And the winners of The Only True Genius In the Family Book Giveaway Are…

February 27, 2009

Thanks to everyone who entered the book give away to receive a copy of Jennie Nash’s new book, The Only True Genius in the Family. Ten winners were selected from the entries, and they are:

  • Christine M., Peoria, Arizona
  • Jennifer K., Fort Bliss, Texas
  • Shawna L., Pearland Texas
  • Abby N., Eaton, Ohio
  • Marci R., Canton, Massachusetts
  • Vikki L., San Diego, Calilfornia
  • Caroline A., Denver, North Carolina
  • Lisa N., Bethel Park, Pennsylvania
  • Wendy M., Gig Harbor, Washington
  • Ericka E., Canby, Oregon

Congratulations to all the winners, who will receive books from the publisher soon. Thanks for reading and look for more give away offers in the future.

Book Giveaway—The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash

February 25, 2009

For the last couple of days i’ve been featuring author Jennie Nash and her new book, The Only True Genius in the Family. The book is great for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school and for adults.


Thanks to Nash and her publisher, Berkley Publishing, 10 copies of The Only True Genius in the Family will go to readers of Mother Daughter Book To enter, send me an email at listing your name, city and state, and tell me how you think art plays a role in your life. Enter by Thursday, February 26 at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Winners will be chosen and posted on Friday morning.

Read the review with the author’s Q and A here.

Read Nash’s essay about what it feels like to have your daughter read your work here.

You can also visit Nash’s Web site for more information about the author and her other books.

Jennie Nash, Author of The Only True Genius in the Family, Talks About What it’s Like to Have Your Daughter Read Your Work

February 24, 2009


Peering Behind the Curtain and Seeing That The Wizard is Your Mom
Guest blog by Jennie Nash

My oldest daughter, Carlyn, who is 16, was recently asked to make a list of the top 10 most significant events of her life in 2008. Number 7 on her list was, “Reading my mom’s novel.” The novel in question was The Last Beach Bungalow, my first novel. A picture of Carlyn reading it will be fixed in my mind forever: she took the book, curled up on our big, soft chair, and vacillated between rapt attention and total distraction. Every so often, she’d leap out of the chair, track me down in the kitchen or the laundry room or the office and say, “I know who so-and-so was modeled after,” or “I know where this scene came from.”

I was incredibly nervous while she read. I didn’t want her to hate it, for one thing, just because no writer wants someone they know and love to hate their work. I also wasn’t sure I really wanted her to read it, for another. After all, it’s a book that is intended for adults. There are sex scenes in there – scenes of lust and longing and seduction, sex scenes that she knew her mother had, at the very least, imagined. And there are scenes of betrayal and heartbreak, and discussions of mortality. And at age 15, which she was at the time, did I really want her reading all that? I mean, I know there’s all that and more in Twilight, and Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code – but those books are so very clearly fantasy. My books are intended to be a mirror real life. I suspected that if there were holes in the story — which would mean, by extension, holes in my perception of life, holes in the entire way I look at the world — Carlyn would find them. Contempt – of my work, and of me as a person – was a very real possibility.

I watched, carefully, as she neared the end of the book, but I needn’t have worried that her reaction would be subtle. When she was done, she marched into my office with a piece of paper. It was a list of things she wanted to point out she had noticed – scenes where she recognized the setting, or inside jokes that had made their way onto the page. She thought herself very clever – and I knew that what it all meant was that she had liked the book enough to care. I was relieved, and happy.
But I would never have guessed that the moment would make it on her Top 10 list. When I saw it there, occupying spot #7, I had another vision of terror: I had scarred her for life. Reading my book was one of the most significant events of her life in 2008 because it had been so deeply disturbing.
“Why is this on the list?” I asked, as casually as possible.

“It was such a strange experience,” she said.

“Strange because of the sex scenes?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I’m not stupid. I obviously know you’ve had sex.  That was a little weird, but it wasn’t that big a deal.”

“So strange how?”

“Strange because it was an experience most people will never have. In English class, we’re always talking about the connection between the reader and the writer, and our different perceptions. With this book, I got three perspectives – the writers’ perspective on the page, my perspective as a reader, and then the whole background story. I knew where so many little things came from – names and family jokes. I got to see how something comes from someone else’s mind and how it all fit together. It was a really cool experience.”

