**ARC provided by the publisher for review**
Let’s just say I’ve had brie on the brain for the last few weeks. Not unlike Natalie Grayson, the heroine in Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley series book #2).
In Cream of the Crop, our girl Natalie is a city slicker with a soft spot for country living. Well, maybe her soft spot is really just for Oscar Mendoza, the Bailey Falls, New York dairy farmer/cheesemonger she sees at the farmers’ market on Saturdays. Natalie’s usually all confidence with men, but she’s utterly tongue-tied with Oscar. They exchange three words over brie and their weekly tete-a-tete is over. Until Natalie takes on a campaign to put Bailey Falls on the travel map and suddenly this city girl is spending a lot more time upstate. And she just might get her shot at the dairy farmer.
Cream of the Crop is a “city girl lusts after country boy” story with hilariously real female friendships, and as usual with Alice Clayton, lots of laughs. In the trio that’s been set up in the Hudson Valley series, Natalie is one who flunked out of culinary school, so there’s a lot less cooking happening in this installment, which is what originally got me reading. Even still, there’s a lot to like:
- Natalie and Roxie’s friendship feels real – no chick flick sidekicks here.
- In true rom-com style, city girl does idiotic, but funny things once in farm country – running from cows in a panic, sinking in a mudhole in heeled boots, trying to jauntily pile her hair under a hairnet when making cheese.
- Former football player turned dairy farmer – that’s one I haven’t seen in romance until now. It’s a family business, so it isn’t as crazy as it sounds. What is crazy, is Natalie claims to have never watched a football game in her life. (What?!) She might be a slightly upper crust New Yorker and the daughter of a real estate developer and an art dealer, but you never get the impression that polo matches are in her wheelhouse. She owns it in every other part of her life, but doesn’t even have a passing acquaintance with football? C’mon, Nat, don’t be the “scrimmage thingy” girl.
Though there’s not much cooking, we do get a pretty detailed cheese making scene. Glamorous and good smelling, it is not. And it totally reminded me of a visit to a cheese factory in Petaluma when I was a kid. Stink—ee!
On a more serious note in the book, the backstory on Natalie’s confidence isn’t that the guys were always flocking to her and her hourglass figure, “with an extra hour or two at each end,” as Roxie says in book 1. Quite the opposite – her low-self esteem made her a target for an older, controlling fat-shaming boyfriend who made her feel as if no one but him would ever love her. It’s fairly heavy stuff for a rom-com and believably addressed.
Net-Net: Cream of the Crop is a solid second installment in the Hudson Valley series. Lots of laughs. Food is definitely part of the story, but it’s nowhere near as essential as in Roxie’s story in Nuts. Great to have a heroine who’s sure of herself and isn’t a stick figure. It’s too bad Oscar’s culture never really plays into the story — he’s really Hispanic in name-only.