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REVIEW: No Souvenirs by K.A. Mitchell

Dear Ms. Mitchell.

No Souvenirs by K.A. Mitchell Cover ImageEver since you revealed that your next book would be about Jae Sun Kim, the hot, sarcastic, misanthropic doctor from Collision Course, I have been yearning for this book. Yearning, I tell you. The problem, of course, with wanting a book so hard is that when it comes, it might suck and all that yearning is transformed into disappointment more crushing because of the depth of the yearning.

This book doesn’t do that. This book is worth every ounce, every drop, every last millimeter of yearning. In fact, this book is about one of the most perfect romances I’ve ever read.

Jae Sun Kim is a trauma surgeon who finds himself on a live-on dive cruise vacation for a week because he’s running away from the fact that his careful plans to move from his residency in Jacksonville to a fellowship in Seattle have collapsed through no fault of his own. He desperately wants to put the continent between himself and his homophobic parents in Orlando but has no idea what to do now. Shane is the dive master on the cruise, very much a rolling stone determined never to grow any moss. Much to Kim’s disgust, he and Shane end up rooming together in a tiny cabin even though he booked a single cabin. And the cherry on top of his loss of control is an unexpected sea-sickness that Shane helps him through.

I love the first description of these two men:

The guy might have been giving a lesson on a dude ranch. The lilt in his voice made cactuses and Stetson hats tumble out along with his words. Which in a less stressful situation might have been nice, because a tall guy in boots, a hat and dusty jeans, drawl pouring sweetly from a wide mouth, was the kind of thing Kim had been known to bookmark on his laptop. Especially when that cowboy parted with the dusty jeans and boots in the first thirty seconds. He could leave the hat on for the ride.

It tells us so much about Kim — workaholic extraordinaire — and about his perception of Shane, one that Shane does nothing to dispel.

While Kim and Shane enjoy some really great sex in their time together on the boat, sea-sickness aside, they are really drawn together when the boat abandons them during a dive. This extended scene of survival reads like an adventure story, but tells us a lot about the characters. In fact, everything tells us about the characters. You are, to my mind, the undisputed queen of Show, Don’t Tell, and these two characters are so brilliantly constructed, they felt like they should have walked off the page into my living room (I wish). I was grinning like a fool as I watched Shane stumble toward the realization that Kim is a top and only a top and that pocket-sized Kim expected tall, muscle-bound Shane to bottom. And I had an even bigger smile on my face when he did and loved it:

Kim wrapped a hand around Shane's neck and pulled him down. Fuck if the bastard hadn't been right about Shane's wiring, because the weight of Kim's hand on that spot had Shane's knees starting to bend. He took a deep breath when he realized all Kim was pushing for was a kiss. Shane spread his legs until they were a little closer in height and met him halfway.

After the life-and-death situation, Shane follows Kim to Jacksonville, and it’s in the relative peace and quiet of everyday living that their flaws come out and threaten the relationship. But I love how unabashed both Kim and Shane are about their character flaws. Shane is perfectly happy being a fuck-up, following his traveling itch, moving to make sure he doesn’t get bored. He thinks to himself once:

His conscience always took a back seat to the fact that he was a slut for pleasure and that wasn’t going to change any more than the fact that everything he got involved in turned to shit.

He tells Kim during their final fight:

“I’m not a fighter, Jay. I don’t have the patience for it.”

But he’s not an asshole because of it. He’s just…Shane. Just as Kim is just…Kim, completely unable to understand emotional entanglements, completely uninterested in having relationship conversations, frustrated and embarrassed by them:

Kim couldn't begin to understand what he wasn't understanding and he hated it. Confusion was as unfamiliar as it was loathsome, and he remembered why, despite the human propensity for pairing off, he had successfully avoided being befriended. For the most part. Unwilling to expose more of his efforts at communication to ridicule, he folded his arms and leaned back against the couch.

The ending is…just sublimely perfect. I always squint my way through my first reading of the ending of a highly anticipated book (yes, I read the end first) because it just might not live up to expectations. And if it’s good, I then kind of wince my way through reading the book because it might not live up to the ending. But this ending is perfectly suited to both characters and to the rest of the story. I adore the fact that Kim doesn’t come to a sudden realization about love — although he and Shane definitely get their Happy Ever After. I love that Shane is so ready to quit…and yet not. I love how they don’t change because of their love, that their love, instead, shows them being more themselves. Kim’s despair and actions, and the way you bring the imagery and themes of the whole book together in the final few scenes is incredible.

