55. Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini (audiobook)
The story ostensibly focuses on the relationship between Julia Dent Grant and her childhood slave, Jule. Julia, who grew up on a plantation near St. Louis, Missouri, married Ulysses S. Grant, who later led the Union army to victory. During the war, Jule, as well as eventually the Dents' other slaves, escaped, and she later became a hairdresser of some repute in Washington D.C. and New York City, overlapping respectively with her former mistress' time in those two cities. However, although an intriguing concept, the story actually centers on the love story between Julia and Ulysses Grant, and defending the pair from every allegation made over the course of his career (he wasn't drunk, he had headaches!; he didn't know his officials were corrupt!). Jule was frankly the most interesting character, but the main character least deployed.
Overall, this is an obviously well researched historical romance, but it falls short of a balanced reflection on the characters of Julia and Ulysses Grant, and largely fails to tell the promised story of the relationship between the two women.
56. Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg (audiobook)
An extremely short audiobook (just two discs!) whets the appetite to get started on writing a memoir. It's narrated by Natalie Goldberg herself, and it sounds just like she is talking to you. It's well planned as an audiobook and even has transitional music between vignettes. I'm not planning on writing a memoir anytime soon, but this one caught my eye in the bookstore, and the library had the audiobook. Last year, I enjoyed reading about writing while I did NaNoWriMo, and I found it helpful this year too. As always, Natalie Goldberg is a font of wisdom, and what I took out of this one was: don't call it a big red flower in the window: call it a geranium.