The ALL FOUR STARS blog tour – stop 5

The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher - coverIt’s Monday, which means it’s time to announce the winner of my giveaway of Jessica Lawson’s magnificent debut novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky ThatcherCongratulations to Lindsay Eland, who is the winner! *cheers*

Monday also means that the All Four Stars blog tour is back at full swing. At Xpresso Reads, I have a guest post up called “Diversity is Delicious.” I think that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is important, and I thank Jenni for giving me a chance to write a little about my own path to including diverse cultures in my writing. The post is about a very special teacher I had in high school and the culinary experiences that helped me get out of my picky-eating bubble.

all four stars tour buttonI’m also interviewed today over at With Faith and Grace, which is my lovely friend Allison’s blog. We talk about the publishing process, and there’s a whole new chance to win a copy of the book. The giveaway ends this week, so hurry on over!

There have also been some terrific new reviews over at Carina’s Books and Great Imaginations. I’m really enjoying hearing what new readers are enjoying in the book, and noting their intelligent critiques. Keep the opinions coming!

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It’s launch week for TALKER 25!

t25-coverOver at Emu’s Debuts, we’re all celebrating the launch of Joshua McCune’s fantastic debut YA novel, Talker 25. Here’s the blurb about this epic book:

It’s a high school prank gone horribly wrong: sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon. Now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population.

I read an advance copy of this book–the first in a trilogy–a couple of months ago, and it knocked my socks off. If you loved The Hunger Games, or are fascinated by dragons, or find reality TV to be twisted and scary, I think you’ll love this book.

Plus, you can win a free copy by commenting on any of our launch week posts at Emu’s Debuts. And extra copies are up for grabs if you enter the dragon-naming contest!

You can find Talker 25 online at IndieboundAmazonBN.com, or at your local bookstore.

Butterbeer! Pumpkin Juice! Puking Pastilles! (What I ate at Harry Potter World)

Foodie Kidlit Friday icon“I’m going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my cousin this month!” I spent most of January telling anyone who would listen.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you,” a lot of them replied. This response baffled me at first, until I realized that they thought that my cousin was a small child whom I had volunteered to chaperone around Universal Studios. Then came the awkward moment when I had to explain that no, my cousin was my age, and that we were going to Harry Potter World… well, just because we wanted to.

Hogwarts

Whatever. Harry Potter is awesome, and Merrie and I have been wanting to check out the Universal versions of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts for years. (And as a kidlit author myself with a particular penchant for writing about food, I was especially excited to do some taste-testing of Potter-inspired foods at The Three Broomsticks and Honeydukes!) So in the last week of January, off we went to Orlando.

I would like to say that we arrived via Hogwarts Express, but apparently the track-elves are still working on the Denver-Hogsmeade line. Still, we were welcomed at Hogsmede station by a conductor, who seemed to be legitimately blown away by Merrie’s impervious (i.e. rubberized) rain pants. (The weather was shockingly British for our Orlando visit–high 30s and rainy most of the week!)

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts castle was truly impressive from the outside.Hogwarts castleBut inside it was even better! There’s so much to see as you wait in line for the Forbidden Journey ride–such as the house points hourglasses filled with emeralds for Slytherin, sapphires for Ravenclaw, rubies for Gryffindor, and…what the heck is Hufflepuff’s stone, anyway?House points

You could stop off for a quick look in the pensieve in Dumbledore’s office.PensieveMerrie and I particularly enjoyed that the ride warning signs were provided by The Department of Magical Transportation. 🙂 Warning signCloser to the ride entrance are walls of talking portraits…Portraits…and right before you enter, the sorting hat recites a rhyme about how pregnant ladies and people with heart conditions shouldn’t get on the ride. It was brilliant.
Sorting HatIn retrospect, perhaps I should have paid more attention to the sorting hat’s warnings about dizziness. The Forbidden Journey is a thrilling, but also kind of sickening ride. Once was enough for me and Merrie.

On to Hogsmeade! The rooftop snow is fake, but it could have been real that day–that’s how cold it was.Hogsmeade

Into The Three Broomsticks to warm up. I was really hoping for a hot tankard of butterbeer, but alas, the only options were cold or frozen. I went with cold (drink on the right), and Merrie ordered a pumpkin juice and a strawberry-peanut-butter ice cream (which I believe is the flavor Harry eats at Florian Fortescue’s parlor in book 1). Butterbeer et alCheers!Tara with Butterbeer

Okay, honesty time–we were actually pretty disappointed with everything in this first order. The pumpkin juice was refreshing at first sip, but tasted more and more fake the more we drank of it, like artificial pumpkin-pie-flavored Kool-Aid. The butterbeer tasted kind of like cream soda with a thin butterscotch-flavored foam on top, and for me, once the foam was gone, so was the novelty. And the ice cream tasted mostly like peanut butter, which isn’t a bad thing, though it was frozen so solid that we really had to dig at it with our spoons.