I have learned to live with the fact that I can’t turn off my literary critic. I might want to at times, just so I can settle in and enjoy a book without thinking about it, but I can’t, so I deal with it. And it’s books like this one that makes all my training worthwhile. Watching how the symbolism of Kim’s tattoo and the imagery of death and the theme of impulsive actions weave themselves throughout the book was a wonder to behold. It’s done so smoothly, I think, so unintrusively, that it’s not obvious to any but the most obsessive reader. But it’s there and it layers the book, drawing everything together to make everything just make sense by the end.

And it’s unintrusive because you trust your readers to get it. You trust us to get the desert dry humor of these two men, their flaws and foibles and fucked-up motivations. You trust us to understand and in doing that, present us with an amazing story because you’re letting the characters speak for themselves without any unnecessary explanatory narration.

I’ve read this book twice straight through and probably another two times in bits and pieces, rereading for the good stuff — which usually means reading most of it because it’s all good. And I can’t find any flaws. Even the inclusion of Joey and Aaron from Collision Course is integral to the story and well-done and readers don’t need to have any previous knowledge of them to understand their role in this story. I didn’t know if you could top Collision Course, but you absolutely did. This is a perfect romance with stunningly vivid characters, a beautifully constructed plot, and a brilliant emotional arc. Everyone should go and get a copy. Right now!

Grade: A (FWIW, I’ve been reviewing for Dear Author for 18 months now — wow, really? — and this is only the fourth straight A review I’ve given. That’s how good this book was.)

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

| KA Mitchell’s Website | Samhain | Kindle | Nook |
Fictionwise   | Books on Board

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

23 Comments

  1. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 15:15:53

    And can I just say, now that it’s in the comments, how godawful that cover is?! Kim would be SO embarrassed by it. So totally contrary to his personality. I mean, I appreciate that they actually show someone who might actually be Korean, if you squint hard, but despite the mantitty, it’s horrible.

    ReplyReply

  2. Christine M.
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 16:57:39

    How is it that you ‘make’ me buy so many books of late, ma’am? ;)

    ReplyReply

  3. Georgina
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 17:33:23

    Ooh! It’s here!

    I loved Collision Course and thought Jae Sun was awesome, but I had a lot of problems with Chasing Smoke. Glad to hear Ms Mitchell’s back on top.

    I’ll be back after I read. :)

    ReplyReply

  4. Sayuri
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 17:52:50

    Dagnammit, now you made me want this more than I did and I didn’t think that was possible AND I have to wait at least 14 hours before I can get it……

    ARGHHHH!!!

    ReplyReply

  5. K.A. Mitchell
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 18:01:00

    Thanks for reading and reviewing. I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

    I love my cover. Kim would feed it to a shredder, but that’s why he’s with Shane and not someone like me.

    Gee, now how do I follow up this?

    ReplyReply

  6. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 20:54:42

    @Christine M.: Just you wait. Got two more fabulous books coming up! :)

    ReplyReply

  7. Janine
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 20:54:48

    Grade: A (FWIW, I've been reviewing for Dear Author for 18 months now -’ wow, really? -’ and this is only the fourth straight A review I've given. That's how good this book was.)

    Straight A’s are hard to come by. I’ve been reviewing for DA for three and a half years and I have only done eight straight A reviews, so I think we are about even. Your enthusiastic reviews always make me want to go out and buy the books, Sarah.

    ReplyReply

  8. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 20:55:19

    @Georgina: Yeah, Chasing Smoke as not my favorite either, but this is perfectly constructed AND the characters are awesome!

    ReplyReply

  9. Kaetrin
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 22:04:23

    Damm Sarah! How am I supposed to stick to my book buying ban with reviews like this!!

    I really enjoyed Collision Course. I hope I like this one as much as you did.

    ReplyReply

  10. Senetra
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 23:22:34

    Buying now!

    ReplyReply

  11. Amy
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 07:05:46

    Sarah,

    I am a big fan of K. A. Mitchell, and your review made this new book really really tempting for me. However, how was the relationship between Jae Sun and his Korean parents portrayed? I am a Korean-American, and I just know how most ordinary Korean people would deal with their gay (??!!!)sons… Margaret Cho makes fun of her mother but Cho’s mother is respectful and accepting of her daughter’s sexuality indeed compared to the majority. I am hoping K.A. handled it just right to make her character, Jae Sun, “truthful”.

