New Beginnings: Abel’s Journey (Healing Hearts Book 2) by Nicky James #Audiobook #MMRomance #Contemporary #Review #LGBT #NewRelease #Angst

Erryn reviews ‘New Beginnings: Abel’s Journey (Healing Hearts Book 2)’ by Nicky James. This book was released by the author on May 14, 2017, and is 279 pgs long. The audiobook version of this story was narrated by Adam Gold.  It was released on June 27, 2018, and is 10 hrs and 48 mins long. A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Why I read this book:  ‘No Regrets’, Book 1 in this series, gutted me in all the best ways.  I wanted to know how Abel carried on after losing Landon.

Life is beyond our control. It can bring joy, laughter, and happiness, then turn around and rip your heart out of your chest without warning. 

Abel Matheson received a cold dose of life’s reality six months ago when the man he loved most lost his fight against cancer. 

Free-spirited, easy-going Abel doesn’t know how to cope with the rotting, festering grief growing inside him. What was once an easy life has become a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. 

His grades are slipping, his job is suffering, money is tight, and the nightmares plaguing his sleep are relentless. Something has to give. He can’t keep going like this. 

Desperate to end his suffering, Abel falls back on old habits. Self-destructive habits he knows are wrong. Every time he tries to stand, he ends up face-first in the mud. 

On the advice of a counselor, Abel makes attempts to find a support system to help him handle his grief. Unexpectedly, during his quest toward healing, Abel makes a connection with the most unlikely of people. 

His mind wants to rebel against the man who stands before him. Run far and fast in the other direction. But his heart forms a bond that annihilates his fear. 

Why this man of all people? 

Sometimes you find help and love where you least expect it.

This audiobook has been written as a follow-up to No Regrets. WARNING: This audiobook includes self-harm, substance abuse, grief and loss, anxiety, and depression.

Buy Links: Audible  | Amazon  | Add to Goodreads 

My Review:

This is going to be a hard review to write.  I read Book One in the series knowing that although the book was not about death, one of the lead characters was dying.  If you haven’t listened to or read ‘No Regrets’, I suggest you do.  Not because you can’t pick up ‘Abel’s Journey’ and just dive in, but because ‘No Regrets’ was a poignant, beautiful, and wonderful read.  No, Landon does not die in the book, but his death is inevitable and although the book was more about his journey and desire to pack as much living as he could into his short time left, it was Abel I really fell in love with.

Ms. James has, on several forums, tried to warn readers that although ‘Abel’s Journey’ is a romance, it is also a painful…well…journey.  That, in some ways, this book is more heart-wrenching than the first.  How can that be, I wondered.  I mean, Landon’s death was inevitable, while Abel’s happy ending is guaranteed.  Again, I don’t feel that I’m overly sentimental, so I believed I could deal with the emotions this book might evoke.  Three days later, as I am writing this review, I am crying.

But you have to listen to this book!

And, if you’re smart, keep tissues close.

Now, since Ms. James’ trigger warnings are clear (and if you choose not to read them, consider skipping the next 2 paragraphs.  They do not contain spoilers, but they do touch on themes from the book).

First, I’ll open up and tell you two things – I was once suicidal in my long-distant past and I lost a friend to suicide in my early twenties.  So although there are no suicides in the book, even ideation and contemplation is hard for me.  That it is handled so carefully and truthfully, and its rawness and immediacy, speaks to Ms. James’ talent as a writer.

Secondly, I lost a very good friend to cancer.  I’m sure many of you have as well since the incidence of the disease is only increasing.  Innovative and traditional therapies are great and many lives are saved, but Stage Four diagnoses don’t tend to end well with certain cancers.  Now, I’m not a doctor, so I’m not saying all Stage Four cancers are a death sentence, but in my friend’s case, it was.  Pancreatic Cancer, Stage Four, they told me.  Prepare myself, I was warned.  But how can you?  My beautiful, vibrant, happy, and deeply loving Heather died Christmas Day.  Thirty-five days after diagnosis and a mere six months after I had been maid of honour at her wedding.

