My Review: I originally had no plans to review this book. It was one of those filler stories I decided to use as a quick read before I started something new. However, after reading the book and trying to sum up my feelings in a few sentences on goodreads.com, I came to realize that this story affected me more than I initially thought. And to be quite honest, I still don't know exactly how I feel about it. Belle Aurora definitely pushes a lot of boundaries with RAW. Boundary pushing/crossing can be a good thing. It provides a challenge to readers, such as myself, who yearn for something different in a genre that is overwhelmed with the same formula. That being said, in order for a new concept to work, it has to be executed with care. Thus the problem with RAW.
The above synopsis is a bit vague so I will give you a brief summary as to what the story is about without major spoilers. Alexa is a social worker and damn good at her job. She loves helping troubled kids and this probably stems from her own troubled childhood. She has two best friends, Nikki and Dave (who is gay). This is not your typical love story mainly because Alexa's love interest just so happens to be her stalker. Yes...I said stalker. She has known for quite some time (a year or more if I remember correctly) that she is being watched. Instead of feeling uneasy, she feels safe and even gets disappointed during the times when she senses he is not there watching her. Weird right? Anyway, one evening after work, she is nearly raped outside her apartment building. And that's when her stalker, Twitch, comes to her rescue...
First, let's talk about the good. Belle Aurora knows how to write some very interesting characters. Twitch is the epitome of the anti-hero. I give the author credit for creating such a "no apologies" type character. Some readers will hate him, some will find him disgusting, some will wonder how can anyone find any kind of appeal in Twitch. I, myself, went through my own roller coaster of emotions. I had a hard time, in the beginning, finding any kind of redeeming qualities and almost, ALMOST, stopped reading the book. I'll get to that in a moment.
I had some issues with Alexa, but overall, I liked the fact that she was a social worker that truly wanted the best for the kids she was assigned. She would bend over backwards for any of them. She never got discouraged and realized very early on in her career that it's all about trust and being a person of your word when working with kids coming from dysfunctional homes and backgrounds.
Twitch surrounded himself with quite a few colorful characters. The ever loyal Happy (don't let the name fool you, he can be vicious and gets the job done). Ling, who I completely despised at first because of her vindictive ways, but later begrudgingly grew to respect after learning her horrific upbringing. And Julius, Twitch's best friend who reveals some of Twitch's heartbreaking childhood to Alexa so that she could see the full picture and not give up on him. It was a scene that surprised me, so well written and brought unexpected tears to my eyes.
Belle Aurora not only has a knack for creating interesting, flawed characters, but she also has this ability to sneak in bits of humor and heartache when you least expect it. I can't give away the heartache part-- all I can do is keep reiterating the point that the woman is not afraid to cross a line. I can say that I thought the friendly rivalry between Alexa's best friends Nikki and Dave was hilarious, and it has something to do with Happy. If you read the book, you will see what I mean!
So here is what I had issues with and why RAW was so hard to rate. In normal romances that follow the "bad boy/good girl" formula, the "bad boy" hero usually saves the girl and shows a more tender side despite trying to convince the girl that he is no good for her. And by the end of those types of novels, the reader comes to realize that the "bad boy" is really not that bad at all. Well, Twitch definitely does NOT fit into that mold. Nope, Twitch really is a bad boy. Or maybe I should say, a bad guy. A true anti-hero. He's the head of a drug cartel. He kills people. He was an addict (good for him for kicking the habit). He has quite a few unhealthy habits and relationships with his friends and major anger issues; I mean, the beat-you-to-within-an-inch-of-your-life-if-you-look-at-me-the-wrong-way, kind of anger issues.
I almost stopped reading RAW because I didn't quite know how to handle Twitch and his abrasive personality at first. After Alexa is almost raped and he comes in to save her, I expected him to be gentle with her, comforting. Some may argue that he was, but I guess their first sex scene together is what kept replaying in my mind and it was the first sex scene I've ever read that actually did NOT turn me on. Three days after she was nearly raped, Alexa decides she is ready to jump into bed with him. Twitch warns her that there is only one way he "f*cks" and it's "dirty", and it's the kind of dirty that "doesn't wash off". While that excited me at first, what followed did not. The only way I can described the sex between them was ROUGH. Like, rougher than rough. I like rough sex scenes where the alpha male asserts his dominance, pins the woman down or spanks her, or gives her demands/orders, etc., etc. But when he took his belt and put it around her neck....and he was choking her...yeah. I don't know why this scene disturbed me, but it did. Maybe because her being nearly raped just days earlier was so fresh in my mind.
I still don't know how I feel about it. And this is what I mean about crossing boundaries with care. I know that sounds crazy but, the scene just didn't feel believable. Yes, I know that their are couples that have rough sex, have rape fantasies and act out these fantasies in roleplay. There is even another sex scene later in the book between Twitch and Alexa that does just that (and it was a scene that I had a better time accepting since I was prepared for it and at that point they had built some trust between each other). But to be almost raped and then 3 days later she is allowing a complete stranger to put a belt around her neck, hitting her to the point of pain, a couple of times she tells him to stop and he doesn't...it was a very uncomfortable scene to get through.
I'm not trying to put all the blame on Twitch-- I had some issues with Alexa too. I already stated that she was aware of being stalked for a year and didn't feel the need to tell anyone. She was almost raped then 3 days later decides to have sex with her stalker-- UNPROTECTED sex. Yeah, that I just couldn't believe. Even though she beats herself up over it later, she still continues to do it. And I guess she annoyed me because Twitch pretty much treated her like crap, talked to her like crap quite a bit and she kept going back for more. She was way too forgiving. I get why, trust me I do. She knows before she even finds out his story that he had a dysfunctional childhood/past and like the kids on her case load, she doesn't want to "give up" on him. But damn, girl. You don't need to be a walking doormat!
Despite my concern and feeling a bit disturbed after reading their first sex scene together, I decided to stick with it to see how the story unfolds. And I am glad I did. We do learn why Twitch is the way he is and his agenda behind treating Alexa so scathingly in the beginning. But I think the story suffers from poor editing, pacing, and incomplete plot points. There are quite a few grammatical/spelling mistakes; that I could handle. What irritated me the most were the many times the author would introduce something new to the plot but seemed to forget to expand on it or tie up loose ends. This of course can affect the pacing of a novel, and in the case of RAW, the ending (before the epilogue) was a sloppy mess. It was very frantic, rushed, and a bit unsatisfying considering the type of confession Twitch finally has enough guts to give to Alexa. I wanted to see her explode, detonate, freak out, perhaps need some time to digest everything and then see Twitch grovel, beg for forgives, etc., etc. But the pacing at the end was just all wrong. A good editor (or some beta readers) could have easily helped fix those issues, to have a more emotional, effective ending.
RAW is probably the hardest book I've had to rate, but I feel comfortable with giving it 3.5 stars. This review is a warning as much as it is a review. It's my way to give other readers a heads up, because this book is not for the faint of heart. If you like bad boy heroes, that's great, but Twitch doesn't quite fit that mold and you need to be okay with the fact that he is seriously flawed and more the anti-hero. Rape and forced sex roleplaying is HUGE in this book. I can't stress that enough. And I think it is important to say that you need to be okay with bittersweet endings. RAW, as of right now, is a stand alone novel. So unless the author plans on expanding it into a series...
Despite all of my initial reservations and warnings to potential readers, I must say again that I give Belle Aurora credit for writing a "romance" story that steers away from the normal formula we expect and giving us something so...raw.