    ReplyReply

  12. Georgina
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 07:06:06

    What a great read that was. Really satisfying.

    As much as I loved Aaron and Joey’s story, I think I loved this one even more. I may have to read it again just to be sure.

    Jae Sun was a wonderful character, rich and layered, and though I’d never have picked a lackadaisical drifter like Shane for him, they were perfect together. I also liked how low-key the ending was. It suited the tone of the novel to a T.

    Off to bask in the happy post-book glow.

    ReplyReply

  13. March 9th Roundup « Anne Scott
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:39:16

    [...] No Souvenirs by KA Mitchell-’Dear Author A Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)March 2nd RoundupFebruary 23 RoundupQuarantine The Past: The Best of Pavement To Be Released on March 9th, 2010RV Bookstore Best Sellers. [...]

  14. Zola Henry
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 18:26:17

    @11, Amy

    Not Korean, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of Kim’s relationship with his parents, but can say that his sexuality is an issue.

    Love, love, loved it! This one read more like a real, powerful romance to me than Collision Course did–not that I didn’t like CC, I did, it just used a plot device I find irritating no matter what.

    No Souvenirs hit all the right pleasure sensors in my brain: compelling characters, believable motivations, chemistry like whoa between the two main characters. I don’t think I’ve ever hoped harder for a happy ending between two people than I did in this book.

    Maybe it’s because The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all time favorite books, but I just love to read about characters who every one else underestimates and Shane filled that bill.

    ReplyReply

  15. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 20:38:46

    @Amy: They’re devout Catholic first (or zero-th?) generation Koreans. From my vague memories of Catholic Korean friends’ parents, it seems close to the truth, but I guess that could be said of any parents, Catholic, Korean, Islamic, Jewish, Pentacostal, Ugandan, whatever, or otherwise, who are homophobic. It’s brilliantly done, brilliantly revealed, and perfectly integrated into Kim’s character.

    ReplyReply

  16. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 20:40:33

    @Georgina and @Zola Henry: Wasn’t it amazing?! So good.

    And I want to apologize for giving this book a “straight A.” ::headdesk:: Duh. Someone pointed it out to me on Twitter. :) Silly me.

    ReplyReply

  17. Employ A Make Your Own Music Program For Music Production
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 15:20:16

    [...] REVIEW: No Souvenirs by K.A. Mitchell | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Comme… [...]

  18. Kaetrin
    Mar 14, 2010 @ 19:40:20

    I read this one on Saturday. I loved it and totally agree with the A Sarah gave it.

    What an excellent book!

    I loved this line:

    “Shane opened his mouth to deny it, but even the ocean knew it was bullshit and slapped him with a mouthful of seawater.”

    The dialogue was snappy and funny like that the whole way through.

    I couldn’t stop reading during the part after they’d been left at the dive site. I mean, I KNEW they’d be okay (this is a romance after all, plus Sarah said so) but I was so worried!

    I cared about the characters and was smiling like a sap at the end. Now I want to read it again.

    The only think I didn’t quite get was why the head of the department retiring meant that Kim’s fellowship was toast – but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book one iota. It bears saying again – excellent book!

    Plus, it was even educational. I had to look up rhabdomyolysis. (For those who are interested, here’s the definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhabdomyolysis).

    ReplyReply

  19. Music Production
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 12:20:46

    Is this book available on Amazon? What is the price in USD now?

    ReplyReply

  20. nasanta
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 15:55:31

    @Christine M.:

    *sigh* I have to second your question. I don’t think I should read any more of Sarah’s reviews, especially the A’s and B’s. It’s too hard on my limited budget.

    ReplyReply

  21. JOINT REVIEW: Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell | Dear Author
    Jun 08, 2011 @ 14:00:57

    [...] It’s no secret that we love your books here at DA. Your No Souvenirs is on my list of Perfect Books. I recommend Collision Course to anyone who will listen. [...]

  22. PRIDE WEEK: Hidden Gems from Joan/Sarah, John, and Sunita | Dear Author
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 09:55:01

    [...] No Souvenirs, by K.A. [...]

  23. Jayson
    Aug 03, 2012 @ 18:47:07

    Jaesun Kim did a great job with this book but don’t think its available on Amazon.

    ReplyReply

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