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Dance Off #1

Take the Lead

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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?

321 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 3, 2017

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About the author

Alexis Daria

10 books1,842 followers
Alexis Daria writes stories about successful Latinx characters and their (occasionally messy) familias. You Had Me at Hola, the first book in her Primas of Power series, is a national bestseller. Alexis is a lifelong New Yorker who loves Broadway musicals and pizza.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 869 reviews
Profile Image for Nicola.
1,393 reviews241 followers
September 26, 2017
In the UK we call it Strictly Come Dancing, across the pond it’s Dancing With the Stars, but whatever name it goes by, if there’s glitter, sequins, fleckerls, foxtrots and fake tan involved I. AM. THERE. So a romance centralising around all this?


No stranger to reality TV, gorgeous 6’7 bearded Alaskan wilderness star, Stone Nielson is more at home chopping wood than shimmying his hips. But when he’s partnered with LA based pro dancer, Gina Morales on The Dance Off, it’s not long before she coaxes out the moves hiding beneath the muscle and the man-bun.


I loved Stone. Quiet, contemplative and brooding, he’s a gentle giant and I enjoyed seeing how his confidence grew as the competition progressed. Gina was a fabulous female lead and her bright and vivacious personality complimented Stone’s perfectly. And whilst both refuse to be cornered into a showmance to boost their popularity and show ratings, their attraction to one another is undeniable.

“The intensive nature of the training and filming schedule forced an intimacy that was unlike anything in the real world.”

Naturally it’s only a matter of time before Stone and Gina’s tango becomes that of a horizontal variety and trust me, all the build-up and tension towards it is seriously worth it. But what really struck me were the real and poignant nods to Gina’s personal plight and her battle against stereotype with her being Puerto Rican and a performing artist, which played an important and valuable part to the story.

“The worst would be playing into the ‘sexy Latina’ stereotype, setting a bad example for my nieces, and losing out on future jobs because they think I’m unprofessional.”

Fun and sexy with the right balance of fight and conflict, Take the Lead wasn’t flawless—at times the pacing felt a little rushed with regards to the live shows—but it is a strong, satisfying series opener and debut from Alexis Daria: I’m looking forward to reading more from her and seeing what treats lie in store when pro dancer, Natasha and show judge, Dimitri get up close and personal in Dance with Me.

Copy received courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley.


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Profile Image for Madison Warner Fairbanks.
2,174 reviews284 followers
February 20, 2023
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Dance Off series book 1. Contemporary romance. Own voice: Latina.
Stone is one of the celebrity dancers on this season’s Dance Off TV show. He’s on loan from his regular cable TV show as a survivalist with his family in Alaska. Dancing in the show will enable thee family to pay some of his mother’s medical bills. He doesn’t see a difference in taking his shirt off to cut wood vs. dancing in a costume. He will be a professional athlete and listen to instructions, practice and do his best.
Gina is a professional dancer on the TV show and while she is attracted to Stone, she is not going to participate in the showromance that the produces are pushing for. She is extremely careful with her reputation and she is not going to be the subject of anyone gossip. Too bad the producers aren’t willing to let the chemistry between Stone and Gina go unnoticed.

Reality show tv is teaming with backstage gossip, scandal and manipulative influences. Stone and Gina have to put up with a lot just to do their jobs.
I understand Gina’s insistence on her professional reputation being impeccable. She advises Stone to ignore clips that show during their introduction that may embarrass or upset him. But totally ignores the advice when it’s about her.
I grew to love Stone. He’s embarrassed in the beginning about shedding his clothes down to underwear for the required sun tanning spray, but grows confident and sure as he learns and masters all the different dance moves. That he is willing to work harder to make Gina’s job secure is powerful.

Entertaining. This made me want to watch one of those couples dance TV shows that I’ve never cared about in the past.

I received a copy of this from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Mirjana **DTR - Down to Read**.
1,380 reviews649 followers
September 27, 2017

***4 Stars***

Loved this debut!

Puerto Rican professional dancer + Mountain man reality star + dance competition = One happy reader!! ♥ ♥

"You light me up. You helped me remember who I was before, and see clearly who I am now and who I want to be."

Gina and Stone were fantastic together. Both dealing with unwanted expectations and trying to break free from the molds the public put them in, they find comfort and so much more with each other.

Gina has dreams. She wants to dance, sing, and act. Her mother gave up a potential career as a singer for a man who eventually walked away from her and his family, and Gina refuses to let history repeat itself. Being a pro dancer on the Dance-Off is fun,rewarding, and a great stepping stone in her career, but she refuses to let herself be pigeon-holed as nothing more than the sassy and sexy Latina. She's more than that and having the producers try and push an "are they or aren't they?" angle is something Gina refuses to go along with. Her career is the most important thing to her, and she won't compromise that for anything...or anyone.

Stone is known as the strong and quiet one on his family's reality show. His family has built their public persona on being wilderness survivalists and all that entails, but privately, things aren't as they seem. Stone has become frustrated and tired of living a double life. Going on the Dance-Off will help his family with some of their financial issues, but he wasn't expecting to get paired with someone like Gina. Someone so full of life, fun, and energy. Someone who hurdles his carefully constructed walls easily. Someone who brings out the side of Stone he hasn't been since before his family's reality show.

"You make things...easier."

"What do you mean?"

"It's easier to talk with you. Easier to think. Easier to...feel."

The way Alexis Daria wove this story was terrific. I was equally invested in Gina's and Stone's individual growth, their journey as a couple, and their ups and downs as competitors on the dance show.

The instant attraction that Gina and Stone felt evolved wonderfully into so much more. Their connection was believable and the stolen quiet moments they were able to share were both heartwarming and sexy as hell.

The pacing was a little uneven at times (zooming through scenes that I think should have been expanded to add depth or giving too much time to scenes that didn't really add anything), but even with that, it didn't pull me out of the story.

