Review: Lost in Oaxaca, by Jessica Winters Mireles

About the book, Lost in Oaxaca

 

  • Print Length: 328 pages
  • Publisher: She Writes Press (April 21, 2020)
  • Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Lost in OaxacaOnce a promising young concert pianist, Camille Childs retreated to her mother’s Santa Barbara estate after an injury to her hand destroyed her hopes for a musical career. She now leads a solitary life teaching piano, and she has a star student: Graciela, the daughter of her mother’s Mexican housekeeper. Camille has been grooming the young Graciela for the career that she herself lost out on, and now Graciela, newly turned eighteen, has just won the grand prize in a piano competition, which means she gets to perform with the LA Philharmonic. Camille is ecstatic; if she can’t play herself, at least as Graciela’s teacher, she will finally get the recognition she deserves.

But there are only two weeks left before the concert, and Graciela has disappeared—gone back to her family’s village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Desperate to bring Graciela back in time for the concert, Camille goes after her, but on the way there, a bus accident leaves her without any of her possessions. Alone and unable to speak the language, Camille is befriended by Alejandro, a Zapotec man who lives in LA but is from the same village as Graciela. Despite a contentious first meeting, Alejandro helps Camille navigate the rugged terrain and unfamiliar culture of Oaxaca, allowing her the opportunity to view the world in a different light—and perhaps find love in the process.

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About the author, Jessica Winters Mireles

Jessica Winters MirelesBorn and raised in Santa Barbara, California, Jessica Winters Mireles holds a degree in piano performance from USC. After graduating, she began her career as a piano teacher and performer. Four children and a studio of over forty piano students later, Jessica’s life changed drastically when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two; she soon decided that life was too short to give up on her dreams of becoming a writer, and after five years of carving out some time each day from her busy schedule, she finished Lost in Oaxaca. She also knows quite a bit about Oaxaca, as her husband is an indigenous Zapotec man from the highlands of Oaxaca and is a great source of inspiration. She lives with her husband and family in Santa Barbara, California.

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My Thoughts

MissMelissIn Lost in Oaxaca, author Jessica Winters Mireles gives us a story that mixes romance, adventure, and an exploration of the human condition with just enough suspense to keep things interesting. More, she weaves these components into a seamless whole and a compelling story.

We initially meet our protagonist, Camille, on a bus in Mexico, but just after our initial meeting, we are treated to the first of many flashbacks exploring her earlier life. This method of telling a story from both ends and the same time is not new, but in Mireles’s hands it doesn’t feel anything but organic.

Mireles is particularly adept at both giving us the essence of a character with comparatively little backstory  – we get a sense of who Alejandro is from his very first appearance, for example – and writing truthful dialogue. While I’ve never been to Oaxaca, I’ve spent an extensive amount of time in  Baja Sur, on the Pacific side of Mexico, and I really appreciated the way Spanish words and phrases were used to lend authenticity to the characters, without ever seeming like the author was either pandering or creating stereotypes rather than real people.

Overall, Lost in Oaxaca is a gripping story with vivid, dimensional characters whom we care about from the first page.

Goes well with: chicken mole, blue corn tortillas and Bohemia beer.

 

Review: The Land of Last Chances, by Joan Cohen

The Land of Last ChancesAbout the book, The Land of Last Chances

 

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: She Writes Press (August 13, 2019)

Jeanne Bridgeton, an unmarried executive in her late forties, discovers life doesn’t begin and end on a spreadsheet when her expected menopause instead becomes an unexpected pregnancy. Though accomplished at managing risk professionally, Jeanne realizes her skills don’t extend to her personal life, where she has allowed the professional and the personal to become intertwined. She’s not even sure which of two men in her life is the father. Worse yet, a previously undisclosed family secret reveals that she may carry a rare hereditary gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s―and it’s too late to get genetic tests. This leaves Jeanne to cope with her intense fear of risk without the aid of the mountain of data she’s accustomed to relying upon. Wrestling with the question of whether her own needs, or those of her child, should prevail takes Jeanne on an intensely emotional journey―one that ultimately leads to growth and enlightenment.

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Joan CohenAbout the author, Joan Cohen

Originally from Mount Vernon, New York, Joan Cohen received her BA from Cornell University and her MBA from New York University. She pursued a career in sales and marketing at computer hardware and software companies until she retired to return to school for an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has been a Massachusetts resident for many years, first living in Newton, where she raised her family, and later in Wayland. She now resides in Stockbridge, in the Berkshires, with her husband and golden retriever.

 


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I was a little trepidatious about reading The Land of Last Chances. Novels that talk about things like aging and abortion can so often be preachy and insipid. What a relief to find that this was not the case with Joan Cohen’s wonderful creation!

Rather, this novel is a candid look at a woman in my age range (I turned 49 four days after this book was released) who is living a childfree existence, and suddenly finds herself pregnant rather than entering menopause, as she anticipated. That alone is enough to fill a plot, but Cohen has given our main character, Jeanne, so much else to deal with – more than one possible father for her baby, and the discovery of a family history of early-onset Alzheimer’s as well.

It could have all too easily become melodrama, but it didn’t. Rather, this novel is an emotionally truthful look at some very heavy issues, through the guise of fiction. Jeanne is a wonderfully realistic character, and feels like someone you could run into at work or at a coffee place, sometimes prickly, and sometimes engaging, always her own person. The supporting characters, and in particular Vince, are not quite as vivid, but were well-drawn, also.

Cohen’s plot was deftly crafted and perfectly paced. There was enough background to let us get to know the characters, but no so much that we were overloaded with unnecessary information. In short, this is a novel for adults, about adults, that covers adult themes, and it’s an extremely satisfying read in all respects.

Goes well with strong black tea and a tomato sandwich on multigrain bread.