Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“She’s got a nuanced understanding of me. My story. The world.”
There is just something about Jessica Peterson. Southern Gentleman is the third book I’ve read that she’s written, and she’s quickly setting herself apart as a romance writer with an intentional voice geared at socially-conscious romance.
As was the case with Southern Charmer and Southern Player, Southern Gentleman gives us a heroine with the internal fortitude to accept and love an imperfect hero. And Greyson is pretty imperfect.
Julia is a modern-day woman. She isn’t your typical romantic heroine who easily navigates her accidental pregnancy. With most heroines, there would be no question about keeping the baby. Yet, Peterson takes a modern-day route and actually has Julia toy with the idea of choice. Whether your personal beliefs lean a certain way, Peterson isn’t necessarily asking us to choose. Instead, she’s offering a real-life dilemma in a fictional realm. In Julia working through her decision with her “tribe” or her “village,” Peterson is marrying realism with fiction. She does it further when Julia struggles with pregnancy. This is real life thinking. This is how real women do pregnancy. And that’s the power of Peterson’s kind of Romance, and it’s what hooked me in.
Even more, the wisdom in this book resides in Julia. As Greyson struggles with his past, trying to atone for it in the present, Julia reminds us that everyone’s imperfect and that adds the spice to life: “‘…Villain in one story, hero in another.'” Julia is profound and a “straight shooter.” It’s one of the qualities that Greyson adores, and it’s one of the many reasons this book is so good. Her direct manner forces Greyson to evaluate his life. In doing so, it advances the plot and draws them even further together. Peterson has drawn such a strong woman in Julia that she creates this eloquent realistic tale of an imperfect love.
Greyson is all of us, or at least he’s many of us. Always striving but never progressing. He represents the broken human condition who needs healing through his love for Julia. And the Greyson of Southern Player is really nowhere to be found in this book. Thankfully, Peterson gives us a character with greater, more emotional depth especially after he bares his soul to Julia. You can’t help but fall in love with him as we discover his soft underbelly. I love that she makes him a feminist for his niece. I love that he adores his family. And I love that he requires more saving than Julia. He is Peterson’s version of a modern-day hero, and it works well.
If anything, I would have liked to see more of his “villain” because I think we see more hero, and it seems confusing that Julia remains at odds with him when he clearly adores her easily.
That being said, once they truly connect, their coupling is electric. Their chemistry screams off the page, and it’s palpable for the reader. Together, these two are hot.
Lastly, as Peterson illustrates her message of imperfection, her words in Southern Gentleman are profound. I spent so much time highlighting her words, her golden nuggets of truth found in the mouths and minds of Greyson and Julie. To illustrate:
“‘Shadows come with the light. You can’t have one without the other. And you have to know by now that I believe they make the other more interesting. It’s our shadows that give us depth. Literally and figuratively,’ she says, reaching up with her other hand to trail her thumb over the indent in my chin. ‘I like your depths. Same as you like mine.'”
This is but one example. Peterson’s depth of language and thought is only one of the many reasons to buy and read this book.
Peterson’s Southern Gentleman is a modern-day romance seeking to remind us that romance isn’t about perfection. It’s about “life turned all the way up.” Greyson struggles to live the perfect life but, in doing so, lives no life at all. Until Julia.
And in a typical romance, Julia would never doubt pregnancy. It would be perfect, all sweet feelings. Except that, in the real world, it isn’t. Jessica Peterson is giving us real love, real feelings, and real people in Southern Gentleman because it places us, the reader, directly in her story. Because it IS our story.