And can I just say the dancing was awesome! I'm a fan of dance movies and watch Dancing with the Stars every season, and everything in this book hit the notes that I love. Alexis Daria showed so many different aspects of dance...how personal it could be, the commitment involved, and how it can lead you to discover sides of yourself you try to hide or didn't even know existed.

She'd danced the tango countless times, with countless partners. It had never, never been like this.

This was foreplay. He was showing her his intensity, what he was capable of, and what he'd do to her - for her, with her - if she let him.

This is a debut book by a debut author that I highly recommend.

I can't wait to see what's in store for Natasha (Gina's best friend and fellow competitor) and Dimitri (a judge on the show).

But more importantly, I can't wait to see what more is to come from Alexis Daria. With one book, she's got a fan in me!

***ARC courtesy of publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review***
November 25, 2017

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This is one of those books that has received a lot of advanced praise - Sarah MacLean called it one of the best romance novels of 2017 - and yet, there's hardly any reviews for it on Goodreads. What the heck, my readers? What the heck?


TAKE THE LEAD is a good book for many reasons. It's set on a Dancing with the Stars-type reality TV show. Gina is a Puerto Rican dancer who has dreamed of and prepared for "making it" her whole life. When she's paired with the wilderness survivalist star from another reality TV show, she's skeptical - until she meets Stone, and finds that beneath that strong and silent lumbersexual exterior is a good-hearted man who is determined to see this dance competition to the bitter end.

I'm a sucker for "showmance" storylines. I think it's the modern-day equivalent of the arranged marriage plots in fantasy and historical romance, which I also love. I think it harkens back to an earlier view of love, based on shared experiences and friendship, where sex comes later. TAKE THE LEAD is definitely romance of a slow-burn variety, even though both characters have instant attraction for one another. Gina doesn't want to get involved, though, and even though that's what they all say, her reasons are totally reasonable and serve as commentary on the sexist lens through which female celebrities are viewed, as well as the stereotypes of Latin American women in media.

But there was something I liked even better than the romance and the Latinx rep - and that was the freaking reality TV setting. It felt very realistic. I loved seeing the characters in the goldfish bowl, and how they dealt with that stress. I loved the descriptions of the dance costumes and the dances. I actually set the book aside - well, OK, I closed my eReader application - and went to YouTube to look up the paso doble dance after it was described in this book and holy so-you-think-you-can-dance, Batman! I don't have a graceful bone in my body, but after finishing this book I had half a mind to sign up for dance lessons at one of the local studios.

So you're probably asking yourself, "If it's so great, why only four stars, Nenia?" There's a Big Misunderstanding plot that creates some additional drama in the last act. It wasn't badly done, but I felt like it was unnecessary and made Gina look like an irrational person. And while I get that we're all irrational people who sometimes behave like jerks, it was still annoying. Also, the beginning was a bit slow, and it took me a while to warm up to the characters, and fall in love with them. (Although I did - by the end of the novel, I was totally ready to smoosh their faces and be all, NOW KISS!)

TAKE THE LEAD is one of the few romances of this year that actually lived up to the hype. It has great characters, awesome chemistry, a creative and fun setting, and an awesome cover. I'm super psyched for the sequel, which stars Gina's biffle, Natasha. Just sent that shiz to me by priority mail, ASAP. Kthxbai. But seriously, if you're a fan of authors like Alyssa Cole and Courtney Milan, you will love this book!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 stars!
Profile Image for Maria Rose.
2,465 reviews242 followers
July 20, 2018
2018 RITA Award winner for Best First Book!

If you’re a fan of Dancing with the Stars or other reality TV show dance competitions you are definitely going to want to pick up Take the Lead, a lively, energetic and sexy contemporary romance by début author Alexis Daria. And if you’ve never watched one of these competitions before, after reading this story you’ll likely want to add it to your viewing schedule. The plot is fresh and original, giving the reader almost a voyeuristic behind the scenes look at what makes or breaks the dancers on the stage. Along the way it details the romance between a professional Puerto Rican dancer needing to make the finals or be cut from the show and her partner, an Alaskan lumberjack who’d rather be anywhere than on the stage.

Gina Morales is ready to take her fifth season on Take the Lead by storm and hopes she’ll be paired with someone who will be both capable and popular enough to make it to the finals. Her producer has made it clear that if she doesn’t make the final three, she’ll likely be out of a contract for next year. All signs point to success when her partner turns out to be Stone Nielson, one of the stars of his family’s reality TV show, Living Wild, set in Alaska. Tall, handsome and fit, Stone has the qualities every female dancer on the show wishes for in a partner. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, they could be the couple to beat.

Stone hates Los Angeles. He misses his old life in Juneau where he lived and worked quite happily before being coerced into participating in a show with an adoring audience who don’t realize that much of the circumstances of their day-to-day existence of the contestants are fake. The medical bills from his mother’s hip operation are the only thing that convinced him to join the dance competition. What makes the whole thing bearable is his partner, Gina.

Gina’s producer Donna thinks that Gina and Stone would make the perfect ‘showmance’ for the season, something Gina absolutely opposes. The last thing she needs is get slotted into a stereotypical ‘hot Latino dancer’ role that will make it that much harder for people to take her seriously. She has aspirations of getting into acting when her dancing days are over and an ‘affair’ on a TV show is not going to help her career. But she and Stone do have some serious chemistry, and the more time they spend together, the deeper their connection becomes. As their relationship heats up both on and off the stage, can a happy ending for them on the show mean one in real life too?

What a fun read! The dance show/reality TV element is so well handled that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out the author has been staking out reality dance competitions backstage, because the drama, personal relationships and week by week eliminations had me flipping the pages eagerly to see what would happen. As the author is herself Puerto Rican, she adds an authenticity to Gina’s character that comes across in her mannerisms and expressions (as well as her cooking!). Gina’s enthusiasm for dance is equal to her skill, and she’s able to teach Stone both the physical steps and the emotional expression required to achieve their goal every week of impressing the judges and getting the viewing audience to vote for them. Her skills are not limited to dance though. She choreographs scenes, chooses appropriate costumes, and knows the ‘business’ side of the competition – the need to be ‘on’ for the camera at all times. If this is wearing for her at times, it’s only in the quiet down times off camera with Stone that she is able to let some of that go.

