Blue-Eyed Devil, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Friday, January 13, 2012

TITLE: Blue-Eyed Devil
AUTHOR: Lisa Kleypas

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Follows Sugar Daddy

His name is Hardy Cates. He’s a self-made millionaire who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s made enemies in the rough-and-tumble ride to the top of Houston’s oil industry. He’s got hot blood in his veins. And vengeance on his mind.

She’s Haven Travis. Despite her family’s money, she refuses to set out on the path they’ve chosen for her. But when Haven marries a man her family disapproves of, her life is set on a new and dangerous course.

Two years have gone by. Now Haven has come home. This time, she is determined to guard her heart. And Hardy Cates, a family enemy, is the last person she needs darkening her door—or setting her soul on fire.
This was the most disappointing book I read during my holidays. I'd had a few smallish issues with Sugar Daddy, but mostly, I'd enjoyed it quite a bit. And I'd been very intrigued by Hardy, and looked forward to his story. However, while very readable, Blue-Eyed Devil made me want to bang it against the wall too many times.

Haven Travis and Hardy Cates meet on the day of Haven's brother's wedding. Haven is there with her boyfriend, Nick, but can't help but notice the very magnetic Hardy as soon as he comes in. Due to a misunderstanding, they find themselves in a darkened room and share a passionate kiss, with Haven mistaking Hardy for her boyfriend for much of it (obviously, she wonders why this kiss is turning her on much more than usual, duh!).

Haven does realise who she's kissing after a while, though, and is soon devastated to hear that Hardy is gatecrashing the wedding, and is a former friend of her sister-in-law, who tried to steal her away from her now-husband. Obviously, Haven thinks, Hardy was trying to get revenge on her brother when he kissed her.

The shock makes her even more committed to marrying her boyfriend, even though her family disapproves and her father threatens to cut her off if she does. The ensuing isolation from her family means that when her husband starts being abusive towards her, Haven doesn't feel she has anyone to turn to, and endures the situation for years, while Nick methodically destroys her self-esteem and her entire life.

But finally, Haven gets out of it, and before too long, Hardy is back in her life, determined not to accept no for an answer.

I had many, many issues with BED. The main one is probably how unconvincing I found Haven as a character. The book is narrated from her 1st-person point of view, and we are with her as she goes through her abusive relationship, with a husband who first tears her self-esteem to pieces with constant criticism and verbal abuse and then moves on to physical violence. I got the feeling Kleypas had done her research about abusers and what a believable MO would be and had built Haven and Nick's relationship accordingly. And I still didn't buy it for a minute. I think it was that it felt too step-by-step, more some sort of "typical" abuse story than the story of this particular character. This meant that I never completely understood why Haven would not have done something earlier. Kleypas had set it up to show why, Haven was telling me exactly why, in perfect therapy-speak, and I wasn't buying it. I think this is a section of the story that would have worked a lot better as a flashback, with it being hidden from the reader at the beginning, to create some tension about why Haven was not comfortable with Hardy.

I also felt very frustrated and disbelieving of Haven's tolerance of the situation she finds herself in when she gets her first job after that, working for her brother's company. Basically, her line manager is the female equivalent of her abusive husband. And Haven knows it immediately. By then, she has began to recover from her earlier experiences and done quite a bit of therapy, so when it starts, she doesn't blame herself, or anything. She realises pretty quickly that the woman is gaslighting her, critisising her constantly for nothing, putting her down, doing things like hiding files and then telling Haven off for being disorganised when they turn up in weird places, telling her to come to a meeting at 1.30 and then swearing she said 1 when Haven turns up half an hour late, that kind of thing. And Haven just goes with it. Haven talks about it with her therapist, but doesn't complain to her brother, doesn't stand up to the woman. Someone else has to do it for her. I wanted to smack Haven and tell her to stop being a doormat. Why on earth doesn't she just quit? She doesn't need the money, she doesn't need to put up with this. And don't tell me she doesn't want to be a spoilt rich girl who doesn't earn anything she gets, because that's exactly who she is here. Other than those two years with Nick, she's perfectly happy to be handed everything. Plus, I also couldn't believe the evil boss' behaviour. Haven was her own boss' sister, after all. Wouldn't such a person be more likely to assume Haven would complain, and suck up to her instead?

But it wasn't only Haven I had trouble with. I also found Hardy completely uninteresting here. He's at the same time arrogant and high-handed and sexist, and too, too perfect in understanding of Haven and her issues (except for one small misstep which I thought was well done). There was nothing interesting at all. He was an amazing character in Sugar Daddy, but I didn't recognise that character at all in BED. His behaviour in Sugar Daddy, right at the end, made me think that his book was going to be about whether the right woman would make Hardy chose her over his overwhelming ambition. This was presented as the big issue with him. But in BED... what ambition? This was a complete non-issue, and his big rivalry with the Travises was over with a whimper. The book was about something completely different, and I found this a lot less interesting.