“So it wasn’t upsetting?”

“No,” she said, “All my life I’ve known that my mom is a writer. I just took it for granted that you were a good writer. Reading your book made me realize you actually are good. I stay up late to read your books. I really like them. I don’t have to assume it anymore.”

This, of course, brought tears to my eyes. No one asked me to make a list of the top ten most significant events in my life this past year, but if they had, that would probably be on it.

Epilogue: Carlyn recently read The Only True Genius in the Family. She read it on the first day a finished book arrived on our doorstep. She read it in the same way she read my first book – half in the story, half out it, her mind whirring the whole time. She says she liked it even better. And the scene where the mom paints on the daughter’s painting? That comes from something that actually happened between us when Carlyn was a little girl, so she lived a piece of this book.

Carlyn’s younger sister, Emily, is now old enough to understand the stories I write. She read The Last Beach Bungalow, but she read it behind the closed door of her bedroom, out of sight, and she didn’t come after me with a list. She’s a different kind of reader, one who, perhaps, falls more completely into a tale. And the impact that the book made on her seems to be different, too. Instead of talking about books and reading and writers and perception, Emily just goes back into her room, picks up a pen and writes. She tells me she’s writing a novel. She says she will let me see it on my birthday this year. I can’t wait; I have a feeling the experience of reading a story my daughter has written will make a top ten list, as well.

Book Review: The Only True Genius in the Family, Interview with Author Jennie Nash

February 23, 2009

I recently finished reading a newly released book by Jennie Nash called The Only True Genius in the Family. Nash’s straightforward writing style brought me into the world of her characters right away, and I thought my readers would want to know more about the woman who wrote it. Nash generously spent time answering questions for mother-daughter book club readers, and she also wrote an essay about what it’s like to have your daughter read your novels, sex scenes and all. We’ll start the week with my review of Nash’s book along with her answers to my questions. Tomorrow, I’ll post her essay along with details of a special book give away.

Book review: The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash


Claire seems to have it all—a successful career as a food photographer, a beautiful daughter who’s on the verge of earning her MFA as a painter, and a husband in the midst of selling his long-time family business. Her father is Paul Switzer, considered to be one of the most visionary photographers of his time. Claire has always had a difficult relationship with him. He dismisses her career and lavishes his attention on his granddaughter, who he feels has inherited the artistic genius in the family.

When Switzer dies, Claire’s perfect world threatens to fall apart, as she starts to question her own abilities and reexamines the relationship she had with her dad. The complex relationships in the story—both mother-daughter and father-daughter —will offer a lot to discuss within a mother-daughter book club, including issues such as jealousy, resentment, and the question of boundaries around art. Claire’s struggle to come to terms with her own talents will resonate with both generations. I recommend it for groups with girls who are in high school.

A conversation with Jennie Nash.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

JN: I just knew. Even as early as fourth grade, I knew. My dad was a professor and he sat in his study at a wonderful Olivetti typewriter with green keys, clacking away. I loved that sound – the noise and the rhythm and the quiet that surrounded it. I also loved the fact of the words on the page – the way they actually looked. I had a bulletin board in my bedroom where I kept quotes I liked – snippets from novelists like John Updike or from great thinkers like Rachel Carson. Some of the quotes were just a few words long, others were whole paragraphs or poems. I thought they were incredibly powerful and I wanted to feel some of that same power. It took me a long time to figure out that good writing isn’t only about pretty-sounding prose; it also has something to do with what the words mean. Imagine!

You’ve written non-fiction books before about subjects it seems were near to your heart. What made you decide to switch to fiction?

JN: I did indeed write three books of non-fiction. They were all memoirs, which is to say that they were stories from my own life. I am proud of those books, particularly the breast cancer memoir, The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer, because it has helped a lot of women and that feels good. A few things happened that caused me to switch to fiction. One is that I got tired of the constraints of my life; I got bored of my own story. The other reason is that I gave myself permission to become a storyteller. You heard what I said in the answer above about how it took me a long time to figure out that writing has something to do with what the words on the page actually mean? What I mean is that it took me nearly 3 books and 40 years! When I was writing memoir, I thought that the idea was to take what I knew and make it sound good – give it structure, shape. I still believe that to be a very valid process. But what I learned is that I could go backwards: I could start with an idea, and through story – by weaving the idea into a story — I could give it meaning. I realized, in other words, that a story generates its own truth – a truth that becomes equally as valid as the truth we live every day. I found that very exciting.