I never even got to say goodbye.  I’m an atheist, but I do believe her spirit lives on in the people she loved and the friends and family who had the privilege of knowing her.  So, even all these years later, it hurts.  All deaths hurt the living, even if the end is a mercy and that person’s suffering is now over.  For those of us left behind, the grief is real and tangible, and at times, crippling.  That I still miss her is natural.  That thinking about her death can still reduce me to tears is heart-breaking.  Especially since she would KICK MY ASS if she were here.

Landon would have that same reaction, if he could see Abel’s suffering.  Landon, who had put in such a valiant effort to cut off all friends except G-Ma, his beloved grandmother.  In fact, he spent a good part of ‘No Regrets’ trying to keep Abel at arm’s length or, better yet, out of his life entirely.  But Abel wouldn’t be deterred.  He fell in love with Landon and, even knowing he would lose the love of his life eventually and inevitably, married Landon and did his best to help Landon check every item off his bucket list.  The Bucket List was the reason Abel met his ‘Spidey’ and their love story was powerful.  Canada’s Gord Downey from The Tragically Hip rock band, as well as my cousin’s husband, died from Stage Four brain cancer.  It is a devastating disease and knowing Landon went through that pain and Abel was by his side gutted me.

‘Abel’s Journey’ picks up six months after Landon’s funeral.  Abel is back at school in Michigan after having taken a sabbatical as Landon’s end drew near.  Abel is now reluctantly seeing a counselor because his grades are tanking and his brother Soren is worried.  I like Soren.  I always have.  Despite having witnessed their parents kick Abel out of their house for being gay, Soren told them the truth about his sexuality and was turfed as well.  Abel opened his small apartment, giving Soren the couch while the younger brother got back on his feet.  I think Soren is almost on his feet, but has stayed because of his deep concern and love for Abel.  Watching an adored sibling so mired in grief that alcohol is the only way to numb the pain is devastating.  Even the most caring and understanding brothers have their limits.

Soren insists Abel go see a counselor.  The counselor is a good guy, but when he can’t get Abel to open up about Landon, he suggest Abel find someone who knew Landon and with whom he can share his memories.

Providentially, Pearl, Landon’s grandmother and the woman Abel affectionately calls G-Ma, invites Abel up to visit her.  Mired in his own pain, Abel has pushed away the one person who loved Landon as much as he did and who was also just as devastated.  He goes up to Petrolia in Canada and shares dinner with her.  Unable to cope with more than that, he lets her pay for a room in a hotel so he can stay in town instead of making the long drive back to Michigan.

In the morning, despite his better judgement, he heads to the cemetery.  Although he was there for the interment, he wasn’t present for the installation of the headstone.

Okay, so this was a tough scene for me.  Abel talking to Landon just about broke me.  The precipitous arrival of Kieran is the only relief.  Kieran was Landon’s high school boyfriend, but they drifted apart and even though they lived close, it was only the cancer diagnosis that pushed Landon to seek Kieran out.  But Landon pushed Kieran away, just like he did everyone else.  Kieran made a brief appearance in ‘No Regrets’, but I thought it was only as a passing secondary character (and a man who would make Abel possessive and jealous).

I did a similar grieving circle with friends of Heather, sharing all our good memories.  So when Abel and Kieran find each other, I knew it was for good.  Up until then, Abel felt unsafe talking about Landon.  His father’s voice is still in his head, saying boys who cry are pussies.  If I hadn’t hated Abel’s parents before, that would have been the final nail in the coffin.  But Mr. Matheson is expressing what many men – and women – believe.  That men are weak if they show emotions.  That they are snowflakes if they show empathy.

Bull Crap.

Abel spins his wedding band whenever he is nervous or upset.  Needless to say, he is spinning it most days.  That Kieran notices speaks to the man’s ability to empathize.  Abel is finally able to open up.  But Kieran says, “…seeing your pain is killing me and I don’t know how to help you.”

How many of us have seen family or friends (or coworkers or even strangers) and desperately wanted to end their physical or psychological pain and not known how?  Man, I knew what Kieran was going through.

By design or by happenstance, he and Abel finally has someone he can share his memories of his husband with.  Kieran has many regrets when it comes to Landon, such as letting Landon push him out of his life, especially when Kieran, as a nurse, could have helped.  Landon was in Kieran’s hospital during those last few weeks, but Kieran always respected Landon and Abel’s need to spend as much time together as possible before the Landon’s death so he only stopped by when he knew Abel wouldn’t be there, but those were the times when Landon was usually asleep.

