On the Square by Brenda MurphyOn the Square by Brenda Murphy is a smalltown lesbian romance that’s the first in a new series.

Dale Miller does not like to get up early and it’s even worse if she has to talk to someone before she’s had her coffee. Suffice it to say, meeting a potential client about a renovation project at 6:00 a.m. is not her idea of a good time, but Dale needs the money so her son can finish his degree.

Mai Li is back in her hometown, ready to build a new life for herself. After getting kicked off her cooking show because she blew up at her cheating ex (who was also her co-host), Mai just wants to lick her wounds in peace and see about getting her parents’ old restaurant back in business. The building has been neglected for 20 years, however, so she needs a contractor to fully renovate the restaurant and the living space above it.

After a rocky start, Dale and Mai come to a business agreement. Their relationship takes a personal turn when a storm causes major damage to the building, and Dale offers Mai a place to stay with her and her sons.

Dale and Mai are hurting from past relationships and know they need to keep things strictly business. But can they when the chemistry between them is so delicious?   

The Characters

Sometimes I loved Dale and Mai, because they had such a tremendous capacity for love, both for each other and for Dale’s three sons. Sometimes I wanted to shake them because they’re both hotheaded and fly off the handle easily. That said, even when their actions, words, or thoughts raised my eyebrows, I still understood why they were behaving badly, because they’re both SO damaged by their previous relationships. That makes them slow to trust, quick to anger, and even quicker to second guess each other’s motivations. I fully believed that they love each other and will live happily ever after, but I also hope they go for some therapy so their years ahead will be a little less tumultuous.

The Writing Style

On the Square has an easygoing style that held my attention. It even kept me up reading WAY past my bedtime because I had a hard time putting it down.

Also, for anyone who noticed that this is a contemporary romance and not an erotic romance like Murphy’s other books, rest assured that it has plenty of sex, some of it kinky. You just have to wait a little longer to get to it.

My Favourite Parts

Mai gives cooking lessons to Dale’s youngest son and I loved all of these moments so much. It shows a really tender side of Mai and also gives us a sense of what the family dynamics will be with Mai joining the Millers, which reinforced my belief in the HEA.

Heads Up

There’s some pretty serious racism and homophobia in the story. Mai is Black and Chinese, and a server at a restaurant is awful to her. There’s also some physical violence later on with that dude.

Also, for readers who are wondering if this is an #OwnVoices book or not, it isn’t. The author is white and I don’t know enough to be able to speak to how good or problematic Mai’s representation might be. There were no major red flags for me, but I’m not Black or Chinese.

The Conclusion

If you like smalltown romances with strong family dynamics, this will be the book for you. I liked seeing them become a family and I’m curious to see where the series goes from here.

Excerpt from On the Square by Brenda Murphy

“I didn’t know your name was Dale. Ida never called you anything but Dee.” Mai held the end of the tape measure in place.

Dale made a notation on her paper. “I didn’t like my name much as a kid.”

Mai thought back to the girl Dale had been in high school. She remembered her in short skirts, perfect makeup, and tight blouses displaying a cleavage that left Mai speechless. Dale had been a sophisticated senior when Mai was a scrubby freshman.

She flushed when she remembered her ridiculous attempts to engage Dale when she drove Ida and Mai to basketball practice. The image of Dale Mai remembered bumped up hard against the rough around the edges woman dressed in old jeans and boots who knelt across from her, oblivious to the dirty floor.

“Did you marry that guy? What was his name?”

“Let go now.” Dale waited for Mai to release the tape before she pressed the button and rewound it. “Bill. I did.”

Mai avoided Dale’s eyes, wondering at the clipped tone in her voice. “Kids?”

“Three.” Dale’s voice warmed and she sat back on her heels. “Boys.”

Mai rose and brushed the dust off her pants. “Wow. A house of men.”

Dale snorted. “The cat’s female for what it’s worth.”

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About the author

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Tara Scott lives in Calgary, Canada with her family. If you don't find her with her Kindle in her hand, she's probably busy talking about what she's currently reading.