We finished the ice cream because…well, it’s ice cream, but couldn’t make it to the bottom of either of our drinks. Alas.

But the pub atmosphere was great, and it sure is fun to eat in a place where Butterbeer is on tap!Butterbeer on tapThere was also a giant Butterbeer truck in the street. I bet that it’s really popular on non-freezing days.Butterbeer truckOn to Honeydukes!Honeyduke'sPossibly my favorite window dressing in all of Hogsmeade: an animatronic doll continuously puking a sheet of puking pastilles into a bucket. 🙂Puking pastillesWhile I thought that the prices at The Three Broomsticks were pretty reasonable for a theme park (specialty drinks around $3 and change, full meals $8-$15), the shops are definitely where they aim to get your galleons. Almost every candy package at Honeydukes cost at least $10. Still, it was fun to see so many items from the books–like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.
Bertie Bott's Every Flavor BeansThere were huge chocolate cauldrons filled with marshmallow…Chocolate cauldrons…and, in the bakery section, cauldron cakes, which apparently have about five different types of chocolate in them.Cauldron cakeMerrie bought a chocolate frog, which comes with a cool pentagon-shaped wizard card inside. The frog is just a massive, solid block of milk chocolate, though, and it’s pretty hard to crack apart and share. (However, packages of much smaller peppermint toads were available, and Merrie hacked the system by refilling her chocolate frog box with toads so that her kids could open it up and enjoy them without getting frustrated by the giant frog. That’s an engineering mind at work right there!) Chocolate frogMy haul from Honeydukes: Bertie Bott’s Beans and a chocolate cauldron for my students, and ton-tongue toffee for my husband. (Sadly, it did not turn his tongue into a three-yard-long purple snake–but it was sort of shaped like a giant tongue and did have a ton of calories!)Candy haulHere’s Merrie in front of Hagrid’s hut. Which, honestly, was a little nicer than I’d pictured it! Note the giant pumpkin in the yard.
Hagrid's hutHey, it’s lunchtime–back to The Three Broomsticks! I opted for the Cornish Pastie lunch, which included three hot little meat pies and an enormous iceberg lettuce salad. Lunch at the Three BroomsticksThe pies were good (mostly because they were hot). The salad was a salad. Merrie and I lamented that your meal does not magically float up through the table like it does at the Great Hall feasts in the books. That would be some good technology–er, I mean, magic.

At Harry Potter World, The Hog’s Head is actually just an extension of The Three Broomsticks, but I did appreciate the enormous head behind the bar!Hog's HeadAnd the head on the tap. I’m not sure what actually comes out of this tap, though. Anyone know?Hog's Head TapOh, look–it’s students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons! Apparently they sometimes do an acrobatic show, but the stage was too wet for them to perform. 😦TriwizardWhile there were plenty of school scarves and hats and other expected apparel you could buy, what surprised me most was that you could also get Hogwarts cheerleading uniforms. Funny, I don’t remember cheerleaders in the books (though I can only imagine the height they could get on those basket tosses with the aid of a wingardium leviosa charm!).Hogwarts cheerleaderMerrie insisted that, as a writer, I take a picture in front of the quill shop. Thanks, cuz. 🙂Scrivenshaft'sIt was still freezing that afternoon, and we were hungry again, so we decided to give The Three Broomsticks one last try. We ordered two potato side dishes: the seasoned fries and the garlicky potato wedges. Both were really tasty, and this visit got our biggest thumbs up of the day. Potatoes at The Three BroomsticksI’ll wrap things up now in a different section of Universal, outside the Dr. Seuss bookstore. A perfect place to take a picture with your cousin: note the quote!CousinsDespite the weather, and the nauseating ride, and the “meh” drinks, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter didn’t disappoint us. The level of detail put into the buildings and atmosphere was really impressive, and I’m sure that once the new section opens up this summer, it’s going to be even better. I’ll probably skip the pumpkin juice and Butterbeer next time, but I wouldn’t mind having some of those hot potato snacks right about now. Hooray for Harry Potter!

**UPDATE: I returned to Harry Potter World in 2017 to try frozen butterbeer and eat my way through Diagon Alley. Read my updates here!**

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Like this post? Then you’d probably love my middle-grade novels about tween restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby!

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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.

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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.