Member Reviews

I absolutely loved this book! The story kept me hooked and the writing was wonderful. I loved that it's kind of similar to other stories we've heard before but with a surprise twist no one saw coming. And I loved the latinx representation as well.

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After 10 years in a unhealthy relationship with an older author, M Dominguez, Tatum is finally living her dream, she is working in a museum, living in Chile and in love with her girlfriend Vera. One day a journalist calls to ask her about her relationship with M, because he has been accused of assault. Tatum decides to tell her story for the first time, not because she believes it will corroborate, but because she feels it’s time, and through her reliving her time with M, she begins to have revelations of what her relationship was really about and how truly toxic it was.

There were many parts of this novel I enjoyed, the writing was great, the concept of the relationship was super cringey and I appreciated (but didn’t enjoy) it. However the main character of Tatum was frustratingly annoying and to the point where it ate into my enjoyment of the book at times. I listened to the audio more than I ended up reading and I thought the narrator did an excellent job. This book kept reminding me of Asymmetry with the lack of equality in the relationship where one is an older famous author and the other is a younger somewhat fawning woman (and the cringe element). In the end I felt that her unhappiness was often self induced and I don’t have a ton of patience for that.

3.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for the ARC to review

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This book was a wild ride and thoughtful at the same time. It's tackling a big issue and entertaining.

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Thank you to @NetGalley for letting me listen to the advanced audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

This book reminds me of Anita DeMonte Laughs Last, the lack of hispanic people within the arts. The writing was fantastic, but it didn't pull me in. It was missing a spark but overall it was a good book.

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Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the copy! There's an inexplicable allure in novels that seem to be in constant conversation with Nabokov's Lolita. Like many girls and women, reading Lolita has always felt wickedly personal, tender as a bruise. When I read books that echo the sentiments I once felt when reading Lolita (and even seem to respond to those dispositions), it feels as if I'm returning to a crime scene just to witness the act in reverse. I've felt that with memoirs such as Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz and Being Lolita by Alisson Wood, as well as fiction in the likes of My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. My Happiness confidently takes its seat with these other novels and fits perfectly amongst them.

In a broader sense, Like Happiness can be likened to its fellow iterations: it paints a searing portrait of the complexities within an abusive relationship — one that commences when the victim is merely a teenager, where deep admiration is soon exploited into something sinister. With that being the extent of comparison, however, it's clear that Villarreal-Moura wanted to craft something more bespoke in the illustration of what it means to be a survivor of grooming / abuse, particularly when young girls of color are forced into that role.

Tatum is merely fifteen when she meets the long admired author, Matteo. After he responds to her fan letter, they begin to meet in person and their relationship throughout the years fluctuates between mentor-mentee to "friends" to eventually (grossly) romantic. The dynamic between these two is unsettling to say the very least. As a reader, it's awful to watch Tatum endure these predatory tactics, to see other adults dismiss the "friendship" between Matteo and Tatum to the extent of normalization.

As Tatum reflects on her years with Matteo, we witness her ambiguity with the concept of victimhood versus responsibility. When questioned by a reporter on the nature of their relationship, Tatum denies that it was ever romantic or sexual despite recollections of their intimacy. She refuses any implication that her friendship with Matteo was anything more than moral and platonic. It actually reminded me of this part in My Dark Vanessa where Vanessa says that she can't accept that her relationship was abusive, because if it wasn't love, then what was it?

In the end, Tatum deserved so much more. The ending actually caught me by surprise, I think my jaw was open for the last 10% of the book. Overall, really wonderful writing

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This book was amazing, but hard to read. It took me a while to read because of how heavy the subject matter and the main themes of racism, grooming, and sexuality were. This book is about a Latina girl who reads a book and falls in love with it. She reaches out to the author and to her surprise, he responds to her and they form a personal connection. During this time, she is still in school, and he is much older with a steady career ahead of him, which led to a huge power imbalance. She gets groomed by him and eventually tells her story to a reporter which is told through a dual timeline. All of Tatum's relationships in this book are so messy. I loved the bisexual representation in this book. If you liked My Dark Vanessa, you'll like this book too because of the similar themes. I can't believe this is a debut, it's so well written and such a heartbreaking story that too many woman experience.

4.5 Stars

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Cover is beautiful and narrator did an excellent job finding an appropriate voice and tone. Overall, the story is certainly timely, but was ultimately disappointing. I found it lacked a strong point of view. I also found that it felt unbalanced. It was very heavy on the beginning and middle of the story, but then it seemed to wrap up very suddenly. It felt rushed at the end, resulting in an unsatisfying read. I felt I'd invested a lot of time and emotion with the narrator just to be hustled out the door before either of us could really process the events properly.
I found that the author had a lovely way with language and especially the way that she wrote about literature and existing in those academic spaces as a person of color was excellent. I'll be very excited to see what she writes in the future.

