Cream of the Crop, by Alice Clayton

>> Wednesday, March 01, 2017

TITLE: Cream of the Crop
AUTHOR: Alice Clayton

PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Gallery books

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 2nd in the Hudson Valley series

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?
Natalie Grayson has a life she enjoys very much. After growing up constantly self-conscious and hiding her body, going to culinary school was a revelation. Not because she learnt to cook (she's still terrible at it), but because meeting people as obsessed with good food as she is, and who clearly found her curves attractive, changed her view of herself. Since she's moved back to Manhattan she's embraced the way she looks and never lacks for a date. She also started a career in advertising, a career she's really, really great at. Life is good.

The only times Natalie is not supremely confident is when she goes to the farmer's market on Saturday and stops at the Bailey Falls Creamery stall. The creamery is owned by beautiful Oscar Mendoza, and Natalie thinks he's even more delicious than his Brie (and she really loves his Brie). Problem is, she just can't talk to him. She goes stupid every time she sees him, and can't get out more than two words ("oh, yes", to his question of "Brie?").

And then the mayor of the town of Bailey Falls approaches Natalie's ad agency, wanting a campaign to increase tourism there. Natalie goes all out to get the account. Her best friend Roxie (heroine of the first book) lives there. And the fact that she'll obviously meet Oscar when she goes there on her research trip does help...

I did love the idea of this. I do love cheese, and I loved having a plus-sized heroine (size 18, I think is said at one point, which I believe is about size 16 UK) who is confident in her attractiveness, and with very good reason. However, the execution of what really should have been a very fun story annoyed me.

Natalie basically drove me crazy. Much as I loved the concept of her being big and fabulous, Natalie crossed the line into obnoxiousness. She just kept bragging about how irresistible she was, and how she could make men eat from the palm of her hand (literally, in one case). A little of that might have been fine, but it's was much too heavy-handed. Seriously, Natalie, get over yourself, I wanted to say.

I also got annoyed by her very similar attitude to her career. She goes on and on about how she has achieved all her success in business through her own hard work, and how she made sure she took nothing from her wealthy developer father (apart from living rent-free in a brownstone he owns right in the middle of Manhattan. Hmmm...). No self-awareness, no realisation of the advantage and privilege it is to grow up rich, with parents who love you and give you the best education and build your confidence.

And then she takes her trip to Bailey Falls. First there was the dialogue between Natalie and Roxie. They talked about sex in a way that felt like they were trying to be shocking. It felt seriously immature.

And then we get to Natalie meeting Oscar, one-to-one, without the buffer of his stall in front of him. It was painful. Natalie randomly starts going on and on about how she lusts after him, even though this is a man who hasn't really shown much interest in her, beyond holding her cheese for a little longer than usual the last time he handed it to her. It felt inappropriate. And he comes back with how he likes to see her walk away from his stall because of her "great big ass". He clarifies that he means that he thinks her big as is great, not that her ass is huge, but still, what a boor! That was it for me.



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