Monday, March 16, 2020

The STARK SPRINGS ACADEMY series by Ali Dean

Rating: A sweet pair of new skis and your favorite snow conditions.

Summary: Ski racer Roxie starts her junior year of high school at the prestigious Stark Springs Academy, known for turning out some of the hottest winter-sports talent in the world. There she takes her skiing up several notches, makes new friends, develops a few enemies, and finds true love.

Would you read more from this author? I definitely plan on it.

I bought this series as a set and read them back-to-back, so I am going to discuss them all here. Honestly, you could read the first one and leave it at that if all you want is to learn what happens when a spunky ski racer from Vermont moves to Colorado to meet her hot but arrogant match. You'd be making what I would consider a mistake though as I found the third book in the series to be the strongest, but also the one that stands alone the least.

We start with Black Diamond. New girl Roxie is starting at Stark Springs Academy as a junior even though most of their students start in middle school. It quickly becomes obvious that the rules in the student handbook her parents signed off on aren't the real rules here. The real rules are whatever Ryker Black says they are. And Ryker has taken an obvious interest in Roxie. She's attracted to him, but doesn't want a relationship that's only on his terms. Besides, she's here to ski.

The next novel, Double Black, builds off the first but focuses more on Roxie as an athlete than Roxie as a potential love interest. By this book I was really appreciating that the author seems to understand not only sports in general, but snow sports specifically.

We conclude with Black Ice, which starts with the death of one of the characters being investigated as a murder. The entire series shifts in feel as we begin to learn more about why things that happened earlier happened and start to understand how deeply sensister some of the background world is. With a mystery full of soap opera-like twists, this was my favorite of the three books and took the series solidly into the category of things I loved.

Throughout the series, I enjoyed reading about Roxie. She's strong, but not so strong that she doesn't suffer from self-doubt and occasional reluctance to commit to a course of action. She's one of the best ski racers of her generation, but she starts the series confused as to how she qualified to attend Stark Springs, let alone got offered a scholarship there. Watching her grow more secure with her talent was as much fun for me as watching the development of her relationship with Ryker.

As for Ryker... He starts out larger-than-life and a tad bit hard to believe in. At twelve his mother died, by fourteen he'd taken over as CEO of her company. His parents had him ski racing competitively as a child, but when he was eleven he started teaching himself how to snowboard. Now eighteen, he's running an international corporation as well as competing internationally in snowboarding. Oh, and attending a school for elite athletes that his family happens to own. One character describes him as the mafia boss of winter sports. It's a bit much, honestly, but it reminded me of an anime setup, so I was willing to go with it. He's soon revealed to be vulnerable under his bravado, in true romantic hero fashion, and proved impossible for me to dislike. By the end, he seemed like someone I knew in real life.

Both Roxie and Ryker come with friends who prove interesting. Some of them are likable, some aren't supposed to be. I found the villainous mean girls a little over-the-top in the first novel, but like Ryker they seemed like actual people rather than cutouts by the end.

The main villain shifts a little across the story. In the first book, it's the mean girls. Ditto in the second book. But the third book not only reveals a new villain but explains some of why the mean girls were so mean.

Overall, I highly recommend this series for any readers of Young Adult fiction who like or are interested in snow sports, but also for those who like intrigue or sports in general.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.




Black Diamond

1% I can think of a very long list of ski areas I'd name my kid after before Telluride. Mammoth is the only one I can think of that could be worse and even then I'm not sure. Telly is cute. But I really wouldn't want the word 'ride' to be in my daughter's name. (Note: my husband came up with worse places. Germany's Mount Wank is now in first, although "wank" appears to have a different meaning in German. Pennsylvania's Blue Knob would also be bad, although not if you only used the Blue part, in which case it would merely be weird. Honorable mention goes to Misery Mountain in Alberta.)

3% Yeah, I really don't understand how this guy has so much power. Over other students? Okay. But he deactivated her dorm keycard?

4% The mafia boss of winter? That sounds intriguing...

10% Okay, so he's presumptuous. But at least he's into consent.

12% I wonder what the Olga story sounds like from Ryker's POV.

14% They have snow machines? Those are rare in CO, I think, although I can see why a snow sports academy would want some.

15% It's not weird that he pretends not to know her in public. He set that condition to appease her. And, yes, he does feel his position means he has to act all tough.

15% OMG. He brought her ice cream because she looked upset. I wasn't sure about this guy before, but my heart just melted.

17% Ah. So it was the girls that framed Olga. That makes more sense than Ryker doing it.

23% Vermont girl meets 14 inches of CO powder. It's beautiful. I hope we get to see her on a several-feet day. I would like to interject here that I really appreciate that the author is actually familiar with skiing.

27% As I suspect these girls are the ones who framed Olga, I'm uneasy about the idea of hanging with them at a secret place at night.

27% Um... Yeah... Ditching her in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm could actually kill her. Presumably she lives, but it still seems like attempted murder could be on the menu. And I don't think Ryker knows they're doing it, so they're going to get blackballed hard even if they don't go to jail.

27% Yes, when lost in mountains, go downhill. This is smart. Much smarter than going out with these people without telling anyone.

28% I really think she's making an assumption about Ryker knowing they ditched her in the wilderness. I think when he says "that night" he just means their disagreement.

30% Yeah, I really don't think Ryker wants her out of his life. He could easily have had her scholarship revoked and he didn't. Surely she'll figure this out eventually. Presumably in a big blow up after she beats Petra in this race.

30% Vermont is, in fact, an excellent place to train for ski racing for exactly the reasons gotten into here. If you can conquer East Coast Ice, nothing CO can throw at you will trip you up.

 31% We've seen no evidence that Sven and Player were involved in the attempted homicide.

32% Yep, the boys were totally innocent and are now pissed off.

