Four Books from the Wessex Collective

Thoughts on R.P. Burnham’s novel, Envious Shadows; Sandra Swayder Sanchez’s novel, Stillbird; Ita Willen’s memoir, The Gift; and Brian E. Backstrand’s collection of short stories, Little Bluestem.

All books are published by The Wessex Collective which “[has] discovered that non-fiction makes people aware of the problems in our world but fiction is the best way to get folks to care about those problems.”

Brian E. Backstrand’s collection of short stories from rural America, Little Bluestem, captures the forgotten complexities of the simple life. Many of the stories in this collection poignantly recollect the experiences of the hardworking yeoman in the midst of life’s milestones and turning points. Backstrand recounts these stories from the perspective of that rural America which serves as the backbone of America and is too often neglected. Thus, Backstrand creates a microcosm of our America and memorializes it with unique voice and succinct collection of stories.

Ita Willen’s memoir, The Gift, follows the passage of a year and two winters in its retelling of the Holocaust and its aftermath from the perspective of a child of Holocaust survivors. The beauty, pain, and courage displayed throughout the account proffer a lesson not only about war but about the lingering effects and residue of war that creeps into humanity even after bombs and guns are no longer visible.

R. P. Burnham demonstrates his knack for storytelling in his novel, Envious Shadows. He keeps the reader interested in the plotline while also managing to interweave a penumbra of moral lessons about love, prejudice, and judgment in a modern context. Envious Shadows is filled with a high-wit and a talent for creating relatable and realistic characters. For those looking for a strong plot with an accompanying wisdom for modern life, Envious Shadows is a must-read.

Stillbird by Sandra Shwayder Sanchez is an epic story encompassing an epic’s worth of powerful emotions. Showcasing a versatility and sensibility for raw sentimentality, Sanchez creates three seemingly-discrete, yet supremely connected sections. Sanchez powerfully expresses the bittersweet realities of humanity in a style that combines magical realism with post-modern disconnection. The novel is at times sad, at times supremely beautiful while handling its characters with the ease and grace of a young mother. The unique strand connecting these three disparate sections; however, is the depth of emotions present in each section as if it is this depth that transcends space, time, and individuality, uniting us all in our humanity.

-Jesslyn Roebuck
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