Stone is the strong, silent type. Or at least, that’s his character on his family’s show. He has to remember to hide anything about himself and his family that doesn’t fit with how they are portrayed on TV, especially if cameras are around. Being with Gina is eye-opening for him, not just because he realizes he can dance, but because he’s forgotten what it’s like to have fun, to be in the moment and enjoy life. She brings out the side of his personality that’s been hidden away and he likes this side of himself. In private, they can step outside of their TV personalities and be themselves.

While the attraction between them leads to on-stage chemistry that they can shrug off on camera as being a result of the hours they spend together and their strong friendship, off stage they eventually hit the sheets in some steamy love scenes. Keeping their feelings for each other private becomes increasingly difficult. While Stone would have no problem coming out into the open, Gina believes the resulting publicity would do more harm than good for her in the long run. In the end her decisions will affect them both.

Besides watching Gina and Stone grow closer, it’s equally fun to follow them in the competition. The other couples are well described, and as some of the dancers have been with Gina on the show for a few years, they feature prominently as secondary characters. I’m not going to give away whether or not they make it to the end, but suffice it to say Gina and Stone get more out of the competition than they ever expected. If you are looking for a fun, flirty, exciting romance, you should add this one to your to-read list.

This review also appears at All About Romance: https://allaboutromance.com/book-revi...

A copy of this story was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for review.
Profile Image for Dona.
434 reviews77 followers
February 28, 2023
Thank you to the author Alexis Daria, publishers St. Martin's Griffin and St. Martin's Press, and as always NetGalley, for an advance audio copy of TAKE THE LEAD.

Gina is a professional dancer on a Dance Off style show, who treks to the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, facing death, to snag her sexy dancing costar-- Stone, who oh so humbly only lives on ice mountain in order to help out his backward family, otherwise he'd definitely be in LA. Stone drives Gina crazy with his lack of polish, and she, with her curt one liners and ice-queen maneuvers dialed up, never gives him a chance to charm her with his towering beard and fourteen and a half pack..
Until she does and he accidentally impales her. Honestly, is he having sex with her or competing in a one man track meet and she'sthe discus, shotput, hurdle, and pole vault? Bowling ball?

I probably would have liked this book better if it focused more on these antics. They were funny. The sex scenes were pretty funny too, tbh.

Unfortunately, for a book about dancers, there aren't too many dancing descriptions, like what dancing looks like, or feels like in the body. Or how the dancers sync to music, how the audience responds. Most of the details about dancing are dry and technical, tons of jargon, and I couldn't connect with any of it. And it makes up a huge portion of the storyline.

I'm not always in favor of the character driven story, but in this case, I would have liked to see less focus on the dance competition plot, and more focus on developing the two characters, and their romance.

Rating: 🩰🩰🩰 / 5 dancing shoes
Spice: 🌶🌶🌶 / 4 (for gymnastics)
Recommend? Sure, it's not bad
Finished: February 22 2023
Read this if you like:
🌶 Spicy romance
💃 Stories about dancing
🎥 Stories about TV shows
❤️‍🩹 Enemies to lovers trope
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,978 reviews3,296 followers
February 17, 2023
4.5 stars rounded up

What a delightful romance! I requested Take the Lead because a romance set on a show similar to Dancing With the Stars sounded like fun, but this offers so much more. The hero and heroine are both nuanced, fleshed out characters with their own arcs of growth, the relationship is both sexy and romantic, AND it's a novel tackling the stereotyping of Latine people in the media as sexy and promiscuous. I'm so impressed this was originally Daria's debut novel.

Gina Morales is a talented dancer and choreographer who has spent her career fighting against stereotypes of who she is. Four seasons into The Dance Off, she wants to finally win and prove herself in a difficult industry. She is paired with Stone- a burly man from Alaska where his family has a survivalist reality TV show. But there's a lot more going on with his life that you see on the surface. And of course, producers want Gina and Stone to stage a "showmance" for views, which Gina absolutely refuses to do. But secretly, they can't resist the growing friendship and crackling chemistry between them.

This was an excellent book and a great example of what romance, even light and fun romance, is capable of when done well. I felt the lack of communicating through problems at the end dragged out a tad too long, but my complaints are very minor. I received an advance copy of this book for review via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Joce (squibblesreads).
230 reviews4,925 followers
March 13, 2018
Here's the link to my video review!

A ton of fun but also important and layered. First of all, I used to dance and it was such a huge part of my life and I felt like that was portrayed well. I also am a sucker for dance-based reality TV so this book was basically made for me. I loved how it talked about being a Latina woman in the entertainment industry (Gina is a Puerto Rican woman, as well as Natasha who book #2, Dance with Me, is written about), and how she feels typecast and pigeonholed into roles that were clearly tokenized as the fiery woman with a short temper always in a red dress with red lipstick and a short dress. Gina and Stone's romance was also slow burn, and hate-to-love, but it wasn't overdone or superficial. Stone also was in a tricky situation financially which was woven in nicely. We also have some producer or director drama which was juicy and kept me turning pages. I'd definitely recommend this one!
Profile Image for JenReadsRomance.
291 reviews1,464 followers
September 20, 2017
Listen. Take the Lead by Alexis Daria is perfect. PER.FECT. I loved this book. I want to take this book out behind the high school and make out with it. This book was goddamn good that after I finished reading it, I spent the rest of the day watching Strictly Ballroom, the Step Up movies, and Magic Mike. This book made me want to sign up for dance lessons----and I am a white girl with NO rhythm! I clap on the wrong beat and my husband jokes I need a walking helmet! I’d sooner give up romance and only read Jonathan Franzen novels before I’d take dance lessons! I just wrote a paragraph with like 18 exclamation points, and I hate exclamation points! I have been reduced to a quivering pile of happiness at the perfection of this book. I mean, I guess you could stick around for the particulars, but if you haven’t one-clicked yet, I really can’t help you.

