Manhattan’s It Girl, Natalie Grayson, has it all: she’s a hot exec at a leading advertising firm, known industry-wide for her challenging and edgy campaigns. She’s got a large circle of friends, a family that loves her dearly, and her dance card is always full with handsome eligible bachelors. What else could a modern gal-about-town wish for? The answer, of course, is…cheese. Natalie’s favorite part of each week is spending Saturday morning at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, where she indulges her love of all things triple cream. Her favorite booth also indulges her love of all things handsome. Oscar Mendoza, owner of the Bailey Falls Creamery and purveyor of the finest artisanal cheeses the Hudson Valley has to offer, is tall, dark, mysterious, and a bit oblivious. Or so she thinks. But that doesn’t stop Natalie from fantasizing about the size of his, ahem, milk can. Romance is churning, passion is burning, and something incredible is rising to the top. Could it be…love?
Release day for a new Alice Clayton book is one of my favorite days of the year! I have been completely smitten with Alice Clayton and her breed of awesome since I first read Wallbanger a couple of years ago. I now go into her books expecting yet another 4½ to 5 star read and for the most part, that has always happened. For the most part . . . .
Hudson Valley: This is a definite plus for me as the scene was set so beautifully in Nuts, book one of the Hudson Valley Series. Clayton doesn’t disappoint here with her descriptions of the area, the surrounding communities, the amenities, and the people who populate the region. I swear, Clayton’s descriptions make me want to drop it all and move right on out to the country.
Natalie: Oh, Natalie!! I love a woman who can’t open her mouth without R-rated falling out and Natalie Grayson certainly fits the bill. From top to bottom, Natalie is big, loud, smart, funny, sexy, and totally lacking an internal edit button. Natalie has worked hard to become the confident and successful woman she is and she isn’t afraid to acknowledge her achievements. Natalie has embraced every aspect of her being and body which gives her an unparalleled confidence.
Oscar: I will always, always, always love me a tatted up man!! I will always, always, always love a strong, kind, and respectful man and Oscar Mendoza certainly fits the bill. Though Oscar was introduced in Nuts, we didn’t learn much about him and we still don’t until about halfway through Cream of the Crop. While I would normally chafe at so little backstory, it works for this character. Oscar is quiet, reserved (except in bed!), and a man of few words. Very people in town know his story so it is appropriate that he reserves telling anyone about himself until he is close to them. Case in point, Natalie (aka Pinup). When his story finally does come out, it just adds to his awesome.
The plot: Yeah, it’s always nice when you like the plot but, as I’ve said before, a weak plot can be carried by strong characters. Luckily, Cream of the Crop has both strong characters and a really good and believable plot. There’s no stretching here to make things work, there’s no convoluted crap that makes little to no sense. What there is, is the story of a country boy falling in love with a big city girl and the issues they face making a go of their relationship. Oscar is already living in the Hudson Valley and Clayton gives Natalie two very good reasons to be there as well, her best-friend is from the area and her job. Furthermore, Natalie already “knows” Oscar since she is a frequent flyer at his weekly booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. The interactions between Natalie and Oscar, especially in the beginning are so funny and sweet. It makes their eventual hook-up to real romance all the better.
The naughty bits: Yeah, this is one my favorite parts of this read and an area of writing where Clayton really shines. Natalie is just and brash, bold, and confident in the bedroom (and the barn and the truck . . .) as she is everywhere else. She is a curvy women and she has found a man who truly appreciates her size and her willingness to play with him sexually. The naughty scenes are more than just sex, they are encounters that are often peppered with humor, mishaps, and genuine emotion. If you’re in it just for the sex, you’re going to be disappointed. Clayton’s naughty bits are always so much more than just the sex.
That one scene: Yes, I only have one dislike in this entire read but it is significant enough that it dropped my star rating down to a mere 4 stars. Late in the read, Oscar is visiting Natalie in the city and attending an event with her. Oscar’s behavior is abhorrent and so totally out of character that I was left totally confused. Even the explanation for his behavior in this one scene is wonky and makes no real sense to this character as a whole. Normally, something like this would just turn me off the character but when I thought long and hard about that scene, it began to feel more like a writing error than a character error/misstep.
The Bottom Line: With the exception of that one scene, I adored this read. Everything comes together so beautifully in this book from the plot to the characters to the descriptions of the scenery, it is all engaging and entertaining. Once again, Alice Clayton has killed it!! I laughed out loud, I wanted to choke the life out of a character or two, I was saddened, and I totally rooted for both Natalie and Oscar. From the opening page to the last line of the epilogue (with the exception of that one scene!) I was hooked, totally and completely.