, no? 🙂 ) And even better was the sticky toffee pudding a la mode. YUM.

Father's Office ice cream sandwich
Verdict

Nice desserts and beer list. Couldn’t try the burger, so if you’ve had it, feel free to weigh in in the comments.

Stop #4: Stout, Hollywood
Burger base price: $11

Stout, which focuses on burgers and beer, was a late addition to our first-day agenda…but a great one. Read on.
StoutThis is a sit-down, table-service place, though it’s not fancy or fussy. And while you can’t mix and match toppings here, you can have them removed, which is what Andy and I did to the cheese on our choice, the “Truffle Shuffle.” Jason had his burger mojo back by this point and went for the “Goombah,” while Katie sampled the bean-and-quinoa a veggie burger.
Stout menu
The “Truffle Shuffle” burger (minus cheese):
Stout burger

Verdict

Meat: Comments from the meat-eaters included “juicy,” “delicious,” and “solid.”

Bun: This is a tall, substantial bun–very aesthetically pleasing in its perfect roundness.

Condiments & Toppings: Stout eschews the typical lettuce/tomato/pickle for its own custom topping combinations–and we think they should keep at it. The sauteed mushrooms and truffle aioli on Andy’s and my burger was terrific, and Jason loved the combination of cheeses and prosciutto on his.

Worth noting: Our side of sweet potato fries was definitely worth ordering–a good “crunch to softness ratio” as one of our tasters (okay, I) put it. The beer and wine list is extensive and was enjoyed by Katie and Jason; Andy and I would have liked to see more interesting nonalcoholic options, but at a place called “Stout,” we weren’t going to hold our breaths.

Bottom line: Solid A- grades across the board (including for Katie’s veggie burger). As Jason said, the whole experience just worked altogether. We’d definitely go back to try some different varieties.

Stop #5: Astro Burger, Hollywood
Burger base price: $3.20

Moving now from the gourmet to the…less gourmet. We kicked off day 2 of burger-eating at Astro Burger, which Katie described as having a “Greek diner meets fast-food burger joint” vibe.Astroburger

The burger:
Astroburger burger

Verdict

Meat: “Bland,” “thin and gray,” “well-done,” and “just like a Whopper.”

Bun: As Katie put it: “average and unnoticeable.” Andy, when pressed: “It had sesame seeds.”

Condiments & Toppings: Toppings were average/disappointing: bland shredded lettuce and mealy tomato. Katie and Jason got an avocado burger, and the avocado was nice and fresh, but Katie said it added more texture than flavor.

Worth noting: Thanks to the burger’s low price, we sprung for a pineapple shake, which was fine (though not so pineapple-y). Of note, though, is Astro Burger’s extensive vegetarian/vegan menu, complete with a lot of different fake meats. (Maybe they are better than the real meat?)

Bottom line: Our grades ranged from C- to C+, averaging out to C. Quoth Katie: “It hits all the requirements, but makes no attempt to excel.”

Stop #6: Fatburger, Los Feliz
Burger base price: $4.69

On to Fatburger, a California chain. Apparently, most of them look like generic fast-food joints, but this one was very cute!
Fatburger

Well, at least from the outside. It’s hard to see the menu in this shot, but Fatburger operates on a “build-your-own” model; no special buns, but all of the expected basic topping and condiment choices are available.Fatburger interiorThe burger:
Fatburger burger

Verdict

Meat: Katie and I both found the meat to be tasty, and I liked that the patty was thicker and more substantial than the Whopper/Astro Burger style of fast-food burger. Andy, on the other hand, found it bland and said the burger taste was overpowered by the relish. Jason said that, of the fast food chains, it’s the best by far.

Bun: Andy enjoyed that the bun was toasted, and Jason said his didn’t get greasy. Katie found it unremarkable; I thought it was a step up from the average bun.

Condiments & Toppings: We all agreed that the relish was strong, and that pickles + relish is probably overkill on this burger. Next time, we’d pick one or the other.

Worth noting: Katie and I split a red velvet shake, and appreciated the novel flavor, though we wouldn’t run back for another one.

Bottom line: No one gave Fatburger the same grade; they ranged from a C- (Andy) to a B+ (Jason) for an average score of B-. Three out of four of us would come back, and I would definitely choose Fatburger over In & Out Burger (which we didn’t visit on this trip, but which we have tried twice before–I’m just not a fan).

