March 7, 2013

Good Love Stories, Bad Romances and Power: Unsticky by Sarra Manning

This card goes well with bad romances

If you were to ask me to give a broad definition of Romance, I would say that it’s a genre that mainly focuses on the love story or the development of the romantic relationship and has a happy ending; an ending that, in this particular case, always involves the characters romantically attached ending up living happily together. 

But what happens when a story has all the necessary ingredients, yet everything about them is slightly off? Is it still a Romance? Are we allowed to feel happy when two characters fall in love end up together regardless of how twisted their relationship is? Can an ending that makes us uncomfortable still be happy? And is it OK to like it? 

In Sarra Manning’s Unsticky, our heroine and narrator, Grace, is a 23-year-old woman drowning in debts and slightly adrift. Sounds familiar? If you ever went to college and/or left home at some point, you probably can sympathize. But of course there’s also the unhappy childhood causing emotional problems and negatively impacting her life. So she’s a college dropout, has a crappy job with an abusive boss and shops. A lot. By her own admission, shopping is the one thing that makes her feel like she’s worth something, a feeling that soon gets replaced by the terrible sense of not being able to afford what she’s buying, which does nothing but restart the vicious cycle. 

And then she meets Vaughn.

Unsticky by Sarra Manning
Not the current US cover, but
couldn't find the right one anywhere.
Grace is attracted to this rich older guy who comes out of nowhere, buys her a drink, sends her expensive gifts and takes her out on a glamorous date. But when their first kiss is about to turn into something more, he stops, makes her leave and doesn’t call her again until a couple of weeks later when he makes her the following proposition: she will become his mistress and hostess, meaning not only having sex with him, but also doing as she’s told and always being available when he needs her. In exchange, he will pay her £5,000 a month, plus an extra £2,000 for clothing expenses. Grace, who is both broke and broken, is equal parts offended and intrigued, but curiosity and necessity trump everything, so she accepts. 

Basically, this book is like Kinsella’s Shopaholic meets Pretty Woman, but with fewer shoulder pads and more daddy issues.  

The relationship between Grace and Vaughn --and between Grace and herself-- is interesting to say the least.  She enters into this new world of which he is the apparent king. Vaughn is a benevolent boss with a mean streak, but a boss nonetheless. And in the process of adapting to her new circumstances, Grace becomes attached to him in a way that’s slightly romantic, but also has some codependency undertones that are more than a bit upsetting. Is she using him to replace her missing father figure and/or to fill the emotional void in her life? And what does he have to gain from his relationship with her? What motivates him?

Vaughn isn’t as easily deciphered as Grace, but there are plenty of clues for us to get an idea of his character. He can’t form normal relationships and revels in the sense of security that comes from paying for what he wants. But he also sees a potential in Grace that he tries to bring forward and show to her. 

This is a story about power, control and security. Vaughn, who is uptight, obsessive and this side of an eating disorder, finds safety in controlling everything around him and in the power he has over Grace; a power he uses to control others. And by changing her life he gains the ultimate power someone could have over someone, even if it’s a positive change. His biggest challenge is learning how to let go and find trust in what he can’t control. 

Grace, on the other hand, gives up all the power and control in order to find a sense of security that doesn’t last long. And then very slowly and almost unbeknown to her, she regains power over her own body and life or at least realizes that she never gave it up to begin with. That’s what tips the power balance in her favor, yet in the end, Vaughn is incapable of giving up his control, so she has to create an illusion in order to make their relationship work. That is the moment when they become equals. These two are in a constant struggle to dominate the other as well as themselves, even if she spends most of the book not knowing it. And their happy ending is about becoming equals by finally understanding each other.

Here is the part where I confess that Unsticky is Chick-Lit, so not a Romance per se. But the relationship is the main focus of the book, even more so than Grace’s transformation into a stronger and more confident young woman, probably because what makes her change is Vaughn.

As a classic Romance, it doesn’t work that well. But as an oddly romantic, occasionally cringe-worthy and dysfunctional love story, it works perfectly. So to answer my original questions, I’m happy Grace and Vaughn found each other, and I really enjoyed the book even while it made me uncomfortable all the way until the end.

Grade: 4.5
Sensuality: McSexy
Purchase: Amazon 

High fashion, high art, high expectations – this is Pretty Woman for the twenty-first century 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… 
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? 
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. Where’s the line between acting the trophy girlfriend, and selling yourself for money?
And, more importantly: whatever happened to love?
CB Creative Books. December 16, 2012 (Originally published by Headline Publishing Group in 2009)


  1. I read "Unsticky" some time ago and loved it. It's rare to read such a special story about love. Another book by Sarra Manning I would recommend is "You don't have to say you love me", the romance in the book is also not your usual one and I also loved it.

    1. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me has one of the best bad sex scenes ever. But that book made me very uncomfortable. I couldn't finish it, because the heroine hated herself so much that it was awful for me to be inside her head.

    2. At the end of the book she comes to terms with how she looks and she makes peace with her body, it's a very emotional and fantastic scene.

    3. I'll give it a second chance, then. But not right now because after many emotionally draining books, I need something lighter ;-)

  2. I have unreasonably strong feelings for this book, Brie. That first read absolutely swallowed me whole. I'm really happy Grace and Vaughn found each other, too.

    Solid review.

    1. This book has been on my TBR for years, but I was a bit afraid to read it. But between your review, a Twitter conversation I had last year and the review over at Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, I finally did it. It took me two weeks to write the review; I couldn't put into words everything that happens in it as well as all the themes and subjects it deals with.

      The character arc is so subtle, right? Especially Vaughn's. I'm still trying to figure him out.

  3. Just from your description of it the thing that strikes me is it sounds wildly reminiscent of Fifty Shades. And I hated that book. But you all have nothing but good things to say about this one so the author must have done a great job with her characters and the story to garner such high praise.

    1. Gah! It's not at all like 50!! I didn't even make the connection until now. No, just no.

      This book is a very interesting character study and there are no inner goddesses. I promise.

  4. I loved Unsticky! I would never have read it because of the 50 Shades-ish plot summary, but Angie raved about it so I had to read it, since we have similar taste. It is one of the most complicated romance-focused stories I've read and it's lingered months after I finished reading it.

    1. It's lingered with me as well. And I agree that the story is so complicated and complex; it felt quite authentic even if for such an unlikely setup.

  5. Great review, Brie :) It's really interesting how you look beyond the surface, unlike me LOL. I'd probably have put this one down. It sounds interesting, but not something I'd read. Happy you ended up enjoying it a lot :)

  6. I've had this book recommended to me and it's on my wishlist. It sounds like you enjoyed it a lot and it had a HEA so I might have to bump it up. (along with the other 100 books I've said the same thing about... *sigh* :D)


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