The characters in this book are both trapped in a web of their own making, beholden to their lives as reality TV stars. Gina Morales is a professional dancer on a Dancing With the Stars-type show. This season, her partner is Stone Nielson. He and his family are stars of their own reality show about being survivalists in Alaska. He’s farmed out from the family show to the dance show to try and win enough money to pay for his Mother’s medical bills. Gina is determined to win this season, knowing it could catapult her career to the next level.

Gina and Stone have all the chemistry, but their beliefs about who they are and how to be in the world couldn’t be more different. Some of it on the surface: he loves Alaska and she’s a city girl; he’s quiet and taciturn while she’s bright and chatty. On a deeper level, each character is fully developed, with a set of fears and foibles that make them afraid of making a future together.

I loved Gina. She’s strong, hard-working, and knows exactly what she wants. She’s also savvy about the ways in which the whole system is working against her. Early in her career, she had a boyfriend who used her to get ahead and then dumped her. She’s determined not to let anyone else have a chance at ruining her career. When they first meet, Gina is instantaneously wary of Stone, sensing her producer is setting them up for a “showmance.” While other dancers might enjoy being at the center of a showmance, Gina negotiated a contract that expressly outlaws being cast in that light. Even though she can’t resist him and their romance is real, she explains when they need to keep it secret, “Do you have any idea how much my agent fought them on the showmance angle when I was hired? A lot. And because I’m Puerto Rican, I’ve been fighting against the ‘sexy and promiscuous’ Latin stereotype my entire career, something that’s hard enough when you’re a dancer....You don’t get to make this about you.” Gina breaks her own rules when she gets involved with Stone, and she is convinced that if others know about their romance, it will hurt her career. There is no part of her worry that seems contrived or hysterical, by the way. It just feels real. She’s a woman of color, and she knows damn well she can’t make any mistakes. But is Stone a mistake?

What Gina doesn’t realize is that Stone has been lying for his family for years. Their reality TV show is contrived, and his whole life is managed, scripted, and filmed. Stone doesn’t ever have the chance to be himself, because his reality TV contract forbids him from sharing anything that would ruin the illusion of his family’s life in the Alaskan wilderness. Stone loves his family, but he cannot wait for his contract to be over so he can return to a regular life. Stone is impressed that Gina lives by her principles while he is living a lie. This means it is especially painful, hurtful even, to keep his feelings about Gina a secret. He thinks, “Everyone wanted him to be silent--his family about their pasts, and Gina about their relationship. The silent protector, keeping secrets and putting aside his own needs. Well he was sick of being the quiet and reserved one.” Stone’s inner turmoil is just as real and grounded as Gina’s, and neither of them can figure out how to move forward together.

It’s this conflict and character building that makes Take the Lead a 5 star romance for me. I cared for both of them, wanting both of them to get what they need and to end up together. It truly takes compromise and work from both of them to find that HEA. Part of the reason I called this book perfect is Alexis Daria’s flawless portrayal of their emotional and physical intimacy. Every steaming glance builds the heat, ever kiss feels earned, and the sex simultaneously builds intimacy and reveals their vulnerabilities. I desperately wanted them to end up together but had no idea how it would happen.

Finally, I think the best books are always having a larger conversation about society and the world. Yes, this book needs a Spotify playlist and a YouTube channel of dance clips. But it’s also as damning an indictment of reality TV as the scripted Lifetime show Unreal. On Twitter, author Cecelia London recommended another novel that takes on reality TV called The Last One by Alexandra Oliva, saying “She really nails the bullshit involved in the way the media is presented to us, and how it creates doubt in our minds.” Take the Lead is doing something similar, but oh so personal. Gina and Stone are caught in the web of expectations of family and society, but I couldn't read it without wondering about the webs keeping me in place, or the webs I am inadvertently weaving for others.

Cross-posted at The Book Queen's blog: http://www.tbqsbookpalace.com/2017/09...

I got this book from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Jena.
532 reviews91 followers
January 25, 2023
3.5 stars
There is something about romances involving dance that just allow them to have the best chemistry. Perhaps it is the characters constantly touching one another, or them having to be attuned to one another's emotions for the sake of the art, but either way I love it. Take the Lead is a quick, cute romance perfect for Valentine's Day season (yes, I consider it a season). I recommend it to romance readers, especially those who like those perfectly cliche movies such as Step Up.
Thank you to NetGalley for the eARC
Profile Image for Anne Boleyn's Ghost.
345 reviews56 followers
August 26, 2018
Take the Lead won the RITA award for "Best First Book", and it is easy to see why. It was a wickedly fun and entertaining read.

For the most part, I hate reality TV. I have a lot of reasons why I hate reality TV, but this is a book review and not a rant about reality TV. Considering the subject matter - a romance between Gina, a Puerto Rican dancer on a reality TV dancing competition, and her partner Stone, who stars on an Alaskan wilderness reality TV show - you can imagine my reluctance. But Daria doesn't shy away from exploring the behind-the-scenes manipulation and exploitation and addresses the reality TV world with both snark and sensitivity.

In a place where real often isn't real at all, the connection between the leads shone true and bright. Gina has a big smile, a big heart, and big dreams. Her ambitions and vulnerabilities were relatable, and Stone, a gentle giant who shies away from the spotlight, proved himself to be a worthy partner both on and off the floor. They supported each other from the beginning, and it was apparent that they will continue to foster and encourage one another's dreams. Their relationship is a sweet slow burn that explodes into a hot, hot, HOT flame.

