Review by Kayleigh

“Um, you’re welcome to put something else on the radio,” she said as Adrian squinted hard at the bricks of the building out the passenger window, willing his mind to get out of her sports bra. “I thought this would be appropriate. She had some bad break-ups too, did you know that?”

“I love Taylor Swift,” Tom said, leaning in between the front seats. “Poet of our generation.” 

Sweeten the Deal is a stand-out romance that is funny, sharp and sweet. 

MBA student Caroline Sedlacek knows her personal balance sheet is a little lopsided. On the asset side, at twenty-two she’s got an NCAA trophy, a great education…and the two million dollars she unexpectedly inherited. Liabilities? She’s never had friends, a boyfriend, or any life experiences away from the tennis court or the classroom. She’d love to invest herself in everything else, but “everything else” never came easily for her. 

In the ten years since he left art school as a vaunted prodigy, Adrian Landry has won shows and major prizes—and done his best to shed his reputation as a pretty man who makes pretty paintings. Though currently broke and sleeping off a bad break-up on his college roommate’s couch, he knows this is the chance to get his life back on track at thirty-three—he just needs the money to find a new gallery. 

When Adrian’s roommate lists him on a thinly veiled escort site, Caroline is not the patron he expected. She’s way too young, way too naive, and loudly uninterested in having sex with him. Instead, they’re both going to get exactly what they want: a little culture on her side, and a lot of cash on his. Aside from their sugar baby arrangement, they’ve got nothing in common. But as they reel from the symphony to the Haymarket, they learn that what they want and what they need might be two very different things. 

Here’s three things you should know about me: I live for contemporary romance, I love a good age gap, and Pretty Woman is one of my favourite movies. Sweeten the Deal is the perfect blend of everything I enjoy in a romance book. Adrian and Caroline and smart, realistic and flawed main characters who pulled me in from the first pages. One of my biggest complaints was that the book ended. I wasn’t ready to be pulled away from them, and would have happily kept reading to watch their relationship and lives continue to develop. Adrian and Caroline both are struggling with life: Adrian’s career and love life are stalling and at 33 finds himself living on his friend’s couch. Caroline is 22, recently inherited a ton of money from her grandma but has realized she doesn’t know how to live life after giving up a life of tennis. If she’s not an athlete, how does she live? Caroline is shy and awkward and struggles to meet people. So, she decided to join a sugar daddy type of website so she can hire someone to help teach her how to live a full life. When Adrian matches with her, he’s expecting a 60 year old widow and not some young and naive woman. What’s he supposed to do with her? His awkwardness is hilarious as he tries to teach her everything she wants to know: does she like the opera, sushi, farmer’s markets? Is he okay with a young woman paying for his life? And why does he feel like he’s suddenly starting to live again? God I love a proper and angsty man. Adrian is like the modern version of Mr. Darcy in the best way. 

I loved watching Adrian and Caroline figure each other out. The age gap could feel icky, but Katie writes it with grace and humour. It helps that Adrian, who may be one of my favourite book boyfriends of 2023, is so obviously stressed out about it. He fights his attraction to her for so long because he wants to do the right thing and make sure he’s not taking advantage of her. What this does is give Caroline such a lovely space to grow into her own character and own her feelings, her attraction and her choices. Caroline and Adrian are both flawed characters who have to do a lot of work on themselves to get to a point where they can be good partners for each other. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where the characters so actively understand that they need to develop themselves in order to support another person. Their chemistry is slowly developed and they have this delightful friends to lovers relationship. You can tell they truly LIKE each other and don’t just LUST for each other. When they do finally get together, in this slow-burn book, I was celebrating for them! They are very sweet to each other and Adrian really works to help Caroline understand how to champion for her own needs. Caroline is a complicated character – I think she could have easily tipped to an annoying individual without the right care. She’s multifaceted and cares deeply about others – she’s just not always good at understanding how others react to her. She’s 22 and finally getting a chance to discover what she actually likes after a life of being told what to do every hour of the day thanks to a demanding parent who pushed her into a sport for his own sense of achievement. 

At the root of this book is the theme of joy, and the importance of living a life filled with joy. It feels like a dark world out there right now, and Sweeten the Deal reminds me why romance novels are so important: sure there’s a happy ending, but they also let us explore human nature and let us analyze and evaluate what is really important to us: shared experiences with other humans, common bonds that unite us, and the joy of living a full life, however you define that.

If you loved One to Watch (Kate Stayman-London), Reasonable Adults (Robin Lefler) and Love, Lists and Fancy Ships (Sarah Grunder-Ruiz) then you will adore Sweeten the Deal.

Thank you to Berkley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.