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This book did fantastic with representing human emotion, and I think more than one woman will resonate with the interactions with a manipulative narcissist. I wanted to love this book, I really did. I feel like the sexual assault point is one of the things that the beginning of the novel stands on, only for that to be largely irrelevant to the plot of this book. The pacing was also off, the beginning was very engaging and then it started to drag about 1/3 of the way through the book. It is a lovely coming of age novel, and I think it will speak to the experiences of many women, but I don't think that was enough to save the book. I rarely have so few good things to say about a novel, but this one simply did not deliver.

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A character-based look at a grooming relationship between a young aspiring writer, Tatum, & an older, successful, celebrity writer, M. Dominguez. The story is told between past and present and is easy to follow, flows, and kept my attention on audio. There were a couple of pronunciations that bothered me, but I could get past those to keep listening.

Themes of power, religion, education, manipulation, toxic relationships, self-reflection/discovery, drug use & reflections on those topics.

Written in Spanish & English, it would be helpful to understand some Spanish to read.

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4.25 This book does a really good job of delving into a power dynamic within a Relationship/ Friendship. Our main character is looking back at her toxic relationship with an author and the power dynamic within it after allegations of abuse come out against him. Such a beautiful and powerful story that is all too real. There are different moments where I just wish there was a little bit more, going in a little deeper. But overall I enjoyed the story Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for an Audio Arc of this for an honest review.

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I feel as if I'm going to have difficulty in putting into words the experience of reading this book.
At its core, I feel this story is about overcoming/letting go of past trauma. In exploring this topic, Ursula Villarreal-Moura weaves together an incredibly interesting dynamic between this book's main characters. As a reader, it's easy to feel connected to our female main character and her college struggles, her loneliness, her feelings of inadequacy, and her struggle to define herself. The characterization of our male main character is more challenging, which feels intentional and adds to the story.
The relationship that evolves between our main characters is so insidious that it can leave the reader with unsettling feelings. I think the best way I can describe it is to say that I felt uneasy at the conclusion of this story. To be clear: This is not a bad thing. I think the feelings that permeate at the end of this book are a testament to the skill of Villarreal-Moura.
I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the audiobook for this story while following along using a physical copy. I appreciated that reading experience and felt the narration enhanced my reading experience.
I think my rating for this book has a lot to do with my feelings regarding the troubling relationship it depicts. I found the power dynamics at play, the casual belittlement, the subtle ways that control is being exercised, and manipulation used to be jarring, disheartening, and frankly disgusting. This story was challenging to read and to process. I do think Villarreal-Moura demonstrates her skill throughout this story, but the subject matter was difficult.

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Like Happiness is a great fit for readers who enjoy stories about young women navigating undefined relationships and their own self discovery and identity. Set in 2015, Tatum Vega is living in Chile with her partner and feeling a sense of peace and ease- finally. When a reporter calls, Tatum is taken down memory lane to ten tenuous years she spent in NYC in a close but complicated relationship with a famous author named M. Domínguez.

The novel is told alternating between Tatum's present in Chile answering the reporter's questions and letters she addresses to M. I was instantly fully immersed in this story and the incredible audiobook narration. Tatum and M develop a quick rapport and she is sucked into his orbit. Tatum and M both identify as Latinx, but they differ in age, class, celebrity, gender, and ultimately in power.

I really don't want to dive into the specifics of Tatum and M's relationship because I just want you to dive into this book. I loved their ambiguous time together on Cape Cod, and it's easy to see how M manipulated and twisted Tatum's existence for his own use and enjoyment. The dynamic back and forth of his abuse of power and ultimately grooming is vividly real as Villarreal-Moura writes it. The writing and narrative style make Tatum's current and past feelings towards M both feel equally real.

I could keep waxing on about this book while trying not to spoil anything, but I won't do it justice. This book had me in tears and is lingering in my mind days later. I absolutely loved it. We need these stories. You need to read this.

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I received a free audiobook of Like Happiness in exchange for an honest review.

The literary novel, Like Happiness focuses on some heavy content, like power dynamics with interpersonal relationships. I found this to be an extremely well written, and thought out novel. It was consistently interesting, and I was never bored. I found the main female character Tatum to be an interesting and extremely well-developed character. It was very interesting to watch her grow throughout this relationship that was clearly toxic and to come to the realization that she was in a friendship that was absolutely one-sided, and she had zero power in.

This novel is told from one POV, Tatum, but it goes over two separate timelines. One that is considered "present day" and one that is about her past friendship detailed in a narration of a letter to M Dominguez. In the present day timeline, Tatum is coming to terms with the fact that she was in a toxic friendship, and in the past narrative detail through the letters, she is explaining to M Dominguez, why, she feels the way she does about the relationship.