I believe that conflict is necessary in a romance novel. That said, I didn't care for how the conflict unfolded here. It relied on Stone and Gina behaving in uncharacteristic and unflattering ways. And while the story mostly kept me engaged, it felt slightly uneven at times. There was a bit of cheese, and a few clichés.

But for a first novel, these are things that I could and did overlook. I appreciated the diverse cast of characters, and I hope that we get more stories for them and soon!

Take the Lead is absolutely deserving of the acclaim that it has received. Read it, friends.

Read for SBTB July - September 2018 Quarterly Challenge: A book where the author’s first or last name begins with A.
Profile Image for Xan.
619 reviews274 followers
September 18, 2017
A copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I loved this! It was completely gripping; I stayed up way too late last night because I could not put it down.

I loved these characters so much, fell hard for them both, and particularly for Gina. I was rooting for them all the way, as a couple, as dance partners. I wanted them to get a happy ending. The obstacles and conflict felt so right, they unfolded in a beautiful way.

The heroine is Puerto Rican, and I really appreciated how deeply culturally specific so many aspects of the story were, and really felt for Gina in her fight to push back against sexualized stereotypes of Latinas. The way that was woven into the conflict in the story was brilliant, and had me really invested in her arc.

As a New Yorker, I also really enjoyed how much this book (and Gina) were enamored of NYC, even though so much of it happened in other places. It was lovely to read the NYC set scenes, they were swoony and full of details and just made me really happy. The Central Park scene totally had my heart.

I liked the way the book showed the depth of Stone's discomfort with being sexually objectified and in particular, sexually harassed by one of the other contestants. These things are often excused and made light of when men are being targeted, and I liked that this story didn't do that, that we were shown how very uncomfortable he was with it.

I absolutely adored the dancing in the story. Loved how central it was, how much it was described, it just made me so happy to read that. I got to really sink into the details of the dancing, and the arc of the competition. I also got a kick out of the reality tv aspects of the story, how much it played with the manipulation of reality tv, how that brought them together and how it created obstacles for the romance. So much drama! So much push-pull and forced proximity and intensity and internal and external conflict!

I loved the chemistry between Gina and Stone, it was so hot, and had this lovely thread of tenderness in it too. This translated into the sex scenes, that brought so much heat, and also a lot of heart. Stone was a wonderful match for her; I really got why she fell for him. And I loved how much he adores her and admires her and gets invested in her success.

The resolution of one of the central romantic conflicts caught me a bit by surprise, but after I sat with it for a minute, really worked for me. The other resolutions of the major arcs were extremely satisfying, and one of them around Gina's career, really got me in the feels. This felt like such an intricately woven story, and I loved the way it wrapped up.

A masterful job of pacing and characterization, this romance was a joy to read, and is an incredible debut. I can't wait to read book 2!

Trigger Warnings:
Profile Image for Ⓐlleskelle - That ranting lady ッ.
982 reviews783 followers
December 20, 2017

So here's the thing. I don't like Dancing With The Stars.
I really don't care for it. At. All.
And yet I picked this book.
And furthermore... I'M LOVING IT.

I picked it up because that hooker, Geri from Dirty Girl Romance Book Blog was reading book 2 ('Dance With Me' releases December 12th - http://amzn.to/2BGn2nC) and completely sold me on the idea of a romance between DWTS co-stars.

I mean, although not a fan of the show, I always wondered about dancers acting so in tune and showing off scorching chemistry on the dancefloor... Was this only for show, or could there be more? Yeah, I must admit the romance reader in me fantasized about the idea of the dancer and the celebrity falling for each other.
I'm sure it must have happened in the show, I'm not following at all so I can't say for sure but this sounds like a good premise for romance, right?

Anyway, I'm loving this slow build friends to lovers and can't wait for the next book in the series.
It goes without saying that if you do enjoy Dancing With The Stars and you're looking for a feel good and sexy romance this book is for you!

More reviews and book talk at :

You can find me here too ☞
Profile Image for Lucia.
733 reviews798 followers
January 27, 2018
I had mixed feelings about this book.

At the beginning, I kept thinking that I need more than just physical attraction for romance to work for me. I even contemplated DNFing this book.

But later on, story took the right turn and I could do nothing else but sit back and enjoy the sizzling chemistry between main duo. I didn't even mind (that much) occasional clichés and cheesiness that accompanied the story.

Moreover, I found setting very interesting. I am not a fan of real Dance with the Stars show, yet I had fun reading about it and all other backstage stuff.

Take the Lead is perfect leisure read for laid-back friday evening!
Profile Image for Skye Kilaen.
Author 16 books295 followers
December 25, 2018
Of all the romance novels I've read, this one best qualifies for the title "beach read," and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's a passionate romance between two contestants on a dance competition reality show. Stone Nielsen is an improbably tall (see note below) star of an Alaskan outdoorsy reality show. Gina Morales a Puerto Rican professional dancer who will be his partner and dance teacher for his guest stint on The Dance Off.

If you're looking for something lightweight and entertaining, this is a good pick, and Puerto Rican author Alexis Daria is one to watch going forward. There aren't any surprises here, and the characterization can be a little thin (why did Stone give up his whole life for his family's show?), but I had fun reading the book. Gina and Stone have serious chemistry, and their dance lessons and performances were vivid and enjoyable. Gina's conflicts over avoiding the "sexy Latina" stereotype were real, and I loved watching her succeed professionally in ways that were deeply meaningful to her.

(NOTE: Stone is 6'7", holy crow! Gina is 5'6". The author makes a point early on about how it can be tough to choreograph for such a height difference, then seems to ignore Stone's height for the rest of the book. Every time a new character walks into the room with Stone, they should be like DAMN YOU'RE TALL! And the couple shouldn't be able to accidentally kiss so easily with all of their feet on the ground. Her head comes up to his shoulder!)
Profile Image for Sam (AMNReader).
1,240 reviews266 followers
January 9, 2019
There were so many hopeful glimmers in this book, to the point where I thought I'd be reading a little gem-sneaky diversity with a Brooklyn dancer who is Puerto Rican trying to dodge stereotypes and a reality tv star (formerly engineer) who lives with his family remotely in Alaska.

