Friday, 2 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 12: "Cream of the Crop" by Alice Clayton

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Natalie Grayson is tall, curvy and confident. She knows that while she may be a bit bigger than a lot of women out there, most men are incredibly attracted both by curves and self-assurance and she can usually walk into a room and hook up with anyone who strikes her fancy. She's got a loving family, an extravagant wardrobe, a bustling social life and a great career as a PR guru. The only thing that makes her even vaguely flustered is her weekly visit to the Union Square farmers market, where she gets her favourite cheese every week, and the owner of Bailey Falls Creamery makes her (and countless others) weak at the knees. Normally, Natalie can wrap any man around her little finger, but around the handsome cheese-maker, she is reduced to palm-sweat and monosyllabic answers.

So when her company is asked to help promote the little town of Bailey Falls to new visitors, Natalie jumps at the chance. One of her best friends, Roxie, is already settled there with her handsome farmer boyfriend and can't wait to formerly introduce her to Oscar Mendoza, the handsome dairy owner who Natalie is crushing so hard on. While their first encounter is a bit awkward, it becomes obvious that Natalie's attraction is entirely mutual, and Oscar wouldn't mind getting to know her better at all. It's not only Oscar's charms (and smoking hot body) that appeal to Natalie. She's thoroughly taken with the small town idyll of Bailey Falls and it's many friendly (and attractive) residents as well. Normally reluctant to leave Manhattan for more than a day, she now finds herself visiting the little Hudson Valley multiple weekends in a row, and not just to sample all the treats that Oscar has to offer. Natalie is very much a city person, however, and Oscar is most certainly a country lad. Can they find a lasting compromise which enables them both to be happy?

I didn't really think that this book had the same emotional depth to it as Nuts,the first book in the series, but it was a quick and enjoyable read. While Natalie is confident, body-positive and bubbly in the present, that wasn't always the case. Falling for a manipulative jerk when she was younger, who slowly but surely isolated her from her family and friends and made her feel awful about herself, she has determined never to let herself be that swayed by a guy again. She's financially independent, she flirts with guys but never really let's it get too serious and she goes to brunch at her parents' flat every Sunday, come rain or shine, because she never wants to fall out with them again. Hence, when her feelings for Oscar start getting serious, she's not sure how to handle it, as she's afraid to "lose herself" to a guy once more.

Another slight complication to Oscar and Natalie's relationship is Oscar's friendship with his ex-wife, who lives in the next town over from Bailey Falls. They knew each other growing up, got married after high school and while their marriage didn't work out, Oscar doesn't understand why he can't be on good terms with her. He helps her out around the house when something is broken, she bakes him delicious treats as a thank you. He doesn't see how this in any way should complicate or get in the way of his new, budding relationship with Natalie, but she's thrown by it more than once (and is met with sympathy and understanding by several of her new Bailey Falls friends - cause it is a bit weird, and they can see why she might feel threatened). Natalie works to get past her jealousy, but it takes a while.

My favourite thing about the Hudson Valley books is probably not even the central romances, but the supporting characters and the setting of Bailey Falls, which really does seem utterly charming. Oscar and Natalie are a fun couple, and it was nice to see Roxie and Leo (as well as his serious young daughter, who has gotten a swear jar in this book, and is well on her way to making a fortune) again as supporting characters. Roxie's high school crush, Chad, the former quarterback and his husband are probably my favourites, though, and I'm sort of sorry I never got to read their initial romance. There is one more book in the series, featuring Roxie and Natalie's third friend, Clara. I'm going to check that book out next.

Judging a book by its cover: It's quite clear that whoever was told to design the cover, hasn't had a chance to read any of the book, as while the dude pouring milk is nicely tan and sculpted, he looks nothing like the description of Oscar, who should have tattoos all over his arms and chest, and with his past as a football player seems like he's a lot more brawny than the dude they've chosen for this cover. According to the author's website, her metal image of him is Jason Momoa. This cover model is NO Jason Momoa. Also, it would have been cooler if they included some cheese on the cover, as Oscar makes his own, but that works less well with the title pun, I guess.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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