While I felt I knew Abel fairly well before starting this book, he is a different man in this story.  And while I knew virtually nothing about Kieran, by the end, he was a man I adored.  At times I wondered about his selflessness, until I reminded myself that Abel had been the same way with Landon.  There are good people in this world and the fact two of them found each other was perfect.  As Kieran says:  “I think Landon wants me to help you…I couldn’t unlove him…I knew him inside and out.  Call it whatever you want, but I think he brought us together.”

Yeah, like that didn’t make me tear up.

I’m at a loss to identify the exact moment I stopped trying to hold back the tears, but when I actually laughed out loud, I knew I would be okay.  I knew that not only would Abel survive losing Landon, but with Kieran’s help, he would be able to remember the good times.  And, of course, when Kieran proclaims, “I want to fuck you until you scream.  I want to turn your world inside out and leave you trembling.  I want you to give up all your control and let me take care of you”, I had happy chills.  Kieran was exactly what Abel needed.  This book is the definition of slow burn and that worked perfectly.  Neither man was ready for something more in the beginning and it wouldn’t have felt right if Kieran had taken advantage of Abel who was in such a vulnerable place.

Instead he turned the Abel who “just [doesn’t] want to be here anymore”, into a man who could share the Messy Twister story (minus the sex) with the man who loved Landon as much as he did.  Kieran even held Abel’s hand when Abel contemplates getting a tattoo while insisting he hates needles.  And since alcohol is out of the question, a sober Abel has to decide if he can overcome his fear enough to get a permanent reminder of Landon on his body.

And it was the little things.  Kieran taking Abel’s hand whenever Abel fidgeted with his wedding ring, understanding those were the moments when Abel’s anxiety was ratcheting up.  Kieran challenging Abel’s perceptions of himself as instilled by his homophobic father.  Man, I loved Kieran.  I was so happy when they made their relationship official because I knew by then that Abel could take care of Kieran just as well as Kieran cared for Abel.

Humour?  How about Canadian idioms?  It’s a chocolate bar, people, not a candy bar.  (And a quick nod to the universal healthcare system in Canada that ensured Abel and G-Ma had no medical bills to deal with after Landon’s passing.)

I also want to mention there is a scene of pure catharsis where Kieran knows just how Abel can physically work out his pain and grief – and I’m not talking about sex.  (Although that comes later.)

Oh, and I’ll leave you to wonder what happens when two Tops get together (because neither man is a ‘submissive bottom’.)

Adam Gold is the perfect narrator for this story.  There are the occasional mispronounced words, but I was never pulled from the story.  Adam nailed Abel’s Michigan accent as well as the neutral Canadian of Pearl and Kieran who live in Southern Ontario.  I loved how Adam brought this book to life.

Soren’s book is next and although I understand I will have to wait for the audio, that is okay because I will be reflecting on this book’s impact on me for a while to come.  I have an author friend who lamented that reviewers don’t come in ‘neutral’ when doing a review.  Many of us try, of course, but we are human beings who have lived often colourful lives before we find the courage to share our opinions with others.  As I said at the beginning of the review, I came into this audio from a place of pain, but I feel like making my way through it has made me stronger.  I was able to face some of my own demons, my own memories, and I found solace with Abel and Kieran.  The book will have a lasting impact on me, staying with me for a long time.

So take a risk.  Put yourself in a vulnerable place so you can experience the true meaning of love.

And learn how two men who loved a third man found love again.

My Rating:

10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars

Facebook | Twitter: @NicoleJames1978 | Goodreads

I live in the small town of Petrolia, Ontario, Canada and I am a mother to a wonderful teenage boy (didn’t think those words could be typed together…surprise) and wife to a truly supportive and understanding husband, who thankfully doesn’t think I’m crazy.

I have always had two profound dreams in life. To fall back hundreds of years in time and live in a simpler world, not bogged down by technology and to write novels. Since only one of these was a possibility I decided to make the other come alive on paper.

I write mm romance novels that take place in fantastical medieval-type settings and love to use the challenges of the times to give my stories and characters life.

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