Thursday, January 14, 2021

Readers in the Rough: A Golfer's Guide to Great Books for 2021

Hole-in-One choice

Our book club, Readers in the Rough, began meeting in the summer of 2017. We normally meet to discuss the book at The Trails Golf Course in Norman, Oklahoma. We named our book club "Readers in the Rough.” We rate our books based on the game of golf. This rating system has been revised and discussed from time to time, as nothing is quite perfect.  We absolutely enjoy our lively book discussions and ramblings about life, and like the game of golf we read and discuss for fun and friendship. In 2020 we adapted to meeting through Zoom and Meet Google. 

Like in golf, par is the expected score for the best players. A novel or memoir should be the same way. 

A Par rating meets the expectation of the elements of fiction: a solid plot, strong and dynamic characters, setting that is defined, a theme we can discuss along with a point of view that lends itself to telling the story, and strength of genre. A Par rating for memoir asks for a compelling story using truth, theme, voice, point of view being I, and an ongoing attempt to arrive at answers

At the end of each monthly discussion we talk through the rating briefly giving books thumbs up or down, or sometimes we gently struggle and argue between ratings, based on our perceptions. In the end, the majority wins with the votes. Ironically, our Hole-in-One and Eagle rated books are usually unanimous. 

The Hole-in-One rating is reserved for only the best of the best, in our opinion, and one that we would reread, rave about and encourage others to read. It must meet all of the criteria of an eagle, birdie, and par.

                        The Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly 

                                  Martha Hall official website

An Eagle rating says it is superb, exciting, and well worth reading. It meets all of the requirements for par and birdie, plus it is a book we will long remember for perhaps different reasons. We would highly recommend it to others.


Lisa See official website

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Dutch House by Ann Pachett   

 Ann Pachett official website 

Two novels I read this year also 

fit into this category of Eagle:

*The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd official website
Sue Monk Kidd

*Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Translation from the Polish)  World Literature Today review


A Birdie rating meets all of the criteria of a Par plus it creates excellent discussion based on a powerful theme, or other elements of fiction.

The Woods by Harlan Coben  (Mystery)
Paul Copeland, a New Jersey county prosecutor, is still grieving the loss of his sister twenty years ago—the night she walked into the woods, never to be seen again. But now, a homicide victim is found with evidence linking him to the disappearance.

The Golden Hour by Beatrix Williams  

The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in the Bahamas to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  This international bestselling romantic comedy features the oddly charming, socially challenged genetics professor, Don, as he seeks true love. The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.  

Olive Again by Elizabeth Stout  Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is “a compelling life force” (San Francisco Chronicle). The New Yorker has said that Elizabeth Strout “animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,” and she has never done so more clearly than in these pages, where the iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. 

The Testament by Ann Atwood  More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid's Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Another outstanding translation I read is:

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabell Allende. Translated to English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.   Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

A Par rating meets the expectation of the elements of fiction, as fully explained earlier. 

Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Sandal of the Gilded Age and the 'Powerless' Women Who Took on Washington  by Patricia Miller    The story of Madeline Pollard, an unlikely nineteenth-century women’s rights crusader. After an affair with a prominent politician left her “ruined,” Pollard brought the man—and the hypocrisy of America’s control of women’s sexuality—to trial. Pollard was asserting the unthinkable: that the sexual morality of men and women should be judged equally.

Searching for Sylvia Lee by Kwok   Sylvie is brilliant: clever, beautiful, successful, with a rich husband and good job. Her little sister, Amy, is stuttering and timid, until she finds herself travelling across the world to search for her missing sister, Sylvia. 

Two books I read in my quiet time were:

The House at the Edge of the Night by Catherine Banner Spanning nearly a century, through secrets and mysteries, trials and sacrifice, this beautiful and haunting novel follows the lives of the Esposito family and the other islanders who live and love on Castellamare: a cruel count and his bewitching wife, a priest who loves scandal, a prisoner of war turned poet, an outcast girl who becomes a pillar of strength, a wounded English soldier who emerges from the sea

The First Mrs. Rothschild by Sara Aharoni Translated by Yardenne Greenspan. In this award-winning historical saga, passionate young lovers in a Jewish ghetto rise to become the foremost financial dynasty in the world.

