Review: “Blue-Eyed Devil” (Travises #2) by Lisa Kleypas

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Haven Travis thought she was in love. Not even a passionate makeout session with a stranger in the wine cellar at her brother’s wedding could stop her from marrying Nick Tanner, the boyfriend her overprotective family strongly disapproved of. Two years later, after having endured the worst kind of hell in her abusive marriage, Haven returns to Houston to rebuild her life. As she tries to work in her brother’s property management company, start therapy and get a divorce, Haven runs right into Hardy Cates, her sister-in-law’s trailer park teenage crush and now a wealthy Houston oil tycoon. Her body still recovering from Nick’s last beating, Haven is still drawn to Hardy, just as she was when she kissed him two years ago.

Hardy, intent on pursuing Haven, has no idea about the trauma she has suffered. In fact, he still sees her as 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.

One complaint that I have with some romance novels is how some heroines who are recovering from abusive relationships somehow subconsciously recognize the hero as “safe” and have little to no compunction about jumping into a relationship–and in bed–with him. What I liked about Blue-Eyed Devil the most is that it did not follow this cliched path. From Sugar Daddy, we know that Hardy has a dark past, and Haven, who had no sexual experience before Nick, was at a double disadvantage, leading to some scenes where there is a realistic sense of conflict between the protagonists, showcasing their vulnerabilities. Hardy has his own demons from his trailer-park childhood, which makes his attraction to Haven very believable in a way that it wasn’t with Liberty, in the same way that Haven’s attraction to a man who reminds her of her approval-withholding father seems kind of logical. 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 ways that are really complicated and not instantly negotiable.

Still, the story is a 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 level of happiness we know Haven and Hardy will ultimately enjoy. On the one hand, I was really moved by Hardy’s reaction when he finally learns about Haven’s past and starts putting all the mixed signals in order. On the other hand, it is obvious that the scene was set up to push Hardy and Haven into physical intimacy so that their romance arc could progress. So, while we see Haven struggling to move forward from her abuse by dealing with a sociopathic boss and freaking out about Hardy in therapy, there is also a sense of her recovery being rushed so that Haven can have a healthy romantic relationship as soon as possible.

Plus, it’s not like Hardy is without his flaws, even though we know that he is supposed to be The One for Haven.But his missteps give his character some much-needed depth and let us see that this is a man who understands how vicious families can be, especially when he has his own self-destructive streak to manage. In Sugar Daddy, he was shown to be ruthless, selfish and willing to betray a trust to get what he wanted. But by Blue-Eyed Devil, we are supposed to be able to trust him as an appropriate partner for a largely fragile Haven, which means we have to believe he is fundamentally a decent guy. It might not be a problem for people who haven’t read  Sugar Daddy, but to me, his rehabilitation seemed quite artificial. It was a lot more believable to see what Haven gives to Hardy than to see Hardy as the guy who “saves” Haven.

In the end, though, Blue-Eyed Devil is as misleading a title for what was mainly Haven’s story as Sugar Daddy was for Liberty’s story. It’s not that the romance was an unimportant or peripheral aspect, or that the men were forgettable characters, but that the plot had a lot more substance by being about a woman’s journey to being able to trust and accept herself again. Overall, it was an engaging, emotionally fulfilling and psychologically satisfying read despite its many flaws and inconsistencies.

Review: “Sugar Daddy” (Travises #1) by Lisa Kleypas

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I’ve never written a review of a romance novel I have such mixed feelings about. From what I gather, Lisa Kleypas is a legend in the ‘historical romance’ genre, and this is her first attempt at in the ‘contemporary’ genre so I’m willing to be a little forgiving. But there are several things in this book that made absolutely no sense to me.

When the story begins, Liberty Jones is a shy girl growing up in a trailer park in Welcome, Texas with her mother and the mother’s loser boyfriend. At this point, we’re told that Liberty’s father was Mexican and she has faced some backlash for not resembling her caucasian mother. Her mixed race heritage is brought up repeatedly throughout the book but never dealt with.

Liberty falls for bad boy Hardy Cates, who is driven by his desire to get the hell out of Welcome ASAP, even though he and Liberty have undeniable chemistry. She is heartbroken but her problems multiply thousandfold when her mother suddenly dies in a car accident and leaves her to take care of her 2-year old half-sister, Carrington. Why anyone would name a kid Carrington escapes me, but I’m going to chalk it down to a ‘Texan thing’ like the author has to excuse a lot of erratic behaviour by different people throughout the story.

At some point, I started to wonder why the series was called “Travises” considering nobody named Travis had appeared so far. But then we see Liberty move to Houston after she hustles for a couple of years and becomes a cosmetologist. Working at a top-notch salon, she meets old multimillionaire Churchill Travis, who takes a shine to her. She convinces him to get manicures and they become good friends. All this time, I’m really hoping that they don’t sleep together primarily because I’m still convinced Hardy is the hero of this tale. Liberty says he is The One enough times.

But, wait. Churchill breaks his leg and asks Liberty to become his live-in nurse. That’s when we meet Churchill’s disapproving oldest son, Gage Travis. He is the typical alpha male who charms the damsel by giving her a glimpse of his many, many flaws. He enters the story so late that for a while I was really doubtful if he was the hero. (His name’s not even mentioned in the blurb!) However, sparks fly and now Liberty and Gage enter into a romantic relationship and my dubious HEA seems within grasp.

With some 60-odd pages left in the story, Hardy reappears and Liberty’s reaction to him is so powerful, I am surprised he was not the one she ended up with. But then, there was a painfully bad industrial espionage scene and Liberty sees how Hardy has grown up to be a ruthless money-grubber. So she goes back to Gage, who was having her followed without her knowledge and who pins her down and has sex with her when she tells him that she needs a break from him. That she liked it and he apologized for it afterward, does not take away from the fact that it was rape and Gage is a stalker.

Romance is hands down my favourite genre. But justifying disturbing, violent and abusive behaviour in the name of love is not romantic. Stalking is not romantic. Sex with questionable consent is not romantic. A heartfelt apology after the fact is not a cure-all. I haven’t read any of Lisa Kleypas’ other books so I won’t make it personal, but I’d like to appeal to romance authors out there and say that love is one of the most powerful emotions a human being can experience, but it is meaningless without consent. Please keep that in mind.

The book has many other flaws and some redeeming chapters but since the aforementioned issue is so important, I will not be dealing with the rest in this post. Hopefully, Ms Kleypas’ other books are not this sickening.

P.S. If anyone figures out why, in the name of God, was this book titled Sugar Daddy, please let me know. Thanks.