Claire is the daughter of a man considered to be a genius with photography. She is the mother of a woman just being recognized as a possible genius in painting. How did you decide to tell the story of a family of artists and the woman who considers herself sandwiched between two generations of geniuses?

I’ve been very interested in the myth of the prodigy—the idea that genius just comes to certain people, like a lightening strike from god. I wanted to write about that idea through the lens of the mother-daughter relationship—i.e what would the experience be of the mother of such a prodigy? When I started to set that up, and to try to understand who the mother was, I kept coming back to the idea that she knew something about genius, but wasn’t considered a genius herself—kind of like the Saliere character in the Amadeus movie—the musician who was blessed enough to recognize Mozart’s genius, but cursed not to be able to match it. I kept being drawn to the idea of jealousy. It didn’t seem believable, however, for a mom to be jealous of her daughter for her talent, alone. There had to be something else. The thing that emerged was the relationship this woman’s daughter had with this woman’s father. It seemed natural to make that father an artist, too—and suddenly I had three generations of artists and the question of genius, jealousy and inheritance.

What do you think is important about Claire’s struggle to find what she’s good at and be comfortable with it?

JN: I think it’s the key to happiness! That’s my idea of true genius – to find the thing you’re good at, to become comfortable with it to the point where you own it, and to give yourself permission to do it. That has been the arc of my life in writing, and it has brought me an enormous amount of satisfaction.

Do you consider yourself a photographer?

JN: I am so absolutely not a photographer! I can’t even remember to bring the point-and-shoot camera to my kid’s water polo games and graduation ceremonies, and even then all I can do is point and shoot. Needless to say, I did a lot of research for my story!

Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on and when we can expect to see something new from your pen?

JN: I am working on a novel that will be out in 2010. It’s tentatively called The Encyclopedia of Grief—although on some days, I call it The Threadbare Heart. (Any votes on that?) It’s a love story. Well, actually, it’s two love stories that overlap in some very resonant ways. There’s a mother and a daughter at the center of this story, too, but they are much older than Bailey and Claire. There’s also a dog named Luna, which is my favorite part.

2008 Cybils Award Winners Announced

February 18, 2009


The Cybils Awards winners were announced a few days ago. Cybils stands for Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Awards. Anyone can nominate a book, and a panel of judges narrows it down to finalists before choosing the winners. Categories go from picture books and easy readers to middle grade and young adult. There is also a categoy for graphic novels and another for poetry. You’ll find fiction as well as non-fiction on the list.

I haven’t heard of many of the books that won, and I welcome the opportunity to find about good books that I may otherwise not be exposed to. This is a good place to look for a book to recommend for your mother-daughter book club.

KidLitosphere Central—New Site for finding Info on Kids’ Literature

February 16, 2009

There are so many great bloggers writing about children’s literature, and now there’s a central Web site that names a lot of them and provides links to the sites. It’s called KidLitosphere Central.

What can you expect to find at KidLitosphere Central? Here’s an excerpt from the description on the Web site:

“The ‘KidLitosphere’ is a community of reviewers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, parents, and other book enthusiasts who blog about children’s and young adult literature. In writing about books for children and teens, we’ve connected with others who share our love of books. With this website, we hope to spread the wealth of our reading and writing experience more broadly. Bloggers cover everything from picture books to young adult titles, writing process to publishing success, personal news to national events.”

You’ll find a slew of listings for author and illustrator blogs, and my blog is listed under the bloggers in children’s and young adult literature category. There’s also a page highlighting the latest news in kid’s literature. I’ve been having fun visiting some of the blogs, and I hope to get more involved in the discussions that go on with certain topics.

Check it out when you get the chance.

Mother-Daughter Book Club Retreat

February 13, 2009


Last weekend Catherine and I went with our mother-daughter book club members to a low-key resort near Portland called Edgefield. What a great getaway it was! We knew it would be difficult to plan a weekend away during the school year, but we all really wanted to go. So we booked one night at this place that was only a 1/2 hour drive away, and we showed up Saturday afternoon ready to get started with spa services.