Stop #7: Comme Ca, West Hollywood
Burger base price: $18

Oops, forgot to take a picture outside of this restaurant…or inside…or of anything but the burger. (But oh, what a burger!) Briefly, Comme Ca is a fancy French bistro where the burger–while being the most expensive of our quest–is by far the cheapest entree on the menu. It comes with skinny French fries, strong garlic aioli for dipping, and a crunchy, salty slaw as the burger’s only condiment (unless you have yours with cheese, also an option).

Le burger:

Comme Ca burger

Verdict

Meat: Ah, subjectivity. Andy found our burger to be “flavorful but a little dry,” while Katie said her cheeseburger was “fairly juicy but not so flavorful.” Jason and I both thought ours had great flavor and texture.

Bun: Everyone was a fan of the toasted and buttered bun. “No bun-sog!” proclaimed Katie. (I should also point out that, between the thick burger and the substantial bun, this is a very tall burger, which may annoy small-mouthed folks. Given that, though, I didn’t have as much trouble fitting it into my [small] mouth after the first couple of bites, and it was not nearly as messy to eat as I feared.)

Condiments & Toppings: We were fans of the salty slaw…well, except for Jason, who said “it’s not a slaw.” Though, actually, I think he still liked it.

Worth noting: The fries and aioli were delicious. If $14 cocktails are your thing, Comme Ca has plenty of them to choose from, and according to Jason, an excellent wine list. Not so much of interest on the nonalcoholic side. The one dessert we tried, a caramel pot de creme ($8) was amazing. All that said, our service was kind of off–and when I’m eating at a place this pricey (entrees other than the burger were around $30), I kind of expect the server to be a little more knowledgeable and on-the-ball timing-wise than ours was.

Bottom line: Our grades ranged from B+ to A, averaging B+/A-. Jason and I both named it our overall favorite burger, but for the group, it came in a close second to Stout. If you’re looking for a swanky evening out during which you can still enjoy a burger, this is a great destination.

Stop #8: The Habit, North Hollywood
Burger base price: $2.95

From the priciest burger of our quest to the cheapest! The Habit is another California chain, and we visited the North Hollywood location, which is in a strip mall. No picture of the interior, but I thought it was a step up in decor and cleanliness from Fatburger, while Katie likened it to a Panera or Starbucks.

The Habit

The basic burger choice is the Charburger, which comes with mayo, pickle, lettuce, tomato, and caramelized onions on a toasted bun. There are also a few other variations, such as the Teriyaki Charburger (featuring pineapple), which Katie and I tried.

The Charburger:
The Habit burger

Verdict

Meat: No one was blow away by the meat. Andy said it tasted like “a slightly less charbroiled Whopper,” and Katie felt it got a little lost among all the condiments.

Bun: “Normal.” “Unremarkable.”

Condiments & Toppings: Habit seems to go with a “more is better” condiment and topping philosophy, though Andy said that the caramelized onions on his burger were a nice touch.

Worth noting: Sweet potato fries were tasty. Shakes are available, and our malt vanilla shake was fine, though nothing to write home about. The price, however, really can’t be beat.

Bottom line: The Habit got B- across the board. (Personally, I’d rather sit down for lunch here than at Fatburger…but I’d rather be eating a Fatburger.)

Stop #9: Rounds Premium Burgers, North Hollywood
Burger base price: $5.45

Rounds is a little storefront on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Not terribly exciting outside or inside.

Rounds Like at Hole in the Wall, you build your own burger by ordering off a handy checklist. We stuck to the basics, but chose chipotle ketchup off the list of sauces.
Rounds Menu
The burger:
Rounds burger

Verdict

Meat: Andy and I thought that the patty was juicy and had really good flavor. I liked the thickness, too. Katie was less impressed, calling both the juiciness and flavor “average.”

Bun: “Toasted.” “Above average.” “Solid.”

Condiments & Toppings: The toppings were pretty average; I wished that there had been fresh green lettuce instead of shredded iceberg. Also, while we thought the chipotle ketchup had a nice level of spice, it was too cold, even on a hot burger.

Worth noting: Drinks were uninspiring–no shakes, and just fountain sodas–and sadly, there is no public bathroom.