And, I'm going to be honest up front. The strong silent act on the part of the hero troubled me to the point where I didn't really understand their connection in a meaningful way. I also kept thinking of that family on Alaskan Bush people, and how I am often forced to see snippets of that show. I guess it didn't get off on the right foot. Then there were the parts that, to me, read like fan fiction of Dancing With the Stars, and I thought "I think I was over reality tv romance a long ass time ago"

This is by no means to say I'm not going to continue to read this author - I will. But I also must say there was a lot of heavy-handed lessons on stereotypes, sexism in the industry and whatnot. And for all the heroine's lamenting that she'd been targeted for the 'showmance' she couldn't quite grasp what she had wasn't showmance but romance and it really undermined the whole book for me. What fans did at the olympics with Tessa & Scott was manufacture a romance. I mean, the show producers aren't manufacturing an intimate relationship...if there already is one.

I understand her reluctance to buy into that and be made a victim of it, but the conflict just seemed really juvenile. And I'll continually say this: ambition in characters in romance is incredibly difficult to pull off. And for me, it just didn't work here.

The dancing was fun for a while, but really, it wasn't enough to substitute what I saw as a lack of development in the relationship--one night at salsa and you're together forever I guess.

Meanwhile, I checked how long the epilogue was (estimated 5 minutes) and calculated if that really felt worth my time...
Profile Image for Kat | katreadsit.
267 reviews205 followers
January 9, 2023
“If you’re the pro,” Stone said, doing his best to hold the position she’d put him in, “how am I supposed to lead you?” Gina ducked her head under his arm and peered up at him with an impish smile. “I’ll teach you.”

I think this is perfect if you are in the market for a diverse romance with a Dancing With The Stars style setting! You've got two characters that you want to root for, lots of pining, spice and a look at behind the scenes of reality tv. Plus Stone is MASSIVE, I totally would have watched that.

I think this was a cute debut!

Thank you so much St. Martin's Griffin for an arc in exchange for an honest review!

3/5 ⭐
Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
585 reviews5,590 followers
October 11, 2017
I really enjoyed reading this novel because I love dance competitions, so this book really won me over. I also enjoyed the Puerto Rican culture that’s woven into the story since Gina is a Puerto Rican main character whose ethnicity and culture is very important to her. Her drive to break stereotypes placed on Latinas was like a breath of fresh air to me because I related so hard to her character and everything she stood for which was hard work, perseverance, and dedication.

Stone was also an adorable character to get to know along the way, as well. His gruff demeanor contrasted perfectly with Gina’s personality. Their dynamic was so unique because their relationship blossomed on screen for this reality show, so it was interesting to see how they were pushed together by their producers and their own desire to be together. I loved how healthy and cute their relationship was and I rooted for them to not only win the competition but to win over each other’s hearts at the end of the novel.

While this story was written in a pace that was a bit too fast for me to fully enjoy the characters and their growing relationships, I still enjoyed this story overall for its diversity, well-written dance scenes, and quirkiness that comes along with reality shows. If you love anything to do with dance, a steamy forbidden romance, and a strong-willed female lead, you’ll love Take the Lead.
Profile Image for Jen ♥Star-Crossed Book Blog♥.
505 reviews307 followers
February 20, 2023
Take the Lead was a fun and flirty romance.  If you like reality tv and adult romance, this book may be the perfect fit for you! The story started with Gina Morales going to meet her new dance partner in Alaska.  She was one of the dancers on a show, similar to Dancing With the Stars, who was paired up each season with someone famous.  Gina was a city girl, whereas Stone's family were reality tv stars that thrived in the wilderness. With a rocky start, it was hard to deny that they were both attracted to each other.  And they both had goals they wanted to accomplish. Gina was determined to make it to the finals, since she never had. And Stone was dancing to help pay for his mom's surgery.  Yet the show was setting them up in hopes of a romance, and Gina was determined that's now how she would make it in this industry!
Gina lost herself in the music, in the movement, in the heat of Stone’s body and the warming of her own muscles from physical exertion.

To me, Gina felt a little lonely. She couldn't tell her family anything that was truly going on, since there were secrets surrounding the show. Thankfully she had her good friend Natasha there, who was another professional dancer on the show. But I loved that Gina was beyond confident in her dancing abilities. And I loved how she exuded that will trying to teach Stone how to dance. While dancing could be very intimate, Gina refused to let her feeling towards Stone sway her towards a romance. So she would be hot and cold towards him to keep him at arm’s length. Even though their bodies would be wrapped around each other dancing. But by the end of this story, I was so happy the growth that Gina made! I loved seeing how far she went!
The song ended. In the moment of silence, Stone’s eyes met hers. They stared at each other, breathing hard. He was so close, close enough to kiss.
Except Gina didn’t fuck around with her dance partners.
“I have to go home.” The words fell out of her in a rush, her voice low and breathy.

We alternated the story between Gina and Stone, and Stone was my favorite! I loved seeing inside his heart. He was such a kind, thoughtful, sexy soul. And when he could surprise her with say some of his moves, I was so happy for him. Yet Stone was carrying some huge secrets that went back to his family and their reality tv show. So I felt like Stone always had a weight on his shoulder. And as him and Gina got closer together, he realized that they were still worlds apart. She thrived in the city and he loved the wilderness. But regardless, the chemistry between them was scorching and he wanted more.
He was in too deep, but too tired to care. It was easier to like her, easier to enjoy her company and focus on pleasing her.
When she smiled, he forgot why he was fighting so hard.

