Alice Clayton equals SMEXY + Rom/Com + a smidge of drama = everything that delicious in a Romance Novel!!! Oscar and Natalie are pure desire … once you get over that “he’s so sexy I can only stare and say two words” stage. So far in the life of this blog this is the only series that, so far, both books have gotten the rather rare 6 Lightning Bolt review! I love this novel because the Heroine is a full figured size 18 who is so secure in her sexuality that she can make men beg for her – unfortunately she got that way via a dark road of self-loathing and an emotionally abusive boyfriend. The Hero, Oscar, is a broody, man of few words who can stop women (and men) in their tracks with his dangerously good looks, but he also comes with some baggage and an ex-wife who seems a little too close for comfort is only one them. “Cream of the Crop” is set in Manhattan and the upstate hamlet of Bailey Falls up the Hudson River Line (which always puts me “In a New York State of Mind”). Think of the old TV show “Green Acres” Natalie is a … “New York is where I’d rather stay” Ad Exec and Oscar is the … “Farm living is the life for me” Dairy Farmer. The question is how can these two make their opposing lives intersect. These characters need to find a way to find a compromise from feeling as though she’ll lose her identity by being with him and he needs to realize that he’s good enough for her.
Natalie Grayson is a dedicated Manhattanite, a confident curvaceous size 18 woman who can make every man fall at her feet, has a penchant for all decadent cheeses, obsessed with fine high heeled footwear, and is a slave to her rituals one of which is her weekly trek to the Saturday Farmers’ Market in the City. She owns her sexuality and struts what she’s got through from booth to booth at the market; eggs, flowers, … then there is the Bailey Falls Creamery booth … with the most gorgeous Dairy Farmer the world may ever know. Sweet Baby Jesus he’s just so … so … GAH … he makes Natalie literally stupid and shy when she approaches his booth. Their conversation goes like this – Cheese God: “Brie?” Natalie: “Oh, yes.” Natalie actually knows that the Cheese God’s name is Oscar and she knows that her best friend lives in the same town as he does and Roxie’s boyfriend lives in the farm next to his. Roxie has even offered to arrange for them to meet but Natalie refuses because 1.) she loathes to leave “her island” and 2.) she’s afraid that if she meets him that the contents of her “Spank Bank” will become null and void. But an opportunity which is irresistible arises at the ad agency where she works. A Bailey Falls councilman, Chad Bowman, wants to hire the agency to increase the tourism in their small town. Natalie jumps at the project much to the surprise of her boss who knows that she is “allergic” to “the Sticks”. But since Roxie lives there and there may be a small chance that she might catch a glimpse of Oscar and she could possibly gather the nerve she has in her imagination to act and do all of the dirty, dirty things she wants to do to and with him she takes the chance.
So Natalie packs and climbs aboard a train on the Hudson River line to Pougkeepsie where Natalie picks her up and drives her to Bailey Falls. When they reach Bailey Falls Natalie has to pull out her camera. Because the leaves have changed color and are falling, children are holding hands as the cross the street in the town center and the shops and diners with their charming aged personality makes it all so “darling”. Natalie meets with my favorite secondary character the ever so charming Chad Bowman to discuss what he envisions and what he wants the outcome to be for the ad campaign. They plan to meet with the rest of the council in a few days. Natalie also meets with the resort owner Archie Bryant of the Bryant Mountain House. Natalie is thinking about bringing in her and Roxie’s friend Clara who works as a consultant who specializes in turning around hotels renovating them and re-energizing them.
Roxie takes Natalie to Leo’s farm because he’s moving some of the farm animals to different fields to get them prepared for planting other crops. What Roxie didn’t tell Natalie is that some of the animals they are moving are cows … some of which are Oscar’s and he is there. When Natalie sees Oscar she pulls her turtle neck sweater over her head but Oscar when he sees her he recognizes her he says, “Brie?” Natalie replies, “Oh yes”. Then she tries to make a break for it. However, she’s wearing Leo’s size 11 galoshes, since heels don’t work well on the farm, and when you run around cows they give chase so Leo and Oscar try to calm the cows while Roxie tries to calm Natalie. As they wait for everyone to gather for lunch Natalie paces while Roxie cooks. When Oscar and Leo arrive Natalie grabs Oscar’s hand and pulls him deep into the barn. She is still unable to speak to him until she stands on one side of a stall and he is on the other. She confesses that she couldn’t speak to him on Saturdays because he is so gorgeous to look at but she couldn’t stop thinking about him throughout the rest of the week. What she thought about throughout the day and all night long was images of him … naked all of the time. He’s naked, she’s naked and he’s over her, under her, she’s doing things to him, and he’s doing things to her. When she finishes saying her piece she doesn’t hear him and when she looks over the stall she doesn’t see him there anymore. But when she turns around he’s right behind her and he says that her coming to his booth was the second best part of his Saturday. The Best Thing was watching her Great Big Ass walking away. Natalie was insulted and he said that it was a good thing, so she made sure by asking him to clarify that he meant a “great comma big ass”. Oscar tells Natalie that she talks too much and if she’s going to talk that much she should talk about the dirty naked stuff more, then he pulls her into a ravenous kiss. Their once three word relationship escalates quickly.
During Natalie’s long working weekend but she gets to know many residents of Bailey Falls and ends up deciding to make her way back up the following weekend. She and Chad become close and she confides to him and his husband Logan the story of her first boyfriend who destroyed her self esteem and almost her relationship with her family. A story not even Roxie knows. She gave up everything, everything of herself, for him and vowed never to do that again. Oscar has his own secret part of his life that no one really knows that he shares with Natalie plus he has an ex-wife who calls him whenever she needs anything done around her house, he’s rather protective of her, and he seems to drop everything, including Natalie, to be by her side. One weekend Oscar stays at Natalie’s apartment in Manhattan and things start off well but once they emerge from their bubble for two, things fall apart in a bad way. Their many times a day flirty texts reduce to once a day, to once a couple of times a week, once a week, etc. He doesn’t fit in her world and she doesn’t want to give up herself again. There is one last opportunity for Natalie to see Oscar and try to make things right, which is when she goes back to Bailey Falls to air the commercials for the town.
The characters major, and minor, in “Cream of the Crop” are pure Magic. There are many references and characters from the first book of the series that reappear in this novel, but this is a completely stand alone book so you will not be lost at all. But trust me, read “Nuts” it’s Fabulous!!! The “Cream of the Crop” storyline is comedic and compelling. There is Vulnerability, and Girl Power. There is the conflict of two completely different world colliding but the two people inhabiting those worlds should not be separated because it would be an “ugly cry” tragedy. She’s a microwave and he’s a Crock Pot and together they make a conventional oven. Alice Clayton is a Rom/Com Story Sorceress … except her Rom/Coms are just … more … they’re vulnerable, and a little heart-breaking. They are Oh. So. Good.
I’m giving “Cream of the Crop” 6 Lightning Bolts and a Storm Warning.
This novel was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.