Unsticky by Sarra Manning

Why I read it:  Brie from Romance Around the Corner recommended this to me and I managed to snag a copy from my local library.

What it’s about:
(from Goodreads)  STATE OF GRACE
Money makes the world go round – that’s what twenty-something Grace Reeves is learning. Stuck in a grind where everyone’s ahead apart from her, she’s partied out, disillusioned, and massively in debt. If she’s dumped by another rock-band wannabe, squashed by anyone else at her cut-throat fashion job, or chased by any more bailiffs, Grace suspects she’ll fall apart…

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

So when older, sexy and above all, wealthy art-dealer Vaughn appears, she’s intrigued against her will. Could she handle being a sugar daddy’s arm-candy?

SAVING GRACE
Soon Grace is thrown into a world of money and privilege, at Vaughn’s beck and call in return for thousands of pounds in luxurious gifts, priceless clothes – and cash. She’s out of her depth. Where’s the line between acting the trophy girlfriend, and selling yourself for money? And, more importantly, whatever happened to love?

What worked for me (and what didn’t): Brie thinks this book isn’t a romance.  I think she’s right.  It doesn’t fit squarely into the genre romance conventions but it does have a very strong romantic thread and there is a HEA (which is mandatory for me) but I suppose it is a bit more chick lit than romance.  Having said that, the romance thread is very strong so I’d recommended it for romance readers.The story is unconventional.  After being dumped on her birthday by her latest loser boyfriend (who never last beyond 3 months), Grace meets rich art dealer Vaughn.  There is attraction between them (as well as a fairly significant age difference, she is 23, he’s 41) but Grace is very surprised when Vaughn offers her an “arrangement” wherein she agrees to be his hostess and sex partner for a monthly fee plus a clothing allowance.   Grace, who is a shopaholic and earns a very minimal wage, is deeply in debt so, what would have been anathema to her becomes attractive.  But, underlying it all, is their mutual attraction.  I suppose some will think Grace’s morals are wonky but the way it was presented in the book, it didn’t feel (to me at least) to be wrong.  The way Grace justifies it to herself is that it is the hostess duties (dinner parties, art showings and various other trips and soirees which take up just about all of her free time – and for which the clothing allowance is essential – it’s designer all the way baby) are what she is being recompensed for and the sex is something they do together because they want to, not because he bought her services.  Grace works as a fashion assistant at Skirt magazine – many of the girls and women she works with have rich fathers who fund their lifestyles or rich husbands and, as her boss Kiki points out to her later in the book, it’s not so very different.Vaughn is an interesting character. The book is told in Grace’s deep third person POV so we don’t know what Vaughn is thinking unless he says something overt – and Grace is sometimes an unreliable narrator so somtimes, even what he says or does isn’t entirely accurate.  My sense early on was that Vaughn paid for Grace’s services so that he could be an arsehole all he wanted, so he didn’t have to modify his behaviour to please her or mind his manners – but it was more complicated than that.  As the book progresses, it becomes clear that his motivations were both more Machiavellian (although not dishonest per se) and more deeply personal (and revealing of vulnerability) than I had initially thought.The author’s voice is entertaining, amusing and charming.  It’s kind of reminiscent of Bridget Jones’ Diary but it’s not a comedy so the humour isn’t as obvious, but it certainly had its funny moments (the first time Grace has a brazilian wax at the day spa springs to mind).  I kept imagining the actress from Lost in Austen (Jemima Rooper) as Grace (which I think isn’t actually how she was described, but it’s how she felt to me).

Grace is natural and flawed and a little lost and lonely too.  Her parents split up when she was young and she was raised by her grandparents. She has had a series of short lived boyfriends who have treated her badly and she feels no-one ever sticks with her.  And deep down, she feels that, as the common denominator is her, there must be something wrong with her to cause it.  I had a lot of sympathy for this actually because there have been times when I have had very similar thoughts.  I’m not sure that it is terribly uncommon actually, especially for women, to blame themselves when other people treat them badly.  It could have been a terrible cliche but I think it worked because Grace was so much more than just a girl with poor self esteem because her parents left her.  She works hard and tries hard, she’s bright and clever and fussy and moody and demanding and real.