Gina and Stone had to spend countless hours a day practicing and rehearsing together. So it was fun watching how their friendship formed so easily. And how comfortable they were around each other physically and emotionally. Not that far into the story they already felt as though they had each other's backs and worked great as a team. Plus it helped that they were both well versed with being on reality tv. They understood that they constantly had to watch what they said or did. Because it could and would be twisted in another way, and then shown to the whole world. So they fought becoming more. Gina wayyyyy more than Stone. But all the while, I loved hearing about their dances and cheering for them each week. The nerves of would they be cut or would they stay? And with work politics to deal with, coworkers that only thought of themselves, and their past not off limits, they lived in a tough world.
Out of habit, she looked up to meet his eyes. What she saw there scared her.
This wasn’t just about attraction anymore. This was mutual respect and trust. She liked him.

With friendships, drunk dancing, steamy moments and even love, Take the Lead was a lot of fun! It was easy to get lost in the pages with this reality tv show! And I loved the epilogue that had a happy look into the future! So if you like adult romance, dancing and reality tv then this may be the book for you!

*I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book, provided by the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*
Profile Image for Kazen.
1,287 reviews296 followers
February 28, 2023
February 2023 review:

Daria has taken this book up an entire notch with its rerelease. The opening scene is more engaging, Stone's motivations and character arc are better developed, we learn more about the other dancers, the prose got a polish, and this cover! What isn't to love?

The only meh part for me is that there's a third act breakup. It's handed well enough, but it's still one of my least favorite tropes, you know? The secrets bothered me the first time around, but I can get along with them in this revised version.

All in all it's an easy recommend to anyone who is even slightly interested in the premise. I hope the rest of the series gets rereleased as well, especially Dance All Night which remains one of my favorite romances of all time ~heart eyes~

Original review:

I’m not a reality television fan but it doesn’t matter, Take the Lead is a fun contemporary romance that charmed me from the beginning.

The good:

- Own voices romance with a Puerto Rican heroine, huzzah!

- The story sucked me in, which doesn’t always happen when I read contemporaries. I like my romances to be a bit separated from normal life and this fits the bill, with two celebrities falling in love while on a competitive tv program.

- Both Stone and Gina know that tv people are kind of evil so neither one is caught off guard when producers push them into a “showmance”. I appreciate that one character doesn’t have to school the other on how Hollywood works, keeping the couple on an even footing.

- I was there for all the dance scenes, despite not being all that into dance.

- The writing is solid, and I wouldn’t have thought this is a debut. Well done.

The not-so-good:

- While I was having fun the show season feels a bit long to me.

- The story trades in secrets and miscommunication, not my favorite tropes.

I really enjoyed this book despite it not being in my romance wheelhouse. So if you like celebrity culture, family secrets, competition, and a tiny slice of (fun!) shenanigans, this is the perfect book for you.

Thanks to Swerve and NetGalley for providing a review copy.
Profile Image for Chachic.
582 reviews205 followers
February 6, 2018
Originally posted as a bookstagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/Be3KS4_Fld_/

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria is a contemporary romance that has gotten a lot of buzz on romance Twitter. I jumped at the chance to read it when the title went on sale for 1.99usd. Partially set in Alaska, New York and California, this is a romance between a professional dancer and a celebrity on a survival TV show, as they're paired together on a dance competition. The heroine has to teach the hero to dance as they compete with other couples on the reality TV show.

I thought it started off strong, I really enjoyed the way the hero and heroine met. They obviously had chemistry and I was looking forward to seeing how that would play out. Unfortunately, there was way too much dramarama in this book for me. I felt like the characters kept on harping on the same issues, and they were being stubborn and petulant instead of trying to find a compromise. I think I also enjoyed this less than other readers did because I'm not a fan of reality TV, and I've never even seen a single episode of Dancing With the Stars, which this book is based on. The pace was so slow that I found myself skimming some parts.

I really wanted to enjoy this but sadly, I have to say that Take the Lead wasn't my cup of tea. Still planning to read more romance this month, and keeping my fingers crossed that I'll come across some titles that will stand out for me.
Profile Image for TheEuphoricZat.
1,160 reviews34 followers
June 9, 2019
Just think of a splash between Dancing with the Stars and Jungle Jim.
It's Gina's fifth season on the Dance Off and she has never won once but for this season she is determined to win.
She is then paired with a reality TV star of the popular TV show, Living Wild. From there first meeting Gina and Stone would identify the sizzling attraction between them.
Soon the secrets they are both keeping threatens to tear them apart.
I really loved this book and I would definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Mari.
701 reviews4,651 followers
July 1, 2019
I'm not a huge fan of dance-based (or any) reality TV, but I really enjoyed this. It felt like a story within a story because it had the show and behind the scenes. I loved both the main characters and how this effortlessly wove in aspects of latinx culture, what it mean for Gina to be a latinx woman in the industry, romance and fun. I also really liked Stone. He's a soft boy mountain man, idk what else you could ask for.
Profile Image for Coral.
776 reviews27 followers
October 1, 2017
Mind-blowing, heart-wrenching, tear-jerker.
Okay, I exaggerate.
We're talking about a book on reality TV. Actually, its 2 reality TV shows. Where things are exaggerated, faked, blown totally out of proportion for the sake of ratings.

Gina, a born dancer waiting for her big break is in danger of losing her current shot to fame by not pandering to what the tv exec wanted by playing up the stereotypes. She especially do not need an attraction to someone who is going to be a partner whom the producer wants her to play a romance with.

Stone is tired of faking it for reality TV but his family depends on the income. Where he's usually portrayed as the strong, silent one in his family show because of his inability to lie convincingly, he is now trusted into the limelight and has to depend on Gina on how to navigate the dance show world.

By the forth chapter, I had my heart out for Stone. He has to carry the burden of so many secrets which he is not comfortable with for his family. With Gina's insistence that they keep their relationship secret, he gets more and more stressed keeping the secrets.

I was initially annoyed with Gina with her constant push and pull with Stone, with her stubborn insistent of keeping their relationship secret because in her view it will only affect her professional reputation. But I realise later on, it is her masking her real worries about what happens when the show is over and when Stone leaves her. Its her first time falling in love and she doesn't know how to handle it.

