REVIEW: No Souvenirs by K.A. Mitchell
Dear Ms. Mitchell.
Ever 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.)