A Little Harmless Sex was brought to our attention by one of our readers as a candidate for the Bad Book Club. The book is free, so we checked it out.
Oh boy… while not up to Seven Shades of Shite levels, this is not a good book. It’s got a lot of problematic tropes and apparently the author is a little Anne Rice/E.L. James about receiving bad reviews… aka they go off onto twitter rants like a certain Cheeto at 3a.m.
Let’s get started, shall we?
So the story centers around friends Max and Anna, who for whatever reason (read: the plot) have never hooked up. Max has always been in love with her and after his fiancee breaks it off with him, and Anna’s broken up with her latest boyfriend, he decides that it’s time to indulge in their craving for each other. Of course Max falls for Anna and that means that he has to convince her that she loves him, even if it’s the last thing he does.
If that sounds ominous… well… buckle in.
Unlike most of our reviews, this one is going to feature screencaps. Because considering the author’s reactions I figured some documentation is in order.
So… while not the first paragraph of the book, I knew we were going to have a controlling asshole main male character on our hands. Why? Let’s break this down.
First off, his tone. While I get that he’s in the process of being dumped, he’s very busy congratulating himself that he never makes a scene (except spoilers he totally does later) and he’s painting Cynthia in a very unflattering light (something which happens repeatedly - I’ll get into why this is problematic later.)
Second, this is the woman he was supposed to marry, this isn’t the Middle Ages and southern Georgia is not a third world country where people have to marry for anything other than love. In fact, the guy proposed to her! So he decided that he wanted to marry her. Seriously, the fact that he’d been willing to marry a woman he didn’t love doesn’t speak in his favor. I was immediately turned off by his attitude and this sort of ‘I must be in control at all times’ personality never went away.
So let’s get to Anna - the heroine. When we meet her, she’s breaking up with her artist boyfriend. And then Max comes in to tell her of his break up.
OMG! Okay deep breaths. Deep breaths. Hi ableism… nice to see you rearing your ugly head.
Pro-tip: if you want your character to be likable, don’t have them put down others. Especially by insinuating that having a mental illness is the only reason they wouldn’t want to marry someone. That’s cruel.
I included the bit about the description for a few reasons. The first is the whole first paragraph was completely unnecessary. Why do we need to have this description? It slows the action down. Second, if the whole point is to go out of the box, then do it in a different way. They then talk about their respective break ups and we get this exchange.
Hi slut-shaming! Not only is what Max saying slut-shaming, he’s saying it to his best friend. From the hero. Yes we’re being told it’s humorous, but it’s also negging. Max is taking potshots at Anna’s sexuality and relationship choices. There’s also the implication that if you date a lot that it’s bad.
It’s not. Men and women can date as many or as few people as they want. The fact that Anna is being shamed/teased about how many guys she’s dated is also problematic in another way. It reinforces the stereotype that men can ‘sow their wild oats’ while women must remain chaste and pure. It doesn’t matter that she’s the heroine, she’s still getting shamed for her life choices.
So we’re gong to go really in depth, so here’s our warning.
Let’s get to the really bad.
I don’t know why I was surprised, but here’s body-shaming.
The correct term is Roma/Rroma. But here the use of the g-word is even worse. What’s happening is the author is portraying the term as ‘exotic.’ This is a problem. This is othering and fetishizing. This is portraying Persons of Color as objects, whose only use is sexual. And when the MFC isn’t a PoC it is actually worse.
This is not the only use of the word in the book.
Earlier, the author described them as broomstick skirts. And you know what, that is a totally valid description. Here… not so much. Again, it’s a slur. Again, it’s othering.
Now, full disclosure time. The reader who sent this book to us warned us about this language and told us that she’d left a review pointing it out and apparently the author didn’t take it well.
So the word was a racial slur a decade ago. And the author had just reissued the book in the last year. That’s an amazing time to, I don’t know, fix any problems. As authors, we’ve totally changed our manuscript after publication to correct typos/missing words. It’s really easy. And it’ll even update previously downloaded versions. IT’S NOT HARD!!!
Apparently someone suggested that to the author, who did not take it well.
Hi… I’ve read your book. The person who you’re having a hissy fit over and siccing your readers on read your book (that’s what the whole ‘Verified Purchase” means). The review in question did not call the author racist, it said she used racial slurs.
Which is the truth as highlighted above. And also…
Yep. She kept going. So pro-tip, when told not to use a word because it is a slur, don’t double down and use it again. When an ethnic group asks you NOT TO USE A TERM. DON’T KEEP USING IT!!! IT’S NOT HARD! A lot of people don’t know that the G-word is a racist slur. Ignorance can be forgiven. Using the word again, well… that does make me think you are racist.
Sigh… okay… Moving on…
The sex isn’t bad… I mean there’s some description I wouldn’t use like:
At least it’s not ‘cream’
(BTW we might be fond of fragments, but the first “sentence” really needed to be edited better. This is indicative of the book’s editing.)
It was around this point I started counting how many times she used ‘juice’ and wondering if I needed a drinking game to go with it.
After the sex, there’s the obligatory angst about ruining their friendship. Followed by more sex and this line:
Does that ring any alarm bells? It sure does for me. The problem with all of this sex is that both leads are drunk, with the woman having been indicated in the text as having more.
No. This is not how BDSM works.
Also, if she likes being in control, let her be in control! You don’t have to fucking dominate her to soothe your fragile manhood.
Maybe there’s a reason she likes being in control. Maybe it hurts if she doesn’t use certain positions. Maybe you should think about someone other than yourself.
If you can’t tell… we really hate Max.