I love how the author sticks to using the dance competition each week as catalyst for each change in the relationship and the interactions with other competitors are kept to a minimum, only when it affects the main characters.

I'm surprised to note that this is the author's debut novel. I'm eagerly waiting for other goodies from her.

Plot: 4.5/5
Characterisation: 4.5/5
Prose: 4/5
How much I enjoyed it: 5/5

ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review
Profile Image for Laura C..
509 reviews3 followers
February 8, 2018
I am all about the guilty pleasure of a good romance-- or even a badly written romance that makes you care about the characters-- but this was just bad. So repetitive, so much time spent in the characters' very boring, one-dimensional heads. When your English teacher said show it, don't tell it, there was a reason. Even the sex was bad. As demonstrated by this classic line, ".... and his cock still cried out for her."

Lol! That and the dancing butterflies.
Profile Image for readabookonce.
115 reviews11 followers
January 4, 2023
A mountain man who BLUSHES whenever he’s asked a slightly flirty question? CUTE

Gina, a professional dancer on Dancing with the Stars The Dance Off, is paired with Stone, a reality star on his family’s show Living Wild.

It was fun exploring the “realities” of reality TV. I felt completely immersed into The Dance Off. I was rooting for some partners and was sad to see when they were eliminated. Even Stone’s show was compelling. His family dynamics on & off screen were written so well.

The romance was lacking in comparison. Stone and Gina’s tension was done really well, and for half the book, I was ready for them to be together. However, after they hook up for the first time, we kind of time skip and gloss over their beginning as a couple. We go from sexual tension to settled into a (kinda) relationship. They still had incredible chemistry, but they became boring.

Gina’s point about not wanting to be sexualized because she’s Latina is understandable and explained well. Her reluctance to being in a relationship with a costar made sense, but it was frustrating to watch her insist nobody could know they were together while doing very little to conceal it. Oh, I was caught leaving your hotel by the paparazzi? Well, how about we make out at work?

During the third act conflict, both characters acted incredibly out-of-character. Stone, who is normally so understanding and patient, acted against Gina’s wishes. When she found out, she reacted so bitterly despite never lashing out verbally toward others when they messed up.

Overall, Take the Lead was an engaging read. As someone who enjoys competitive reality shows, this book gave me everything I could’ve hoped for: drama.


Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for this copy of Take the Lead by Alexis Daria.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,831 reviews1,862 followers
January 15, 2023
If you’re a fan of Dancing With the Stars and like romance novels this is the book for you. I am a fan of the show and I really enjoyed having a reality TV show as the backdrop for a romance. It was super interesting to see behind the scenes and I thought the author did a great job at portraying that aspect. Gina and Stone had great chemistry instantly, there’s something so sexy and intimate about ballroom dance and their dance scenes were almost as hot as the actual sex scenes. Despite the reality tv setting this still had lots of depth too with Gina dealing with being a woman of color in a brutal industry. This was actually the authors debut back in 2017 and it’s being rereleased with a new cover! So a solid debut and since we’ve seen what the author can do this just places her firmly in my must read author list.
Profile Image for Jenica.
1,102 reviews43 followers
February 27, 2023
Re-Read of Updated Traditionally Published Version

I have loved Daria's writing since I read Take the Lead for the first time in February of 2018 and I was so excited when she first announced that St. Martin's was going to re-publish her debut novel with updates! And if all of y'all would kindly read and rave about this book, I would be so appreciative because Dance with Me is book two in this series and my personal favorite. So I really need St. Martin's to get with the program and go ahead and agree that they'll publish it too. (I am begging.)

Essentially, Take the Lead follows Puerto Rican professional dancer Gina who is one of the stars The Dance Off (think DWTS) and her producer is a bit of a nightmare who decides to push a showmance on Gina with her new partner, Stone. Now, Stone is the "strong and silent type" on his family's show about living off the grid in Alaska. The two of them have an immediate electric connection, but Gina refuses to get slotted into the sexy Latina stereotype so she is extremely resistant to giving into the connection between them. Stone is struggling with his own stuff too about how much he can share about the truth of his life.

What I love about this book is the way Daria describes the dancing and the connection between Stone and Gina. What I struggled with a little bit this time around is that I really, really don't know how I feel about the third act conflict through to the resolution of this book. And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with the way the third act of this book is handled, but for my personal preferences, it didn't work for me as much this time as it did when I was pretty early in my romance reading journey back in 2018. That said, my excitement for the future of this series knows no bounds and I repeat, I am begging St. Martin's to please, please publish Dance with Me because Natasha and Dimitri are everything. Okay, that is all.

Thanks so much to Netgalley for the e-ARC!


This book has gotten so much hype in Romancelandia and holy cow, it is deserved. Basically a book version of Dancing with the Stars, featuring our very competent professional dancer, Gina, and her reality star partner, Stone. Stone is gorgeous and Gina's producer wants her to have a showmance with him, but Gina is very concerned about being a Latina woman in Hollywood and protecting herself from the over-sexualized stereotypes that she feels would threaten her career path. And yet, resisting her attraction to Stone is proving more difficult than she thought.

I absolutely adored this book and immediately purchased the second in the duology. Daria's writing style connected with me immediately and I was so sucked in to the story!
Profile Image for Julia | Romance Book Expert.
157 reviews33 followers
October 17, 2022
Selena Gomez and Thor find love 😂 Yes yes yes!! This book was everything! I’m so excited to read more of this series. I love the dancing and Latine culture. Made me smile :)

The book has:
- Guy Falls First
- Opposites Attract
- Film Romance (Reality TV Dance Show)
- Friendly Giant

Thank you to Alexis Daria and St.Martins Press for the ARC. I’m excited that this book will be traveling across the US so other readers can enjoy.

Wanna join us? Apply here: https://forms.gle/iPE9eAkBg3ujFNkE7
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