I received this book for free from the TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Stills by Jess Montgomery
Series: Kinship #3
Published by Minotaur Books on March 9, 2021
Genres: Adult, Crime, Family, Historical, Mystery, Suspense, Women Sleuths
Source: TLC Book Tours
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The third in Jess Montgomery’s exquisitely written Kinship series, The Stills is a triumph of storytelling by an extraordinary new talent in crime fiction…
Ohio, 1927: Moonshining is a way of life in rural Bronwyn County, and even the otherwise upstanding Sheriff Lily Ross has been known to turn a blind eye when it comes to stills in the area. But when thirteen-year-old Jebediah Ranklin almost dies after drinking tainted moonshine, Lily knows that someone has gone too far, and–with the help of organizer and moonshiner Marvena Whitcomb–is determined to find out who.
But then, Lily’s nemesis, the businessman George Vogel, reappears in town with his new wife, Fiona. Along with them is also her former brother-in-law Luther Ross, now an agent for the newly formed Bureau of Prohibition. To Lily, it seems too much of a coincidence that they should arrive now.
As fall turns to winter, a blizzard closes in. Lily starts to peel back the layers of deception shrouding the town of Kinship, but soon she discovers that many around her seem to be betraying those they hold dear–and that Fiona too may have an agenda of her own.
TL:DR: The Stills is an excellent foray into 1920s Ohio, focusing on Prohibition, what it’s like to be a woman Sheriff in this Appalachian county, and policing as a woman while trying to take care of your family and deal with your changing grief over the murder of your husband a few years earlier.
The Stills is the third installment in the Kinship series, featuring Sheriff Lily Ross, peacekeeper of the small Ohio town of Kinship. In the first book entitled The Widows, we got to know Lily as she struggled to balance her family duties and her new job–taking over for her recently deceased husband in the role of Sheriff. Her investigation into her husband’s murder intertwines with the unionization efforts at the nearby coal mine, where the second point of view character, Marvena Whitcomb, comes to life. In the second book, The Hollows, Lily struggles with the upcoming election for her position as well as the common view in the early twentieth century that women belong at home. She really comes into her own and shows the area that she is capable, willing to uphold the law not matter what personal cost to herself, as well as seemingly fearless in her defense of those who can’t help themselves. This is my favorite historical series, and I love the hours I get to spend in this world. It’s so much simpler than present day, but life is so hard in the early 1900s compared to now.
Which brings us to The Stills, the latest entry in this historical crime mystery series. Lily and her family have moved out of town and into a home of their own on a farm.. This book has a wider view of life in the 1920s for everyone. We get to know more citizens in Brownwyn county, some are less fortunate, some are ill, and some turn to illegal activities to help themselves out of those predicaments.
There’s also one that is living a privileged life, but at what cost to her personally? Fiona has alternating chapters with Lily, and she’s a complex character. Originally from Kinship, Fiona’s husband was killed a few years earlier and has remarried a very dangerous man–George Vogel. But Fiona doesn’t plan on staying married to him for much longer. His cruel, controlling, and sometimes sincere ways aren’t something she can tolerate, especially when she has plans to be able to break away and take care of herself and her children. When George brings them back to Kinship in a bid to buy Fiona’s aunt’s farm so he can set up an illegal alcohol distribution hub, Fiona starts putting her plan into motion with unintended and unexpected consequences for her loved ones and other members of the community. I found Fiona to be a complex character, but not always likeable or understandable in her motives. Greed and self-preservation are at the top of her reasons for the things she does, and her easy manipulation of those around her make her a bit unsympathetic. Every novel needs a villain and George fits the bill in this one as he has for each novel so far. Fiona, however, definitely grows throughout the book, and certainly not in ways that I had expected at the end.
Lily has a strong social net around her now. Marvena is her best friend and ally, while her lifelong best friend has found a new life as school teacher in the coal mining town close to Kinship. Both women have found men that suit them, but Lily is reluctant to move on with the handsome, intelligent Benjamin. While he works for the mining company in a more white-collar capacity, he there for Lily when she needs him–as a chauffeur, someone to sound theories off of, or even just for moral support as she polices the county. He proves to be an integral part of the investigation as he supports Lily in any capacity that she’ll have him.
I give The Stills a five out of five. Lily has really come into her own as sheriff and she’s earned the respect of most of the citizens in her county. Jess Montgomery writes characters with so much depth and realness, even the secondary characters that show up less in the book stand out as unique. I’m always blown away by the fluid writing, the starkness of the time and setting, as well as the historical accuracy and details that make the Kinship series what it is. Written in such a realistic way, the author brings these characters and their stories to life in the often dark, hard, but with bright, happy spots at times for the characters to not lose hope. Family is front and center of this novel, and Jess Montgomery deals with everyone’s situation with grace, humility, and an understanding that family–whether blood related or the family that you choose–is the most important thing in the world. You can come into this book having not read the first two without many problems, but your immersion and enjoyment will be maximized by starting at book one. I really hope there are more books in this series.
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About Jess Montgomery
JESS MONTGOMERY is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and former Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of her novel The Widows, Jess was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus. She lives in her native state of Ohio.
Find Jess Montgomery
Jess Montgomery’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for THE STILLS:
Monday, March 1st: @somekindofalibrary
Tuesday, March 2nd: @readitandquip
Wednesday, March 3rd: @kelly_hunsaker_reads
Thursday, March 4th: @mrsboomreads
Friday, March 5th: @theocbookgirl
Saturday, March 6th: @mynovelmenagerie
Sunday, March 7th: @lovemybooks2020
Monday, March 8th: @arrow_reads
Monday, March 8th: @deedlesbooknook
TBD: Friday, March 5th: @kara.bookstagram
Tuesday, March 9th: @jessicamap
Thursday, March 11th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, March 12th: Bewitched Bookworms
Friday, March 12th: @thebookclubmom
Thursday, March 18th: Reading Reality
Friday, March 19th: @bibliolau19
Monday, March 22nd: @aimeedarsreads
Tuesday, March 23rd: @lovelyplacebooks
Monday, March 29th: @the.caffeinated.reader
Wednesday, March 31st: @welovebigbooksandwecannotlie
Friday, April 2nd: Books and Bindings
Monday, April 5th: Buried Under Books
Wednesday, April 7th: Helen’s Book Blog
Friday, April 16th: Books Cooks Looks