32% I really like how even with all his arrogance, there's only been one time Ryker kissed Roxie without asking first.


Nice ending. Things are going to change and we got there with a nice progression. I appreciate the accurate sports talk and the gradual changes in Ryker and Roxie. Overall, I really liked this book. I wonder if the next one is about them or one of the other guys... Sven and Ingrid perhaps? :)


37% I say, do nothing to extract revenge except ostracize them and don't tell them nothing else is coming.

38% I admit to being a little confused as to why Ryker hasn't left school. He's already running a company so who really cares if he graduated high school?

40% So Brad is going on the Europe trip... I wonder if that will be the big source of conflict this book. Because so far all we have is that Roxie is a little freaked out to be realizing how serious her relationship with Ryker is 

54% That's the second time she's referred to someone snapping out of their boots in a situation where taking off ones boots doesn't make sense. I believe in both cases what the character actually did was step out of her bindings. I'm not sure what's up with that. The first time I figured was a brain fart or the result of changing wording and getting muddled. With twice I'm wondering if the author's brain frequently misfires on the word "binding" or if this a weird ski racer phrasing I'm unfamiliar with. (Post reading note: I mentioned this to my ski instructor husband. He's never heard of snapping out of your boots being a phrase. It's only occurred twice in the history of the internet prior to now and both times were about people taking their boots off. So it was a weird brain-fart I guess. I can't say much; I released a book in which people refer to a eating in a 'dinning room' in multiple spots because apparently I think 'dining' should have another 'n' in it.)

55% I'm starting to wonder if Rocco is Ryker's biological father... I'm almost certain he was sleeping with Ryker's mom.

58% I was really worried that whole race!

59% Oh! I think I knew she was going to be hurt. It was just a question of when. I wonder if Petra did something to her binding... I don't know why she would have popped out like that otherwise.

59% Well, it certainly sounds like SOMEONE did something to her bindings. Petra seems the obvious culprit. She had already proven a willingness to kill Roxie.

60% I don't like how "I don't like you talking to guys I don't trust" the dudes in this story are.

61% Yep, Petra did it. And is getting suspended from racing for at least the season. And is lucky Roxie isn't involving the police.

63% Nice entrance, Ryker!

64% Ok. Paternity test says Ted was the baby daddy. But there's more to this for it to be a big secret... Was his mom's death murder?

65% Oh, wow. His mom's death was murder. And he's never exposed that fact. I can see why he'd be worried about Roxie knowing that. (Although Rocco saying he'd seen the antifreeze documentary already seemed suspicious to me, especially combined with her being poisoned the day after she told him she wasn't leaving her husband for him.)

66% Petra's dead. Shit. That went from really happy to ominous awfully fast.


67% Petra died in a car crash? So no one is under investigation for murder or guilty they drove her to suicide or anything dramatic? Bit of a let down really.

67% Ah. Roxie does think something hinky happened the night Petra died and thinks there's an ongoing investigation. I wonder if Ryker's dad killed her thinking it would make Ryker happy. Or that Roxie would be blamed and he could get rid of her that way.

67% I'm pretty confident it wasn't Ryker who killed Petra. But suspecting him of murder is a nice tension for the book.

68% Someone cut the brakes on Petra's car. I'm surprised they kept that quiet for six months. But Ryker telling everyone that makes him seem innocent of involvement to me. (And he obviously didn't do it himself as he was in another country at the time.)

69% It was on Ryker's insistence that the police examined the car. Yeah, that definitely implies he want behind it.

71% I suspect Ryker suspects Winter and/or Aspen. The idea did occur to me that they could have wanted revenge for her idea getting them blackballed. ... Rocco might also fit the "I'm disappointed in you and capable of murder" profile if he was the one who killed Ryker's mom rather than Ted doing it.

72% Roxie clearly doesn't think Ryker's the one who left his mother's journal in her room. Who else could it have been? Rocco or his sister maybe? Why? Could Coach Hoffman have had it and be trying to leave clues that can't be traced to him? How would any of these people have gotten it?

78% The sequel to the first journal... Interesting.

79% What she is describing is gropple, not hail. Why do people call all icy things falling from the sky hail?

80% Olga sounds like trouble. I don't know why, but I'm trusting Aspen's account of her.

86% So either Olga or Winter would have been able to cut Petra's brake lines. And they both had motive.

87% Ryker got the third journal. Interesting.

88% TED was having an affair? With Nadia Hoffman? Whoa. Could she have been the one who killed Ryker's mom because Ted wouldn't leave her and then killed her own daughter for embarrassing her? This book is such a soap opera! I love it!

90% I'm increasingly thinking Ted didn't poison his wife. And I'm wondering if he's the one who gave the kids the journals.

91% Yeah, Petra seems pretty well redeemed. Although maybe she reminds me of my character Rina. (Rina was sidekick to the mean girl in OF FUR AND ICE but unlike Petra wasn't involved in the worst thing her bestie did. She was then the lead in OF SNOW AND WHISKERS, which was largely about how abusive her relationship with said bestie was.)

91% I'm not sure why they waited so long to have sex. They've been together a full year, declared themselves in love ages ago, and sleep next to each other all the time. I do like the handling of the actual sex though. No play-by-plays, just it happened and everyone is happy.

92% How does Nadia know where Petra took Roxie? Did Petra tell her mom? And this seems really obvious...

94% How does one secure a hostage to a snowmobile and still be able to drive it? Asking for a friend...

96% If Nadia had those journals at some point, she really should have burned the last one.

98% So Nadia's still messed up. It's curious that someone so deranged isn't considered insane enough to plead instantly. I agree she wouldn't be, but it does make you question the naming if the defense.

I like it. It leaves me optimistic about Roxie and Ryker's future. A nice happy ending.

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