Bottom line: Our average rating was a B/B+. At $5.45, we all agreed that a Rounds burger is great value for the quality, and that if we were in the neighborhood, we’d make the effort to come back by. In fact, I’d be willing to pay a few dollars more for the same burger on slightly nicer premises, with a bathroom and better drink options.

***

Thus concludes our burger tour of L.A.–perhaps the first of many! Our winner overall was Stout, closely followed by Comme Ca.

Best meat goes to The Apple Pan for its Hickoryburger.

Best bun was the pretzel bun at Hole in the Wall.

Best toppings were found at Stout.

Best value was Rounds.

And for best fast food burger, Fatburger edges out The Habit.

Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments. I’ll just say that I think we all had a great time channeling our inner Gladys Gatsbys for the weekend…and also that we’ll be quite happy not to eat another burger for a while. 🙂

Your first chance to win a copy of ALL FOUR STARS!

ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverJust a quick note to let you know that the wonderful Krista Van Dolzer is giving away an advance copy of my debut novel All Four Stars over at her blog. This is your very first chance to win an early copy, more than six months before it hits the shelves on July 10!

The link:

Book Recommendation and ARC Giveaway: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman

Good luck if you enter!

My favorite funny reads of 2013

ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverHappy new year, everybody! It’s finally 2014—the year I become a published author! All Four Stars hits the shelves on July 10, and it’s already available for preorder from your local bookstore and all the major online book retailers. Exciting!

I’ve really been enjoying reading other people’s year-end roundups of their reading statistics and favorite books from 2013. This year I read 68 books, which I believe is a record for me. Getting a smartphone and subsequently borrowing lots of audiobooks through Overdrive definitely helped bump up my numbers; I listened to 19 audiobooks this year while doing dishes, folding laundry, and walking around running errands.

Another big proportion of my reads this year were ARCs, or advance copies of books that aren’t published yet; I read 19 of those. The majority of them are 2014 releases, and I received them on rotation through either OneFour Kidlit or Emu’s Debuts, the groups of 2014 debut authors to which I belong.

The rest of my reads were a mix of middle-grade, young adult, and adult, a mix of purchased in paper, purchased for my e-reader, and borrowed from the library (both in paper and on my e-reader). I also read a handful of terrific picture books (which I’m not including in my final book tally, but enjoyed just the same).

There were so many books that I loved this year, but for this post, I’ve decided to highlight my favorite funny reads. I love humor—I write humor (or try to, at least!)—and I often feel like humorous books get short shrift when it comes to awards and recognition. But writing truly funny prose takes tremendous skill, and reading something truly funny is just the best elixir for a cruddy day, or month, or year. 2013 was a tough year for my family and several of my friends (hurricanes, floods, family illnesses, etc.), but the following books definitely helped me through some challenging stretches.

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow MillerFavorite Funny Picture Book

Sophie’s Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sophie has a new best friend named Bernice. Bernice just happens to be a butternut squash that Sophie’s parents picked up at the farmer’s market. And sure, Bernice seems to be in great shape at first, but then she starts going soft in places, and developing spots…

Absurd, adorable, and perfectly illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, this is a book that kids and adults will savor reading over and over again.

Favorite Funny Middle-Grade Novels

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle

Reading this book was a joy from beginning to end. Tim Federle starts the book off with a premise ripe for comedy (boy who has hardly ever left his hometown sneaks off to New York City to audition for “E.T.: The Musical”), but it’s main character Nate’s voice that truly sets this book apart. As is often the case with great humorous writing, there’s an undercurrent of pain and insecurity that makes Nate feel all too real. I’m thrilled that a sequel (Five, Six, Seven, Nate!) is coming in 2014.



Radio Girl by Carol BrendlerRadio Girl, by Carol Brendler

Set in the 1930’s, this upper-middle-grade novel follows the exploits of Cece, who desperately wants to become a radio star (and isn’t afraid to do a little sneaking around to make her dream come true). Well, if you know the plot of All Four Stars, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I loved this story, but in addition to the girl-taking-on-her-dream-profession aspect, I adored the humor in it. Cece has a charming innocence, but also a healthy disrespect for authority that leads her into some truly farcical situations. There’s one scene in which she and her friend Bev read a cousin’s steamy diary entries that, when Carol read it aloud at our EMLA retreat last summer, had everyone rolling on the floor laughing.

