I wanted to like this so much more than I actually did. Like, trade secret here, even though I do not enjoy most reality TV, I realllllly enjoy reading about characters in books or stories (and fanfic, let’s be honest) being on reality TV competitions. (This is similar to me not really liking sports, but loving stories about people who play sports. Why? Shrug.)
Take the Lead is Alexis Daria’s first novel, and I think you can tell. It was very uneven for me. One minute I’d be super into it, the next I’d be pulled completely out of the story and thinking to myself, well, I wouldn’t have done it like that. Which is kind of a dick thing to think but still, if it had been completely solid I wouldn’t have been thinking it.
Stone (yes that is his real name) and Gina are partners on a Dancing with the Stars analogue called Dance Off. Gina is a dancing pro who is determined to win this season (her job is on the line) and Stone (yes that is his real name) is a member of a large survivalist family famous for living off the grid in Alaska. He is a 6’7″, long-haired, bearded hunk of a man. The only reason he’s doing the show is to earn money for his mother’s medical bills. He doesn’t anticipate lasting long. But the producers set up the single Gina for a showmance with Stone (yes that is still his real name), which she is completely resistant to. She has spent her whole career resisting the sexy Latina stereotype, and wants any success she has to based off her skills and her own hard work, not her sexuality. It’s not in either of their best interests to fall in love with the other.
So like I said, parts of this I was super into. I loved all the reality TV stuff, particularly Stone’s character arc and his SPOILERS eventual rejection of his family’s show, Living Wild, which was all fake anyway. It was fascinating to see the behind the scenes work going into a show like this. Daria did a great job the whole way through on using this setting to her advantage in their pairing.
For me, the problems came at the important moments. Their first sex scene felt off to me. I still haven’t pinpointed it, but it felt out of character and a little forced. Their actual emotional relationship didn’t get much build-up until about halfway through. Up until then it was just a lust connection, which stopped being interesting after a while. Earlier emotional development for them would have helped a lot, I think. And I also think that she goofed on two other important moments in their relationship: their reunion, and the epilogue, which was cheesy as hell and completely implausible (SPOILER he ended up as a model??? what??!). I just didn’t feel those moments, and those are the key moments! The sex scene, the final getting together scene, and the HEA. And none of them really worked for me, even as all the stuff surrounding them really did. (In contrast, Daria absolutely nailed the complex emotional scene near the end between Gina and her mom and sister, so I know she’s got skills.)
I will read book two and give her another shot, but it very well may be that Daria won’t be an author I regularly read going forward.