27 November 2017

Cream of the Crop


Cream of the Crop is the second book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series and is set not too long after Nuts. One of Roxie's BFFs, Natalie Grayson, takes on an advertising campaign for the small Hudson Valley town of Bailey Falls. Like many twee New England towns, it is struggling to attract and keep tourists and the locals hope Natalie's hot advertising firm can give it the boost it needs. Meanwhile, Natalie hopes to get closer to The Hot Dairy Farmer who makes her favorite brie ... and who reduces her to a blushing, stammering, lust-maddened wreck whenever she sees him.

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get into Cream of the Crop. Mostly, I never really felt I connected well enough with Oscar Mendoza to care about him. He's frequently monosyllabic, boorish, rude -- indeed, there's a scene toward the end where Oscar's behavior is utterly reprehensible (and no good explanation/excuse for it is supplied). I get that he's meant to be Natalie's sexy "caveman," but I needed something more from his storyline to fully embrace Oscar as Natalie's romantic interest. Maybe, more about his family -- they're all still alive, footballing and farming in Wisconsin, after all -- or friends he might have other than Leo or the ex-wife, Missy (who he consistently prioritized over Natalie -- it's admirable when people can be friends their exes, but that doesn't feel like what's going on between Oscar and Missy). I get that Natalie finds Oscar totally hot and loves fucking him, but ... why does she love him? Why does he love her? Does he? Does she? Is this even a romance?

Also, I felt uncomfortable with Natalie's description of Oscar's looks and her general fixation on his sheer beefcakeness. Every rich white girl needs a little caramel macchiato pick-me-up, ammirite? Oscar Mendoza is Natalie's Jason Momoa fantasy?? I don't know. It felt like, maybe, we didn't need an Oscar backstory because Natalie just needed an Oscar-shaped sex machine who growled "Pinup" and "great, big ass" and fucked her six ways to Sunday. That there was no need for Oscar to ever be a fully-fleshed human being. But, again, how then could this be a romance?

In general, Natalie herself left me conflicted. I enjoyed watching her work her advertising magic for Bailey Falls while slowly realizing that she could have it all -- a job she loved, a man she adored fucking, the city, the country, and the fromage. Also, Natalie's near constant internal monologue was both hilariously witty and delightfully dirty. She was clearly a woman who had figured out what she liked, how to get it with regularity, and made no apologies for any of it. But. In addition to the objectification of Oscar, she did sometimes come across as a self-centered rich girl and the whole "I'll make sure the ad campaign includes Chad and Logan (The Token Gays) so everyone knows how truly family-friendly Bailey Falls is" just made me go UGH a lot.

In the end, while I have mixed feelings about Cream of the Crop, I still look forward to reading the next book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series, Buns, featuring Clara and the new owner of the Bryant Mountain House.

Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

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