~ Book Review: Take the Lead (Dance Off #1) (ARC) ~

Second publication: February 14, 2023

Author: Alexis Daria

From Alexis Daria, author of the critically acclaimed, international bestseller You Had Me at Hola, comes a fun, sexy romance set against a reality dance show.

Gina Morales wants to make it big. In her four seasons on The Dance Off, she’s never even made it to the finals. But her latest partner, the sexy star of an Alaskan wilderness show, could be her chance. Who knew the strong, silent, survivalist-type had moves like that? She thinks Stone Nielson is her ticket to win it all—until her producer makes it clear they’re being set up for a showmance.

Joining a celebrity dance competition is the last thing Stone wants. However, he’ll endure anything to help his family, even as he fears revealing their secrets. While the fast pace of Los Angeles makes him long for the peace and privacy of home, he can’t hide his growing attraction for his dance partner. Neither wants to fake a romance for the cameras, but the explosive chemistry that flares between them is undeniable.

As Stone and Gina heat up the dance floor, the tabloids catch on to their developing romance. With the spotlight threatening to ruin everything, will they choose fame and fortune, or let love take the lead?

Take the Lead (#1)
Dance With Me (#2)
Dance All Night (#3)

Take the Lead is the first novel in the Dance Off series that follows different couples. While the dancing competition is based on Strictly Come Dancing (UK) and Dancing with the Stars (US), the author does her own take with the in-novel The Dance Off. Professional dancer, Gina Morales is determined to land in the finals after four seasons on the show. She is paired with Stone Nielson, star of a reality show about a family living off-the-grid in Alaska called Living Wild. While Stone does not really want to compete, he is determined to win the prize money to help pay for his mother’s medical bills. This part initially confused me a lot as if he and his family are on a successful show already, I do not get why they are scraping money together.

Due to their amazing chemistry, the producers push a “showmance” storyline between the couple. While neither initially is for the idea, the two eventually give in and the two try to explore a relationship. While they had great tension between them, I wish that some elements were explored in greater depth. There is a major height difference between the two characters as Gina is 5’6” and Stone is 6’7.” While this is addressed early on when they first start to choreograph dances, it seems it was soon forgotten. I feel the author mainly did this just for the initial moments, but then did not bother to think about the logistics. Unfortunately, “accidentally kissing” should not have been plausible as their lips don’t line up. I wish if the author wanted to make this a plot element, then more care should have been given to the actual logistics.

Gina was difficult to like at first as she seemed blinded by her ambition to win. Stone is out of his element and even has some knee issues, yet she seemed to gloss over them. I do not think she did not care as there are very small hints, but I think some additional scenes of Gina coaching Stone would have benefited this side of their relationship. Additionally, she objectified Stone a lot which felt a little hypocritical considering she didn’t want it done to her. It is unfortunate that these traits came across this way as she was an otherwise decent character. Unfortunately, the writing just needed to highlight these in a more positive way for me. In comparison, Stone came across a little better for their connection, but I think he needed a little more work, too, to make him a more well-rounded character. Overall, this was a very fun story, and I loved the concept of not only having a sweet love story, but to highlight the ins and outs of a reality show dancing competition. I look forward to trying the next novel with a new couple in the future!

**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffinfor the opportunity to read this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed are completely my own.**

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