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Retro Friday Review: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out-of-print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!
Sometimes you come full circle with a certain author. My very first Lisa Kleypas novel was actually Sugar Daddy, the first book in the Travis Family trilogy. And I enjoyed it for the most part. But I started to grow fatigued near the end with all of the Texas good ole boy charm, enough that I figured I'd part ways with Kleypas at that point and call it good. Then, awhile later, I won a copy of the introductory novella to her magical realism Friday Harbor series and decided why not give something more recent a try? I devoured it in a single evening and continued on with that series, with varying results. The saga continued when I caved to massive praise and gave one of her historicals a shot (the woman can apparently write pretty much any genre she likes). And, you know, I rather enjoyed my romp with Evie and Sebastian. So I guess you could say when Racquel over at The Book Barbies got her hooks into me, I was fairly well primed for my second stint with the Travis clan. As far as I can tell, Racquel is this book's Number One Fan. I do know that without her, I never would have picked Blue-Eyed Devil up. And what a shame that would have been. So props to Racquel for preparing me for the swoon. What I wasn't prepared for was the kind of single-minded absorption Haven Travis' story would incite in me.

Haven Travis has had to live with enough overbearing men for two lifetimes, thank you very much. The men in her family do not mince words, they do not suffer fools gladly, and they do not allocate much leeway to the one girl in the Travis clan. Which is why when she finds good-natured, easy to get along with Nick Tanner, she decides she's going to keep him. And so begins a kind of hell Haven could never have imagined. Alone and uncertain, Haven lives in this hell far too long. Long enough that when she finally extricates herself (with the help of her big brother Gage), she's in no way ready to resume normal life. Being a Travis, though, she gives it the old college try. And along the way she runs into Hardy Cates. An old enemy of the Travises, Hardy has worked hard to get where he is today. He's not interested in mucking things up because he can't take his eyes off Haven Travis. But they did have that one encounter years ago. Before she married Nick. Before Hardy washed his hands of her family completely. And now they're living in the same town again and Hardy can see it's going to be difficult to ignore the youngest Travis the way he'd like to. And so a tentative friendship is struck, despite their respective lack of knowledge of the extreme baggage the other carries as well as the gargantuan disapproval of her family.

This book had no interest in letting me slip out of its clutches. I was surprised how quickly I fell into Haven's story. From her first uncomfortable encounter with Hardy at her brother's wedding to years down the road meeting him again when she had nothing left to give, I was drawn to Kleypas' painfully honest portrayal of one girl's life. It was so much more than I was expecting. In every way. Haven was more. Her life with Nick was way, way more. Hardy was more. And, together, Hardy and Haven were more in that way that squeezes your vocal cords, brings a certain tightness to your temples, and heralds those moments when a fictional character becomes devastatingly real. There are honestly so many thoughtful and charged passages I would have liked to quote, but in the end I'm going with a favorite lighter-but-packs-a-punch-at-the-end snippet to illustrate the what I'm talking about here:
Taking one look at my wretched face, Todd reached for the green chenille throw on my sofa and wrapped it around me. I snuggled in the corner of the sofa, drawing my feet back to make room for him.

"Must have been some dance," Todd said, untying his bow tie. He left it hanging loose on either side of his neck, and relaxed on the sofa beside me, as graceful as a cat. "What happened?"

"We didn't dance," I said numbly.

"Oh?"

"He took me to a dark corner somewhere. A stairwell."

"Purely for my vicarious enjoyment, tell me . . . is he good?"

I could feel my face go crimson.

"That good?" Todd asked.

A shaky laugh escaped me. I wasn't sure I could put it into words. "You know how when someone kisses you, you can tell they're only doing it as a step to something else? Like they're just trying to get it over with? Well, Hardy kisses like it's the only thing in the world he wants to do."
Mm-hm. That good. I'm beginning to think I may grow somewhat fatigued near the end of the best Kleypas novels because she makes you want so much. Because you are never, ever detached. And because her characters do not conform the way we readers might occasionally prefer. They're messy and hurt and hopeful and recalcitrant. While that combination does not always work for me in her books, it very much did here. Blue-Eyed Devil is definitely my favorite of her books yet. I didn't want to take it back to the library when I was done. In fact, I still haven't. Fines be damned. I'm waiting till I'm good and ready.

Buy:

Linkage
Alexa Loves Books - "A contemporary romance that I go back to time and time again when I'm in need of comfort, familiarity and that handsome fellow Hardy Cates."
Book Binge - "This story sure did pull at the heart strings."
The Book Smugglers - "One of the best books I have read, romance novel or not."
Dear Author - " . . . engaging, emotionally fulfilling, and psychologically satisfying."
A Girl, Books and Other Things - " I enjoyed getting lost in Blue-Eyed Devil."
The Happily Ever After . . . - "
I was barely halfway through reading Blue Eyed Devil when I had the revelation that this novel was going to be one of my favorite books of all time."