One of the things I liked a lot about the book was that Vaughn didn’t start off as this wonder-wang in bed.  He was having fun and getting off but Grace was not.  And initially, Vaughn doesn’t notice.  Partly that’s because Vaughn is a selfish bastard. But partly it is because Grace doesn’t tell him.  I don’t say this in a Grace-blaming way.  There was something refreshing to see a “hero” portrayed as someone who doesn’t automatically know how to make his lady come.   Their sexual relationship is a bit of a barometer for their deepening intimacy in general.  As Grace becomes comfortable with Vaughn, as he lets down a few of his walls (occasionally and only a little bit), he notices and asks (well, demands really) and she becomes able to tell.  She’s initially very uncomfortable (and she doesn’t ever really love to talk about her deep emotions or sexual desires explicitly – but she does come to love his dirty talk) but he pushes and demands because he wants things to be good for her too.  When you think about it, her sexual satisfaction isn’t part of their “arrangement” but he’s determined.  He makes concerted efforts to please her and soon after, they are having mutually satisfying sex, having learned the “knack” of each other.

Vaughn remains somewhat of a mystery even at the end of the book.  There are things he hints at but there is a lot we just don’t know.  He doesn’t really have a personality change either.  Gradually, his feelings for Grace change and it becomes much more emotionally complicated than an arrangement, but he’s still moody and arrogant and demanding and difficult a lot of the time.  Actually this worked for me because people (in my experience) aren’t really changed by the power of love.    Having said that, Grace can be moody and difficult too and they do end up rubbing along quite well together for the most part.

What else? I suppose there is a Pygamlion-esque aspect to the story.  As Grace spends time in Vaughn’s world and with him, she learns to advocate for herself more effectively at work and she learns new levels of self-confidence.  Grace’s journey of personal growth (that sounds dull and boring, but it really isn’t) is a large part of the storyline.  I found myself liking Grace very much and I was rooting for her success so I was pleased with where this went – particularly because it was influenced by Vaughn but it was done by Grace.The book is a bit of a doorstopper, coming in at more than 500 pages but I didn’t find it at slow or dull.  I was engaged the entire way and there were even tears toward the end, I was so invested in Grace.  I was also invested in Vaughn and at one point in the book, they were both breaking my heart because things just seemed impossible.I would have liked more at the end because the HEA came after a fair bit of grief and I hadn’t quite gotten over it before everything was okay and the story ended.  So, even though it was a long book, it wasn’t quite enough.  I was still feeling a little melancholy at the end when I should have been happy and I think that was something to do with the pacing of the final pages.The book was funny and emotional and the plot didn’t go where I thought it was going to go – there were things which I expected to happen (and which would commonly occur in genre romance) but the author didn’t go there and so I kept being delightedly surprised by the turns of the plot and the way that it was implicitly acknowledged in the text that there are many routes to happiness and no strict regulation.I could probably rave on about the book a lot more – it’s a story which had stayed with me since I finished it late last night and I keep thinking about these two characters who broken edges line up just so and wondering how they’re doing now, even as I’m certain they’re better off together than apart. I got this from the library but I’ve a feeling I’ll be buying my own copy for re-reads soon enough.  Thank you for the rec Brie 🙂

Grade: A-/B+
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6 comments on “Unsticky by Sarra Manning

  1. Kassa

    Great review. I'm considering it.

  2. Angiegirl

    This book wrecked me. In the best way. I've reread it several times and . . . it's just close to my heart.Great review.

  3. Kaetrin

    @Kassa – let me know what you think if you read it 🙂

  4. Kaetrin

    @Angiegirl – I can definitely see myself re-reading this one.

  5. AJH

    Heh, I've actually read this – one of my friends is a huge Sara Manning fan and wouldn't leave me along until I read it.It was before my days of having even the tiniest clue about romance, but I actually really liked it.It felt all familiar to me – because it's set in England – and I like that Grace & Vaughan aren't actually very nice or very sympathetic people, but they sort of make each other's lives better, and they're very human anyway.I agree that Vaughan is quite mysterious but I think there's a lot you can comfortably intuit about him, stuff that Grace herself barely pauses to interpret. I liked that.And, as you say, I really liked that it took a bit for the sex to work for them.It reminded me of Pretty Woman in a lot of ways – though a lot less fluffy 🙂

  6. Kaetrin

    @AJH A couple of people have said that Grace wasn't very likeable but I always liked her actually. I'm not sure what that says about me LOL 🙂 I thought she made silly financial decisions and the idea of just having massive bills hiding in shoeboxes under the bed gives me hives, but I had a bit of sympathy for her sense of abandonment and for the retail therapy – which in this context was self destructive behaviour in a poor effor to make herself feel better. I really liked that Vaughn didn't have a massive personality transplant. He toned it down a little and made an effort but he was always going to be difficult – but as Grace noted, they seemed to rub along very well together anyway.I have another book of Manning's waiting for me at the library – I really liked this one. 🙂

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