REVIEW: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas
Dear Ms. Kleypas:
I may be in the minority of readers in this, but I really prefer your contemporary books to your historicals. I find your contemporary voice more confident, fluent, and engaging, and, more specifically, I find Travis series books reliable comfort reads. Since we already had reviews of Sugar Daddy and Smooth Talking Stranger posted, Jane asked me if I wanted to write a view of Blue-Eyed Devil. I readily agreed, not only because it rounds out our coverage of the Travis series, but also because I think the novel’s treatment of domestic violence is an ever-timely and important discussion subject.
When Haven Travis defies her father’s wishes by marrying college boyfriend Nick Tanner, she is determined that she and Nick will be blissfully happy and she will never need her father – or his money. Which is a good thing, since Churchill Travis informs his daughter he will disinherit her if she goes through with the marriage. Churchill is a proud and arrogant man, but perhaps he also knows something about Nick that the young and naïve Haven does not yet see: the insecurities that express themselves through physical and emotional abuse of Haven. Still, it takes quite a while for Haven – who has inherited no small portion of her father’s pride – to break free of Nick’s control, and when she finally makes the phone call home, after Nick beat her and literally threw her out of the house, she calls her big brother Gage, who wastes no time in getting Haven back to Houston and, if he has his way, rapidly out of her violent marriage.
Because that’s the thing about the Travis men: they are charming as hell but too used to wielding their own power unchecked. Protective rather than abusive toward their women, the control is nonetheless the last thing Haven can stomach, having been controlled in almost every way by Nick. Still, it’s a long road back for Haven emotionally, and even as she makes substantial strides in her life – working for her brother Jack’s leasing company; divorcing Nick; undertaking psychotherapy – she still has a great deal of fear around men. So it’s no surprise that when she runs into Hardy Cates – her sister-in-law’s trailer park teenage crush and now a wealthy Houston oil man – she can literally feel the long-healed aches in her body from her final beating from Nick. And yet she is drawn to Hardy, too, just as she was in her family’s dark wine cellar when she accidentally kissed Hardy at Gage and Liberty’s wedding. Well the first kiss was accidental, at least, until she realized it wasn’t Nick who was wreaking such havoc on her sexual nerves. That long-ago kiss sealed the attraction between Haven and Hardy, though, and when they see each other again, Hardy is intent on taking things to the next level.
Hardy, of course, has no idea about Haven’s experience with Nick. In fact, he still sees in her a bit of a spoiled college girl whose apparent liberalism was more intellectual snobbery than authentic sentiment. So when Haven tends to act a bit standoffish in response to his assertive, even aggressive pursuit, Hardy isn’t sure she’s merely skittish or a tease, and he tries even harder to win her over, purchasing a condo in the Travis building where Haven works, buying her a gift that brings back memories of Haven’s childhood, and inviting her to a dance with him in front of her family, who see him as a no good, lying jerk who will take advantage of Haven if given half a chance (this aspect of the relationship was developed in Sugar Daddy, where Hardy tries to take Liberty away from Gage and interferes with an important Travis business deal).
Haven is not sure how to feel about Hardy’s pursuit. Part of her refuses to trust his motives, but another part is strongly drawn to the man her best friend Todd describes as “’[c]ool, tough retro-manly. The kind who only cries if someone just ran over his dog. The big-chested guy we can indulge our pathetic daddy complexes with.’” Although Todd also discerns that Hardy is more than he seems, a “’bending-the-rules, foxy, conniving twisted’” kind of guy who uses his “’aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-redneck routine’” to “’set people up” before he “goes in for the kill.’” In fact, Todd notes how much like Haven’t own father Hardy is in his “calculated underplaying,” which makes Haven even more wary of Hardy’s charm and intelligence. Indeed, Hardy uses a deft mixture of gentleness, charm, and forthright pressure with Haven that keeps her off balance but also keeps her coming back for more.
One of the things that drives me bonkers in Romance novels is a heroine supposedly recovering from abuse who somehow unconsciously recognizes that the hero is “safe” for her and has little compunction about jumping into a relationship – and into bed – with him. But one of my favorite aspects of Blue-Eyed Devil is that Haven and Hardy’s relationship does not follow that easy path. Like Haven, the reader wants to feel that Hardy is safe, but we still remember what he pulled in Sugar Daddy, making him a bit dangerous (or a bit contradictory in character, something I’ll address later). And Haven, who had almost no relationship or sexual experience before Nick, is doubly disadvantaged around a guy like Hardy, who is widely known for his bedroom looks and skills and ignorant of Haven’s history. A born seducer, Hardy pushes her sexually, and when she pushes back, he gets angry:
“Like hell I was pushing you. You wanted it.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Hardy.”