The Picky Girl - "It’s much less a romance novel than a story of hurt and healing."
Specfic Romantic - "Very well-written (particularly the first part. I was heavily involved with Haven’s experiences in her marriage), had engaging characters so all in all, I thought it was very good."

Comments

  1. Well. You certainly know how to convince a girl to read a book, even if she wasn't all that interested at the start. I'm putting this on hold at my library.

    Angie: why do you do this to me?! So many books join my TBR list because of you...

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  2. Eh, just recheck it out! And it's pretty easy to find this one at bargain prices.

    But yeah, it's the best of the Travis books. (Smooth-Talking Stranger was a bit of a letdown. Not terrible, but not this awesome.) And I love that cover with the big blue sky and tiny hot Hardy so much.

    I just don't quite get the magical realism series. The fantasy elements never quite gel to me. I enjoy them because Kleypas is still a great writer and character-izer, but I'm not clamoring for more.

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    1. See, I have this thing about the copy I read first. If I loved it, it's very hard to let go. Even for a shiny new paperback (or battered used copy), bargain price or no.

      I know. Call it a quirk.

      I hear all kinds of varying reports on Smooth-Talking Stranger. I confess, I'm curious. But also reluctant after enjoying this one so much. I agree with you on the big blue sky cover. Love it.

      The Friday Harbor series was all over the place for me. I felt it went downhill with each installment. So the novella was my favorite.

      Delete
    2. The novella was my favorite too, and much less twee than I thought it would be. In an odd way though, I don't feel like it set up the series. More like see changed her mind about what the series would be after writing it.

      Delete
    3. My thoughts exactly. She took it in a strongly different direction with the rest of the series, and while it worked for me in Rainshadow Road, it definitely did not in any of the others. I wish she'd extended the novella into a full-length. I could happily have read about them much longer.

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  3. I can't remember if I've read this Kleypas book or not (they all tend to run together in my memory after a while). But I don't *think* I have, because I'd like to believe that I'd remember a book as good as this one apparently is.

    But oh my gosh, I know what you mean about returning a book to the library. I had the exact same experience with "The Chocolate Kiss." I just can't bear to return it yet. So I still have it. I'm sure I'm pissing off whoever wants to check it out next, but, well, I can't let it go quite yet.

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    1. Haven's journey stood out to me, so I like to think I'd remember it down the road. The first one has faded for me for sure, though.

      Karen, you have no idea how glad I am to hear you say you feel that way, too. So hard to part with the copy you read first and somehow let the experience go . . .

      Delete
  4. I recently reread this one several weeks ago and I was reminded why I love it so much - Raquel's squeeing over Hardy is totally warranted. At the same time, the scenes with Nick are heartbreaking and terrifying. Kleypas totally brought her A game with this one.

    And too funny about not returning it to the library...fines be damned indeed!

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    Replies
    1. Totally warranted.

      Sarah, I am still shaking from the scenes with Nick. NOT OKAY.

      Yeah, apparently I'm quite capable of breaking the rules when it pains me to return library books.

      Delete
  5. Sounds like a book I need to read!

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  6. i only just discovered lisa kleypas this year and have been loving her. i have this one on reserve for me at the library -- can't wait. love this review x

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    Replies
    1. Right?! She's easy to love, and such a long and distinguished backlist to glom.

      Hope you love this one, Nomes.

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  7. I read this series a while back and remember feeling a little underwhelmed with all the over-the-topness of the Travis family but I do totally agree with you on all the FEELINGS Lisa Kleypas makes you go through in this one. It's pretty unrelenting. Great review!

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    1. Yeah, I was burned out after the first one. But something in BED called out to me for sure. I couldn't not care about Haven through to the bitter end after what she went through. And Hardy, well . . . :)

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  8. This book had me in tears because of the abuse Haven suffers at the hands of her husband and how she heals thanks to Hardy who is one of my all time favorite Kleypas heroes (behind Derek). I met Lisa a few years ago and broke down in tears in front of her like a noob when I told her how much this book meant to me.

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    Replies
    1. I don't see how you can NOT be in tears with this one. I mean, MY WORD.

      I love that you got to tell her what it mean to you, Katie. Those moments are special.

      Delete
  9. I think I need to buy this because I do not want to deal with the pain of taking it back to the library ha ha.

    ALSO, tears? YES. I love books that make me emotional.

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    Replies
    1. These are the issues I deal with on a daily basis, April. Lol.

      This one will qualify nicely in the tears department.

      Delete
  10. Lizzy9:31 AM

    You strike again, Angie. Got this from the library right after reading this (the library actually had it this time) and read it straight through the night! Loooooooooved it! A few years ago I never thought I'd read contemporary/romantic fiction, but now I think it's one of my favorite genres--all because of your reviews! Your blog is gold <3

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    1. I love it when I sound like a supervillain! You can't imagine how happy this makes me, because I felt the very same way. Couldn't have seen myself in this reading place just a few years ago, but thank goodness we found our way to it!

      Delete

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