Mat Harlow was married and on his way to becoming a doctor when his life got turned upside down by someone texting while driving. The traumatic brain injury Mat suffered left him with an inability to read and occasional difficulty communicating. His family and his wife abandoned him, unable to handle the challenges Mat now faces or the changes required in his life. It left Mat in a dark place for a while, but he has found a new home and a new life in Fairfield, Colorado, working as a tattoo artist at Irons and Works. There he has a found family that has embraced him and given him a community of love and support.
Wyatt Adley has come to Fairfield more recently, arriving from Canada after the collapse of his marriage. When his husband was involved in a sex scandal with a student, he tried to place blame on Wyatt. While Wyatt eventually cleared his name, he knew he would never work again as a teacher in his small town. With his family smothering him due to his severe vision impairment now that he no longer had his husband to “take care of him,” Wyatt needed to get away and live independently. He found his way to Fairfield, thinking it would be a short-term stop, but he is finding that he likes the small town and is beginning to find his place there.
When Wyatt meets Mat, he is drawn to him right away. But Mat was married to a woman and, as far as Wyatt knows, Mat is straight. As their friendship grows, Wyatt’s attraction becomes even stronger, but Wyatt doesn’t think anything will ever come of it. For his part, Mat is attracted to Wyatt as well. Mat has long known that he isn’t entirely straight. He also knows that his friends will love and accept him if he comes out as bisexual, but it still isn’t easy. He has never acted on his desire for a man before, and so he has felt uncertain about standing up and claiming his place in the LGBTQ community. But as Mat’s feelings for Wyatt grow, he finally is ready to come out and the two start dating. The connection is fierce between the men and it doesn’t take long before things are serious.
However, their growing relationship is complicated, as each man feels a lot of self doubt and uncertainty. On top of that, Wyatt finds he needs to return home to have a medical procedure to help with his increasingly limited eyesight. Having to come face-to-face with the family he has been avoiding isn’t easy, especially as they still see him as so fragile and needing care. But with Mat in his corner, Wyatt may just have the strength and confidence to stand up for himself and the new life he has made with Mat.
Stick and Poke is the fifth book in E.M. Lindsey’s fabulous Irons and Works series. This is the series that started me on my love of Lindsey’s work, but I began the series last year at the end, with To Touch the Light, a Chanukah novella that completed the series. So I have been slowly going back to read the series from the start. But I have been so engrossed in all of Lindsey’s new books that I have found myself neglecting finishing off this series. So TBR Pile Week in our Reading Challenge Month seemed like the perfect time to go back and pick this book up.
What I love most about this series is the wonderful sense of found family among the gang at Irons and Works. The books overlap timelines and feature characters interacting in each other’s stories. I think you can read and enjoy this one without having read the other books, but knowing the other stories definitely gives familiarity with the larger world and characters. In this case, we have met both Mat and Wyatt before, but here we really get to know these men in depth. Lindsey is really a master of developing rich, layered characters and this story is no exception. What I found most interesting is that Mat and Wyatt are both estranged from their families as a result of their “disabilities,” but in almost opposite ways. Mat had a promising career as a doctor and a life planned with his college sweetheart. Mat has come a long way since the early days, but he woke up from the accident unable to speak or understand language. While he is much improved, he will never read or recognize letters, and his career as a doctor was derailed. Mat’s wife and family essentially rejected the person he is now, not being able to handle the way his life has changed or to accept him as he is. In Wyatt’s case, his family smothers him, thinking him unable to handle life on his own. Wyatt’s vision is severely impaired, leaving him essentially blind. But while he is a grown man and perfectly capable on his own, his family can’t see past the blindness. They want him to be with them, don’t trust his choices, and treat him like a child. For both men, their families see their abilities as defining them, unable to recognize or respect that they are whole people separate from whatever limitations they have.
The first portion of this story focuses on the relationship development as Wyatt and Mat find their way to each other. The initial conflict centers around the fact that Wyatt thinks Mat is straight and uninterested. This is a common romance plot device and, to be honest, I was happy to see this issue resolved fairly quickly. It was a bit hard to gauge the passage of time here, but it is clear that these men developed their friendship and their growing connection over a period of months. By the time they finally share their feelings with one another, I could easily feel the deep bond between them and so the move to something serious felt completely organic. I love the way these guys are so sweet and romantic together. Wyatt teases Mat with French phrases that get him all hot and bothered, and they have a sexy connection as well. I really liked how the pair support one another, giving each other confidence to reach forward for things they want in their lives. They are just such a nice fit, and I loved seeing the men find their way together and then forward as a couple.
Reading this story reminded me of how much I love this series. I am glad I went back to pick this up and I am eager to get to the sixth book and finish off Irons and Works.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for TBR Pile Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two great audiobook bundles from Tantor Audio (you can see the details and full event prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on TBR Pile Week here.