Khanh the Killjoy


Love, in English - Karina Halle
He slowly turned around. “What is love? In English.”
I raised my brows. “Love, in English, is love?”
“What is it in Spanish?”
I was so enthralled by his hypnotic eyes, I could barely remember. “Amore?”
He shook his head ever so slightly. “No. Love in Spanish is you.”

I got to hand it to Mateo, when you have a successful hit line, milk it for all it's worth.

This is not a contemporary romance. It is a fairy tale, a fantasy in which adultery is not only accepted but condoned and encouraged by everyone involved (except, naturally, for the unfortunate wife and child). Were this not a book, with predictable, expected elements of falling in love, we would be reading about the sad tale of a naive, broken young woman with daddy issues who got used up and spit out by an older, wiser, manipulative sports celebrity who knew just what to say to get her to spread her legs and open her heart.

There are certain elements of romance I dislike, but which I can appreciate when done well, adultery is one of them. I do not like adultery, but I read this book with knowing that there will be cheating. I did not start this book knowing I would hate it, I opened this book with an open mind, but since this is a premise I do not like I expected certain things out of it:

I wanted it to:
1. Show me a well-drawn, realistic, and believable romance
2. Show me that there is more beyond this relationship beyond that of lust and insta-love
3. Show me that there is actual love involved beyond the superficial
4. Show me why I should condone these two

This book did none of the above. It did nothing to convince me that, outside of the fairy-tale fantasy of a book, that this relationship could have existed. It was not realistic.

"Well, Khanh, why did you read a fucking romance novel if you wanted things to be realistic, then?!" Because I expect SOME elements of realism in my contemporary novels. Otherwise, I would be reading Harlequins with titles like THE BILLIONAIRE MMA BIKER SURGEON SHEIK'S ACCIDENTAL TWIN DAUGHTERS WITH THEIR BUNNY DOLLS or something like that. I wanted this book to be believable, is that too much to ask?

The Setup: Unrealistic and improbable. Vera is a 23-year old college astronomy student. She is in Spain, she is enrolled to work as an English speaker for a program that will immerse native Spanish speakers with English for several weeks. She doesn't speak a word of Spanish, and therefore runs late to the bus. When she gets to the bus, there is only one seat available. The one next to darkly handsome, world-famous Mateo Casellas.

Ok, some problems with that.

1. Why the fuck is the handsome, world-famous (think retired Spanish David Beckham who now owns several famous Spanish restaurants) Mateo SITTING ALL BY HIMSELF in a country where everyone knows who he is?!

2. Why the fuck is Mateo in this school in the first place? He speaks fluent Spanish, as Vera points out herself. He wants to learn to speak better English because people look down on businessmen who can't speak English well.

Ok, understandable, BUT there are some more problems with that.

1. Granted, we can't see the accent within the page, but Mateo speaks almost flawless English. My English is prett damn perfect, and there are but few flaws in the way Mateo speaks within the book. He lacks some pop culture words, some slangs, but otherwise, his English is wonderful. As for slangs, well, shit, a book could take care of that, don't you think? It would certainly waste less time.

2. His wife speaks fluent English. Why not get her help?! Arg!

The thing about this book, is that in a realistic world, Mateo and Vera wouldn't have met in the first place, because Mateo has no need of Vera's English skilllllz!


The thing was, I didn’t do love. That wasn’t my thing. That was the reason why I didn’t date, I only got laid when I needed to blow some steam or have some fun. Love was scarier than deep space.

Could have fooled me. Vera: the troubled young woman who vows never to fall in love---only to fall in insta-lust and then love---with Mateo before 30% of the book is even through. A walking cliche. A clinical psychologist's dream patient, because man, is there a lot to psychoanalyze here. Troubled childhood doesn't even begin to describe it. Vera has been doing drugs since she was barely in high school. She sleeps around, she doesn't really care about her family besides her brother, she doesn't care about anyone, or anything...and nobody really cares about her either.

The thing with Vera is she's had a string of really, really incompetent boyfriends and easy lays, none of whom ever sees beyond the superficial, none of whom ever cared about her. She's only ever had really, really stupid boys. It takes a mature, wise, manipulative man like Mateo all of five minutes of DEEEEEEEEP QUESTIONING INTO HER SOUL to make her feel like she's the center of the universe. He gets her to talk about herself, her wishes, her dreams. It takes SO LITTLE effort on his part to make Vera melt into a puddle of love-goo.

“You are special, Estrella,” Mateo said, his eyes softening as he gazed at me.

Vera is an astronomy student. Mateo starts nicknaming her "Estrella," meaning "Star" in Spanish. She thinks it's the most wonderfully romantic thing EVER.

What a disappointment. I wanted Vera to be harder to seduce.


“Ugly?” Mateo said in fervent disbelief. “No. You are terribly beautiful, Vera. So beautiful that it hurts. You would outshine her like the star you are.”