It was extremely cathartic to see somebody take their power back from a very imbalanced power dynamic. Overall, I definitely will be reading more by this author. I feel like this was very well done, and I loved the mixture of Spanish and English throughout the novel.

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Like Happiness by Ursula Villarreal-Moura

This read was intriguing, engrossing, and atmospheric. The book is thought-provoking and full of complex themes such as power imbalance, gender inequality, grooming, and Latinx identity.The MC is infatuated with a celebrity author and he takes full advantage of that.

Tatum has created an idyllic life living in Chile when she gets a call from a reporter asking her to speak about the case against M. Dominguez. He’s a renowned author who had her under his manipulative spell for years. The story is told by Tatum and she recounts the years through a letter to the famous author detailing their unique and toxic relationship. She takes us from the beginning as she feels isolated in her college class being the only minority there. She contacts the author who she admired and this deeply complex and destructive relationship begins, lasting 10 years. She is examining everything their relationship went through.

This is a part coming of age, part self discovery and taking back power. As the relationship progresses, you can see that he was grooming her. It gave me Lolita vibes, but more about an abuse of power. I think this would make an excellent book club read. The writing is captivating!

The narration kept me engaged the whole time and the pacing felt just right. The transitions between past and present flowed smoothly and made for an easy listen and enjoyable listen.

Thank you Celadon books for this ARC and Macmillan audio for the ALC.

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Like Happiness is an unflinching portrayal of a toxic relationship between a literature-loving young Latina woman and an older author whom she idolizes intellectually and, at times, romantically. Tatum and Mateo connect when she impulsively writes him a letter after being moved by his writing, sparking a messy, sweeping decade marked by admiration, obsession, and an imbalance of power. When a young woman accuses Mateo of sexual assault, Tatum is compelled to reexamine the nature of her own relationship with Mateo.

I was captivated by this beautifully written coming of age story that touches on tough topics like grooming, gender, sexuality, racism, and power dynamics. Although it has echoes of My Dark Vanessa, the power differential between Tatum and Mateo is more understated, as he has no “real” power over her (i.e., he’s not her professor or boss) but he grooms and subtly manipulates her all the same. Tatum is young and naïve when they meet, a lonely and isolated college student who is ripe to be sucked in by Mateo’s attentions. The author does a masterful job of depicting the insidious way Mateo controls the power dynamic and blurs the lines between them.

I was lucky enough to be able to read and listen to this one simultaneously. Marisa Blake does an outstanding job narrating and bringing Ursula Villarreal-Moura’s gorgeous prose to life.

This book is ideal for book clubs and sure to inspire a rich discussion! Many thanks to NetGalley, Celadon Books, and Macmillan Audio for providing me an advance copy of this book.

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Excellent narration. Written like a memoir - Tatum looks back over her life, after being contacted by a reporter. Her longest friendship, the author of a best selling book has been accused of abusing a young woman. The reporter is desperate for Tatum's story - a prompt for Tatum's reflection and forcing an honesty she has avoided for decades.
A tough read at times - definite themes of grooming. Abuse comes in many forms - making it so difficult to define. As a survivor of years of mental and emotional abuse, this book really spoke to me. Well done and gorgeous.

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A young latina woman writes to the author of her favorite book and they fall into a weird undefinable relationship. The characters just seem so real and the story is done so well. and is so believable. Great, great book!

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This audiobook captivated me from start to finish. The writing was skillful, and I found myself deeply invested in the protagonist's journey. However, I must acknowledge the challenging themes of manipulation portrayed by the author, which added depth to the narrative.

While the final twist was somewhat anticipated, its execution was satisfying. I had hoped for a more substantial resolution, but the implied aftermath offered room for reflection.

Overall, the audiobook proved to be an engaging experience, enhanced by the excellent narration. I would recommend it to those interested in explorations of complex themes within the Latin American context (Mexican and Puerto Rican main characters), particularly readers who enjoyed works like "My Dark Vanessa."

However, I feel compelled to issue a trigger warning for themes of grooming and abuses of power.

Characters - 7
Atmosphere - 9
Writing - 9
Plot - 8
Intrigue - 10
Logic - 7
Enjoyment - 8

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Thank you author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!!

I’m in awe! This is so good! It’s phrased like a letter to her abuser! It shows how she goes from complete denying he abused her to admitting that he was in the wrong! Please!! I am unwell at how accurate this feels! She’s a reader and dreamer so when he comes into her life she feels so special, like it’s fate. She’s taken advantage of and it shows how even now she’s still trying to heal.

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This novel centred around a long-term, sometimes romantic, relationship between an older author and a college student that spans several years. I found the character of the author to be quite unlikable by the end of the novel but thought that both he and the student character were well-developed and well-written. The relationship between them was incredibly complex and well-thought-out.

The narrator of this audiobook did a fantastic job.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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