He looked flushed and dangerously aroused and annoyed as hell. Slowly he began to restore his own clothing. When he spoke again, his voice was low and controlled. “There’s a word, Haven, for a woman who does what you’re doing.”
“I’m sure you know a lot of interesting words,” I said. “Maybe you should go tell them to someone else.”
As much as I hated Hardy in this scene, I loved that Hardy makes this misstep, because it shows him to be a mere mortal, vulnerable in his own way. Because Hardy has a history, too – he got himself out of a trailer park and into the Houston social scene all by himself, and his own family history is even darker and more violent than what Haven experienced. Which makes his attraction to Haven very believable, even logical, in the same way that Haven’t attraction to a man who reminds her of her approval-withholding father is. For many readers, this kind of psychological layering makes Blue-Eyed Devil an “issue book,” but for me it’s really a book about people who have issues that make them good for each other but in really complicated and not-instantly negotiated ways.
Still, the story is romance at heart, and there is a certain amount of tension between the way the book tries to show Haven’s emotional journey in an authentic way and the almost fairy tale happiness we know Haven and Hardy will ultimately enjoy. For example, when Nick shows up to harass Haven before one of her dates with Hardy, it triggers an extreme emotional reaction in Haven that brings her relationship with Hardy to a crisis:
“. . . I’m broken.” I blotted my eyes with a shirtsleeve. “I wish I’d slept with someone before I married Nick, because at least then I’d have some good experience with sex. As it is, though. . .”
Hardy watched me intently. “That night of the theater opening. . . you had a flashback when I was kissing you, didn’t you? That’s why you took off like a scalded cat.”
I nodded. “Something in my mind clicked, and it was like I was with Nick, and all I knew was that I had to get away or I would be hurt.” . . .
“I guess it’s over now,” I said bravely. “Right?”
“Is that what you want?”
My throat clenched. I shook me head.
“What do you want, Haven?”
“I want you,” I burst out, and the tears spilled over again. “But I can’t have you.”
Hardy moved closer, gripping my head in his hands, forcing me to look at him. “Haven, sweetheart . . . you’ve already got me.”
I looked at him through a hot blur. His eyes were filled with anguished concern and fury. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “And you’re not broken. You’re scared, like any woman would be, after what that son of a bitch did.” A pause, a curse, a deep breath. An intent stare. “Will you let me hold you now?”
On the one hand, I was moved by Hardy’s reaction when he finally learns about Haven’s past and starts putting all the mixed signals into logical order, but I also saw the way the scene was set up to push Hardy and Haven into physical intimacy so the romance arc can progress. So as many ways as we can see Haven struggling to move forward –taking back her personal agency, trying to deal alone with a sociopathically abusive boss, freak outs with Hardy, ongoing therapy, etc. – we know where things are going with Hardy, and while there’s a lot of comfort in that, there is also the necessity of getting Haven recovered enough to have a healthy relationship in a timeframe that suits the romantic arc (i.e. condensed).
Additionally there is the problem of Hardy. In Sugar Daddy he showed himself to be ruthless and selfish, willing to betray a hard-won trust to get what he wanted. But by Blue-Eyed Devil we’re supposed to be willing to put our own trust in Hardy as an appropriate partner for the somewhat fragile Haven, which means we have to know he’s fundamentally a good guy. If readers are not familiar with the first book in the series, this might not seem like such a problem; however, if they are reading the series in order, Hardy feels a little artificially rehabilitated for the second book.
Still, Hardy is not a perfect man in Blue-Eyed Devil, even though we know from the beginning that he is The One for Haven. His missteps give his own character depth and let us know that he is a man who understands destructive family dynamics and has his own self-destructive streak to manage. Moreover, we see what Haven gives to Hardy rather than merely seeing Hardy as someone who will “save” Haven and bring her happiness. Hardy’s own background and his own unraveling during the course of the novel reveal the extent to which Hardy needs saving, too, and the extent to which both Hardy and Haven need a compassionate, protective, trustworthy partner.