What made me go from disinterest to outright dislike, though, was a tiny bit which was just glossed over by Kleypas and stopped me in my tracks. At one point Hardy talks about his brother and says the man is taking after his father, who we know (and he's just mentioned) has a history of sexual assault, and that he had to bail him out earlier and pay off a girl's family to keep them from pressing charges. And that's not supposed to be an issue at all, as far as Kleypas is concerned. This utter asshole, who enables his brother in continuing to be able to commit more rapes is still the hero of this book. Unbelievable.

The book also felt very old-fashioned in many ways. Haven's lack of experience was yet another way in which she was completely unbelievable. It was similar with Liberty... well, at least Liberty had been allowed to have a couple of relationships, but they had all been crap until she met the hero, and she, like Haven, was convinced she was awful in bed. Amazing that these books were written in 2007 and 2008, it felt like a holdover from the dark times in romance when even contemporary heroines had to be virgins, whether that was realistic or not.

Additionally, I really disliked what I guess I might describe as the book's sensibility. This was the first book I've ever seen where someone's been described as a "good old boy" and it's a positive. Showing my biases here, but ick! In BED, this kind of man, high-handed and arrogant, convinced he knows what's best for the little woman in his life, is the best kind of man there is, and I absolutely hated it. There was a bit of a whiff of it in Sugar Daddy, which was one of the problems I mentioned I had with it, but it's terribly overt here. It made me want to stop reading every time I came across a particularly bad bit, whether it was something snide about those icky metrosexuals or Hardy showing off his relationship with Haven in front of Nick by patting her bottom (yes, he really did that).

With all those really big problems, should I even mention the really bizarre lecture in the middle of the book about something called rigs-to-reef (some sort of thing where oil companies, instead of bringing in old oil rigs, chop the tops off and leave the in the ocean, for fish to colonise). It had nothing to do with anything, and yet we got a big info-dump about how some environmentalists are against it, but it actually helps fish, and it's not at all about oil companies saving costs. I don't know enough about this to make a judgment, and a lecture in the middle of a romance novel is not going to convince me.

There's a third book in the series, but I don't think I'm going to read it, even hoping it's more like Sugar Daddy than this one. I had a look on amazon and it starts with a scene between the heroine and her boyfriend, who happens to be a vegan. Given the glorification here and in Sugar Daddy of unreconstructed machismo, I just know Kleypas' treatment of his veganism is going to enrage me. Tell me, those of you who've read it, is it used to prove that he's less of a man that the manly, steak-eating Jack Travis? I bet it is.

MY GRADE: A D. I really didn't like this.


Robin,  13 January 2012 at 19:16  

There are actually quite a few things here I agree with, although my cumulative response to the book is different.

re. the DV portrayal, I don't disagree with you, but for me the fact that Kleypas wasn't repeating so many Romance stereotypes in regard to DV and its victims and pers was so refreshing that I was able to go with it Also, this book came out right around the time I was working on some DV law issues, which, I'm sure, made me even more sympathetic to Haven's portrayal. Also, I know that statistically it takes women an average of 1.5 tries to leave an abusive relationship (I hope I remembered that stat correctly), so I could completely see how Haven stayed with Nick for as long as she did.

In terms of Haven's new boss, I did not have the same reaction to that situation as you did. I saw it as a device to show that Haven had become good at recognizing the signs of an abuser but was still negotiating the best way to respond. I liked how that dynamic showed Haven wasn't magically cured once she got out of her marriage and into therapy. And knowing a few sociopaths myself (heh), I know that they never suspect anyone will think they're wrong, because one of the hallmarks of sociopathic behavior is an exaggerated sense of grandiosity and a lack of empathy, which translates into the inability to put oneself in another's position. So I never expected Kelly, or whatever her name was, to have an awareness of being "caught," nor any anxiety over that.

Agree re. Hardy being less interesting in BED, but hell, I wanted him to be a good guy for Haven so I was okay with that. For me this is Haven's book, and I liked her.

Also agree re. what you call the "old-fashioned" sensibility of the hero, and this is one area in which Kleypas works for me where so many other authors don't. For some reason I find her able to create these high handed heroes who, for me, manage to take good care of the heroine without bullying her. And let me tell you -- if you did not like that in BED, I think you'll hate STS, because Jack is all about knowing what Ella really "needs," and he's completely unapologetic about it. I admit this is a fantasy read for me all the way, and because I kind of relate to Ella's hyper-responsible personality, it's a complete comfort read for me (not that I could stand it in real life, but in the book? Love it). Possibly because in both BED and STS the heroine narrates and experiences a powerful journey of personal growth and deepening emotional strength, I don't find the old-fashioned heroes neanderthal like I do in, say, some of Linda Howard's books. It's like the difference between Kell Sabin, who I love, and some of the other Howard heroes I wanted to repreatedly punch in the face. This is, of course, a completely subjective response, though, and I get where you're coming from.

pamelia,  13 January 2012 at 23:13  

Have to say, I had a whole spiel ready and then I read Robin's post and she pretty much said it all.  I really enjoyed all 3 books in this series.  As far as the vegan issue in STS, I think it's set up pretty well that Ella's only really doing it for the sake of her boyfriend and she often "cheated" on the diet anyway before Jack enters the picture, so I took it more as him being perceptive about what she really wanted vs. him showing her that "real men" eat meat. 

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