A Bogey rating means a book may meet some of the elements of fiction, but overall the book is not strong enough to gather our full attention.  We would not recommend it for discussion.

A Double Bogey rating means don’t waste your time reading it. This year we didn't read any books that fell in that category.  

If you like to read please click on the links below for other great reads.

Great Reads for 2020

Great Reads for 2019

Friday, January 1, 2021

Touching Lives ...He Was a Good Man

A story, that I have been a part of since World War II ended and baby boomers filled the hospital beds, has now reached closure. 

Elementary school taught me one major skill that has sustained me. My favorite part of the week was "Show and Tell" not recess.  My parents each saved memorabilia from their forty years of life's experiences. They told me stories about places, people, and items. I took in every story whether true or exaggerated. 

The memory I will never forget is standing in front of my fourth grade class at Roosevelt. I smiled and felt proud as I told a story of my daddy meeting an important doctor in Japan after World War II. One boy interrupted and bullied me with, "You mean a Jap." 

I sucked in my breath and continued, "Dr. Aoi and my father are friends. We write letters back and forth like pen pals."  I am sure Mrs. Bloomberg helped to ease the situation.  "Dr. Aoi and my dad played golf together. That is why they are still friends." 

This is the only remaining Christmas card from my dad's correspondence after WWII with Dr. Setsuro Aoi. For over a decade in the 1950's my father wrote and shared pictures of us with Dr. Aoi, whom he met after World War II. Dad was stationed in Japan after the war. My guess is that he had skills to fix things, he never met a stranger, and he played golf. 

I carried this letter in my cedar hope chest from the day I moved away from  209 H NE in 1968 to the present.  While living Hutchinson, Ks we met a couple from Japan. Yuka and I became friends. Then a few years ago this lovely Christmas card surfaced in one of my discarding/ cleaning out moods, and I decided to find out who Dr. Aoi was. Yukari willingly helped me by posting this picture with a message in search of Dr. Aoi's family on Facebook. 

We first learned that Dr. Aoi had been a doctor at the tuberculosis hospital  in Nagoya, Japan.  His niece sent this message:


" Her father is a brother of Dr. Aoi who you are looking for. She said Dr. Aoi passed away in 1980 at the age of 82. He got two sons and two daughters. The eldest son passed away, the second son was in the USA and married an American woman who lived in California!! but he has already died. She said if she knew the story at least ten years ago you could have seen him. She asked two daughters about your father but they did not know any episodes about American man."  

IF.  If I had just done this research when I lived in Kansas. The great IF, but I didn't. 

In the last year Yuka and I have kept in touch with updates from Dr. Aoi's niece. As of June 2020 Dr. Setsuro's brother's daughters were still fine, ages 90 and 87. 

In a more recent email Mitsuko, Dr. Aoi's niece writes: 

"Your father's friend Dr Seturo was a very talented person. After graduating from medical school in Japan, he was studying at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

From that experience, he accompanied as an advisor to the Japanese representative of the Berlin Olympics. He became the director of the tuberculosis sanatorium during World War II, and probably met your father there after the war. 

His son, Mitsuko's father, was also a doctor. He went to North China as a medical doctor. At the end of the war he was interned in Siberia and missing forever It was a really sad story." 

Yuka writes:  No more war.

                     No more COVID-19

                    Love and peace. 

I replied, "Yuka, this is the best gift of the year. I think we can close the story and know we've done our best by history and loved ones. I thank you for your sincere help in finding this information. Hope you are both well and safe from COVID."

One last note sent by Misuko reads, "And most of Dr. Aoi's family are doctors. They are fighting COVID-19 right now." 

Letty writes: No more war.

                    No more COVID-19

                    Love and peace.

**Update January 2021:

In a box my father carried with him I recently rediscovered the Japanese fan that Dr. Aoi sent to us in the 1950's. Once again I asked my friend Yuka for help in translating the words on the fan. The best news of all the translation down the side reads: Made my Hotel Taigetsu-row in Toba-harbor. Taigetsu means waiting for the moon.  

Toba, she writes is a beautiful place to visit. Here is the website: 

Toba Harbor