At heart, though, I read Blue-Eyed Devil as Haven’s story. In fact, I find the whole series to be very heroine-centric, which may be one reason I like them so much. It’s not that the romance is peripheral or unimportant, or the men forgettable (in fact, they’re all very imposing, dynamic, handsome men); it’s that I find the heroine’s journey about more than one in which she finds love with the hero. Haven has to find the road back to being able to trust and accept herself and be confident in who she is. And Hardy is, indeed, a delicious counterpart, his love for Haven as big and powerful as he is. As I said, this book (and the series as a whole) is a comfort read for me – engaging, emotionally fulfilling, and psychologically satisfying despite its flaws and inconsistencies. B
Perhaps it’s a minority of two. I’d read some Kleypas historical recommended by Julia Quinn years ago and wasn’t impressed. Loved these contemporaries though (I think I got the first free at RWA). I think they’re great books – more women’s fiction than romance, though. But loved them!
I love the line about how this is not an issue book, but a book about people with issues. That’s how I see it and I want to read more books like that.
I do not have to re-read right now, but you have wanting to pick BED again. I still recall vividly the scene where Haven is calling Gage from the phone booth leading up and him sending someone trusted to pick her up.
I have never loved Gage more then when he helped Haven through the messy divorce process.
Robin, do you think you need to read the previous books to fully enjoy this one?
This book single handedly got me back into reading contemps. I loved everything about this book and you’re right, Janet…Lisa’s voice is wonderful in this genre. I just loved Hardy so hard…. :-)
“Hardy feels a little artificially rehabilitated for the second book.”
I agree, though it’s not as bad as Devil in Winter.
@Jorrie Spencer: This is the second book, and it may actually be better if you read backwards, since many people had an issue with the way Hardy’s character shifted in this book. OTOH, you find out a lot more about Hardy’s background by reading the first book. I think it’s a six of one issue, so if you want to start with this one, I’d say go for it. You won’t miss anything essential, IMO, although if someone else has a different perspective, I hope they’ll share it.
Jorie I read this book first and it’s out of order and I had no problems reading the other ones….fyi
I’m going to try it. Thanks!
Given the first person point of view it does lack Hardy’s internal transformation. Personally I’d write it off as “he felt guilty for what he did to get ahead previously” but it would have been nice for to have been wrapped up.
I loved this book so much! I might have to do a re-read soon, just reading this review got me all melty for Hardy!!
I’m one of those in the minority who thinks every single Kleypas historical
was awful, but kept reading them anyways because so many people like her. I’m going to check this one out of my library and keep my fingers crossed.
@asrai If I had read this book before Sugar Daddy, I think it would be one of my favorite, but because it was second, I had a hard time believing that it was the same guy. When I re-read this trilogy (and I do a lot), I always start when Liberty and Gage have dinner together and then Gage gets sick. I try to forget the first parts of Sugar Daddy.
Add me to the minority! I love her contemps, hate the historicals.
I also read this book first in the series and loved it. It didn’t feel wrong at all when I then read Sugar Daddy and Smooth Talking Stranger. Great series- great heroines and great heroes!
How funny! I don’t think his transformation is suspect at all. In Sugar Daddy, he cared deeply for Liberty and treated her wonderfully when they were kids, but had nothing to offer. When he did have money & power, he tried everything he could to get her back – including showing her who the big man is by one upping her posh boyfriend in business, which clearly backfired, smacked him in the face, and lost him what he wanted. He had already apologized to Liberty and I never felt like he became someone different. He’s a bad-ass bad boy done good, with issues and problems and bad choices. Very realistic to me. We all do stupid things and justify worse to get what we think we want.
I love Hardy. Love, love, love. He’s my contemporary Derek Craven :)
I did read this first – Sugar Daddy was my second read and it was less of a success for me because I felt it was more “women’s fiction” and not enough romance. However, BED was much more romantic and I loved it. I’ve read it twice and listened to it once or twice too. Renee Raudman does a great job with the narration and when Hardy says that if he got his hands on Nick there wouldn’t be enough “left of him to fit in a matchbox”? LOVED. IT.
I haven’t read many of Kleypas’ historicals but her contemps have generally been more successful for me so I don’t think you’re alone at all Janet! :)
Anyway: Loved Hardy. Loved Haven. Great book.
@Kaetrin agreed. I felt Sugar Daddy was much more women’s fiction and BED and STS were much more romance. I’m off to get the Audible book. Thanks for the recommendation.
