Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas ****

Yes, it's raining pigs and ice cream floats are free in Hell. I liked another Lisa Kleypas! I'm guessing it's her contemporary semi-women's fiction-slash-romance style that I prefer VASTLY to her mediocre Regency historicals which needed major editing and a dash of interest.

This is the second in the Hardy Cates series, and once again it's told in first person entirely from the heroine's POV. Haven Travis is the youngest child and only daughter of Churchill Travis from book 1, Sugar Daddy. She had a rich, privileged upbringing in Houston's swanky River Oaks community (which is seriously posh and exclusive) but always felt a little ashamed of the conspicuous consumption and the over-use of privilege to get ahead. She considered herself something of a rebel and a feminist, and while she was away at college in the northeast, met a fellow Texan, Nick, who became her first husband.

Her father warned her that Nick was no good, and threatened to cut her off if she married him - just the right button to push to send her into Nick's arms. There was one encounter with Hardy Cates - Haven thought it was Nick when she first started kissing him in a dark corner of a party.

Good as his word, her father did cut her off, and Nick and Haven moved to Dallas where they tried to support themselves. Quickly Nick began showing his true colors - he was manipulative and soon became abusive, first emotionally and then physically. Within 2 years, he had beat her up more than once. When he kicked her out on a cold night, barefoot, no purse or money or ID, she walked to a pay phone and placed a collect call to her oldest brother, Gage, who sent someone to pick her up and get her to Houston.

Once in Houston, she wanted to make her own way without (too much) help. Several times I wanted to wring her neck and tell her to just let them help her a little, but I have to admit she stayed true to character. She refused an offer to be the manager of the downtown building Gage (or the family?) owned, accepting the manager's assistant position instead. The manager was brought over from another property and ended up being as manipulative and abusive in her own way as Nick had been. And Haven, true to form, just took it, didn't tattle, didn't ask for help.

When Hardy finds out Haven has divorced her husband and is living in the building, he leases an apartment there and takes up where they left off - the kiss at the party a little over 2 years before. Everyone in Haven's life, even her best friend, the bisexual playmate from her childhood (male... what was his name?), warns Haven to watch out for Hardy. Hardy had betrayed Liberty in the first book by using some information she innocently revealed to him against the Travis family, so there is an element of a family feud between the Travis men and Cates, although they all respect him.

The descriptions of Haven's slow slide into trusting Nick and then his use of emotional manipulation to control her into thinking his behavior is normal are chilling and no doubt true to life. For women who swear they would never stay with an abuser, listening to his reasoning, his begging forgiveness and promising never to hurt her again might make them rethink their holier-than-thou position. Abused women don't ask for their situation, and they don't stay because they want the abuse to continue. Haven had to rebuild her life and learn to trust again, and this is where Hardy Cates shines as a true romance novel hero.

I'm sticking by the women's fiction genre again - with a dash of romance - because once again the heroine has 2 men, and although you soon realize Hardy will play a bigger part later, once again he's separated from the heroine for a big part of the book. It's more about Haven, about her life and how she reacted to her upbringing and how she survived Nick's abuse. 4 stars.

Oh, I meant to add: I listened to it on audio. This is a different narrator from the first book. This narrator has a different approach, one that was very, very dramatic - almost too much. Her Texan/southern accent is quite a lot thicker and more pronounced than someone who actually grew up in River Oaks would really have - a girl Haven's age would have gone to the best private schools, and would have had a more cultured, rich-girl Texan accent, regardless of her parents' speech. But somehow it still worked for me. It was a dramatic tale, after all. She managed to whimper and sound scared and hurt when appropriate, and to sound contrite when speaking to her husband and her boss and even her father. I liked it, even though I sometimes winced when she went a little over-the-top.

No comments: