Daria, Alexis. Take the Lead. (Dance Off #1) St. Martin’s, 2023. 352pp. ISBN 9781250817969 $17.99
This remastered romance novel gets a facelift with updated text and an artful cover. Strong silent type Alaska native Stone Neilson stars with his family in a roughing it wilderness show; he is paired with vivacious Puerto Rican dancer Gina on a Dancing with the Stars-type reality television dance competition. He needs to help pay for his mother’s hip replacement surgery, and keep the truth about his family’s backstory quiet. Meanwhile, Gina is looking for a bigger break to launch her career, and if she and her dance partner don’t make it as finalists this year, she’s out of a job. Her boss is itching for some showmance between them to bring in the ratings.
In movies, the way a couple dances together–intense, playful, timid–is supposed to serve as a metaphor for how they are in the sack together. Part of Stone’s character growth is understanding how dance can convey emotion. In spite of his lack of formal training, he’s a quick learner with a good teacher. Gina is resistant to a relationship with a dance partner for personal and professional reasons, but their attraction is immediate and palpable, and she gives in. Their chemistry is both a boon and liability. They foxtrot, tango, jive, rumba and more, mostly scoring high throughout the completion. Some mean-girl antics from a fellow competitor, support from some crew members, and scheming from the producer round out the drama of this tale.
High on dance moves, fashion details, and peppered with Spanish, the writing is straight forward but solid. I appreciated the Puerto Rican cultural details and that the author didn’t feel the need to translate any words or phrases, but skillfully conveyed meaning to the reader through context. My two quibbles: the author–or editor–chose to leave some dramatic competition scenes off the page. Sometimes we get more details about rehearsal than the pivotal moments! Secondly, probing conversations with well-meaning parents are so short they seem abrupt.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TakeTheLead from #NetGalley.