@Cris: That’s exactly how I feel! Hardy was damn noble with Liberty when they were children – he could have used and abused her, no problems, but he was respectful and loving. And yes, he did some street-fighting stuff toward the end of Sugar Daddy, but that’s who he is – a scrappy guy who’s made good. I think the evolution we see in him in BED is perfectly believable. He’s starting to feel more comfortable in his own skin. Playing by the rules more. Like many of you, this series is my comfort read, but I tend to concentrate on the last two books rather than Sugar Daddy because so much of Sugar Daddy is about Liberty growing up – and while I enjoyed it a lot, it wasn’t romanc-y enough for me, certainly not as much as the other two books are. I think Lisa Kleypas is incredibly talented – somehow she manages to write books that are emotional and moving but also feed us the fantasy elements of romance (the wealth, the hard bodied men etc) without making them unrelatable or unrealistic. I always get a real sense of place from her books, too. I may just have to dig these out for yet another go round…Thanks for the review!
I also prefer her contemporaries, although I always find her historicals enjoyable, too. I just have an easier time identifying with the modern setting (even though the lifestyles of her characters are usually as different from mine as any Regency setting would be). I really enjoyed this whole series, although I think my favorite would be Smooth Talking Stranger. I don’t have a copy handy, but I know all of my favorite parts by page number and am not ashamed to borrow the library’s copy when I need a page 108 pick me up!
Update: Checked B&N on a whim and this is on sale for $2.99. Sold! Off to go sigh over a Texan who’s too cute to be for real.
@Cris You know, I don’t think that Janet has ever read Derek Craven’s book. I think she should and then review it for us.
@Jane and @Cris: Oh, I have definitely read Derek Craven and Sara Fielding’s book. Unlike seemingly everyone else, I did not fall into raptures over it. My favorite Kleypas historical is probably Forever My Love, which is, IIRC, Kleypas’s second book after Where Passion Leads (I hope I have that title right). Although I will certainly be willing to re-read Dreaming of You and review it for DA. I’m kind of curious to see if my response to it is different now, since I read it a number of years ago.
@Nicole: STS is my favorite Kleypas book in either subgenre. I even love the baby plot and find the fantasy aspect of Elle and Jack’s pairing extremely enjoyable.
“I may be in the minority of readers in this, but I really prefer your contemporary books to your historicals.”
Yep. This is me. I loved this series and wish she’d do more contemporary novels.
And that’s pretty much how I feel on the whole historical thing and why I’ve kind of left romance reading.
Can’t find a decent contemporary to save my flipping life. Sad.
@Janet Forever My Love is my favourite too. It might be because I read it when I was so young and it just burned into my mind. I am a bit scared to read it again just in case it is not as great as I remember. My least favourite was Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour. I am really looking forward to her next contemp though.
Kleypas will always be an auto buy for me.
@jane. Let me know what you think!
Hey Jules. I just remembered that you told me to read these even though I hated first person POV. I LOVED all three books, full of little wisdoms that I wish I’d highlighted. I’ll be forever grateful to you & Lisa for curing me of the first person POV hate lol.
I’m so glad you read them Mary!
@ Mary G…I’m not a fan of first person POV either, but I loved the Travis series. Now I’m going to have to go reread them.
Lisa Kleypas has a new book coming out at the end of February that I’m really looking forward to. Rainshadow Road is the first in a new contemporary series. She introduced the family in the series in her novella Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor.
Also, I’m a fan of both her historical and contemporary books. Both make me a happy reader!
Count me among those who adore this book. I actually love all three of the Travis books and they never get “archived” on my Kindle because I need to re-read them whenever comfort reads are required. I also agree with those who didn’t find Hardy’s transformation in BED to be unbelievable. I thought he was a great character in Sugar Daddy, though not without his flaws. Yes, he behaved like a jerk at the end, but the key for me was that Liberty forgave him. Also, even in BED, he’s not perfect. He has to earn the trust of the Travises, and he almost completely screws it up at the end before he comes to his senses. For me, it’s a toss-up between BED and STS as to which is the best book. I think I marginally prefer BED, partly because I love Todd as a secondary character and best friend to Haven, and I absolutely LOVE Hardy, perhaps because of his flaws.
I’ll be the odd one out and say that I much prefer her historicals to contemporaries. But then again, that’s just my reading tastes in general. Historicals are drug of choice. Contemps are what I read if there is absolutely nothing else at hand. That said, I have enjoyed this series. Kleypas is a good writer in any time period, imo.
I didn’t have a problem with Hardy’s transformation because I have yet to read Gage and Liberty’s story. Wonder if my library has it on audiobook….hmmm.
I’m also a fan of both. I’ve by no means read everything she’s put out, but everything I have read I’ve enjoyed.
It’s not that I don’t find Hardy’s reform plausible, I just needed more info on how it happened.