Massages, facials, pedicures…starting off that way followed by time spent hanging out in a soaking pool was a great way to transport us all from the stress of school and work into relaxation time. Edgefield has several restaurants, brew pubs, a wine tasting room and other amenities on-site, so once we checked in there was no reason to leave. And the girls appreciated having freedom to walk the grounds on their own without their moms tagging along behind them.

In the picture above, we’re posing on the front porch in rocking chairs, even though summer weather would be a much more appropriate time for that. This was at the end of the trip, which is why we all look so happy. In less than 24 hours we got spa services, yakked a lot, tasted wine (moms only of course) played hide and seek (girls only of course), ate great food and caught up with each other. We had time when we were all together, and time when we separated into groups of just the moms and just the girls.

This was our second weekend retreat together, and I hope we plan one every year while the girls are still in school and able to go with us. I just wish we would have started when the girls were younger.

Interview with Justina Chen Headley, Author of North of Beautiful

February 11, 2009

To celebrate the publication of her latest book, North of Beautiful, Justina Chen Headley graciously answered questions for readers of Mother Daughter Book Read on to find out what she has to say about the writing life and her book. For a review of North of Beautiful, see my previous posting.

How did you know you wanted to write books, and how long have you been writing?

JCH: Ever since I was a second grader who was scolded for reading too much, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Stories have always rolled around in my head, words bursting out of me, demanding to be written down. I’d say I got serious about writing, though, about five years ago. Before that, I’m sure people thought I was really weird because I’d zone out in conversations, narrating scenes in my mind.

What’s your favorite thing about being an author?

JCH: I love almost everything about being a writer: playing with words and ideas. Creating worlds out of my imagination. Connecting with readers.

Maps and travel play an important role literally and figuratively in North of Beautiful, how did you get the idea to weave a theme relating to cartography throughout the book?

JCJ: My friends who have had the misfortune of being a passenger in my car know that it’s absolutely ironic that maps figure so importantly in my novel. I am geographically dyslexic. I cannot read maps.  And the GPS built in my car? I’ve named her Louise the Lost. She is, I’m sad to say, the dunce of GPSes. I swear, the thing gets me lost on purpose. Even so, I love antique maps—they’re works of art, a bit fact, a lot fantasy. The more I researched about the history of cartography, the elements of map-making, I knew that maps would be the perfect metaphor for Terra whose controlling father locks her into a very small grid box of his making. The question was, would Terra have the strength and gumption to break through those boundary lines?

Terra’s port-wine stain birthmark has gotten her a lot of attention as she has grown up—negative attention from strangers who stare at her face, and positive attention from her family, who has put much effort into both ignoring her birthmark and trying to get treatment for her that will lessen its prominence. How do you feel that has contributed to the person she is?

JCH: Living under the scrutiny of both strangers and family made Terra intensely hyper-conscious of her appearance. The last thing she feels is beautiful. Or worthy. With that much self-doubt, it’s no wonder she doesn’t have confidence in her art, much less herself. So she settles for a guy—a miracle boyfriend—and makes choices that she thinks will make her feel better about herself. But decisions made to please others rather than honor our true selves backfire. They always do.

Terra’s mom seeks to lessen the stress of her husband’s verbal abuse by eating, Terra’s brothers escape it by leaving home as soon as they can, and Terra tries to control as many details of her life as possible to deal with the abuse. How can one person’s words have such a ripple effect on everyone in a family?

JCH: That’s the amazing thing, isn’t it?  How powerful all of our words can be. They can embolden, strengthen, build up. Or they can destroy as surely as a sledgehammer. That was true in Terra’s family.  The threat of their father’s sledgehammering words made them all duck-and-cover in their own way.

Terra’s family members keep their Dad’s verbal abuse fairly well hidden, and friends often don’t understand why Terra and her family are nervous around him. Do you believe verbal abuse is not very well recognized and confronted the way that physical abuse is? If so, why do you believe that is so?

JCH: Physical abuse leaves visible wounds—wounds that you can point at and say, “Look, a bad thing happened. See?” Verbal abuse leaves scars on the heart and spirit. Those invisible wounds are so much harder to quantify, to point at as definitive proof. But I believe that emotional wounds linger where physical ones heal.

Were Jacob and his mom able to see and understand what was happening behind the scenes in Terra’s home because they were outsiders?

