That squeal you heard coming from the DC metro area? That was me, expressing my delight with No Souvenirs by K.A. Mitchell.
A vacation fling. No complications. No connections. And no regrets.
Trauma surgeon Jae Sun Kim has just lost the job he wanted more than anything else in his life. Looking for a way to hit the reset button, he takes a scuba vacation. He didn’t plan on seasickness, or a dive master who is sex-on-the-beach personified.
Shane McCormack’s tendency to drift away from complicated situations has landed him a job as a dive master in Belize, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. But with the big three-oh looming, asking his parents to bail him out again isn’t an option. The job isn’t without its perks, though, and as soon as he figures a way to keep that hot but arrogant ass of a doctor from tossing his cookies over the side of the boat, he plans to flirt the control freak out of his brittle shell.
The close quarters on the ship generate more heat than either expects, but a vacation fling is all that’s in the plans. An unexpected adventure leaves them changed in ways that make it impossible to go back to their old lives. The risks they’ll both have to take could leave them with nothing but more scars, or the best souvenir of all.
How do I love this book? Let me count the ways.
Well, before I begin the recitation of things I loved, I should first share this disclaimer: I am an unabashed fan of K.A. Mitchell. Her Collision Course was my favorite read for 2008. I have all of her backlist in e-format, and print editions of those books that have made it to paper.
I downloaded a copy of this book in the wee hours on Tuesday and tore through it like a lion pouncing on a gazelle. Were there details that I missed on the first read? Absolutely. But I felt compelled to consume the book as quickly as possible. And then after that first gulping read, I went back for a more leisurely re-reading to savor the details.
Back to how I loved this specific book:
First, the main characters, Jae Sun Kim and Shane McCormack. Jae Sun Kim is an arrogant, sarcastic bastard. As Mitchell tweeted once, he’s cuddly as a cactus. His interactions with others are primarily professional; he keeps his family at a distance (even though they are not that far away, geographically) and potential friends at bay. Shane McCormack is a laid-back scuba diving drifter, who comes across as careless and lackadaisical at first, but as the story develops, it becomes clear that he isn’t careless, despite his tumbleweed existence. For the vast majority of the book, the focus is on the two of them. Yes, they interact with others, and there are scenes with other characters, but most of the page space is devoted to them: all Kim & Shane, all the time.
Second, the conflict: it’s all internal. Yes, there’re adventure and risk early on, but the relationship conflict (the important stuff) arises because of flaws or characteristics in each character’s personality; both are aware of these flaws and struggle with them. Shane’s flaw is his tendency to drift, to find the perfect thing and then screw it up. Kim’s is his distrust of emotion and inability to share or communicate his emotions.
Third, voice/POV: when the story is in Jae Sun’s head, the voice is distinctly different from Shane’s. The language is more formal and longer words are used: the tone is scientific and a little detached. Even Kim’s emotions are filtered and expressed more easily through his medical background and its terminology than by simpler phrases or behavior. In contrast, Shane is all right there on the surface; not uneducated, but also not as formal. Ex: “Kim’s vomeronasal organ was doing battle with his olfactory bulb, trying to push pheromones over stench.” How Shane might’ve narrated that same thought: the sight of him turned Kim on and nearly drowned out the smell of decay.
Fourth, the language: Mitchell just has a way with words. Her writing is not necessarily lyrical a la Laura Kinsale or other (beloved, mainstream) writers, but she possesses a turn of phrase that tickles my ear. For example, at one point, Jae Sun compares Shane to eating Cheetos: “a mistake to begin with, because then you want the whole bag.” Wrapped up in that metaphor is all you need to know about how the relationship started: with some gluttony, some self-delusion, and serious attraction.
And last but not least: Joey and Aaron. (Sorry, had to include them.) They appear in a couple of scenes, and their presence feels natural and unforced. There’s no shoe-horning of past books’ characters as part of some unnecessary reunion; to the extent that Jae Sun has any sort of chosen family, Joey and Aaron are it. (Also, was very entertained by the “If Joey ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy." Poor Aaron :P)
Lest you think I’m a completely uncritical and unthinking reader, I admit to reading a few things that niggled, general and specific. Generally, there were some missing commas. Did the lack make the book unreadable? Nope. I’m just a comma-fiend, and I notice when they ought to be used but aren’t. More specifically, the bit about Kim’s calculation of Shane’s age didn’t make sense and seemed out of character for someone who, however uncommunicative, is fairly observant. If Shane spent 9 years in school, he’d have to be more than 25 by the time he met Kim…or have started university a little early. But really, that’s all. Pretty minor stuff.
This ebook is going on my “keeper” shelf, and I’ll be buying a print copy when it is released. It’s early in the year, but right now this is the top contender for favorite book of 2010. A from me.