Review: Love, In English by Karina Halle

My Thoughts

Stormy. Passionate. Gripping.
A tumultuous story with ups and downs, with shades of gray and vibrant colors. It’s a story about choices and emotions, bravery and fate, of boldly being yourself and fighting for the destiny you choose.

5stars

Synopsis

love in englishHe’s thirty-eight. I’m twenty-three.
He speaks Spanish. I speak English.
He lives in Spain. I live in Canada.
He dresses in thousand-dollar suits. I’m covered in tattoos.
He’s married and has a five-year old daughter.
I’m single and can’t commit to anyone or anything.
Until now.Because when they say you can’t choose who you fall in love with, boy ain’t that the f*#king truth.

***

To a restless dreamer like Vera Miles, it sounded like the experience of a lifetime. Instead of spending her summer interning for her astronomy major, she would fly to Spain where she’d spend a few weeks teaching conversational English to businessmen and women, all while enjoying free room and board at an isolated resort. But while Vera expected to get a tan, meet new people and stuff herself with wine and paella, she never expected to fall in love.

Mateo Casalles is unlike anyone Vera has ever known, let alone anyone she’s usually attracted to. While Vera is a pierced and tatted free spirit with a love for music and freedom, Mateo is a successful businessman from Madrid, all sharp suits and cocky Latino charm. Yet, as the weeks go on, the two grow increasingly close and their relationship changes from purely platonic to something…more.

Something that makes Vera feel alive for the first time.
Something that can never, ever be.
Or so she thinks…

My Review

“My name is Vera Miles. And in the story of my life, I am the villain. How could I not be? Wild hair. Wild heart. Tattoos and piercings… And I’ve had a part in breaking up a marriage. But I’m starting to think that most villains aren’t evil — they are just misunderstood.”

I think I felt the gamut of emotions with this book. There was the rising of hope and the shattering of it. There was longing and sadness followed by a filling elation. There were bad choices and arguably, choices you couldn’t help but make. In a way, this is a story told entirely in shades of gray… I didn’t know how I felt about a number of things as I read, but at the same time, I couldn’t put it down. It was also a story that featured a protagonist who lived her life boldly, wildly and in vivid color, and while she tried to do the right thing, she always seemed to stumble both in her past and in her present. She felt flawed and real to me, which made the tumult of the story hit harder. This is very different from what I’ve read from Karina Halle, but it’s certainly a story that has that gritty fearlessness that I’ve come to expect from her. Whether it’s tackling terror, or building a thrilling sense of suspense, or in this case, challenging us emotionally when faced with decisions that would hurt someone no matter what we chose… the result is addictive. This is a story that isn’t all smooth lines. I didn’t know where the end would lead, but I was gripped by the very real journey of these two people, particularly of Vera, whose feelings of sadness, frustration, longing and hope were so palpable along the way.

“Sometimes you are stuck being the person you are and not the person you were. Or could be.”

Vera Miles takes the leap and decides to spend part of her summer in Spain teaching a group of business people conversational English, while relishing in the thrill of living in a new place. Vera was a juxtaposition of sorts. She was smart – an astronomy major – who fell in love with the science of the sky from an early age. She was a dreamer who longed to find someone to love and someone that would love her back. Accept her. Because in her life, most people had dismissed her. With a past that was perhaps filled with too much sex and too many drugs and an exterior that had her skin shining brightly with tattoos, she was the type of person people never expected much from. The truth was that she just didn’t always fit in, but everything would change with her impromptu trip to Spain. She would meet a group of people that would give her a sense of belonging and get to know a man that would shift her entire world around.

“You can fall in love in a second… The heart has no regard for time.”

