by Kwana Jackson
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.
Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.
Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.
I’ve read books by this author before and enjoyed them and this blurb sounded right up my alley. Four hot adopted brothers? A knitting shop in Harlem? Yes, please! Unfortunately, while those parts lived up to my expectations, some of the book didn’t.
Jesse is the youngest of four brothers – most of them not biologically related – adopted by Mama Joy. Kerry’s been a fixture of Mama Joy’s knitting shop for years, so while Jesse and Kerry were never really friends, they’ve known each other forever. After Mama Joy’s death, Kerry expects that the brothers will close down the shop. No one expects Jesse to step up and insist on running the store, perhaps not even Jesse himself – and certainly no one expects Kerry to volunteer to show him the ropes. Kerry’s always had a thing for Jesse, but even she realizes that getting involved with the neighborhood playboy is a bad idea.
There was a lot I liked about the book, though I think at times it read more like women’s fiction than romance. I liked the realistic relationships between the brothers. They’re each dealing with Mama Joy’s death in their own ways, and they each interact with each other and Kerry as individuals. I loved the relationship between Kerry and her best friend Val, and I liked Kerry’s love for both her job at the community center and her work at the knitting shop. I’m a sucker for sweet caregivers, and that’s definitely Kerry to a T.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lot of pages are spent establishing Jesse as an aimless playboy and I never felt like he had the time to overcome that stereotype. Even with the knitting shop, besides a Pinterest board and some painting, it felt like most of the work was done by Kerry (with her social media skills). While I love a good slow burn romance, the relationship between Jesse and Kerry seemed to get to the “I want them but this is a bad idea” stage and then stalled. Jesse couldn’t seem to decide whether he wanted to treat Kerry as a bratty little sister, someone he was romantically interested in, or his maid. He started making some progress towards the end of the book, but then the book ended abruptly right after the big gesture.
What I disliked the most though was that there’s a definite “not like other girls” thread going through the story. It’s especially noticeable in regards to Jesse’s latest flame, Erika, who’s pilloried for everything from drinking too much to being too forward to having nail art that’s not conducive to knitting. On a personal pet peeve level, there’s a couple of mentions of Kerry’s vibrator (she specifically packs it when she moves in to Mama Joy’s place, and it’s even mentioned what drawer she hides it in). Look, it’s like Chekhov’s gun – if you’re going to mention it that many times, I expect to see it in action at some point!
Overall, while there were high points, the hero (and by extension the romance) just didn’t work for me. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3.