Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Like her first book in the SmartyPants Romance world, Under Pressure, we return to the lab with Lexie, a down-on-her-luck junior, and Ethan, the sunshine to Lexie’s grump. Lexie is low on money since her bar job manager has decided to cut her shifts. When a psychological study offers an opportunity to earn some big cash, she jumps on it. The problem is…it’s a study of couples. Having just met Ethan, a fellow student in her psychology class, she pretends he’s her boyfriend, earning them entry into the study. However, they are anything but a couple. Winters’s newest story, Not Fooling Anyone, invites us into the fake relationship between Ethan and Lexie. Seemingly innocent, in the end, it is anything but.
Ethan is a typical cinnamon roll hero. He’s also the sunshine to Lexie’s grump. Winters uses his character to infuse light into the darkness of Lexie’s world. Additionally, as we find with most SmartyPants Romance series characters, he represents an often underrepresented population in romance: the healthy young adult who finds out he’s a diabetic. The depth of his characterization comes through his diagnosis and journey in living with diabetes. This allows Ethan to be more than Lexie’s paramour. He’s empathic, insightful, and exudes $exiness; yet beyond his exemplification of diabetes, Ethan would have been more one-dimensional.
Lexie is the emotional center of Not Fooling Anyone. She has been traumatized by people and situations in her past, and she’s erected some serious emotional walls that Ethan must bound. It takes much of this story for her to become more vulnerable. This leads to misunderstandings, and poor Ethan finds himself in the dark for some of the story. Lexie’s ability to lower her walls allows her and Ethan to find their happy ending, but misunderstandings almost derail it. Thankfully, Ethan is patient and assertive in wading through Lexie’s emotional baggage. Through Lexie, Winters works us through divorce, substance abuse, $exual harassment, and bullying. Her story is heavy, but there is a tremendous payoff in the end when she and Ethan find their happily ever after.
Overall, I liked Not Fooling Anyone. I would love to say that given the seriousness of the issues in this story, Winters’s romance struck me emotionally. However, I struggled a bit with Ethan and Lexie’s chemistry. This book is clearly asking us to consider the issues that Winter has drawn through Ethan and Lexie, but the romance between her main characters feels a little lacking to me. All in all, Winters has added another solid book to the SmartyPants Romance universe.
In love and romance,