Getting to the location in Spain where she needed to meet the group was a feat in itself. Running late, sweaty and swept up in the already chaotic whirlwind of her life, she stepped on the bus in a tizzy and sat next to a seemingly very well-put-together man in a smart suit. A man she was immediately transfixed by despite not being her usual type. Spanish, tanned, toned with dark eyes that exuded an alluring mysteriousness she couldn’t avoid. But when she spied the ring on his left hand, she decided Mateo Casalles was definitely not her type. Nonetheless, they struck an easy conversation, a fluid banter that put her at ease and almost instantly a rudimentary connection formed. Mateo and Vera got to know each other on the bus and continued to do so at their destination resort. Their banter became flirty, more charged, with a chemistry she tried very hard to deny. Mateo was drawn to everything about her…. her vivacity, intrigue, her unapologetic boldness. And for Vera, there was just something about him that made her feel accepted, special, cared for… beautiful. Again, Vera knew that her quickly intensifying feelings weren’t appropriate, but there was something about this place that thrust everyone together in a way that made you feel close, as if you fatefully found the people that were meant to be in your life.

“I’ve never been very good at fitting in. I know that goes without saying in some respects but when you think about it, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have found my tribe/gang/group/family over the years… yet the moment that I stepped off the bus in Acantilado yesterday, I felt like if I hadn’t found my place, I was at least halfway there.”

Vera, Mateo and the group are swept up and cocooned in this wonderful, special bubble during their time in Acantilado. Around each other, day and night, the group of “Anglos” and Spaniards become close. They share more than the language they came to learn… they have fun together, they get drunk together, they get to know each other and pairings begin to happen organically. She finds herself falling for Mateo with every conversation they have, with every touch, and that prickling sense of understanding and acceptance between them. There’s so much more to Mateo and it becomes clear he isn’t happy with so many aspects of his life.

“You let the chaos loose, filling my life with energy and stars again… You burn so brightly… I would like to burn with you.”

I felt so torn as a reader as I saw these two people get closer. I’m not a fan of cheating of course, but their togetherness seemed so right. There were times I felt myself cheering for something to happen, but knew the harsh light of reality would soon pierce this temporary bubble they were living in. Nonetheless, Vera did everything to quell the fire that began to burn uncontrollably within. The deepening feelings. The scorching chemistry. The touches. The words. It was all too much.

“I felt flooded with love, big, burning, bright love, filled to the brim and ready to burst out of me, to erode those walls that I’d put up and ensure they’d never go back up again.”

To think about leaving the group… leaving Mateo… well, it shattered her. She suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of losing what they had, especially never seeing him again. But Mateo refused to give up on them. Could she stay in Spain? What would happen with Mateo’s wife? Could she find happiness with a man she knew for a month? Could she grab a hold of the opportunity fate had given her?

“For as long as man has been around, he has felt governed by the stars… but I do not believe this to be true. The stars may place us in each other’s paths — I dare say that everyone here has been a victim of some sort of celestial fate. Perhaps we were all fated to meet, to be here with each other, but it up to us to decide to shine or not. The stars are not unreachable. They are not untouchable. And they do not control us.”

When her time in Spain is over, Vera is a mess. Bereft and longing for everything she felt at Mateo’s side. In addition, the disapproving and berating comments from her mother and sister did nothing to help piece her life back together. She was an empty shell lost in her former life. What ensues is a tale now rooted in a very harsh reality. The story morphs into one where both her and Mateo must decide whether what they feel is real enough to pursue. To break up a marriage. To uproot Vera’s life from Vancouver to Spain. They both realize, however, that finding love and making a relationship work are two very different things. Caught up in a turbulent whirlwind of emotions, desire, doubt, hope and love, they must figure out if taking a leap of faith… a leap into love is everything they hoped it would be.

“You and I, we were always a memory in the making.”

I won’t spoil the last part of the book, but it truly evoked a wide range of emotions for me. I wanted to understand Mateo… understand his the intent behind some of his actions. I think that Vera had some growing up to do, some coming into herself to figure out what the right thing for her to do was. And Mateo, he had to see past the burden of his own situation to see how his actions affected Vera. There were times in the book that I was frustrated at some of the choices these two people made, but their humanity and the complexity of the situation made them vulnerable… fallible… and all the more real to experience. In a sense, I think there wasn’t a good way to handle what they were dealing with. As I mentioned above, the story was gripping and I was drawn in by the characters, their relationship and even the questions the story challenged us with. In the face of love — real love — would you risk it all and leave your entire life behind to start anew?

“What is love? In English?…”
“Love, in English, is love. What is it in Spanish?…”
“Love in Spanish is you.”

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