College, Enemies to Lovers, Opposites Attract, Romance, Scarred heroine

Playing with Fire by L.J. Shen


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.

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A favorite author of mine recommended this book and I can’t praise it enough.  I could not put it down.  The writing is phenomenal, the characters are tortured and scarred, and the secrets are shocking and heartbreaking.

Fire symbolized beauty, fury, and rebirth. Too bad in my case, it symbolized nothing but my demise.

Grace Shaw is defined by her scars. The fire that put them there is something her small town will never forget. It destroyed her self-esteem, her friendships, and her high school sweetheart dumped her. She only had three people that stood by her side: her Gram, her best friend Karlie, and her Gram’s caregiver, Marla. Grace prefers hiding her scars under makeup, a baseball cap, and a hoodie. She hates the way people react to her face with either disgust and/or pity. And then bad boy, West St. Claire, steps up to the food truck window where she works. With his cold green eyes and rude sarcastic remarks, he proceeds to get a job working alongside Grace. And the sparks begin to fly!

West St. Claire had the uncanny ability to do nice things and still act like a complete and utter jerk about it.

West St. Claire is a myth at Sheridan University. He is a bully and an underground fighter who prefers one-night stands to any kind of close relationship.  A man of few words and even less fucks to give, he has a death wish and a dark secret that tortures his soul.  No one can pierce the wall he’s put up until the very feisty and intriguing Grace “Texas” Shaw blows into his life. 

Grace and West’s scars are both external and internal. Their pasts are messed up and their present isn’t so great either.  The dynamics between Grace and West are so fun to watch with the whole enemies-to-lovers trope.  The way they bring out the best in each other is so perfect. Their strengths complement each other as West sees the beautiful woman inside and out and Grace sees the charming and good man he hides from others. The slow build of attraction is so lovely as these two broken souls find the love they deserve. However, there are decisions made which are like watching a trainwreck as Grace’s insecurities and West’s lack of trust in himself start to implode their relationship. West makes a publicly humiliating and heartbreaking scene to protect Grace, but in the end, he does redeem himself by making a beautiful grand gesture that had me tearing up. 

There are a number of great supporting characters. Grace’s Gram is quirky and sad as her memory slowly deteriorates leaving Grace with the difficult decision of putting her in a home. Karlie, Grace’s best friend, is the only friend that stayed with her after the fire and she has Grace’s back through thick and thin. Easton, West’s best friend, is another great friend who is essential to West’s humanity. 

I am so delighted to recommend this incredible love story about survival and letting things go that you can’t change. It’s about being strong and not giving people the power of making you feel less than you are. I am definitely putting this on my list of favorite reads of 2021.


Playing with Fire

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L.J. Shen is an International #1 best-selling author of Contemporary Romance and New Adult novels. She lives in Northern California with her husband, young son and chubby cat.

Before she’d settled down, L.J. (who thinks referring to herself in the third person is really silly, by the way) traveled the world, and collected friends from all across the globe. Friends who’d be happy to report that she is a rubbish companion, always forgets peoples’ birthdays and never sends Christmas cards.

She enjoys the simple things in life, like spending time with her family and friends, reading, HBO, Netflix and internet-stalking Stephen James. She reads between three to five books a week and firmly believes Crocs shoes and mullets should be outlawed.

Follow L.J. on her website, Newsletter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.