Favorite Funny 2014 Release

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches, by Lauren Magaziner

Get excited for August 2014, when this debut middle-grade novel hits the shelves! Lauren Magaziner’s voice has been likened to Roald Dahl’s, and in my opinion, the comparison couldn’t be more apt. I was laughing out loud from the very first chapter, as we learn about the horrible Mrs. Frabbleknacker, teacher to our hero Rupert—who goes on to have many hilarious adventures as a witchling’s apprentice. Kids are going to LOVE this book…and I bet many adults will, too.


Red by Alison CherryFavorite Funny Young Adult Novel

Red, by Alison Cherry

So much of YA these days is dark, but Alison Cherry delightfully bucks that trend with Red, a lighthearted satire about a fictional American town where the redness of your hair determines your social standing. I tore through this book, laughing countless times at its clever turns of phrase—and the 13-year-old reader I gifted it too for Christmas adored it, too.

Favorite Funny Nonfiction Book

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David SedarisLet’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, by David Sedaris

David Sedaris rarely disappoints me, and his newest collection of essays exceeded even my high expectations. I had the treat this year of hearing him try out some new material at the Denver Center (I may also have accosted him in the lobby beforehand to proclaim my ardent admiration). Anyway, this one’s perfect on audiobook, read by Sedaris himself.



The Disaster Tourist by Aiken AveryFavorite Funny Adult Literary Novels

The Disaster Tourist, by Aiken Avery

I’ve already kvelled about this book here on this blog, and at less than $5 on most e-reading platforms, it is a HUGE steal. Following a wacky group of college students on a round-the-world cruise, this book manages to be both deep and hilarious at the same time.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I’ll never think of Seattle the same way again! Semple amasses a group of characters that are simultaneously absurd and endearing and gives us a window into their world through e-mail correspondence, FBI dossiers, and other “primary sources.” This is also a fantastic audiobook; narrator Kathleen Wilhoite does an incredible job bringing the voices of a large variety of characters to life.



Well, there you have it! I can’t wait to see what kinds of laughs 2014 will bring. What were your favorite funny reads of the last year?

There’s a Monster Inside Me!

Or, well, there was in December of 2009. Andy and I had just returned from the first leg of our round-the-world trip, but little did we know that I was carrying an extra-special souvenir from Central America…in my scalp.

I’d tell you more, but why read when you can watch? 🙂 That’s right–tonight at 9 p.m. eastern, you can watch the whole, disgusting story of my parasitic infestation with botfly larvae unfold on the Animal Planet “docu-horror” show Monsters Inside Me. There’s even a three-minute preview of our segment online!

We taped our interviews a few months ago, and in a fun twist, my sister Brooke (who is an actress in New York) was hired to “play” me in the reenactments. (The actor who plays Andy is a stranger to us, but has come to be known as “Andy 2.0” around the house.)

Here’s hoping you enjoy our national television debut–and if you have any questions about the whole process, feel free to post a comment, and I’ll answer as best I can.

Now & Later

Well, friends, blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground here recently–but that doesn’t mean that exciting things haven’t been going on behind the scenes, or that I haven’t got some great stuff lined up for you going forward! Here’s a little recap/preview.

NOW (well, not right now, but recently):

1) Writing: Hey, remember that post I wrote back in September about how I sped up my drafting process by 96%? (If you remember any post on this blog, it’s probably that one, by far my most popular post ever.)

Well, what comes after drafting is lots and lots of revising–which, in the case of my sequel to All Four Stars, involved writing a new 20-page insert to help round out the ending, cutting 8,000 words overall, and loads of other tweaks. But I am pleased to say that I finally turned that manuscript in to my editor last week, and I’m feeling pretty good about it! And I also need to say that this book would be nowhere without the insight of my incredible critique partners Ann Bedichek, Jenny Goebel, Jessica Lawson, and Lauren Sabel. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

2) Reading: I have also been busy reading advance copies of lots of 2014 releases, and people out there are starting to read mine! Thank you so much to those folks who’ve taken the time to leave reviews and ratings on Goodreads for All Four Stars and who have been sharing their ARCs with me. I have truly enjoyed every single ARC I’ve read so far, but have to give particular shout-outs to When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens (February ’14) and The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner (August, ’14) in middle grade, and Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule (March ’14) in YA. Buckle your seat belts for these releases, folks–they are incredible!

