Review: North Pole, Minnesota Series by Julie Hammerle

Any Boy, But You by Julie Hammerle

Published by: Entangled Crush
Released: February 13 2017
ISBN: 9781682814246

Read: July 6 2017

 

Artificial Sweethearts by Julie Hammerle

Published by: Entangled Crush
Released: July 10 2017
ISBN: 9781640631403

Read: July 5 2017

anyboy

I was given Any Boy, but You back in February through Netgalley, and started to read it, but must have been distracted. When the publisher once again approved me the second book in the North Pole, Minnesota series, Artificial Sweethearts, I felt it deserved a second go. I read both books, one after the other, and though I will review them separately below, I just wanted to talk generally about the series, and compare and contrast a couple of details first.

Location is the conceit around which these books are bound. North Pole is a tiny town that uses its Christmas-theme to sustain the town’s economy, and keep the tourists coming. It’s not a major focus of the stories, but the teenagers who live here work in coffee shops and retail stores, all appropriately named and decorated. It’s a fun element. While Any Boy, but You is set in the winter months, Artificial Sweethearts is a summer story, so we see the contrasting seasons. I read the second book first, and while they are standalones, it is better to read them in order. Artificial Sweethearts ‘spoiled’ Any Boy, but You, and also we were introduced to the characters in the first. I wonder which character will get their own HEA in the next story? There are a couple of teenagers who have their own quirks and traits—Kevin Snow is the local ‘player’, Craig wins everything, and Harper is into girls. Hammerle does well with inclusivity—in the second book, Sam’s brother is marrying Hakeem, his devoted boyfriend, and it’s treated without any drama at all.

The first book, Any Boy, but You plays to the Romeo and Juliet trope in a cute and contemporary way. The Princes and the Chestnuts used to run the local sport store, until a bitter feud split the two families and ever since, they’ve been in competition. Only now, both businesses are suffering, especially Elena’s family, the Chestnuts. Oliver, our other MC, has only just arrived in North Pole, back with his father as he takes over the family store, and the pair square off across the street, each a product of their families’ animosity. Oliver, computer nerd, tech head has developed a Pokémon-Go type app to create buzz for Princes (it works a treat!), and Elena is frustrated by her parents’ refusal to accept the inevitable demise of Chestnuts. It’s complicated, and there are secrets to be revealed, and in the meantime, the pair toss insults when Elena tutors Oliver in Latin, and get to know each other virtually, as they anonymously chat through the app. Yes, it might sound like something you’ve read before, but apart from a couple of niggles regarding the family feud (which would be spoilery to mention here), this is a light-hearted, fun romance because both protagonists are lonely and sympathetic.  There are some terrific moments involving crazy antics of secondary characters, the welcome inclusion of ethnically diverse characters, and a satisfyingly adorably happy-ever-after.

Any Boy, but You was provided by Entangled Crush, via Netgalley and read with thanks. It was released in February and is recommended to teens who like their love stories sweet and not heavy with sex or swearing. The same recommendation applies to the second book in the series too.

Artificial Sweethearts was released on July 10, with the main character Sam familiar to usartificial from the first book. His sister Harper is Elena’s best friend. He is a senior, a seemingly laid-back character, but who is secretly suffering his own burdens. Siblings, Matthew and Harper are carelessly loading Sam up with household obligations, particularly in regards to Matthew’s upcoming nuptials. Their mother died some five years ago, and Sam still misses her, but is too much of a boy to share his emotional vulnerabilities with family or friends. When he is pressured to find a date for the wedding, everything seems to overwhelm him.

Enter new neighbour, Tinka, whose parents have purchased the most forlorn house in North Pole for unknown reasons. Tinka has been at boarding school, one that caters to potential golf champions. She has lived the last six months playing ‘party girl’, a far cry from the shy introverted homebody she usually is. There’s a lot of information in the first chapter, and it’s easy to be confused because Tinka’s train of thought is befuddled by a hangover, shame at hooking up with (new) best friend Jane’s ex-boyfriend, and regret at bringing Jane home with her for the summer, especially now it’s not going to be anything like she thought. Her parents have completely bamboozled her.

The dual narrative contrasts Sam’s familiarity and love for North Pole (although he is happy to be leaving for college next year), with Tinka’s wide-eyed discomfort at such a small, everyone-knows-each-other, community. Her parents’ attempts to set her up with sleazy Dylan, while he coaches her on the golf course, has her looking around for excuses to avoid him. Enter new neighbour, Sam.

The circle is complete. Both teens are in need of something to get people off their backs. The fake-romance trope is played here in reverse. Often it’s the girl who falls first and hard, but Sam is smitten early, without knowing any of Tinka’s secrets. Tinka’s inability to relax and let herself feel something is their biggest hurdle, but as they start to share stories, and the town plays its part in their forced togetherness, we see (and they do too) how good they could be together. Of course, there is a big misunderstanding, a crazy revenge-seeking troublemaker, and ultimately, Tinka has some serious begging to do, because let’s face it, Sam is just adorable. Fortunately, Tina’s superpower (baking) helps gain forgiveness.

One of the elements that didn’t work for me (in both books, actually) is the representation of adults who are so caught up in their own lives, they fail to see the impact on their children. These teens are doing everything they can to keep their parents happy, and it’s not fair, nor is very realistic. Yes, it allows the kids to be depicted as genuinely, nice people, who want to their families to be safe and secure. It’s always this way with novels, romance particularly. There needs to be ways in which characters face obstacles and conflict. But good books can achieve this without readers asking too many tough questions. I am just not a fan of this option. Lucky, I am charmed by the characters themselves and satisfying resolutions.

Thanks to Entangled Crush via Netgalley for approving both books.

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