Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
Ever since falling into Jessica Peterson’s Charleston Heat series, I’ve been intrigued by her storytelling. You can ask any number of romance authors and they will espouse their feminism through their choice to write romance. Yet, very few show that feminism in ways that are overt and seemingly didactic in nature. I’m not saying that Peterson’s feminist identity is structured in such a way that when you read her stories you feel as though you’re being “hit over the head” by her ideologies. Instead, they feel infused into her stories, and it creates this grit in her romances that grants them a depth even when her heroes and heroines are romping in bedrooms or cars or kitchens or barns.
Peterson’s newest book in her North Carolina Highlands series, Southern Hotshot, has that same gravity to it. She is so good about finding and building nuanced ideas in her characters. They don’t fulfill a typical romantic notion. Instead, they challenge your thinking about identity in a way that’s both meaningful and different. In Southern Hotshot, Peterson interrogates ideas about control and about societal and familial expectations about perfection. Both Samuel and Emma, her hero and heroine, struggle with these issues, and just as she did with the first book of this series, Southern Seducer, and that books handling of post-partum depression and CTE, Peterson allows us into the conversation about controlling our emotions as a protection against failure. What that does is make her romances feel important and insightful. They challenge you at the same time as they entertain and engage you. For this reader, I gorge on her stories like the grits of her books.
There is something sultry about this book. As Emma and Samuel work toward vulnerability, and they transition their power to the other, it makes for a steam that is less about the physicality of her characters and more about their emotional connection. Their simmer leads to a full-on boil over and over again in Southern Hotshot.
And if you leave Peterson’s book without a serious interest in food and wine, then you are missing something. I am not a foodie or wino by any means, yet Samuel and Emma tell their love story through food and wine, and it’s compelling. It makes you think about how we all have memories attached to some food or drink, and I think, in the South especially, this is fundamental to their identity. It is clearly fundamental to this book.
I knew I would love Samuel because his intercessions in Southern Seducer show his heart. And I wasn’t at all wrong. However, together, Samuel and Emma are spectacular, as is their story. I connected with it in its intentional depiction of control and perfectionism. Those are my own struggles and to see it reflected through Samuel and Emma’s journey made me feel invested. If you love your romance with a little “meat on the bone” and a “full-bodied wine,” then you will absolutely want to read Southern Hotshot.
In love and romance,