3) Eating: I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend with family in the Washington, D.C. area, during which time we deep-fried a turkey…

Deep-fried turkey

…and also visited Ted’s Bulletin for homemade Thanksgiving pop tarts (filled with turkey and stuffing, and topped with sweet potato swirls and cranberry icing!).
Thanksgiving pop tarts

Yes, both of those things tasted just as amazing as they sound.

Later (or, in other words, coming soon–like, as soon as tomorrow!):

1) Interviews: I am really excited to be interviewing Aiken Avery, author of the fantastic literary/dark humor/round-the-world travel novel The Disaster Touristone of my top reads of 2013. That post goes up tomorrow, so please come back for it!

Foodie Kidlit Friday iconI’ve also got my next Foodie Kidlit Friday interview lined up–the lovely Lisa Graff will be talking about all of those scrumptious cakes Cady bakes in her 2013 National Book Award-longlisted novel A Tangle of Knots. Hooray! That should be up next Friday.

Colorado is for writersAnd next Tuesday, Colorado is for Writers returns featuring middle-grade author Claudia MIlls!

2) Recipes: Starting in the new year, I’ll be sharing recipes for some of the delectable dishes that Gladys cooks and reviews in All Four Stars. I’ve been developing these for a while, and am so excited to finally share them with the world!

Sneak peak: Tree nut tarts

Sneak peak: Tree nut tarts

So, stuff. It’s been happening. It will continue to happen. Stick around. 🙂

And the winner of TASTE TEST is…

Taste Test by Kelly FioreMaryanne Fantalis!

Woohoo!

Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my interview with Kelly Fiore last week. I hope that those of you who didn’t win will check out TASTE TEST anyway!

Next Friday will be quiet around here for Thanksgiving, but I’ll be back the week after with more Foodie Kidlit Friday goodness. See you then!

Foodie Kidlit Friday icon

Kidlit authors gone wild!

To celebrate the launch of NERVE by Jeanne Ryan, the EMU’s Debuts (the group of kidlit debut authors I blog with) challenged the Friday the Thirteeners (a group of YA authors debuting in 2013) to a dare-off.

Well, today the video results are posted, and holy moly, you have GOT to go check them out!

The EMUs, for example have an interpretive dance about dead chickens, a romantic ode to a doorknob, the world’s most painful conference critique section, and even yours truly stuffing her gullet while reading from MATILDA. 🙂 (Happy belated birthday, Mr. Dahl!)

And The Thirteeners, for example, have a novel scene performed by condiments, an all-original movie trailer in which Bella Swan hooks up with The Count (yes, that Count, from Sesame Street), and the funniest story I have ever heard from the perspective of a carrot.

Seriously, why are you still here? Click! Go! And leave comments on both blogs for two chances to win a signed copy of NERVE!

It’s launch day for Katerina’s Wish!

I’m so thrilled that my friend (and fellow Coloradoan) Jeannie Mobley’s gorgeous debut novel, Katerina’s Wish, is hitting bookstores today! Last week, we had a launch party over at EMU’s Debuts (featuring a post by yours truly on how to make Czech plum dumplings, which are an important meal in the book), and now the book is out in the world. You should strongly consider getting yourself a copy–after all, it’s received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, not to mention five stars at Goodreads from me. 🙂

Here’s my review.

Katerina's WishKaterina’s Wish by Jeannie Mobley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite simply, I adored this book. It reminded me of the very best historical fiction I read as a kid, in that I didn’t feel like I was learning a history lesson at all–I just felt totally immersed in the world of the story and invested in the fate of the main character’s family as forces beyond their control threatened to crush them.

With skeptical-yet-hopeful Katerina, the author creates a wonderful character to guide us through life in a turn-of-the-century coal camp. She concocts various schemes to try to earn enough money to get her family out of the camp and into possession of a piece of land they can farm. But the powers that be at the camp aren’t about to let her have her way so easily.

I hope that this book finds its place both in classrooms and far beyond them, because anyone who enjoys a beautifully-written and tension-filled story will love it.

View all my reviews

You can read the opening pages of the book here on the Simon & Schuster website. Go get’em, Trina!