A suave Spanish lover. One who knows just what to say, what buttons to push, in order to seduce a girl. Especially one so obviously broken and damaged as the tattooed, tough, blunt, hard-spoken Vera.

In this fairy-tale world, he falls in love, improbably so, I feel. In the real world, this could have ended in Vera's broken heart. Of course, the book is set up so that Mateo falls madly in love for Vera, but were it not for the book's very obvious setup of that scenario, I would not have believed it.

Mateo's romantic words to Vera are lovely, exquisite, and ever-so-rehearsed. They are lines from a romance novel, a movie, the sort that Nicholas Sparks would have been proud to author.They are too smooth, they are too much, they are completely unbelievable...given this man is supposed to NOT have been fluent in English, remember? “You already are the other woman!” he yelled right back. His words smashed into me, blowing me to smithereens. He cupped my face in his hands. “You already are, whether you want to be or not. You’ve bewitched me, Vera. You’ve blinded me. You’ve made me forget my vows. And all you had to do was shine.”Spare me. Mateo's lines are that of an experienced seducer, one who, for all we know, could have come to the school every few months to have an affair alone. God knows it's commonly done here, since others in the group have obviously confessed to having love affairs in this "school." It's not a school, it's an expensive rendezvous point.

The Affair:

“Well…you’re married,” I said unevenly, wishing my heart would slow the fuck down, feeling completely exposed even in the dark of night.
“And so are many of them.”
“It would be inappropriate...”
“How do you know? Is this inappropriate?”

From the very moment that Vera and Mateo lay eyes on each other, they, well, want to lay each other. I wanted a slow introduction, I wanted more depth than just insta-love and insta-lust. I didn't get that. Mateo and Vera are intensely attracted to each other, they constantly flirt, touch. Mateo is horny for Vera. Vera gets her panties wet for Mateo. That's fine! There's nothing wrong with insta-lust, but it doesn't convince me that this is a relationship that has any depth beyond that. And it is an affair. Mateo has been wearing a wedding ring since the beginning.

Initially, he refuses to talk about his wife. But he's still married.

He insinuates a difficult relationship with his wife. But he's still married.

We don't know what his wife is like. She could be a bitch (she's not). Regardless of what kind of personality she has, he's still married.

He flirts with Vera. He's still married.

They fuck. He's still married.

They carry on a long-distance relationship. He's still married.

The Legacy of Adultery:

I shook my head adamantly. “It’s wrong. I don’t want to be the other woman. I’ve seen my dad go for the other woman, I can’t put his daughter through that,” I said. “Or his wife,” I quickly added.

Yes. It's wrong. And her moral dilemma lasts all of 5 seconds.What hurts about Vera is that she's no stranger to cheating. I wanted this book and Vera to address the morality issue, and it doesn't do it very well. Yeah, she reminds herself that he's married, she should stay away, but then Mateo makes her tinklies tingle so much that she can't really stay away for more than an hour. It goes that way throughout the book. It's wrong! I'm doing it anyway. I can't help myself. The internal moral deliberations are rare, indeed.

Vera's dad cheated on her mother. It turned Vera's childhood into a nightmare, it destroyed her family, it changed her personality, her life. Vera knows well the implications of adultery, and she does it anyway. Vera's boyfriend in high school cheated on her consistently. She knows how much pain that entails, to suffer while your loved one is cheating on you. She does it anyway.

If this book wanted me to sympathize with Vera, it would have done a better job of making me feel Vera's pain, hurt, her desperation to try to stay away from Mateo. The thing is, VERA NEVER TRIES REALLY HARD AT ALL. Neither does Mateo. Their relationship didn't feel like one of love, it's one based off lust, that stays focused on lust, and we're supposed to accept the fact that they're in love without much evidence.

The Other Woman (Mateo's Wife): I don't care if she's the biggest bitch in the world, she doesn't deserve to be cheated on until their divorce and separation has been finalized. We're supposed to hate The Wife because she tried to change Mateo from a playboy soccer diva to a decent husband.

"But Isabel convinced him to give it all up. To get away from the lifestyle she considered too wild.”
She smirked. “Oh yes. Our players are known for being a little wild and crazy. Lots of sex and fights and drinking. Mateo was no different than the rest. And Isabel, with her Duchess grandmother and her socialite status, she didn’t want that."

*crickets chirp*

Wait a minute, so we're supposed to hate The Wife because she wanted Mateo to be something 90% of the world's wives want of their husband?! IS THAT SO FUCKING WRONG TO NOT WANT YOUR HUSBAND TO CHEAT ON YOU, TO DO DRUGS, TO PARTY, AND INSTEAD SPEND TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY? I HAD NO FUCKING IDEA. I can't say that I hate The Wife at all, and in order for me to condone this affair, I should have some reason to hate the wife, to feel that Mateo is correct in seeking love elsewhere.

He doesn't.

This book has completely failed to convince me to support the adulterous affair of Vera and Mateo. No, thank you.