Cream of the Crop
I have a confession to make: I’m not a “foodie.” I live in New York City with dozens of friends who regularly seek out the newest and most fashionable places for brunch and take pictures of their food to post online. If they’re not going out to eat, they’re attending a farmers’ market, getting amazingly fresh produce in the middle of our concrete jungle. I typically stand off to the side in awe of all this, occasionally asking for a restaurant recommendation but mostly wincing at the thought of spending so much money on trendy food. Natalie Grayson, heroine of Cream of the Crop, reminded me a lot of my “foodie” friends. Much like when I’m with them, I found myself watching, but not understanding, her passion.
That passion, in case you couldn’t guess by the cover of the book, is all things dairy. Natalie is particularly enamored of cheese, which is how she began her love affair with Bailey Falls Creamery. Every Saturday, Natalie waits in line at the Union Square farmers’ market (there’s a reason she reminded me of my friends from the city!) to get her usual order of Brie from their stand. It’s not just the cheese Natalie loves, though; Oscar Mendoza, the strong and silent dairy farmer who hands it over is just as big a draw. Natalie lives for that quick exchange where he says, “Brie?” and all she can do is whisper “Oh. Yes.”
After months of operating in this pattern, something changes. Natalie’s advertising firm takes on the town of Bailey Falls as a client. Knowing her friend Roxie just moved there – and that it’s also home to her favorite creamery – Natalie goes out of her way to make sure she gets the account. In spite of an awkward first meeting away from the farmers’ market, she and Oscar manage to dive headfirst into a relationship almost right away.
Does that sound fast to you? It feels like the first half of the book builds up tension between the two, full of smoldering looks and overactive imaginations. Then Natalie abruptly gets over her Oscar-related shyness (she’s much more of a confident go-getter elsewhere, and with almost all other men), and suddenly they’re falling straight into bed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing here—it fits with Natalie’s character, and Oscar seems to be a man of action, rather than words. My issue is with how quickly they fell in love.
Looking back, I think the reason it felt like Natalie and Oscar rushed into love was down to Oscar himself. Natalie tells the entire book, apart from the epilogue, in the first person. I’ve enjoyed this style from Ms. Clayton before, as her heroines are always smart and have an amusing running commentary on their lives. Natalie, too, tells a good story, but unfortunately she’s paired with Oscar, who isn’t exactly the sharing type. Although he eventually tells Natalie his backstory—where he’s from, why his ex-wife is still so involved in his life, how he got into dairy farming—it’s like pulling teeth to get this little bit out of him. By the time everything was out in the open, the book was ending and Natalie and Oscar were essentially ready to make a lifetime commitment. I never quite felt like I knew Oscar, though, so I had a hard time believing they were fully in love.
Given an extra fifty pages and a little more time with them, I easily could have given Cream of the Crop a B+. But just like I’ll never become a “foodie” in spite of my friends’ attempts to take me new places, I know rereading this book a dozen times won’t stop me from feeling that Natalie and Oscar moved too fast. They’re both fun characters, and they seem to fit well together, but I was out of sync with their entire relationship. As always, though, the writing is stellar, and I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.