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Raw and Beautiful: Playing with Fire by L.J. Shen

This is definitely L.J. Shen's best work to date! It's so raw and beautiful!

by L.J. Shen
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Publication Date: 
September 15th 2020 by Self-Published
Format: Paperback
Source: Author
Rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads | Amazon
A broken boy on the path to destruction.
A scarred girl without direction.
A love story carved in secrets, inked with pain and sealed with a lie.

Grace Shaw and West St. Claire are arctic opposites.
She is the strange girl from the food truck.
He is the mysterious underground fighter who stormed into her sleepy Texan college town on his motorcycle one day, and has been wreaking havoc since.
She is invisible to the world.
He is the town’s beloved bad boy.
She is a reject.
He is trouble.
When West thrusts himself into Grace’s quiet life, she scrambles to figure out if he is her happily-ever-after or tragic ending.
But the harder she pushes him away, the more he pulls her out of her shell.
Grace doesn’t know much about anything beyond her town’s limits, but she does know this:
She is falling in love with the hottest guy in Sheridan U.
And when you play with fire—you ought to get burned.
It was before the 100-page marked that I realized this book was something special, when I realized that this could very well be LJ Shen’s best work to date, and I was right.

Shen wrote a story about a girl who was less than perfect with her looks, all due to an accident. This girl, Grace, used to thrive in the limelight, lived for the attention, and most importantly, depended on her looks to achieve her goals. When a fire occurred, and her left side of the body, especially her face, received the worst of it, she became a shell. She wore hoodies in 100+ degree weather (Texan weather) and ball caps to hide her face.

The worst day of your life gave me the best version of you.

West’s life changed after turning 17-years-old. He lost someone very dear to him and years later, he’s literally paying for it. He fights on Friday’s and uses the money to send it to his parents. He’s going through college without a care in the world, lives for the one-night-stand. But one look at Grace has him questioning everything.

"Hi, Grace's pus*y. It's me. West. We meet again. Actually, we can't met face-to-lips yet. I usually send my errand boy your way. You might know him---tall, thick, accompanied by a couple nuts?"

I just want to protect West and Grace for life. These two characters got under my skin and decided to build their home there. Grace has already gone through a lot, add to that her grandma suffering from Alzheimer’s and not wanting any help. Her plate is entirely full, but even then, she’s so devoted to her grandma and her closest friend. But even this sweet personality came to an end where West was involved.

"Clearly, you've never taken care of someone."
"Clearly, you're talking out of your ass."
"My ass still makes more sense than your mouth."
"Don't know about that, sweetheart, but it's a great ass, so I enjoy listening."

The banter and sass these two threw at each other was electrifying. Grace gave it to West real good, and I kept rooting so hard for her! She never backed down from any comment West threw at her, which would make West laugh, and West hasn’t really laughed since he was 17.

Scar tissue never bothered me---my heart was 100% made out of that shit. But she had an attitude the size of Mississipi, and I had a strict no bitch-porking policy in place.

Back to the sass and snarky comments, this is probably one of the best I’ve read. I love banter like the ones in Playing with Fire! LJ Shen checked off all of my boxes!

While the banter was fantastic, seeing these two slowly come together was magical and beautiful. They went from hating each other, to becoming friends, to ultimately realizing they cared for each other in more ways than one. The way West cares for Grace melted my heart. Right from the start, he was already treating her differently than anyone else in his life. He truly helped her in rising from the ashes and becoming a wonderful woman.

"When I look at you, I see a fighter. I see resilience and strength and defiance that no one can touch. You take my breath away, and no one---and nothing---will change that."

Another thing I loved from this story is that West and Grace were both so flawed, physically and emotionally. It wasn’t pretty, yet there was beauty even in the ugly. They both fought for each other, and forced one another to accept their flaws, to embrace them. Because of everything they went through together and how their relationship was, I truly felt their friendship/relationship was genuine, their feelings were genuine and real.

"I will walk through fire for you."

There’s so much more I want to say, but they would be spoilers. All I can say is that LJ Shen threw it out of the ballpark with this story. She took characters that were tainted and broken, and molded them to raise up, like a phoenix, from the ashes.

Playing with Fire is a raw and heart-felt story about two flawed, yet real characters that will get under your skin and stay there for life. It’s a story about rebirth, love, accepting oneself, friendship, overcoming difficult situations, and ultimately, rising above it all.

"Every time we were together, we smashed each other's walls with a hammer. It was ruthless. She put a mirror to my face. I put a mirror to hers. We saw each other at our best and worst. We made each other face our fears and insecurities and loneliness."

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