The next day the ex-fiancee reappears to get back together with Max. Because it’s time to add more drama.
You know what? Just fuck him. Women are not things!
You can’t possess them.
That is not sexy. It’s controlling.
People are not things! You know I get that this is set in the South, but FFS!
What’s even worse is that it is implied that Cynthia’s father abused her and that’s why she’s so scared of Max. In fact, it’s more than implied…
Pro-tip… not all abuse is physical. Cynthia is showing every sign of being emotionally and mentally abused. And threatening to cut off support, that is straight out of the domestic abuse handbook.
So I kind of sympathize with Cynthia right now. Too bad she’s portrayed in much of the book in a negative light.
Max ships Cynthia off and then does this:
He keeps pulling “Nice Guy” crap then going all controlling asshole on Anna. Like demanding he drive her car. HER CAR. Or staking a claim on her in public. And when he’s called on it by her, he doesn’t apologize.
It’s something that Anna even acknowledges.
This is not romantic.
It’s just not. I mean she gets that what Max is doing is controlling. Manipulative. But she doesn’t end it.
(Also, hello more ableism.)
There’s more sex, some of it coming literally out of nowhere. And then it’s time to introduce the characters from the following books.
So what’s wrong with “Creole in looks and temperament” you might ask. Plenty. First off, it’s not an automatic descriptor for a Person of Color. Second, it boils down an entire cultural identity to a stereotype.
The Creole People are as diverse as well, like the freaking U.S. This is othering. And it’s not explicitly stating race. When I think of Creole, I immediately go to Paul Prudhomme or “the Cajun Chef”, both of whom are white.
Chris is later described as:
I’ve mentioned it before, but don’t refer to Persons of Color skin using food descriptors. The mods at @writingwithcolor do a much better job of going into why.
But for those of you want a TL:DR - basically it’s othering, it’s fetishizing, and there are a lot of connotations to slavery.
As a side note: the author really likes using “Chocolate” eyes as a descriptor. She uses it 7 times.
At this point I was just longing for the end to come.
But I’m not that lucky. Anna’s old high school boyfriend has to make a reappearance and we learn that he’s the cause for all of her trauma and the reason why she’s afraid of commitment.
We’re not supposed to like Freddy, which is at least one thing the author did right.
Yep, more slut-shaming.
While I like that Anna stands up for herself. I would have liked this more if she hadn’t insinuated that being a lesbian was a negative.
At this point Chris (the friend) and Max go out to a bar where of course they run into Freddy.
We get this lovely exchange
Where thankfully we finally find out that Chris is Black. BTW Black should always be capitalized when referring to race. And here’s why. It’s something we’ve had to school our editors on. And it’s not something I’d ding the author for here. Except she claims to be an ally and up on social justice issues.
After the awkward small talk, we get more possessiveness and finally a “bar fight” because Max never makes a scene… except when he does.
She bails them out - where he demands to drive her car once again.
Then there’s some uninspiring sex and we get this.
So total nitpick. Monet worked in oils. Not watercolors. But at this point I am so done that I went off on a rant about this. FFS google it. Or don’t include the detail.
Gods I use that gif way too much.
Stuff just keeps getting worse and worse. with Max being a little brat. And once again Anna’s aware of this, but doesn’t drop his controlling ass.
And then guess what? Cynthia shows back up! Just in time for more slut-shaming.
What’s wrong with cheerleaders? Seriously. What? Some can be mean, but not all. This is reinforcing a negative stereotype. In my High School, the Cheerleaders had a mix of personalities. Including one girl who was VERY FIRMLY in the unpopular crowd.
Good point. Maybe you should dump his ass.
What someone says when they’re angry and hurting is who they are as a person. What someone is like when they’re arguing and lashing out is who they are inside.
The fact that Max went straight to “cold-hearted bitch” says volumes about him as a person.
After the argument, he goes home to find Cynthia dressed in sexy lingerie waiting for him. Max confronts her and she admits that she saw Anna and she’s the reason why Anna is pissed off.
Pro-tip, speech tags are your friend. Especially when it isn’t immediately clear who the speaker is. In the case of the last line there. It’s Cynthia. Not Max.
And here’s where I about hurled my iPad across the room. Not just because Cynthia is lying. But because she gets forgiven in a fucking heartbeat. She’s a fucking Karma Houdini. And worse, the next book in the series is supposed to be her and Chris’s romance. I don’t want to see more from Cynthia. Not at all.
Now I will give the author props for knowing how to use the phrase “another think coming.”
Max barges in on Anna having a nice relaxing soak. Which let me tell you, What the fuck. Maybe I’m an oddity, but first off I was raised you NEVER enter someone’s house without knocking. Also. What kind of single woman keeps their doors unlocked? I grew up in a Doris Day neighborhood and we still fucking lock our doors. Rape culture is a thing. And until such a time comes when women won’t be blamed for being assaulted, most women lock their fucking doors.
Yes. Because coerced confessions are so sexy.
She admits she loves him and they go off and have sex.
Bear in mind, he’s never admitted he loved her yet.
The next morning she confronts him about part of this.
I can’t even.
THIS IS NOT SEXY. THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC!!! THIS IS CONTROLLING!!!
I’m just nope.
So here’s the thing. There is so much wrong with this story. From the problematic characters to the racial slurs, to the treatment of women, So much wrong.
As a note, this would have never come to our attention if the author hadn’t taken this to social media. She is absolutely allowed to rant to her private circle of friends. Or authors she trusts. But the moment she took it to her many fans was the moment she turned into a bully.
Because siccing your readers on a reviewer because you got a review you didn’t like? That’s bullying.
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