Review: Stillwater Rising by Steena Holmes

stillwater-rising“After losing her son in an elementary school shooting that devastates the tight-knit community of Stillwater Bay, Jennifer Crowne finds herself unable to settle back into her role of perfect stay-at-home mom and committee organizer. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mayor Charlotte Stone, struggles to keep the town together, and Charlotte’s husband, the school principal, may not be the hero everyone thinks him to be.

As they try to heal from this irrevocable trauma, Jenn and Charlotte find themselves at a crossroads—within the town and within their friendship. For Jenn, broken and grieving, there is no going back, and she demands that the school be closed so that she can bury the past. Yet Charlotte is equally desperate to hold the town together, fighting the school closure and helping the shooter’s mother regain her place in the community. Jenn and Charlotte’s relationship is put to the ultimate test as each weighs her own interests against the bonds of their friendship.” – Publisher Summary

Stillwater Rising by Steena Holmes is the first novel in a coming series about a town reeling in the aftermath of a small-town elementary school shooting. This particular installment is set one month after the tragedy, while families are still grieving, and the town is still trying to put its pieces back together. Summer has arrived and with it, a respite from facing the remains of terror that lie within the walls of the town’s elementary school. Many are looking at this time as a chance to heal and move on, however, others aren’t necessarily prepared to do so.

While Holmes touches on the lives of a few different characters, the main focus lies upon Jenn and Charlotte. Jenn Crowne is the mother of Bobby, who was killed in the school shooting, and Charity. She is drowning in her grief, and isolating herself from family and friends. I have to say that Holmes’s portrayal of Jenn is inconsistent throughout this novel – at one moment she is angry and grief-stricken, the next moment she is warm-hearted and loving. While Jenn does come across as unsympathetic and whiny at times, I will admit I warmed to her more than I did to Mayor Charlotte Stone.

Charlotte’s main concern is getting “her town” to move forward and heal. She is almost maniacal in her obsessive looooove for “her town”. Her newest goal is for everyone to rally around the shooter’s mother, Julia, who is being targeted by vandals and being threatened with eviction. She goes so far as to invite Jenn’s daughter, Charity, to work in Julia’s store – without asking Jenn for permission; she then wonders “Why is Jenn doing this to me?” when Jenn blasts her for doing so. She is so single-minded and self-centered that she often asks this question, in fact – her insensitivity toward her supposed best friend, Jenn, is mind-boggling.

There is a plot twist or two thrown in, with the promise of further secrets that we can be sure will be revealed later in the series. Samantha, a reporter who is sticking around the town long after all of the other media staff have left, seems to have a hidden background. Jordan Stone, principal of said elementary school and husband of Mayor Charlotte, is definitely hiding a big something. Holmes also does a nice job of naming names of other townspeople that we can be sure will figure in more prominently at some point in the future of the Stillwater Bay series.

Stillwater Rising had a lot of promise, but it somehow missed the mark. There wasn’t enough detail to tie the story together. There wasn’t the character-building that causes a reader to care for the cast of the novel. Steena Holmes has had much success with previous novels (Finding Emma, Emma’s Secret) and there is no doubt she has talent, so is it possible that this is just a one-off fluke? I look forward to reading the second novel in the Stillwater Bay series, Stillwater Deep (date of publication yet to be determined) to find out.

Stillwater Rising is preceded in the Stillwater Bay series by a novella, Before the Storm, in which readers are introduced to the town and it’s inhabitants in the days before the school-shooting takes place.

Stillwater Rising by Steena Holmes. Available November 11, 2014.

3 stars

Source: Lake Union Publishing {via NetGalley}



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