I read Blue Eyed Devil – and loved it. So I bought, but never read Sugar Daddy because I didn’t want to see Hardy in love with someone else.
Angie G – I’m so glad I got over my dislike of first person. The downside is tons more books to buy. I’ve read some wonderful first person books since then. Coincidentally, I don’t read historicals , but I loved Lisa’a Wallflower series and have her Hathaway series in my TBR pile. So many books, so little time.
Re. Hardy’s change: I actually wish Kleypas hadn’t pulled back on his character so much in BED. In SD, Hardy is unapologetic to Liberty about his willingness to do whatever it takes to make himself successful. And what he did was a pretty powerful betrayal of Liberty’s trust, not just something that was ethically questionable but unrelated to his relationship with Liberty.
Then, in BED, we get this incredibly loyal, honorable guy whose bad behavior is ascribed to his own low feelings of self-worth based on his family history. While convenient, I found the disparity problematic, in part because I think the self-worth issue wasn’t completely in line with the confident Hardy we saw all the way through SD. I guess, in fact, I’d say Hardy’s character was a bit schizo in SD, too, in that the betrayal later in the book doesn’t seem to square with the early Hardy’s honorable treatment of Liberty. And then in BED, instead of spinning out that less than honorable aspect of his character, we flip back to the Hardy of Liberty’s childhood, the guy who puts someone else’s needs above his own.
There’s a point in the novel where Todd explicitly compares Hardy to Churchill in terms of their ‘calculated underplaying’ or whatever he calls it. And we know that Churchill is no saint. I really wish Kleypas had been willing to go further with that less than perfect side of Hardy without chalking it up to insecurity or low self-esteem, or whatever you might call it. I think that more ruthless aspect of Hardy’s character, once it’s revealed in SD, needed to be drawn through at least the beginning of BED so it didn’t feel like the betrayal was just a convenience to get Liberty and Gage into final position for their HEA.
Funny that you liked the DV portrayal in the book. It was kind of eye-roller territory for me. I thought she made the abusers too obviously evil. They weren’t as charming and mercurial as abusers usually are.
I dunno. It was too simplistic for me to take it too seriously. Felt like a cheap plot mechanic to allow Hardy to play the white knight.
@Ridley: I’ve known some abusers similar to Nick, so I bought it. It’s true that many of them are outwardly charming, but not all, and he possessed other core abuser-profile characteristics. One thing I really appreciated was that the book did not ascribe to the false presumption that there is a “victim-type,” nor did Haven fit that stereotypical victim character. I’m so damn sick of the whole ‘there’s something about you that makes you a victim’ portrayals.
You can add me to the list of people who read Blue-Eyed Devil before Sugar Daddy, and I think I’m glad I did. After knowing where Hardy ended up, I was interested to see where he started and I was less likely to see him as a real villain in Sugar Daddy. I don’t know that I can say I prefer Kleypas’s contemporaries to her historicals, since I really like some of the Wallflower books (Devil in Winter, especially). However, I do think her Travis series is much less of a straightforward romance series, especially because of Sugar Daddy. I think she does a good job of delivering a fairy tale romance and exploring the complex types of love relationships that are out there.
I love Lisa Kleypas, but this book made me physically ill. It was like re-living my first marriage all over again. It took me forever to shake the feelings off and remember the person I am now. Some of the bitterness after the fact was I never got a Hardy.
“I find the heroine’s journey about more than one in which she finds love with the hero.”
That’s exactly what won me over about “Sugar Daddy” despite the fact that Kleypas didn’t develop the romantic elements as prominently as she usually does. I just couldn’t help but fall for Liberty from the start, and was rooting for her all the way, regardless of the situation.
I read Blue Eyed Devil before Sugar Daddy, and to be honest I couldn’t love Gage and Liberty the way I loved Haven and Hardy. I don’t know why, or what the big difference is but I simply saw Hardy in a different light, and although – oddly enough- I felt for him and Liberty in the begining of Sugar Daddy, but I never hated or disliked his charecter, because I loved him too much from Blue Eyed Devil.
Perhaps its a plus to actually read them in reverse.
Also, I didn’t like how The Epilogue of Blue Eyed Devil Haven and Hardy as a married couple, but in Smooth Talking Stranger they haven’t reached that time frame yet, and get married later on.
I’m still waiting for Joe’s story, and if Kleypas doesn’t write one I’m going to go insane, because Joe’s story is the ONLY way I can get more Haven and Hardy!
I’ve read too many romance novels to count, but I can never get tired of this one. All time Top 5 for sure.