JCH: More than outsiders, they were astute and keen listeners.  They read into the silences and heard what was left out unlike so many people who hijack cries for help and turn them into opportunities to pontificate. Or who foist their own problems on the ones who need support the most. The beauty of Jacob and his mom was they knew when to be quiet. And when to throw the lifeline.

MDBC: Have you gone geocaching? If so, have you ever hidden a cache of your own?

JCH: I love geocaching (high-tech treasure hunting) and am always looking for opportunities to find more caches. My dear writer-buddy, Dia Calhoun, created and hid a North of Beautiful cache in the Methow Valley where the book is set. That cache was one of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever received.

Did anything surprise you about your characters as you were writing about them?

JCH: Oh, yes! Terra started out as an Asian-American girl. But I realized that the story would be more profound if Terra embodied our society’s concept of beauty-tall, willowy, blond-except for her “flaw.”

Is there one overriding message you would like readers to take with them after reading North of Beautiful?

JCH: Rock the world, not the mirror. Be phenomenal, not merely beautiful. Reach your potential, and you’ll discover that you are far more beautiful than you ever imagined.

How long did it take you to write it?

JCH: North of Beautiful gestated inside me for about a year, and then it took about eighteen months to write. And revise. And revise. Did I mention revising?

What are you working on now?

JCH: I took a small hiatus since I was tired from writing three novels in three-or-so years and then moved temporarily abroad. But now that I’m back home, I’m working on a YA fantasy trilogy. I also have a kernel of an idea for my next contemporary, realistic YA novel. I adore this open-ended ideation stage where everything is a possibility, and I’m just now falling in love with the characters.

Book Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

February 9, 2009


Terra Cooper can’t wait to escape her small-town life in Washington state’s Methow Valley. She feels her true self is carefully concealed there, just as the port-wine stain birthmark on her face is concealed under heavy make-up. Terra dreams of being an artist, although she’s not confident in her own ability to let go and create meaningful works. She pushes herself to excel at school, so she can graduate early and escape to college and a life away from her verbally abusive father, just like her brothers before her.

When she wrecks her car while driving home from yet another surgery on her birthmark, she has to spend her carefully hoarded college funds on repairs. Just when she resigns herself to limiting her future, she meets a Chinese-American goth boy named Jacob, who challenges her to see herself, her family and her art in a new way.

A powerful book for mothers and daughters to read together, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley is about self-discovery, finding the true meaning of beauty, and learning to trust in yourself. Maps play an important role in the story—literally as they affect Terra’s dad, who is a cartographer, and metaphorically, as a symbol for helping us find our way. This is Terra’s story, but it’s also about Jacob and both teens’ moms and finding the strength to overcome obstacles that arise in life.

I found myself savoring North of Beautiful, lingering over the beautifully written prose that asks a lot of questions and gives no easy answers. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school.

Find out what author Justina Chen Headley has to say about her book and her writing life this Wednesday, February 11, as she answers questions for Mother Daughter Book Club.

Special Book Give-Away to a Mother-Daughter Book Club

February 6, 2009


Special opportunity for one mother-daughter book club to win copies of a book before it’s released for publication and ask questions of Iman Bright, whose story is told in A Young Dancer.

Thirteen-year-old Iman Bright has been taking dance classes at The Ailey School in New York City since she was four. In this new book by Valerie Gladstone geared to young readers, Iman shares some of her experiences taking classes, preparing for a performance and finding time to do what other thirteen-year-olds do.

Beautifully photographed, this look into the life of an Ailey student is sure to interest mother-daughter book clubs with younger girls who are interested in dance and connecting with a dancer. The story is told through photos with a small amount of text, so it reads quickly. This means you can choose it as your regular book club selection or schedule a special meeting to read it and generate questions for Iman. A Young Dancer is recommended for ages eight to 12.

Here are the details of this special promotion:

  • To enter, send me your name, the age of girls in your book club, and the number of mom/daughter pairs in your group by February 20.
  • If you win, I’ll ask for a mailing address where the publisher can send copies of the book.
  • Read A Young Dancer and send in questions for Iman Bright by March 15.

Iman will answer your questions personally, before the book is released in April. After release, the questions and answers will be featured on my blog and Web site, along with a picture of your mother-daughter book club.

Email me at with your questions or entries.

Cindy Hudson